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Open House Etiquette: What Not to Open At an Open House

An agent explains the do's and don'ts of open houses.

I opened the door and said hello, greeting the approaching couple with a warm smile. She walked past my outstretched hand and stated, “We have an agent.” He awkwardly shook my hand, his eyes sending an apology. As I told her about the home she never once looked me in the eye, but instead eyeballed the house impatiently.

“The kitchen is so small,” she said.

It was hard not to be defensive. My listings are like my own children. I know all about their flaws, but love them anyway.

“You can open this wall with very little trouble if you wanted,” I said. She was visibly annoyed at what she thought was my sales technique. Truth be told, the wall can be opened, enlarging the kitchen, with very little trouble.

“I don’t like carpet,” she stated as we walked through the master bedroom. I informed her that there is hardwood underneath.

She walks through the rest of the home as if she is sucking on a lemon.

I’d liked to have kicked her in the bottom as she left. It probably would have gotten an involuntary laugh out of her poor husband. I didn’t give them my card because in a perfect world, I would never see them again.

In her outside voice she complained to her husband, “The kitchen is so small, and the basement, I can’t believe she likes that basement.” Another couple was heading toward the front door, clearly hearing the comments.

I greeted them knowing that the woman’s bad behavior had cast a shadow over my lovely listing.

There are rules of behavior that most of us are accustomed to following. We teach our children to say please and thank you. We whisper in the library. We bring gifts to the hostess when she has us for a visit. But for some reason, when people enter the homes of others for Open Houses, polite behavior is left behind.

I’ve provided some rules of etiquette for open houses. You may find it incredulous that anyone would do such things, but agents know these behaviors are common.

1- Say “hello” to the person that greets you at the door. He/she is a fellow human.

2- You’re not Simon Cowell. Don’t critique the décor.

3- Don’t ask why they are moving. That is a personal and confidential topic.

4- Stay out of the refrigerator. It most likely doesn’t come with the house.

5- Don’t open the kitchen cabinets unless you are looking at the door quality or features of the cabinets. What they have inside them is none of your business.

6- Stay together with your family or group. It’s not a scavenger hunt.

7- Don’t let your children jump on beds or touch things. That includes toys.

8- Unless you were hired as the home inspector, don’t diagnose problems with the house. If floors are uneven, it doesn’t mean the house is caving in and a crack in the wall doesn’t mean always mean there is a structural problem.

9- Restrain from making negative comments until you are in your car and the doors are closed. The young couple behind you may think it’s their dream house.

10- Most importantly, remember the Golden Rule and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Opening your home to the public to is a difficult task for all homeowners. Remember that it may be your house that is open next.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Cindi Stadulis March 29, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Well Said Beth! I couldn't have written it better myself.
Linda Gosselin March 29, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I agree Beth, well said. Hopefully you don't deal with this type of behavior often!
AMAMOM March 29, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Honestly, this article struck me for its negativity. For the authors sake (career) it might have been better placed in a RE trade publication rather than on a local site to be read by potential clients. Not all people have great social skills or know what to do in every situation but what can be ruder is pointing this out. So, that's my two cents. Best of luck Beth.
Mark McCullough March 30, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Beth, I think that you make a very good case for decorum and civility. It hadn't occurred to me how lacking these qualities can be sometimes, nor the degree to which people seem to feel that simply being the "Customer" absolves them from any responsibility to observe the most rudimentary tenants of decent behavior. How a buyer can expect to learn about a home they are considering buying without talking to the listing agent is beyond me. The rudeness of the person Beth describes is mystifying. There is no reason to act like that. If the house isn't right for you....don't buy it! No need to act like someone is trying to take advantage of you by offering a home for sale with a sub-awesome basement. AMAMOM, what you call "negativity" is in reality professionalism. Beth is clearly someone who believes in what she is doing which includes believing that she, as a committed Realtor, is entitled to a modicum of respect even from ill-mannered time wasters. Unfortunately, people act like there are no standards of civility under the assumption that no one is ever going to call them on their rudeness, so our standard of acceptable behavior slips inexorably lower. A trend that is made worse by people who do not have the courage to post negative comments under their real names, by the way. Her posting of this story here rather than in some RE trade publication as you suggest, knowing that it may be seen by potential clients, strikes a welcome blow for civility.
Beth Fernandez March 30, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Amamom, Wouldn't posting this in a trade magazine be a mute point? It's not directed at Realtors, but at those visiting open houses. I'm generally a sarcastic, but positive person. Maybe my sarcasm confused you. Most people are very lovely at open houses. Part of the reason I love my job. An open house can be like having a party and meeting a bunch of great new friends. Once in a while though, you get the woman I wrote about (a fictitious composite by the way). I agree that pointing out someone's rude behavior to them is even ruder if you are doing it in person. But writing down rules of behavior is a long standing tradition in our society. Emily Post made quite a living out of it. What I find ironic about your post is that you basically correct my behavior for writing the post in the first place, and then do it anonymously. Aren't you doing what you chastise me for?
AMAMOM March 30, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Beth, Please take my comments for what they are worth, a quick response from a stranger. Not knowing me makes me a stranger not anonymous. My name is Amamom, its nice to meet you. Anyway, I think it's great that you are writing and that your post is getting comments. The best writing evokes thought and discussion, so you have done that very well in a clear, concise, well thought out way.
Beth Fernandez March 30, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Nice meeting you too Amamom, and thanks.
Lee Randolph-Karydis March 30, 2012 at 03:09 PM
As a former client of Beth, she is everything but negative. When we first read her blog, not only did we find it entertaining which kept us reading, but it made us even more confident in her abilities as a Realtor. The blog helps setting expectations by listing do's and don'ts that some of us may understand as self evident, but a new buyer or seller may not be aware of. We think it's great that a professional has shared her experiences on a blog where us as home sellers can read and be educated. We think this it is a very informative article and frankly we were surprised that someone thought it would have a negative impact. We feel more confident that when we are ready to sell this house, that we can trust our home in her hands. Thank you Beth for this post - and please do not change your style. This is exactly why we used you as our agent, and have recommended you to our friends - and will continue!
Luis F Serrano April 02, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Most of what Beth has posted I can get behind as it's common sense behavior and courtesy, that unfortunately not all practice. I’ll take a buyers perspective and counter the two that I don't 100% agree with.: "3- Don’t ask why they are moving. That is a personal and confidential topic." This is the largest financial transaction for most families that also carry quite a bit of emotion. As a buyer, it is very important to understand as much as possible all involved in this business transaction. Let's say there's been a recent death in the home? How you choose to respond to such question may differ from state to state but unless it’s asked, one may never know. However, the answer can completely decide whether we invest more time and effort (final offer) or simply leave. It’s as personal for the seller as it is to the buyer. This isn’t about prying into someone’s likes or dislikes, I’m referring to real world stuff where disclosure is only available if asked. The second part of that financial transaction is leverage. The market will eventually guide the potential buyer into a given offer and the seller to accept such offer but there are also thousands of dollars that can be negotiated up or down based on other undermining factors (moving due to job, separation, etc). So I see it as a wise step to know if there are any driving factors that may help my cause. Nothing dishonest about it IMO. (continued)
Luis F Serrano April 02, 2012 at 05:12 PM
“8- Unless you were hired as the home inspector, don’t diagnose problems with the house. If floors are uneven, it doesn’t mean the house is caving in and a crack in the wall doesn’t mean always mean there is a structural problem.” I think some folks have a true talent in noticing details (unfortunately, I’m not one of them) during an open house. Most of the time you’re putting in an initial offer on what you do see and feel. Some of the staging I’ve seen from experienced realtors blows me away ---many times it looks so much better than the actual lived in, pre-staged version. So buyers do have to look at as many details (cracked walls) and look to see if there’s a deeper issue. I’m not talking about opening up the HVAC or following a crack to it’s core only to start hammering stuff away. During one Open House, I pointed out a long crack and asked the host realtor about it. He actually disclosed to me that it was an addition and it looked like it was coming apart. Not good for the seller but I’m glad I didn’t play down that crack and it’s seriousness. I would wish that there was a pre-inspection process that was listed with every home. The pre-inspection would be sanctioned by a 3rd party source that had no interest with either the buyer or seller. Just the facts as they say.
John Hahn April 04, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Interesting article, Beth. Open houses are just that OPEN. Some are attended by people looking for a new home. Many are attended by lookee-lou's Many are attended by neighbors who may just want to look around. An open house has at least 2 purposes. One to display a house for sale. The 2nd is for the RE agent to find more clients, both buyers & the all important sellers. The RE business is all about listings. The author knows this. I agree with Luis about asking why are they moving. The agent can lie. But a buyer is looking for a decent home at a good price in a safe area etc. It is part of the the equation. Think of the houses in Pompton Lakes that are near the old Dupont site. A seller might not want to say that members of that household are ill. The house/neighborhood might have problems. Buyers want to make decisions based on knowing as much as they can. BTW there is a house in Fair Lawn in which there were (2) separate murders. Not an ideal listing eh?
Beth Fernandez April 04, 2012 at 02:13 PM
You are right to point out and ask about issues with the house Luis. I'm talking about something more diagnostic. For example, I had some ladies come through a listing I had. It was a 100 year old home and the floors had settled a long time ago at a slant. It happens. There were no cracks, and I had seen the house 5 years earlier and it hadn't moved a bit. The ladies told me that they heard that the house was sliding down the hill. On another old house, visitors diagnosed mildew (vacant home) as black mold. These can be very damaging statements. A pre-inspection is my favorite way to go. Then as their Realtor, I can say, "We've had the floors checked, it's just normal settling." Many homeowners don't want them though.
Beth Fernandez April 04, 2012 at 02:19 PM
When it's an environmental issue, you have to disclose. Most often though, people are moving because of personal issues...divorce, financial issues, etc. You don't want to tell a small family that the family is moving because the house is too small for them, right? You don't have to disclose a death in NJ. Not sure about murder though.
Steve December 14, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Beth, would it not be acceptable for you to reply with "The sellers are moving for personal reasons" when asked the question by a potential buyer? I always ask why the sellers are moving because hopefully the listing agent is an honest person and he/she will answer me truthfully. And if the sellers reason for moving (such as "the house is too big for them now that their kids have moved out") then that's fine. But if the answer is "the house next door has very noisy owners" or "the traffic on this street is jammed most of the day" then that will help me decide if the house is for me. Of course, I'm probably being a bit wishful in thinking that people are always going to be honest with me. But I owe it to myself to ask the question of the listing agent.
Mark McCullough December 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Steve, you "...always ask why the sellers are moving..."? How many open houses do you go to? Just testing listing agent's honesty as a public service? No real estate agent is going to stay in business in this tightly-knit area for long if they develop a reputation for lying to buyers. Managing the dynamics of the agent/buyer relationship is the responsibility of the parties to that relationship, and not the business of a self-appointed real estate Diogenes.
Steve January 11, 2013 at 03:41 AM
Mark, no, public service or testing honesty has nothing to do with it. I ask the question because I'd like an honest answer. And perhaps I'll get one. It doesn't hurt to ask. And hopefully the answer won't be rude and sarcastic...like your snide comment.
Mark McCullough January 11, 2013 at 03:48 AM
But, Steve, you missed the point. If you're looking to BUY the house, then fine. Ask away. If you're not - and clearly you don't go to open houses looking to buy a house - why waste the realtor's time. Again...it just looks like you want to test their honesty.
Steve January 11, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Who the heck says I'm not looking to buy the house? Where did you get that from? OF COURSE I'm looking to buy a house. I'm not going to waste my time going to Open Houses if I'm not looking to buy, for Pete's sake.

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