Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 4
This is the fourth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.
FAQ – I’m ready for visits, what’s the etiquette for that?
Well, let’s discuss both how to get the most out of your visits and what the etiquette is while on those visits. It is important that you have that home comparison checklist that I mentioned in the second post. You could use the one at the HUD site - link to the HUD suggested home buyers' checklist – or
you can go find a different checklist using Google. The important thing is to have something that will allow you to go back later and compare the homes. Don’t rely solely on your memory; believe me when I tell you that all of the houses that you visit will start running together in your mind. You’ll want to make notes as you go, or sit in your car before the next house and put down your thoughts about the last house. Your Realtor will be asked to supply feedback on the visits to the home owners and he/she will want to make sure that they reflect your thoughts and not just their own opinion of the properties.
As you go through the house, try to stay focused upon the important things that you should be looking for and don’t get distracted by the current owners’ decorating ideas or family pictures and keepsakes. Try to imagine the place as you might furnish or decorate it with your stuff. As you go into each room, look down to see what the flooring looks like. If it’s wood, does it need refinishing? If it’s carpet does it need cleaning or replacement? Are there stains from pets? If it’s carpeting, is it worn to the point of needing replacement? Look up to see if there are stains on the ceiling that might indicate water damage. If there are, you’ll need to have your agent ask what happened and if the cause of the water intrusion was fixed?
In the bathrooms, look around the tub or shower stall for signed of leaking and any damaged or missing tiles. Check under the sink in cabinet for signs of leaking and around the toilet for signs of any issues or mold. In the kitchen also check under the sink for signs of water leakage, especially under the garbage disposal. If you can see behind and under the refrigerator and stove, check there too for signs of damage, especially if the refrigerator has an automatic icemaker. It’s OK to open kitchen drawers and cabinets, to make sure that they operate properly and to see how much storage is really in them. In both the kitchen and baths look to see if there are GFCI plugs, which are required if you are going to use an FHA or VA mortgage.
Check all door walls for easy operation and any signs of leakage or water intrusion. Look for cracked or cloudy windows, which indicate broken seals that should be replaced. Check closet doors, especially the bi-fold type for easy operation. In the basement, check the dates on the furnace and water heater for when they were installed and last maintained and whether or not they are high-efficiency types. Check around the basement walls for signs of cracks or water intrusion and any mold. Some settling cracks in both the walls and even the floor may be normal and not cause for undue alarm; however, large displacement cracks anywhere are pointing towards bigger problems and need to be assessed by an inspector or maybe even a foundation expert. If you encounter multiple light switches that don’t work it might be an indication of an electrical issue or they may just be switches that control wall outlets to which no lamps are attached. Check the garage, looking again for large cracks in the floor.
All of these preliminary checks are just looking for obvious things that you will want your agent to ask about. If you proceed with the house, there will be the opportunity to do a thorough professional inspection to explore these and any other issues. Remember that anything that you find can probably be fixed for some amount of money; the issue becomes who will that money come from – you or the seller.
As for the etiquette for home visits, let’s start with children. If you have children and you insist on bringing them with you on home visits, you must remain in control of them during the visit and keep
them with you. Children should not be allowed to run (or roam) around the house on their own. Remember that you are a guest in the sellers’ house and that you, and your agent, are responsible for any damage that your unsupervised children may cause, even if it was “on accident.” You should ask the agent if it is OK before using any toilet in the house and make sure that it is as clean after your use as before. Some houses that you visit may have the water turned off, or the toilet that you want to use may have a problem and the water be off. Don’t embarrass yourself and your agent by using a toilet and then discovering that it won’t flush – do a test flush before using it. Its best to take care of that need before you go out on the visits.
It is OK to open closet doors to see how big the closets are. It is not OK to open any dresser drawers in bedrooms. Those dressers are not and will not be a part of the house. Opening kitchen cabinet drawers and doors is OK. Do not start or test any appliances. That will take place as part of a home inspection. Do not move or remove any personal items of the owners. Look, but don’t touch, should be the rule for your children and for you. It is really not appropriate to lay on any of the beds or to sit on furniture. These are not things that will come with the house. Avoid playing with the controls for blinds, other that perhaps to pull back vertical blinds so that you can access a door wall. Don’t try to
open and close windows, that too is a home inspection thing. You may open the circuit break box to look at how many breakers are in it and what expansion may be left, but do not reset any breakers and be sure to close it when you are though.
The most basic way to look at what the etiquette should be for visits is to apply the Golden Rule and not do anything in their house that you would not want done in your house. Listing visits are an opportunity to access the house at the macro level. You will have time to get to the micro level during the home inspection. Remember too that you are going to try to compare this home against other homes that you visit, so try to be consistent in what you look for in each home. You will usually have some drive-time between homes, so use that to discuss the last home and make more notes.
Setting up an itinerary for an outing to visit multiple houses is a challenge for your Realtor and you should try to stay on the schedule that has been set up. Cutting visits too short or staying too long can both mess up the schedule. Remember, also, that you have ask the owners to get out pf their own home for the duration of your visit. It is both rude and inconvenient for them if you to get there too early or to be there too late. Stay on schedule.
One of the worst things that you can do on a visit outing is to arrive at a house for a showing and decide that you don’t even want to go in, because of the neighborhood or how it looks from the street. Try to do enough preliminary sorting before you ask the agent to schedule a showing, even taking the time to do a drive by, if you aren’t sure about the neighborhood. Don’t waste everyone else’s time because you are too busy to do your homework.
Sometimes you will visit homes where the owners have chosen to stay in the house during the visit. It
is an awkward situation, since you can’t talk freely during the visit. In the worst cases the owner may accompany you during the visit, making what they believe to be “helpful” comments about the house. Grin and bear it. You can comment on the house as you drive to next house.
Finally, don’t try to do too much in one day. Seeing 3-4 houses on an outing is about as many as you can get through without having them start to get confused in your mind, even with your checklist. It is exhausting for you and your agent to try to cram 8-10 houses into a one-day outing and it is probably not productive either. Outings to see houses can be fun, but they can be exhausting, too. Try to stay focused upon the task at hand and take good notes.