Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the real estate waters or deep into your house hunt, spending a weekend (or two) visiting open houses can be an instrumental part of your search.

No matter how many listings you’ve viewed online, there’s no substitute for an in-person visit to a home that’s for sale. That’s the only way that you’ll really know just how much traffic you can hear from inside a home on a busy street, for example, or see signs of wear and tear that didn’t appear in the listing photos. Attending an open house gives you the chance to experience those things (and more) up close.

Sellers will schedule open houses during set times, typically for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday, allowing potential buyers to come in and see the property. Sellers usually don’t attend their open house, but a real estate agent is typically there to answer questions about the home.

“Open houses are a really valuable tool, particularly when you’re early in the process,” says Ron Phipps, managing broker with Phipps Realty in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to research the market in a more self-directed way.”

One important caveat, however: Today’s intense seller’s market means the most desirable properties can be snapped up before listing agents even get around to hosting an open house. But there are plenty still happening! Here’s how to find them in your area.

How to find open houses

There are many ways to find open houses near you. Some are obvious, and some take a little more legwork. These are all great ways to get started:

Check real estate websites

Most listing websites make it easy to search for open houses based on criteria such as date and location. Some search platforms even allow you to create a list or itinerary on their mobile apps, making it easy to reference on the go. If you make a list ahead of time, double-check it the morning of the event to make sure nothing has changed. Sometimes a home will go under contract just before a scheduled open house, so the seller will cancel the event.

Cruise the neighborhood

Spend an afternoon driving around neighborhoods where you’re interested in purchasing a home. Not only will you get a feel for the area’s vibe and character; you may be able to drop into a few open houses, as well. Look for open house signs to indicate a nearby listing.

Ask your real estate agent

If you’re working with a real estate agent, ask them to help you find open houses. Even if you plan to attend without your agent, they can recommend events that might be a good fit for you, including in neighborhoods you might not have considered.

Look at social media

Many real estate agents and brokerages have established presences on popular social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These platforms have become a great place for real estate professionals to show off new listings and announce the details about upcoming open houses.

If you’re house hunting, it can be helpful to follow local real estate agents or brokerages on social media. You can also try searching real estate related hashtags, like #openhouse and #homeforsale, on each social media platform.

Search your local MLS

The MLS, or Multiple Listing Service, is a database of homes for sale in a particular geographic region. While access to the MLS is often limited to real estate agents and brokers, in some regions, anyone can view MLS listings without professional assistance. And some regional MLS databases have a “public-facing side” for consumers, including information about open houses.

Can anyone go to an open house?

The short answer is yes. While you can bring your real estate agent along, you don’t need to have one with you to attend an open house. This makes it easier for you to see homes up close and at your own pace, without any sales pressure.

“It can be helpful to go to an open house, even if you’ve already seen the home with your agent,” says Brendon DeSimone, branch manager and associate real estate broker at Houlihan Lawrence in Bedford, New York. “It’s a chance to go back on your own and go through it again. And, you can see what the neighborhood is like on a weekend.”

What to do at an open house

Visiting an open house is one of the most enjoyable, low-pressure parts of house hunting. This is your chance to get a hands-on education on what homes in a particular neighborhood and price range might look like. Here are a few tips on what to do once you’re there:

  • Make a day of it. The more homes you can see, the more confident you’ll feel when you finally do walk through the doors of “the one.”
  • Take your time. Look past the home’s cosmetic appearance and think about its structure and condition. Consider how it compares with other homes you’ve seen.
  • Scope out the area. Look around the neighborhood to see whether it seems like it would be a good fit for you and your family. Pay attention to nearby traffic, amenities, parks and schools, too.
  • Ask questions. Feel free to ask the hosting real estate agent any questions about the property or the neighborhood. But don’t discuss your thoughts about the home with them. Keep information about your financial position to yourself as well. “You never know who’s listening at an open house,” Phipps says. “As a buyer, you want to observe everything, but don’t be too generous in sharing what you like or don’t like, or your value strategy. That could hurt your ability to negotiate later.”