Ah, the open house. Not only are open houses fun (for the not-so-few of us who love looking at houses), but they can incredibly informative, especially if you know the right questions to ask during your inside tour. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a list to get you started.
1. Why are the sellers selling?
It’s very unlikely that the listing agent or sellers will sit you down and tell you the whole story, especially if the story is of a negative nature. In fact, they may not really tell you much at all, and they don’t really have to. But, at least posing the question gives you a reaction to gauge. If the agent or seller seems extremely hesitant, it might be that there’s something wrong with the house. Or maybe they didn’t like the surrounding area or neighbors. If that’s the case, you might need to do a little digging.
House inspections should reveal any serious issues with the house that might otherwise be hidden, but what about the area? Check the crime rates for the area. Is the house located in a noise zone from a nearby airport? Is there a loud train closeby? Is there construction or a DOT project gone astray (or one that might just be starting) that might be negatively impacting the area? It’s also good to familiarize yourself with the neighborhood on your own. Take a drive through it at different times of the day and week to see what sort of activity is taking place. Are there kids and families playing and taking walks? Or, are you seeing something more nefarious?
On the flip side, it could also be that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the house and the sellers are moving because of something personal, like needing to move closer to family, or because of a new job offer. Regardless, you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
2. Is the seller on a timeline?
This is something the seller or agent will probably be much more willing to divulge, and it’s extremely helpful for you in forming a strategy. If the seller is trying to scoot as soon as possible, then you’ll need to keep that in mind. If you’re interested in the house, you’ll need to do any research quickly and start thinking seriously about what kind of offer you want to make. The good news is that, if the seller is trying to wrap things up quickly, you might have more negotiating power with your price. Throw in the fact that you’re willing to work with their timeline, and you may just have yourself a deal. And, of course, if the scenario is quite the opposite, and the seller has all the time in the world, they’re probably not going to be as likely to bite on a lower figure, so you’ll have to regroup and restrategize, or just up your offer.
3. When were updates to the house last made?
You’re not necessarily asking about when the tile backsplash in the kitchen or the new double-sink vanity in the bathroom were added here. Your focus is on the big, expensive updates that keep the house safe and in working order. For instance, you need to inquire about non-glamorous items such as: when the water heater was last replaced, when the roof was last updated, how long the A/C unit has been chugging along, when was the last time the septic was pumped, etc. It doesn’t matter how alluring a house is, if you’re looking at thousands of dollars of updates in the near future, you need to make sure you’re prepared for that and factor in any necessary upgrades that you can try to ask the seller to make prior to your purchase of the home.
4. How’s the house doing otherwise?
While you’re on the topic of upgrades, you might as well bring up the general maintenance of the home as well. If the aforementioned updates haven’t been made recently, are they due soon? Are there any issues with electrical wiring, pests, leaky roofs, sagging porches? Does the backyard flood, and subsequently, the back of your house? (This you might actually be able to tell just by looking. Our sandy soil doesn’t hide flood water paths well.) Agents are required to divulge all known information about structural defects and code violations, but it doesn’t hurt to get a little chatty to determine if there any other issues that are less “official,” but still detrimental.
5. What’s the neighborhood like?
It’s good to both ask the agent or seller about the neighborhood, in addition to doing a little looking around of your own. The seller or agent might be able to give you a more in-depth idea of what kind of residents live in the neighborhood — young couples, retirees, etc. — and if neighbors are friendly or keep to themselves. But, doing a little investigating on your own can let you know for sure if the house is in a good school zone, in an area subject to crime, etc. It might also be good to either ask about or research to see what the turnover rate is in the neighborhood. Is it stable? Or are there families constantly moving in and out? Is there something that might be causing people to quickly leave after just settling in? Is there a lot of development popping up in the immediate area? What kind of development? While you may or may not really care about the surrounding area, keep in mind that, should you ever need to move, the locale can hold a major bearing on the value of your house in the future.
Without a doubt, if you’re working with a buyer’s agent, you need to ask them about this. One of the key benefits of having a buyer’s agent is their ability to give you a more honest look at how the neighborhood is doing and how it’ll probably be doing in the future.
6. Have there been any offers made on the house?
Here’s another area where listing agents won’t be bashful. If there are one or more existing offers on the house, they’ll be sure to let you know, because more offers means more competition means more money. Talk with your agent about your prospects in a bidding war to determine if you should participate, or move on. On the other hand, maybe an offer hasn’t been made in quite a while on the house. The seller might be more willing to accept the next offer that comes along. Really, this all just depends on how long the house has been on the market. If it’s new and already decked out in offers, be ready for some stiff competition. If the house has been out there for a while, you’ll have more bargaining rights and might be able to score a really amazing deal.
There you have it — a solid stockpile of strong questions to pose during your next open house to help you find the home that’s best for you.
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