Open House Etiquette for Home Buyers

Real Estate Open House Etiquette and Rules

Image shows a queer, interracial couple shaking hands with a woman who is the listing agent of an open house. The are in the front foyer of a home that is for sale. Text reads: "Buyer etiquette tips for an open house: before entering a room, wait until other visitors in it have departed; people still live in the house, so don't open drawers or use the bathroom; jsut open the door and walk in (no need to ring the bell); it's not a formal event but you want to be taken seriously, so avoid looking too casual; look for a broker who welcomes you, introduces themselves, and is engaged in the process; ask whether the agent on hand is the listing agent"

Image by Catherine Song © The Balance 2020

A favorite pastime of many people is to attend Sunday open houses, whether they're in the market to buy a home or they're just simply curious. Open houses also provide agents with a great way to meet potential new clients who literally wander in off the street.

But a certain amount of etiquette is involved from both sides. You should understand the role of the agent who's holding the house open before you head out to explore someone else's home, and you'll want to avoid overstepping your bounds as well.

What to Wear?

Yes, an open house is an informal event, and there's certainly no need to break out your high heels or a tie. But try to avoid super casual attire like flip flops, bathing suit tops, seen-better-days sweatpants, and the like. You'll still gain admittance, but you won't be taken seriously if you are indeed looking to buy.

To Ring the Bell or Not to Ring?

Not all real estate agents host open houses in the same manner, so you can't always be certain who will answer the door. It could be the listing agent, a neighbor, a buyer's agent, or even the seller.

But one thing is certain—you don't have to ring the doorbell or knock on the door unless there's a sign posted instructing you to do so. Otherwise, just open the door and walk in.

Call out "Hello!" if you don't immediately see an agent. They might be otherwise occupied in another room.

When You're Inside

You'll want to wait to enter a room until any other visitors who are already there have departed. There's plenty of other space to explore in the meantime.

And remember your manners. Don't use the bathrooms, and don't open drawers, cabinets, the refrigerator, or closed doors. People still live here in most cases, and that's just plain intrusive.

What to Expect From the Agent

The agent might be standing at the front door when you arrive, waiting to greet you. This type of agent will shake your hand, introduce themselves, get your name, hand you a flyer, and tell you to go through the house at your own pace. The agent might follow you to point out features and answer questions you didn't realize you had.

It's also possible that the agent might be outside in the driveway, asleep behind the wheel of their car. This agent might leave the door ajar and never get up to greet you. Feel free to go inside anyway. Make a note of the agent's name—you'll probably find it on pamphlets or business cards near the front door—and promise yourself that you will not call this broker.

Or the agent might fall somewhere in between. This non-engaging type might be reading a book in another room and will say something along the lines of, "There's information on the counter. Let me know if you have any questions."

This is probably an agent who didn't really want to hold open the home, but they're doing it so they can tell their seller that they did. You might want to stay away from this one as well.

In any case, avoid taking up a huge chunk of the agent's time. Just make sure you have a business card if you have a lot of detailed questions about the property and you're seriously considering buying. You can always follow up later.

Is the Open House Agent the Listing Agent?

Simply asking is the best way to find out if the agent holding the open house is the listing agent.

You can't always count on the agent's name appearing on the For Sale sign, or they'll be wearing a name badge. Sometimes two agents will co-list a home. You could find yourself in a dual agency situation if you buy through this agent and your state allows it.

More often than not, however, the agent holding the listing open will not be the listing agent but rather an associate agent. This agent will be hoping to represent a buyer to buy that home, or any other home for that matter.

Sometimes the agent listing the home will head a team of buyer's agents. Those agents will often host the open house in this case. Some team leaders don't want to directly represent the buyer because they feel there's a conflict of interest that interferes with their fiduciary responsibilities to the seller.

Open House Homebuyers With Agent Representation

Pass the information to the agent hosting the open house if you're already working with an agent. Realtors are technically required to ask buyers about this, but they sometimes forget.

The easiest way to inform the agent that you're working with another agent is to walk in with your agent's card in hand. Just hand it over to the other agent and say, "This is my agent." The agent at the home won't try to solicit you when they're made aware of this information

Buyers Without Agent Representation

Let the agent at the home know that you're still shopping for a buyer's agent if you haven't yet decided on someone. Maybe you'll want to interview the open house agent to determine if you want to work with this person.

Open houses are a good way to find an agent because you'll meet face-to-face, and you can witness the agent in action as well.

Open House Buyers Who Stop on a Whim

Buyers will often drop in on an open house simply because it's open. Maybe it's a home you've often admired and you're curious to see what it looks like inside. Just be honest and tell the agent that you have no inclination to buy if this is the case. You can still tour the home.

More than one person has decided to buy a home because they unexpectedly and immediately fell in love with it at an open house.

Neighbors Who Visit Open Houses

You might think the agent doesn't want you to come to the open house if you're a neighbor, but most agents would actually love to show you the home and get your feedback in this situation. Neighbors are a great source of information.

And you might have a friend or coworker who would be interested in the property. Don't feel embarrassed to admit to the agent that you are "a neighbor from down the street."