Should You Bring Kids to an Open House or Just Hire a Sitter?

As parents themselves, top-selling real estate agents Matthew and Jenny Cannon of Sarasota, Florida, sympathize with a common dilemma: should bring kids to an open house?

With their unique perspective on both real estate and the challenges of raising kids, plus a deep dive into open house etiquette and parenting advice online, we’ll cover why leaving your kids at home is often the easiest decision for everyone, strategies to make bringing your kids with you go as smoothly as possible, and how your kid’s age influences whether they tag along or you bite the bullet to hire a sitter.

The case for both sides

On the one hand, 37% of all home buyers have children living at home, and 66% families are dual-income, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In many scenarios, it’s just easier to bring the kids with you than try to schedule child care. 55% of homeowners with children also say they factored their child’s opinion into the decision to buy.

However, sellers aren’t going to childproof a house on your kids’ behalf.

Nobody wants a youngster to tumble down the stairs while they’re checking out closet space, or start a pot-and-pan symphony while their parents are admiring that kitchen island. It’s also tough to focus on the property when you have one eye (and ear) on whatever the kids are doing.

“You can kind of see it coming in the door if they’re kinda wild,” Matthew Cannon said, noting that they pull the adults aside for a quick chat in those instances. “We do it in a not- confrontational kind of way, just saying, ‘Hey, you’re in another person’s house. Could you please be mindful of that and have your kids treat it accordingly?’”

Hear the disaster stories for yourself

There’s no shortage of parents out there ready to warn others about how they learned to leave the kids at home… the hard way.

One recalls cringing with embarrassment during an open house as her 2-year-old daughter climbed onto a child’s bed and snuggled with a stuffed animal while her 4-year-old son kept hiding in the closets.

Another recounts other hair-raising open house moments: children who climbed on on window sills, touched homeowners’ belongings, made scuff marks on the walls, and crowded into rooms with other prospective buyers.

The Cannons said that children ages one and a half to about seven tend to be the most rambunctious, raising concerns both about liability should someone be hurt as well as the current homeowners’ privacy.

Open house etiquette if you have kids in tow

If you must bring children to an open house, bring a spouse, partner, or friend with you. That way, one adult can take the kids outside to check out the yard and the neighborhood while the other focuses on the house.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to get a feel for who lives in the neighborhood, how well the homes are kept, and then switch off,” Jenny Cannon said.

If that’s not an option, prepare your children in advance about how best to behave with some basic ground rules:

  • Remember to look, don’t touch!
  • Leave any furry friends alone, no matter how cute they are.
  • Wipe your feet before entering the home so you don’t track mud in. 
  • Stay together and in the same room as Mom (or Dad), please.
  • Finish your food in the car. We won’t be taking it in. 
  • We’ll go potty now and we’ll go again when we get home. We won’t make a rest stop at the house unless it’s truly an emergency. This is someone else’s home.

Another pro tip: narrow down your house search online first before selecting properties to visit—then space out the visits if you have the time.

“This is good for people regardless of whether they have children. Everything starts to kind of blend in, and you forget what you see,” Jenny Cannon said.

A good strategy is to look at a few properties in the morning and take a break to go have lunch, or break it up into a couple of days. That way, the kids—whether they’re young or they’re teenagers—don’t feel like this is the never-ending day.

How your child’s age factors in

Infants are often the easiest to manage because a parent or guardian can carry them from room to room, looking over a property during naptime or while the baby has a bottle.

Toddlers tend to be the most challenging and the best ones to benefit from the switch-off strategy of bringing along another adult. Again, if that’s not possible, try to keep the children occupied with a favorite toy or a movie on a tablet.

Elementary ages and young teens can behave themselves during an open house, but they can get bored, making electronics or phone apps a good distraction. However, when children in this age bracket see something they like, they’ll speak up. “I don’t hear much other than, ‘Hey, I really like it, or I really don’t like it,” Matthew Cannon said. “It’s not an in-between.”

Older teens will “keep themselves busy” with phone apps, Matthew Cannon said. However, those ages 15 and older often ask good questions that can assist with the buying process.

“We hear more questions from teens about the area itself and probably the schools and activities,” Jenny Cannon said. “Kids want to know they have a room because, as teenagers—and we have them—most of the time, that’s where they retreat to. But outside of that, they want to know the exciting things they can do in the area and what the area has to offer.”

Involving children in the decision in some fashion can help them feel a sense of control and ownership during the moving process. But you don’t need to solicit advice on every little detail of the home, which can cause children to feel rejected if their requests aren’t met. You also don’t want them to get attached to a home that you’re not going to buy. It’s better to be clear about the reasons for relocating and what to expect during this process.

Ultimately, you’re the ones making the buying decision—and also the best judge of your children and what they can handle. If including them in the home search and an open house suits your family’s dynamics—or if you’re in a pinch and have to bring the children as company—just be sure that young ones recognize that they’re visiting someplace special.

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