So you've been online looking at houses. A lot. You don't even look at Facebook and Twitter anymore. You just pour through listings. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 90% of buyers rely on the internet as one of their primary research sources. But if you’ve ever seen a fast-food commercial where the burger is perfect and bursting with juicy flavor, the bun is fresh, the lettuce crisp, the tomatoes red and ripe, and then compare that to what you get at the actual restaurant, you know most times what's advertised doesn’t equal what you get in real life. Once you get the burger and open up the package it's pretty obvious that burger isn't nearly as perfect as they made it seem like in the commercial. That’s because what was advertised was staged with special lights and photoshopped to get it to look perfect. Sad to say but that's the same thing with those online houses. What you're looking at is the seller's commercial. They are staged and photoshopped. That furniture may be rented to enhance the room. No trick is left out. Even if a seller doesn’t plan to sell their house until the fall or winter they will often take pictures in the spring to put in their listing because what doesn't look nicer with flowers blooming next to it, fresh-cut grass, and a beautiful blue sky? Like any commercial, the whole purpose is to get you into the house and then get you to pay as much as possible for the product. That's why you need to get out there. Facebook may not be real but the mortgage payments you have to make sure are. According to the same NAR study, 46% of buyers who use online searches also attend open houses during their home search. That's where you can get out there and see houses in the areas you're considering. It’s a great way to turn yourself into a homebuying expert so you can confidently pull the trigger on your dream home when the time comes.
So should you go to open houses? Yes, definitely and absolutely!
Why? Because it helps you:
1. Understand what you want in a house
2. Understand what you want in a neighborhood
3. See what it's like to deal with real estate agents.
4. Compare houses in your price range
5. Compare it to houses in different price ranges
Understand what you want in a house
One of my favorite things about open houses is how casual it is. Maybe you'll be unexpectedly blown away but otherwise, you're just window shopping. Seeing what you like about a house and what you don't and then turning that into a list of what you need, want, and can live without. You can check out 5 houses in a day. Do that for just a month and you've just seen 30 or 40 houses. You're now fairly acquainted with what kind of houses are out there and what you want. Maybe you have a system. You can bring along our Ultimate Homebuyers Checklist to remind you of things. Considering you may be spending the rest of your life there and a sizable portion of every dollar you make it's one of the best time investments you'll ever make.
Some things you might learn is:
o Do you prefer a ranch vs a split ranch vs a multi-story?
o Do you need an eat-in kitchen as well as a dining room?
o Do you want something you can just move into or a fixer-upper?
o Do you want a basement you can finish or a basement that’s already finished? If you see one that's unfinished what will that require as far as ceiling heights and other structural elements and what will it look like once it's done?
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a million things and you just don’t know how to house hunt until you get out there and look.
Understand what you want in a neighborhood
Are you okay with living anywhere or do you want specific elements to the area where you'll live? Every person is different and wants different things.
Do you want:
o A quiet side street? o To live at the end of a cul-de-sac? o Are you ok with living on a busy 2 lane thoroughfare? o Do mind living with an interstate behind your property with multi axled semi-trucks rumbling by all day and night. o Do you want to live near parks for kids? o Do you want a more rural feel where the houses are more spread out, or a more suburban feel where you see your neighbor walk out and pick up the newspaper?
Maybe you're not sure or maybe one of those things sounds good while the other sounds ridiculous. Some people will wonder how people can want the peace and quiet of a country night and others will think you're crazy for living in a busy downtown area. The point is there's something for everyone and only you're the only one that will know what's right for you.
See what it's like to deal with real estate agents
90% of homebuyers used a real estate agent to buy their house according to a Harris Insights housing consumer study so chances are you'll be using a realtor when you buy a home. They'll point out amenities to the house and neighborhood that maybe you hadn't thought you wanted. Remember. This is a learning process. They help people buy and sell houses for a living. It's all they do. For God's sake, they may even attend conventions for it. If you're not truly serious about a house you might worry about wasting people's time but don't. Get out there. For an open house, the seller's agent has to be there anyway and you're not making your agent drive across town in rush hour for you, and then you don’t like the bathrooms. They understand the odds of you buying that house aren't great but they can get the wheels turning on for you. Believe it or not, one of the reasons, beyond selling that particular house, is to meet prospective clients. Being a real estate agent is about networking to meet new clients and open houses are considered a great way to do that. That's why they don’t mind sitting there while people come and go. The more open houses you go to the more realtors you'll meet. You can take cards and when the time is right, if there were a couple you really liked and had a good rapport with you can call them up and interview them to be the agent that helps you in your buying process.
Compare prices in your price range
By going out to several open houses you can get a feel for what you can expect in your price range. Every house will have different features in your particular range but by establishing what you want it will help you narrow your search. You may be giving up a bigger yard for more space inside or bigger bedrooms for a smaller living room. Every house will have its plusses and minuses but you'll get a feel for what you can expect for a certain amount. You'll also know when someone's asking more than they should so you can try to negotiate and make a lower offer or, even better, when you're getting a great deal. A house is like anything else. It's not one size fits all and you have to get the one that’s fits right for you.
Compare it to houses in different price ranges
Don’t just stick to houses in your price range. Go to houses 10% or more above and below your budget to see what you'd get. Do you really get all that much more for the extra money you'd spend? What if you go 10% less? Are you perfectly ok living with less? Great! You just saved yourself 10% on your mortgage and you don’t have to negotiate to get it. The bank won't like not being able to gouge you for interest payments for the next 30 years but good for you. You can use that money to buy a car, take some vacations, or save for retirement.
So when should you start going to open houses? Well, if you're reading this and thinking about buying a house? Right now! Or if you're actively looking at houses? Right now! You should be out there for sure. However, you don’t have to wait. Even if you don’t plan to buy a house this year or next it's never too early to start your research. There's so much to learn about making a good home choice and they'll be so much regret if you don’t get it right. If you can start to narrow down your search months or even years in advance you'll be well-positioned to confidently make an offer on something when the time comes. Early bird gets the worm, as they say, and good home shopper gets the house.