Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the real estate waters or you’re 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’s photo slideshow. Attending an open house gives you the chance to see those things (and more) up close.
A couple of caveats, however, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic: Many open houses have switched to virtual tours, and in instances where they’re still on, you’ll likely be asked to wear a mask and wait outside while others tour the property. What’s more, the intense seller’s market created by COVID-19 means the most desirable properties can be snapped up before listing agents even get around to hosting an open house.
Whether you’re looking to attend open houses in-person or via virtual walkthrough, here’s how to find them in your area.
What is an open house?
An open house is an opportunity for you to see a home that’s for sale. Home sellers will schedule open houses during set times, typically for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday, and allow potential buyers to 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, principal 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.”
How to find open houses
1. Check online real estate websites
Most listing websites make it easy to search for open houses based on criteria such as the date and location. Some search portals 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.
2. 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.
3. Ask your real estate agent
If you’re working with a real estate agent, ask them how to find open houses. Even if you plan to go without your agent, they can recommend open houses that might be a good fit for your search, including those in neighborhoods you might not have considered.
Can anyone go to an open house?
The short answer is yes. You can go solo, with your spouse or even bring the family along. While you can also bring your own real estate agent, 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, brokerage manager 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.”
Pros and cons of going to an open house
- Relaxed environment to view homes without sales pressure
- Can bring anyone with you
- View homes at your own pace
- Home defects might not be obvious
- Can be time-consuming to attend multiple open houses
- Unless you’re able to pre-screen open house listings online first, the properties might not meet your criteria
- The listing agent views you as a hot lead, so expect follow-up emails and phone calls
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 tips on what to do once you’re there:
- Bring your ID. Expect to show identification and sign in to each open house that you visit. This is partly a safety precaution for agents, as well as a tool for the selling agent to get feedback about the home from attendees.
- 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.
- Don’t discuss your thoughts about the house with the hosting real estate agent. You should keep your comments about the property, as well as information about your financial position or timeline for moving, to yourself. “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 sharing what you like or don’t like, or your value strategy. That could hurt your ability to negotiate later.”