- Treat each house as a chance to hone your homebuying skills.
- Learn what you like, what you don’t, and what you can afford.
- Get ready to commit to the biggest purchase of your life.
Spring ’tis the season for… open houses! Flowers are sprouting and so are available properties. In many housing markets, spring is the time when the bulk of houses for sale are listed. If you’re toying with the idea of buying a home in the near (or even not-so-near) future, do yourself a favor and spend a few spring weekends cruising open houses. According to Freddie Mac, March marks the beginning of spring home buying season, and around 40% of home sales happen between March and June. Thus, now is definitely the time to hit the open house circuit!
Frequenting open houses is a great way to get a handle on your local real estate market, and it’ll give you a sense of what to expect in your price range. My husband and I visited more than 270 open houses before buying our Cambridge, MA home, which turned out to be an excellent strategy. We learned what to look for, what price to expect, and—perhaps most critical—what we wanted in our eventual home.
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Why To Take Advantage Of Open Houses
1) Date Before You Commit
I like to think of open houses as the dating phase of real estate. There’s no pressure to solidify anything long-term, and you can learn about the house-buying process in a low-stress environment. Attending an open house doesn’t put you on the hook for purchase. Anyone can waltz in, as that’s exactly what they’re intended for: to generate foot traffic through homes for sale.
Since you don’t need to work with a real estate agent in order to visit an open house, it’s an opportunity to go at your own pace and conduct your own research. Once you’re signed up with an agent, they’ll work hard to get you paired off with a house, which is helpful if you know what you want, but daunting if you’re uncertain about your housing needs and priorities.
2) Hone Your Real Estate Savvy
Going to a plethora of open houses enabled my husband and me to hone our eye for what to expect in our price range and also clued us into what constituted a good deal in our housing market. Enfranchising ourselves before we bought made us confident negotiators and decision-makers when the time came to put in an offer. We knew we wanted our current home within minutes of touring it—we’d seen enough properties to know it was the one.
3) Free Entertainment
I’ll admit it, another reason I adore open houses is that they provide terrific free entertainment. Who doesn’t want to snoop around other people’s homes? Ok maybe that’s just me… but I do find it’s valuable to make the experience an enjoyable pursuit, rather than drudgery. After all, there’s no need to fear buying a home! It can be fun, I swear!
How To Be An Open House Pro
1) Ask Questions
Once you’ve decided to commit the time to open-housing (oh yes, it’s a verb), make sure you’re taking full advantage of everything this wonderful springtime pursuit offers. Since open houses are often shown by the listing agent, this is your chance to ask a real estate professional any burning questions you have about the home, or the market in general. My husband and I developed a fairly standard set of questions that we asked at just about every open house we attended, including:
- Is there a homeowners or condo association fee?
- How old is the roof? (always good knowledge to have)
- Does a parking spot come with the property? (especially key if you’re looking in a city, as we were)
2) Gather Ample Data
In addition to asking questions, take a listing sheet, which contains photos of the home, details on the floor plan, square footage, and of course, the asking price. Avail yourself of all the fantastic information that’s available online as well. And, crucially, take a look a few months later at what the homes you’ve toured actually sell for. The asking price is one useful data point, but the sales price is an even more telling indicator of the type of market you’re in. Are homes routinely selling for over or under asking? This is a salient tidbit when considering what you’ll be able to afford.
3) Pretend To Buy A House
This was our favorite part of any day spent touring open houses. My husband and I made it a habit to pore over the listing sheets of every house we’d seen and discuss them in great detail—as if we were in fact going to purchase one of them. By considering each house as a case study, we had ample opportunity to explore our likes, dislikes, neighborhood preferences, and more.
When we started doing this, we were still years out from actually pulling the trigger on home ownership, but this exercise taught us what we value in a given property, what our deal breakers are, and what we could conceivably afford one day. Most importantly of all, this routine helped us get on the same page with the concept of our dream house. Over the years, we developed a knack for knowing what the other person would think of a property and, we aligned our vision of what we wanted to purchase. If you’re planning to buy a home with another person, this is absolutely vital.
Prepare For The Biggest Purchase Of Your Life
Since a home is the largest purchase most of us will ever make, doing extensive research—through the very enjoyable process of perusing open houses—is a worthy investment. My husband and I don’t regret purchasing the home we did (for the price we did) in large part because we did our homework ahead of time. Having dozens of open houses filed away in your brain will help you move quickly when you do find your ideal abode—an attribute that’s essential in hot real estate markets where properties sell in mere days. Good luck!