Open House Etiquette for Home Buyers

Real Estate Open House Etiquette and Rules

A favorite pastime of many people is to attend Sunday open houses, whether they’re in the market to buy a home or they’re just simply curious. Open houses also provide agents with a great way to meet potential clients who wander in off the street.

A certain amount of etiquette is involved from both sides. You should understand the role of the agent who’s holding the house open before you head out to explore someone else’s home, and you’ll want to avoid overstepping your bounds as well.

What to Wear?
Yes, an open house is an informal event, and there’s certainly no need to break out your high heels or a tie. But try to avoid super casual attire like flip flops, bathing suit tops, seen-better-days sweatpants, and the like. You’ll still gain admittance, but agents might not take you seriously if you are indeed looking to buy.

To Ring the Bell or Not to Ring?
Not all real estate agents host open houses in the same manner, so you can’t always be sure who will answer the door. It could be the listing agent, a neighbor, a buyer’s agent, or even the seller. But one thing is certain—you don’t have to ring the doorbell or knock on the door unless there’s a sign posted instructing you to do so. Otherwise, open the door and walk in.

When You’re Inside
You’ll want to wait to enter a room until any other visitors who are already there have departed. There’s plenty of other space to explore in the meantime. And remember your manners. Don’t use the bathrooms, and don’t open drawers, cabinets, the refrigerator, or closed doors. People still live in the home in most cases—and it’s intrusive.

What to Expect From the Agent
The agent might be standing at the front door when you arrive, waiting to greet you. This type of agent will shake your hand, introduce themselves, get your name, hand you a flyer, and tell you to go through the house at your own pace. The agent might follow you to point out features and answer questions you didn’t realize you had.

It’s also possible that the agent might be outside in the driveway, asleep behind the wheel of their car. This agent might leave the door ajar and never get up to greet you. Feel free to go inside anyway. Make a note of the agent’s name—you’ll probably find it on pamphlets or business cards near the front door—and promise yourself that you will not call this broker.

Or the agent might fall somewhere in between. This non-engaging type might be reading a book in another room and will say something along the lines of, “There’s information on the counter. Let me know if you have any questions.”

In any case, avoid taking up a huge chunk of the agent’s time. Just make sure you have a business card if you have many detailed questions about the property and you’re seriously considering buying. You can always follow up later.

Is the Open House Agent the Listing Agent?
Asking is the best way to find out whether the agent holding the open house is the listing agent.

You can’t always count on the agent’s name appearing on the For Sale sign or that they’ll be wearing a name badge. Sometimes two agents will co-list a home. You could find yourself dealing with a dual-agency situation if you buy through this agent and your state allows it.

More often than not, the agent holding the listing open will not be the listing agent but rather an associate agent. This agent will be hoping to represent a buyer to buy that home (or any other home, for that matter).

Sometimes, the agent listing the home will head a team of buyer’s agents. Those agents will often host the open house. Some team leaders don’t want to directly represent the buyer, because they feel there’s a conflict of interest that interferes with their fiduciary responsibilities to the seller.

Open House Homebuyers With Agent Representation
If you’re already working with an agent, let the agent hosting the open house know. Realtors are technically required to ask buyers about this, but they sometimes forget.

The easiest way to inform the agent that you’re working with another agent is to walk in with your agent’s card in hand. Just hand it over to the other agent and say, “This is my agent.” The agent at the home shouldn’t try to solicit you when they’re made aware of this information.

Buyers Without Agent Representation
Let the agent at the home know that you’re still shopping for a buyer’s agent if you haven’t yet decided on someone. Maybe you’ll want to interview the open house agent to determine whether you want to work with them. Open houses are an excellent way to find an agent, because you’ll meet face to face, and you can witness the agent in action as well.

What happens at an open house?
An open house is an opportunity for the seller and their agent to show a home to numerous potential buyers on the same day. The seller’s agent or another representative usually opens the home for a few hours and allows prospective buyers to walk through, peruse the house, and ask questions. Listing agents may also use it as an opportunity to find new clients.

What questions should I ask at an open house?
For homebuyers, the questions to ask at an open house are really the same as those you should ask when looking at any home. You should get as much information as possible about the condition of the home, how long it’s been on the market, any renovations that have been done, and any significant issues that the home has had. It’s also good to get an idea of how many offers the listing agent has, so you’ll know how competitive the market is for that home.

What should I bring to an open house?
It’s helpful to go to an open house prepared. Bring anything you might need to scope out the home, such as a tape measure, a camera, a flashlight, and paint swatches. Have a notepad and pen for recording information and answers to your questions. If you’re working with an agent, it can be helpful to have them there, too.

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