Open house showings are basically the dress-up of real estate. Damn, I look good in this thing, you say to yourself, in between coos about the original hardwood floors. Come on, guys—the biggest investment of your life is no place to fall prey to prettiness, and if you skip your homework, you could end up with some fairly catastrophic buyer’s remorse.
Ask About Anything You Can’t See
The home’s internal organs are what most “beauty buyers” end up of finding difficult later. Always ask about the state and age of the plumbing and electrical systems, as those can easily take the project from modest reno to total money pit. Another important question: What’s the insulation situation? (It has a huge impact on cooling and heating bills.)
Make Yourself at Home (Really at Home)
Don’t be shy about getting cozy at an open house—this is your chance to really take the thing for a spin. Peel back rugs and inspect the floors, shuffle around furniture to see what they’re masking, open doors and closets and turn on faucets to assess the water pressure situation. Getting an accurate gage on the amount of cosmetic work needed is instrumental to both your offer amount and renovation budget. Also make a point to sit on the front steps and listen to the traffic going by, and to walk around the block and get a feel for the neighbors and neighborhood. After all, you can alter the house, but not the location.
Don't Expect to Make an Offer There
“A big thing to understand about open houses is that, in reality, they’re a way for real estate agents to meet new clients—aka, a marketing effort,” says Jonathan. “In all of the years we’ve been doing sales I would say that 5 percent of the open houses we’ve done have actually sold the house we’re showing.” Translation: An open house is by no means the only way to see a property. If you’re seriously interested, set up a private showing and consider saving the more nuanced questions (why the sellers are selling, the reason for any price changes, etc.) for then, when your agent is more likely to give you a candid answer.