Have you ever gone 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?
No, I did not think so. And I hope you don'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 afraid of being given a hard sell or handing over some personal information; others will decline because they're uncomfortable being put on the spot about a potentially big decision. Whatever the reason, this puts us agents in a tough place: Open houses might be fun for home shoppers, but to us agents, they're work. Your feedback is the market research we need to do our jobs right.
So, perhaps all that home buyers need is a little preparation. If you know the questions Realtors are going to ask, you can be ready with answers, and everyone can go home (perhaps to this very home?) happy. Here area few questions I typically ask people that attend an open house that I am hosting for a homeowner.
A. Are you working with an agent exclusively?
Why do I ask: I am trained to respect boundaries. If you are represented by an agent, I cannot try to represent you. This question sets the tone of the conversation. Don't be surprised when an 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 to best 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.
B. How long have you been looking?
Why do I ask: I am trying to gauge how serious you are. If you've been looking for only a short time, say a few weeks, we 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 us you've seen a lot, but you haven't found what you're looking for. We are wondering why you haven't pulled the trigger and, hey, maybe this is the house you've been waiting for.
How to best answer: Be honest and specific. This is harmless information.
C. How does this house compare to others you've seen?
Why do I ask: Now that I know how long you've been looking, I want to get a sense of whether this house is a contender. I'm assuming that you're touring other houses nearby (other "comps," as they say). I just want your honest insight on whether my listing is better or worse than the others you are looking at.
How to best answer: Be honest. If the house around the corner has a remodeled kitchen and this one doesn't, point that out. If you think this house could use some work, let us agents know. Remember, being honest about the house won't hurt the our feelings. We are independent. Of course I care about my listing, but, unlike an owner, I'm not emotionally attached. This is one reason for sale by owner is difficult.
D. Are you specifically looking at this neighborhood?
Why do I ask: I'm not being nosy, I just want to know how focused you are as a buyer and want to rule out the looky-loos (neighbors) and focus on the serious buyers. If you are looking in that particular neighborhood but not interested in making an offer on the listing where the open house is being conducted, you've caught our attention. We need to understand what other listings have that our listing doesn't. Now I'm 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 to best 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.
E. What do you think of the price?
Why do I ask: This is probably the most important question, but it may not be the first one out of my mouth, because I want to establish rapport first. Many agents know that people are usually guarded when it comes to price. I want you to give a thoughtful answer, not a flippant one.
How to best 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 first, if the sellers decide to reduce the price.
F. Are you considering making an offer on this home? If Not Why?
Why do I ask: Please don't take offense! As an agent I a job to do for the Sellers, and this is a valid question.
How to best 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 me 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, I 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 going to see the list, I use it for my own records and my boss could careless as well as the seller. I can show them the traffic at the open house by giving them a number of attendees. Signing in is, in some ways, absolutely unimportant. But it is also common courtesy.