You’ve lined up several homes to tour for the afternoon with your Realtor®. You’re excited to get your home search underway and weigh the pros and cons of each house. Or maybe you’re someone who is thinking about buying a home, but you aren’t sure you’re ready. You’ve started viewing photos online and want to check out homes in person. On your list are some homes that you’re pretty sure you can’t afford. What is the proper etiquette for walking into someone else’s home? Can anyone take a look, even if just out of curiosity?
1. Get pre-approved early in the process. If you fall into the camp of a serious buyer, then it’s a must to meet with a lender and get a pre-approval letter. Some buyers wonder why a Realtor® wants to have this letter in hand so early in the process. When it’s time to put an offer on a home, the seller wants to see this letter immediately because it shows you’re qualified and serious about buying. If you don’t have it ready at the moment you make an offer, you could easily lose out to another buyer who has theirs in hand. The pre-approval letter is also important to Realtors® because they work on commission and need assurance that they’re showing you homes that you can actually afford to buy.
2. Stick to open houses if you’re uncertain about buying. If you decide to tour homes just to get a feel for what is available at what price range (prior to applying for a loan), start with open houses and be frank about your situation with each Realtor® who is running the open house. Open houses are a good starting point for the uncertain because each home is already prepared for a number of potential buyers to walk through for a specific timeframe. You’re not wasting a seller’s time to prepare their home just for your viewing when you’re not a true potential buyer. Note that any Realtor® who shows you a home at an open house when you’re not already represented will likely do their best to win you as a client.
3. Tour only homes that you’re genuinely interested in. Sometimes buyers are so immersed in their home search that they forget to respect the seller side. Sellers are opening up their homes with the good will that you’re qualified and potentially interested in buying their house. You shouldn’t ask a Realtor® to show you a home just because you’re curious about what it looks like inside, especially if you know you can’t afford it or it’s in an area you’re not going to live. This is unfair to both the real estate agent and the seller. It’s unfair to the agent because they’re working with you to find you a home you will live in, not homes you simply have an itch to see. They’re arranging their time to work for you. It’s unfair to the seller because with each showing appointment, they’re preparing their home to look its best and coordinating time to leave the premises so that you can privately view their house on the hopes it will sell. While sellers may be aware that any type of potential buyer could come through their home (serious and not-so-serious), try to be ethical when asking for showing appointments.
3. Respect the seller’s home and personal property. Remember at all times that someone else owns the home you’re walking through and its contents. While it’s expected that you’ll open cabinets, closets, and built-in compartments to get a feel for space and storage, there’s no reason to pick up personal belongings for a closer look or get into someone’s dresser drawers. That’s just plain nosy. Some sellers might be using hidden cameras, so be on your best behavior!
What if you have to use the bathroom during a showing? Occasionally sellers will put up signage or alert buyers’ agents if they are strongly against bathroom usage. In general, reserve usage until later if you can. If a home is vacant, particularly in cold climate, it’s possible that the water has been turned off. Definitely don’t use the bathroom in such situations as the toilet will not flush.
Do you have to remove your shoes? If a seller has signage for shoe removal or has given instructions through the Realtor® to remove shoes, then obviously you’ll want to honor the request. Use common sense when you enter a home. If you just walked through the rain and notice that the carpet smells freshly shampooed, take off your shoes. If there’s no instruction to take them off and you’re mess-free, leave them on.
4. Be polite if the seller is home. Most Realtors® recommend that sellers not be home when potential buyers come through. It’s simply easier for buyers to look around without feeling they’re imposing. But circumstances do arise where it’s difficult for a seller to get out of the house at a certain time (perhaps someone with a disability lives there). In such cases, it’s best to keep any negative feedback to yourself until you’re alone with your agent. There’s no reason to offend the owner. And on a side note, if you do really like the home, you might want to appear on the neutral side or give it a simple complement so as not to affect your bargaining power in a negotiation on the home.
5. Be on time. It takes time and effort to coordinate an afternoon of touring more than one home. Realtors® try to estimate driving time and time spent at each home. They have to get approval on appointment times from the sellers’ agents. If you’re very late to an appointment, you could be throwing off the timing of subsequent appointments. Oftentimes sellers are leaving their homes with the whole family in tow so you can view their place without the awkwardness of them being there. If you’ve thrown off the schedule by a wide margin, you could be running into the owners, who may or may not be amenable to your tardiness. And if you need to cancel an appointment, let your agent know immediately so that they can pass on the information to the sellers.