Open house etiquette for home buyers and browsers

Published Date: February 8, 2023

There are many reasons why real estate agents host open houses for their listings. First, open houses can be an efficient way to get multiple buyers through the door without the back and forth of scheduling private showings. Second, they’re a good way for agents to pick up new clients — many casual attendees of open houses may not yet have an agent representing them.And open houses can be worthwhile for those who attend them, whether you’re serious about buying a home, just casually browsing or even if you’re just curious to see the inside of a house you’ve been swooning over. 

Can anyone go to an open house?

The short answer: Yes. Open houses are open to the public, which means anyone can attend during the dates and times advertised. At an open house, you’ll likely encounter several types of attendees:
  • Serious buyers. These people are on the hunt for their perfect home, and they’re likely stopping at multiple open houses that weekend. 
  • Casual browsers. Open houses can be valuable to people just starting their home search, as they can help narrow in on preferences related to layout, architectural style, decor and budget.  
  • Lookie-loos. These attendees aren’t really in the market for a home, but they’re curious about what the interior of a specific home looks like. This could include neighbors with similar floor plans who are looking for renovation ideas, people with an interest in architecture and design, or even people who previously lived in the home and want to wax nostalgic for a few minutes. 
  • Buyers agents. Real estate agents often drop in to open houses to get a feel for what’s on the market in a specific area or to pre-screen a house they’re thinking about showing to a client. 
No matter which category you fall into, it’s important to know that there’s more to attending an open house than just waltzing through the door and taking a look around. Here are some important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind. 

Must do’s at an open house

1. Greet the host 

Hosting open houses requires a good deal of effort. Be sure to start your visit by greeting the hosting agent and providing your name. Most agents ask that attendees log their name and contact information on a sign-in sheet. Yes, this is for follow-up purposes, but it’s also a safety precaution for the seller and the agent. 

2. Follow the house rules 

Remember that the house you’re touring is currently someone’s home. It’s important to act with respect and common courtesy. This includes following any posted rules and signs. Common rules include removing your shoes and/or wearing disposable booties that are provided, not taking photos or videos, or staying out of off-limits areas.  

3. Be honest 

Not all people who attend an open house are actively searching for a new home, and that’s okay. But it is important to be honest and upfront with the agent who is hosting. It’s totally fine — and often appreciated — to tell the agent you’re just browsing, looking for design ideas or touring on behalf of a friend. It saves them follow-up time later and allows them to focus their attention on prospective buyers. Similarly, be upfront in telling the host if you’re already working with another real estate agent. 

4. Keep your hands to yourself 

Open houses are designed to help give prospective buyers a better feel for a home than they can get from listing photos or videos. But they’re not an opportunity for attendees to go through a seller’s belongings. While it’s perfectly fine to walk through the home’s interior and exterior spaces, as long as doors are open, there’s no need to open closet doors, look in kitchen cabinets, or open bathroom cupboards. If you’re a serious buyer who wants a more in-depth look at the property, that can be accomplished with a private showing. 

Major don’ts at an open house

1. Broadcast your opinions 

There will likely be other attendees at an open house, and you don’t want your opinions to affect what they think about the home. Everyone’s tastes are different, so keep any negative observations to yourself. If you’re a serious buyer, bring a notebook and pen with you to jot down your thoughts. This can be especially helpful if you’re touring multiple homes in one day or one weekend. 

2. Show your hand

If you find yourself in love with the home you’re touring, it’s best to keep quiet. Here’s why: Let’s say you find the perfect home during an open house. If you decide to make an offer, your agent will be negotiating with the seller’s agent who likely hosted the open house. If they heard you gushing over how much you love the home, that may affect how tough they push back during the negotiation process. Simply put, they may think you’re willing to pay any amount to make the home yours. (Plus, others at the open house may be spurred to act on the home if they think you’re ready to make an offer.)

3. Let your kids run around

It’s completely understandable if you need to bring your children with you to an open house. But be sure to keep them within sight the whole time. Not only are kids not often good at the “look, don’t touch” rule, but they could be distracting to other potential buyers touring at the same time. 

4. Overstay your welcome

Open houses are usually only scheduled for a few hours, and there may be a lot of attendees, especially in competitive seller's markets or if a home has just come onto the market. By all means, take the time you need to tour the home, but don’t stay longer than you need to. An open house isn’t meant to be your only opportunity to see a home. Rather, it’s a starting point. If you find yourself interested in a home after the open house, ask your agent to set up a private showing so you can have a more in-depth look. 

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Jen Lyons

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