Perusing online real estate listings is a convenient and simple way to get a general idea of what is available and at what cost. However, they rarely discuss a property’s flaws and photos may be specifically styled to give a generous picture of the home.
While in-person home viewing requires more effort than online searching, going to public open houses is still a great way to explore properties at your leisure. Most often offered on Saturdays and Sundays (though weekday twilight open houses are becoming increasingly popular in some neighbourhoods), there is no need to have an agent and you don’t even need to be in the market to buy — you may simply be curious.
Regardless of your reason for attending, here’s what you should do to make the most of your open house experience.
See Beyond the Aesthetics
A home’s cosmetic features are often the first thing that catches your attention when touring someone else’s property but don’t get caught up in the superficial. A staged home may be hiding something serious and one that is not as ‘pretty’ may be perfectly fine.
When examining the home’s interior, keep an eye out for issues like uneven or cold floors, wonky window or door frames, water stains, cracks in the ceilings or walls, and mould. Turn on faucets to check the water pressure and be weary of smells (pet odours, cigarette smoke and mildew) that could prove difficult to remedy or might be an indication of something more serious.
On the exterior, look for any damage to outer walls, which could signal foundation problems, or if the roof has worn or missing shingles.
Ask Plenty of Questions
Open houses provide an opportunity to obtain information that may not be on the listing. Some important questions to ask the hosting agent include:
- Why is the homeowner selling?
- Has the seller bought a home already?
- How motivated is the homeowner to sell?
- Does the seller have a fixed moving date in mind or is there flexibility?
- How long has the property been on the market?
- Have there been any price adjustments?
- Has the property ever been terminated and relisted?
- When was the home/building built?
- Have there been any major updates or renovations? If so, did the seller get permits for the work?
- Are there special assessments pending (if a condo)?
- When was the roof, plumbing and/or electrical last upgraded?
- What are the biggest issues with the home?
- What are the average monthly utility costs?
- What is included/excluded in the sale?
- What is the parking situation?
- What is the neighbourhood (and neighbours) like?
- How are the local schools?
- Have there been any offers on the property?
- Is the seller holding back offers? If so, what is the offer date?
Sometimes the listing agent is not in attendance at the open house. In this case, the hosting agent may not be able to answer all your questions. However, a quality Realtor will offer to obtain answers to your queries and do so in a timely manner.
When the listing agent is present, keep in mind that they are not acting on your behalf. Their job is to protect the interests of their client (the seller), though you are still entitled to receive accurate information and honesty.
Shop for a Realtor
If you don’t have a real estate agent, open houses are good way to possibly find one. You will be able to glean how knowledgeable they are about the local market, see them in action, and hopefully get a feel for their personality and character. (Some Realtors will be genuinely engaging, others may seem inconvenienced and then there are those who simply want to generate buyer leads.)
However, don’t treat open houses as an opportunity to conduct in-depth ‘job’ interviews with prospective Realtors as they must assist everyone coming through the property. That should be left to a subsequent meeting.
If you already have a Realtor, it is best to be upfront about this with the hosting agent. You should also notify your Realtor when you plan on visiting open houses. There may be specific information that your agent will want to pass on to make your visit more valuable.