Thinking about buying a home? Wondering, “Should I buy a house now or wait?” One of the best ways to figure out if you’re ready to buy is to visit open houses to get a feel for what’s on the market, what you like, what you don’t, and what sort of house you can afford.
Open houses are also one of the best ways for you buyers as well as other REALTORS® to quickly learn a lot about a home. The listing agent is present to answer questions directly, which can save a lot of time.
In this article we’ll help you understand the most important types of things you should watch out and look for, things you need to ask about, as well as basic etiquette during an open house. Plus, we also give you lots of important tips to consider and assist you when choosing and working with a REALTOR®.
Help Selecting the Right Agent to Help You Buy Better & Smarter
While chalked full of high-value detail and advice for touring open houses on your own, keep in mind that this article also provides you with robust support guide and checklist, to help you in both selecting and working with a REALTOR®, when you are ready to buy.
When you’re going through all the details and suggestions below on things to look for and ask about, remember that the better your agent is and the more experience they have helping buyers, the more effective they will be gathering all the information we’re about to talk about.
For example, asking about the home owner’s motivations for selling, is the type of question it makes sense to ask at least twice (as we’ll talk about below), and if you get a chance to ask on different days and additionally yourself, prior to attending with your own REALTOR®, all the better as this can often generate even more information that can add significant leverage to your position during negotiations, if you decide to make an offer.
Although the topics we talk about below are smart things for you to think about, inquire on, and watch for when touring open houses, when you come across a home you really like and are ready to consider making an offer, you’ll want to contact your own REALTOR® to arrange another visit. This way you can take advantage of their professional expertise, experience, and ability to know exactly how to ask - more effectively reading the signs from things like the listing agent’s body language, word choices, and the things that ‘aren’t said’ as well as really digging for information in a more thorough and practiced sense. For example, investigating development plans; this can be tricky and complex and have a massive impact on both your happiness and future resale value.
So use this material to help you enjoy touring open houses and teach you a wealth of valuable tips and information that will assist you making many of the all-important initial decision on what you’re looking for, where, how much you can afford and much more; then use it as a guide when interviewing REALTORS®, as well as going out with them on those secondary viewing appointments for the home(s) you fall in love with, to ensure you have a more successful buying experience and result when choosing your new home.
Advantages of Touring Open Houses
Heading out on Saturday or Sunday and touring open houses can be pretty fun and most certainly an extremely valuable learning experience, even if you’re not quite ready to buy yet.
Why? Obviously all first-time home buyers have a lot to learn to avoid making mistakes and even as an experienced home buyer buying your second, third or fourth home, going through lots of open houses teaches you all kinds of things, and refreshes and strengthens your abilities to make the best kinds of decisions for your ever changing life and sets of needs.
Firstly, touring open houses helps you discover and better decide upon what you really want and need in your next dream home, and what you don’t. You get a firmer grasp on your priorities, and you’ll learn more and more about how not to be influenced by the many trappings of home buying fever, like the smell of freshly baked cookies and catering, that amazingly huge deck, screened in wrap-around porch or Jacuzzi surprise, those stunning top-of-the-line stainless appliances, or, that gorgeous color or highlight wall in the living room.
Visiting dozens of homes also teaches you, through sheer exposure, how to overlook the superficial flaws (like terrible staging, lackluster curb appeal, or awful paint) and spot a great home when you see one. You’ll also learn how to swiftly spot a dud.
You’ll gain an increasingly thorough understanding of home pricing in your community’s various neighbourhoods of interest and over time (and a fair amount of tours), you’ll know when an asking price is reasonable for a home, and when the owner is asking too much.
You’ll also learn heaps about how to communicate and negotiate much more effectively with real estate agents, including your own. After you talk to numerous agents, you’ll get a better sense of the lingo they use and the information they’re willing to share. You’ll also refine your own list of questions and figure out exactly what, and how you need to ask, to get the information you want.
Plus, visiting a large enough number of open houses can be incredibly valuable if you know you’re going to eventually sell your home – giving you a rich list of remodeling, staging and prepositioning ideas to consider – to increase your own home’s value and selling price.
What to Look for During an Open House
Remember, when you walk into an open house, it’s easy to get distracted by its most beautiful features like abundant natural light, a large attractive living room or the perfectly staged bedrooms. However, you need to pay attention to all the details of any home to properly gauge if it’s a good buy, could become a good buy with your insistence on certain terms, or a dud with serious problems.
Naturally, the more complicated something is, the more risk is involved and true the idiom “the devil is in the details” becomes.
Additionally, your own REALTOR® should not only be well versed effectively dealing with buyers enthusiasm and providing the rational and complete review of all a property’s details, but bear in mind they should also never push you toward purchase either(although this can and unfortunately does happen). So make sure you watch for any pressure to purchase and try to choose an experienced agent with a noteworthy and tangible focus on higher levels of integrity, who won’t ever push you to buy anything. Also keep in mind that the listing agent has been contracted by the seller and is representing the seller’s best interest. More on the difference in representation in a future article.
So, what do you need to look for yourself as well as with the help of your agent during a second (often private) viewing?
- Watch For Any & All Signs Of Damage Or Neglect!
Every home is going to have some wear and tear. What you really want to pay attention to and look carefully for are obvious signs of significant damage or sustained neglect:
- Examine the baseboards, especially in the basement. Any signs of staining or warping often indicate past flooding or burst pipes. Stains on ceilings could also indicate plumbing issues, or a leaking roof. Make an effort to breathe-in rooms and spaces as you walk through the home and pay special attention to your nose; if a room or area smells musty, it may indicate mold or mildew.
- Open up cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks and look for tiny black spots on the back wall; this indicates the presence of mold. Also keep your eyes open for black spots in the caulking around tubs and sinks.
- Carefully examine all exposed pipes, checking for rust or any signs of leaking.
- When a home’s hardwood floors are hidden under rugs, this can sometimes be an attempt to hide damage in areas to the finish and wood. You can certainly ask and either directly or more discreetly lift them up to look under those rugs to check out the quality of the floors underneath.
- All windows should be examined carefully. If you notice any condensation inside the glass, it’s a sign they’re leaking and likely need to be replaced. Tougher to spot at a glance and equally telling, flaking or bubbling paint around windows can also indicate that moisture is getting in.
- Special attention needs to be paid to all cracks in the walls and ceiling. Small hairline cracks are especially common in Canadian climates, quite normal and usually nothing to worry about as they’re simply a sign of the home settling. Larger cracks, however, can indicate a problem with the foundation.
- Don’t be afraid to open and close doors and windows because if they stick or are hard to open, this can also be another indicator of foundation problems.
- You should also feel around windows, doors, and even electrical outlets for any drafts. While drafts can be easily fixed with caulk, they’re also a sign of poor and delayed maintenance.
IMPORTANT: For any home you feel you may want to make an offer on, make note of any damage and all areas of concern as you go through each room. You won’t remember everything, and being able to go over all your concerns and any damage again afterward will help you and your agent craft a much better offer.
- What About the Neighbours?
You’re also buying neighbours too, when you buy a home. Don’t hesitate to ask about and make sure to look carefully at the people and homes you might be living next to, including those properties and people that border the backyard.
If you’re really interested in a home you’re viewing, you certainly can and probably should ask about the people themselves. You can also learn a lot by simply paying closer attention to the appearance of all those neighbouring properties. How well maintained are the houses and yards? Do you see signs of any children or pets? Are there any dogs outside barking during your visit? Is the nieghbours trash neatly stored or is it in heaps and mess? Are their unsightly piles of various sorts all over the yard? Are there lots of cars in the driveway?
If you think you might make an offer on a home, you should definitely go for a walk to get a feel for the neighbourhood. You should also knock on a few doors and talk to some of the neighbours. Ask them what the neighbourhood is like, how they like living there, and anything they know about the home you’re considering buying. Ask what they know about the people living next to the home you’re thinking about. Is there anything they wish they’d known about the neighbourhood before they moved in?
You can frequently uncover some enlightening and critically valuable information by simply speaking to a few of the people already living nearby.
It’s also important to visit the neighbourhood on different days, and at and different times, especially weekends. You’ll probably want to find out beforehand if you’d be living next to loud or late-night party animals.
- Closet Space Is Critical!
People can often underestimate the importance of and fail to ascertain the true volume of storage space in a home. You might not think closet space would be a deal-breaker, but once you’re in your new home for a few months and there’s no room for any of your stuff, you’ll think otherwise.
Storage space is a seriously important aspect to pay attention to. If you buy a home that won’t fit your current or planned lifestyle, you’ll end up living in an overcrowded and cluttered space. Even if you’re downsizing, you still need to ensure your new home is equipped with adequate storage for the possessions you plan to take with you.
It’s also helpful to bear in mind that older homes normally have fewer closets and pantry space. No matter what kind of home you’re considering buying, counting closets and measuring shelf space before you make an offer can make all the difference in the world.
- How About Privacy?
Look through each and every window as you go through the home. How much distance is there between you and your next-door neighbor? How much light would you sacrifice to secure privacy with certain windows having the blinds drawn or shutters closed?
Less privacy in certain areas might not seem like a big deal on day one, but after a while, it may begin to bother you. Make sure to think about what you can tolerate in terms of privacy.
- Natural Air Flow
Look at how the home is laid out. Are there windows and doors positioned so you can open them up to take advantage of the breeze when you want to, especially during the hotter summer months?
The air flow of a home is something buyers can often overlook. You want to bear in mind that opening the windows will not only lower your utility bills, good airflow also keeps moisture moving through the home, and might help reduce allergies.
- Behavior of Other Buyers
People watching for a few minutes (at a busier open house) before walking in can be insightful too, since the behavior of the folks coming and going can give you some important clues.
For example, if you see that people aren’t spending much time touring a home, it could indicate there are some issues. On the other hand, if you notice people lingering around the property and taking their time talking to the agent, it could be a signal that the home won’t last long on the market.
When you’re inside the home, pay special attention to the things other buyers are talking about and looking at. Their comments can frequently be large clues as to whether the property is hot, or not.
Questions to Ask at an Open House
Now, after you’ve looked around and got a good feeling about the house, what should you ask the agent to finish up your tour?
- What Problems Are Present in the Home?
This is typically the most important question you need to ask the listing agent at any open house.
In most cases, agents are legally bound to disclose latent defects (hidden issues behind the walls for example) structural problems or code violations. However, getting a home inspection is absolutely crucial! Do not skip this step if you’re interested in purchasing any home, no matter what.
Once again, if you really like a home and are considering making an offer, contact your agent and have them arrange a private showing and then they can help you make certain all the tougher questions are asked properly, multiple times and in right manner to gain the most high quality information, as well as watch for and inquire on all aspects that need proper attention to avoid any problems in the future.
- Have There Been Any Price Changes?
Make sure to ask the listing agent to tell you about the home’s listing price and any price reductions that have occurred since it went on the market.
Price fluctuations can provide you with some valuable clues. They can indicate that the seller is flexible on pricing and may be willing to come down even further, if you make an offer.
Several price drops can indicate problems, but not always. In some cases owners choose to drop prices because previous buyers have made offers, only to then discover issues through home inspection that made them walk away.
Alternately, some homeowners insist upon a higher price point and agents can also choose to list a home at a higher price thinking they can sell for more than the home’s worth in actuality. Quickly changing market conditions can easily contribute to these sorts of situations, so don’t be too quick to discount a home that’s seen a few price drops, or as discussed next, been on the market a while.
- How Long Has the Home Been on the Market?
This information is easy to find out on your own, so remember to factor market conditions and look at this question yourself prior to or after touring a home.
Sometimes the agent might let you know that a home is newly listed and there has been a lot of interest already. This, in turn, lets you know that if you love the house, you might want to make an offer that day. On the other hand, if you happen to know ahead of time or the agent says that the home has been on the market for a while, ask them to explain why it hasn’t sold yet. This question frequently yields incredibly valuable information that can give you some leverage if you decide to make an offer.
- Have There Been Any Offers on the Home?
Listing agents will usually tell you right away if there has been a recent offer on the home.
Additionally, if the owner happens to have walked away from past offers, this can often indicate they’re more motivated to sell now. However, it just as easily could mean the opposite – that they’re firmer on their asking price and less willing to negotiate. In some cases, this can also indicate that they might require unique conditions and more savvy information gathering and negotiation strategies by your agent and yourselves to be able to negotiate an effective win-win.
- What’s the Neighbourhood Like?
We spoke about the neighbours themselves earlier on and encouraged you to ask a few of them about the neighbourhood. You’ll want to take this further though and really do a thorough job gathering as much information as you can about the nieghbourhood itself. Think about it, you can always change the look and feel of your home, but you can’t change much of anything about the actual neighbourhood you live in.
In addition to asking some of the neighbours and your own agent, make sure to ask the listing agent to tell you about the neighbourhood too. A few basic questions are how much traffic comes through? What is the speed limit? Is this home a good representation of other homes in the neighbourhood?
- What Are the Local Schools Like?
The quality of local schools is a huge selling point for homes for a couple of reasons. Even if you don’t have children, it’s important to know what kind of district you’re moving into, and how well it’s rated.
Why? Because homes located in great school districts sell much faster than homes located in low-performing districts. If you love and buy a home from a low-performing district, then it might take longer to sell when you’re ready to move on. Conversely, if you buy in a great district, you’ll almost certainly have more potential buyers interested in your home whenever you’re ready to sell.
Your own agent can and should access a wealth of this sort of information quickly and easily for you, although it never hurts to ask the listing agent and any of the neighbours you happen to speak with as well yourself.
- Why Are the Owners Selling?
This is a delicate and sometimes complex question, which agents often can’t answer. Firstly because a seller’s agent has their client’s best interests at heart and consequently, this means not disclosing a client’s personal information, including their reason for selling. Secondly, some sellers may have private or personal reasons for selling that they don’t fully disclose to even their agent.
So, why should you ask this question? Well, because some agents will tell you why their client is selling and in some circumstances, this knowledge can give you more leverage and opportunity during negotiations.
How should you ask? Directly, first, then consider asking a second time saying something like, “Are there any other reasons the buyers have mentioned or you think might be motivating the sale in some small part?” You’d be surprised at the extra information a polite second attempt can generate in certain cases, which again, can be highly valuable when it comes time to negotiating a win-win.
Also pay attention to the listing agent’s hesitation or body language as this can clue you in that there’s more to the story, and part of that story might also mean any number of things, for example, problems with the house itself. If you’re working with a buyer’s agent, they are hopefully well attuned to the myriad of possibilities and trained to successfully dig around and uncover what’s going on every level.
Ultimately your own REALTOR® will add a powerful professional dimension to this question and many others, when you revisit your favorite home(s) with them. Don’t hesitate to ask yourselves though as discussed at the start, people will often divulge more and more information when asked the same questions multiple times by the same buying parties and their agents.
- What Feedback Have You Received From Other Agents?
Yet again, this is another question that an agent may or may not be in a position to answer. It’s still worth asking though as insightful and valuable information can often be gleaned.
Red Flags to Watch Out For
Here are a few signs that can indicate that a beautifully staged home isn’t quite as “perfect” as it seems.
- Overly Strong Fragrance
Homes that smell strongly of cleaning products or air fresheners, can sometimes be attempting to mask the smell of pet accidents, cigarette smoke, mold, or mildew.
Carefully examine the floors and ceilings as you go through the home. Watch for stains on the carpet that could be from pet accidents as well as any stains or discoloration on the walls and ceilings, which may be a result of smoking or even a leaky roof.
- Signs of Neglect
Pay special attention to small repairs and damage that hasn’t been repaired. Small things can also be a sign of larger problems with things, for example plumbing, energy efficiency, windows and doors, or even leaks.
Likewise, if you notice the paint is old and chipped, the faucet is leaking or the cabinets aren’t in good repair, even little things like weeds in the garden bed can often be evidence of an owner who doesn’t take care of the little things and likely hasn’t taken care of the big things either.
- A Few Too Many Homes for Sale in the Neighbourhood
Multiple homes for sale in the area isn’t always a bad thing, but does warrant asking a few questions and doing a bit of research to find out why, as this could mean that there is an issue.
Perhaps crime is a growing problem and people are looking to relocate to a safer neighbourhood. Other times, planned development projects can make a nieghbourhood or street much less desirable for a host of reasons, not the least of which are loss of parkland and green spaces, and increased traffic and construction noise.
Whatever the reason, finding out what’s going on in the neighbourhood and all about any future development project, can save you significant headache and ending up stuck in an area where you’re not as happy, safe or comfortable.
- Lots of Recent Renovations
Brand-new kitchens and updated bathrooms are smart pre-sale renovations for sellers in many cases and can certainly be appealing to buyers. However, it’s critical to look carefully at these renovations and evaluate their quality. Shoddy workmanship happens and some homeowners might even cut corners, or go with a cheap contractor, looking for a larger return and to help make their home more salable as quickly as possible. It might look great during the open house, but a sloppy job will cause problems for you after you move in.
If you decide to make an offer, make sure you hire a home inspector or structural engineer (if needed) to go over every inch of the home; they’ll be able to spot a poor job in a heartbeat. This will also help you avoid a DIY home improvement disaster, which can get very expensive.
- Unfinished Construction Begs Questions
Imagine you fall in love with a home, despite the fact that the “finished basement” isn’t quite finished yet. There’s still drywall still stacked in the corner and open wires running through the studs in the ceiling. Rather than simply thinking it doesn’t look like a big deal or a much work at all to finish, you should be asking, “What’s really going on?”
Most of the time, unfinished construction is an immediate red flag. It could mean that the seller merely ran out of money for the project, or more seriously, that the contractor ran into structural problems or other issues that they didn’t want to deal with. Whatever the reason, you absolutely without a doubt need to find out exactly why the seller was willing to hold an open house before everything was completed.
Moreover, banks can be reluctant to loan money for a home with any unfinished construction. So, if you fall in love with a home with any unfinished construction projects, make sure to contact your bank before you make an offer and confirm they’ll approve your mortgage.
Additionally, look carefully at your finances to determine how much it will cost to finish the project yourself and whether you can afford the extra cost.
5 Etiquette Tips for Every Open House
Similar to most events, activities and places you might attend, there is some basic open house etiquette that you should follow.
- Follow the Rules
Most often, agents request that visitors remove their shoes before they tour the home. This is much more common in wetter climates and if it’s raining or snowing outside. You can make it easier on yourself by wearing slip-on shoes with socks on days your visiting open houses.
- Don’t Bring Pets & Children MUST Be Well-Behaved & Watched Carefully
No matter how well behaved your pets are, they are not welcome and should never be brought along to an open house. Pets can also easily cause distraction and disturbance, not to mention track in dirt from outside or have an embarrassing ‘accident’.
Children on the other hand can come along if they are well-behaved and watched carefully; they should NOT be allowed to wander an open house and should remain with you at all times. Children can easily break something, cause distraction and disturbances to other potential buyers as well as the hosting agent, so if you do decide to bring your children, be especially considerate and attentive to ensure they don’t cause a disturbance or problems of any kind.
If you have a lot of open houses to attend, you can consider dropping the kids off with friends or family, or get a sitter and leave them at home with your pets.
- Do Introduce Yourself and Sign In
Agents want to know a bit about who and certainly how many people are coming and going in the home. This is why they often try to be positioned near the front door as you enter the home. Even if you’re “just browsing,” be polite and introduce yourself.
Most agents put out a sign-in sheet so they can send added information about home to those that request it and continue to market the home once the open house is over. Furthermore, this also helps them track how much foot traffic the open house generated.
So, be courteous and sign in. Don’t worry, you definitely don’t have to include your contact information if you’re not interested in further information or marketing from the agent, but putting down your name(s) will at least ensure that the agent gets an accurate traffic count.
- Don’t Crowd Other Prospective Buyers
Something you might not be aware of is that it’s also good etiquette to wait until other visitors have left a room before you enter. This provides other prospective buyers the time and space to really look, rather than feeling “pushed out” by another buyer who’s looking at the same space.
Obviously depending on the busyness and amount of people attending at any given time, areas like the entrance, kitchen, living room and dining room can sometimes have a bit of a crowd and that’s fine, just pay attention to other potential buyers as you walk through the home and don’t enter rooms while other people are already in there looking around.
- Do Mention Problem Areas to the Agent
If you notice things like small damage or repairs, larger issues like signs of leaks or mold, or even a water hose lying on the grass that might pose a tripping hazard, mention it to the agent. They can either quickly fix the problem, or notify the seller to address the issue.
Remember, even if you’re not quite ready to buy, it can still be well worth your time to tour open houses, especially if you have an idea of various neighbourhoods you might like to buy in when the time comes. Open houses help you determine what kind of home you can afford and a lot about what you really want in your home, and what you don’t. You can also get a much better feel for the various neighbourhoods you’re considering and current market conditions.
If you’ve never been to an open house, don’t worry about being hassled or feeling intimidated. It’s common for first-time home buyers to think that they’ll be hounded by pushy agents trying to sell the homes; however, the great majority of agents know to step back and allow buyers look at their own pace.
Don’t forget that your REALTOR® needs to be a seasoned professional in order to secure you the best result and terms of sale; and this guide is meant to help you both select the right agent by knowing all the major elements to watch for and discuss together, as well as help you make certain your chosen representative is covering all the required elements effectively by reminding you of all the major risks and components to cover in discussions with them and the listing agent, in order to enable at the end of the day - the most successful negotiation results on your behalf.
Buying a new home is one of the most exciting moments in our lives and so is the process of investigating and learning more about neighbourhoods and current market conditions – so have fun!
MARION GOARD’S A SEASONED PRO WHO LOVES HELPING YOU FIND YOUR NEXT DREAM HOME J
Call 905-330-5201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange coffee or tea and your free consultation.