Last week, I discussed the thought process of what went into the decision to start the search for our first home. We were ready, or at least ready enough, to start looking at houses, so it was time for our first round of open houses, yay!
Now, by the time we had actually gone to our first round of open houses, I was spending a little time every day or two to scope out all the new listings on realtor.ca (tip: sort listings by new to see what’s come up since your last visit). Realtor.ca has a handy ability to sort by open houses, so you can schedule a route for your day, which is important because most open houses are only on for 2 hours (most commonly Sunday 2 to 4 in my area), and I wanted to see as many as I could my first time out!
With a few favourites picked and a few fillers added for variety, we hopped into the car and were off to see our first houses: a few townhouses, a cute bungalow that was currently an Airbnb, a 2 story historic family home, and another large bungalow.
I learned a lot from the first 3 homes I looked at, mostly because they were 3 identical townhouses. There was $10,000 difference between the 3, one vacant, 2 lived in, different paint, light and kitchen, but all in the same “frame”. What a great way to quickly learn how much a good coat of paint can make a house look! It’s really easy to get caught up in the style of the current homeowner, good or bad, and that really can sway your opinion of the space. I think if you have the possibility of viewing a few similar units on your first open house tour, I’d say go for it, you’ll definitely learn a lot!
The next few homes brought up the discussion of how much I’m willing to fix myself. Now, I’m not afraid to get my hands a little dirty, but during the summer I typically work a 60-80 hour workweek, so the property would really have to be perfect for me to take on anything extra. Everyone has a comfort level of what you’re willing to work on, and what you want right from ownership, so be sure to have a good think or a discussion with your partner about what suits your needs, and use the experience you gain from the open houses to help inform that decision.
Another major difference I noticed from home to home were the REALTORSⓇ I met. Full disclosure once again, I do work for a REALTORⓇ, and two of the ones I met with are from the same office, so my experience was not completely typical, but I did meet four others that I had not met before. Some were very friendly, upfront, and ready to answer any questions I had. Some made it feel like they had better things to do and were completely hands off. You’re always going to have different experiences, but here’s a few things to keep in mind.
REALTORSⓇ are there to help you and answer any questions, but they’re also there to market themselves and meet new buyers and sellers. Don’t be surprised by them asking for your contact info, and whether or not you’re already working with a REALTORⓇ. Answer honestly, but remember that you’re under no obligation to work with them as your buyers agent. I’m going to get into that a lot more next week, but for now, remember that you’re under no obligation by attending an open house, aside from following the rules.
By the end of my first day of open houses, I certainly didn’t find the one, but I did learn A LOT along the way and I’m really glad I did it. I think I learned a dozen new things that I don’t like in a house and left feeling energized for my search and with a much more realistic set of wants and needs. With that said, here’s a little advice for you:
Andy’s Top Tips to Open House like a Pro:
- Check out all kinds of homes – Going to a home outside your budget or outside of what you’re looking for can still be very useful to help narrow down your wants and needs. You’ll learn a lot from the houses that you don’t like, and it will make you so much more confident when you’ve found the one!
- Ask the REALTORⓇ questions – It’s their job to show the home. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions, even the easy ones. There’s things that you can’t just look at, like the average heating costs, HOA fees (condo and townhouses), if it ever floods, how old the roof is, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask why the sellers are moving!
- Location – How easy is it to get to work, schools, parks, etc. Don’t forget that location is key! Even little details like distance from a fire hydrant and fire station can make big impacts on your home insurance rate.
- Follow the house rules – This seems like common sense, but respect the rules. Sign-in if asked, take your shoes off, etc. If possible, don’t bring your young children, it can be very hard to look closely at a home while entertaining or supervising young kids.
- If you like the home, look for signs of neglect. – Falling in love with a home only to have to walk away from it because of finding issues in the inspection is heartbreaking! Here’s just a few things to look for:
- Warped or stained baseboards
- Mold at back of cabinets, particularly under sinks
- Check any exposed pipes for leaks or suspicious repairs
- Check hardwood floors that are covered by rugs (with the help of the REALTORⓇ). Those rugs might be there to hide damage.
- Look for condensation between the panes of the windows, it can mean that they’re leaking and will need to be replaced
- Check for cracks or stains in the ceiling
- Open and close doors and cabinets
- Check for drafts around outlets, windows and doors, which could cost you hundreds during the cold winter.
- Consider the neighbours – How well are their houses maintained? Do they have kids toys out? Is trash put away? Is the fence in good repair? When you buy a home, you’re buying the neighbours, too. Make sure you’re not going to regret your purchase. If you’re feeling bold and like the house, try knocking on their doors and ask their opinion of the area.
- Lots of upgrades – Buying a home with a recently remodeled kitchen or plenty of new upgrades can be really enticing, but if a lot of work has been done very recently, there’s a chance that corners were cut to save money and profit more from the sale. Ask lots of questions and even find out what companies did the upgrades.
There’s a million more things I could write, but I believe this is a good place to start when you’re ready to start Open House-ing (is that a word?). Next week I’ll be talking to you about why working with a REALTORⓇ can make everything so much easier, and what to look for when you pick yours!
Andy Tree is a professional Wedding Photographer, marketing expert, coffee lover, millennial, board game enthusiast, and overall nerd. Over the next weeks he’ll fill you in on every step of his search and first home purchase.
Send us a message on Facebook if you have any specific questions or if you’re ready to start your own search!