For buyers, one of the most exciting parts of the homebuying process is walking through a house in person. During a tour, you get a chance to see the layout of the house, scope out the bedrooms, and begin to imagine building a life there. Buyers can fall in love with a home’s location and finishings during a tour, or they can be put off by finding damage — or simply discover it’s not the right fit for them.

One way prospective buyers can tour homes without the pressure of booking a private showing is by attending open houses. Open houses allow buyers to take a close look at a property and ask questions of the seller or their agent.

While these events can be fun, buyers should do a little homework first to get the most out of them. Knowing what kind of research to do beforehand and how to act during an open house can help make your experience worthwhile.

So we’ve talked to real estate experts and dug into industry research to pull together a definitive guide of open house do’s and don’ts for homebuyers to help you polish up your manners and arm you with the information you need.

A sign indicating an open house, where you'll want to consider all the open house do's and don'ts
Source: (ZikG / Shutterstock)

What is an open house?

Open houses give potential buyers a chance to tour available homes on the market. The seller’s agent typically hosts (in some cases the sellers themselves host) and they often take place on the weekends to maximize foot traffic. Open houses differ from showings in that they are not private, so you can expect to see other potential buyers there.

The approach is generally informal and buyers can get an up-close look at a home — and scope out the competition. Sellers host these events with the hope of getting an offer — or multiple offers if they’re lucky.

Buyers can find open houses through their agents, the multiple listing service (MLS), social media, or just by driving around and looking for signs. For many, open houses are an important part of the homebuying process. In 2020, 53% of all sellers used an open house to market their home, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

With all of this in mind, let’s get into those tips.

Open house do’s and don’ts

Do look for homes that meet your criteria

Before heading out to open houses, it’s important to know what you’re looking for in a home. First things first. Establish your budget, what type of home you want, and other criteria. Think about your must-haves and nice-to-haves, but also consider what won’t work for you. For example, if you need four bedrooms, touring a two-bedroom home probably won’t be the best use of your time.

“It’s really easy for a buyer caught up in the excitement,” says Mark Simone, a top-selling real estate agent based out of Baltimore, Maryland. “It’s really important to be careful.”

Targeting open houses based on neighborhoods you want to live in or those in great school districts is one way buyers can make the most out of their open house search. But again, keep it realistic. While it may be tempting to tour multimillion-dollar waterfront homes when an open house comes up, it won’t necessarily help you find your dream home if it’s outside of your budget.

Don’t criticize the owner’s taste

It happens all the time. You walk into a home and see ugly carpeting or walls painted in a color you find unappealing. An open house is not the time to comment on an owner’s taste, however. It’s best to bite your tongue. You should only compliment or ask questions about the home during an open house.

Do keep an open mind

Imagine you pull up to a home in a great neighborhood. It’s close to a variety of cute shops and restaurants you love. It’s in a great school district. The yard is well maintained and the house, with its bay windows and charming front gardens, has major curb appeal.

But when you open the door you see loud prints or dated furniture. Maybe the kitchen doesn’t have the most up-to-date appliances. Your anticipation built as you walked up the drive, and now the home feels a little disappointing.

Just as you shouldn’t criticize the owner’s taste, you also shouldn’t let it get in the way of seeing a home’s positive attributes or its potential. When you attend an open house, it’s important to keep an open mind.

Don’t defy the house rules

Most open houses will have some rules set out by the seller. Perhaps you’re asked to wear booties during the tour to avoid damaging floors or tracking in dirt, while others may have rules about what areas in the house they want potential buyers touring during an open house.  Open houses don’t typically restrict access to bedrooms or bathrooms, but some sellers may ask to keep small areas containing valuables or sensitive materials, like a closet, private. If this is the case, you can always ask the seller’s agent to make sure you have access to the space on a follow-up visit.

Whatever the rules may be, it’s important to adhere to them during the entirety of the open house.

Do be honest

A variety of different people go to open houses, so you’ll likely see serious buyers as well as curious neighbors. No matter your reason it’s important to be upfront with the seller or their agent about why you’re attending.

You should share your name and contact information on the sign-in sheet. For serious buyers, providing your agent’s name and contact information rather than your own is acceptable.

Being truthful about your intent can help save time for both the agent and attendees. If you’re not serious about buying a home it’s ok to say so. That way, selling agents can better determine their follow-up approach. Also, if you’re working with an agent, say so.

Don’t disclose too much information

While it’s important to be honest at an open house, you should avoid disclosing too much information. For example, you can keep details about pre-qualification between you and your real estate agent. The seller and seller’s agent don’t need to know that.

“It’s tough because I think most people are inclined to have a conversation,” Simone says. “Stay away from disclosing any timeline or financial information.”

Additionally, talking about your job or current lease information can give sellers and their agents clues to your budget, so it’s best to avoid those topics at an open house.

“I would argue that they really shouldn’t disclose much at all,” Simone says. “There are some questions like ‘what do you do for a living?’ and the reason why you don’t want to answer that is because, you know, there are certain responses that you can give that can unknowingly weaken an offer.”

That being said, it is normal for the seller’s agent to ask questions of potential buyers during an open house, but you should still be polite while sidestepping tricky queries.

A person researching the housing market online, which is an important thing to do when going to open houses.
Source: (LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash)

Do research the market

While open houses may be fun, they may not be the most productive way to find a home if you don’t put in some legwork. In fact, open houses led only 6% of buyers to the home they ended up purchasing in 2020, according to NAR data.

In order to ensure you get the most out of the open house experience, it’s a good idea to do research on the market and the types of homes you are interested in purchasing beforehand. Understand what you’re getting for your money, what the area is like, and how your taxes compare to other areas, among other considerations. You can work with your agent to understand the typical price of homes in the area, the standard number of days on the market, and whether a home has gone under contract recently and returned to the market.

Attending open houses can certainly provide additional insight. By going to multiple events, you can get a sense of what types of homes are available in the area and what you truly can get with your budget.

Don’t overstay your welcome

Since it’s an informal event people come and go throughout the duration of an open house, but it’s important to be respectful of the sellers’ and agent’s time. Don’t overstay your welcome by coming early or lingering after the open house has ended. If the open house runs from 1 to 4 p.m., you don’t want to arrive at 12:50 p.m or 3:50 p.m.

For attendees who are merely browsing, there’s no need to spend a lot of time in the home. Doing so can take up time the seller’s agent could be spending talking to serious buyers. On the other hand, if you’re a serious buyer, take all the time you need (but be mindful of the event hours). If you want to see more, you can always schedule a private showing later.

Do be polite and be mindful of other attendees

In addition to being courteous about the timing, make sure you adhere to common open house etiquette. Since multiple people likely will be at an open house, it’s important not to monopolize the seller’s agent by asking too many questions or expecting their full attention.

If an open house serves drinks or snacks, try to avoid turning the event into a picnic by eating or drinking too much. It’s also considered poor form to bring in your own food, so consider grabbing a meal before or after the open house.

Additionally, consider who in your family should attend an open house. You should definitely leave your pets behind, but many parents wrestle with whether to bring their children with them to an open house. A 2018 survey found that 55% of homeowners with kids say that their child’s opinion factored into the decision to buy. So kids undoubtedly play a role in the homebuying process. However, if you think your kids may struggle to follow rules, walk calmly through the house, or keep the noise level down, it might be best to book a private showing with them instead. If you do plan on bringing your kids, consider bringing along another trusted adult, so that they can keep a close eye on the kids.

Two people exploring an open house, where keeping polite distance from others is a definite do.
Source: (Mora Mitchell / Unsplash)

Don’t encroach on other people’s space

Unlike a private showing, you can expect to see other people who are interested in purchasing the home at an open house. It’s a good idea to give people their space to observe and discuss the house, so as a courtesy, if you can, wait to enter a room until it’s empty. Additionally, as we come out of the pandemic, some people may be wary about being physically close to others during the homebuying process.

Consequently, sellers may ask buyers to follow health, safety, and cleanliness rules during the open house. Others may only offer virtual open houses for the time being. Buyers should adhere to these rules at all times while attending an open house, even as pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Do open every door

An open house is your chance to see a home up close. It’s important to look in every room and to scope out closets, basements, and other storage spaces, as well as the home’s main living areas.

Opening doors can help you determine if a home has any damage that the seller may be trying to hide. For example, many homeowners repaint the ceilings before listing their homes to cover any cracks or water damages, but they may forget the ceilings in the closets.

“A little tip is to walk through and you’re looking at the ceiling, don’t forget about the closet,” Simone says.

“Look specifically at the ceilings in the closet to see if there’s any signs of water damage there.”

Some areas of a home may be off limits, however. Sellers may not want strangers poking around in certain closets or areas where valuables might be stowed. If an area is off limits during an open house, you can always schedule a separate showing with your agent.

Don’t touch the owner’s things

One of the most important pieces of open house etiquette is look, but don’t touch. During an open house, a seller is welcoming people into a home that they are often still living in, so respecting their space is paramount. Don’t go snooping through their bathroom cabinets or looking through their dresser drawers.

Do look for damage

Be wary of getting so caught up in the excitement of touring a home that you forget to check for damage.

“During an open house, you’re really looking more from a home inspector’s perspective,” says home inspector Bruce A. Barker, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “Pay attention to things you might not [normally] pay attention to, like how does the water heater look? How does the furnace or air handler look?”

If you’re serious about the home, Barker recommends that you ask for the seller’s property disclosure statement. That way you’ll know if the home has a history of foundation issues, water damage, or any other material defects that could affect the home’s value or inhabitability.

Don’t try to sell products to the other attendees

Open houses provide an opportunity for buyers to tour homes they’re interested in buying without the pressure of booking a private showing. They aren’t networking events. Avoid trying to sell products or services to other attendees.

Do ask questions and take notes

An open house is a great time to ask questions of the seller and their agent. Curious about whether the house had had any major repairs recently? Go ahead and ask. Concerned about whether the home is part of a homeowners association and what fees are associated with it? The seller or their agent should be able to answer that for you.

Take notes on everything you see and ask the seller’s agent if you can take photos of the home. This will help you remember what you liked or didn’t like as you consider whether to put in an offer after leaving the home.

At the end of the event, take any listing sheets or other brochures with you. These documents will contain photos of the home and other information that you may have forgotten.

Two men reviewing a pre-approval letter, an important thing to have before going to open houses.
Source: (Sebastian Herrmann / Unsplash)

Have a pre-approval letter ready in case you fall in love

If you go to an open house and fall in love with home, it’s helpful to have everything in place so that you can quickly make an offer and — hopefully — secure your dream home.

One way you can make sure that your offer is competitive is by having a pre-approval letter ready. A pre-approval letter is a conditional loan approval buyers receive after filling out a mortgage application and giving the lender a full documentation of their income and assets.

“It can provide a lot of peace of mind. What I always tell buyers is that it is such a weight off your shoulders to know before you walk into that house that you can [move forward with an offer]  and to know what it would look like [financially],” Simone says.

Even if you’re eager to buy a home after an open house, it’s important to remain practical and to know your limits — both financially and with regard to contingencies — if a bidding war with other buyers arises. In this competitive market, Barker says he’s seen buyers in some parts of the country waive their right to a buyer’s inspection in an attempt to make their offers more competitive in a seller’s market — a choice that can be incredibly risky for homebuyers.

Though seeing dozens of other buyers fawn over your dream home might tempt you to forgo a home inspection in an attempt to make their offer more competitive, Barker emphasizes the importance of having one for both safety and peace of mind.

“It’s really a balancing act. What kind of risk you’re willing to take versus the benefit of getting the house,” Barker says. “If you can’t afford to fix a problem that you would have found if you had had an inspection, that’s a big risk.”

Understanding open house do’s and don’ts will help you make the most of these events. If you’re ready to start your homebuying search, connect with a reputable buyer’s agent who can help you find homes that meet your criteria, make a competitive offer, and avoid common pitfalls.

Header Image Source: (Zac Gudakov / Unsplash)