Is That Open House Worth It? How To Decode Listings Like a Pro

published Aug 10, 2017
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(Image credit: Carina Romano)

One of the first steps to house hunting is sifting through a pile of listings and finding which ones are worth your time, in terms of going to take a look. Your real estate agent will likely set you up on a search tailored to properties that will meet your needs. But let’s be honest, not all listings are created equal. You’ll have to use your best judgment to find the ones that work best for you.

If you feel overwhelmed looking at these properties and aren’t sure where to start, you’re in luck. We’ll teach you how to look at listings like a pro and determine if they’re worth your time. Follow these tips and your house hunt will get a whole lot easier.

Is it in the right location?

Location is a crucial factor when buying a home and, particularly if you’re relocating from out of the area, it can be hard to tell if you’re looking in the right place. Luckily, there are a few ways to clue yourself in.

Listings will always include the property’s country, township, and school district information. Do you own research on those to look up things like crime rates, quality of education, and if the area actively plans community events. If you haven’t already, use the address and your place of work to map the potential distance of your commute.

You’ll also find more information in the property description. Agents will often highlight what they perceive to be the home’s best qualities, so keep an eye out for phrases like, “close to shops and restaurants” or “quiet cul-de-sac” to give you an idea of how it’s positioned.

Will you be happy with the layout?

More often than not, the property description will act as a verbal walk-through of the property. Read it over piece-by-price while matching it up to the corresponding photos. Pay close attention to the edges of the photos so you can see which rooms flow into each other. Essentially, do your best to take yourself on a mental tour of the property before you tell your agent to set up a showing.

The verbiage used in the property description can also give you a clue. Everyone who’s ever seen an episode of House Hunters should know what “open concept” means, but adjectives like “cozy” or “expansive” will also give you a clue as to what you’re in for.

Finally, the house’s style and age will be telling, as well. For example, bungalows have slanted rooflines on the upper floors and, consequently, lower ceilings than you’d find in a colonial. Newer homes typically have larger rooms and bigger closets than older models.

(Image credit: Rebekah & Graeme)

Can you handle the work it needs?

For this one, the sale price is your first stop. How does it compare with similar properties in the area? Some first-time buyers may get excited when they find a property that seems like “a steal”, but oftentimes that’s a red flag.

More signs that a lot of work needs to be done can be found in the property description. Keywords like, “short sale” “investor special” or “as-is” indicate that, in order to be considered, the buyer must assume financial responsibility for all repairs — which are often extensive. Conversely, words like “turnkey” and “well-maintained” are signs that the property is in good shape.

Finally, look at the photos. Without letting aesthetic choices like wallpaper or tarnished gold finishes turn you off, check to see if the home appears to be in good condition. If you don’t like what you see in the photos, it’s unlikely you’ll be happier when you see it in person.