Make sure you look past the staging, look at the bones of the home and ask plenty of questions
Open houses still play a critical role in the process of buying a home despite new technologies and the proliferation of digital marketing efforts to sell properties.
Beautiful photos and slick videos definitely grab the attention of people right away in the digital world, but realtors say you just can’t beat the in-person experience an open house gives. It allows a potential buyer to truly see what a property is all about.
“You can view floor plans online. You can view photos of a home. But you will never know how you feel in that home until you’re physically there,” says Fatima Bregman, a salesperson with RE/MAX Hallmark Realty in Toronto.
“People still want to see the space, walk through the space, imagine their family living in the space.”
Although you might spend a lot of time admiring the space and decor and feel of a home, make sure that you also look at the structure and condition of the home, and ask many questions.
What are the mechanical systems like? Have there been upgrades to the electrical or plumbing systems? If there’s been a new renovation, are there new baseboards or are they original? If the original ones are there, then it likely means there isn’t new insulation in the home.
Look for the detail in craftsmanship. What’s the natural light in the home look like? Is the home facing south or north? Is it a dark home or one that’s well lit? What are the neighbours like?
“Truly, at the end of the day it’s nice to go to open houses but then if you find something that you like, my recommendation is always go back with your realtor. Their eyes, their experience is going to help point out all these sort of little variables you may not be looking at because the house looks so beautifully staged,” Bregman says.
“That’s another key element. Look past the staging. That’s very important at open houses. Real estate is highly aspirational so we’re creating an illusion in some ways of a lifestyle we all want to live.”
Pauline Aunger, a former president of the Canadian Real Estate Association and former president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, says people go to open houses for different reasons. Obviously, many are there because they are thinking of buying a home but people also go to open houses because they’re thinking of selling their own home and they want to see what the neighbourhood pricing looks like.
“In a market where there’s a big shortage of inventory, the house will hit the market … and you’ll be able to see the pictures and the virtual tour that’s on the listing but I believe real estate is about feeling when you’re in a house,” she says.
The feature sheet is important at an open house because it will list all sorts of information on the home for sale – everything from the list price and the square footage to property taxes and all the features included in the home.
“It’s a nice time, I’ve always said, to ask questions,” says Aunger. “What about upgrades? How old is the roof? Have they upgraded plumbing and wiring? Things that are important to know if you are buying a home that is not a newer home.”
If you go through the home and don’t like it, ask the realtor to help you find similar homes in the neighbourhood you are seeking.
Romana King, a personal finance and real estate expert, says prospective buyers should walk through an open house more than once.
At first glance, they’re impressed by how the house looks and the design of the house. They see the staging that presents the house in the best light.
“Stop. Go back to the front of the house and start walking through a second time. This is the walk-through that really counts,” says King.
It’s all in the details. Take your time to check out the windows. Do the windows look like they’re in good repair? Is the caulking around the windows secure? Or are there any cracks? Have they been updated? Are they single pane or are they double pane?
Open and close doors to make sure they don’t stick. Check the water pressure throughout the house by turning on the taps and flushing the toilet.
Go to the basement and check out what the furnace and hot water tank look like. Stickers on the furnace and water heater can tell you how old they are and if they have been inspected on a regular basis.
It’s a matter of looking past the gloss and looking at the minute details. King calls them the less sexy components of the house but they are the more expensive ones – and definitely the things buyers really need to look at.
When it comes to new construction, show homes act as the open houses and King says potential home buyers need to realize that the show home they see is not necessarily the home they are buying.
The first question they need to ask is what particular model they are looking at and how that model fits into their budget. They should also ask what features in that show home are included in the model price and what is an upgrade.
The key is to have a critical eye when viewing potential properties so that the house you fall in love with is the house you continue to love years down the line.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.