Picture this: You’re out for a lovely weekend drive to no place in particular, and you spot a gorgeous house with an open house sign out front — balloons and all. You may not be in the market to buy, but curiosity makes you wonder, “Can anyone go to an open house?”

We’ve answered that question and many more in our primer for buyers (and anyone else!) interested in attending open houses. Read on to learn more.

A woman out on a drive, looking for an open house to attend.
Source: (Junior REIS / Unsplash)

Can anyone go to an open house?

Short answer: Yes, anyone can go to an open house, hence why it’s called an open house.

However, going to an open house is a bit more nuanced than walking in and poking around. Anyone can indeed go to one of these events, but you also need to follow proper open house etiquette because there will be people there who are genuinely interested in the property.

Let’s look at why people will go to an open house and how you will be expected to behave if you attend, too.

Who typically attends an open house?

There are four types of people who typically attend an open house.

The serious buyer

You’d think that the most common open house attendees are those who are genuinely interested in the property. Still, the National Association of RealtorsⓇ (NAR) reveals that only 6% of buyers found their home via an open house. Despite this, the serious buyer at an open house is a beacon of hope for the listing agent because that means the buyer has done the legwork and is ready to buy.

The buyer knows what type of mortgage loan they qualify for and will have a preapproval letter (there’s a difference between preapproval and pre-qualification) in hand. They’re working with a top-selling real estate agent and are ready to draw up the papers to submit an offer if the buyer wants to go to the next step.

The first-time homebuyer

The first-time homebuyer typically starts their quest to find their dream home by going to open houses. These attendees may be in the market to buy, and they may not know what exactly they’re looking for in a home.

For this type of buyer, they want to attend different open houses to figure out whether the neighborhood is right for them and how much house they can get within their budget. They are weighing their options and are trying to figure out what’s best for their family.

The curious voyeur

Have you ever driven past a neighbor’s house and wonder what the home looked like inside? Do you wonder what kind of upgrades and renovations they’ve done? Maybe you met the owner and want to know if their design style reflects their personality. Perhaps you’re thinking about listing your house and want to see how your home stacks up to others in the area.

The curious voyeur can be anyone: a neighbor, a former owner, an agent looking at houses for their clients, or someone who wants to know what they can do to increase the home’s value.

Simply put, these people have no intention of buying and just want to satisfy their curiosity or get ideas for their home renovations.

The possessive buyer

This type of potential buyer is someone who loves the property and dreams about owning it. They may have driven past the home numerous times, and from the moment the house hits the market, they’re constantly checking to see when there will be an open house.

When they finally see an open house sign, they jump at the chance to go inside. When they do go inside, they instantly know that it’s the one.

These potential buyers become so possessive of the property that they are willing to do whatever they can to dissuade other attendees from adding the property to their list of maybes. They may chat up with other attendees and complain about the price or the neighborhood. They may point out the flaws and what upgrades the house needs.

two kids engaging in horseplay at an open house.
Source: (Allen Taylor / Unsplash)

The dos and don’ts of attending an open house

Regardless which category you fall into, if you’re going to your first open house, there are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind about going to an open house.

Do: Be honest if you already have an agent

As soon as you walk in, let the hosting agent know your intentions and if you’re working with an agent. Mike Nemecek, an experienced agent from the Green Bay Area who sells houses 78% faster than other agents, gives some insight:

“It’s common courtesy to let the person hosting the open house know that you’re already working with someone. It lets the hosting agent know there isn’t a possibility of working together in the future. More or less, it’s managing expectations.”

Don’t: Lie about why you’re there

Understandably, you might feel awkward going to an open house if you aren’t a serious buyer. You might feel like you have to give a fake name or contact information on the sign-in sheet because it’s just a waste of the agent’s time when they try to follow up with attendees.

But when the agent talks to you, don’t be afraid to tell the truth.

“I’ve had people come through and say they’re thinking of listing their house and wanted to see who was listing the house. There are a variety of reasons why someone would go to an open house.

“It’s always best to be upfront with the agent. It’ll save time for both the agent and yourself,” shares Nemecek.

Do: Keep your hands to yourself

A cardinal rule of going to an open house is to respect the homeowner and keep your hands to yourself.

“You’re in someone else’s home, so you shouldn’t touch their things. You’re welcome to go through any rooms that have the doors open, but if the door isn’t open, you shouldn’t go inside. You can see these rooms during a private showing with your agent,” Nemecek advises.

Don’t: Overstay your welcome by lingering too long

What’s changed about open houses in recent months? In 2020, NAR released open house guidelines for open houses during a pandemic and one of those guidelines states there shouldn’t be more than 10 people in attendance at a time.

According to Nemecek, there isn’t a set time limit to open houses, but the typical open house lasts from an hour to an hour and a half, which isn’t a lot of time. When it’s a strong seller’s market and you’re not looking to buy, you should be mindful of other attendees who are considering buying the home and try not to spend too much time touring the property. However, if you are a serious buyer, you can “spend as much time as you feel necessary.”

Do: Keep criticisms to yourself

As a kid, you’ve probably been told that if you have nothing good to say, keep your comments to yourself. This is also true when you’re attending an open house.

You are inside someone’s home, and while you may have some criticisms, try to save the badmouthing until after the visit. Should you fall in love with the house and put in an offer to buy, you could wind up in a situation where there are multiple offers on the home. If the homeowner overheard your criticisms, they may decide not to accept your offer because of that.

Don’t: Let your children run wild

Parents who want to go to an open house will usually call a sitter … but, if they have no choice and you have to bring the kids along, you do not want to leave them unsupervised while you’re looking around.

“Make sure your children stay with you — don’t let them out of your sight. Everyone has to understand their child’s behavior and if your kids aren’t disciplined, it’s best to leave them home or with a sitter,” explains Nemecek.

Again, this is someone’s home, and you don’t want your children to cause any damage because they were careless or engaging in horseplay.

Do: Honor house rules

When you’re in an open house, the hosting agent will give you a few guidelines that the owner has laid out.

This could be anything from asking you to wear booties or taking your shoes off before going through the house, to informing you that you can (or requesting that you do not) take photos or videos of the home. They’ll tell you what rooms you can and cannot go into, and so on.

And in light of the pandemic and what we learned about cleanliness and public health, they may ask you to use hand sanitizer when you walk inside or before touching any doorknobs or light switches, to wear a mask while inside, or to follow other safety precautions.

A man walking up to an open house.
Source: (Mitchell Luo / Unsplash)

Yes, anyone can go to an open house

It may feel like open house etiquette has a shroud of mystery surrounding it, but it’s not nearly as mysterious as we think. You don’t have to be a serious buyer working with a real estate agent to attend one.

You can attend an open house to get ideas for your home renovation or if you find one during your Sunday drive. Not only that, if you’re thinking about putting your own home on the market, you can go to one and get an idea of what other houses in the neighborhood are selling for.

Regardless of the why, as someone attending an open house, you do have to abide by the rules set by the homeowner. After all, it is still their home!

Header Image Source: (Jonathan Borba / Unsplash)