Would you go to a friend's dinner party, nibble every course, drink a glass or two of wine, and then leave -- without ever speaking to the host? I hope not. And I hope you wouldn't treat open houses the same way. And yet home buyers often do, refusing to sign in or deflecting agents' questions about the house they're touring.
Sometimes they do it because they're leery of being given a hard sell or handing over their personal information; others decline because they're uncomfortable being put on the spot about a potentially huge decision. Whatever the reason, this puts brokers in a tough place: Open houses might be fun for home shoppers, but to agents, they're work. Your feedback is the market research they need to do their jobs right.
So, perhaps all that home buyers need is a little preparation. If they know the questions brokers are going to ask, they can be ready with answers, and everyone can go home (perhaps to this very home?) happy. Here's your cheat sheet:
1. The question: How long have you been looking?
Why they're asking: The agent is trying to gauge how serious you are. If you've been looking for only a short time, say a few weeks, the agent will understand that you're just getting your feet wet -- that you're still gathering your thoughts. If you've been looking for months, then the agent might dig in. That tells her you've seen a lot, but you haven't found what you're looking for. She's wondering why you haven't pulled the trigger and, hey, maybe this is the house you've been waiting for.
How you should answer: Be honest and specific. This is harmless information.
2. The question: Are you working with an agent exclusively?
Why they're asking: Agents are trained to respect boundaries. If you are represented by an agent, the open house agent cannot try to represent you. This question sets the tone of the conversation. Don't be surprised if the agent asks who your agent is. Most agents who do business in a certain area know other active agents. This way the open house agent can call your agent -- not you -- for your feedback. You are insulated by your buyer-broker agreement.
How you should answer: If you're working with an agent, say so! Even better, give the open house agent your agent's name and brokerage company. This protects you from having to give your personal information to the open house agent. Rather than sign in with your name, number, and email, you can sign in with your name and your agent's contact information. That's all the open house agent needs to follow up.
3. The question: How does this house compare to others you've seen?
Why they're asking: Now that the agent knows how long you've been looking, she wants to get a sense of whether this house is a contender. She is also assuming that you're touring other houses nearby (other "comps," as they say). She wants your honest insight on whether her listing is better or worse than the others.
How you should answer: Be honest. If the house around the corner has a remodeled master bath and this one doesn't, point that out. If you think this house could use some work, let her know. Remember, being honest about the house won't hurt the agent's feelings. She's independent. Of course she cares about her listing, but, unlike an owner, she isn't emotionally attached. This is one reason for sale by owner is difficult.
4. The question: Are you specifically looking at this neighborhood?
Why they're asking: The agent isn't being nosy here, she wants to know how focused you are. She wants to rule out the looky-loos and focus on the serious buyers. If you are looking in that particular neighborhood but not interested in making an offer on her listing, you've caught her attention. She needs to understand what other listings have that hers doesn't. Now she's focused on knowing your trigger: Are you focused on certain streets within the neighborhood? A certain style of house? Or is it all about price?
How you should answer: Be specific. If you're focused on that neighborhood, it's OK to say so. If you're open and still getting your bearings straight, it's OK to say so. These answers provide depth for the agent when she's talking to the seller (e.g., "The open house was great! I had a buyer walk through who has been looking for a while and she is only looking in this neighborhood."). This tells the seller there are buyers out there -- and that adjustments may have to be made if those buyers aren't buying this home.
5. The question: What do you think of the price?
Why they're asking: This is probably the most important question, but it may not be the first one out of the agent's mouth, because she wants to establish rapport first. The agent knows that people are usually guarded when it comes to price. She wants you to give a thoughtful answer, not a flippant one.
How you should answer: Now, this is tricky. If you're not really in the market to buy, or can't compare it to other houses on the market, don't just throw out a number. Simply tell the agent you haven't seen enough to give an educated answer. If you feel you can answer, say something like "I think it's priced competitively" or "It's priced too high." The point is not to give a dollar figure but to offer a general perception. If you believe it's a good deal, say that. If you think it's overpriced, say that. Because if the house is overpriced, maybe the agent will call you once it's reduced.
6. The question: Are you considering making an offer on this home?
Why they're asking: Please don't take offense! The agent has a job to do, and this is a valid question.
How you should answer: As a prospective buyer, remember: You hold the power. If you're planning to make an offer, it's good news to the agent and lets her know to expect something in writing. It also might help you if the house is in demand so the agent will know there are multiple offers coming in. That way, she may not start negotiating without first getting your offer in hand. To some extent, this buys you time to call your agent and get your offer submitted. If you're not planning to make an offer, it's fine to say that, too.
Finally, please sign in. You don't have to go overboard -- you don't even have to give your last name. (Unless you want the agent to check your credentials on LinkedIn.) No one is expecting to see the list, not the broker's boss, not the seller. Signing in is, in some ways, absolutely unimportant. But it is also common courtesy, the least -- the very least -- that you can do to preserve the social fabric of our society.
Got a searing open-house question? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chrystal Caruthers is a Chicago native, former Realtor, TV news producer, and newspaper reporter. Chrystal, who covers real estate industry news at realtor.com, enjoys cooking, hiking, Bikram yoga, and cookies.