What to look for at an open house?

One question we get asked by a lot of first-time home buyers is “what should I be looking for at the open home?”  This is a great and important question, as the open home may be your only chance to view the largest purchase you have ever made.  It is easy to attend an open house and get suckered into admiring the paint and furnishing choices, while not paying attention to important elements of the home.

Of course, this all depends on the condition of the home you are looking for.  If you are looking for a fixer-upper or a tear-down, you will be less interested in the condition of the home, and more interested in the size of the home and the lot size, and the size of the adjacent homes on similar sized lots (will be indicative of expansion potential).  If you’re looking at a newly-renovated properties, you’ll pay more attention to the layout of the home and quality of the finishes. And for a move-in ready home, you’ll want to pay more attention to the layout and condition of the home, and any projects that need to be completed before moving in.

Before you begin

Before starting your open house journey, we would recommend creating an outline or checklist of what you’re looking for in a home.  Oftentimes open homes can be hectic with a lot of other buyers scurrying through the home, and you may also be attending a number of open homes in an afternoon.  Having a checklist can be an important reminder to inspect for certain elements of the home in a more systematic manner.

Elements to incorporate in your checklist could include:

  • Natural light
  • Height of ceilings
  • Size of bedrooms
  • Parking options
  • The ‘flow’ of the home’s layout
  • Flooring
  • Entertaining areas (indoor and outdoor)
  • Moderness of kitchen and bathrooms, and the quality of appliances
  • Storage space, both in bedrooms and in common areas
  • Stairs
  • Ambient noise (from other rooms, neighbors and street noise)
  • Laundry options

Inside the home

Upon entering the home, you should begin by doing a general walk-through to get a feel for the layout and condition of the home.  After that, you should spend time in each room, spending more time in the more important rooms like the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen and the living areas.

In the bedrooms, you should assess the size and layout of each bedroom, as well as getting a sense of the natural light that flows into the bedroom.  If you (or your family) are light sleepers, you’ll want to listen for noise that comes into the bedroom from adjacent rooms and from outside the home.  Adequate closet space is important to most buyers, as is the build-out of the closets.

In the bathrooms, you should assess the size and layout of each bathroom, as well as the quality and condition of tiling, fittings and cabinets.  For a lot of buyers, having a en-suite bathroom off the master bedroom is a ‘must-have’. You may have a preference for a stand-up shower or a bathtub, and a preference for whether there are multiple sinks, in particular bathrooms, as well as the amount of storage space for towels and linen.

In the kitchen, you should assess the size and layout, as well as the quality and condition of the appliances, countertops and cabinets.  Depending on preferences, you may want an eat-in-kitchen or for there to be an adjacent casual dining area. If you are an avid cook, you may prefer a gas stove top and oven, large amounts of countertop area, and adequate cabinet space or a pantry.

You should also spend some time in the the other living areas to get a sense of those rooms as well, as well as how those rooms interact with the rest of the home.  If you like to entertain, you’ll want to ensure there is adequate space for hosting the types of events you enjoy.

The outdoor space

Depending on how much time you (and your family) plan to spend in your outdoor space, there are multiple things to consider as you venture outside of the house and into the front and back yards.

If you plan to garden, or to spend a lot of time relaxing in your backyard, you’ll want to see how much sunlight the backyard gets, and whether there are neighboring buildings or trees which block the sun’s access.  Generally, south-facing yards will get the most sun, and east-facing yards will get morning sun, whereas west-facing yards will get afternoon sun. If you like to entertain outdoors, you should assess the size and set-up of the outdoor entertaining area, and the suitability for your type of outdoor entertaining.  If there’s a swimming pool, in addition to the size and shape of the pool, you’ll want to note how much space, and if there are any structures, exists around the pool.

The larger the backyard, the more time (and money) will be required for upkeep and maintenance.  You can check whether the yard has an automated irrigation system

While outdoors, you may also want to have a quick look at the neighbors’ backyards to see the condition of their yards.  This can be a good indicator for the type of neighbor they will be (whether they’ll keep their house and yard well-maintained) and how much time, and the types of activities, they spend in their backyard.  Based on what is in their backyard, you can get a sense of whether they have children and / or pets.

The street

It is also a good idea to walk up and down the street to get a better sense of the immediate neighbors and the general environs.

Are the neighbors’ homes and front yards well maintained?

What is the level of street noise and street activity?  

Is the home near a bus stop or any local businesses?

Is street parking available (factoring in that other open home attendees may be parked near the home)?

Is there construction going on at any neighboring homes?

The neighborhood

Unless you’ve already lived, or are currently living, in the neighborhood we would recommend also spending some time understanding the specifics of the neighborhood.

How busy was the open home?

It is also informative to pay attention to the level of interest at the open home.  This may give you some indication of how competitive the property’s bidding will be, and therefore how aggressive you may have to offer to put forward an attractive offer.  Some things to pay attention to include:

  • The number of buyers at the open home
  • The interest levels of the other parties.  Were they casually walking through the home, or were they closely examining the home and asking a lot of questions?
  • The mood of the listing agent

This information can be combined with other information that your buying agent should collect, such as the number of disclosure packets sent out and the expected number of offers, to help you assess how competitive the winning offer will be.

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Buyers' Guide