House hunting can be a daunting task, whether it's your first time buying a home or your fifth move in a year. But after scanning your local real estate listings and investigating every ‘For Sale’ sign in your favourite neighbourhood, you may have finally found your dream home. If you’re planning to attend an open house to give it a thorough inspection, don’t go in blind.
What am I actually looking for when I visit an open house? How do I know what's staged and what's authentic? What should I ask my real estate agent before making an offer? These are all burning questions on a homebuyer's mind before a showing. To ease your angst, here are five essential things to have on your radar the next time you attend an open house.
1 Systematically explore the entire home
Occasionally, attending an open house can be a bit awkward (after all, you are walking through someone else's home). The key is to be polite but thorough with your tour of the house. "Don’t be afraid to open doors. Often powder rooms, wine cellars, pantries, laundry rooms and secret hideaways get missed, particularly if it is a crowded open house," says Kara Reed, a Toronto Real Estate professional. "Come prepared and bring your tape measure, notepad, camera and questions for your real estate agent."
2 Overlook elaborate staging
When you participate in an open house, the interior (and exterior) will most likely be dressed to the nines while the current owner is attempting to sell. The trick is to ignore simulation furniture, beautiful bathrooms and organized basements and inspect the home as it really is—pure real estate. "Many people forget to look past the staging at an open house," says Kara. "You may be so wowed by the perfect decor that you overlook other more important aspects of the home." For example, be sure to examine the parking scheme, look for broken appliances, damages the house has suffered and reasons why the seller has decided to move.
3 Have your eyes and ears peeled
It's one thing to be on the lookout for black mold, cracked drywall and rusty fixtures in a potential home, but an open house is much more than meets the eye. "Listen to what other people are saying and pay attention to their comments as you walk through," Kara recommends. "Although they may be your competition in the bidding, they may also notice things that you didn't catch," she says. In addition, you should be listening for squeaky floors, breezy windows and leaky taps—these can all lead to major issues in the future if you decide to purchase.
4 Discover the surrounding neighbourhood
The advantage of attending an open house is the ability to see a prime piece of real estate in its natural habitat (it's no longer just a picture in a newspaper or on a website). This means having a critical eye for nearby homes and the location the house resides in. "Take some time to explore the neighbourhood and surrounding streets. Drive around and check out proximity to amenities, schools and coffee shops," Kara advises. "Don't forget to look at the adjacent properties. If there are four doorbells, two fire escapes and a junky backyard, you may be living next to a tenanted property or a frat house!"
5 Go with your instincts
If a house looks too good to be true—it probably is. "Trust your gut and sense of smell, especially when heading to the basement. If something feels wonky, damaged, warped, whitewashed, water stained or smells musty—it might not be the place for you," says Kara. "Chances are there may be a home inspection available to view, so don’t be afraid to ask to see it or have it emailed to you." Last but not least, feel free to request more data on a listing from your real estate agent so you can make the most informed decision upon walking out the door of an open house.