Shopping for a new home? Before you start pounding the pavement, you should know that open houses aren’t an excuse to show up whenever you want and act however you want. Brush up on the rules of open-house etiquette before you hit the first showing. Here are some of the big ones.
1. Be on time
If an open house is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m., don’t show up at 12:30 p.m. and barge right in. The sellers still may be preparing their property, and they’re entitled to that time. Arriving late isn’t acceptable, either. If the time is 1 to 4 p.m., respect it; if that doesn’t fit into your schedule, pursue other arrangements, like scheduling a private walk-through on another day.
“I have had a few occasions where I spent 30 minutes turning off the lights and locking things up, only to have a person stop their car while I was out picking up the open house signs several blocks away, asking if I will go back and let them in,” says John Austin, associate broker for Realtypath South Valley in Riverton, Utah. “Of course I always do, but that adds an additional hour or so to an already long day. If you are going to be late, please call the agent’s cellphone in advance to ask if they will stay late. They almost always will be glad to.”
2. Wipe your feet before walking in
It’s common courtesy to wipe your feet before entering someone’s home. If there’s inclement weather, you might even be polite enough to remove your wet shoes and leave them by the door. If this is an established rule of the homeowner — to remove shoes, that is, regardless of the weather — you either need to follow it or leave. Respect is key here. You wouldn’t want someone dragging mud, leaves, and other gunk through your nice clean house, so you should expect to extend that courtesy to others.
3. Register your name when you walk in
Signing in might seem like a way for a realtor to get your information (and it is), but it also serves a more important purpose: security.
“When we hold open houses for homes that are still furnished, we demand that guests sign in or they cannot preview the house,” explains Kevin Gunn, director of general brokerage at the real estate search engine Real Living. “We take every precaution to make sure valuables are locked up; however, the agent cannot be everywhere in the house at one time. So, please understand that signing in protects the owner of the property. Should something happen, we need a log of who was there.”
4. Let the host realtor know if you already have an agent
If you come to an open house alone, but you already have an agent, tell the agent at the open house that you are there to view it and already have representation. That way the agent will leave you alone to view the property while he or she spends time talking to buyers who are not already represented.
“In my open house events, I average 125 to 175 people through the five-hour period; that’s a lot of people to talk to and divide my time,” Austin says. “It happens at every open house: I ask people if they have an agent, they say no, and I spend five or 10 minutes talking to them before they admit they have an agent, or worse — they are an agent. If you have an agent, I want to respect that relationship.” (See also: 20+ Questions to Ask During an Open House)
5. Mind your children
If you’re bringing your children to an open house — which, in my opinion, should be a last-resort scenario — it is your parental responsibility to keep those kids by your side at all times. If you don’t think your children will behave in someone’s home while you’re viewing it, don’t bring them. Have your partner mind them outside while you view the property alone, then switch.
Vincent DePalo, part of the Andre Rouach Team at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, recalls a situation where a broker brought his kids to an open house where they all sat down and ate a free lunch and made a mess. He details another awkward incident during a well-attended open house:
“I once had a family of 11 people come to an open house, including the couple that was looking, both in-laws, a sibling, and three young and energetic kids ages six to 10,” he explains. “They were running around touching and opening things, climbing on window sills, and scuff-marking the walls. I could not give much of a presentation because I was so worried that either a kid would get hurt or damage the apartment.”
6. Give other guests their space
If there are other visitors at the open house while you’re viewing the property, give them equal space. Don’t crowd into rooms. Wait your turn so everyone has a chance to see what they came to see. If there’s a couple upstairs, start downstairs or outside. If they’re taking longer than you’d like, be the bigger person and exhibit patience; everyone will get through the house eventually.
7. Don’t nose through people’s personal belongings
When you go into someone’s home for an open house and you’re compelled to touch something, you really only need to ask yourself one question: Is this mine? If this answer is no — and it is — don’t touch it. Don’t go through drawers or medicine cabinets or appliances. Everything you need to see right now is in plain view for you. A more thorough inspection of the property will be provided to you if you become a serious prospective buyer.
8. Keep your design ideas to yourself
You probably have plenty of ideas on how you’ll change the home once you’re in it, and that’s very exciting — for you. Remember, this is someone’s home, and they may be leaving it reluctantly, so the open house isn’t the right time or place to detail outloud how you’re going to gut the place.
“It’s fine to talk about how you might knock down a wall, but do not share your design opinions about the kitchen’s state of disrepair,” adds Jennifer Porter, owner of Seattle-based Satsuma Designs. “It kills me to see all the home-show touristers bad-mouthing other peoples’ design choices.”
Depending on whether a home is staged or still includes the personal effects of the owner, you may also find personal items on display. Porter suggests that you keep walking, reserve judgment, and never discuss the room and items publicly.
“It’s simply good manners,” she says. “Even if you’re ready to put in the winning offer, it’s not your house yet.”
9. Schedule a second showing for plumbing concerns
Listen, we all understand that when nature calls, nature calls — but, please, try to do your business before going to the open house. And don’t go through the house turning on faucets and flushing toilets just to see if they’re working. If you’re that interested in the plumbing situation, schedule a separate appointment with the realtor, who will be happy to give you a more comprehensive tour. (See also: 12 Crucial Things Homebuyers Overlook at Open Houses)
10. Ask permission to open closets or to take photos
Closet space is a selling point for many buyers, but before you go swinging doors open, ask. It’s just the polite thing to do. Same goes for snapping photos; it’s likely nobody will mind, but ask first.
11. Get in and out efficiently
Walk through the house, ask a few questions, and gather the materials and information you need. An open house is not an invitation to linger, loiter, and fill up on wine and snacks. Take one cookie and a drink if you’d like, and go. Better yet, plan to have a meal in the neighborhood so you can get a better idea of what it’s like, which is especially important if the house you just viewed is still among your prospects. (See also: How to Research a Home’s Location Before You Buy)