Never Break These 5 Etiquette Rules While House-Hunting, According to a Pro

published Jul 18, 2023
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When you’re buying a new home, it’s like the world suddenly shrinks to include nothing but your purchase. World events, local happenings — nothing much matters but how your furniture will fit in the living room and what color you’re going to paint the kitchen. I know I’m not the only one who’s stayed up past bedtime scrolling through the listing photos imagining what I’m going to do with the space I’m moving into. 

All this to say, it’s easy to forget that up until move-in day, someone else still lives in the home you’re buying. Remind yourself of this when you’re tempted to treat the place like yours — because it feels like yours! 

I recently sold my house and moved into a new one, so I’m familiar with both sides of the equation. I bought mine after a five-minute showing when my husband wasn’t even there, so I was eager to get back in once we were under contract. Meanwhile, the buyers of my house were equally interested in getting into my house, over and over. 

Here’s where some unspoken rules of real estate etiquette come in (and maybe should become spoken rules). The biggest one? There’s a max on how many times you should ask to see your new place. 

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You keep asking to visit your new home.

It’s definitely a balancing act, says Casey Roberts, StreetEasy senior communications manager and home trends expert. “A home is a major investment… and while you absolutely want to make sure you’re making the right decision, you also have to balance that with general etiquette and imposition on the seller and agents,” she says. 

That means thinking hard about every viewing request, whether the seller lives there or not. My rule of thumb has always been you get two showings before the offer, and after you’re under contract you can go back when the inspector and/or appraiser are there. That’s a total of four. Roberts says, “Four or five visits in total is generally considered reasonable, but there’s no hard and fast rule. Ultimately it’ll depend on a variety of factors, including whether the owner is still living there and how much interest there is from other buyers.”

More than that, and you’re pushing the envelope. The current owners are in the process of packing to move and letting the new owners in probably isn’t going to be very conducive to that. 

To keep moving forward with your plans, take good notes when you’re there. “Ask to take your own photos and videos… to avoid having to go back again and again,” Roberts recommends, and take advantage of listing features like 3D tours and floorplans. 

Good manners aren’t limited to your showing request count. “Putting your best foot forward during an open house can really make a difference in helping you stand out to a seller,” Roberts says. 

She’s got a few more tips for house hunters. Try not to break the following unspoken etiquette rules, either.

You don’t offer to take your shoes off.

“Be sure to be respectful of the homeowner — who may still be living there — by doing things like offering to take off your shoes and avoiding using the bathroom,” Roberts says. It’s a small courtesy, but it can go a long way. 

You forget to say please and thank you.

Speaking of courtesies, going back to basics is always a good idea. 

“I think the most important thing is to make sure to greet the host and thank them when you leave,” Roberts says. “Common courtesies like these can often be overlooked in public spaces like a busy open house, especially in New York, but these pleasantries can go a long way.”

You can’t resist the temptation to eavesdrop.

Sometimes it’s inevitable in small units, though you should try your best to avoid listening to other buyers’ conversations and comments, Roberts says. A courteous way to avoid eavesdropping? Wait to enter a room so others may exist first.

You don’t put everything back the way you found it.

And I’ll add one more. During the inspection, be sure everything is put back the way it was found. The inspector on the house we were buying left an attic hatch open, and understandably, the sellers weren’t happy with that. I understood even more when the buyer’s inspector at my own house did the same thing!

This was a good example that it really just comes down to the basics we all learned early on about how to treat others. If you wouldn’t want something at your own home, easy enough — just don’t do it at your next one.