Open houses are undeniably a fun way to fantasize over property that could be yours. Still, once you’re done staring up at those high ceilings and peeking into walk-in closets, you should also try to get beyond the surface appearance of the place and take the golden opportunity to gather some valuable information.
In case you’re stumped on what to say, here’s a list of smart questions to ask at an open house. Whether you’re querying the listing agent or the home seller who happens to be on site, these topics will help you deduce whether the place is truly right for you.
Can you tell me more about the house?
This is a great way to break the ice and get the conversation going with owners or agents on site. This may seem like a vague question, but that is the point. Pay attention to what is mentioned first, and more importantly, what is not said, which could be a weakness.
What shape is this place in? Have there been any recent improvements?
It’s good to find out what improvements have been made so that you know they won’t need to be done after you purchase the place. If you find out that something like the boiler or roof was repaired or replaced recently, then the chances of it being required again soon are small.
While there really isn’t a way of anticipating when something would break or need to be redone, it’s helpful to rule out what won’t need to be fixed immediately based on what’s been done already. More information about the condition of the building or anticipated repairs should be disclosed during the due diligence process.
Has there been a lot of interest in the property?
This is a nice way of asking how much competition you could face if you make an offer. Just keep in mind that listing agents will typically try to paint a positive picture, so it’s up to you to read between the lines.
If the listing agent says things have been slow at the property and the listing has been on the market for an extended time, this may be your opportunity to negotiate a better price. On the other hand, if the agent informs you of high interest, this may be your cue to act more quickly than you might have planned.
When are the sellers looking to close?
The two main points that are negotiated during the purchase of a property are the price and the timing of the closing. You can use this information to tailor your offer to the seller’s needs. In other words: Some sellers may need to move out ASAP if they’ve bought a new home. Or if they’re waiting for new construction to be complete, they might need to cool their heels instead. If you’re flexible on your move-in date, you can highlight this in your offer to make it stand out—and maybe even snag a better deal as a result.
How much do utilities usually run?
This question can be an important part of monthly budgeting. All buyers are anxious to know what their monthly costs will be with utilities included. Principal, interest, maintenance, and taxes are easily available, but utility estimates may only be available from the owner. This is also a good question if you’re apartment hunting, as utilities could include different things at different places.
Some buildings include things like electric and gas in the monthly common or maintenance charges, while others require owners to set up accounts with the respective providers to be billed directly through them. Sometimes buyers assume that the monthly charges listed for the unit are all-inclusive and are surprised after living in the unit for a month to receive a $300 electric bill on top of the monthly charges from the building.
How much traffic can one expect in this area?
If an open house is on a weekend, which is usually the case, a buyer cannot readily know if there is traffic during the week for commuters going to and from work. Ask if this is a street that people use to avoid traffic lights or to get to school and work. It will give you an idea of the expected noise level and safety. What is the neighborhood like?
Buyers want a neighborhood that fits their current or perceived lifestyle. Buyers almost always ask this question at open houses. However, it’s a tricky one for agents to answer because of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or family/economic status. That being said, this is where it pays to listen to the subtext. If an agent says, “Well, there is a great community playground in this cul-de-sac,” then you can probably deduce that the area is more family-friendly than upscale yuppy. This one will require a little sleuthing, but ultimately, it’s worth doing some digging at an open house to make sure what you see is what you get!