Open houses are a familiar marketing activity that home sellers will often request, believing that an open house will get their home the most exposure to the appropriate audience of buyers. In actual fact, REALTORS® use open houses more to find unrepresented buyers than to sell the property they are showing. Consider the fact that if done right, a properly photographed online virtual tour and fact-filled website can provide potential buyers far more information about a property than a Sunday afternoon walk-through.
That being said, if you are still planning a bit of house-shopping next weekend, keep in mind some questions you should be asking as you speak to the REALTOR® on site.
1. What is the price?
This seemingly obvious question can reveal a lot about a seller's motivation and intent, key factors when negotiating a purchase. How did the seller arrive at the price? Did they use relevant data, consider comparative pricing and number of days on the market to arrive at a competitive figure from recent comparable sales? Or is it based on what the neighbor said he sold his house for, or it's what they need to get to retire in Florida? Also ask if there have been any price adjustments. You may find out how motivated the sellers are, and how receptive they may be to an offer.
2. What's nearby?
Discuss proximity to its town, schools, parks, shopping and public transportation (including commuter lines). Even if you don't need certain amenities (say for example you no longer have school-aged children), it's good to know what's available. Keep in mind, you will be the seller some day.
For a suburban home, ask about the lot size and grade of the land (even if it seems obvious to the naked eye). Flat land is more usable, therefore more valuable, than one with an uneven grade. Also, check the location of the rooms. Is the kitchen in the back of the home offering an easy egress to the backyard? Do all the "bedrooms" meet legal standards?
3. What are monthly costs?
Ask to see updated property taxes, utility bills, and ask if heat is electric, gas or oil. Also find out if the property currently gets any tax credits (STAR for a home, abatement for a NYC apartment).
4. What else do you know about the property?
Find out how long the current owners have lived there, why they are moving, and if they did any renovations. If there were renovations (improvements), get approximate dates. Ask for a list of improvements including brand name appliances, cabinetry, stonework, light fixtures, architectural features, etc. And don't forget to find out the age of the roof, the boiler, the compressor (if central air), and when the driveway was last seal coated and brickwork renovated if necessary.
5. What is the neighborhood like?
Ask what the community has to offer. Beyond school ratings, find out about public transport, new developments, retail and shopping and cultural amenities. The more you can learn about an area, the better you will be able to compare to different communities.
6. Are there any zoning or legal issues with the property?
Find out about local zoning laws and what the neighborhood is zoned for. If there have been any structural changes, find out if the proper paperwork filed to receive a certificate of occupancy. It’s critical to know this information, because it could significantly delay a deal or even break it. Also ask about load bearing walls and beams. This will be helpful if you decide you want to make modifications including moving walls, opening rooms, etc.
Every buyer and every home come with their own questions and answers. Being sure you cover the basics in your first look at a potential property. It will make you a more informed buyer, and in the end, get you into a better house.