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Sound like a Smarty Pants: 8 Essential Questions for Informed Buyers to ask at an Open House

Valerie Mattei  |  December 9, 2023

Sound like a Smarty Pants: 8 Essential Questions for Informed Buyers to ask at an Open House

🏘 As a realtor, hosting open houses is a huge part of the actual job. Being physically present in the home is one part of the process, but the real work is knowing every single detail about the home: the construction of the home, disclosures, inspection reports, the community, the neighborhood, and anything related to infrastructure that could or will affect the home. Interested home buyers come into homes in all different ways: nervous and wide eyed not knowing where to start, aggressively ready with their agent in tow, a little nosey and far from starting the process, but, at the top of the list, are curious people armed with a list of questions. Not sure what to ask when you enter an open house? Here is a foolproof list of 8 questions that will not only help you learn more about the home you visit, but also make you sound like a smart buyer! πŸ€”β“πŸ—¨

1. Why is the house for sale? The most common opening question for most buyers. 🏠

Most agents have a canned and well articulated response for this question, and should be ready to easily answer and give you the information. Reasons could include moving for a new job, downsizing, needing more space, moving closer to family (maybe moving further from family 😬), or the owner passed away and the family is selling the home. These are all very typical answers and should not alarm buyers. 

Instead, each answer can help buyers decode more information about the house. It can point you toward issues of the home, which helps guide you when submitting an offer. If the family needs more space, and you are a growing family this information might inform you of your own timeline in the home. If the person has passed, often the home has been empty or in disrepair for some time. If an agent is evasive about answering this question, you need to dig a little further. Ask your realtor in this case- as a professional, he or she will be able to find more information from the seller’s agent. 

2. How long has the house been on the market? A question most people know the answer to because it is posted on all platforms- ask anyway for due diligence. ⏳

One look on Zillow or Redfin should provide buyers with this information. Most people walk in knowing the house is a new listing or been on the market for a few weeks. It is an important question to ask because it will inform buyers of further actions. If a home has been on the market for a few weeks or even months, it could signify a flaw with the home or that the seller is unwilling to negotiate. Don’t be fooled, especially in the Bay Area Real Estate market, a home that has been on the market for a “long time” is not always “a deal.” You might have more negotiation power as the buyer, but it is unwise and unrealistic that you will be getting the deal of a lifetime. Remember, most sellers are looking to make a profit. That being said, any good buyer’s agent will guide you in the right direction to an offer price that is fair for you and entice the seller. 

3. Are there any structural issues with the home? A deal breaker for most people. 🏚

Immediately, walking into a home a prospective buyer will notice and most certainly comment on a few things: big open space, nice curb appeal, but a sloping floor being one of most noticeable. Buyers can’t help but say, “It feels uneven,” followed immediately by, “How is the foundation?” Sellers are required to disclose any structural or code issues they know exist on the property. This includes: cracks in the walls, ceiling, or chimney; a sagging roof; and any crumbling or concrete brick or cement. It is more than acceptable to ask the selling agent upfront at an open house about these issues, and the agent legally has to disclose this information. It is best to ask, and then take time to review disclosures and inspection reports thoroughly with your agent for all the details about the structure of the home. 

Often people hear “foundation issues” and it is an immediate end to their interest in a home, however, some of those issues can be easily remedied with little work or may not even need to be corrected immediately. For those of us in the Bay Area, we are used to and not deterred by earthquakes. They are common and most often insignificant, but can cause little cracks around the house. Be sure to discern between major repairs needed and items that do not need immediate attention.

4. When was the home last updated? With one look into a kitchen or bathroom, you should be able to guess the answer to this question.πŸ›€

Walk into any house and the answer to this question will be answered in the kitchen, bathroom, or in the flooring. The most important piece of this answer is not in the aesthetics, but in the home’s major systems and features: roof, siding, electrical system, water heater, HVAC, plumbing, and more. Flooring, tile, and cabinets can always be changed, but asking about updates to the core of the house will give you a good idea of what repairs and replacements might be needed. 

As far as the aesthetics, you will need to decide if you can live with an outdated bathroom or you have the financial and emotional bandwidth to endure any renovations. If you have little children, a renovation that removes a bathroom or the kitchen from full use might not be worth it to you. In this case, you might only want a turnkey home. If you are on a budget and all of the home’s major systems are updated, however, the bathroom is adorned with unattractive yet functioning tile, you might be willing to live with this until it can be changed at a later date. Bottom line: make sure you are prepared to replace any of the core elements of the home should it be unsafe, dilapidated, or not up to code. Otherwise, ask yourself, “Can I live with this?” 

5. What’s included with the home sale? Ask, because you never know. ✍

You walk in and you see the most beautiful washer and dryer set in the laundry room, a large new refrigerator with a craft ice maker, and an amazing stove that will cook every holiday meal. Don’t be so quick to assume these come with the house. Sellers aren’t required to include anything that’s not attached to the home. Appliances like refrigerators, stoves, and dishwashers won’t always come with the property. Sellers may be attached to or just recently purchased those appliances, and plan to take them to their next place. 

A buyer might ask the agent at the open house if the seller is willing to make those appliances part of the sale of the home. You can work with your agent to indicate this desire in your offer. Depending on the price and convenience for the seller, you might end up with a fully move-in ready home. In my experience, most homes are sold with appliances, but an agent at an open house should definitely be able to answer this question. 

6. Is there an HOA? Know this answer before getting in too deep. πŸ€‘

If you are looking at a condo or townhouse, most likely there is an HOA with dues, by-laws and more. If you are at an open house in a specific community, there might be an HOA with the same. If you are unsure, ask. The agent at the open house may not be able to answer every HOA question off the cuff, but the big ones, for sure. What are the dues? How much do they have in the reserves? Are there any special assessments coming up? Are pets allowed? What about the parking situation? Those are the most practical questions. The HOA documents will always be available in the disclosures, and any good real estate agent will review these specific documents with their buyers. Dues, by-laws, amenities, specific rules about noise, parking, paint colors, gardening- you name it, it is in there. Buyers have to know these details before falling in love with a place. The HOA might be the determining factor of whether a home is a good fit or not.  

7. What’s the neighborhood like? You are not just buying the house, you are buying the community too. πŸš—

When potential buyers walk into a home, my favorite opening question to them is, “Do you live in the neighborhood?” The answer to this question gives me, as the selling agent, a lot of information. Immediately I know if they are neighbors coming to take a look, renters that want to stay in the same area, or people looking to move into this neighborhood or one nearby. Loving the home is just one part of the equation. If you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, ask the agent at the open house about the community and its amenities. 

Do your own due diligence by taking a drive or walking the area. If you are worried about crime, look up crime statistics or start following the local police departments blotter or social media. If you have children or pets, ask about local playgrounds, trails, and dog parks. You might even be lucky enough to encounter a direct neighbor at the open house- don’t be afraid to ask them specific questions: Are the neighbors social and get together? Are the streets busy? How is the traffic getting to and from freeways or popular areas?

8. What amenities and locations are nearby the home? Location, location, location. 🏞

This is really the bigger question: Does this home fit my needs and lifestyle? And Can I see myself here? If you need a good school district, and the schools in the area do not perform well, are you willing to make that sacrifice or are you open to private schools? Are you a big time runner and need nearby trails or runnable streets? Do you want to walk to most places- grocery stores, restaurants, or bars? Every area and neighborhood has its own cadence, pace and vibe. Asking the agent at an open house about nearby businesses, coffee shops, or parks will help you envision if this home is a good fit for you. Agents should know the answers to these questions, or at the very least be able to open a map and point out the amenities you need and desire. 

🏑 In order to be completely happy with a home purchase it is crucial to investigate not just the home itself, but the inner workings, the neighborhood, and the community. Be prepared to come to an open house with basic questions that will help you decide if you’d like to make an offer. The more comfortable you become with these questions, the better and more informed buyer you will be in the end. Agents love talking, so don’t be afraid to engage with them at an open house! πŸ”‘

If you are interested in learning more about the home-buying process do not hesitate to contact us. We are experts in home buying and selling in the Bay Area, and would love to assist you. 



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