Are Open Houses Worth the Time?

Yes, if you know what questions to ask.

It is one of real estate’s ongoing debates: Is going to an open house worth your time and energy?

It’s a serious question for both buyers and sellers. While some data show that a relatively low percentage of sales – anywhere from 3 percent to 7 percent, according to surveys from the National Association of Relators – stem directly from an open house, prospective buyers treat open houses as an opportunity to gather great information that can help them land their dream home ... or avoid being saddled with a nightmare.

Knowing what questions to ask the listing agent who is showing the home goes a long way. But remember, listing agents represent the interests of the seller. They have a signed contract to that effect. So, if you want an agent who will represent your interests during the house-hunting process, hire a buyer’s agent. It’s free as the agency fee is paid by the seller.

The Questions

Schools, property taxes and neighborhood amenities are hot topics that inevitably come up during most conversations. However, prospective buyers who are ready to dive a little deeper may discover facts that put them on the winning end of a negotiation.

Take, for example, variables such as the possibility of challenging a tax bill, ability to expand or renovate a home, learning whether a home is located in a flood zone, or seeing firsthand what the traffic situation is near the site. Rarely are these top-of-mind, but a well-informed buyer asking the right questions will find out; the answers could impact the outcome.

Other relevant topics to consider include:

  • When was the house built? Was it upgraded or renovated? These are critical questions, as they will help determine whether the house will need what could turn out to be potentially costly repairs. You’ll know whether the asking price more accurately reflects the home, the neighborhood or the seller’s top-of-market (“pipe dream”) ask.
  • Are there any offers on the property? Knowing how in demand a house is (or isn’t) also will drive price. Your realtor will know if the home is priced to move or priced to sit based on many factors, so be sure to have that conversation.
  • Is the home in a flood zone? Have there been any flooding, leaks or water problems in recent years? Flooding can be a costly problem. Besides the insurance issues, damage done to homes in flood-prone areas can eat up your hard-earned income.
  • Is there an easement on the property? An easement is essentially a legal right for the public to use one’s land, and is most commonly associated with a utility, cable company or locality. In some cases, a neighbor may require an easement to gain access to their property or public land, such as a park or beach. Knowing about any potential easements can save a potential buyer headaches later on.
  • Are there any young families in the neighborhood? For homeowners with children, this is important information that could vastly affect your lifestyle and activities.

And finally....

After gathering the appropriate information, keep your cards close to the vest. When attending an open house, don’t give the seller leverage by telling him what you want to pay, how’ll you pay for the property (cash, financing, etc.), or your personal circumstances (as in, “we need a place really fast because we’ve already sold our home”). You’ll be bidding against yourself if you do so.

Before attending an open house, do your homework! A professional real estate agent can help ensure that you are armed with the right questions to get the information you need —leading to you finding the right house, within your budget.

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