Key Questions To Ask At An Open House
Open houses have been around since the early 1900s. When real estate was first emerging as an industry, real estate brokers would list their homes as “open for inspection.” The first recorded open house took place in 1910, and by 1925 the first professionally staged homes made and appearance.
So why when so much has changed in the real estate industry is this century old tradition still around? Even with virtual reality and hundreds of online listing databases, there is still an advantage of a face to face conversation. An open house allows prospective buyers to ask telling questions about the market, the neighborhood and the home they are looking to purchase. No matter where you are in your real estate process, make the most of the next open house you attend by asking these key questions.
Why is the Owner Selling?
Your first question should be “Why is the owner selling?” Because the real estate agent is representing the seller, they are under no obligation to answer. The possibility of catching the real estate agent off guard and getting an honest answer will dramatically impact your buyer strategy. There are two types of real estate agents:
- Agents who understand the strict confidentiality they are held too.
- Agents who have the gift of gab and might let a little too much information slip.
While the majority of real estate agents take their ethical responsibilities seriously, when you are in the buyer role at an open house, you are hoping for a talkative agent.
If the agent indicated financial trouble and says “oh, they are getting a divorce,” or “oh, layoffs.” You know that the seller is moving because they need to liquidate their asset. Financial insights can give you the upper hand. If the agent says “well they are looking for a better commute” or another concern about the neighborhood, you will want to dig a little deeper to determine if you will have the same concerns.
Even if the agent isn’t talkative, a pause or facial expression can give you all the information you need. So with the valuable information you gain from quick questions, press further into the area that gives you concern. You can learn more about the market, the house itself, or the neighborhood easily at any open house by asking a few simple follow up questions.
Questions About the Market
You should spend as much time considering the market you are buying in as you do searching for a home with the best walk-in closet and granite counter tops. When you purchase a home, you are making a financial decision as well as a lifestyle decision. By considering the market, you are buying in you are protecting your financial interests.
How Long Has The Property Been On The Market?
Home sellers hold open houses when their property is new to the market or if there has been a change in representation or price. When a home seller changes real estate agents, they will often take their home off the market for enough days for the official Multiple Listing Service to consider the property a new listing. So, while the property might be showing 0 days on the market on Realtor.com, the property could have been listed before.
The answer to this question will not only tell you how the market is; it will give you direction for where to press further.
- How motivated is the seller?
- Why Isn’t the property selling?
If the home has been sitting unsold in what you know is a thriving market, there might be issues with the property or the price.
Is The Seller On A Strict Timeline?
Insights into the seller’s timeline is another question that the seller’s agent is under no obligation to answer. However, most real estate agents are hoping for a quick sale. Take advantage of this to see if you can gather any additional information. No real estate agent is going to say if their seller is unmotivated, but it’s worth asking to see if there is anything influencing their timeline.
If the seller needs to move out by a date that is rapidly approaching, your offer to close quickly might even win over a higher offer with a later closing date. On the other hand, the sellers might have a longer timeframe. If, for example, they are hoping to stay until the end of the school year. You might be able to edge out other offers if you are willing to meet their timing restrictions.
Have There Been Any Price Changes?
Your real estate agent will be able to search the MLS and let you know the price history of any listing you ask for more information about. However, asking this question in person can give you some insights. If there has been a significant price drop, it could be for many reasons.
- The home was overpriced and has been adjusted to meet market pricing.
- A home inspection uncovered an expensive repair.
- The sellers are on a timeline and want to price below market value to sell quickly.
Understanding the motivation behind a price change can give you insight into the offer you make. If it’s a hot market and the home is below market value, your real estate agent may encourage you to make an offer above asking price. If it’s a slow market and the sellers are on a timeline, you might just win with a low-ball offer. While the seller’s agent can’t disclose their client’s personal information, any clues they might accidentally drop make this question well worth asking.
Have There Been Previous Offers?
The MLS keeps a record of any offers where a prospective buyer placed a deposit. While your agent won’t know the terms of the offer, your real estate agent will be able to see that the sellers accepted an offer. The seller’s real estate agent should be willing to share with you if there were other declined offers that didn’t make it to a deposit. It creates a sense of urgency and excitement that is in the best interest of their client. Though you will never be able to get the exact dollar amount of the previous
offers, knowing where you stand will help with your negotiation strategy.
Questions About the Home
The seller’s listing agent is required to answer any questions about the condition of the home. In addition to the federally required disclosures, Virginia and DC has mandatory real estate disclosures at the state level.
What Are The Average Utility Costs?
Utility costs are a common piece of information to have available at an open house. If the home is older, larger or has a different HVAC system than you are used to; this is especially important. Older windows, insulation and an older roof can have unpredictable effects on your utility bill, be sure to get this information to avoid any surprises. Your monthly utility bill will be an expense the entire time you own your home. Make sure it doesn’t blow your budget.
Are There Any Problems With The Home?
In Virginia and Washington DC, sellers are required to fill out a property disclosure statement. This report discloses any major problems with the property. While it won’t detail that the door to the guest bedroom sticks, it will cover anything that affects the value of the home. Some issues that require disclosure in DC include:
- Any structural issues: the chimney, roof, insulation or windows
- Issues with any systems such as HVAC, water heater or electrical
- Any damaged appliances or fixtures such as fridge, oven or shower
- The presence of any toxic substances such as lead or asbestos
- If the home is subject to any historic designation or preservation restrictions
- Any known zoning violations or unpermitted work
The homeowner and therefore their real estate agent are required to disclose these major issues that may affect your potential new home’s value. While minor things always come up, the seller is required to disclose all of these major problems.
Have any Major Repairs Been Done to the Home?
If the homeowners recently replaced the roof or the HVAC, they will be more than happy to brag about it. If one of these big-ticket items needs replacing, it can be a deal breaker for many prospective buyers. Many homeowners save receipts for the work, so you can see exactly who did the work and what it cost. You want to see the receipts to make sure that the work is quality, after all, you will be the one living with it.
Questions About the Neighborhood
Many of the questions we have raised can be answered by your real estate agent, or through some detective work on then MLS. Something that you won’t get a complete or authentic answer to through online sleuthing is exactly how the neighborhood will work for you and your family.
Where Can I Get a Quick Bite to Eat?
This seems like a simple question, but it is quite telling. Real estate agents live and work in the communities they sell in. When you ask the real estate agent, hosting the open house where to get a bite to eat, chances are that they will send you to the most appealing part of town or neighborhood. This will give you a feel for the neighborhood from the perspective of a resident. Take advantage of your tour of the neighborhood biteries to explore other locations such as the local grocery stores, gas stations, etc.
How Long Is the Commute?
As you know, there are many factors in a Washington DC commute. Asking for an honest answer can save hours of wasted time that you could spend in the Washington DC area gridlock traffic. Asking the agent how long the commute is will give you some insight into what your life will be like if you choose to move to the neighborhood. If the commute is a deal breaker, you can even ask for the preferred commute route and take a detour on your way home.
Are there any neighbors that I can speak with?
This question is only for the bold. There are always nosey neighbors at open houses; it is almost a guaranty. Put their nosiness to work for you by asking them questions about the neighborhood. Getting a neighbor’s perspective, especially an objective one, is truly invaluable. You can ask about parking, noise and the morning commute. All the little things that will make up your day to day life in your new home.
Other Questions to Ask at Open Houses
If there are any other smaller more specific things that you are concerned about, an open house is an excellent time to get answers to your questions. You can ask questions such as:
- What are your average landscaping costs?
- Is the home located in a flood zone?
- Have there ever been any hazardous substances in the home such as mold or asbestos?
There is nothing too minor or too specific, the more questions you ask, the better. Navigating open houses and the home buying process can be a very stressful and confusing process. You don’t have to do it alone! Your real estate agent will be able to assist you with prioritizing what questions to ask.
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