Attending an open house is a common step as you shop for your dream home. Of course, it lets you see a property (often after it’s been styled and staged to look its best), which can trigger “I love it!,” “hard pass,” and every possible reaction in between.
But an open house also gives you information beyond just the surface appeal of a home. It can give you clues to structural issues, the level of home maintenance it’s received, and how popular it is with potential buyers. That is, if you know what to look for as you walk through, rather than just admiring some great use of subway tile or a charming farmhouse sink.
Here, learn about what to expect at an open house and how to get the most out of attending one.
Benefits of Attending an Open House
At an open house, a property can be viewed by potential buyers. You can eyeball the house, the street, the neighbors’ places. You might even consider it a homebuyer’s guide to what it’s really like to live somewhere.
There are several benefits to attending an open house as you move through the steps of buying a house. These include:
• You can hone your house-hunting skills by taking detailed notes and comparing them to past and future listings.
• It’s a face-to-face opportunity to make a good impression on the listing agent and ask as many questions as necessary (without having to wait for a reply).
• Sometimes listing photos simply don’t do a house justice. The in-person lighting might be brighter, the hardwood floors shinier, or the primary bedroom larger than it seemed online.
• Similarly, strategically hidden flaws, red flags, and nuances that can only be detected in person are exposed so you (and other potential bidders) can make a truly informed decision.
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What to Expect at an Open House
Some open houses are literally open, meaning they’re posted on a real estate listing or a sign out front and members of the public are allowed to stop by.
In other cases, an open house is available only by appointment and arranged by the seller’s broker.
Typically, the sellers won’t be on the scene at an open house. It’s likely their listing agent will handle the event, guiding potential buyers around the dwelling and answering questions.
There could be other house hunters or visitors (nosy neighbors, perhaps?) attending the open house.
Most homebuyers will be provided with a booklet or pamphlet featuring details about the property, which could include the year it was built, heating and cooling information (oil vs. natural gas, etc.), the square footage, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, the size of the lot, types of appliances, and exterior features like decks, porches, pools, and sheds.
From there, house hunters will fill out a sign-in document that records their information for follow-up (unless this was already done in advance) and tour the property. This could occur with the listing agent in tow or by themselves, saving questions for the end.
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Open House Etiquette
Figuring out what to do at an open house isn’t always intuitive, but a crisp, respectful approach can go a long way:
• Bringing along food, drinks, pets, or unruly children could be considered disrespectful and distracting.
• Following the house rules can be crucial, so buyers might be prepared to remove shoes, steer clear of personal property, and ask permission before snapping photos.
• Being polite and personable to the hosting agent can put potential homebuyers in a more favorable light.
• Maintaining a poker face can be helpful during the open house process. If homebuyers spill the beans about how much they love the property, it could make negotiations tougher if and when they make an offer.
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Things to Look For at an Open House
If you stay focused and zoom in on details, you can learn a lot during an open house. Perhaps there’s an initially inconspicuous flaw on the exterior of the house or there’s no closet in the fourth bedroom.
Things to look for when buying a house and at an open house in particular could include:
• Visible signs of neglect or damage (more on that soon).
• Proximity to the neighbors and whether there’s sufficient privacy. A poke around the premises can also reveal what those new neighbors are like. Do they have a half-built skate park? A forever-barking dog? A chicken coop? A forever-barking dog? A chicken coop?
• Closet and storage space and whether it’s enough to suit your needs.
• What other potential buyers are up to. If they’re in and out quickly or lingering in one area in particular, perhaps it’s an indication of an issue that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Potential Red Flags
Aside from standard considerations like the ones above, some red flags to look for at an open house could include:
• An abundance of sweet aromas from candles or air fresheners. This could signal hard-to-fix smells (perhaps caused by mildew or another issue) lurking under the surface.
• Unevenly spaced tiles or crooked electrical outlets, which could signify sloppy DIY renovations that might require costly repairs down the line.
• Issues with the foundation of the house like large gaps, doors that stick, windows with visible cracks, or uneven floors.
• Proximity to water. Checking a FEMA flood map can also help potential buyers know whether there’s the risk of flooding and if flood insurance will be required.
• Signs of lax property maintenance, including faded or chipped paint, leaky faucets, water damage, or overgrown grass and brush. These issues could signify that the owners have neglected other vital home maintenance tasks, which could mean a buyer needs extra funds to cover home repair costs.
• Signs of mold: small black or gray spots in bathroom closets or cabinets, on the ceiling, or around showers, tubs, and faucets.
• Exposed pipes with visible rust or leakage.
• Drafts around windows, doors, and electrical outlets that could be a sign of neglect and a hefty heating bill come winter.
• Stained or warped baseboards (especially in the basement) that could indicate a prior flood. A sump pump can also indicate that flood damage has occurred in the past.
• Cosmetic damage like stains from pets that are strategically hidden by area rugs.
• Condensation or peeling paint around windows, which could signify ventilation problems and moisture issues.
Recommended: How to Winterize a House
Questions to Ask at an Open House
Knowing what to ask is an essential element of attending an open house; it can help you make the most of the experience.
Here are a few key questions homebuyers can ask the selling agent:
• What year was the house built?
• Why is it being sold?
• How long has it been on the market, and were there any asking price fluctuations?
• Are there any offers?
• Are there any problems the seller can disclose about the property? These are issues that could come up in an inspection but are made transparent between the seller and buyer, e.g., health and safety hazards, structural defects, mechanical issues, previous water damage, pests, or renovations.
• Is the property part of a homeowners association? Are there monthly fees associated with it?
• What is the local school system like? How about the neighborhood?
• Is the sewer system handled by the town, or does it run on a private septic tank?
• What fixtures and appliances are part of the purchase: washer/dryer, stove, refrigerator, lighting fixtures, and window treatments?
Next Stop: Buying That Dream Home
After every question has been asked, every surface has been scoured, and every disclosure has been made, it might be time to bid and hopefully snag your new home. Another important step will then be securing a home loan.
With a SoFi Mortgage, you’ll get a competitive rate, flexible terms, and low down-payment options. Plus, our online application process is quick and easy.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.