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Open House Q & A

Buying
Because what you ask is as important as what you see

Let’s say it’s a Saturday afternoon open house, and you’ve just completed your third room tour of the cutest little bungalow on a tree-lined street – the same street, in fact, that you’ve always sworn would be the location of your first home, or your forever home, or maybe your vacation home. It has the perfect number of rooms, just the right amount of closet space, and the prettiest little garden out back.

Let’s say you were convinced after the first tour that this place belongs to you, and now, after wandering in and out of its rooms for the third time, you would bet big money on yourself as future dweller of this little slice of heaven.

The problem is, someone else at the open house is looking, too.  She seems just as eager as you.  You see the gleam in her eye, and your heart quickens.  You use all your restraint to keep yourself from running to the agent and making an offer right this second.

But you know better.

Instead, you take a deep breath, put on your game face and approach the agent with all the cool you can muster.

And then you start asking the questions every serious buyer needs to know:

“Are there any structural issues, code violations, or other disclosures I should know about?”

 The seller is legally required to provide disclosures in the purchase process, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get the full truth at this point. It doesn’t hurt to ask, though. Any information you do glean will give you a clearer picture of what you’re dealing with.

“When was the house last updated?” 

Most sellers (and their agents) will be eager to share information about anything that’s been updated. What they don’t mention, such as the roof or the storm windows, will give you an idea of what might need your attention (and your money).

“Has the property been in escrow?”

If the answer is yes, ask why it didn’t sell.  If the inspection found damage or it appraised at a lower value than the asking price, this is important information that you might be able to use in the negotiation process.  Or it might alert you to bigger issues lurking under the surface.

“How long has it been on the market?”

Be sure to ask about price reductions as well.  A longer time on the market and recent price reductions can give you a sense of how eager (or desperate) the seller is.

“Have there been any other offers?”

If the answer is yes, probe into why they were rejected. This is a good opportunity to ask what is important to the seller.  A quick closing? Cash? If the agent is talkative, get as much information as you can on why the seller is selling.  It can help you craft a strategy for negotiations.

“Are there any other costs of ownership?”

You’ll want to know about any applicable association dues, taxes, or assessments to get a clear picture of what your costs will be on top of the purchase price.  Also be sure to ask about construction liens, tax liens, and any other claims on the property.  You don’t want to get stuck paying for the previous owner’s unpaid HOA dues or other debts.

Wandering the rooms at an open house is a great way to get a feel for the home and to inspire fantasies about living your new life within its walls.  Going in armed with the right questions will keep you thinking realistically about the huge purchase you might be about to make.

We trust that you’ll keep your cool while making your inquiries.  But once you’re out of earshot of the seller’s agent and the girl with the gleam in her eye, by all means, squeal with delight!

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Elizabeth Salaam
Along with her work as Senior Contributing Writer for Girl's Guide, Elizabeth Salaam writes for the San Diego Reader. Her work has also been published in Elle Magazine. | Most inspired by: Contradictions. | Favorite room in my home: The Master suite. The windows have views for days! | Best design idea I may never do: Adorn my enclosed toilet room with library book wallpaper and a chandelier. | Will never: Bungee jump. | Have always been: Rebellious. | Dying to: Live in a Paris flat with herringbone wood floors.
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