Tools for House Hunters
An open house gives you a wonderful opportunity to check out a property without having to schedule a private showing. “Open houses are a great way to figure out what you want and what you don't want in a home,” says real estate agent Kelly Blandford of Helen Adams Realty in North Carolina. And once you have a better idea of what you're looking for, open houses can help you narrow down your choices. Before you start pounding the pavement in search of your new home, real estate agent Jean M. Rosalia of Keller Williams Realty in Virginia suggests making the most of every open house with a little preparation and a few handy tools.
Notepad and Pen
Though it seems basic and low-tech, it’s easier to keep track of details with a pen and a piece of paper. “If you are looking at many homes, it's important to note the specific things you like and don't like in each, or it will all become a blur,” suggests Blandford. You can use a notepad app on your phone instead, but if you are also using your phone to take photos, you may find swapping between functions tedious.
Draft a list of must-haves for your new home, so you'll be able to keep track of which houses had everything you're looking for. A checklist is especially handy if you are attending several open houses in one day. What should you put on your checklist? Rosalia suggests your list should contain the following three categories: must-haves, deal-breakers, and wish-list items. “Keeping your focus on the important things and documenting them will help you to remember a specific home when making a decision to go back with your agent for a second look,” Rosalia adds.
“We all have cellphones with the capabilities to take both photographs and video,” Rosalia says, “and it is a great way to further document a home that you visit.” She also recommends that you ask the agent holding the open house for permission before taking photos or video.
Sometimes it’s hard to determine the size of a room by just eyeballing it. Don’t guesstimate—use a tape measure! “A tape measure is a great item to have handy in case you are not certain that your furniture will fit.,” Rosalia says. If you always carry a tape measure with you, you'll be able to calculate the exact square footage of the bedrooms, or figure out if your beloved sectional will fit in the living room of your potential new home.
Is there a paint color or flooring style you absolutely must have in your next home? Bring swatches along to see what your decorating choices might look like in the homes you're viewing. Be sure to look at the swatches in both natural and artificial light, and hold them next to fixtures in the home to get a sense of how the colors will work together. While discordant colors or patterns may not be deal-breakers, having this information gives you yet another factor to take into consideration as you weigh your choices.
A flashlight may seem like an odd item to bring to an open house, but remember that some parts of a house are notoriously dark. “Dimly lit basements, garages, or sheds are areas that you might want to check before making a decision to put this house at the top of your list,” says Rosalia. The built-in flashlight on your cellphone may not be powerful enough to penetrate into the darkest crevices, so bring a small pocket flashlight just in case.
Disposable Shoe Covers
Although it’s common courtesy to wipe your feet before entering someone’s home, if the weather's particularly wet or rainy, you may not be able to get all the mud and moisture off your shoes. If you are not comfortable removing your shoes before you enter, consider using disposable shoe covers instead. They're inexpensive, they fit snugly in your pocket or bag, and they're easy to put on and remove.
Open houses give house hunters a valuable first impression of a property, so harness your powers of observation to make the most of the opportunity. “Don't just look at the appliances and the rooms,” warns Blandford, “but observe the condition of the exterior and the yard, and the neighborhood as a whole.” She also suggests you walk around the neighborhood and, if you aren’t shy, chat with the neighbors. Taking these extra steps will give you an idea of what the neighborhood is like and help you find out if it’s a place you can picture yourself living.
Take advantage of the real estate agent's presence at the open house to ask a few questions. You can dig deeper on some of the details described in the listing, or ask about prior upgrades or renovations. Blandford suggests that you ask for important info that may not have been included in the listing, such as the age of the HVAC system or roof, or whether the property is governed by a homeowners association. Also, as there will probably be other house hunters milling about, listen up: Their questions might draw out some useful details.
Real Estate Agent
If possible, bring your own real estate agent to the open house. “A licensed real estate agent or Realtor will be able to assess the home's value if you are interested in making an offer on it,” says Rosalia. “An agent can also help you to negotiate for repairs, closing costs, and other items.” If your agent cannot come with you, then bring their contact information. Remember: The agent on site is not there for your interests. “It's definitely also good practice to let the agent on site know you are represented,” notes Blandford, “and mind what personal information you share with them; they do represent the seller.” Going forward, a good agent will manage the communication with the open house agent so you won't have to be bothered.
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