Open houses are your chance to get to know a for-sale home up close and personal, to see the reality behind listing language like “gourmet kitchen” and “giant closets.” The best part: You don’t need an appointment or even your own agent to attend an open house.

Open houses let you gauge the market in your area and let you see for yourself what $300,000 will get you.

And if you don’t already have an agent, open houses are easy way to begin a relationship with one. You’ll see how he or she markets the home, and you can ask questions.

During most open houses, you’ll be asked to sign in and provide an address and telephone number. This helps the seller’s agent to follow up with you; if you didn’t like the house, the agent may another listing that fits you better. You don’t have to sign in but it’s polite to at least introduce yourself to the agent so he or she can keep track of who’s walking through the home.

Here are some do’s and don’t that will help you make the most of open house visits.

Open house timing

Do show up at the house as early as possible, before the crowd. That way, an agent will have time to give you personal attention and answer questions.

Don’t wait until the last minute to arrive, when an agent most likely is turning off lights and packing up brochures. If you can’t make the open house with plenty of time to look around, call the agent and arrange a personal showing.

Questions to ask the agent

Do ask questions about the home. Have any offers been made? Is the seller motivated? If the price has dropped, why? How long as the property been on the market? How much are utilities? Are there any water problems? Any assessments or extra fees?

Don’t monopolize an agent with endless questions during a busy open house. You can always follow up later. And don’t be contentious or challenging; that will only shut doors of communication and make the agent less willing to share information.

Questions the agent will ask you

Do answer questions about what home features you want, price range, number of people who will live in the home, and whether you already own a home already.

Don’t provide too much information. Don’t answer questions about your income, how your search is going, and when you need to move – all information that puts you in a disadvantaged negotiating position.

Open house etiquette

Do dress appropriately in clean, casual wear. No one will throw you out of an open house if you arrive wearing Daisy Dukes and a flip flops but if you don’t look like a responsible buyer, agents are less likely to take you seriously. Also feel free to photos so you can remember details, and take measurements to make sure your furniture will fit.

Don’t open closed doors without asking the agent first, or open drawers or medicine cabinets. Also, don’t criticize the house in front of the agent; wait until you leave to talk smack about the property. And don’t make use of the bathrooms.

Scoping (not snooping)

Do check for basement dampness, foundation cracks or outdated plumbing and wiring. Walk around the property to see if water pools in any section, which could point to grading problems. Drive around the area to get a feel for the neighborhood. If you have kids, look for other youngsters they might play with. If you are empty nesters who want peace and quiet, keep an eye out for older residents.

Don’t buy a house that you think has water problems, which are hard and expensive to cure. And don’t overlook landscaping, which could include old, dead trees that may have to be taken down, which is a costly job.

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