How Buyers Can Make the Most of a House Tour

It's not just about counting bedrooms. Get ready to do some homework before you walk into your next home.

U.S. News & World Report

How Buyers Can Benefit From a House Tour

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Moving quickly to tour a home in a hot market may give you an edge over other buyers.(Getty Images)

Whether it’s because it’s spring or just a hot real estate market, homebuyers know there’s some fierce competition out there.

You might be caught up in the heat of the moment and ready to risk it all to win a bid or, conversely, you’re feeling discouraged about being able to make a seller the most attractive offer. Neither mindset is ideal for finding the right home.

To set yourself up for success during the house hunting process, prepare for home tours to get the most out of the experience and be ready for your next steps. Here are six things homebuyers can do to maximize a house tour.

Move fast. A house tour is a noncommittal part of the homebuying process, so don’t hesitate about jumping into a tour as soon as the property is listed for sale, especially when the market is hot.

Real estate brokerage and information company Redfin reports the national median days on market for residential properties in January reached 53 days, six days less than the same month in 2017. The early months on the calendar typically reflect the longest numbers of days on market for the year, dipping lower in the spring and summer, though the days on market appear to be trending downward from year to year as well.

Talk to your real estate agent about any schedule the seller’s representative may have set up. Holly Gray, a real estate broker for Re/Max Pacific in Bellevue, Washington, says it’s common for houses to go on the market on a Thursday, with plans to review offers the following Monday or Tuesday. It’s important to tour the house as soon as possible once it’s on the market so you have a few days to consider the pros and cons before making an offer. A house's first weekend on the market will likely include an open house, so get ahead of the crowds if you can by touring the property on Thursday or Friday when it's freshly on the market.

Get a full understanding of your financial situation. Most buyer agents won’t want to start showing you houses before you’re preapproved for a mortgage, but you should also have a firm grasp of your expected monthly costs for owning a home before taking serious tours.

A thorough conversation with your agent about what you can afford, the type of properties that fall in that price range and the condition you can expect is necessary. Otherwise, Gray says you’ll find yourself making plans to customize a house that aren’t feasible.

“Oftentimes we’ll be looking through a house, and people will say, ‘I don’t like this wall right here, can we take it down?’” she says. “Well, if this house is $300,000 and that’s the top price that you can afford, that’s going to drain all your savings, and [knocking out a wall is] not really an option for you.”

Have a couple open houses under your belt. To help you get in the groove of touring a house you’re seriously considering, it’s worth getting a few practice runs in by checking out open houses. Even if you’re not seriously considering the property for purchase, then you’ve at least got the experience so a serious tour with your agent will be more focused on meeting your needs.

“If that’s the first house they’ve seen, they don’t have the context to understand if that’s the right house for them,” Gray says.

Keep your eyes peeled and have someone take notes. If the house met your needs on paper, take the tour with your checklist of must-haves in mind and point out issues that may be deal-breakers.

Gray says she takes notes during tours as her buyers mention a crack in the wall or possible water leak. If the listing agent doesn’t have an answer for it, it’s something to ask about in the inspection.

Especially if the home is priced below the expected market value, keep an eye out for potential problem areas. Even a seller who hasn’t had the property inspected prior to listing should be aware of major problems.

“It’s very rare that a home[owner] doesn’t know of … a major crack in the foundation or major water leak in the roof,” says Drew White, founder and owner of AmPro Inspections in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Visit again at another time of day. The house has the right number of bedrooms, an updated kitchen and nothing stood out as a glaring issue. If you aren’t bumping up against the deadline for bids quite yet, see if you can visit again at a different time of day.

A home in the Southwest with big windows and skylights can heat up quite a bit in the summer. Conversely, you’re in the northern U.S., an east- or north-facing home may be darker and require more heating and artificial light. Gray says sunlight matters to many of her Seattle-area buyers: “It might have good morning sun but no afternoon sun.”

Make sure you didn’t catch the house at its ideal time, and weigh whether these downsides would be a problem for you – or your utility bills.

Start thinking about next steps. It may be the first house you visit with your agent or it may be your 15th, but eventually you’ll be ready to make an offer. When that happens, keep the next steps in mind to keep the process moving. Key to preventing a deal from falling through is to be on top of your due diligence and be prompt with providing your lender with the necessary paperwork.

However, don’t skip key parts of the process for the sake of winning the seller over. Waiving the inspection, for example, can lead to unpleasant surprises – like mold – down the road, and most lenders won’t agree to those terms.

White says that even with prelisting home inspections becoming more common, many buyers still bring their own inspector in. “You might as well have your own guy do it,” he explains.

Organization is key to getting through a successful home purchase, even before you've stepped inside your future house. You’ve already been dedicated to prompt action from the point the property went on the market, so you should keep the same attitude until closing.

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