Headed to an Open House? Here's What You Need to Know

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If you’ve never bought or sold a home before, you may not understand how open houses work, which makes attending one rather intimidating. Before you head out to your first open house, we want to answer your top questions about them and to point out some tips and tricks you can use to give a good impression to the listing agent and home seller, as well as how you can make the most of the experience. 

Can you just show up to an open house?

Can anyone go to an open house? In most cases, yes. Even if you don’t want to purchase the home, you can usually attend the open house anyway. How to gain access to an open house varies, especially with pandemic health concerns being top of mind. Right now, your real estate agent may need to book you an appointment to tour the home. But in many cases, open houses are advertised for certain days and times and the listing agent will encourage anyone who may be interested in the home to show up. If you haven’t chosen an agent to work with yet, contact the listing agent on the home for more details about how you can attend an open house.

Sometimes you’ll find details about open house times and dates on the digital listing for the home or in ads in the local paper. When you drive by an open house sign, you can usually find details about when you can attend the open house directly on the sign. If you come across a home you’re interested in and the open house details aren’t readily available, have your agent give the listing agent a call to learn more. 

When you arrive at an open house, you don’t have to ring or knock, you can typically just walk right in unless instructed to do otherwise. 

Is there a dress code? 

You don’t have to worry too much about what to wear to an open house, because it is a fairly informal event, but you do want to dress respectfully. So skip the flip flops and sweats for now. Especially if you want the listing agent to take you seriously as a buyer. Dress for comfort when you have multiple open houses to attend in a single day, but make sure you’re pulled together.

What should you look out for?

You need to know what to look out for at an open house to get the most out of the experience. 

Keep an eye out for the following things when you attend your next open house:

  • Damage and neglect. Unless you plan to buy a new construction home, you should expect some minor wear and tear. There are certain types of neglect and damage you should look for, however, such as staining or warping on baseboards (sign of past flooding or burst pipes), stains on the ceiling (sign of a leaking roof), and musty smells (sign of mold or mildew). Your agent should be able to help you identify other red flags.  
  • The neighbors. You can get a quick preview of what your potential neighbors will be like when you glance at their yards. Do they maintain their landscaping? Do they appear to have loud children or pets? Are there a lot of cars in their driveway? Look for the signs of unappreciated neighborly behavior that may bug you once you move in. That said, don’t judge a book by its cover — conversations with the neighbors could clear up misunderstandings and form early, important bonds. 
  • Closet space and storage. A home with ample storage makes your life a lot easier, so if storage is something that matters to you, don’t forget to evaluate the different storage spaces a home has to offer. 
  • Privacy. How private does the home appear to be? How close are your windows to the neighbors’ windows? Can you hear their activities from the house?
  • Air flow. If you want to avoid unnecessary air conditioning bills, try to find a home that is set up in a way that you’ll get to enjoy a nice summer breeze. Good air flow in a home also helps reduce moisture and allergy symptoms. 
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Should I bring anything with me?

When you tour homes, there’s a few handy things you should bring with you to get the most out of the experience. If you’re truly considering buying the home, you’ll want to take advantage of the access you have during the open house to nail down some important details. 

It’s helpful to bring the following items with you to an open house: 

  • Tape measure. If you have your heart set on bringing certain pieces of furniture or appliances with you when you move, a tape measure is especially helpful to have on hand. You may also find yourself curious about how big certain areas of the home are, which can be deceptive depending on how the home is designed. 
  • Flashlight or phone light. You may feel a bit odd packing a flashlight with you, but there may be times where you struggle to see key areas of the home (like an attic or basement) if there isn’t proper lighting. In a pinch, your phone’s flashlight can do the trick. 
  • Camera. A digital camera or your phone’s camera really comes in handy when you tour more than one home or if you need to attend an open house without your partner. Take photos at an open house to make it easier to recall the details of a home you liked or didn’t like later when you sit down to consider your options. 
  • Socks. Some homeowners may request you remove your shoes when you enter their home or put on booties over your shoes. If they request you remove your shoes, you need to comply, and a pair of socks with you will probably make you feel a lot more comfortable. 
  • Personal protective equipment. This depends on where you are, and what the current state of the coronavirus pandemic is, but you may need to wear a form of PPE (like a face mask) during an open house. While the listing agent may provide these supplies, it’s helpful to bring your own in case they don’t. 

What questions should I ask?

Don’t be afraid to be nosy when you go to an open house. When you buy a home, you need to feel confident in your decision before you place an offer, so feel free to ask the listing agent any questions that come to mind. 

Here are the top questions to ask when you attend an open house:

  • Does the home have any issues? Because certain states don’t require full disclosure, you may not be aware of all issues a home has before an inspection. Ask the listing agent to give you a copy of the seller’s disclosure that outlines all current known issues and take those into consideration before you make an offer.
  • Has the selling price changed? Price fluctuations give you valuable clues about the homeowner’s eagerness to sell the home. If they’ve dropped the price since they put the home on the market, they may be open to another drop. 
  • How long has the home been on the market? If a house has been on the market for a while, you’ll likely have more negotiation power if you choose to put in an offer. 
  • Has the home received any offers? Chances are, a listing agent will tell you right away if there was a recent offer on the home in an attempt to start a bidding war. What you really want to know is if the seller has turned down offers in the past. This is a sign they likely won’t want to negotiate. 
  • Can you tell me more about the neighborhood? To find your dream, you need to find your dream neighborhood. Where your house is located is just as important as what it looks like, so ask about what the neighborhood is like. Is it walkable? Are there parks nearby? What about good restaurants? 
  • What are the schools like? Even if you don’t have children, being near a good school district is important for your resale value. 
  • Why are the owners selling the home? If they simply want more space or need to move because of a job, the agent will probably tell you. If they don’t have an answer to share, it may be because of heavy traffic flow or obnoxious neighbors. 

Easy etiquette tips to follow at an open house

There are some small, but important, open house etiquette faux pas you’ll want to avoid when you tour homes. Not only will being on your best behavior help make a good impression on the listing agent and seller, but it’s simply good manners. 

  • Wait to enter a room until other visitors have departed it 
  • Don’t use the bathrooms
  • Don’t open drawers, cabinets, refrigerators, or closed doors
  • Remove your shoes if requested
  • Use indoor voices

Remember, an open house is a really important part of the home buying experience. If you really want to put an offer in on a home, don’t be afraid to ask your real estate agent to arrange a second visit.

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