Many buyers, especially first-time buyers, treat open houses as an opportunity for window shopping or browsing–a causal experience that has a potential to become a big find. But when you’re planning to buy something as important and expensive as a home, you should take every opportunity you have to learn about the process and look for inside information. And if the house you’re visiting is the house you want to buy, make sure you have these six questions in your back pocket to ask the seller or seller’s agent.
1. How many offers have been made?
This question will let you know what kind of competition you have for the home, which is crucial information if you plan to negotiate. If the seller’s agent has already received good offers, she’ll likely be eager to share them with you; maybe you’ll bid as well and drive up the price. Asking in advance about offers give you a better sense of the competition and which negotiation tactics might be most effective.
2. Why do the sellers want to move?
This is a useful question to suss out underlining issues with the neighborhood or the property. For precisely that reason, though, a seller’s agent may give you the rosier version of events. Try to read between the lines of these answers to get a sense of whether the sale is part of the seller’s long-term plans or more of an emergency measure. This information will give you a sense of how prepared the sellers are to close a transaction and vacate the property.
3. When was the house last updated?
This question applies to more than just clearly visible updates like new flooring or kitchen appliances. Before making a decision about biding, make sure you have a sense of the state of the roof, foundation, and wiring.
If you really want to be prepared, break this question down into subtopics by asking about specific features of the home. Before diving into the details, though, it’s useful to gauge the mood of the seller and/or their agent. Late in the day at a crowded open house might not be the best time to ask nitty-gritty questions about roof repair. Remember, as a buyer, you’re also trying to sell yourself as the ideal next owner of the home.
4. Where can I get a bite to eat?
When you buy a house, you’re also buying into the neighborhood. Asking the seller for directions to a local restaurant or coffee shop will tell you a lot about the feel of the neighborhood and whether or not you’d be happy living there.
5. How much do utilities cost?
You need to know what other financial commitments the house requires. That includes monthly utilities costs. If you’re moving into your first home, you might be surprised at the size of the impact utility bills can have on your budget. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask to see a recent utility bill as that will give you the most detailed information.
6. Are there any issues with the home?
This might seem like a no-no question: why would a seller or seller’s agent tell you what’s wrong with the property? Because they are required to by law. The seller must explain any known structural problems or code violations in a written seller’s disclosure, which you can ask to see.
Bonus Tip: Be Discreet.
Open houses are a great place to get information, but don’t let your enthusiasm run away with you. Giving out too much information on your situation could damage your bargaining position down the line.