The National Association of Realtors tells us that 44 percent of homebuyers visit open houses. While most don’t end up buying the home, it gives them an idea of what homes in their price range offer.

And, that’s a brilliant strategy. Even if you don’t plan on buying the homes you tour, it helps you get acquainted with neighborhoods and homes.

If you’re about to embark on the Great American House Hunt, do yourself a favor and commit to attending an open house (or several) but to be prepared before arriving.

It’s For Sale and Nobody Should Be Offended if You Treat it as Such

“Open house etiquette.”

Yes, there are actually articles online dictating to homebuyers how they should and should not act at an open house.

One online advice-giver suggests that potential buyers touring a home for sale should “stay away from their medicine cabinet and don’t open any drawers.”

So, when we shop for a car, should we stay away from the glove box and not open the trunk?

Absolutely not – kick those tires, throw open the trunk and even (dare we say it?) lift the carpeting to check out the spare tire.

The same holds true when attending an open house. This house is for sale and, like any savvy buyer, you need to satisfy your curiosity about all aspects of it.

Besides, a good listing agent will prepare the homeowner for the marketing process. This includes letting the seller know that his or her privacy is a thing of the past.

Especially when storage space is in such high demand, the homeowner should expect that potential buyers will open closets, cupboards and, yes, even drawers.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some common courtesies and etiquette “rules” that we hope open house attendees will offer.

We never want a home seller to come home to doors left unlocked, rumpled bed covers and personal items out of place. Those aren’t part of the unspoken deal. It’s a violation of privacy that potential buyers need to avoid.

What to Bring with You

If you haven’t compiled a home-shopping wish list yet, do it before you attend an open house. Even jotting down some quick notes on what you absolutely must have in your new home will help keep you focused.

  • Don’t forget your smartphone or a camera. Photograph the exterior of the home and make note of the address. When you’ve toured a number of homes it will be challenging to recall which home had which features without something to jog your memory.
  • Bring a measuring tape. You may just fall in love with the home but have no idea if the master bedroom will accommodate your California king bed or if the living room wall is of sufficient length for your sectional sofa.
  • Bring a can. It doesn’t matter if it’s a can of deodorant or a can of beans, it will be especially important when looking at older homes. If you suspect a slope in the floor, lay the can down on it. If it rolls, there may be foundation or structural problems.
  • Finally, don’t go to open houses solo. Bring a friend or family member. Two sets of eyes are better than one when shopping for homes.

Someone May be Watching

Ah, the age of technology. In London, it’s a given that your every move is being captured on CCTV. While it’s not that bad here, at least not yet, surveillance cameras are becoming more common.

And you should expect there to be at least one in any home you tour.

And they aren’t always evident

Even if you can see the camera, you may not have any way of knowing if it captures audio as well as video and it’s the former you need to be cautious of.

A good rule of thumb is to not say anything in an open house or a home tour that you wouldn’t want the seller to hear. Don’t insult the seller’s decorating taste or lack of housekeeping skills.

More important, if you love the home and will pull out all the stops to become the owner, wait until you’re outside to say so. Don’t say anything that will give the seller leverage during negotiations.

The Open House Tour

The person who greets you at the open house is the homeowner’s real estate agent – the “listing agent.”

This agent represents the seller and your agent represents you, as the buyer. This is much like a court case situation, where each party has their own attorney, or representative.

The agent may ask you if you have representation. Even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to fib and say that you do. Using the seller’s agent isn’t typically a wise move.

Since the seller pays both of the agents’ commissions, your agent’s services cost you nothing. It’s worth it to have your own agent who will protect your interests during the purchase process.

The seller’s agent may allow you to tour the home by yourself or he or she may want to accompany you.

If it’s the latter, don’t allow the agent to distract you from viewing the features that are important to you and never allow yourself to be rushed.

Ask any and all questions that come up. This is a huge purchase you’re contemplating, so no question is a stupid question.

Most of today’s home buyers prefer to shop for homes online. Virtual visits, however, are no substitute for the open house experience.

There’s no reason at all that you can’t do both.