Ask the Egghead: Should I attend open houses before I have an agent?

Dear Egghead. I’m ready to begin searching for a home. But I might not be ready to buy for another six months or longer. Is it a good idea for me to attend open houses that I see advertised before I have a buyer’s agent?

ANSWER: Yes! Visiting open houses is like checking a book out of the library — it’s a great opportunity to learn, and it costs you nothing but a little time — time well spent.

Making the rounds of several open houses in the geographic areas you’re interested in, over a period of time, will give you a great sense of what is available at the price of your budget. So the first order of business is to get pre-qualified with a lender, so you’ll know what your price range is. Then, you’ll be able to recognize when a really desirable property comes along at a good price.

Open houses are a great opportunity to shop around without any pressure to buy. Take some photos and make note of what you like about a house and why. You’ll learn how to evaluate the price trends in the market, and the impact of geography and upgrades and other physical characteristics.

While you’re in the open-house stage, you can be researching which agents you’d like to engage. You might even meet an agent you click with at an open house. (Just keep in mind, an agent you meet at an open house is likely negotiating for the seller of that particular property, not you. Later, if you sign an exclusive agency agreement with that agent, their loyalty will be pledged to you, above anyone else.)

And finally, shopping around for a while will give you the confidence to know when is the time to pull the trigger, and make an offer for your new home!

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