Perusing online real estate listings can be nothing less than addictive. We’ve all spent time scouring the internet, ogling homes for sale that we don’t intend—or can’t afford—to buy. Because it’s fun!
But would you ever hop in the car and go look at a house in person, even if you’re not at all ready to make an offer?
Before you dismiss the idea, consider what you stand to gain by turning house hunting into an extracurricular activity.
Just ask Kristin McGrath. She and her husband visited all sorts of open houses in Austin, TX, while they got their finances in order to buy. They wanted to hit the ground running in the competitive real estate market.
“After weeks of checking out other homes, when we started looking for real, we could visit houses and jump in with an offer without a ton of deliberation,” she says.
Sure, it might seem nosy at first—and we’re certainly not encouraging you to be a straight-up looky-loo. But regardless of whether buying or selling is in your near or distant future, there are many benefits to going to an open house.
Like what? We’re glad you asked! Here are six solid reasons to hit up an open house next weekend.
Reason No. 1: Learn more about what you can afford
What you want to buy and what you can afford to buy are often two very different things.
Unfortunately, you don’t always figure that out until you’re deep in the process of house hunting, perhaps with your heart set on a dream home that will drain your finances and make you house-poor.
“Many first-time home buyers ask me to find them something that doesn’t exist,” says Melissa Colabella, licensed real estate salesperson with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty, in Irvington, NY. “They are often shocked to learn that single-family homes do not even exist in their price range in their preferred neighborhoods.”
Attending open houses lets you get a grip on what you can realistically expect to find in your budget. Sure, you can enter a price range online on realtor.com®—but remember that perusing online listings is only the first step of the process. Often, actual homes look quite different from their online photos, which can be focused on or touched up to show only the best parts of the property.
Reason No. 2: See the agent in action
Even if you don’t find your dream home, you might meet your dream agent. What better way to interview the candidates who could represent you on either side of the transaction than by seeing them in action, points out Realtor® Patrick Madigan, owner of Madigan Realty, in Raleigh, NC.
While most sellers interview multiple agents to find the best fit, he finds buyers rarely do—which can be a mistake.
“Open houses present a great opportunity to get multiple face-to-face appointments with potential agents, without having to set up a formal appointment to interview them,” he says.
Be alert to whether the agent engages you when you first come in or is too busy to acknowledge and help you. And come armed with a few insightful questions about the local market to see if the agent seems knowledgeable about more than just that one open house, Madigan suggests.
Reason No. 3: Check out the competition
Traffic at an open house can be a gauge for whether the sellers have found a sweet spot with their price, since a new listing should be attracting multiple visitors when priced correctly.
If you’re a buyer, the number of visitors can indicate how quickly you might need to pounce when you decide you’re ready. (And it can tell you how to price your own home to move fast if you’re selling.)
“Some markets will allow for you to have a few days to mull over your decision, but an open house with 34 visitors can indicate your offer needs to be submitted right away,” Colabella says.
You’ll also get a face-to-face look at your competition. If you listen carefully, you might pick up some intel about the kind of buyer the seller is looking for. Even if you don’t intend to buy this house, the info might come in handy down the road.
Reason No. 4: Get a feel for the neighborhood
If you’re looking in a new, largely unfamiliar community, browsing for a few months can tell you a lot about your potential neighbors. You’ll get a sense for who primarily lives there (e.g., families, retirees, or singles), whether the neighborhood is abuzz with block parties and other events, or if it’s mostly quiet. Plus, you’ll get the chance to meet other prospective buyers, and learn where they’re relocating from and what they’re looking for in their new community.
“Of course buyers come in every demographic, but sometimes the patterns are surprising,” Colabella says.
Reason No. 5: Learn more about your needs
“As first-time homeowners, we weren’t sure yet what we were looking for exactly beyond the number of bedrooms and bathrooms,” McGrath says. “The open houses helped us learn more about layouts and amenities we liked.”
In fact, you might be surprised by what you gravitate toward when you really look around, Colabella notes.
“Often buyers think they want charming, older homes but then decide newer construction better fits their needs,” she says. “Or they start with houses and then switch to townhomes or condos after losing sleep over the concept of homeownership maintenance.”
Reason No. 6: Do some design recon
Wouldn’t you love to have someone give that designer touch to your house? Many homes for sale have been professionally staged or recently fixed up, so an open house can give you insight into the latest design trends. And since they’re often done on a budget, it can get those creative juices flowing for how you could incorporate wallet-friendly tricks to spruce up your space (like opening up your space with strategically placed mirrors).
And, if you’re preparing to sell your house, you can use open houses to pick up some staging tips of your own. Notice what you pay attention to and how little touches—such as fresh towels and empty closets—can make a big difference.