How to Navigate an Open House Like a Pro

Every weekend around the country, thousands of real estate agents set carefully coordinated traps to capture innocent, unsuspecting home buyers. They put out sandwich boards, print pamphlets, repeat a few affirmations from Annette Bening in American Beauty, and even use cookies to lure in their prey. 

Did you know that only 9% of buyers found the house they bought from a "yard sign/open house sign," according to the National Association of Realtors 2015 Profile of Home Buyer? Yet so many agents still waste their weekends standing in empty houses, opening themselves and their sellers up to crime. If you are still asking yourself why, let me spell it out for you: open houses are a cheap way for agents in need of more business to meet buyers (that's you!).

That being said, open houses are still an awesome tool for first-time home buyers to get their feet wet, evaluate neighborhoods, and get an idea of how far their money will go in their market. So before you hit the streets this weekend, here are a few insider tips to keep in mind:

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The agent you meet may not be the listing agent.

Experienced agents usually have more than one listing at a time so they outsource a lot of their open houses to agents without any listings. This is important to know because it means that the agent you are talking to might be fresh out of real estate school looking for their first deal. Although every agent needs their first deal to come from someone, you don't want your investment being used as an educational device. Experience matters.

Take notes about all of the houses.

After every property you view, write down the details you'd like to remember. Note the upgrades, noise level, odd smells, great views, etc. Some people even do a quick sketch of the floor plan. Then, keep an eye on what happens with the properties. It will give you a good feel for how quickly the houses are selling and make you more aware of the prices homes sell for compared to their list prices. 

If you sign in, you will get spammed.

Agents will often ask you to sign in with your contact info. Although this is sometimes at the request of the property owner for security purposes, more often than not it's just the agents' way of making sure they can get ahold of you on Monday to try to set an appointment and start working with you. If you don't want to be spammed, next to your contact info simply "working with another agent. Please do not contact." It works most of the time. 

Keep the business cards of agents you like.

Once you are more serious about buying, you are going to want to get pre-approved and start working with a buyer's agent. Using a buyer's agent is free to you because they are compensated by the seller's agent. Finding an experienced agent isn't as easy at you would think it would be, so if you do find yourself clicking with an agent at an open house, grab their card and keep them in mind. Schedule a consultation and make sure to ask about the agent's experience level. (Beginner agents will say "we've sold x houses this year" and tell you their office stats, not their own so make sure to listen and be clear.)

If you find a house you love, do not write an offer with the listing agent.

It does occasionally happen that a buyer walks into an open house on the first day he's looking, before even talking to a lender, and decides to buy the house. If you become this guy, that's fantastic! The first thing you need to do is enlist the help of an agent who solely represents you (a buyer's agent). Contrary to popular belief, using the listing agent when you are buying a house leaves you at a disadvantage. The listing agent's fiduciary duty goes to the seller and his sole priority is getting his seller the most money. Legally and ethically, a listing agent must present all offers to his client so using them offers no inside advantages. A buyer's agent will work to get you the best possible deal because their sole priority is having a happy client. (Again, a buyer's agent is free to you so there really is no reason not to use one.)

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Now that you are armed with some insider knowledge, go wander through some open houses! Keep an eye out for the rookies and when you are ready to get an agent, as always, Nestment wants to help you find a true professional.

Nestment is a matchmaking service that pairs you with a real estate agent you'll actually like. Free to you.


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Caity Salvatore founded Nestment.com when she was sick of hearing her friends complain about their real estate agents. She is out to prove that great agents do exist, and works as a matchmaker between home buyers/sellers and real estate agents. She spends her days interviewing agents and bingeing on Dunkin Donuts.


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