Homebuyer Education with Open Houses


Spring is the season for open houses!  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 research, spring marks the beginning of the 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 tour 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 wife and I visited more than 20 houses before buying our Austin, Texas 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.


Why To Take Advantage Of Open House:

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 wife 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 and was a good value.


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!  It gave us an opportunity to brainstorm and discuss what we’d do differently if this was our home.


How To Be An Open House Pro

1) Ask Questions

Once you’ve decided to commit the time to open-housing, 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 wife 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 association fee?
  • How old is the roof? (always good knowledge to have)
  • What are the public school ratings? (especially key if you have kids or plan on having kids while owning the home)


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? Create a spreadsheet of open houses you’ve visited and listing prices and monitor if they’ve sold or not and how long they were on the market.  If you get each realtors contact information, you can follow up with them to confirm.  This is a great way to understand the local market…how quickly are homes selling?, are they selling for under or over asking price?, etc.


3) Pretend To Buy A House

This was our favorite part of any day spent touring open houses. My wife 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, schools, access to freeways, traffic, and more.

When we started doing this, we were still about a year 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 wife 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 and have fun!