You know the drill. A "For Sale" sign pops up in your neighborhood and as soon as you see the open house you're there. We just can't stand the curiosity, right? What's the space look like, how much is it selling for? What does it mean for our home and what it might sell for one day?
I'm right there with you. My husband and I haunt the open house circuit in our neighborhood of Victorian homes. Sometimes we come away with a massive case of house envy, but other times leave us confident that we're doing all right with the ongoing work on ours. I always feel a little sheepish though, walking in and making small talk with the realtor when I have zero intention of buying the house.
Chatting with friends in real estate though, I've heard it's ok. They all know open houses draw the nosy neighbors. And in fact browsers may turn into buyers, my friend and neighbor Brent Logsdon tells me. He's a realtor who has sold a number of homes in our neighborhood. "Sometimes they think they're browsers," Brent says, "but the next thing you know they're on the phone with a lender." In fact, about 10 percent of homes sell from open houses, he says.
In other words, don't worry about it.
Feeling free to continue my ongoing tour of other people's houses, I wondered what exactly we should be looking for anyway. To find out, it only made sense to ask Brent. After all, he makes his living spending time in houses for sale, so equipped with all that industry experience, what does he look at when it comes to houses for sale in his (and our) neighborhood?
Brent was nice enough to let me tag along with him to a couple houses for sale in our area, and think out loud as we walked through. Here's what I learned.
Open Houses Are Better than Pinterest
We can lust after décor ideas on Pinterest all day long, but that's a long way from knowing what something would look like in our own homes. Walking through a home that shares a time period and/or architectural details with your own is like a real live spin through a Pinterest board.
Say you've been dreaming of painting your walls the inky dark blue that's sweeping Pinterest (or is it really?) but you're just not sure how it will look in your house, he says. I love the red walls we inherited in our living room, but when Brent walked me into a house with a similar layout, size, and build date with gorgeous, deep blue walls in the living room I was in love. The only thing that could have made it a better trial was if the windows faced the same direction as mine, but still. You can't walk into a room on Pinterest.
You Learn What NOT to Do
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but you can avoid making Very Bad Decisions that are hard to see when they're right in front of you much more easily by taking note of what someone else has done. We walked through one house with a very curious bathroom configuration that meant you had to open two doors in order to wash your hands after the toilet. Whoever made that decision probably had valid reasons or old house challenges that made it seem like a good idea at the time, but it was quite clear to us what an awful idea that is. We also saw a door to nowhere that seemed exceedingly unsafe, and a third floor completely set up as a separate apartment – but with no outside or separate access, basically leaving it unusable as an apartment or short term rental. If you're thinking of a major change, say taking down a wall or converting a bedroom to a bathroom, other people's houses are full of cautionary tales that we can keep in mind when we're making those big decisions.
You Get a Reality Price Check
We put so much love and work into our houses, we may, just may tend to over-inflate their value in our minds. Visiting a house that's similar to yours is a great way to adjust those expectations. Say all things are equal between your house and the one you're visiting, Brent says, but you have dated formica counters in the kitchen and they have granite. Their house is listed (and later sells) at a lower price than you think yours would fetch. Looks like you may need a reality check.
You Discover The Unicorn Doesn't Exist
My final takeaway came from some reflection after the fact, and conversation with a friend. As much time as anyone who reads Apartment Therapy probably spends looking at other houses on the internet it's easy to feel like everyone else's home is perfect and our own homes fall far short, we agreed.
Sometimes, I've learned, the biggest benefit in looking at other people's homes is being reminded that every space has its challenges. There's always a compromise. Even the places that spur raging house envy – like the mansion with the bathroom I must steal that I went to an open house to ogle recently – have their drawbacks. Maybe an awkwardly placed laundry, a cramped kitchen, an eyesore across the street. I went to that open house expecting to have to remind myself vigorously that umm, I can't buy a mansion. Instead I left feeling better about our much more manageable house that, even if it's not perfect, has so much potential – especially with all the inspiration I can find in open houses.
Read more about the benefits of 'open housing' in palatial mansions: Why You Should Shop for Houses Outside Your Budget (Really!)