6 questions to ask during an open house

Consider it an opportunity to learn more about the house, the sellers and the neighbourhood



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An open house is the real estate world’s version of window shopping. It’s an opportunity to sneak a peak at a neighbour’s home, and a chance to size up a potential house or neighbourhood.

But for most window-shoppers, ignoring or minimizing talk with the real estate agent at an open house lands somewhere between a challenge and a sport. It shouldn’t. While there’s no question that the realtor hopes to drum up business by holding an open house, they can also be a wealth of information. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions. Here are six questions to ask at the next open house you visit.

1. Why do the sellers want to move?

Listen, we all read the same real estate advice, so it’s quite unlikely the agent you ask is going to tell you the full story but even a partial story—or no story at all—can help.

Take, for instance, the absolutely stunning semi-detached I recently showed to a growing family. Like many urban Toronto homes, the bedrooms were on the smaller side and there was only one bathroom to share for the entire family. But the location was ideal and the sellers had obviously spent a great deal of time and money upgrading and renovating the home (they’d even documented and displayed the progress of this work in a photo album that was open for all to see). So, why move? Was it because with baby number two they were running out of space? Turns out the husband had gotten an extremely lucrative job promotion but it now forced him to commute 90 minutes north of the city. The move was to accommodate the new job, not because the house was too small for a growing family.

It’s unlikely that the agent will tell you that the sellers hate all the crime in the area or that the train tracks keep them awake at night, but by asking and carefully listening you can usually read between the lines. Then use this information to assess whether or not these factors will impact your future enjoyment of the property.

2. What’s the seller’s timeline?

While price is king in real estate negotiations, quite often a choice between two very similar offers comes down to timing. If a seller need to move quickly—perhaps because of a job relocation—or they want a longer close (perhaps to let kids finish out their school year) you can increase your chances of winning a bid. That’s because the more you know about a seller’s motivation the easier it is to craft a tempting offer.

3.  When was the roof/electrical/etc. last updated?

Granted, many real estate agents won’t be able to answer this off the top of their heads, but the information should be documented somewhere (perhaps in a pre-sale inspection). If the information isn’t documented and you’re interested in the home, you may want to pay particular attention to the number of necessary upgrades that have been made (as opposed to the decor upgrades).

Also, by asking these questions at an open house you can validate the answer on the spot. For example, if the roof is reported to be only two or three years old, but you see obvious wear signs in one area then either it may be a sign of an unknown problem that will need to be addressed (and that usually costs money).

Asking about non-sexy upgrades, like roof replacements or electrical wiring, also helps you keep a mental checklist of the maintenance and expense required on the home for sale.

4. Are there any issues with the home?

This is a loaded gun question. Real estate agents are legally bound to disclose all known structural defects and code violations about a house—but they may be limited by how much a seller will disclose.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask this question. If you’re lucky, a talkative agent or seller might reveal information about smaller, fixable issues. For instance, an old backdoor could have flooding problems during extreme rainstorms. While this may only happen once or twice a year, the havoc a flood has on your home and your belongings can be ghastly expensive. Knowledge of this issue would allow to budget and prioritize a fix—and prevent any unexpected surprises.

5. Where can I get a bite to eat?

Want to know if the neighbourhood is vibrant and alive? Or if the neighbours stick to just their own backyards and rarely come out for a chat? Just ask the realtor where the local restuarant or coffee shop is located. If there’s a retail strip close by that locals frequent and feel proud of, chances are, you’ll love it too.

6. What are the neighbours like?

Listen, if the sellers are moving because of the neighbours, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the first to know…but asking this question should elicit helpful information. For instance, does the agent mention kids or dogs? Is there a thriving bar scene at the local pub on the weekends? Is there a very active fire hall down the street? All of this is information that can help you assess whether or not the street and neighbourhood are right for you.


Read more from Romana King at Home Owner on Facebook »

6 comments on “6 questions to ask during an open house

  1. Hi Romana,

    Great tips….I would hope that more Listing Agents would be honest about a home’s Pros and Cons,…I always am…A great Buying Agent will ensure their Buyers know the answers to these questions among many others.


  2. As a listing agent I do not disclose why a seller is selling unless I am authorized by the seller. It’s really none of a buyer’s business. My job is to protect the interests of the seller and disclosing such information gives away negotiating leverage on the sellers side.


    • Thank you! I agree with all my heart. We are relocating and it is no one’s business. But they always ask. It’s like REALLY! Thanks again!


    • Barbara, I really like that you keep some form of confidentiality by not telling potential buyers why the house is being sold. I think that more listing agents and realtors would be more like that. I definitely think that the people who are listing a house definitely deserve some form of privacy and be able to keep that information to themselves. http://teamhodnett.com/


  3. Make sure, when you are deciding on who to hire as an agent, that they know how to sell a home that someone still lives in! Too many of the young real estate agents do not know how to sell a home that is not empty. This “staging” nonsense has gone to an extreme of where the seller is asked or told to move out of their house before an offer is even made, let alone sold. I find this absolutely ridiculous! Where is the seller suppose to live? Why are they asked to spend the extra money on an apartment when they can live in their own home until it is sold? When one’s home is not dirty, is neat and tidy and not a hoarding situation, what is the problem? Also, a warning: when you have packed away over three quarters of what you are taking with you and have it in storage, to accommodate this ridiculous level of staging (to the point where the house echoes), be aware that the movers are now wise to this and use it to their advantage. If you have moved the items into the storage unit yourself, to save money of course, and you leave space in the storage for the items that are too big to move yourself, be aware that when the movers deliver the large items to that space that if the movers have damaged your items they will not honor a claim, as they will accuse you of damaging the items yourself when you go back into the storage to start to retrieve the items to place in your new home. This is basically because they did not get to do the entire move. So, if you have to go to the extreme that we were forced to do for this staging, be wise and rent a separate storage unit for the items that the movers have to handle, so they can not get away with damaging your belongings and then blaming it on you. If you can arrange a time frame for possession of your new home so that the movers can deliver directly there instead of a storage unit then even better. (And, yes I did have moving insurance, but that did not help and we’re still trying to get the claim resolved). Also, I should mention that when we had our home for sale, we had already made plans to down size from a five bedroom home to a one bedroom condo in another city, so we had eliminated a tremendous amount out of the house already, so I will never understand why there was such a push to have the house empty before it was even put on the market. Our remaining belongings were not that hideous. As a matter of fact, our house only took eleven days to sell and the new owners actually asked to keep our sofa and kitchen table and chairs. I feel that the younger real estate agents have been listening far too much to HGTV and really get carried away on staging and not actually knowing how to sell. I also fully agree with Barbara Adams’ comment, as I had to remind our agent that he was suppose to be working for us, not trying to get the best deal for the buyer, That was the buyer’s agent’s job. I also should mention that we had upgraded the kitchen and bathroom and the house had been repainted just the year before, so any buyer that was mature enough to be a home owner in the first place, would not have been so difficult as the realtors we interviewed were portraying. When I look at a future home, I do not care what colour the seller’s sofa is, it is not staying any ways. I look at the structure, the condition of the roof, any strange smells or water marks. I look at the potential problem spots, not what pictures they may have of their children. What mature adult would object to a family picture when viewing someone else’s home? I am looking at the viability of the home itself, not the seller’s fridge magnets. Maybe I am just more mature and responsible than the buyers’ that obviously watch too much HGTV, but what I was put through and what some of my co-workers were put through when they moved approximately the same time I did, was extreme overkill. Especially when comparing to what we were all expected to do when we sold previous homes. It has become outright silly currently.


    • As a Home Stager and knowing many in the industry, I personally have never suggested a client move out of their home while it is Staged and on the market. In larger centres however, many homes are listed and sold within days, where there are only 2-3 days of viewing, then one day where offers are taken. Insisting homeowners leave for a few days is not essential and certainly not always an option, however In many of these cases it is definitely advisable and any expense incurred would be more than recouped where there are quick sales for above asking prices.


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