Misadventures In Real Estate: The Art Of The Open House

So you’ve decided you want to buy a home. You know how much you want to spend. What’s next? It’s time to start figuring out what you want! If you have no idea, you’re in luck, because it’s spring, and the perfect time to start hitting up open houses. These are a great way to start looking at places without having to go through the hassle of picking a real estate agent or making appointments.  It’s an easy way to start getting an idea of what’s on the market in your price range in the area you’re looking to live. It’s also a super fun way to spend a Sunday.

9:30 am: Wake up. Make yourself a cup of coffee, and peruse the real estate listings of your choice – you can look in the Sunday paper if you’re old school, or just go online. Sites like Zillow, Trulia, RedFin, and Zip Realty let you filter real estate listings by price, features, neighborhood, and also by which have open houses, so you can figure out where you’d like to go. Now shower and make yourself look presentable; you probably want to be taken at least a little seriously while house shopping.

11:00 am: Meet your friends for brunch to fortify yourself for a busy afternoon of house hunting. Bonus points if you can convince them to go with you; it’s way more fun to look at things in a group, and it’s always good to get other people’s opinions, as they’ll notice different things than you will.

12:00-4:00 pm: These are going to be your prime open house hours. If there are listings you’ve seen that you’re dying to look at, head to those first. Here’s how to get the most of your open house:

  • Look around. It might feel awkward at first looking around a stranger’s home, but this could be your home some day! Explore the whole place, and don’t be afraid to look in closets and cabinets.
  • Talk to the real estate agent. At most open houses, you’ll be greeted by the agent who’s selling the property. If you have any questions about the property, the building, the neighborhood, ask! Even if you’re not too fond of the particular property, feel free to talk to the agent about what you’re looking for, as there’s a good chance they’re selling other things and might have something that fits your wants and needs. Also, if you don’t have a real estate agent yet, open houses are a great way to meet agents and find one you might want to work with.
  • Sign in. Most open houses will have a sign in sheet where you give your name, e-mail address, and the name of your real estate agent if you have one. This may seem annoying, but I cannot recommend this highly enough. I actually got my place because an agent called my agent about a property I’d seen and sort of forgotten about, and now I couldn’t be happier living here. If nothing else, you’ll get added to the agent’s mailing list and they’ll send you listings you might be interested in.
  • Pick up an information sheet. There will be info sheets with some pictures of the home, pertinent information (price, square footage, etc) and the real estate agent’s information. It’s good to get these so you can remember what you’ve seen.

One you’ve seen all the places on your A-list, consider walking around the neighborhood to see if any other places are open, or use a real estate app on your phone to get a map of other open houses close by. It’s good to look at things even if they didn’t appeal when you looked at the listing online; often the pictures don’t do a place justice. If you’re looking at condos, it’s also not a bad idea to check out units that might be somewhat out of your price range just to check out the building they’re in; if you like it, talk to the agent about other units in the building that might be for sale.

5:00 pm: Meet up with friends on a restaurant patio for snacks or a drink to talk about what you’ve looked at. Go through the information sheets you grabbed, and discuss what you did and didn’t like about the places you saw. Every home will have its advantages and disadvantages, so start thinking about whether you’d rather have a great location or an updated kitchen. Let your friends weigh in on the places you’ve seen – they’re the ones who will be coming to your fabulous housewarming – but at the end of the day, you’re the one who will be living in the place, so your opinion is by far the most important.

Next week, we’ll discuss finding a real estate agent and getting serious about your house hunt.

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