Maybe you’re a first-time buyer and you’ve never walked into a complete stranger’s home and poked around in the closets and up in the attic before. Or maybe you have — you’re a move-up buyer with a house or two already under your belt — but you were never entirely sure what’s proper etiquette and what’s not when touring a house for sale.
These walk-throughs are the lifeblood of real estate professionals, and below are a few do’s, don’ts, and maybes for homebuyers on the hunt. (And lastly, an ironclad bit of advice for sellers.)
PHOTOS AND VIDEOS: It’s natural that you’d want to take a photo or a short cellphone video of a house that catches your eye but ask for permission before you do. It’s a courteous gesture, and some sellers may not want to see their private spaces splashed across Facebook or Instagram.
A CUP OF COFFEE: Sure, you might want to carry a cup of coffee or a soft drink as you explore a home, but be careful that you don’t spill it. Stories of coffee spills on sellers’ just-cleaned carpets make real estate professionals cringe.
LOOKING IN CLOSETS: Of course you’ll want to open closet doors to see just how much room is inside, but remember that you’re in someone’s private home, and snooping is never OK. Take a look, take a measurement, then close the door.
BATHROOM BREAK: This gets asked more than you might think. If you need to use the facilities while you’re on a house tour, of course, ask for permission and take care of business. A better idea is to plan ahead and stop at a restaurant or a gas station on the way. After all, you don’t know what you may be getting into. Many vacant houses, for example, may have the water shut off, especially in the winter.
TAKE A SEAT: Unless you’re buying the furniture along with the house, it’s good form to refrain from relaxing on the seller’s couch or comfy chair. Then again, if you need to sit down for health reasons, go ahead and ask politely for a brief rest; it’s not an unreasonable request.
DON’T OVERDO IT: Don’t linger too long inside a house for sale — 15 to 30 minutes should be enough time for a good first look. Come back again if you’re interested in the property but avoid making multiple visits unless you’re in advanced negotiations or making plans for renovation work.
POLITENESS COUNTS: A brief chat with the real estate professional hosting an open house or home tour can yield valuable information about the property and the surrounding neighborhood. Ask probing questions politely, and reserve any critical remarks until later. You never know who is within earshot, especially during an open house — the seller, a neighbor, or maybe a friend, who might torpedo your chance to make a deal.
IF YOU ARE A SELLER: It’s an unwritten rule that sellers, in almost all cases, should stay away while potential buyers are looking at a home. It makes buyers uncomfortable, and you, the seller, may not want to overhear candid conversations that were meant to be private. If you must be there, allow your guests to walk through your home accompanied only by a real estate professional.