Get the facts at open houses

Home buyers all too often walk out of an open house simply because they didn’t like the home, but without taking advantage of this prime opportunity to pick up useful information that might aid their search for a home.

Questions to ask at open houses
Open houses rarely result in the sale of the home that’s being held open. Rather, these events are a popular way for real estate agents to prospect for more business. Consequently, many open-house agents are very willing to share helpful information about other homes on the market.

Questions you might want to ask include:

  • What are the most attractive features of this house?
  • What’s the rationale for the asking pricing?
  • What other houses have sold recently in this area?
  • What was attractive about those houses?
  • What were the asking and selling prices?
  • What other houses are on the market?
  • What are the attractive features and asking prices of those houses?
  • What other houses might be coming on the market?

Take digital or Polaroid photos of each house and make notes of what you liked or didn’t like about it, so you’ll later be able to remember and compare all the houses you’ve seen. Collect the real estate agents’ business cards and note on the back of each card whether or not the agent was helpful.

Watch out for ringers
A crowded open house can seem like a bizarre cocktail party sans the alcoholic beverages as visitors mill about and inspect the premises. At times, you’ll overhear other visitors make comments about the house. If you overhear a comment about a specific defect, investigate further. But otherwise, take these comments lightly since other people’s opinions are likely to differ from yours and you won’t know whether those people are serious buyers, curious neighbors, sales agents, or even friends or relatives of the seller. Ringers are highly unusual, but you don’t want to be the victim of one nonetheless.

Choose an agent with care
When you speak with an open-house agent, don’t disclose how much you want to spend to buy a home, how soon you want to move or other details of your personal situation. One risk of such disclosures is that you might find yourself at a disadvantage if that same agent also represents the seller of another house you later decide you want to buy. Another risk is that you could unwittingly create an unwanted agency relationship with that agent. Agency laws vary by state, yet there’s no reason not to err on the side of caution rather than disclose too much about your personal situation.

If you feel comfortable with an agent you meet at an open house, you might want to ask that agent to help you shop for a home. Choose an agent who is ready, willing and able to meet your individual needs, and never sign a contract or disclosure form that you haven’t read or don’t fully understand.

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