Best Practices for Homebuyers at a Real Estate Open House

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By Brendon DeSimone

Open houses are the gold standard in real estate. They've been around for decades and will be ingrained in the buying and selling of homes for years to come. But as a buyer, are you making the most of your open house visits?

Here are some best practices for buyers at all ends of the homebuying spectrum.

Use the open house to learn the market without committing: For the most part, open houses are just that -- open. They make it possible for anyone to see a property in a certain time period, without an appointment or even being a very serious buyer. New buyers should leverage the open house opportunity to get a feel for the market. In today's world, using online search tools, mobile apps and the open house, a buyer can start to get a feel for pricing and the market before committing to an agent. Most importantly, open houses are some of the best ways for buyer and agent relationships to start.

You don't have to sign in (but don't be rude): The biggest fear of some newer buyers is that a real estate agent at an open house will be all over them, ask for their contact information and then start harassing them for the next three weeks. It does happen, but it's also common courtesy to at least recognize and say hello to the agent at the open house. Don't forget, in addition to trying to sell the home for her client, for safety reasons, the agent is keeping a look out for who is coming and going. It's polite to say hello and introduce yourself to the agent, but you can also politely decline to sign in.

If you're an active buyer, you should make yourself known to the agent. Let the seller's agent know who your agent is and don't be afraid to express interest. When it comes time to review an offer with a seller, listing agents like to put a face to a name.

Watch the other buyers: You can tell a lot about the activity and marketability of a home by watching the other buyers. If you observe a lot of people walking in and out quickly, the home probably has some issues. Are the buyers hanging around, asking questions of the listing agent and huddling in the corner talking to their spouses or partners? If so, it could be a sign this is a well-priced and "hot" listing. If you're interested too, observing other buyers at the open house could help you learn about the competition.

Ask the agent questions: The real estate agent is there for a reason. It's his or her job. If he or she is the listing agent, ask questions. The agent is a direct line to the seller and should know more than anyone about the property and the seller. Your agent can funnel your questions to the listing agent. But if you're there, ask away. Watch the agent's facial expression and reaction to your questions. If it's a competitive market, ask questions such as: "Why is the seller selling?" "Is there a certain day to review offers or have you had a lot of showings?" In a slow market, ask how long the property has been on the market and what the seller's motivations are. A good agent will engage you because it's good for his seller.

Be open to meeting your future agent: When considering a new doctor, lawyer or CPA, you don't get the chance to see them in their element until you've decided to work with them. Not true for real estate agents. Some of the best buyer/seller/real estate relationships begin at open houses.

A good agent is wearing two hats at the open house. In addition to watching the serious buyers and getting feedback for the seller, an active agent is also looking to interact with future clients.

Face to face, informal and relevant, the interaction with an agent at an open house is important. You can get a feel for a person just from a brief meeting. If you sense the agent could be someone you could work with, ask some open-ended questions, such as "How's the market?" and "What areas do you cover?"

Why open houses have been around for decades: At any open house, there are people at every stage of the homebuying game, from just testing the waters to looking at homes daily, making offers and working closely with an agent. For someone new to the market, it's helpful to know the best practices for visiting open houses and interacting with the real estate agent. For more experienced buyers, the open house is an opportunity to make a second or third visit, getting a closer look at the details and uncovering things you may have missed earlier. There are lots of reasons why open houses have been around for decades -- and why you should take full advantage of them.

Brendon DeSimone is the author of "Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling," the go-to insider's guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. DeSimone is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage. An investor himself, Brendon owns real estate in the U.S. and abroad. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow or AOL.