10 Tips to Getting the Most Out of Open Houses
Open houses are a longstanding real estate tradition. Every weekend in neighbourhoods across Canada, agents put up signs inviting buyers and their agents to tour homes that are listed on the market. If you are thinking of buying a home, whether you are just getting started or whether you are ready to make an offer, open houses are a convenient way to discover neighbourhoods and properties that may meet your needs.
To get the most out of your open house experience, it's important to be prepared. What should you be looking for? What should you say — and not say?
Here are 10 things to know before you attend an open house:
If you're scouring listings by city, the sheer volume of open houses will probably overwhelm you. Instead, focus on a few, select neighbourhoods at a time. If you like a certain part of town, see what you can get within your budget there. Don't get distracted or pulled in all kinds of directions at once. Staying focused will help you lay the groundwork for a successful house hunt.
Discover the Neighbourhood
One of the main advantages to attending open houses over simply browsing online is that you're able to experience both the home and the neighbourhood. Don't forget to look at the adjacent properties and take some time to explore the surrounding streets. Drive around and check out proximity to amenities, schools and restaurants.
Look, Listen, Learn
Come prepared and bring your tape measure, notepad, camera and questions for the real estate agent.
Prepared sellers' agents will hand out property brochures and feature sheets with information like square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and special features. Use it to take notes and check off things as you walk through the house. Don't be afraid to open doors. Often powder rooms, wine cellars, pantries, laundry rooms and secret hideaways get missed, particularly if it is a crowded open house. Check the width and depth of the closets, kitchen and bathroom drawers, cupboards and cabinets.
It is one thing to be on the lookout for mold, cracked foundations and rusty fixtures in a potential home, but a house is much more than what meets the eye. Listen for squeaky floors, breezy windows and leaky taps, which may indicate issues that you should look into further if you decide to make an offer. Listen to what other people are saying and pay attention to their comments as you walk through. Although they may be your competition in the bidding, they may also notice things that you didn't catch or know something you don't about the property or neighbourhood, such as a barking dog next door.
Trust your sense of smell, especially when heading to the basement. If a room smells damp or musty, you should ask for more information.
See Beyond Staging
When you tour an open house, the interior and exterior will most likely be beautifully presented. While effective staging can help you visualize a home at its best, it's important to look past the furniture, décor and impeccable organization to inspect the home as it really is — pure real estate. Don't be so wowed by the perfect decor that you overlook other important aspects of the home.
Check the Days on Market
Days on market, or DOM, tells how a particular listing is faring in the marketplace. If you see a home priced a little higher than what you can afford but its DOM is at 100, there's a chance that the home won't be selling at its list price. While everyone else is getting caught up in the excitement of an underpriced property nearby, the home with a significant DOM may be an even better opportunity. Go to this open house and check out the activity. If the place is empty, engage the agent and see how they respond. If it's been on the market for a while, the buyer may be open to negotiating.
Extend Extra Courtesy
In many cases, the property you are touring is someone's home, so remove your shoes (unless you are told it is all right to keep them on), be courteous in your comments about the property and ask before taking pictures or videos. Who knows who may be listening — the seller, a neighbour, a friend? If you end up in a multiple offer situation where price and terms are similar, you don't want the seller to choose the other buyer because they heard you criticizing the home.
Keep Your Cards to Your Chest
While there's nothing wrong with a little chit-chat with the listing agent, keep the conversation focused on the property. Don't divulge too many details about your situation, such as how your home search is going and when you need to move. And use your best poker face. Even if you've walked into your ultimate dream home, minimize shows of emotion. Remember, the listing agent works for the seller so you don't want to share any information that could compromise your bargaining position.
Talk to the Neighbours
You can tell who has pride of ownership in a neighbourhood just by taking a quick drive or walk around. However, in order to do proper due diligence before you think about putting in an offer on a property you should really speak to the neighbours.
Speaking with neighbours can quickly reveal existing tensions, existing home issues that may not be revealed for example, a basement flood or a foundation issue as well as your compatibility with your potential new neighbour.
Here are some recommended questions to ask:
1. How long have you lived in the neighbourhood?
2. What do you like best about living here?
3. What do you like least about living here?
4. How is the crime in the neighbourhood – has anything happened around here?
5. Are there nuisances in the neighbourhood?
6. Has the current owner ever complained to you about anything about the house?
7. If you could change one thing about this street, what would it be?
A five to ten minute conversation could change your decision on purchasing a home.
Ask for Details and Documents
If you are very interested in a particular home, feel free to request more data and information from your real estate agent or the listing agent so you can make the most informed decision. Find out if there are special assessments or other fees. There may be a home inspection or property disclosure statement available to view—don't be afraid to ask to see it or have it emailed to you. It is also okay to ask about the seller's motivation and if there are any offers.
Be Open Within a Price Range
It's crucial to know your personal budget and bottom line so that you browse properties at an achievable price point, however, it can be helpful to browse homes that are slightly above or below your target range. For example, if you're pre-approved to buy a home in the $750,000 range, it makes sense to look upward to the $800,000 range as well as down to $675,000. Knowing what you can get above and below your target will be informative. If you know that for $50,000 less you would be on a busier street, then you'll appreciate the older home for $750,000 on a quiet cul-de-sac. Or you might see a home that costs $50,000 more than your $750,000 target, but it has a newly renovated kitchen or bath. You still can't afford it, but if you want to live in that same neighbourhood, you might realize you'll have to settle for a home that needs some renovation. Finally, homes priced higher than your budget may get reduced down to your range. And, especially in tight markets, those priced lower could get bid up right into your range.
Do you have any open house experiences? Share your tips with us.