For buyers, visiting open houses should be more than just a casual walk-through of the home, with commentary on the paint colors (remember, you can change paint!). Open houses are a prime opportunity to not only get a feel for the space but also to speak directly to the listing agent and get detailed information on the home. In fact, this may be your only opportunity to openly ask the selling agent questions during the entire home-sale process. The best way to take advantage of this personal meeting is to be prepared. Get the inside scoop on that home for sale in Seattle, WA, and elsewhere by asking these 10 important questions.
1. How many offers have been made?
Does the listing agent look suspiciously happy? They might have received word that an offer is coming in any minute. If they’ve received offers, they’ll probably be eager to tell you, in hopes that you’ll bid as well and drive up the price.
2. How stable has the price been?
Your real estate agents can find out how many times the price has changed since the house was first listed, but the seller’s agent will likely jump at the chance to explain why. Perhaps the price dropped because the seller has to move on a tight timeline. Intel like this might even clue you in that the list price is somewhat flexible, enabling you to make a more competitive offer.
3. Why do the sellers want to move?
If the sellers are moving because the area is unsafe, the schools are terrible, or the neighbor practices the drums at midnight, their agent is unlikely to tell you. But ask this question anyway and look for hesitation from the agent or an answer that seems half-baked.
4. How long has this property been on the market?
You can find this information yourself on Trulia or by asking your agent to check the local multiple listing service, but the seller’s agent will be able to put this information in context. Perhaps it’s been on the market for a long time, but only because the sellers received an offer from a buyer whose financing fell through. Or perhaps the house went on the market this week, but the sellers have had a lot of interest and expect it to sell quickly. All of this is useful when you’re deciding whether to make an offer.
5. What issues does the house come with?
The seller is required to tell potential buyers about any known structural problems or code violations. It’s standard to ask for a written seller’s disclosure, so request one — and if you’re lucky, a talkative listing agent might reveal more in person. Be sure to visit any problem areas the agent hints at and take pictures of the areas to factor them into the price of any needed renovations.
6. When was the house last updated?
Clearly visible updates, like new appliances or a fresh coat of paint, are easy to identify. However, it’s equally as important to gather information about details like the age of the roof and wiring, which can’t be easily seen.
7. How much do utilities cost?
Know what you’re getting into before you make an offer by asking to see recent utility bills. If you’re moving from an apartment into a house, you might be surprised at the impact utility bills have on your budget.
8. What’s the seller’s timeline?
Sometimes sellers choose a buyer’s offer simply because of timing. Perhaps they want to sell quickly, or delay the sale so their kids can finish the school year. The more you know about what the sellers want, the more easily you can work around it — and put together a tempting offer while still getting a good deal.
9. Where can I get a bite to eat?
Getting directions to a local eatery or coffee shop will tell you a lot about your neighborhood. If there’s a retail strip close by that locals frequent and feel proud of, chances are, you’ll love it too.
10. What are the neighbors like?
Is the neighborhood kid-friendly? Are there lots of retired people? Is there a thriving bar scene on the weekends? Some people are fine doing their own thing and don’t require (or want) a tightknit community. But other people are much happier if they’re surrounded by kindred souls who are in a similar stage of life. The seller’s agent will be able to give valuable information about whom you’d be shooting the breeze with over the fence, if you choose to buy.
And don’t forget: While open houses are great venues to ask questions and listen, be careful not to give away more than you want known about your own situation. Being discreet about your finances and how much you love the home will benefit you when it’s time to make an offer.