One of the best ways to learn about real estate is to go to open houses—properties for sale that are open to the public, even window shoppers who want to come without a broker. To get the most out of your experience, follow these 5 easy steps:
1. Introduce Yourself to the Host
This is often the broker selling the property, often known as the “listing agent” or the “selling agent.” Sometimes it’s a junior associate of hers, known as a “shower” (pronounced SHOW-er, not like what you wash your hair in). Sometimes it’s the owner himself. Whoever it is, the host of the open house will be the person who has the answers to all your questions.
2. Sign in, or Decline to
Usually there’s a sheet in the open house (often it’s on the dining room table or kitchen counter) that the host uses to keep track of visitors, and to call back shoppers who seem really interested. If you want to know more, sign in—or if you want to decline, you can politely say, “I’m just window-shopping right now.” Open houses are open to the public, so you don’t have to spend time with a pushy realtor if you don’t want to. But don’t sign in with an unreadable scribble, or with a fake name and phone number—that’s just wasting the host’s time, and it’s rude.
3. Always Walk Through the Rooms in the Same Order
If you’re new at comparing apartments or houses, and you go to several places, you’re likely to be overwhelmed. Here’s one of my favorite tricks from Neil Binder, a real estate executive who has written four real estate books: It will help if you always walk through properties in the same order. You can try starting with the public rooms of kitchen/dining room/living room and then go through the private rooms of master bedroom/other bedrooms.
4. Give Each Property a Nickname in Your Head
Taking notes can help, but I’ve worked with a lot of clients who ended the day with pages of scribbles that didn’t do much good. Instead, as you walk through a space, give it a quick handle: “the one with the blue living room” or “the one with the view of the maple tree” or (if you’re unlucky) “the one that smelled like ten cats.”
5. Ask the Host About the Best and Worst Features of the Property
This is a great way to learn “how to look”—especially because you’ll sometimes hear about positives that you’ve missed (great closets, nice afternoon light). It will also teach you to look for negatives (did you notice that water spot in the bathroom)? Do this after you’ve walked through, so you’ve gotten a chance to form your own impression first.