Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Etiquette at Open Houses

I’ve been finding myself doing a fair number of Open Houses lately.  Most Sundays from 2 to 4 PM you’ll find me hunkered down in some Seller’s home hoping  for visitors that are actually potential buyers and not “Susie down the street who thought she’d check out the neighbour’s house”.   Sometimes the open houses are well attended, other times I find myself sitting in an empty house for two hours, time which could have been better spent for sure.  But that’s a topic for another day.
I’ve been a licensed REALTOR® for 10 years and over those years my opinion has gone back and forth on the ethics, etiquette and effectiveness of Open Houses.  REALTORS® go back and forth on this issue all the time, do open houses work or don’t they?  You’ll find agents firmly on both sides of the fence and this isn’t meant to be a debate with any other agent who happens upon this rambling.  I’ll probably get into most of my thoughts on open houses over the next little while but for this entry I just want to talk about visiting an open house.  If you want to call it guidelines on the etiquette of visiting an open house…fill your boots.   I don’t mean to offend anyone, however it’s important to realize that you are being invited into someone’s home for a specific purpose.  Sellers pack up their families and leave their homes in my hands for two hours hoping that someone will pop in, take a look around, perhaps tell a friend about it and better yet, buy it themselves.
Often an open house allows someone who saw the house with their agent to return with friends or family for a second look.   It’s very expected that neighbours and even friends may stop in, but the idea is to allow a stress-free time frame for open viewings for serious buyers.
The etiquette expected from visitors to an open house is really just good old-fashioned common sense – however you’d be surprised how many people stretch the rules and do things that I, as a seller, wouldn’t necessarily appreciate if it was my home that was open.
REALTORS® do their best to keep everything on track and going smoothly, but there are times when things get hectic, to say the least.  Many times I’ve had to struggle with finding a way to diplomatically ask a visitor to stop what they were doing.   It’s not easy but I have a duty to my client.  Everything I mention below has actually happened to me or a member of my team.
So, here are just a few things to think about next time you are considering visiting an open house:
1) Take off your shoes.   This should be common sense.  Sometimes the agents encourage you to carry them with you so that you can save time viewing parts of the property.  For example, going through the patio doors from the kitchen to the deck which leads to a quick walk around the back yard… having your shoes with you saves you from having to go back to the front door to get them.  Remember to take them off again when re-entering the house.  Tracking through dirt, grass and mud and who knows what else just isn’t nice.
2) Sign in.  If there is a guest book or sign in sheets use them.  Most REALTORS® will not barrage you with emails or phone calls to buy or sell just because you sign their open house forms, instead it’s a record for the sellers to see how many people were in their home. If you do want additional information on the house or others, there is usually a spot for that inquiry and of course any REALTOR® (myself included) would be glad to follow-up with you later and help.
3) Don’t abuse the bathroom.  Enough said.  Try to avoid using it altogether.  Do not stop into the open house with the express purpose of making a beeline, with kids in tow, to the bathroom and then leave.  I sympathize with you, but my clients are offering a house for sale, not a public restroom.  If you absolutely have to use the washroom, for God’s sakeflush!  I’ve lost track of the times I’ve gone behind visitor and cleaned up after them, flushed and wiped pee off a seat or water off a bathroom counter or soap suds from a sink, or straightened hand towels or tried to spray the odours away!  It’s just a simple matter of respect.
4) Try not to spout very loud opinions on things you may not know anything about – such as “wow that paint colour is so bright they must be hiding huge problems in the wall.”  How would you feel if someone said that about your home when it wasn’t true?  Also, it’s a well-known tactic of buyers who are very interested in a home to “talk it down” to try to grease the way for a low ball offer, trying to make the Seller think you are doing them a favour by taking it off their hands at such a low price.  We’re trained to recognize when someone is doing that.
5) Don’t be afraid to talk to and ask questions of the REALTOR® – they have a duty to be honest and ethical with their answers so it’s a great time to chat about the house if you are interested.  If you are working with a REALTOR® already, please say so.   The agent will appreciate it and it relieves a bit of pressure on both sides.
6)  Be Upfront!   If you are a neighbour who is ”just curious” or just love looking at houses and have no intention of ever buying anything, be upfront.  We actually don’t mind those types of visits as much as you’d think since it gives us an opportunity to ask you for feedback or to ask you if you know of anyone interested in moving into the area who might like the house.  Tell your friends!
7)  Mind what you say.  Agents working open houses are there representing the Seller.  Do not say anything to that REALTOR® that you would not say directly to the Seller himself.  Unless the REALTOR®  at the open house is also your agent, they have a duty to disclose everything you say to the Seller… especially if it will help in negotiations.  If you enlist the help of the attending REALTOR®  for an offer, they have a duty to treat both you and the Seller fairly and impartially and anything you say to your agent has to be kept confidential during negotiations,  just like with lawyers or doctors.
8)  Do not bring drinks into a house. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask people to leave their water, Pepsi, slurpee, coffee, juice containers outside. Every once in a while I find ones that slipped by me and somebody has left their empty cup on a table or counter or spilled somewhere.
9)  If you have small children with you – control them.  I’ve seen countless parents come in to open houses and let their kids run wild, pick up the Seller’s kids’ toys,  crawl onto beds and furniture, etc.  That is very stressful.
10)  Respect Privacy.   It’s one thing to open a closet to see how much space there is or go into a garage to see if it’s big enough for a mancave or to hold all your “toys”, but it crosses the line to open dresser drawers,  jewellery boxes or to pick up personal items of the Seller’s.   The house is for sale and therefore open to your inspection, the contents of their underwear drawers, garage tool boxes and jewellery boxes are not.
11)  Do not steal stuff.  Goes without saying.
12)  Do not smoke.
13)  No House Humping!  OK I’ll touch on this subject.  There are people who find excitement in visiting open houses solely for the chance to slip off and hide somewhere in the house and “do the wild thing” knowing they could get caught.   Please, take it elsewhere.  Believe me, no one came to see that.
and last but not least…
14)  Please leave Feedback!    Getting qualified Buyers through the door is my goal at an open house however if the house isn’t selling the Seller has to know why.  So if you think the house is overpriced, looks worn and dated or smells moldy… please tell us!  You’re feedback is invaluable!
Thanks in advance from all those nervous Sellers!!


  1. Good advise Donna! I am disappointed in the number of people who have no common sense or common courtesy(and it's not always uneducated people). Truthfully I am not really kid friendly - I'm honest - so people when you take your children somewhere, look after them because I don't want to especially if I don't know them! I think some people were raised in a cave! Just my two cents worth!LOL!

  2. Hello Donna,

    I just stumbled upon your blog - we live in B.C. - four hours give or take from Vancouver, and have been considering moving and retiring in Nova Scotia. Do you find that home prices have been steadily on the rise there ? I'm thinking a bit rural in a smaller community with amenities and surrounded with nature at its finest. Living in an area that's pretty much crime free is very important to us. Can you recommend some of the better locations in your opinion ? I've heard that Yarmouth, Bear River, & Annapolis Royal have reasonable prices and scenery to match. Cape Breton has been mentioned in books - but it may be too far off the grid ... any thoughts ? We've never been to Nova Scotia yet - so any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers - Helga

  3. Hi Helga,
    Thanks for stopping by! I spent 10 years on Vancouver Island back in the 1990's. BC is a beautiful spot.
    What makes you want to settle in Nova Scotia? Are either of you from here? Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island are similar in size and you can pretty much find any type of community you are looking for. I am not sure what your price range would be so I'm leary of recommending certain areas, as some of the ones that I absolutely love (and I think you would too) are some of the most expensive areas. If you want to go outside of Halifax, there are many seaside communities on the South Shore such as Peggy's Cove, Lunenburg, Chester, Mahone Bay, Bridgewater that are very quaint and pretty. I grew up in a town called Shelburne, it's a small town of under 2000 people with a rich Loyalist history. Further around that tip of the province is Yarmouth which is a bigger town. Annapolis Royal and the entire Annopolis Valley is beautiful so the Bear River, Annapolis Royal, Greenwood, Canning, Wolfville (I love Wolfville, it's a small university town) areas are some of my favs. Admittedly, I have not been to Cape Breton often enough so I can't tell you much about the area other than it's world renowned for it's scenery along the Cape Breton Highlands and Cabot Trail. I would recommend a visit first and give yourself a couple weeks to fully explore the areas to see which one works best for what you need.
    If you want, you can search MLS listings on my website at or on my facebook page at to give you an idea of prices.

    On the flip side, NS can be a challenging place to live. Rising gas, grocery and electricity costs are hurting a lot of people here. As well we have 15% HST and have one of the highest rates of personal income tax. Despite all that, I love it here, it's my home and I missed it the whole time I was in BC. I can't imagine ever leaving again.

    My email address is if you have any other questions. Sorry about the long comment but I didn't have an email address for you!

  4. Hi Donna - Neither my husband or myself has ever been to Nova Scotia. We plan on a visit there either this year or else next year for sure. We love B.C, but we'd like a change. Real estate prices are through the roof anywhere near or around the coast. Salt Spring Island is a very favourite place of mine, but real estate is no longer affordable there. Without a million dollars, you really can't get much. We've heard from a great many people that Nova Scotia is really lovely, and a great place in which to retire.

    I have heard about the high utility and gas prices. We're doing research on a great many things that one must consider before making such a long move. I will check your listings and thanks so much for the information. I'll email with further info.

    Cheers - Helga


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