What Buyers Need to Know When Viewing Open Houses

If you are shopping for a house you may feel like you are overwhelmed with questions or uncertainty and have anxiety over the unknown. It is helpful to work with an experienced buyer's agent. If you attend open houses without your agent, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

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  • Any agent hosting an open house, whether they are the listing agent or not, should be helpful and honest with you; however, their fiduciary duty is to get the highest and best for the seller. Don't ask a listing agent what they think the house will sell for. Frankly, they likely do not know and they do not want to scare away any buyer by saying, "I hope we make a record-breaking sale for the neighborhood and it goes hundreds of thousands over the asking price".
  • If you do talk with the open house host, other potential buyers are listening and are "sizing up" their competition. It is like poker, do not show your hand. One time I had a buyer tell a listing agent what their budget was and asked the listing agent if they thought they could win the property in competition. Don't do this! You just showed your hand.
  • If you ask the hosting agent question after question, you may be conveying the wrong message. Yes, buyers deserve answers to their questions, but let your agent do the research and ask on your behalf. You could be inadvertently sending vibes to the hosting agent that you are uncertain about the house, have grave concerns about the property condition or that you may not be a deal closer.  For example, I had a buyer client ask a listing agent about plumbing and water pressure. My client noted that she loved her showers in the morning. My clients called me that night to tell me that they found an old farmhouse that they loved. I immediately called the listing agent to ask for the disclosures/reports on the property. The listing agent immediately remembered my clients and said, "I do not think this is the right house for your clients." I asked, how so? The agent replied that it was a 100-year old home with old pipes and she could not guarantee that the water pressure would be sufficient. Pipes can get replaced and no home is perfect. I was able to discuss at length the property condition with my buyers and inform them about what is typical when reading the disclosures. Buyers may not be aware that certain comments to the listing/hosting agent will convey details that could be possible deal-killers.
  • Many Realtors host open houses actively and legitimately to seek out buyers. They may ask guests to "sign in".  You don't want to do this if you are already working with an agent. This is a way the host can contact you and solicit your business. Kindly tell them you are working with an agent and give your agent's name. You can always say "I will take your card and ask my Realtor to contact you if we are interested". Some may think there is an advantage to working with the listing agent as their buying agent. But ask yourself, if a conflict arises, would you be comfortable with the same agent representing both sides?
  • Don't ask the listing/hosting agent for a showing. Call your agent to set up a private showing. Likewise, when perusing homes online, don't request a showing via online real estate websites. Realtors pay to be sponsor-agents on various websites. If they show you a property that you later purchase with your agent, they can claim they are entitled to the commission; this is called procuring cause.
  • While viewing open homes, social courtesies apply. I have seen open house visitors act in way that appears defensive or even hostile. You don't need to engage in long conversations with the host or disclose a lot of information about yourself. Listing agents do remember the visitors and will convey to their seller what their impression is of the buyer.

Bottom line, choose your buyer's agent early in your house hunting process. If you are working with a stellar agent they will do research, talk with you about comparable sold data and pricing, review and discuss property condition, and provide you with answers to your questions. They should be putting your needs above all else and be transparent. Bring all of your questions, concerns and fears to them with full confidence in their advice.