Home Buyer Guide: Do’s and Don’ts When Attending Open Houses

Home Buyer Guide: Do’s and Don’ts When Attending Open Houses

Home Buyer Guide to Open Houses

Here’s the scenario.

You’re in the market to purchase a home and swing by a few open houses to get the lay of the land.

Open houses are one way for home sellers to find potential buyers.

Homeowners along with their listing agent spend a lot of time planning and organizing the open house to catch the attention of you, the home buyer.

What does that mean for you?

Open houses provide you with the opportunity to view properties before committing to a home or a neighborhood.

In this article, you will learn where to start, how to maximize your time, and what to expect when you visit an open house.

Are you looking for a lis of Open Houses in Fairfax County?

If the answer is, “YES”,

Click here to view our Open House list for homes for sale in Fairfax County.

Fairfax County Open House list last updated on Sunday, November 29, 2020.

Before We Start

The homeowner, also known as the seller, hires a real estate listing agent to sell their home. Open houses are a form of marketing used by listing agents to find interested home buyers.


That means,

The listing agent at the open house works for the seller. They are not your friend and they do not work for you.

Do you remember Winnie the Pooh would lose his mind when he was around a bowl of honey? Well, in this situation, you’re Winnie and the house is the honey.

Despite their friendly demeanor and home-baked cookies, the listing agent is not at the house for fun. Their goal is to sell the property.

Preferably to someone who visits the open house.

There are a few things you want to keep to yourself when attending open houses:

  1. What’s your budget?
  2. Are you pre-qualified or pre-approved?
  3. When does your lease end?
  4. Do you have a house to sell?
  5. What is your timeline?
  6. Are you new to the area?

The only person who should know these answers is your real estate agent, a.k.a. the buyer’s agent whom you hire.

It’s not a wise strategy to share information about your financial position or motivation. The listing agent represents the seller, not you.

Makes sense, right?

You can skip this section if you are using Open Houses as a way to relax on Sunday afternoon or get design ideas.

Be Prepared

Visiting open houses without a pre-approval letter is like window shopping without your wallet. While you believe you’re just trying on a shirt with no intention to buy, you may reconsider if you find out that shirt is on sale for 50% off.

Getting pre-approved before you visit an open house puts you in control of the home buying process.  This simple step can be taken care of with one afternoon of prep time.

There are 2 reasons why you want to secure your pre-approval letter before attending any open houses.

The Best Homes Sell First

1) The Best In, The Best Out

Regardless of the time of year, the best houses sell first. The open house may be the first and only showing for the house you’re seeing. If it’s a hot property it could go under contract that first weekend.

Having your pre-approval letter in hand ensures that you won’t miss an opportunity to purchase your dream home because of a delayed piece of paper. If you decide you like the property, you will be one step closer to making an offer.

2) Champagne Taste with a Beer Budget

Looking at homes of various price ranges, locations, and styles is a part of the home buying process. Especially, if you don’t know what you want when you start your home search.

Despite not knowing what you want, your pre-approval letter helps you understand the maximum amount of house you can afford.  Looking at houses outside of your budget can set unrealistic expectations.

The image below demonstrates what a small percentage increase above your pre-approved price can mean in a given market.

How to Determine my Maximum Budget when Buying a House

There can be a big difference between homes priced below $450,000 versus homes priced in the $550,000 range. The difference could be an extra bedroom, an attached garage or a walkout basement.

Viewing homes priced above your budget could leave you with a bad taste once you see what’s available in your price range.

Since we’ve discussed what you need before you enter the home, it makes sense to talk about why being on time matters in the next section.


buyers etiquette be on time

Be Punctual

Most properties are available for public opens between noon – 4 PM Saturdays and Sundays. The majority of open houses are held Sunday afternoons.

If an open house is advertised from 1 PM to 3 PM I recommend arriving at 1 PM for the homes at the top of your list. Prioritizing your list will ensure you see the homes that are most likely to fit your needs.

To avoid rushing, plan to arrive no later than 15 minutes before the end of the open house. Otherwise, you may not have time to go through the property at your own pace before the agent must close up the house.

Also, some listing agents shut down their open houses early if they receive little to no traffic. There’s no guarantee that the agent will still be at the property if they didn’t receive any guest throughout the event. While I think this is unprofessional, you should know that it can happen.

Now that being punctual is out of the way, here’s a few pro tips you can use to see multiple houses in one afternoon while maximizing your time in every property.

Be Efficient

No one attends just one open house.

No one.

Being efficient can be the difference between touring two houses when you could have seen five. There are a couple tricks you can use to see multiple houses in a given afternoon while maximizing your time in every property.

Setting up your route is the 1st step followed by having a game plan for once you’re inside the property.

Setup Your Route Like A Pro

Picture this,

It’s Saturday afternoon, you’ve just received an alert that 5 houses that match your criteria are Open Sunday. You’ve already committed to a day of home browsing and you start that planning process.

How do you fit in five Open Houses in a 2 – 3 hour period? Use my 2-step process for conquering multiple destination Open House tours. This is the same system I use to tour 10 homes every week within 2 hours in a busy city.

1. Create a list

Use a list to keep track of the 5 homes you plan on touring. Creating a list will make it easier to review the winners and losers from your afternoon of Open Houses. List making combined with notes will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for as you move through the home buying process.

I created a spreadsheet that you’ll find helpful for organizing the properties on your Open House list. The spreadsheet tracks the following categories:

  • Date Toured – the date you viewed the interior of the property.
  • Street Address – the address of the property. Be sure to capture the zip code to make it easier to map in the next section.
  • Price – current List Price of the property at the time of your tour.
  • Beds – number of bedrooms. Count any room you would use as a bedroom because real estate agents are limited to what can be considered a bedroom.
  • Baths – total bathrooms in the property. Count half bathrooms using “.1”. 3.2 would represent a home with three full bathrooms and two half bathrooms.
  • Sq Ft – living or total square footage of the property. Square footage isn’t the best criteria to use when comparing properties.
  • Neighborhood/Legal Subdivision – the name of the Neighborhood or Legal Subdivision may not available for homes that are not located in an HOA. Another reason why you want to secure the zip code of the property when you enter the address.
  • School – List the name of the School.
  • Pros – list the things you like about the property.
  • Cons – list the things you did not like about the property.
  • Link To The Property – a link to the property website and/or virtual tour.
  • Notes About the Property – miscellaneous notes about the property including the age of major systems (the roof, HVAC system, hot water heater, and major appliances),  any observations you make about water stains in the ceiling or wall,  noticeable cracks in the floor, wall, ceiling or exterior foundation, drafts or musty smells.

Using this list will make it easy to determine which homes are the best fit for your needs.


Download this free Open House Hunting Spreadsheet to track homes on your list:
Free Home Buyer Open House Spreadsheet

2. Make a map

Now that you’ve made a list of homes you want to tour this weekend, it’s time to create a map. The map system I prefer is Google Maps.

Google Maps has a feature that allows you to enter up to 10 addresses. After placing the 10 address into the system, you can navigate to each stop.

Here’s a quick little video demonstrating this useful feature:

Google Maps Multiple Stops for Open House Tour

Using the Google Maps method will paint a realistic picture of the number of homes you can travel to in a given time.

The route is complete, now what?

Move With Purpose

Have you ever timed yourself walking through every room in your home?

Chances are you haven’t.

Luckily, I have.

When attending multiple open houses, you’ll want to get in and out in a reasonable time. Use the following time budget for open houses based on property type:

Property TypeLength of Tour
Single Family Home20 - 30 minutes
Townhouse15 - 20 minutes
Condominium15 - 20 minutes

These times do not reflect the time it will take you to find parking. Townhouses and condos can be a challenge so add a few minutes for communities that lack enough guest parking.

Tour the entire property.

I repeat.

Tour the entire property. Even if the house does not fit your criteria, it benefits you to learn as much as you can from these tours.

When viewing the properties on your open house list, take notes, ask any questions, provide feedback, then leave.

Be Considerate

The last thing you want to do when touring an open house is make yourself too comfortable by taking a seat on a couch, bed or any other furniture.

Remember you’re here to view the house, not the furniture or decor.

Keep in mind, that in today’s world of smartphones and listening devices your comments may not be private. While homeowners should disclose if there are listening devices present you can never be sure.

Chances are, there are going to be a few open houses you attend that won’t meet your criteria. And that’s ok! Seeing properties that aren’t the right fit for you is just part of the process of buying a home.

Always be tactful, but helpful feedback is important for both your agent and the listing agent.

Be Helpful

Open Houses events are win-win situations for all parties.

  • The sellers win by receiving feedback from prospective home buyers about their property.
  • The real estate agent wins by exposing their listing to potential home buyers.
  • You win by getting the benefit of touring properties at your leisure.
Upon entering the Open House, many real estate agents will ask you to sign in with your name and contact information so they can follow up to get feedback in the future.

Often, the listing agent uses this information to convert you into a client of theirs. We encourage our clients to sign in to every Open House. And, we suggest you set up a separate email account to avoid spam in your personal inbox.

Leave Open House Feedback

Some agents may request feedback in real time. These are a few questions you may be asked:

  • How does the house show?
  • What do you think about the asking price?
  • What’s your favorite feature?
  • What’s your least favorite feature?
  • Are you considering putting an offer on this house? **Only share this information with YOUR buyer’s agent.**

Remember this is a give and take, win-win scenario. The listing agent held the house open so you can see it (a win for you). Now you provide feedback that can be shared to the seller (a win for them).

Before You Go

That’s everything you need to know about Open Houses. By using this guide you know where to start, how to maximize your time and how to make your open house visit count.

Do you know someone looking at open houses?

Share this post to ensure they avoid any pitfalls and have the optimal open house experience.

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About the Author

The article, "Home Buyer Guide: Do’s and Don’ts When Attending Open Houses" was written by Abraham Walker, Your Northern Virginia Real Estate Agent. He's been helping customers like you buy, sell, and invest in real estate for over 10 years.  He’s the co-founder of Ask A Walker and can be found on YouTube, Facebook, and HERE on this blog.

Are you thinking about buying a home soon? Schedule a no pressure call to talk about your options. Feel free to give me a call at 703-539-2053 or email info@AskAWalker.com.

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