Visiting open houses will go a long way to helping you make an informed decision about your new home. You want to make your visits count. Visiting open houses is your chance to put yourself in a home, try it on even briefly to see how it accommodates your lifestyle. So put on some comfortable slip-on shoes (because you’ll likely be asked to take them off when you enter an open house) and follow these tips to make visiting open houses informative and productive.
1. Be thorough when visiting open houses
Spend the time to take a thorough tour through the home. Make sure there’s adequate space and the layout works for your family. Checks closet and cupboard space so you’ll have enough storage for your stuff. Look past the colour of the walls and age of the carpets, as those can easily be changed. Be equally as attentive about the home’s exterior. Do the entryways and the layout of the property work for your family? Is there adequate yard space for the things you like to do outside, whether that’s hosting barbecues to setting up a trampoline for the kids to planting a vegetable garden? Look for maintenance issues like paint, the age and condition of the roof and gutters. But leave the quality of construction to an expert, like a home inspector.
2. Ask questions
When visiting open houses you should ask a lot of questions about items you can’t see, such as the age of the furnace, hot water tank and roof? Has the drain tile ever been redone? Was any renovation work done without proper permits?
For older homes, it would be prudent to ask whether the home’s electrical or plumbing systems have been updated.
Enquire about the availability of utility bills, ideally for an entire year so you can get an idea of how utility expenses fluctuate with the seasons. If your potential new home is part of a strata, ask about specific bylaws that could affect you, like rules for pets. Enquire about the financial health of the strata corporation, the size of its contingency fund to cover emergencies, monthly fees, any pending special assessments. If it’s an older strata, ask about the age of the roof and balconies, plumbing, elevator and even the parkade. Find out if the building has been rainscreened. Also, be sure to ask for a copy of strata documents like council minutes, building memos and the engineer’s depreciation report which will outline any current issues that could affect the building as well as timelines for future maintenance and replacement issues.
Find a quiet spot in the home and listen for sounds you can hear from other rooms or from outside. Older homes or wood frame construction can have poor sound transfer. If the property is close to a busy road, traffic noise may come through windows or affect your enjoyment of your yard. A sound that catches your attention while you’re visiting open houses could become a major annoyance when you live there.
Pay attention to the other people visiting open houses; that will give you an idea of the demographic moving to the neighbourhood and how your own family might fit in. Listen to their comments as they walk through the property; they might spot things you missed. Or better yet, they could be curious neighbours who know things about the property or the neighbourhood.
5. Walk the neighbourhood when visiting open houses
You’re not just shopping for your next home, you’re looking for a new neighbourhood. To ensure you’re getting the most out of visiting open houses, you should spend some time walking the surrounding streets. Observe the condition of neighbouring homes and properties. Make note of the proximity of parks, schools, shopping, transit stops.
Talk to neighbours you might encounter during your walk. Most of them are only too happy to give you the goods about a property and the neighbourhood.
6. Ask offer-related questions
If you’re genuinely interested in the property, ask the host realtor specific questions about making an offer such as when they’re being accepted, the possibility of submitting an offer early, the sellers’ timeline for closing, any special requests and the process of presenting offers, whether they’ll be in person or by email.
7. Leave your contact info
Don’t forget to leave your contact information with the realtor before you leave an open house. That way they’ll be able to send you all documents related to the property that you may have requested, as well as keep you in the loop on any changes to the offer presentation or the submission of competing offers. Visiting open houses can be a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon. It’s like test driving potential new homes. Being prepared and having a bit of a game plan ensures you’ll get the most out of visiting open houses. And if your due diligence checks out, you’ll have the information you need to make an informed decision.