If you’re savvy, you can get more out of open houses than free cookies. Realtors use open houses to find buyers, but clever buyers can use open houses to scout properties quickly, shop for a Realtor, and get the skinny on competing buyers.
Although Realtors will show homes by appointment anytime, open houses have their perks: The homes will be clean and in top shape, you can browse quickly without wasting an agent’s time, and you can gauge other buyers’ interest in the home.
To get the most out of open houses, try to:
Compare multiple homes. If you have the time to attend several open houses in an afternoon, you can quickly get a sense of what’s available in your price range. Even if you visit an open house and find out you really don’t like the property, you can still benefit from the experience. For example, seeing that not every house has a dishwasher may lead you to tell your Realtor that a dishwasher is on your “essential” list! The wood-paneling or plaster of some of the older houses may lead you to rule out houses built pre-1970s. Understanding your own personal likes and dislikes makes house-hunting much easier. Going to multiple open houses will also help you understand what houses are going for in your area.
Watch the other buyers. You can tell a lot about the activity and marketability of a home by watching the other buyers. If you observe a lot of people walking in and out quickly, the home probably has some issues. Are the buyers hanging around, asking questions of the listing agent or huddling in the corner talking to their spouses or partners? If so, it could be a sign this is a well-priced listing. If you are interested too, observing other buyers at the open house could help you learn about the competition
Take notes. Bring a notepad and pen with you to the open house, or even use the back of the home flyer. As you walk through the house, jot down what you like about it and what you dislike. You may realize that something you never thought about is actually very important to you. Taking notes is especially important if you see many houses on the same day; you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll start to mix up homes in your mind. Try not to get carried away with the look of the furniture or even the color of paint on the walls, as these things are easily changeable. Instead, pay attention to central characteristics of the house, the layout, the features, how big it is, how many bedrooms and baths it has, the location and your gut instinct.
Talk to the agents. The real estate agent is there for a reason. It’s his job. If he is the listing agent, ask him questions. He is a direct line to the seller and should know more than anyone about the property and the seller. Watch the agent’s facial expression and reaction to your questions. If it’s a competitive market, ask questions such as: “Why is the seller selling?” “Is there a certain day to review offers or have you had a lot of showings?” In a slow market, ask how long the property has been on the market and what the seller’s motivations are. A good agent will engage you because it’s good for his seller.
Also, some of the best buyer/seller/real estate relationships begin at open houses. A good agent is wearing two hats at the open house. In addition to watching the serious buyers and getting feedback for the seller, an active agent is also looking to interact with future clients. The face to face, informal interaction with an agent at an open house is very important. You can get a feel for a person just from a brief meeting. If you sense the agent could be someone you could work with, ask some open-ended questions, such as “How’s the market?” and “What areas do you cover?”
Open house etiquette. Finally, remember to be polite. Homeowners and Realtors spend their time preparing for open houses, so although the purpose of an open house is to please buyers, it’s still important to show good etiquette. For example, take off your shoes if asked to do so; you may want the same courtesy when you go to sell a house. If the Realtor asks you to sign in, do so, but if you feel uncomfortable providing your email or phone number, leave them off. Even simply writing a name is helpful in that it allows the Realtor to show the seller that there is interest in the house