Open house etiquette is all about common sense.
Here are a few no-brainers that every potential buyer should know: Don’t park on the lawn, take off your shoes when you go inside (or put on booties, if they’re offered), and never peek inside the medicine cabinet.
Easy rules to follow, right? Not for some would-be homebuyers.
You won’t believe some of the cringe behavior real estate agents have witnessed at open houses in today’s high-stress market. Here’s the stuff that made their eyes roll—and the critical reason why you should be on your best behavior.
Larry Chatt, broker and owner of Island Real Estate in Anna Maria Island, FL, recalls an incident that happened to a colleague.
Unbeknownst to the agent showing a home, a guest used a small bathroom, lit a candle (presumably to mask the, um, lingering odor), and placed it high up on a wooden cabinet in the corner.
The hidden location of the open flame made it easy to miss when the agent did her walk-through before locking up.
“When the homeowners returned later in the evening, the smoke alarms were blaring and the owner was immediately hit with a wall of smoke due to a fire that broke out,” says Chatt.
Although the home needed minor repairs for smoke damage, the good news is no one was hurt.
As the previous tale highlights, using the bathroom is generally considered off-limits at an open house. But if you need to go, ask rather than sneaking in and trying to cover your tracks.
“I’ve had people use the toilet and not flush, or I hear them washing their hands,” says Rachel J. LeFlore, a real estate agent with the Bob & Ronna Group in Ellicott City, MD.
Chatt adds another major bathroom no-no he’s seen at open houses all too often: “Men, it is not OK to walk to a discreet corner outside and urinate in the bushes,” he says.
In the age of exterior cameras, thinking “no one will know” is often very untrue. In fact, your indiscretion might well be captured for posterity on video.
TJ Brisbois, CEO of Brisbois Group in Livonia, MI, was showing a beautiful lakefront home where someone had died in an unsettling manner.
“I had more than one visitor who just wanted to come by and basically stir the pot and tell me about it,” says Brisbois. “I couldn’t tell if they were trying to show off what they knew or trying to scare people away. But it was clear they weren’t interested in buying the house.”
Lesson learned? Keep gossip, especially needlessly sensational talk, to yourself. A potential buyer will find out if there was a death in the home via disclosure.
Watch: What Is Holistic Real Estate—and Could It Be the Key To Finding Your Next Home?
Yes, dogs are cherished family members, but you shouldn’t bring them to an open house.
J.D. Songstad, agent and owner of MrWestside Real Estate, had clients who insisted their two young dogs view every property with them.
“One listing agent reluctantly agreed to allow the dogs inside for an open house,” explains Songstad. “And unfortunately, one dog took a big pooh in the middle of the carpet.”
As a result, Songstad now has a strict no-pets policy.
Sitting down on a bench to take off your shoes is fine. But otherwise, stay off the furniture.
“This isn’t an Airbnb or your buddy’s house,” says Kelli Salter, agent and owner of Anchor Real Estate in Jacksonville, NC. “You’re a guest in another person’s home. So don’t lay, lounge, or otherwise get comfy on their beds, sofas, and recliners.”
In other words, while you want to see what it’s like living in the home, there are strict limits as to how far you take that concept.
Songstad has seen kids pick up and handle just about everything they can get their hands on as their parents tour a home.
“Many children simply can’t handle the temptation and end up playing with or touching everything they see in a home,” says Songstad.
Kids traipsing through a clean home with food are another disaster waiting to happen. In one case, a buyer and their young daughter were looking at a bedroom.
“The child dripped chocolate candy on the white bedspread,” says Suzanne Crawford Burton, an agent with Northside Realty in Raleigh, NC. “The sellers were not happy.”
So the next time you consider letting your children have free rein in an open house, ask yourself how you’d like a stranger touching or dirtying your possessions.
As comical and shocking as these incidents are, we would be remiss if we didn’t warn you that these types of blunders could cost you a home you love.
“The listing agent is the eyes and ears of the seller, so you want to make a good impression on them since they could be the ones to help the sellers decide between two nearly identical offers,” says Chatt.
Even if the agent at an open house doesn’t pick up on questionable behavior, you could sabotage your chances of buying the home if a seller catches dirty deeds on a security camera or even a baby monitor.
So the best open house policy is to be polite to the agent and fellow buyers and to follow any posted rules.
“We should all respect someone’s home and privacy,” advises LeFlore.
Lisa Marie Conklin knows a little something about moving. She's moved eight times in the past 10 years but currently calls Baltimore home. She writes for Reader's Digest, Family Handyman, The Healthy, Taste of Home, and MSN.
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