5 things to know about open houses

  @Money June 7, 2013: 9:38 AM ET
open houses

Attending an open house? Don't assume the broker is there to help you.

(Money Magazine)

Open houses are a great source of information about the property, neighborhood and local markets. Nearly half of real-estate buyers go to one.

1. Look past window-dressing

A full 94% of sellers do some "staging," such as repainting or bringing in new furniture, says Coldwell Banker.

"You can be so wowed by staging that you overlook important things," says San Jose realtor Carl San Miguel. To focus on what matters, lift rugs to look at floors, ask the agent to turn off music so you can listen for nearby noise, and beware of any smells masked by candles.

Also request a disclosure sheet, which lists known structural issues.

2. You can learn a lot from the crowd

Nearly half of buyers visit open houses, says the National Association of Realtors, so pay attention to your fellow shoppers' comments; they may have insight into how this home stacks up. Locals often pop in too, so if someone sounds like a neighbor, ask about the area.

Related: Miami's housing boom

To get a feel for demand, visit in the last hour and peek at the sign-in sheet. A full sheet could mean the home will sell quickly, says Paul Reid, a California-based agent.

3. It's your chance to test-drive the place

Visiting a home in person allows you to pick up on details you won't see in the listing, such as the strength of the water pressure and how much you could actually cram in the closets. What buyers often forget, though, is to explore the neighborhood as well, says Dallas agent Mary Beth Harrison. Get a sense of the area by checking out surrounding streets and driving home using a different route.

Renovate your home before you sell

4. The agent may be scouting you...

Listing agents will often tap a colleague to run an open house, so your host may be fishing for buyers to represent. If you're in the market for an agent, this can be a chance to meet pros and see what they're like on the job. Not interested? Say so upfront to fend off any confusion, says Harrison.

Related: Tips for buying a property

Shoppers who already have a buyer's agent should write his contact information on the sign-in sheet so he can handle any follow-up calls or emails on their behalf.

5. ...Or gathering info for the seller

When a listing agent is hosting, pepper her with questions. Ask whether there have been any upgrades to the property, if she's gotten any offers, and when and why the sellers are moving (you may get a vague reply on that last one).

Related: How much do you know about mortgages?

Keep mum on your budget, feelings about the home, and anything else that might give the seller a leg up in negotiations. "Don't assume the agent is there to help you out," says Chicago agent Fran Bailey. To top of page

Send a letter to the editor about this story to money_letters@moneymail.com.


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