In 2019, 44% of buyers began their house-hunting process online, where they’d spend hours looking at photographs and watching video tours on countless listings.
However, by going to open houses, you can get a good idea of what the house is really like. You can hear if there are any creaky floorboards. You can smell whether or not there may be a mold problem in the basement. You might even be able to chat with the neighbors to get some insider knowledge about the neighborhood, the property, and so on.
If you’re considering going to an open house, you don’t want to go empty-handed — especially if you’re serious about finding a new home to buy. We’ll fill you in on what to bring to an open house and what you’ll want to leave at home. (You’d be surprised by what some people bring with them!)
What to bring to an open house: The must-haves
1. A list of questions
One of the most important things that you should bring to an open house is a list of questions. You don’t want to wander aimlessly through someone’s house, nor do you want to be caught off-guard when you’re greeted by the listing agent and they ask if they can answer any questions!
So, what questions should you ask?
“When someone comes to an open house, they have already seen the listing on a website somewhere. Of course, they’ll ask the price, but they should ask about the taxes, maintenance fees, what the neighbors and neighborhood are like. Some will even ask about the utility bills and average cost per month,” Mary Stewart, a veteran real estate agent in Texas with 40 years of experience, shares.
You can find more questions to ask at an open house by checking out our complete list on the topic in this article.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring something to record the agent’s answers! This could be a pen and paper, a tablet, or you can use your phone if you’re skilled with a small keyboard. With that said, we don’t recommend using your phone to record the answers if you intend on taking photos, video, or if you’re using it to illuminate dark spaces — it may be too cumbersome to juggle everything!
2. A tape measure
Have you ever noticed that an empty room looks humongous when there’s no furniture in it? You could walk into a bedroom and think, “Yeah, I totally have enough room for my bedroom furniture!” …But you could be wrong.
Maybe you have a custom dining table you want to keep, or you plan to replace the existing appliances in the house with new ones. A tape measure is going to make your life a whole lot easier because you’ll know how much square footage you have to work with.
Pro tip: Along with a tape measure, you should document the dimensions of your larger pieces of furniture (living room set, entertainment stand, bedroom furniture, and so on) and bring them with you. This way, you’ll know for sure if the home has enough space for your existing furniture. If you forget to take measurements of your larger items, make sure to jot down the room’s measurements! When you get home, you can use free room layout programs like HomeByMe, Planner 5D, and Sweet Home 3D to visualize how things will fit.
3. A light
Okay, we know this sounds like an odd thing to bring. You’d think that the listing agent would have all the curtains or blinds open so the rooms are flooded with natural light — or at least have all the lights on.
The reason why you should bring a light with you is because it will let you see in the darkest corners of the home. You can look in the closets, check out the cabinet space, and look in the attic or basement (providing you ask the agent first). A light can help you see the amount of storage space there or spot potential problems that lurk in the dark.
Pro tip: You can use your phone’s flashlight to look in dark spaces, but if you’re using it to take photos (more on that next), you’ll have to rely on your flash when snapping a picture. And, although your flash may work, sometimes the picture will turn out grainy and you won’t be able to see the finer details. That’s why we recommend bringing a miniature flashlight with you. LED flashlights are great because they’re quite a bit brighter than your ordinary flashlight.
4. A camera
What do you do if you go to an open house and love it, but your partner isn’t there with you? What if you go to several different open houses and you can’t recall the features of one house over another?
A camera is a great way to document what you liked and didn’t like about the home. You can mull over the photographs with your partner, or you can use them to help you weigh the pros and cons of several different houses.
“Some sellers have a problem with someone taking pictures or video. They get suspicious and think the person is casing the place,” Stewart notes. And often, “photos and videos aren’t necessary because we can have up to 50 photos online. We also have 3D tours and it’s like someone is in the attic showing the whole house, including the floor plan and even furniture!” So make sure you ask the listing agent whether recording devices are allowed.
It’s worth mentioning that most cameras have a video recording feature that you can use to record your thoughts as you tour the house.
Pro tip: You might think it’s perfectly fine to take snapshots or record videos while you go through the house, but if the house is still occupied, it’s also an invasion of privacy. Remember that it’s common courtesy to ask the listing agent before you start snapping.
Socks may be one of the least likely things to appear on this list, but hear us out. Some homeowners aren’t keen on people wearing shoes in their house, be it for cleanliness’ sake or for religious reasons. To respect their client’s wishes, the listing agent may ask you to remove your shoes or wear booties over your shoes before touring the house.
Most people will dress comfortably when they’re going to open houses and are likely wearing socks. However, if you’re wearing flats, sandals, or other footwear that doesn’t require socks, you’ll be glad you brought them with you. (Of course, you do have the option of going barefoot if you’d like, too.)
Pro tip: If you’re attending an open house with your buyer’s agent, it doesn’t hurt to ask them if they’re familiar with the home and what the house rules are — if any at all. In doing so, you can be prepared if the homeowner doesn’t allow shoes in the house, learn about the photography or video rules, and so on.
6. Personal protective equipment
The coronavirus pandemic eliminated open houses in many parts of the country temporarily, but that doesn’t mean real estate came to a grinding halt. People still needed to find housing. However, the pandemic has changed some aspects of how business is being conducted. If the seller wants you to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), you’ll need to have yours on hand in case the listing agent doesn’t supply it for you.
PPE usually refers to face masks, gloves, and closed-toe shoes. Some people also like to carry hand sanitizer for that extra bit of protection.
Pro tip: If your local or state municipality has a stay-at-home order in place, virtual open houses are a great tool for buyers. The listing agent will host an open house via a live-streaming service, such as Zoom, Facebook, or Instagram. Here you’ll be able to ask the agent questions as they walk through the house, showing you every nook and cranny if asked.
7. Miscellaneous items
Other things you may want to bring with you include:
- A bottle of water in case you get thirsty and the listing agent doesn’t have refreshments available. Do not bring food or other beverages besides water because accidents happen, and you do not want to be responsible for any damages that may occur.
- Information about your buyer’s agent if you’re working with one and they aren’t with you. The best way to do this is by having your agent’s business card with their contact information so you can easily share this information.
- Have your preapproval documentation (not to be confused with a prequalification letter) with you so that the hosting agent knows you’re a serious buyer and have already started the process of applying for a mortgage.
What not to bring with you to an open house
Whether you’re attending an open house on a whim or if it’s been planned for weeks, it would be a bad idea if you brought anyone other than your agent and one other person.
If you have children, we strongly recommend hiring a sitter — you don’t want any distractions while looking through the home.
Why do we suggest not bringing more than one other person with you? You know the saying, “There’s too many cooks in the kitchen”? When you have multiple people walking with you through an open house, they may focus on pointing out small problems that can easily be fixed, such as paint color or an unkempt yard. Or they might fall in love with one of the home’s features and try to convince you it’s perfect. Yes, they may mean well, but they could plant a seed of doubt or hope that isn’t actually going to land you in your dream home.
This should go without saying, but please leave your pets at home, too! Unless you have a service animal, pets should never come with you to any open houses, viewings, or other home-shopping activities. Heaven forbid they have an accident on the carpet or damage the furniture or knick-knacks — it’s a recipe for disaster.
Ready for your open house?
Whether you’re just starting your search for a new home or you’ve been searching for some time, an open house is a fantastic way to see what’s out there. Since buying a house is probably one of the most important decisions of your life, you’ll want to be prepared.
The items you should absolutely bring with you include that list of questions you’d like the listing agent to answer and a way to take notes so you can go over them later. Try to bring a tape measure or a list of dimensions regarding your larger pieces of furniture so you can get an idea of whether or not your things will even fit in the house, or both.
Although you may not find a house with everything on your must-have list, open houses can be a great way to see what matters most to you — and that’s all that really matters.
Header Image Source: (Андрей Постовой / Unsplash)