Open House Etiquette

Opinion | June 27, 2018


Here’s a fun topic for Humpday!

How many of you out there attend open houses for sport?  Anyone?  Care to anonymously confirm?

I’d like to address to topic of etiquette at an open house, and depending on whether you’re a buyer, or a seller, you may agree or disagree with my sentiments.

Let’s look at ten areas of interest pertaining to the property, and the open house…

Agree, or disagree.

I’m soliciting opinions here, folks.

Here are ten points that I think require our attention, and I’m providing my opinion based on both my representation of sellers and home-owners, as well as my guiding buyers through the process, while trying to represent their interests and respect the rights of a property-owner.

Much of this is common sense.

And then, there are points that might make me sound rude.

You decide.

1) Access To Property

First and foremost, folks, let me remind you that it is not a right to enter an open house.  It is a privilege.

The salty, jaded, Realtor-hating market bears would suggest otherwise.  But I just know that the home-owner in you all, would agree.  Dig deep on this one, and you’ll come around.

This is not just an asset.  It’s not just a property.  It’s not just a house or a condo.

It’s a home.

So please don’t take this the wrong way, but for those people out there that feel that once the “OPEN HOUSE” sign is up on the lawn, they have free reign in and out of the property, I would say that you are sorely mistaken.

Quite often we lack sensitivity when dealing with people’s homes.  They do become assets.  When staging a property for sale, we encourage our sellers to “de-personalize.”  But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t still somebody’s pride and joy, and buyers need to remember that.

To be fair, I’m using the term “buyers” here, when I should be using the term “visitors.”  Because let’s face it: many of the people who attend open houses are exactly that: visitors.  They’re not buyers, and it is buyers that the home owner/seller is seeking.

But whoever enters another person’s domicile, whether that person is looking to purchase a home, or looking to kill two hours, must have respect for the home itself, and the people who have faith in mankind when they open the front door.

2) Personal Information

You’re attending an open house on the weekend, and the listing agent inside the property is foaming at the mouth as you walk up the front steps, I know, I know.

You absolutely hate having to talk to an agent who is only there to pick up buyers, and who latches on to you like a toddler with separation anxiety.

I understand all of that, and when I’m working open houses, I try to stay out of people’s way, and simply represent the seller.

However, the seller has every right to know who is coming in and out of his or her home.

And if a “visitor” to the home has a problem with that, then they should turn around and walk out.

When I run an open house, I don’t have a sign-in sheet.  I’m not there to pick up buyers, as I said, I’m there to represent the seller, and answer questions, but also to ensure that there’s no funny business.

But if another Realtor asks for your information, or even your ID, then you can decide if: a) they’re looking to get your information to harass you and pick you up as a buyer, or, b) keep track of who is entering the house.  And if you don’t want to give your information, then you don’t have to.  You can leave, and come back with your agent through a booked showing.  If you don’t have an agent, then you can call the brokerage, and ask to see the property.  Either way, if a seller wants his or her agent to keep track of who is coming through the house, than that supersedes a “visitor’s” desire to not identify him or herself.

3) Unfettered Access

Once again, this is a continuation of Points #1 and #2.

Just as it’s not a right, but rather a privilege to enter another person’s home during an open house, it’s also not a right to be able to walk around without supervision.

If an agent says, “Let me show you upstairs,” he might be looking to give you a sales pitch, as I mentioned in Point #2.  Or, he might be looking to represent his seller’s best interests, and ensure that you – whether you look shady or not, are going to respect the home.

I recall a situation where a visitor to the open house found the garage locked, and asked if he could see inside.  I said, “No problem, just let me see this couple out (there were two other people, just about to leave), and I’ll lock the front door, and show you.”

He replied, “I don’t need you to go with me, I can take the key.”

I was really surprised, but then again, in the context of this blog post, I shouldn’t have been.

I said, “I understand, if you could just wait two minutes, it’s not a problem.”  Kill them with kindness, right?

He said, “I can unlock the garage door for myself, I don’t want to wait until you deal with other people, I can go outside and look myself.  What am I missing here?”

I ignored his question, showed the couple out the front door, locked it, then headed back to show him the garage.

To answer his question, “What am I missing here?” what he doesn’t quite understand is that I don’t know him.  He’s alone in an open house.  He wants the key to a garage where the owner has several very expensive bikes, and there’s an automatic garage door that opens to a laneway.

I don’t suspect this person was a thief.

But I also don’t owe him anything, and he certainly has no right to demand access to the garage, which the owner keeps locked, without my presence.

Notice a theme here, folks?

This is all common sense (or should be), and it’s about representing and protecting the seller.

4) Shoes

As crazy as this sounds, there are people who walk right past the “PLEASE REMOVE SHOES” sign, with their shoes on.

I just don’t understand it.

My brother lived in Riverdale for several years, and he had one of those “Please Don’t Let Your Pet Pee On The Lawn” signs, because the grass was dying and he basically had to dig it up, and lay down fresh sod (ask a home owner about how hard it is to get dogs to stop peeing, once other dogs start).

Imagine my brother’s surprise when he looks out his window one day and sees a dog peeing right next to the sign, and the dog’s owner standing idly by.

You will probably suggest that the owner was doing this on purpose, to spite the home owner and his sign.  But some people are just damn clueless, and can’t see what’s right in front of them.

Who walks into an open house and doesn’t take their shoes off when there’s a sign?

5) Commentary

I think I’ll get some pushback on this point, but regardless…

If you’re entering somebody’s home, and that home is for sale, and you don’t like it, or don’t like the price, would it be so unreasonable as to keep that to yourself?

I think it’s tacky for people to walk through an open house and poo-poo it.

Many of the people who do this, to be quite honest, are people who can’t afford the home.  I see this all the time.

But you know the guy in the basement that says, “There’s a problem with this foundation, for sure” – he’s not a home inspector.  He’s just saying that, to say it.

When you’re at a restaurant, you don’t lean over to the table next to you and say, “I bet the cook wipes his nose with his sleeve before he makes salads like the one you have.”

I have no issue with people talking, discussing, investigating, etc.

The issue I have is when people go out of their way to make remarks when others are around.  It’s petty, vindictive, and as I said – it’s almost always done out of frustration and jealousy.

6) Attitude

Real estate is expensive.

Real estate in Toronto is expensive.

The house that you want to buy, that’s up for sale, that has an open house, that has 100 people going through on Saturday, costs more than you want to pay.

I get it.

But when you show up, looking for a fight, what purpose does that serve?

Picture the person that walks into the open house, seeks out the agent, and says, “So, is this priced for one of those goddam bidding wars?”

The person already knows the answer.   He or she is just looking for a confrontation.

I see this more than you’d think, and call me naive, but I see no real end game.

This point isn’t like #1 above, where it’s not up for debate.  You’re free to give attitude to the listing agent if you want to, and you can take out all your inner demons and market frustrations if you want.  I just don’t see the value.

7) “Trying Out” The Features

The house you’re touring is somebody’s home.

It’s not Sleep Country Canada.

You’re looking at the house, not the bed.

Do you know how many times I see people do the turn-around, raise arms to the side, fall-backwards on the bed?

Have we, as a society, lost all social understanding?  Why would a person think this is a reasonable action?

I’m not saying you can’t sit down on the living room chair to tie your shoes as you leave the open house.

But use common sense, which continues to be the theme here.

I’ve seen people take their shoes and socks off, sit down on the edge of the pool, and put their feet in the water.

If you’re a guest at a pool party, there’s no issue here.  But what makes a person think this is a normal course of action at an open house?

8) Opening……….Things

Open the kitchen cupboards, no problem.  Maybe you’re being nosey, but under the guise of, “I want to see what kind of storage space this kitchen has,” you can get away with it.

Open the top drawer to the dresser, and you can’t get away with it.

You’re looking for panties.

There’s no other explanation.  You want to see if the woman pictured in the photo on the wall is a size small, medium, or large, and what style she prefers.  You want to know the colours, and cut.

You want to know if the master of the house wears standard white jockey briefs, or if he has Andrew Christian fully stocked.  Is there, or isn’t there a “pouch” adorning the front of these undergarments?  Pray-tell!

You opened the drawer on the nightstand, next to the bed, for a reason.  You weren’t looking to see if there was a copy of the home inspection in there.  You wanted to know if they use a higher-end, water soluble personal lubricant, or if they’re unimaginative, and just buy KY at Pharma Plus.

We know where this could end up, if I went on.

And we know that this happens at open houses, and just how offside it is.

9) Kids

Kids are an essential part of the open house process, no doubt about it.

For starters, many buyers have kids with them on weekends, and can’t get to an open house without their kids.  I get it.  There’s no “open house daycare” available for parents to utilize so they can attend open houses alone.

And secondly, kids will be moving into the house eventually, so some parents want to get the kids in there as part of the search process.  I get that too.  I don’t know how much “say” the kids will have, but that’s up to the parents.

However, as many of you can imagine, many buyers suffer from a lack of understanding of Point #1 above, in that they fail to realize this is somebody’s house, and they let their kids run amok.  See Point #3 as well.

I’ve personally witnessed buyers come in, with three kids in tow, and say, “Okay guys, go have a look!” and encourage their children to run around, unsupervised.

I’ve witnessed parents say, “Go play hide-and-seek with your brother!”

I’m sorry guys, but as per Point #1, attending an open house is a privilege, not a right.  And if you want your kids to play hide-and-seek, then take them to a park, or an indoor play.  Don’t take them to an open house.

Now some parents take their kids to open houses instead of taking them to an indoor play, ie. as an activity, or an outing.  I’ve seen parents tell their kids, “Go take a feature sheet!”  I’m not cheap; I have a couple hundred thousand dollars per year in expenses, but it’s the principle behind seeing a woman tell her kids to take “one of each” of the feature sheet, floor plan, home inspection summary, area amenities, and MLS listing that bothers me.  I’m also not an environmentalist (although I did proudly switch from plastic water bottles to a metal thermos this year), but I hate to see three kids take a combined 48 pieces of paper, and know that this is going in the trash within an hour.

Last but not least, many parents take their kids to open houses to feed them lunch.

Yes, we know many open houses serve lunch – especially the agent open houses, which are during weekdays from 11am to 1pm.  I can’t tell you how many parents show up and tell their kids, “Run and grab a sandwich.”  It’s the same point as above; I’m not cheap, I just don’t like the false pretenses of attending an open house to feed your children.

10) Toilets

You all knew this was coming, right?

In fact, many of you would have led with this point.

What is the etiquette about using the toilet at an open house?

It’s sort of a double-edged sword.  Not one of you wants the public using your toilet when your home is for sale, but many of you feel it’s not an issue if you’re attending an open house, or you’re on a showing, and you need to use the toilet.

Then many of you suggest that using the toilet all depends on………you know………the specific use.

I’ve seen everything there is to see when it comes to this topic.

January of 2013, I wrote this blog: “The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened.”

I can’t give you the Coles Notes on this one.  Just read it.

But ask every agent, and they’ll tell you a story about an open house, and a toilet.

One I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to tell before – it was one of my first open houses ever, back in 2004, around Victoria Park & Lawrence.  A woman walked up the front steps, and said, verbatim, “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?  I just ate a shi!t ton of chilli.”

Folks, on my life.  Word for word.

It’s so insane, that you just can’t make it up.  At first, I thought it had to be a joke.  I thought it was a test, either from the listing agent, or somebody at my brokerage.  It was just nuts!  I mean, chilli?  Really?

But every real estate agent has a story like that one, probably more.

And yet no two people can agree on what the etiquette is on toilets at an open house, or a showing.  You have all used the toilet, for #1, at a showing before.  Don’t tell me you haven’t…

So there you have it, excuse the lack of brevity.

Let me know which points you agree on, and which you don’t.

And if I’ve missed anything, or more importantly – if you want to know if something is offside or not, ask the question in the comments below.

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37 Comments

  1. lol

    at 9:00 am

    omg i’m guilty of the toilette one….i was pregnant and we just got to the open house a bit early and the agent let us in…i walked for about a minute and it was such an emergency i asked, he didnt really want me to but there was no one else there yet and i was clearly pregnant so he relented. i felt so bad about it, because i agree it is definitely uncouth to use a bathroom at an open house – i also wiped everything down with tissues and made sure it was all polished perfectly again and i put that tissue into my purse so there wouldnt be a piece of garbage in the open bin

  2. iwill

    at 9:11 am

    no one keeps underwear in the top drawer… always the bottom, next to the socks..

    1. Condodweller

      at 12:05 pm

      You can apply this point to your particular situation but I think David would say that opening any dresser drawer is not cool.

        1. Dolly

          at 7:48 pm

          I just went to an open house today and he was insisting on our personal information. I was a bit annoyed. I let him know. I didnt want to bother my agent to book a visit. I will give him some information and i dont want anyone to bother me.

  3. Paully

    at 10:10 am

    …just ate a….ton of chilli? Hahahahaha! So unbelievable that it must be true!

  4. McBloggert

    at 10:49 am

    On the “Personal Information” point – I partially agree. I think it is appropriate for people to have to sign in – just so that realtor knows who is in and out of the house; and asking if you have an agent is totally cool too. What I do not like and never do – is give them my address. E-mail sure, but why do you need my home address – that just gets creepy to me.

    I have no other issues with the other points and am sure it can be a total gong show at open houses.

    While I do like going to an open house every once and a while – I can’t help but feel that most folks are just passive or nosy and not really in the market.

  5. Ralph Cramdown

    at 11:53 am

    Nobody goes to open houses anymore. They’re too crowded.

  6. Condodweller

    at 12:02 pm

    I agree with all. My question is why have an open house in the first place? I mean how many serious buyers would not book a viewing if there was no open house? How many casual visitors to open houses who had no intention of buying do end up making a bid because they love the place so much? Unless the place has some rare and fantastic features that would make a “visitor”, between eating a sandwich and using the toilet, who had no intention of buying say wow, this is amazing, I am going to make a bid, there is no point of an open house.

    1. Jeremy

      at 12:56 pm

      I attempted to make an offer after visiting an open house last year. It turns out it had already been sold conditionally.

      1. Condodweller

        at 10:49 am

        The question is, would you not have booked a showing with your agent if there was no open house? I think open houses MAY make sense in a bear market. How much of a difference does one additional buyer make to the seller when he/she it’s getting over ten offers?

    2. Mark Nesbitt

      at 5:07 pm

      Not everybody has yet established a close working relationship with a realtor. We bought our first house privately from a newspaper ad (1980). We bought our second house as a result of an on-impulse open house visit. Third and fourth houses with a realtor’s assistance. I think open houses demonstrate realtor effort to the sellers, but also sometimes result in sales that might not otherwise have happened.

  7. Housing Bear

    at 12:06 pm

    Well as a peppery, enthusiastic, realtor- TOLERANT market bear. I actually agree with most of the common sense points above. If you are going into someone else’s home, be respectful and do not touch or do anything that is not integral to you deciding whether or not this is something you want to buy. This is someone else’s home. Even being vocal about foundation issues you see (or think you understand) to other visitors is bad form. Could be screwing up a desperate sellers chances at unloading that hot potato. These potential buyers are in the market and are going to buy something, let them make informed decision for themselves, instead of trying to look smart.

    That being said, the point about personal information is a two way street. Absolutely appropriate for the sake of maintaining security and a sense of accountability to visitors, but when agents use this as a sneaky method of prospecting it comes across as tactless, and makes the whole industry look pushy.

    1. Housing Bear

      at 12:11 pm

      I know the second point is kind of ironic considering I post my observations about the market place here (similar to the know it all visitor complaining about a houses foundation) but I feel I am reaching out to people who are trying to do research on the market (trying to decide if now is a good time to buy), I do not go to open houses to yell out “ITS A TRAP!”

      Also, I just like to argue with people………….. maybe I am a bit salty and jaded after all.

  8. Kyle

    at 2:34 pm

    I agree with all of these. I remember seeing someone park in the driveway to go in to the open house, which I thought was kind of douchey. Other times I see people blocking other homes’ driveways and parking on the sidewalk, this is quite douchey as well.

    1. joel

      at 8:45 am

      I have seen that a few times and it is ridiculous. People will also park on the sidewalk if there is no street parking. I just don’t understand the entitlement some times.

  9. Derek

    at 10:39 pm

    In move-up mode on account of two young daughters, there is really no choice but to bring the kids. Hitting an open house is often last minute on the weekend, especially in move-up mode (feels less urgent to hit every listing with your agent than in first-time buyer mode). Sorry, but in the move up market, there will be kids. That said, we were careful not to let them run roughshod around the joint. Agree with all points though. Not your house. I would be curious to know your anecdotal estimate of how many listings you sell to first visit open housers versus first time private viewers?

    Lastly, in the spirit of the Garth Turner forecast fail post, how about a mid-year scorecard on your predictions for 2018. Where are you looking good and where not so good and why?

  10. joel

    at 8:43 am

    My wife and I occasionally stop into open houses to look and to get an idea of what we will be able to buy with our next house. Last year we seriously considered buying a house after walking by and stopping in, but couldn’t justify the pricing in the end.

    When we were looking to buy our first house I remember a few things. Agents would call and email constantly after we had been to an open house and at one point about 4 agents were emailing us listings without us asking. We ended up going to a realtor that we saw in an open house and didn’t hound us for info. We thought that our personalities would mesh better.

    We also had an altercation in one open house where the agent was furious that I gave her my email, but not phone number. She was arguing with us in front of other potential buyers. We didn’t even look around the house as this happened as soon as we walked in. I think this would have to negatively impact the amount of potential buyers if the agent was that aggressive.

    I have heard so many people in open houses openly complaining to the realtors about bidding wars that it is baffling. I have also heard serious buyers having intelligent conversations with the agent to get an understanding of where they think they stand.

    If you are going in without a serious intention to buy, I would think that you would be on your best behaviour and be very friendly and open with the realtor about your intentions. I will often say that we are about 1-2 years from upgrading and looking to get an idea of the market and different parts of the neighbourhood.

  11. jeff316

    at 1:56 pm

    I think that people do #5 Commentary and #6 Attitude as an early negotiation tactic, to discount their interest and to set tone for potential negotiation — but the impact is limited in a market like this.

  12. FreeMoney

    at 4:17 pm

    Actually, David, by switching from plastic water bottles to a metal thermos, you have shown that you are in fact an environmentalist, albeit on a rather tame level (although I’m sure there are other similar things you do that would add to your “enviro credentials,” much as that would tarnish your self-styled image as a libertarian, free-market, old-school kind of guy).

    1. David Fleming

      at 7:15 pm

      @ FreeMoney

      Okay, I’ll bite here…

      I had never really thought much of using plastic water bottles before. I would honestly go through an entire case of 24 in a week, at the office, home, and in the car (I used them quite often because I’m always in the car). My wife has always told me, “We should get a Brita!” but I never made the switch.

      I don’t know what it was, but one day I just sort of said, “What the hell am I doing?” I can’t honestly tell you why.

      I recycle religiously. When my wife throws out the whole package of rotting baby greens – in the garbage, I’ll take the greens out, put them in the garbage, rinse the plastic container, and switch it to the recycling. If I finish the toilet paper roll in the bathroom, I’ll make the trek into the kitchen to ensure the cardboard is recycled.

      I don’t know why I do it. Guilt? Or just knowing it’s “right?”

      I don’t think about future generations, or “your children’s children,” because I honestly think this planet has maybe 150-200 more years before it implodes. Dark thoughts, yes. But also interesting ones, because it means we could be one of the last generations to inhabit this rock, after thousands before us. Okay, that got weird…

      I guess I’m saying that I don’t necessarily recycle, and I didn’t switch to a metal thermos because I’m thinking about my children’s children, like many, or the good of the planet. I just think it’s insanely wasteful. It’s also inconsiderate, lazy, and selfish of me to use 300 water bottles per year.

      And I don’t know that the “free market, old school, libertarian” has to include waste, and/or lack of an environmental conscience.

      I also don’t know that I’m self-styled as such, but then again, I don’t read these blogs through the eyes of others.

      Anyways, fun chat!

      1. FreeMoney

        at 1:17 pm

        Thanks for the detailed response, David. It helps provide a “non-RE related” element to your personality for followers of your blog who care about such things (I daresay most of them?). And, mea culpa, my “self-styled image” assessment was needlessly (albeit mildly) churlish. Thanks again.

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  14. may

    at 11:18 am

    Omg….so accurate….
    I do presale and the toilet is always sealed and no plumbing hooked up. Someone pooped in the towel and wrapped it back up nicely….unbelievable what people will do.

  15. Teresa

    at 11:19 am

    No one should use the toilet at an open house – you’re there to see the house not use the facilities.

    1. Les harris

      at 12:25 am

      I always use the toilet at an open house if it has a septic system whether I need to or not . But I do it sitting down. It tells one a lot about the plumbing , and septic system .

      1. Kristina

        at 10:50 am

        Why not just flush the empty toilet…No need to actually “use it”. I find that rude.

  16. jimmy

    at 7:43 pm

    realtors giving the public etiquette tips ! Ironic !! Realtors may need etiquette lessons though …. HA!!

  17. Maureen

    at 9:23 am

    One Realtor to another: Amen! As a female Realtor I’ve had a couple of uncomfortable moments with men coming through on their own. I go with my gut and if I feel something isn’t right I step outside if it’s only him and I inside. I tell my clients beforehand that’s my SOP and they all agree with me that my safety comes first.

  18. on

    at 1:06 pm

    Excellent article.

    Either way, if a seller wants his or her agent to keep track of who is coming through the house, than that supersedes a “visitor’s” desire to not identify him or herself.

    “then” rather than “than.”

  19. Sandra B.

    at 12:27 pm

    From a seller’s perspective, I couldn’t agree more. I could go on and on about the ridiculous things people were doing in our home during the open house. Even if they are a serious buyer, they should realize it’s STILL MY HOME.

  20. MICHELE

    at 12:33 pm

    The buyer of our home is a Real Estate agent. Our contract says the buyer is allowed two additional visits prior to closure. Should our agent be present during these visits? as it stands he has been allowed to enter our property on his own and be there for an hour each time. He had it inspected already, then he wanted to do a walkthrough which we knew about (however I thought our agent should have been present) while we left the house. He has now requested another walkthrough. I am not comfortable with him entering our home without our agent.

    1. SaltyB

      at 12:29 pm

      Stop it. You’re being dramatic. This is common place for a buyer to want 2 further visits.

  21. Lisanne Van Vlaardingen

    at 4:47 pm

    Great article! Don’t forget agents who show up whenever they feel like it and don’t respect the scheduled viewing time. Ugh!

  22. Mark

    at 11:24 am

    You overlooked a very important point. Ensuring that the agent greets and welcomes visitors into the home. I’ve been ignored at open houses and figuratively have to “wave my arms” in front of an agent to get them to acknowledge me because perhaps I was perceived as being of a racial group that was not “preferred”. No “hello”, no “please walk through and let me know what you think”. If they were engaging other customers I would politely wait until the conversation ended but even then, the agent would not say anything to me afterward – or, he would continue the personal (not about the home) conversation they were having – at which point I would just walk away and explore the home on my own. I went to five open houses yesterday and this happened to me at two separate homes. Both agents happened to be white males.

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