If you’re on a mission to find your dream home, here’s the truth: Driving around and looking for open houses is not the most effective way to shop. In fact, only 7% of all recent buyers found the home they ended up purchasing through an open house sign, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
A much larger percentage find their home online (50%) or via their real estate agent (28%). Yet 53% of buyers still use information from an open house to inform their home search. Plus, many people simply enjoy the open house experience (what’s not to like about free refreshments and low-pressure house tours?)
When the balloons and big welcome sign beckon you to give a house a look, lean into that intuition — and follow these open house tips to make these events as productive as possible. We’ll cover how to narrow down your list of visits, strategies to make your tours both efficient and thorough, and ways to make every open house worth your time.
1. Create a plan of attack
When you’re on a mission, time-block your open house visits. If you find one open house you’re interested in, check for any other events happening in the same area, at the same time, and knock out a few tours in one fell swoop.
Data from HomeLight shows that around two-thirds of top agents (66.6%) believe that the most important factor in the success of an open house is marketing the event online. So you can bet that you’ll find the information you need to create an open house plan of attack on the web.
There are lots of real estate sites and apps to choose from, but Homesnap is one app that makes it really easy to find open houses — and communicate about homes you like with other people involved in your home search such as your partner and real estate agent.
You can simply go to the Homesnap website, enter your search location and price point, and it will pull up a list of homes for sale. From there you can filter for open houses by different time frames (Any date, today, tomorrow, Saturday, or this weekend). In the example below, we searched for open houses in Chicago:
If you want to zoom in on a certain neighborhood (In this case we drilled down into Logan Square open houses), use the “Draw Custom Area” tool to set your radius. From there you’ll be able to see where open houses are happening on the map and be able to click through to find out more information about each listing:
In just a few clicks, you can identify where open houses for homes in your price range are happening in a specific area for the upcoming weekend.
2. Find great school districts, then target your open house tours from there
One way to narrow down your list of open houses is by school district. Even if you’re not a parent, buying a house in a good school district is a wise investment. According to data from NAR’s Moving with Kids report, 53% of homebuyers with kids say that school quality is an important factor in their decision (so being near good schools helps with resale down the road).
In addition, one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every $1 increase in per-pupil school spending, relevant property values increase $20.
You can find school ratings on most house listings and you can also check websites like Niche and GreatSchools. But Todd Auslander, a top real estate agent in Stamford, Connecticut, also recommends calling up the head of the local school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to gain valuable information on how the school’s performing.
The easiest way to find the head of the PTA for the neighborhood school is to visit the school’s website. On most school websites, there’s a tab called “parents” or PTA. The local PTA will list an email address and name, or a link to the Facebook page or website where you can find contact information of board members.
If the schools aren’t impressing you, consider it a chance to cross that open house off the list.
3. Make every open house a learning experience
Open houses can be an amazing way to get familiar with the local real estate landscape. Unlike house showings, which require an appointment, you can drop by just to check things out in the name of research. Treat each event like an opportunity to better understand the lay of the land, even if you know immediately upon walking in that you won’t be making an offer.
The more homes you tour, the better you’ll get to know which layouts, styles, and features are common for the area and what you can get for various price points. For example, you might learn that a $25,000 budget increase in the starter home range can mean the difference between a house you’re proud to own versus a fixer-upper in your particular market. Then you can figure out whether it’s worth waiting a bit to buy until you’re in a stronger financial position or if it’d be worth the budget stretch to get the house you want.
Having this point of reference also helps you identify a great deal. Once you’ve toured a bunch of duds, you’ll be able to spot a gem when you see one. As much as you can, however, stick to touring homes that are at least within throwing distance of your budget and priorities. Popping into a million-dollar open house on a Sunday afternoon is a fun pastime, but if you’re working with a $300,000 budget? Not the best use of your limited time.
4. Take notes and grab a listing sheet from each event
Depending on how many open houses you attend, various homes will start to blur together in your mind. So, feel free to take notes on what you see that the owner perhaps didn’t share in the listing: Are the floors a little beat up? Does the yard back into a busy road? Is the shower curtain hiding an unsightly accordion door from the ‘70s that you’d need to rip out?
Most open houses will have a listing sheet containing information about the house that you can take with you. The listing sheet will feature photos of the home plus all of its basic information (Beds, baths, square footage) for easy reference. In addition to taking your own notes, be sure to pick one up before you leave. Then store all of your listing sheets in a folder to stay organized throughout your hunt and make it easy to review what you’ve seen so far.
5. Don’t break the house rules
When you arrive at an open house, knock before you enter and look for any other instructions in the entryway for guests. You may be asked to take your shoes off, so wear footwear that you can slip on and off easily (and wear socks that day so you aren’t wandering around barefoot).
And overall, just be courteous and follow basic open house etiquette. It’s a great idea to take your own photos as you go through the house, but ask the listing agent if it’s OK to do so before you start acting like the paparazzi.
Feel free to check out the closets, however avoid rifling through medicine cabinets like this is a crime scene. Don’t let your kids run wild. If you’re asked to provide some basic info about yourself, then go with the flow.
“Listing agents are most likely going to ask you to sign in and put your name and phone number down,” says Auslander.
“It would be best if you did that as a respect to the homeowner.”
Good manners will make the listing agent more receptive to you if you decide to make an offer. In a situation with multiple buyers, following etiquette can help you stand out from the crowd.
6. Reflect on your open house tours while your memory’s fresh
You’ve spent the day or afternoon on a whirlwind tour of open houses. It’s time to take some time to reflect while your memory is fresh. This is when the listing sheet, your notes, and photos (that you took with permission) can come in handy. Find a diner or quiet place to hash out your experiences. It’s best to do this right away; Houses tend to blend together otherwise, and first impressions can fade.
Talking about the homes can help you reassess your priorities and remember what you loved about the house versus any red flags or issues. You may discover that a spacious backyard and flourishing fruit trees are more important than an open floor plan and hardwood floors, or that being close to a highly-rated school makes a smaller home more attractive.
Buying a home is a huge investment and an emotional process. Introspection helps you determine if the house ticks all the important “must-have” boxes when you’re on a mission.
7. Learn to recognize homes with ‘good bones,’ and watch out for clever staging
As you attend multiple open houses, you should develop a critical eye. Be on the lookout for signs that a house has underlying issues or aging systems that will be expensive for any new owner to replace.
How old is the roof? What’s that stain on the ceiling? What kind of plumbing is the house equipped with — corroding copper or modern PVC?
These factors matter far more than the color of the walls or furniture selections. Some signs of clever staging are mirrors to make the room look larger, carefully arranged flowers and plants, and strong scents to cover odors.
8. Cut to the chase with a list of questions
The listing agent is there to tell you more about the house than you can get from looking around. Ask them about the neighborhood, and whether the owners have made any updates recently (the new granite countertops may catch your eye, but you won’t know about the new HVAC unless you inquire). Feel free to find out how old the roof is, whether there’s been any history of water damage or plumbing leaks, and how much utilities cost month to month. If a question pops into your mind, don’t be afraid to ask it aloud. (We have a list of questions prepared for you if you’re not sure where to start!)
9. Keep your poker face
“The one thing that we would say to any of our buyer clients is not to show a lot of excitement when you’re in a home,” says Auslander. Along with holding in your emotions, never disclose your buying timeline, house budget, or money problems at an open house. If the hosting agent inquires about such details, you can keep your response vague along the lines of: “We’re in the process of sorting through some of those details, but we’re definitely interested in learning more about this house.” With that dialogue you’ve shifted the focus from you personally and back onto the house.
Navigating open houses as a buyer: Be patient, do your research, and be ready to make an offer
Open houses don’t always offer the straightest line to finding a home you’ll ultimately end up purchasing. Sometimes you’re better off booking showing appointments on your timeline. But these classic events can be incredible opportunities to learn more about real estate in your area, and who knows? With these open house tips, you just might end up making an offer on a day you planned on “just looking.”
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