Buyers: 5 Ways to Make the Most of Open Houses

Open houses: one of the best ways to really get to know a house and a neighborhood, these are opportunities we buyers want to take full advantage of. And whether we go on a Sunday morning to enjoy free cookies and coffee or a Thursday for free wine and cheese, we need to stay focused (no matter how good the cookies or how tasty the wine) on the real goal: how can we make the most of an open house?

Allow us to present…

5 Ways to Make the Most of Open Houses

1) Get Organized, but Stay Flexible

Yes, you want to line up houses near one another if you plan to hit multiple open houses, and you want to use the Internet to weed out the ones that simply won’t work or aren’t anywhere near your price range. But also leave some space and time to change plans a bit. You may want to stay longer in one house if you really like it, or if being there means learning valuable information about the house or ‘hood.

You may also run across an open house in the same area that you hadn’t planned for, one that escaped your research. But why would you skip it? You can learn so much by comparing homes in the same neighborhood and price range that it doesn’t make sense not to do so.

2) Spend Time Once You Get There

Even if you walk in the door and think “This house won’t work for me,” it’s worth touring around a bit. Check out the home’s features; lay out, yard, and amenities. You get a better sense of what you want by seeing what homes in the area you like (and can afford)  offer. The best way to do that? Compare as many of these homes as you can stand without overwhelming yourself.

Other benefits of attending, and hanging around, an open house: You get the chance to see if other buyers are really interested, which (if you are too) motivates you to move quickly with an offer. And you get the chance to talk to neighbors, who often come to open houses to see the inside of a local home. They can tell you about the neighborhood and answer questions from a different, but still valuable perspective.

And finally, you can also meet the sellers, if they’re present. Though it makes us all uncomfortable to look at a home the seller still lives in if that seller hanging around, there’s still an advantage to establishing rapport with a seller if it looks like the home may have many interested buyers. If the seller likes you, you could come out ahead.

3) Use Your Realtor ®

Though you can find open house listings online and through various print mediums, your agent will have the most up-to-date, to-the-minute information not only on when and where the open houses are, but also ‘the skinny’ on the houses themselves. If you settle on some homes you want to see and let your agent know the addresses, s/he can pull the MLS listings and look at the “agent only” insider remarks that give a more complete story on the house, and then share that insight with you.

You could also, suggests Jeremy Fershleiser, ZipRealty agent in Portland, OR, go with your agent on the broker tours, which are “open houses” meant to introduce new listings to brokers only, but at which buyers are welcome. This way, you see the house before it comes to the attention of the general public.

            4) Take Careful Notes, Photos, and your Realtor’s ® Card

If you’re looking at multiple homes in a similar area and price range, the distinct between each home will begin to fade. If the seller doesn’t mind, take a photo of the house (exterior and interior) and then write down what you like or don’t like, as well as questions you want to ask your agent if you’re touring on your own.

Your agent’s business card is another helpful accessory: if you have it ready, you can present it to the agent you meet in the open house. This saves you both time, as that agent (who may or may not be the listing agent) won’t try to sell you on his or herself, but can focus on your questions about the house instead.

            5) Don’t Rely too Heavily on Open House Sunday

Though the economy may present real estate as a buyer’s market right now, actually the national inventory hints at a different story. In December, the country posted a four-year low for new home listings—and this includes short sales and foreclosures.  A low inventory changes the game.

Again to quote Jeremy Fershleiser, when inventory is this low, “homes that are well priced don’t sit. They tend to fly off the market within days of hitting the MLS.”  Your agent can set you up with email /Twitter alerts when a new home comes on the market that fits your specifications. If you’re interested, it pays to get your agent to take you to the property ASAP, rather than waiting for the next “Open House Sunday.” After all, points out Jeremy, “some sellers don’t want to bother with open houses; and if inventory is this low, they don’t really have to.”

To get more insight on how to use open houses, or how to skip them altogether, find an agent in the area you’re interested in and get the conversation started.