Open houses may be staged to look like a home decor dream, but don’t let that distract you from the real reason you’re there: to potentially buy a home. Make sure you can look past the neatly arranged furniture and focus solely on whether the house would be a good fit for you and your family. To help, here’s a home buyer’s checklist of things you might have missed at first glance.
First, the obvious: When visiting open houses, make sure they are large enough, have enough bedrooms and bathrooms, have great flow and are located in excellent locations. Assuming that the house (or condo) passes all these checks, the following list is designed to eliminate homes which might have major (expensive) flaws. As a buyer, you should always come back to the house for another viewing, preferably with your own home buyer agent.
While Visiting Open Houses, Check For These 6 Things:
- Major systems check?
- Are there enough electrical outlets?
- Are the floors level and even?
- Ventilation in the attic?
- Heating vents to the 2nd floor?
Quick Major Systems Check
When visiting open houses, you’re not going to be able to do a thorough inspection while you are there. But you will have the opportunity to quickly check the apparent age of the furnace ($4,000), a/c ($3,000), windows ($10,000 to $30,000), electrical panel, condition of bathrooms and kitchen. All of these represent major upgrades, if required.
This is a less-than obvious issue with older homes (pre 1950’s). I’ve seen bedrooms with only 1 plug, forcing owners to use long extension cords or power bars. Couple this with the fact that many of these older homes also feature wiring without protective grounds, and you could be inviting trouble. So check to make sure all rooms have enough outlets, and see if they have 3 holes, or just 2 (ungrounded), which will not accept modern lights and appliances.
Are the floors level
Here is a little trick home sellers like to use: prop the doors open with cute little door stoppers. When attending open houses, look at the bottom of the bedroom doors, and see if they are being held open by objects such as blocks or wedges. If possible, move one of the objects and see if doors close on themselves. This is quite often a sign that the floors are tilted, perhaps indicating foundation issues. Another little trick is to close the bedroom doors and see if the spaces, between the door and jamb, are equal all around.
This is actually best checked from the outside. When looking at the condition of the roofing shingles, see if the roof has a number of vents. Inadequate venting of the attic contributes to overheating and high levels of humidity. This will rot the roofing sheets of plywood. Replacement of those sheets will add to the cost of roof replacement (approx. 40-50% more cost)
If the home has a fireplace, check the condition of the chimney. Is it the newer, modern metal type chimney, or the original clay-lined chimney? If original, beware that over time, the clay liner erodes and may eventually render the fireplace unsafe. The fix for this is to either replace the chimney (expensive) or to convert to a gas or electric fireplace.
Heating vents on upper floors
I’ve shown homes with a 3rd floor (called ‘2-1/2 storey homes’) where the top floor has no heating vents. Worse, I’ve seen 1-1/2 storey homes with bedrooms upstairs which have no heating vents. The idea, presumably, was that since heat rises, the main floor heat would be sufficient to keep the bedrooms warm. That might be door on -10C days, but during harsh winters, owners will supplement using baseboard heaters. (See earlier note about sufficient outlets…lol)
Many people start their search for a new home by dropping in at Open Houses. While offering less pressure on the potential buyer, open houses can also be very busy. Home Buyers end up rushed or feeling crowded by other attendees.
My advice to prospective buyers: use the free tour of open houses just to see if the home feels right. ALWAYS book a private tour with your own agent afterwards.
During private tours you will have more time to discuss your thoughts and needs, and to look for any potential problems you might have overlooked during the quick Open House visit
F.A.Q. ABOUT OPEN HOUSES
ARE OPEN HOUSES EFFECTIVE?
From a home buyers perspective, someone looking for houses for sale, the open house is very convenient. The buyer has no obligation to show that he is pre-approved, or that he/she is even financially capable of buying the property for sale. From a sellers perspective, open houses are not very effective.
HOW DO OPEN HOUSES WORK?
While the home is generally open to the pubic, the listing agent does have the right to ask for identification before letting you into the home. After that, you are free to look around, open closets (but not dresser drawers) and visually inspect the property.
WHERE DO I FIND OPEN HOUSES NEAR ME THIS WEEKEND?
Most larger cities have real estate publications, such as the Winnipeg Real Estate News. They have online resources which list the open houses in your area.