An open house might be your first opportunity as a buyer to lay eyes on your new home. Online listings and printed one-sheets can only go so far, after all. Eventually, you just gotta take a look!
Open houses can also be a strategic way to gain key information about a home. With the listing agent right there, it’s a perfect chance to ask questions about the finer details of the home’s history. And sometimes other potential buyers milling around can help take the pressure off you — they might even bring up things you didn’t think to ask.
Speaking of questions you didn’t think to ask, that’s exactly what we talked about with Sheila Smith, a real estate agent in Idaho. As the top-selling agent in Boise City, Smith is an open house expert. Print out this list, and you will be the expert at your next open house — the expert buyer with all the right open house questions!
Questions to ask before you go to the open house
Before attending any open house, it’s important to connect with your own expert buyer’s agent. Your agent can find out more background about the house and the sellers from the listing agent. This helps save you time, not only at the open house (fewer questions to ask) but also in your overall search (too many red flags will save you a trip).
Questions about the listing
Your real estate agent can prepare you for the open house by inquiring about the background of the listing. Finding out how long it’s been on the market and whether there have been any price reductions can be an indicator of the desirability of the property, along with how competitive the price is.
If a house has been sitting for a while, you and your agent will want to figure out why. Is there something that’s turning buyers off (repairs, layout, neighborhood, busy street), or was the home simply overpriced to begin with?
You’ll also want to ask your agent to dig in to the pending and sold comparable sales (comps) for the area. Smith says that most agents will have a rundown of active listings available for you at the open house, but it’s important to consider those that have recently sold as well. In addition, your agent can find out some basics such as the age and vacancy status of the property.
Your list of questions to discuss with your agent could include the following:
- How long has the house been on the market?
- Have there been any price reductions?
- What are the active, pending, and recently sold comps?
- Is it vacant? How long has it been vacant?
- How old is the building?
Questions about the sellers
Your real estate agent will also be able to help with questions about why the home is for sale, any prior offers, and the anticipated timeline. This information helps to paint a picture about how the homebuying process might go; It’s an indication of how likely a seller might be to negotiate and how quickly they’d like to close.
Questions about contingencies are also helpful. For instance, your agent can get a feel for whether or not a seller is likely to accept financing, insurance, inspection discovery, appraisal, or sale-of-another-home contingencies. They can also find out if the seller will be including any contingencies, such as closing date or replacement home contingencies, along with any incentives, such as money toward closing costs or a home warranty.
The following questions will prove helpful prior to the open house:
- Why are the owners selling?
- Have there been any offers?
- What’s an ideal timeline look like for the seller?
- Are there contingencies the seller will/won’t accept?
- Are there contingencies the seller will want to make?
- Are the sellers offering any incentives?
Questions to ask at the open house
When you arrive at the open house, the first question to ask would be, “Are you the listing agent?” Sometimes a listing agent will send an agency colleague to the open house in their place, so be sure to ask up front. It might change your perspective on the answers you receive.
Questions to ask about the whole house
After you’ve taken a cursory look at the house, it’s time to start asking some deeper questions.
First of all, you’re going to want to know about any issues that the home may have and any testing that’s been done. Ask for a list of property disclosures. If there have been any past issues or if the home was built before 1978, make sure to ask for any hazardous material test results. If the seller has not had tests done, consider negotiating for them to be done up front — otherwise, you could be looking at some pretty significant expenses. Here are the average costs for testing:
- Mold testing: $200 to $300
- Asbestos testing: $500
- Radon testing: $440
- Lead paint testing: $320
- Soil testing: $30 (DIY) to $700 (pro)
In addition, you’ll want to know about the flood zoning, the age of major systems, the utility costs, and any renovation permits. All of these factors will play a role in a future offer. You’ll need solid numbers for budgeting on a monthly basis, and you’ll also want to know how much to set aside for updates.
Your list of open house questions regarding the whole home could include the following:
- What are the biggest issues?
- Has the home been tested for mold, radon, lead, or asbestos?
- Is it in a FEMA flood zone?
- Do the current owners have flood insurance? How much is it?
- Is there or has there ever been an underground oil tank?
- When was the last time the roof was replaced?
- How old are the home’s major systems (electric, plumbing, HVAC)?
- Have the sellers kept pets in the home?
- Can I see a Seller’s Property Disclosure?
- Have the sellers done upgrades or renovations? Do they have the permits?
- Wastewater — sewer or septic?
- How much are utilities?
- Propane heating?
- Other public fees?
Questions to ask about the neighborhood
A quick peek at your maps app can give you an idea about which conveniences are close by, but if the agent’s not too busy, you may want to ask their opinion about the location. It’s likely that they’ve spent time cataloguing the restaurants, parks, transportation, shopping, and medical facilities in the area. Those are good selling points, after all!
Smith says that even though real estate agents are restricted in how much they can personally share about the neighborhood, there are objective websites that they should be able to reference in order to help make a decision about the area. For instance, you could ask where they would recommend finding information about the local schools and crime levels.
In addition, you’ll definitely want to ask about the presence of an HOA (homeowners association) and subsequent fee schedules. If there’s an HOA in the neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you can agree to the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions). Check for things that are not allowed, such as certain pets, paint colors, or rental parameters.
Some neighborhood questions might include:
- What’s within walking or nearby driving distance?
- Public or cultural facilities?
- Public transportation?
- Hospitals or urgent care centers?
- Is there an HOA?
- Can I see copies of the CC&Rs?
- What are the HOA dues?
- Where can I find information about schools?
- Where can I find information about crime rates?
Questions to ask room-by-room
As you browse through the open house, be sure to take notice of each individual space and ask questions that might arise. We’ve helped to categorize some of the things you may want to ask the listing agent in each particular room.
Questions to ask about the kitchen
- Has it been updated or renovated? When? Are the permits available?
- Have there been any major repairs?
- Are there any water issues?
- Are the appliances included? How old are they? Are they all functional? Are any under warranty?
Questions to ask about the basement
- Have there ever been any issues with water or mold?
- Is there a sump pump? How old is it? How has it been maintained?
- Are the windows egress? (meaning, do they provide an exit — for code and appraisal purposes)
Questions to ask about bedrooms and common living spaces
- Have there been any extensions, renovations, or updates? When? Are the permits available?
- When was the room painted?
- How old is the carpet? What flooring is underneath?
- How old are the windows? (Visually check the seals and sills)
- Are the window treatments included?
- Can I measure to make sure my furniture will fit?
Questions to ask about bathrooms
- Has this room been renovated or updated? When? Are the permits available?
- Have there been any water intrusion or leak issues in the bathroom?
- Can I check the water pressure?
- When were the fixtures last updated?
Questions to ask about the yard or landscaping
- Where is the property line?
- If there are yard fixtures (fountain, firepit, etc.) do they stay with the property?
- If there is a pool, how old is the equipment?
- Are there areas in the yard where water doesn’t drain?
- How well does water drain away from the house?
- Are there or have there ever been pests? What kind? What mitigation has been done?
- What’s the sun exposure like in summertime? Wintertime?
- Do the sellers use a lawn service? How much does it cost?
Questions to ask yourself
Finally, as you attend an open house, you’ll want to be mindful of your own personal preferences. Ask yourself if this place feels comfortable. Try to envision yourself in the space.
Remember to ask yourself these things:
- Are there enough outlets?
- How’s my cell phone signal?
- Are there any unpleasant odors?
- Will my furniture fit here — physically and aesthetically?
- Are there any updates I’d like to make?
- Could I see this house becoming home?
Open houses are a fantastic opportunity to gather information right at the source. But at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can answer the question that matters most — “Is this the home for me?”
Header image source: (Steven Ungermann / Unsplash)