Open House Dos and Don'ts

One recent Sunday afternoon, my family and I wandered over to the open house next door. The spacious Colonial had been on the market for a few months, and we wanted to see how our neighbors had spruced up the house and whether they had updated the kitchen.

Within about two minutes of stepping through the front door, my 4-year-old son was excitedly hiding in closets. My 2-year old daughter had climbed onto one of the children’s beds and taken what was probably a beloved stuffed animal under her arm. As the listing broker made her way up the stairs calling after us, I cringed with embarrassment.

“Good thing we’re not interested in buying the house,” I whispered to my husband as each of us dashed after a kid.

It is now obvious to me that bringing young toddler and preschool-age children to an open house is a no-no.

“The sellers’ stuff is easy pickings. If you are seriously scouting, don’t bring your kids,” said Annie Hart Cool, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in West Falmouth. “It’s a lot harder to look at a house when you’re worried about the toilet being flushed 100 times.”

Open houses are an important part of the real estate process, local realtors contend, and there is a code of etiquette that prospective buyers — and nosy neighbors — should follow.

“Open houses are a great vehicle for viewing a new listing to the market and for taking a second look at a home,” said Amy Mizner, principal of Benoit Mizner Simon & Co., a real estate firm based in Wellesley and Weston. “But you really need to focus on behaving while you’re walking through a house. The broker is noticing how you present yourself.”

Identify yourself

All open houses have a sign-in sheet. Some people do not want to share their information, but brokers say signing in is important for a variety of reasons.

At we typically accompany our Buyers to all showings, including Open Houses. But in the event you run to take a quick peek at a listing our advice is: sign in with your name BUT use our email ( and OUR phone number (781-RED-9595). This way you have identified yourself but don't have to worry about Agents contacting you or disclosing too much of your personal info.

“People often say they don’t want to be bothered by the agent, and they’ll give the wrong contact information,” said Anita Hill, a broker and real estate educator who runs Anita Hill Training & Seminars. “We won’t contact you if you ask us not to.”

“We want to honor that relationship and preserve our agent-to-agent relationships. We don’t want to offend another broker by calling on his client,”

Signing in allows brokers to keep track of the number of people who attend the open house and note where they are from, all information they like to share with the homeowners.

Lastly, signing in is important for safety.

“Agents are in a vulnerable position. Someone could be coming in to case the home,” Hill said. “Knowing who has been in the house adds a layer of security.”

In some marketplaces, prospective buyers are even asked to present photo ID before touring the home. Realtor safety is an important topic.The entire month of September is Realtor Safety Awareness Month, things happen more often than you think: RIP Beverly Carter.

Are you a nosy neighbor like me? It’s OK. Really.

If you are a neighbor who wants to peruse the new listing, make it known right away so the broker does not spend a lot of time selling you on the home’s attributes if prospective buyers are also present. They may want to pick your brain about the neighborhood.

Neighbors can be your best sales people. They know your area and like it enough to live there. They may also have friends who’ve wanted to move into the neighborhood,”

“I get a lot of push back from sellers saying, ‘Don’t let the neighbors in.’ They are the best heralds for your property. They’ll sing the praises of the location.”

Stay together

“People often go off on their own when they enter the house. Sometimes kids go in one direction, parents in the other,” Hill said. “That makes it difficult for the agent to keep track of everyone in the house.”

Agents are responsible for what happens during the open house; they do their best to ensure that the homeowners’ things do not get broken, or worse, stolen, which happens despite their best efforts. Jewelry and medications are among the top items taken.

“Recently a man slipped a laptop under his coat and walked out with it at an open house in Osterville,”

“Ask to have the realtor show you the house. I hate to say this, but if you’re with the broker the whole time you are in there, you won’t be accused if something is stolen.”

Walking through the house with the broker also gives you the room-by-room lowdown — they will know the home’s quirks, and you will be able to ask questions immediately, rather than seeking the broker out when you are finished.

Respect the property

Keep in mind that you are in someone else’s home.

“People touring the house are more than welcome to open closets and cabinets, but do not riffle through their things,” said Hill, who also advises not to use the bathroom unless it is an emergency.

Taking photos on your iPhone is typically acceptable, but before you do it, ask the broker’s permission.

To avoid the risk of spills, stains, or crumbs, do not bring food or drink into the house. It amazes me, but that can be a sticking point for people sometimes.

“And if your shoes are dirty, take them off. It’s basic common courtesy.”

Don’t harp on the negatives

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Remember that one?

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address your concerns about the house,” Mizner said. “But pointing out things that can’t be changed that have already been factored into the listing price — the size of the children’s bedrooms, how low the ceilings are, how loud the noise is from the turnpike outside — makes us wonder if the person is going to have buyer’s remorse if their offer is accepted.”

Some buyers believe that if they bring up all the negative aspects about the house it will help them negotiate a better deal. But that is not usually the way it works, Mizner said.

“Most sellers love their homes and they want to sell it to someone who also loves it,” she said. “If you’re busy picking apart everything, it will be noted and communicated back to the owners.”

Most sales come down to the bottom line, and the highest ( or best, which is not always the highest) bidder usually wins.

That’s usually.

We’re all human beings, and how you act is going to affect the agent,” she said. “If two similar offers come in, one from a 45-year-old crank pot and the other from a sweet young couple with two adorable kids, the couple’s offer will be the one on top.”


Thinking of making a move? Keep me in mind! For all your Real Estate Decisions...think RED!

Jaci Conry is a regular contributor to the Globe. Send comments to



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