It’s open house season! You perhaps thought these balmier temperatures and tulips indicated a season called spring, but no, tis the season of house buying. The inspiration for today’s post comes from a reader who recently sent me a fantastic question about one of my favorite things… open house etiquette! Before Mr. Frugalwoods and I slapped down the money to buy our current home, we frequented a ton of open houses. And by “ton,” I mean roughly 270+ over the years.

Our guest room
Our guest room

The Young Frugalwoods vs. A Hot Real Estate Market

When we first moved to Cambridge, MA (as dewy-eyed, engaged 23-year-olds… sidenote: that sounds REALLY young), our #1 financial goal was to buy a house. And this wasn’t a typical goal in these here parts. The Boston metro area (of which Cambridge is part) comprises the third most expensive real estate market in the country and, to make matters worse, the housing supply is extraordinarily limited.

Most properties here are rentals (in fact, 65.4% of units in Cambridge are rented) and, very few new buildings are built thanks to stringent historical requirements, which we do appreciate since the city is a beautiful amalgamation of historical landmarks and homes.

This truncated housing stock causes some area buyers to foolishly forgo home inspections (which we would NEVER recommend), buy houses in terrible shape, and–here’s the kicker–pay all cash. All that to say, we recognized we were facing terrible odds. But, we weren’t deterred in our dream of home ownership and eventual landlord-ship. And given the high rental rates in Cambridge, we figured we’d eventually want rent out our home, which is exactly what we plan to do with our current house once we decamp to a homestead in the woods of Vermont in 2017.

Our DIY Home Search

At age 23, living in a dank basement apartment to save money, we realized our home plans were too nascent to involve a realtor. Plus, as you know, we have a preference for insourcing everything we possibly can and, we didn’t want to waste a realtor’s time.

Our kitchen
Our kitchen

So, we DIY’ed our home search process and started what can only be described as the Frugalwoods Open House Visiting Bonanza. Basically, we went to just about every open house we could get our hands on in our target neighborhoods. While we did indeed have a price range, and were in fact ready to put in an offer if the right property popped up, we weren’t seriously ready to buy. But we were seriously ready to gather information.

And so every weekend, Mr. FW would map out a route for us to walk around Cambridge and poke our heads into stranger’s homes. We looked at everything from $1.5M+ listings (which we could never afford) all the way down to the “cheap stuff,” which in Cambridge all those years ago was… about $350K (this is not a discount area). By exposing ourselves to such a broad swath of properties, we were honing our preferences for a home. We’d take the listing sheet for each house, then sit down over coffee later that afternoon and have a serious conversation about which house we’d buy if, you know, we were actually in a position to buy.

Every Open House Is A Case Study

The other half of our kitchen (refinishing the cabinets ourselves made a huge difference)
The other half of our kitchen (refinishing the cabinets ourselves made a huge difference)

What these exercises did for us was of incalculable value. We educated ourselves on the intricacies of viewing homes, we determined our priorities, and we learned how to communicate our desires and thoughts to each other. Essentially, we conducted a case study on every open house we went to and created a vocabulary for house hunting unique to us and our frugal weirdo brand of loving value, but also of appreciating beautiful architecture and historical detail.

We didn’t buy the cheapest house we looked at and we don’t regret that. Since we spend so much of our time in our home, we wanted a place we’d be comfortable in, that was spacious, and that brought us joy every time we walked through the door.

When Mr. FW and I moved to Washington, DC a few years later, we continued our open house visiting, even though we were fairly certain we wouldn’t be staying in DC long enough to buy a house. Why would we do this? To gather more data. With each house we visited, we learned a new real estate term, a new legal angle, a new home layout, and we practiced and refined our technique for “choosing” which house to buy.

Date Before You Buy

We also weren’t losing anything by going to these hundreds of open houses. They’re free, open to the public, and often take place on glorious spring–ahem, house buying season–days. Who doesn’t want to stroll around town and snoop in stranger’s houses on Sunday afternoons? In case you hadn’t guessed, yes, we do consider open house visiting to be a form of entertainment.

I hear from some folks that they’re daunted or even terrified at the prospect of buying a home. If you’re having those feelings, my recommendation is to check yourself into “home buying exposure therapy” and start going to open houses. The more you visit, the more confident you’ll become in your ability to assess houses for what they are: assets.

I can helps you paints!
I can helps you paints!

In some ways, seeing so many houses gave Mr. FW and me a cold, clinical eye. Have you heard of people who wouldn’t buy a house because the interior was painted the wrong color? Yep. It’s sad, but true. If evaluating a prospective home is a completely alien endeavor, it’s likely you’ll be swayed by the wrong things (such as easily changed paint colors) and will ignore the big things (like 100-year-old uninsulated windows). Going to a bunch of open houses is like dating before you get married. You become familiar with the terrain, you learn what you’re looking for, and you know a first-rate catch when you see one.

The Proof Is In The House

So did our Open House Visiting Bonanza of several years actually pan out for us? I’d say yes. We saw our current home and within 15 minutes were certain we wanted to put in an offer. Good thing too since houses in Cambridge are known to sell mere days after going on the market. We were completely confident and aligned in our decision to buy this house and we actually spent very little time debating. This house was the one.

We’d been on enough first dates to know that our current home had some special sauce going on–it was priced very fairly, it’s a single family (rare as a greyhound with wings here in Cambridge), and it’s big (by Cambridge standards).

Glorious After!
Our staircase! Another instance where refinishing it ourselves made a world of cosmetic difference.

But the real reason we were able to net such an amazing deal is that our house showed terribly. It was pretty much a 101 on how not to stage a home for sale. There were heavy lace curtains blocking out all the natural light, it was crammed with bulky furniture, houseplants dangled in every corner, and ancient floral rugs covered the gorgeous wood floors. To top it off, there were photos hanging on every square inch of wall space. In other words, it was not visually appealing in the least. But, thanks to our aptitude in looking past the superficial flaws of countless properties, we were able to hone in on the key features that made our home a fabulous find.

Mr. FW and I were aware that these factors not only equalled a superb place for us to live, they also equalled a marvelous place for us to rent out in the future. Without our years of experience in open housing (oh yes, it’s a verb now), I don’t think we would’ve been able to make such an accelerated decision and, if we’d delayed, it’s very likely the house would’ve been snapped up by someone else. In fact, our realtor later told us that if we hadn’t bought it, he would’ve!

In addition to the benefit of a speedy decision, we’ve never second guessed our purchase. We’d gathered so much data on area real estate over the years that we knew an opportune deal when we saw one. It’s a very comforting thing not to question the largest purchase you’ve ever made!

Enfranchise Yourself

Visiting open houses not only refined our personal tastes, it refined our pricing savvy. Being the frugal weirdos that we are, we wanted to extract the best possible value for our money in buying a place. And what better way to do that than by having years of price comparisons in your head? Since we knew what the highest and lowest ends of the market in Cambridge had to offer, and since we’d seen just about every comp (that’s a comparable home) out there, we were incredibly confident in the offer price we put in. And, we were familiar with the attributes of the location. In 2015, our area was ranked by Redfin as the #1 hottest Cambridge neighborhood.

While a realtor can certainly be helpful in constructing an offer and shepherding the technical process of purchasing a home, their incentives often don’t align with a buyer’s when it comes to advice on pricing. Thus, we believe it behooves the savvy frugal buyer to have your own sense of what a fair price is, what the comps in the neighborhood are, and what a great deal looks like.

Now that I’ve hopefully browbeaten convinced you of the inherent value of open housing, here are my top tips on open house etiquette!

The Frugalwoods Top 12 Open House Tips (and some FAQs thrown in for good measure)

1) What is an open house?

An open house is an opportunity to walk through a house that’s for sale without the need to bring along a realtor. If you want to schedule an appointment to view a house on your own schedule, you’ll need to work with a realtor. But for open houses, you can go solo. The listing agent, also known as the seller’s realtor, will be the person hosting the open house, not the home owners (unless the house is for sale by owner).

2) How do I find open houses?

Open houses are listed online in a number of different venues, which vary by region. Here in Cambridge we use Redfin, which we highly recommend if it’s available in your area. If Redfin isn’t in your city, is another source for open houses. You can also pop into an open house you happen to see a sign for on the street.

3) Don’t be embarrassed.

I’ll admit that Mr. Frugalwoods and I go through life truly not caring what others think and honestly, we’re much happier and less stressed because of it. But in this specific scenario, it simply doesn’t matter what some random realtor thinks of you.

I often hear from friends that they’re reticent to enter an open house because they’re afraid they’ll be judged as not wealthy enough, not a serious enough buyer, or not savvy enough about house buying–to which I say, so what if you’re not?! The only way you’re going to learn is by dipping a toe in and not worrying.

4) Remember, it’s the realtor’s job to show the house.

Our master bedroom. Another of our DIY renovations that drastically altered the appearance of our house.
Our master bedroom. Another of our DIY renovations that drastically altered the appearance of our house.

The very goal of an open house is to generate foot traffic for the property. Most of the people at open houses won’t ever put in an offer on the property. The listing agent knows this and they’ll focus their time on prospective buyers who show up with a realtor in tow–they know those are the actual serious buyers.

If the listing agent and sellers didn’t want people tromping through the house, they wouldn’t hold an open house. Open houses are not a requirement for sellers, they’re an option. You’re actually doing the listing agent a favor by showing up. After all, they want to prove to the sellers that they had lots of people checking out their abode.

5) Comply with the sign-in sheet.

The listing agent will likely ask you to write your name on their sign-in sheet, which is their way of showing the sellers that people came to the open house. Again, the raison d’être of an open house is to get maximum eyeballs on the property. We always sign in because it’s the polite thing to do. Our trick? Omit your phone number and email address.

6) Feel free to ask questions of the listing agent.

We frequently have a few questions and the listing agent is usually happy to answer them. Sometimes we’ll chat with an agent for quite awhile. Other times, we don’t even see them because they’re busy with other prospective buyers. Don’t be afraid to show your naivete in asking questions. After all, this is an expert who can offer you some insight into real estate in your area, so take advantage of the free advice!

A few of our favorite questions:

  • If we’re looking at a condo, we like to ask about the HOA (home owners association) fee, what the association’s reserves are, and any upcoming assessments.
  • If the unit or home is currently rented, we always ask what price it’s rented for.
  • I like asking how old the roof is. Because, why not?

7) OMG, the listing agent asked me a question!!!

Don’t panic :). If the listing agent asks how long you’ve been looking, you might say what Mr. FW and I say: “we’re always looking at real estate in the area.” This is entirely true. If we see a fine looking opportunity, we’ll buy it!

8) But seriously Mrs. Frugalwoods, am I allowed in an open house?

I'm offended, yet not entirely surprised, that I'm not allowed into open houses.
I’m offended, yet not entirely surprised, that I’m not allowed into open houses.

As long as you’re a human asking this question (and not a greyhound), the answer is yes. Anyone is allowed to attend an open house–there’s no rule or law that you need to be actively interested in buying that particular home.

9) Follow house rules.

Pursuant to #8, we never take Frugal Hound into an open house and we always follow whatever rules the listing agent requests. For example, many places ask that you remove your shoes before walking through the house, so, we remove our shoes. No biggie.

Pro tip: wear slip-on shoes and always make sure you’ve got socks on!

10) Take a listing sheet.

Those handy-dandy sheets containing photos of the house, specs, and the asking price are there for your perusal and enjoyment! Take one and read through it. Ask the listing agent any clarifying questions you have and feel free to take notes. Then…

11) Discuss the house later that day.

If you’re buying a house with someone else, sit down together and have a frank conversation about the houses you visited. Discuss likes, dislikes, prices, neighborhood preferences, and everything else you consider important in your future home. Treating each open house like a case study will build your house buying muscles and transform you into a house buying hulk. There’s no such thing as learning too much!

12) Have fun!

I cannot stress this enough. Researching houses and real estate doesn’t have to be an arduous, painful process. Enjoy waltzing around other people’s homes and relish all the knowledge you’re gaining! Nothing will prepare you to buy your own place like visiting a ton of available homes.

Concluding Thoughts

Mr. Frugalwoods and I still go to open houses. All the time. Why? Well, partly because it’s a hobby, partly because we love real estate, and partly because we’re not done buying. Even though our next property will likely be a homestead, which is an entirely different real estate beast, we just might buy a multi-family to rent out someday. We like to keep our options open and by holding our frugal fingers on the pulse of the Cambridge market, we still know a good deal when we see one.

How did you decide to buy your home? Have you been to open houses before?

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    1. I will admit to it being a bit more intense while we were actually, seriously, house hunting. But we still found time to laugh at some decorating choices that were, shall we say, “taste specific” 🙂

  1. Open houses aren’t really a big thing around here – most houses sell without ever having an open house. But when we were actively pursuing properties, we visited an absolute ton of them (so many they start to blur together looking back on those years) with and without our realtor. If there was an entry code, the realtor would often send it directly to us rather than meeting us at the property because she trusted us to lock up when we were done and we were looking at so many we didn’t want to waste her time driving down every time we wanted to look at one.

    1. That’s a trusting realtor! I wish we found that for our vermont search… I always feel bad making our realtor spend 2/3 of a day driving between 3-4 properties we want to see. It’s a double bummer when we see something in person and discover a deal breaker in the first 5 minutes.

  2. I miss going to open houses! It’s kind of tricky with a five year old in tow; she’s likely to announce, “We’re not really going to buy a house”, or something like that to the realtor!

    1. That’s true, I imagine kids would make it less of a relaxing sport. At least for the realtor 🙂

  3. We look at many houses 75+ before we decided to put an offer in our ours. We still pop in on open houses from time to time to see design, decorations, etc ideas for our home. All about doing your homework before making the single largest purchase of your life.

    1. Yep, research is so key. While I could never buy a house because it “felt right”, going to enough open houses did start to give us a sixth sense of whether a property was a true contender or not right from the outset. Plus, free entertainment 🙂

  4. We also saw a lot of houses before buying, though not 270! It was a good way to hone in on what we wanted and learn about the market. We still see houses sometimes, if they seem like they’d potentially suit our dream of living with another frugal family we’ve very close to.

    1. Yeah, as much as I love online looking… there’s nothing like seeing places in person. Both for the actual house, and for the surrounding area and neighbors!

  5. We’re in the midst of house hunting now and are taking full advantage of all of the open houses in the area. In addition to all the great reasons mentioned above, we are doing it to help save us some money. We found a realtor that charges by the hour and reimburses whatever is left of the 3% seller’s agent commission at closing.

    It’s a great option for us because we are not first time homebuyers and don’t mind doing some legwork–hitting up open houses, researching areas, neighborhoods, schools. sales prices–on our own. Yes, if we wanted to our realtor would provide us with those services. But we prefer to DIY it and pocket that cash. 😉 We put in a contract yesterday and are expecting to have a $10,000 credit from him to put towards our closing costs. Pretty darned sweet!

    1. Oh interesting! We did something sort of similar, we used Redfin and they also refund part of the commision and rely on you to do some of the looking. It worked perfectly for us, since like you, we loved the searching part!

  6. I was at first skeptical that having a buyer’s agent was going to be helpful for me buying my place but he super duper was. He was able to point out to me the big expensive upgrades or issues that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Particularly in terms of foundational issues which can be at issue with some of these older buildings. We inspected the basements, columns, and ceilings pretty thoroughly for evidence of stress and shifting. Which is something I wouldn’t have thought to do. He also was able to point out nuances of different properties I wouldn’t have thought of, i.e. things that weren’t amount of sunlight, number of rooms, fixtures, and layout. He was able to give me rough estimates of how much major repairs would cost, so I could factor them into the calculation when we thought we were getting a deal. Of course, we supplemented all this with an inspection, but it was helpful knowing some key things off-hand. In general, would definitely recommend using an agent, at least if you’re a first-time buyer. YMMV, of course.

    As to open houses, I actually didn’t like them much. Always very crowded with 20-30 other couples looking for their new home. Scheduled during the main part of some weekend day, interrupting time I’d otherwise use volunteering, running errands, or thinking about something other than this big daunting task. The worst was that after each one I’d get so very thoroughly depressed that I couldn’t afford anything in my market and get despondent for a day. Again, YMMV, particularly if you are less anxious than I. In general, though, I much preferred scheduling showings so at least I didn’t have to meet in person the 10 other people who’d outbid me.

    1. Totally get that, though I would argue that open houses are a great opportunity for gathering intelligence about market velocity around a particular property. We’ve overheard many a potential buyer whispering about bidding strategy with their spouse while walking through the open house. Conversely, we’ve also been to open houses where it was clear there wasn’t much buyer interest. Hopefully your realtor would be able to tell you those things… but for us it’s fun. YMMV of course.

  7. Another fun game is lottery houses. There’s a ton of them by my parents and it’s a local past time.
    There aren’t very many open houses where I live, they tend to just be at the ski condos during major holidays. Alas. Open houses are fun to go to, I love them, for many of the same reasons as you folks do. I love trying to to envision what I could do to make the house better and nicer. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard.

    1. I guess I’m not familiar with Lottery Houses? Is that when HGTV or someone builds a swank house and then gives it away? I’ve always wanted to see one of those in person, just for the spectacle.

  8. Great timing. Hubs and I were just talking about getting more active in the housing scene. The neighborhood we want doesn’t have a “typical” house, so it will be interesting to see what we find. Only way to find out is to poke around! I grew up going to open houses. I moved 8 times as a kid and it seems we were always out house shopping. Hubs’ parents, on the other hand, still live in the same house he grew up in and he’s only been to one open house… one I dragged him too. The difference in house hunting experience has made for a rocky start to our search because we are coming from such different places.
    Also, I’m pretty sure my sister bought her house because the owner made and presented chocolate chip cookies to every visitor. Not a very smart reason to buy a house.

    1. Sadly we’ve never run into free food at an open house. I hear the broker open houses (held during the week) are more likely to have goodies… but we don’t get to go to those. We totally would though!

  9. We decided to buy our current home after looking at every single available house in our area and finding this was THE only house with main floor laundry and a master bath. Pretty big deals. It is not perfect (the main bath is 1950’s pink and brown) but everything is fixable. It’s the layout and price that mattered.

    1. We’ve seen some pretty awesome pink baths in our day. They are _almost_ so bad they are cool. Almost. 🙂

  10. I love going to open houses even when we are not actually planning to buy. However, if we aren’t truly in the market to purchase, we don’t go to any where the people still live. We don’t want to give them false hope that we are a prospective sale. So, instead, we go to builder’s open houses or home shows sponsored by the area builder’s association. We get lots of ideas about current styles and often get to talk to the builder about construction techniques that have maybe changed for the better in recent years. It is a great learning opportunity.

    1. That’s an interesting point about false hope. I guess in a slower market that could be a real concern. Thankfully around here the market is so hot that we don’t have any doubt that a place will sell. It’s rare that any place we look at is on the market for more than 7 days.

  11. I love open houses but haven’t attended any since moving to VT. There doesn’t seem to be as many or as often, or I just don’t notice them. Houses are spaced far apart here so it’s not a walking event. But I do agree with you, no better way to educate yourself. We’re currently torn between putting on an addition, moving to a new place, or just fixing up what we have. It’s expensive here, so we don’t know the right move to make, so we just sit back and enjoy what we have! Good luck on finding your homestead land. I know it will be just right for you!

    1. Thanks Bev! We’re happy it’s spring and the VT market is waking back up! It was a long winter without too many new listings!

  12. Excellent blog. I hope you do a follow up with what you looked for, which nooks & crannies you prowled in to see if you could acertain a biggie problem ahead of time. What where total run don’t walk away and what was a maybe.

    We’ve bought 3 homes, the first two had water issues stemming from 1st being lowest property, 2nd that we thought was great but turned out not so much as the drainage was deceiving and the 3rd a charm, highest property in the neighborhood, no flood or basement flooding issues although being on a hill, we need 4WD in winter. We also learned that personal decor styles matter not but the houses bones were most important, ie foundation, roof, electrical, plumbing, possible mold issues from leaks ect. We also found that the worst day of the year to look at a home is the best day. Go during a monsoon. If you like the house when it’s gray & ugly outside, you’ll love it when the sun shines.

    1. Really good point about trying to see a place under adverse conditions! One of the things with our current Cambridge house that I didn’t think about when buying it in May was that there are parts of the walkway where there is _no_ place to put snow! It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s funny how easy it is to forget that the beautiful spring day when you see a place isn’t representative of the year round environment 🙂

  13. What a great post! I totally agree that you can never see too many houses or do too much research when you’re looking to buy. Knowledge is power! We bought our home eight years ago and are still totally in love with it. I think it’s because we went into the hunt knowing what was important to us (and what wasn’t), so like you, we were able to act quickly when we found “the one”. For those new to house hunting, I would also highly recommend looking around for a first-time home buyer’s class. The one we took was offered for free by a local community development agency and included five weekly sessions that covered everything from realtors to financing to inspections (there was a one whole session focused almost exclusively on septics!) to closing the deal. They basically walked us through the whole process of buying a home step by step, and it was extremely helpful. We live in a rural area, and I have no idea how broadly these kinds of classes are offered in different parts of the country, but we found ours by asking about home-buying resources at our (awesome, local) bank. You’re so right that one of the biggest hurdles is to get over your own worries and insecurities about house hunting and just get out there and see things. You can learn a lot by seeing what you don’t like as well as what you do!

    1. P.S. Your home is lovely! I love the simple, clean style with bursts of color and unique, interesting pieces. Can I tell you I LOVE that little blue table? I admire it every time it shows up in one of your photos. And your redo of your jewelry hutch is amazing! You’ve definitely inspired me to spruce up a few tired pieces on the cheap 🙂

      1. Thank you so much, Devan! I appreciate it! That jewelry hutch was surprisingly easy to refinish. It took me a solid chunk of time, but I am so happy with the results. And, I love that blue table too! There’s a reason why it shows up in so many of our photos… 😉

    2. Oh great idea! Even though we are researchers to the extreme… we totally could have used a first time homebuyers class. We eventually figured it all out… but there is so much to learn, sometimes in a very short amount of time.

  14. I’ve always wanted to go to an open house for the reasons you listed above. Mainly because I want to get to know the process more before I jump in head first. Maybe next time I’m visiting family I’ll stop by an open house, because I am for sure not buying a place in Manhattan!

    1. If you are interested, you should totally go to Manhattan open houses. No need to be in the market. And even if the prices are way out of line with what you’ll eventually want to pay… you can still get good ideas about layouts you like and finishes you would be interested in.

  15. 270+ open houses?! That’s incredible! I am very happy to have read this post. The idea of home buying has been on our minds, and reading through this thorough list of tips if very comforting. I do have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive too of being viewed as “not a potential buyer” if attending open houses in the area. I think this stems from the fact that since we live in a very college-centered town, most landlords are incredibly skeptical when you walk through the door to view their rental units. I think it’s wonderful that you were able to see past all the clutter to purchase your current home now! Thank you for all the advice, I am sure our research will begin even more now that the weather is becoming more wonderful outside.

    1. Glad it was useful! We find that as long as we’re respectful of the house and the realtor… no one minds if we poke around.

  16. This statistic may no longer be accurate, but I read a few year’s ago that only 7% of Cambridge homes are single-family. I thought that was shockingly low but looking around I can count on one hand the number of single family homes in my neighborhood near Lechmere. I feel very lucky to own one!

    1. Hi fellow Cantabrigian! I would certainly believe that stat. They are pretty rare, and becoming more rare as they are converted to multiple units. We were psyched to get ours.

  17. Since I’ve never been in the market for a home I really haven’t, but I’ve been tempted just for curiosity sake. I like seeing how the other half live so to speak…how people decorate, do they have clutter, colors on the walls..etc.

    1. That’s the fun part. We go through houses and sometimes crack up at the wild, unusual, and sometimes head-scratching design choices. One memorable place we looked at several years ago had a gold colored stand-alone bidet in a black granite bathroom. Pretty amazing.

  18. This is great, and so timely since we are looking for an investment property right now. We toured probably less than 20 houses before buying our current home in Cohoes. We did only one or two open houses. There’s probably not as many as out in Boston, and I like to schedule a bunch of showings and get them done in an hour or two. (We did do one lookie-loo at a house we had no intention of buying, simply because we’d been admiring it for so long!) And at a certain point, you just have to stop looking. Houses aren’t that different from each other, unless you have no idea what you want and are looking at anything. After checking out a hundred, you probably just don’t want a house, unless you treat as an education experience like yourselves.

    And yes, we knew we wanted our house basically right away. After sleeping on it, Marge and I still felt like it was the one. I think you just “know” when it’s going to be your house. It was under-priced too, so we were lucky we snagged it

    Although buying an investment property is completely different. You have to imagine tenants’ checking out the property instead of imagining yourself living in the house. And a lot of the time, the house is being lived in, which I’ve found to be really awkward. “Hello, future tenants!”

    1. I think you’re right about looking when buying–at a certain point, you’ve got to just make a decision! But I loved going to so many open houses over the years. There are so many different configurations of condos and converted houses here that I really enjoyed snooping around in them :).

      That’s great that you both felt so good about the home you bought–definitely a reassurance to be on the same page. Good luck with the investment property search!

  19. I loved this post. When I started looking for my first home I loved everything I saw and wanted to put an offer in, even when it didn’t fulfill my wishlist. Thankfully I had an experienced realtor who reined me in and told me why something wasn’t right for me or what I was missing. Now older and wiser I have a better eye and am looking forward to my next home hunt in a year or two.

    1. I think house hunting is definitely an overwhelming experience at first! Like you said, takes time to gain that “eye” for what you really want. Best of luck with your next house hunt!

  20. We usually go to open houses if they happen in our neighborhood. This is not a super fancy neighborhood, so they usually aren’t staged or anything. So that is mainly nosiness on our part. I also look up the listing when things go up for sale- I just like having an idea of what our comps are even though we have no plans to ever move again. And again, nosiness. Prices have been going steadily up (but not skyrocketing) around here lately, which is good for us.

    1. Yes to nosiness and yes to checking listings online! I completely agree with you–I feel like it’s always a smart idea to know how your local market is moving. And, that’s great that prices are on the rise in your area!

  21. Good tips. The wife and I looked for 3+ years before we finally put an offer in on a place!

    The other good thing about open houses is that they help you learn what you do and do not value ….. What’s important and what’s not .

    There is no knowledge that is not power !

    1. Absolutely! The open houses really helped us figure out what was most important to us. Glad you two found a place you liked!

  22. This is a great idea. Considering the massive investment a home purchase is, it really makes a lot of sense to look at as many places as possible.

    One question, did you find that looking at lots of houses, some of which were fancy, led to higher expectations? Going to houses is looking watching too much HGTV, you want to then go out and renovate!

    From a personal standpoint, I found it very helpful to look at 30 different condominiums before buying mine. Seeing the different types of buildings was extremely valuable experience.

    1. Good question! I don’t think it led to higher expectations for us–mostly because we’re so darn frugal. We knew what we were willing to spend and we weren’t going to go over-budget. But, all those open houses did give us really good ideas about how we wanted to renovate/improve our house. And, since we’ve done all the work ourselves, it’s been a pretty cheap endeavor. I love getting new ideas for decorating too! Glad to hear you found a condo that you like!

  23. This is exactly how we found our house in Ohio. We moved there and rented a beautiful apartment. After a year or so we started going to open houses mostly for fun and only vaguely interested in actually buying. After two years of this, we knew the neighborhoods and surrounding towns and could recognize value when we saw it. We wound up buying a beautiful antique century home and stayed there 15 years.

    The move to NH was a corporate deal. I was doing the airplane commute and my wife would fly out on weekends to look. Far more stressful and not fun at all. But we had it in our heads we HAD to have a house. Big mistake.

    If we ever buy again, we’ll be using the slow, fun process!

    1. Your Ohio process sounds ideal. I like the idea of renting while getting the lay of the land. There’s really something to be said for gaining that familiarity with neighborhoods and the local market before buying. I can understand your NH decision too though–I feel like once you own, you’re more reticent to rent again (at least that’s how I feel).

        1. My wife and I recently sold our condo and are renting. I absolutely agree things are simpler when renting (or at least, they can be).

          We moved 14km (9 miles) closer to my wife’s work and my work. If we had to own, we probably wouldn’t have moved due to land transfer taxes, real estate fees and other costs associated with buying again.

  24. Holy cow that’s a ton of open houses! I’m seriously impressed. We didn’t look at nearly as many houses as you, but when we buy our next house I think we’ll start a LOT earlier and just casually go to open houses for information gathering. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. I definitely enjoyed the slow, casual process of spreading the search out over many years. Made us feel more confident about our purchase in the end.

  25. It sounds like your real estate market is similar to ours in that houses sell like hotcakes for a lot of money.

    I know a lot of people who refuse to look at open houses after purchasing their own because they’re afraid they’ll see something better, but I’ve never had a problem with this. I can’t resist an open house on a lazy Sunday afternoon either. : )

    1. We are definitely in an expensive hotcakes market here :)! Glad I’m not the only one who can’t resist a good old open house!

    1. We’re online mavens as well, but I think nothing beats seeing places in person. So many times we’ve thought a place looked great online… only to have it turn out not so hot in person.

  26. We’re like you guys and looked at tons of open houses before we purchased our current house. It took us over a year to purchase the house so you can imagine how many open houses we saw.

  27. Before we bought our first home we looked at a ton of homes online and few in person to get an idea of what we could get in our price range in our desired area. When we looked at the house we bought, we were able to tell is was a pretty good deal. We’re starting to research homes in LA County (which are oh so expensive) to find an area that is more affordable, but still desirable for us. Thus far, our research has been limited to online queries only, but I think you’ve motivated me to seek out some open houses too.

    1. Open houses are great too because they cause you to pop into areas where you might not otherwise have looked. There are plenty of “pocket” neighborhoods in Cambridge that we’d never know about except for open houses. It’s a fun way to get to know a new city.

  28. We found our condo at an open house. I had always liked the complex so we went when we saw an open house ad.
    Our particular condo was not the one on open house but the realtor found us another, more suitable one.
    I am terrified of having to have an open house on our place when we want to move on.
    We have ancient, second hand- junky furniture. Nothing is new and shiny or even better quality used.
    We would have to most of our stuff out and really repair and upgrade the kitchen counters, sink and bathrooms. That will be pricey and as part of the condo covenant, we aren’t allowed to do much of the work ourselves. We can paint but even if we could do the other work ourselves, it has to be done by a ‘certified, bonded’ company. If they had specified THAT before we bought the place, we never would have bought it.

    1. Thankfully I think most buyers these days can look past furniture and see a place for the space that it is. I’m sure you’ll be fine. And a fresh coat of paint is just about the only cost-effective thing you can do to ROI wise when getting a home ready to sell… so you are set!

    1. Nothing like poking through your (soon to be ex) neighbor’s house on a Sunday afternoon! Great exercise too, at least around here where we can plan a walking itinerary.

  29. That is a lot of houses, WOW! When Mrs. ESM and I were originally looking which spanned over 2 years it was an experience, instead of the open houses I was treated to many many foreclosures as a combination of the market and our price parameters, that itself is also an experience I might have to share some day.

    We did attend a few open houses, most uncomfortable one was while looking at a multi-unit, the owners were upstairs sitting on the couch watching TV, while everyone walked through and checked everything out, nothing like people walking through saying excuse me while Law and Order is playing, good times.

    1. Hah, yeah, we’ve been to some awkward multifamily open houses too! I guess there’s no way to force a tenant to leave for that couple of hours… but it’s sorta funny to be tromping through their living room while they are on the couch in pajamas. All part of the real estate game I guess.

  30. I purchased a house in my 20s. A cute little bungalow that was on the river. The yard was like a park – I loved it. Then when I got engaged, I sold it and moved into my husband’s (our) house. So together we have not been down the house-buying road as a couple having been married in our late 30s.

    I have never been to an open house actually! But these are great tips so I’ll keep them in mind! All of the houses I looked at were via private appointment after work with my realtor. I maybe looked at 10 homes before buying my first. I bought it because it was a good price ($110k in 2002), on the river, great yard, big trees, no crazy add on’s (I hate add on’s), and had a garage. Husband, as a single guy, bought this current house (6 bd, 3 ba) because it was also affordable ($220k) and he viewed it as an investment for resale (big families in Utah).

  31. Oh my goodness this post is right up my alley. While Mr. FI doesn’t particularly like going to open houses, I LOOOOOOOVE it. Not only are you getting an idea of what other houses on the market are going for (in case we ever feel like selling) but you also tend to learn a little something from each one. Like getting renovation ideas you never thought of trying on your own house or adding to your list of “What Not To Do When Staging Your House to Sell.” I recently ran into one on our block a week ago. I mean LITERALLY ran because it was raining and we were hosting Mr. FI’s family for lunch in 20 minutes. Not only did I get my open-housing fix but a little exercise as well. 😉 Win-win!

    1. Hah, yeah, we’ve been to some serendipitous open houses as well. It’s one of the great things about living in the city… a walk around the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon can easily end up passing several open houses without even meaning to.

  32. This is great information. I have always been a little hesitant about going to an open house. This eases my mind a little bit. Thanks for sharing!

  33. 270+ open houses is a lot to go to, but it’s always better safe then sorry. If I could I would do the same thing because I want to make sure that I am truly getting what I want for the best price I can. Plus, there is no real harm at looking at homes for sale.

  34. I like that you point out that it is the realtor’s job to show the house to you. I can see why this would be important to keep in mind when going to a variety of different open houses. My wife and I are saving up money so that we can move into a house in the fall. I’ll definitely keep this in mind as we begin to look around.

  35. In addition to taking the sheets with the pictures of the house, I would take your own photos. It helps me make a better decision on the house when I have my own pictures. I think it helps me remember exactly how the layout works and what I like and don’t like about the house.

  36. I like that you mention that you don’t regret not buying the cheapest house you found. It makes sense why buying a house is something that you want to spend an appropriate amount of money on because you are going to be living in it and spending a lot of your time in it. I am wanting to buy a house in the next year or so. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when I am out shopping around.

  37. I really enjoyed your article! I am an newlywed and we are saving for a home, and looking to buy in the near future. Your article truly helped to motivate my more practicaly thinking husband to do some fun conversation sparking house snoops! I also love your writing style… I’m not a writer myself but I feel like we would get along. I loved the conversational aspect of your work and how you answered each one of our thoughts within the article. Keep up the humor and honesty!! 😉

  38. I love the home touring tips you have here! It definitely makes sense to date before you buy, so you can see what you don’t want in a house. If I were to settle for the first good house I found, how would I know what I was missing?

  39. My parents have been thinking about selling their home recently. They haven’t gone through the process of having an open house in a long time. So, I liked that you pointed out that an open house should be handled by the realtor. Knowing that will take a lot of stress off of my parent’s minds.

  40. I know I’m late to the party; does anyone know how to go to open houses when you’re looking for a fixer upper. Basically I want to buy a lower priced home; but everything I have seen online does not have an open house; how do I get in see the property without a prequalification? Thank you.

  41. My house buying story is one of the most unlikely ever, and while it is a happy one, I do not recommend to anyone to attempt to replicate it! 😉

    It all started with me entering an application with the city for two separate affordable housing developments which would be for sale mainly for low and middle income public sector workers. Applicants meeting the criteria would be drawn out of a hat. A few months later, I received a letter telling me that my name had been drawn for one of the developments, but that I was No 27 on the reserve list. I was convinced I should forget the dream of affordable housing right there and then. However, yet another few months later, I received a phone call at work saying they had reached my name, and would I come for a viewing?

    I duly hopped on the bus and went to see the place. It was the middle of winter in Northern Europe and the apartment turned out to be a ground-floor northwestern aspect property, mostly facing north and completely overshadowed by other buildings, which felt desperately dark and cold. During the viewing, I met a young woman who asked me where to find another apartment in the development, which is the one I now live in. After finding the number on the intercom, I craned my neck and saw that this place was getting glorious afternoon sunshine even in the depth of winter.

    Apropos of the apartment I had viewed that day, I phoned the city and told them as politely as possible that the reduced price was not really compensating for the enduring lack of light and that I was passing up their offer. By now I REALLY thought this was the end of me trying to buy on the affordable housing programme!

    But lo and behold, yet another few weeks later, I received another phone call from the city telling me that another two offers to different parties on the afternoon-sun apartment had fallen through and would I be interested? I positively flew back to the development and as soon as I’d been inside, I knew that this apartment was my forever place – at 25% below market rates! To this day, I am puzzled as to why so many other people did not want it, but then, their loss is my gain! It was still six times of my annual salary at the time, but one big promotion and steady pay increases, and consistent mortgage overpayments, have eroded this differential considerably. Under the city programme, I didn’t even have much transaction costs, and my mortgage, also from the city, is at 2.75% variable over 25 years, which is extremely cheap and a full percent below the cheapest variable rate mortgage you’d get from a bank.

    So this is the story of how my dream home fell into my life, on the most improbable sequence of events, at a cheap price and with hardly any effort on my part. I still think of this as my major win in the lottery of life. But as I said, I don’t think it is easily replicated.

  42. I like your suggestion to start going to a lot of open houses if you’re nervous about buying one because that will help you improve your ability to access the homes. My husband and I want to get a home in a good school district with other young families that we could stay in for a long time and raise our three-year-old daughter. We’ll have to start looking for homes for sale that we could go to the open house for.

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