Open houses are an excellent way to view a property on a whim. They provide an opportunity to look through the property, and they give buyers a chance to get up close and personal, to glean as much information as they can about the property. If you're on a search for a new home, and you are looking to attend some open houses, here is a list of important questions to ask while there.
"What is the neighborhood like?"
An experienced agent will know and be able to provide information on the neighborhood if asked, and an open house is a great opportunity to ask. Not only are things like safety of the neighborhood, local schools and amenities important, you can also get information on things only locals will know: how the local traffic is during rush hour (and how noisy it is), if there are any parks nearby, if the community is friendly, etc. Don't be afraid to ask, and if you get a vague answer, it might be worthwhile to ask a neighbor if you get the chance.
"What's the interest like?"
Open houses are a great way to judge the popularity of a property, as the number of people present can be a good indicator of interest (although some of those people could be neighbors or people looking with no intent of buying). Asking the agent about the interest on a property is one way to judge any competition from other potential buyers. You can ask the agent about any current interest: if the response is vague, ask if there have been any offers. Tons of interest doesn't necessarily mean many quality offers. It's also important to check to see how long the property has been on the market, and if there are offers, ask if any are contingent.
"How much are utilities?"
Utilities make up a large part of a monthly budget, and for some buyers, utility costs may be higher in a new area than in their current property (especially if a renter is looking to buy). When attending an open house, ask the agent how much the monthly utilities cost the current owner. Also find out if the neighborhood or complex has an HOA: how much the monthly fees are, what they cover, and how often the fees are assessed. It's up to the HOA to decide what the fees go toward, but for many HOAs the fees cover basic maintenance of the community, municipal services (trash removal, water and sewage), and lawn care or maintenance of any shared outdoor spaces (a community greenway or park). If the property is in an exceptional community, it could cover a clubhouse, community pool, fitness center and more (but with these additional items monthly HOA fees can be in the hundreds).
"How motivated is the seller?"
Buyers have specific needs when it comes to housing. They may be renters looking to buy and have a date when their current lease ends; they may already own a property and have an offer on their current home; or they could be living with family or friends and looking to buy something as soon as possible. At an open house, ask the agent how motivated the seller is. If the seller wants to be out of the property as soon as possible, he or she may be more willing to negotiate when it comes to offers. If they're not motivated, or are hoping for a long closing, they may not be as interested in negotiations.
"Have there been any recent improvements?"
As a buyer, you want to know if a property has had recent upgrades or any construction done on it. Not only will this tell you what may or may not need to be replaced or upgraded after purchase, it also lets you know if the current owner has taken care of the property. You'll be able to spot new appliances or modern cosmetic changes, but as a buyer you won't be able to tell if the furnace is on the fritz, how old the electrical system is, or anything else that may be 'hidden' in the property. If any recent additions or large renovations have taken place, you'll know to ask if the proper permits were obtained from the city, county or other government agency prior to the start of the work.
Sometimes buyers get caught up in the opportunity to look through a house during an open house and forget to use the time to ask important questions. Before you embark on your open house tours, remember your list of questions, as they'll certainly help you make a decision on whether to pursue a property further or move on to the next one.