How to Be a Savvy Open House Guest

open-house-tips-standard_1x1_f2cee1ce819d6abe23b28f5f0867e625_440x440_q85

*from houselogic

Getting smart — about what to do, ask, and avoid — can move you ahead of the crowd.

Ah, the open house — a chance to wander through other people’s homes and imagine yourself knocking out walls and gut rehabbing their kitchens. This is what dreams are made of (or at least episodes of HGTV).

In all seriousness, going to open houses (and scheduled private showings) is one of the most exciting parts of the home-buying experience. Beyond the voyeuristic thrill, visiting houses allows you to assess things that you just can’t see online.

Anyone who has taken a super-posed selfie knows that a picture doesn’t always tell the whole truth. Professional listing photos can make small rooms look spacious, make dim rooms bright, and mask other flaws of a home — but you don’t know any of that until you actually see the house yourself.

You can tour houses at any point, but it can be helpful to first discuss your needs and wants with your partner (if you have one), do some online research, and talk with your agent and your lender. That way, you — and your agent — can take a targeted approach, which saves you time and can give you an edge over your buying competition.

So, before you start viewing, follow these tips to get prepared.

Make It Your Job to Know Which Houses Are “Open”

There are four ways to know when a house is available for viewing:

  • Ask your agent. He or she will have details on specific properties and can keep you informed of open houses that fit your criteria.
  • Use listing websites. A number of property sites let you search active listings for upcoming open houses. On realtor.com®, for instance, when searching for properties, scroll over the “Buy” tab and click the “Open Houses” link to see upcoming ones in your area.
  • Scroll social media. On Instagram, for example, you can search the hashtag #openhouse, or similar tags for your city (#openhousedallas, for example), to discover open houses. Many real estate agents and brokerages also post open house announcements on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; find ones from your area and start following.
  • Drive around. Cruise through the neighborhoods you’re interested in — it’s a good way to get a sense of the area amenities — and look for open house signs.

And while you’re searching, be sure to jot down the location, time, and date for any open house that strikes your fancy. It will make it that much easier to plan times and routes for hitting as many homes as possible.

Get There Early (and Say Hi to the Neighbors)

If you’re seriously interested in a home, show up to the open house early. That way you’ll beat the rush, and the agent showing the house (AKA the host) will have time to focus on you and your questions.

And don’t be shy! Many home buyers hop from one open house to the next without talking to the listing agent. But chatting up the host can help you learn information that you wouldn’t get by only touring the premises.

If a house seems like a match, take a walk around the neighborhood. Strike up conversations with the neighbors to get an insider’s perspective on what life in that community is really like — families, singles, what the vibe on the block is like, and whether the homeowner’s or condo association (if there is one) is easy to work with.

Ask Lots of Questions, But Avoid TMI

To make the most of your open house visits, have a list of questions in mind for the host — and take notes while you’re there, so you can keep track of what you learned.

At the same time, remember this: Your interaction with the host could be the beginning of negotiations with them. If you end up making an offer, you’ll use the information you’ve gathered to inform your bid. (They’ll also remember that you were an engaged yet courteous person, which can’t hurt your cause.)

Equally important: Oversharing could hurt your negotiating power.

Be careful about what information you share with the agent hosting the event. This person works for the seller — not you. The host can and will use stats they’ve gleaned about you to counter, reject, or accept an offer.

Keeping that in mind, here are eight questions you can ask a host to help determine whether a house is a good fit for you:

    1. Have you received any offers? If there are already bids on the table, you’ll have to move quickly if you want to make an offer. Keep in mind: Listing agents can’t disclose the amount of any other offers, though — only whether they exist.
    2. When does the seller want to move? Find out the seller’s timeline. If the seller is in a hurry (say, for a new job), they may be willing to accept an offer that’s below list price.
    3. When is the seller looking to close? Price isn’t the only factor for many home sellers. One way to strengthen your offer is to propose a settlement date that’s ideal for them. For example, a 30- to 45-day closing is standard in many markets, but the seller may want more time if they haven’t purchased their next home yet.
    4. Is the seller flexible on price? Most listing agents won’t tip their hand when you ask this question, but there’s always a chance the agent says “yes.” And, in some instances, the seller has authorized their agent to tell interested buyers that the price is negotiable. In any case, you might as well ask. (It’s kind of like googling for a coupon code when you buy something online.)
    5. How many days has the home been on the market? You can find this information on the internet, but the seller’s agent can give you context, especially if the house has been sitting on the market for a while. Maybe the home was under contract but the buyer’s financing fell through, or the seller overshot the listing price and had to make a price reduction? Knowing the backstory can only help you.
    6. Has the price changed? You can see if there’s been a price reduction online, but talking to the listing agent is the only way to find out why the seller dropped the price.
    7. Are there any issues? Have there been any renovations or recent repairs made to the home? Some upgrades, like new kitchen appliances, are easy to spot, but some are harder to identify. Specifically ask about the roof, appliances, and HVAC system because they can be expensive to repair or replace. BTW, repairs like a leaky faucet, aren’t things that need to be disclosed.
    8. What are the average utility costs? Many buyers don’t factor utility bills into their monthly housing expenses, and these costs can add up — particularly in drafty older homes. Ask the listing agent what a typical monthly utility bill is during the summer and during the winter, since heating and cooling costs can fluctuate seasonally. Be prepared for higher utility bills if you’re moving from an apartment to a single-family home.

Now that you’ve got your answers, there’s one last thing to do: Thank the host before you go. You never know — you could be seeing them again at the negotiating table soon.

The Downside of Zillow

*From Sarah D’Hondt via lightersideofrealestate.com

Let me just go ahead and say it bluntly: stop listening to Zillow.

Zillow itself even encourages buyers, sellers and homeowners to conduct other research such as “getting a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a real estate agent” and “getting an appraisal from a professional appraiser.”

Sure, Zillow’s Zestimates® are quick, easy, and free. The point? Just let a local real estate professional (who will actually see your home’s unique features in person) determine its fair market value.

Let’s dive in a bit further, shall we?

First, I don’t believe that Zillow is inherently evil. In other words, they don’t set out to intentionally mislead the general public. In fact, they do have their positive points. Nevertheless, what is the net effect when buyers and sellers use Zillow? They often get inaccurate information, rely on it (even swear by it), thus causing migraines for REALTORS and agents everywhere.

See, for those of you not working in the real estate industry, you assume that Zillow is a trusted resource to find out what your property is worth. You assume the information is factual, based on homes that have sold in your area (also known as comparables or “comps”), and therefore are to be considered true market value. I’m here to explain to you why this website is feeding you misinformation and why it should not be trusted.

To put it simply…

The fine folks at Zillow don’t have the slightest clue about your market. There are approximately 43,000 zip codes in the United States, and each one has variables that affect property values, such as: school district, knowledge of declining or flourishing areas, property taxes, proximity to interstates, hospitals, attractions and shopping, and bodies of water to name a few.

Let’s pretend that you live in a 3 bedroom, brick ranch with a basement in “Perfect Town, USA”. When you plug your address into the search bar on Zillow, you will see a bunch of dots near your home. Those dots represent other homes that have sold, have foreclosed, or that are for sale or for rent. When you click on the dots, it will show you what the home sold for and the dot on your own home is just an average (also known as a “Zestimate”) of what all the others sold for, regardless of how it compares to yours.

Let’s say that half of those homes are colonials, are vinyl sided and not made of brick, don’t have a basement, or have 4 bedrooms or more, or are on the water, while yours is across the street from the water. Those are huge differences in the world of real estate, and especially to the appraiser who will seal the fate of what your home will inevitably sell for.

Zillow does not account for the condition of your home.

Your home may have been recently remodeled and has as updated kitchen and bathrooms, a new roof, new windows, new furnace, etc… and some of the homes being used as comps are stuck in the 1980’s.

It could also be the opposite and you may see an inflated value put on your home because others in the area have sold for more because they are new construction or have been renovated. Just because your neighbors’ homes sold for $500K doesn’t mean yours will too.

Appraisers need to compare apples to apples, so unless you live in a neighborhood where all the homes are identical cookie cutter houses, don’t ever expect to sell for what your neighbors sold for. Values change with every season, and the only true indicator of what your home is worth is the buyer. A REALTOR can run a thorough comparative market analysis (CMA) for you and give you a pretty accurate value and suggested listing price, but what a buyer is willing to offer you is ultimately what your home is worth.

What a buyer is willing to pay is based on many variables too, including the location, the updates and amenities your house includes and how much competition you have. If you live in an area where it’s a sellers’ market, it means you have little competition and more buyers in the area than homes for sale. This is when you want to list your home, and can expect top dollar, as indicated by the buyer!

This doesn’t mean you ask an outrageous amount, because anything over-priced will not sell. If you live in an area that is a buyer’s market, then you need to compete with many other homes for sale and can expect your home to sit on the market longer. No matter what city you live in or how the market is in your area, one thing remains the same:

Zillow is not correct and you need to call your REALTOR today to find out the value of your home! It takes a few minutes, it’s FREE and, most importantly, it will be accurate!

December 15 Central IL Homes Guide – Available Online

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our December 15 Central IL Homes Guide online! Over 675 active properties are featured in this issue. A big thank you, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to all of our advertisers, loyal readers, and subscribers!

Layout 1

December 1 Central IL Homes Guide

Our December 1st Central IL Homes Guide is now available online. You can check out the digital version before it hits stands tomorrow, Friday, 12/01/17.

Layout 1