Open houses can be one of the most fun aspects of buying a house. They give potential buyers a chance to browse their future home without an appointment; the real estate agent who hosts has an opportunity to meet and speak with new folks face-to-face; even that nosy neighbor from down the street can pop in for a quick snooping session. Everyone loves open houses, but what if you’re faced with attending an open house without a Realtor® at your side?
While it’s ideal to go to an open house with your own agent, sometimes this isn’t possible. Maybe you don’t have a buyer’s agent yet, or maybe you do and they have a schedule conflict, but in either case, know that it is completely okay to attend an open house without a Realtor®.
First things first: Do you have a buyer’s agent?
Finding a great agent to work with throughout the homebuying process isn’t essential, necessarily, but it is a huge help to have an expert acting on your behalf.
Your agent can help you find available homes (and see which ones are scheduled to be open in the near future) through their access to the multiple listing service (MLS). This also means that your Realtor® can give you all the background information and details on homes you’re interested in — before you spend half of your Saturday driving around town to visit open houses that may not actually be a good fit for you.
What’s more, real estate agents see a lot of houses. They know what’s common for the area, what features can make a particular home stand out, and what might be a sign that your home-of-interest is in need of repairs or important updates. Along these lines, a buyer’s agent can also help you prepare for an open house by assembling a list of questions you may not otherwise think of on the spot.
Finally, walking into an open house with your own agent means you won’t have to worry about having to politely decline the services of a listing agent who may be eager to enlist themselves in the purchase of your home.
Not all states permit dual agency — where an agent represents both buyer and seller in the same transaction — but even if it may be possible in your state, that doesn’t make it a great idea. Ideally, your Realtor® will act on your behalf only, rather than trying to juggle the best interests of both parties.
Next step: Find an open house
Admittedly, even without a buyer’s agent, this step isn’t too difficult, thanks to the internet.
Try these tactics to start your open house viewing extravaganza:
- Run a Google search for phrases like “open houses near me” or “open house [city, state].”
- Peruse your real estate listing platform of choice.
- Check your local newspaper — classified ads aren’t as outdated as you might think!
- Drive or take a walk through neighborhoods you’re interested in. Real estate agents will often post signs in notice of an upcoming open house, and certainly signs will be out on the day of the event.
Make a note of addresses and any distinguishing features of the homes to help you remember which is which.
You’ve got a list; now check it twice
In lieu of information compiled for you by your buyer’s agent, it’s now time to do some research on your homes of interest before open house day.
Popping the address into Google (providing you found the home some other way than seeing a listing online) should yield quick details.
It’s a good idea to figure out the age of the home and to make sure its characteristics match what you’re looking for before you become too invested in the process. If, for example, you need four bedrooms, there’s no point in walking through a two-bedroom home.
If the house is listed through the MLS, you’ll probably also find current photos online. Take notice of things like the layout of the kitchen, amenities (garage, finished basement, deck, and so on), and anything else you value in your new home.
Keep yourself organized with clear notes and an open mind!
Map out your route
If you’ve been able to round up a handful of homes that will be held open on the same day, you’ll definitely want to figure out your plan of attack to ensure you’re able to see them all.
Keep opening times in mind as you’re planning your route — if the open house furthest away from your starting point only has a two-hour viewing window, you’ll want to prioritize accordingly.
Brush up on open house etiquette
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’re about to walk through someone else’s home. Without a buyer’s agent in tow to remind you of what’s okay and what may be frowned upon, it’s important to keep basic manners top-of-mind.
“When you come into a home, especially with COVID-19 going on, maybe you’re wearing a mask,” suggests Wisdom.
Taking your shoes off — or at least offering to do so — is always a polite move and should be a definite course of action if it’s raining.
Once you’re in, if you’re attending the open house without a Realtor®, it’s best practice to say hello to the hosting agent. (They’ll probably greet you at the door anyway, so this step should be an easy one!)
If you’re already working with a buyer’s agent, let them know as much. If not, it’s perfectly fine to explain that you’re just looking and go with the flow in terms of that agent potentially representing you.
“It’s really up to your own comfort level,” says Wisdom.
“If you feel like the agent is doing a good job, and you feel comfortable with them, then you can establish that relationship. A lot of times it just comes down to personality.”
While some agents might insist upon walking you through the home, once you’ve exchanged greetings, most will step aside and let you wander around at your own pace.
As you’re moving from room to room, know that it’s certainly okay to poke around — but do so with respect. It’s one thing to open closet and cabinet doors to briefly assess depth and shelving; it’s quite another to start rifling through the clothes or items within those enclosures.
The same goes for appliances. Refrigerators, dishwashers, and washers and dryers are often included (or negotiated for) in the sale of the home, but since these are personal use items, it’s best practice to ask the hosting agent if it’s okay for you to look inside — lest you find yourself peering into a washing machine full of the homeowner’s delicates.
And while this should probably go without saying, furniture is always off-limits. There’s no reason for you to open dresser drawers, lie down on any beds, or root around in the dining room sideboard.
When in doubt about whether something is part of the sale or if it’s okay to take a closer look at a feature or item, ask the agent.
Viewing privacy? Maybe not
Technology has come a long way in recent years, and there’s a good chance that you’re not as alone in an open house as you might think.
“A lot of sellers have cameras in their homes now,” says Wisdom. “They’re watching you; they’re listening to your feedback.”
Wisdom recommends keeping your commentary generic while walking through a home. Maybe you think the paint color in the guest bedroom is hideous, or maybe you absolutely love what they’ve done in the breakfast nook — for purposes of both politeness and negotiating power, neutral feedback during an open house is usually your best bet. Bring a notepad or use your phone to note topics you might want to discuss with your fellow home-shoppers after you leave.
Don’t forget to take notes
We realize we just mentioned this, but it bears repeating: Note-taking is important, especially if you’re visiting multiple open houses, because details will start to blend together.
Write down key points about each home that you really liked — or really did not like — along with any follow-up questions you’d like to discuss with your buyer’s agent.
During your walkthrough, Wisdom recommends keeping an eye out for things like water stains, windows or doors that stick, and to observe the overall appearance of the home.
“If you’re walking up to a house and it’s not very well-maintained from the outside, that’s probably an indication of what you’re going to find when you go inside,” he says. “Sometimes if those little things aren’t taken care of, then probably the big things are not as well.”
So, take notice of the landscaping, trim around the doors and windows, the condition of the flooring, and so on. These seemingly background details can be indicative of much more, and you don’t always want to wait until you’re under contract and looking through an inspection report to find out that a home is going to require more repairs than you’re bargaining for.
Ask the host agent basic questions
Even if you have a buyer’s agent who will handle the communication legwork for you, don’t be shy about asking questions of the listing or host agent on-site at the time of the open house. This can save time and help you form a better understanding of whether a particular home is worth pursuing further.
Avoid discussion of pricing or negotiating, but if you’re curious, do ask about details like the age of the roof or the HVAC unit, what kind of maintenance goes into keeping up the koi pond in the backyard, or whether the homeowner is planning to finish the half-renovated downstairs bathroom before selling.
Keep more nuanced questions — such as whether the homeowner would be willing to leave their workbench in the garage, or if there’s an allowance to replace the cracked tile backsplash in the kitchen — to yourself, and make sure to discuss those later with your agent.
Debrief with your agent
After your open house day, it’s time to talk everything over with your agent. They’ll be able to guide you through the next steps to making your favorite open house your new house.
Header Image Source: (Ian MacDonald / Unsplash)