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House-Hunting Secrets: Three Ways to Make the Most of Open Houses

Home buyers, listen up: 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.
  • You can gauge other buyers’ interest in the home.

To get the most out of open houses, you’ll want to:

Compare multiple homes

If you have the time to attend several open houses in an afternoon, they can be a good tool for quickly getting 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.

How to find open houses

If you’re working with a Realtor, she can send you a list of open houses on a specific date along with the time and address of the property. Some Realtors that are buyer’s agents like to attend open houses with their clients, so that they get a better feel for their clients’ likes and dislikes and can discuss things face to face with the listing agent if necessary. If you haven’t found a Realtor yet but want to check out a few open houses anyway, you can find some by contacting your local association of Realtors either by phone or online, and asking for a list of open houses. There are websites that specialize in helping buyers find open houses, but they are typically limited, as Realtors often have to pay a fee in order to upload their listing and open house information into their web database.

Take lots of notes

Bring a notepad and pen with you to the open house. 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 to tell your Realtor is actually very important to you.

Taking notes is especially important if you see many houses on the same day, as 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.

Interview the agents

Getting to meet the listing agent will give you more insight into the home than you can find online. Ask questions to learn more about the history of the house, but don’t forget that the agent is trying to sell the home.

If you don’t have a buyer’s agent yet, you may come across a real estate agent that you’d like to work with. Just beware: Although working with a Realtor who is acting as both the buyer’s and seller’s agent on a transaction is legal, there are obvious conflicts of interest…proceed carefully. In many cases, however, you may meet an agent you like at an open house and ultimately end up bidding on other homes that agent hasn’t listed.

Finally, watch what you say around the listing agent. Be careful about revealing your price range. Should you decide to make an offer on the home, the agent may use anything you say against you in price negotiations. Do, however, be honest with the listing agent or your Realtor about what you dislike. Voicing your opinion can be a helpful tool for giving the seller feedback and can also be used in negotiations should you choose to make an offer.

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.

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.