1. Are the lights on?
Mind you, we didn't say "Are the people home?" As inconceivable as it may seem, there are some Scrooge-like people who actually find it annoying to have their doorbell rung 250 times in one evening and would literally prefer to sit in the complete darkness of their homes. They derive no pleasure in spending money on candy that is grabbed by a pack of children, not one of whom says "Thank you." Go figure.
Another reason why the lights might be off, of course, is that this is one of the millions of homes that have been foreclosed. A record 2.87 million properties got notices of default, auction or repossession in 2010, says RealtyTrac, an organization that tracks foreclosures.
No lights, don't bother.
2. Is the house elaborately decorated?
While this is usually an indicator that people are into the Halloween spirit, it also means that they are going to want some admiration for their over-the-top efforts, and admiration can be time-consuming. Tread carefully here. Do you really want to spend 15 minutes ooh-ing and ahh-ing over every ghost that pops out of a tombstone? People like this will want to take photos of your terrified 3-year-old sitting on their vampire's lap. They'll want to talk your ear off and show you every aspect of their mechanical display while what you really want is just to move on to the next house and get more junk.
Truth is, as much as people like this are a distraction to the mission at hand, we gotta love them. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $6.9 billion for Halloween this year, which is twice the amount we spent on it in 2005. I can't think of anything else we've doubled our spending on since 2005, certainly not our homes.
Go when there's a crowd, the better to grab some candy and make a quick getaway while The Addams Family is yakking up someone else.
3. Is the candy basket on the honor system?
We love these people. We also think they won't really care if we exchange the Peanut M&Ms we got from next door for their Jolly Ranchers.
Absolutely visit these houses. But please don't use their candy basket as a depository for your empty wrappers; that's rude and the next goblin to visit doesn't want to find your trash.
4. Is there a 'For Sale' sign on the lawn?
In previous years, we would have ignored the sign. Today anyone who is selling, is selling because they have to. Treats from these houses are likely to be of the budget variety. Please remember your "thank yous" here. It hurts more to give when you have less.
Ring the bell, don't take more than one piece and tell them you're sorry they may be leaving the neighborhood.
5. Is the house in foreclosure?
Squatters aren't known for their Halloween generosity, and bank-owned properties are supposed to be vacant. If a light is on, it's because someone forgot to tell the electric company or the place is haunted.
In either case, keep moving.
6. Single-family homes vs. apartment complex?
Pre-recession logic was: Single-family homes all had kids and would give away the best Halloween loot. Apartments and condos were where unmarried professionals nested, and they wouldn't be home on Halloween.
But things have changed. We're becoming a nation of renters, and that includes families with kids who have lost their homes. So the little munchkins are popping up everywhere, including living in Grandma's place.
Go ahead and ring those buzzers.
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