You are at an open house and love the home but aren’t sure what to ask.

There are many questions to ask a real estate agent at an open house. I encourage you to ask plenty of questions and seek clarification of any features or aspects of the property which you may not understand. But keep in mind that some questions can not be answered for legal reasons. I explain some of those at the end of the article.

Here are my top five…

Question 1. How old are the appliances, fixtures and roof? 

Although this will come up later during a home inspection it is important to know how old items such as the roof, HVAC and water heater are. Knowing the age can help you when negotiating an offer. It also helps you prepare you for any potential expenses if you decide to buy the home.

Question 2. If there is an HOA: What is the monthly assessment, what does it cover and how much is in reserves? 

For those who may ask, what is an HOA? HOA stands for home owners association that makes and regulates rules for homes and residents within a subdivision, planned community or condominium.

Every HOA is different. In addition to exterior maintenance some may include trash pickup, some may have services like snow removal and others may provide nothing. You should know what is included. Also knowing how much is in the reserves is important. If the reserves are low, it could mean you are faced with a special assessment. If there is a major project required like the roof needing replacing (if the roof is included in the HOA) the residents will have to come up with the money to pay for the work if there are insufficient funds in the HOA fund.

Question 3. Where are the property lines located?

It is important to know the extent of the property lot. Sometimes with unfenced properties in subdivisions it is hard to know exactly where the property line ends and the common area begins. You may think you are getting a much larger plot than what there really is.

An example I came across recently was with a detached single-family home which was next to to a plot zoned for agricultural. The fence and drive was right up against the property line. But there was an area of gravel right next to the drive which the current owners used to turn their car around. During a showing it would seem like that land is part of the property. In reality they were encroaching on another land-owners property.

In Central Virginia agents who are part of the CVR MLS have access to an app called Homesnap. This has a feature where you can pull the property on a smartphone. The phone will guide you along the property line.

Question 4. Are there any issues or problems with the home?

By law in Virginia any known defects must be disclosed. The seller completes a disclosure form with their agent upon listing the home.

So that large crack in the basement foundation or hole in the wall behind the large picture in the living room must be disclosed.

Be wary when attending an open house for a FSBO – For Sale By Owner. The sellers are often not licensed or knowledgeable about the legalities of selling a home. They may not have completed the correct disclosure paperwork or aware of what must be disclosed to a potential buyer.

Question 5. How long has the home been on the market?

Although you and your agent can pull this information on your own pretty easily, it is still important to get insight from the listing agent. If a home is listed for too long, it often becomes harder to sell, which can give you, the buyer, bargaining power. You may find that the home has only been for sale a short while, but that buyers are expressing a lot of interest – in which case you may need to make an offer if you want to get the house for yourself. In a strong sellers market, if you snooze you lose!

Questions you can ask but will probably not get the response you’re looking for.

How good are the schools?

The agent can tell you the school districts which are on the MLS listing, but legally cannot provide opinion on whether they are good or not. You should be referred to www.greatschools.com to research and form your own opinions.

Note: the school districts are keyed into the MLS by the listing agent. They could be wrong or school districts could change during the transfer of ownership. It is important as a buyer that you check and verify the school districts yourself with the local city or county. What you see in Zillow or Trulia may not necessarily be accurate.

What are the demographics of HOA community/ neighbors/ neighborhood?

Same reason as with schools. Agents are legally not allowed to provide opinion or “steer” to certain neighborhoods. You will be referred to the government online census website to look yourself.

Why is the owner selling their home?

The listing agent at the end of the day is a salesperson and representing their client – the seller/ owner of the home. They are likely not to diverge major issues or negatives with the neighborhood or home. However you may notice from body language and hesitation in answering if there is potential issue. If you have concerns inform your agent and they can dig deeper with the other party.

Sometimes an agent may give out information unintentionally, but it is that Realtor’s responsibility to show undivided loyalty, reasonable care, confidentiality, accountability and obedience to lawful instruction. Everything an agent says and does should have their client’s best interest at heart.

Open House Etiquette

You will be greeted when you arrive by the agent. They will typically tell you a little about the house and then let you explore. You will be required to sign-in. Typically, there will be either a digital or paper sign-in form in the kitchen. If you are already represented by an agent, you should disclose that and write your Realtor’s name next to yours in on the sign-in form.

Expect the agent to ask you a few questions about yourself, such as “Do you live in the neighborhood?”. “Have you looked at many homes?” A good agent will be trying to determine who’s a serious buyer and who’s there to just check out a cool home.

Conclusion 

I hope these questions will help you through your home buyer journey. Keep in mind that during an open house you have the sellers agent’s attention and now is the time to ask. Once asked, these questions will help you get a better feel on if the home is right for you.

Does this list include some of the questions you wanted to ask during an open house? Are there any additional must ask questions?