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Cover story: Good manners a must during open house

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Your checkbook is welcome and a smile would be nice, but please leave the attitude at home when attending an open house - it easily could be misconstrued as impolite or discourteous.

An informal survey of Realtors in the metro area revealed a catalog of behaviors potential homebuyers should avoid.

"A home is a private space, a personal palace that expresses the innermost feelings of the owner," said Ramona A. Greene, with Long & Foster in the District.

While you may be contemplating moving in, the seller could be struggling with the anticipated emotional loss of a deeply cherished abode. It is wise for buyers to be cognizant of those feelings.

"You are a guest in this private world, a stranger in the home of someone you don't know," she said. It is incumbent on visitors to use good manners.

"Do not trash the house verbally or say ugly things about the decorating," said Anita Lasansky, managing broker with Long & Foster's Reston North Hills office.

"Your opinion is irrelevant and is not asked for," she said. "If the property becomes your home you will be free to refurbish it."

Besides, rude comments could have a negative impact on other open house visitors who are interested in the home.

"Be kind, generous and considerate when wandering room to room. Acknowledge neatness, good design and the nice arrangement of furniture, even if it's not your style," Ms. Lasansky suggested.

Prospective buyers should arrive at an open house during the appointed hours, refraining from dashing in as the sitting agent is pulling the shades, turning off the light and keying the alarm. The agent often has another appointment immediately afterward.

"Do not be smug in criticism of small things like the bathroom light fixture, which is easy to replace. Abstain from tsk-tsking to your viewing partner over minor cracks in the wall," Ms. Lasansky said.

And try not to snap too many pictures. It can give the appearance of intrusiveness.

It is a commonly held belief across the real estate community that children do not belong at an open house - nor is it the Realtor's job to watch over them if parents do bring them.

Parents who must bring their children could leave them outside the home with one parent while the other looks at the property. If small children are brought inside the home, parents should hold them by the hand to keep them from wandering off or touching fragile items. Do not let them play with the toys of the seller's child.

When you cross the threshold and are welcomed by the agent, you will be asked to sign in.

"Please do so," said Stacy J. Berman, the Georgetown branch manager broker for Long & Foster. "It's really rude not to provide your name. The reason we ask for names and phone numbers is a security precaution. It enables Realtors to track attendees in case there are emergencies or crimes occur."

The agent represents the seller and the seller wants to know who has been in their home.

"That is a legitimate request," she said. "It's OK to jot down 'do not contact me' beside your name, but don't deliberately inscribe a false phone number or email address."

Agents are professionals and they respect privacy boundaries.

"We are aware visitors are hesitant to share their personal data, but be comforted to know that you will not be trapped or stalked by the agent hosting the open house," Ms. Berman said.

"We also recommend that you follow any requests an agent may make," she added. "For example, if I ask someone to take off your shoes, I'd really be grateful if they did so without getting huffy. This is not your house, it is not a public space and you are a visitor. And we as Realtors are respecting the requests of the property owner."

Perhaps the owners just installed a white carpet or it could be raining and messy outside.

"Realtors work for the seller and we are simply their messenger," Ms. Berman said.

Coming in with a coffee or soda in your hand is also not a good idea. If coffee and cookies are laid out, confine your eating to the spot in which they are offered.

"Do not bring along a dog too big to hold in your arms," advised Ms. Greene. "And smoking is absolutely forbidden."

Loudly conversing with your viewing partner about how to lower the price is bad manners. While it is natural as a buyer to be hard-hearted about cost and to wonder how much the house will be worth in a few years, it is best to keep your thoughts private.

"Bringing an entourage of relatives and friends for a first viewing is rather disruptive," Ms. Lasansky said. "Chattering loudly in a foreign language is rude because the Realtor doesn't understand and cannot answer your concerns."

Overall, be charitable, good-humored and forgiving.

"There's always something in a home - the layout, the flowers - that deserves a compliment," said Claudine Chetrit, with Coldwell Banker in the District.

Keep in mind, one day you will be a seller, too.

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