Top Ten: Stupid Things People Ask At Open Houses


6 minute read

April 14, 2014

I’m in the “Top Ten” zone this week, so we may as well roll with it!

A conversation took place in my office last week about some of the ridiculous questions people ask at open houses, and after this past weekend of open houses and even more crazy dialogue, I figured what better time for this post than right now?

An open house gathers all kinds of folks, ranging from the most astute and savvy active buyers who are pounding the pavement in their property search, to those that have no clue why they walked through the front door of the house.

And the crazy questions come equally from both groups.

Here are the top ten…


#10: “So…….what can you tell me about the house?”

It doesn’t sound that crazy at first, but give it some thought, and allow me to explain.

We’re in a hyperactive market right now, where buyers and sellers are more well-informed than ever  before.  And yet, once in a while, I’ll be at an open house where somebody will come in side, look around in a circle, and then slowly drawl, “Sooooooo……..what can ya tell me?”

This is the best way to spot a person who has absolutely zero interest in the home, and who was walking out to the main drag to get an ice-cream cone, when they decided to walk inside the house for a peek.

An active buyer wants nothing to do with the agent working the open house, who, more often than not, isn’t even the actual listing agent.  That agent is just an empty shell of a person to a buyer, and these active buyers won’t even make eye contact.

An active buyer knows that the house is a 3-bed, 2-bath, on an 18 x 110 foot lot, with a mutual driveway that has a legal front parking pad, and that the basement height is good enough to warrant spending $40K finishing it.

Somebody that smiles at the agent and asks, “So, what can you tell me?” is simply there to kill time on a really boring Sunday afternoon.

#9: “Is the furniture for sale?”

We get this all the time!

This isn’t the original “Wheel of Fortune” where instead of cash prices, you’d take your $1,800 in winnings and spend it on the contents of a featured room!

“I’ll take the alarm clock radio for $30, and I’ll take the chest of drawers for $400……hmmmmm…..what else…..”

What makes people think that just because a house is for sale, that the contents are as well?

When you walk into IKEA, do you ask the salesperson, “How much for your shoes?”

I had a guy once so insistent on asking the sellers of a condo if he could buy their couch, that he called me on Monday morning to follow up…

#8: “Any knob-and-tube wiring, asbestos, termites, lead piping, or mold?”

Dont’ get me wrong – this is a VERY valid question!

But the person asking the question is always like the guy in point #10 – somebody that has no interest in the house, but just wants to be heard.

This person is simply trying to show off his or her knowledge of homes.

“I watched Holmes Inspection all last week and now I want to apply what I’ve learned!  Any double-tapped circuits in the breaker panel?  Do all the bathrooms have GFCI’s?”

Asking me, “Is there any knob-and-tube wiring,” is a fine question, even though it’s probably in the home inspection on the counter five feet from you, but when I have somebody rattle off five different red-flag buzz-words like “urea-formaldehyde” in succession, I have to think they’re just showing off.

#7: “What are the neighbours like?”

It’s a strange question for two reasons:

1) I don’t live in the house, and I probably don’t know what the neighbours are like.
2) If Jack The Ripper lived next door, would I tell you?

I don’t think this is a question of ethics; I think that if you’re the listing agent, your duties lay to the home-owner, and if you thought that the 8-year-old next door was a spoiled brat who was always spraying his Super-Soaker 3000 over the fence, you probably wouldn’t detail that to a stranger.

This is one of those questions that, despite its best intentions and validity, is always going to get the same answer: “They’re really, really great.”

#6: Is there anything wrong with the house?

Again – what do you expect the agent to say?

“Yes, actually, lots!”

“The house has ghosts, goblins, gremlins, and it smells like cheese.”

Even if there is something wrong with the house, who is to say what is a red-flag, and what is something you should expect to find in a house on a regular basis?  I made an offer last week on a house whose MLS description read, “House contains 50% knob-and-tube wiring.”  So what?  That can be replaced for $5,000, and it didn’t faze my clients at all.  Is that something “wrong” with the house?

It’s just an odd question.

The home inspection is sitting on the table – have a look at it.

Does the person asking this question expect the agent to rattle off a laundry list of issues?  And what is an issue to one person might not be to another.

#5: “Were they happy here?”

No, seriously.  I get this question all the time!

Particularly in the case of single-family homes, and there’s always somebody that just has to inquire as to the personal state of mind of the home-seller.

Maybe it’s because some buyers don’t like purchasing a “divorce home.”  I don’t believe in bad vibes (or the boogeyman…) but some buyers actually put a lower value on a home that is being sold because of a divorce!

In this case, however, I find people asking this at an open house are only doing so because they’re nosey, they have no intention of buying the house, they watch reality TV shows but open houses provide the best reality, and because they ask stupid questions like:

#4: “Is the house staged?”

People always want to know if the house is staged or not!

Why does it matter?

Sometimes, it’s because if you answer, “No, this is all the sellers’ stuff,” it makes the person asking the question doubt their own style and fashion sense.  The passer-byers and tire-kickers often attend open houses because they want to see how other people live, and it bothers them to know that this gorgeous house is NOT staged, and that the sellers are actually pretty tasteful folks!

Other times, I can’t possibly comprehend why people ask this question.

Perhaps it’s a buyer looking into the motivations of the seller.  If the house is staged, freshly painted, and they’ve thinned out the clothing in the closets, and replaced the carpet, maybe this is a “smoke and mirrors” house where it looks way, way better than it actually is.

If you ever see a rug on the kitchen floor, pick it up.  That’s an odd place for a rug, and it’s often because there’s water damage to the hardwood flooring from the sink or dishwasher.

Maybe this question does have some validity, but whether the answer is “yes” or “no” really won’t change much.

#3: “Is that them in the photos?”

Believe it or not, I’ve had this question on multiple occasions.

It goes hand-in-hand with point #4 above about staging.

People get so suspicious at open houses, and so sneaky and nosey, that they look at photos on the wall, consider that perhaps the photos are staging items, and inquire accordingly.

Just think of the possibilities!

Maybe it’s a family of three, and they put a photo of a family of five on the walls to try and show that the house is bigger and fits more people than it does!

Or maybe they’re an ugly family, and they put up photos of good-looking folks!

Think about when you buy a picture frame, and the photo that comes with the frame features either a graduation, a couple laying on a blanket in a field, or a person on a beach.

I think that Facebook has made it so easy to not only put a face to a name, but also dig into people’s lives, that when it comes to open houses – people really want to know what the sellers look like.

#2: “Are they flexible on the price?”

What do you expect the listing agent to say?

I guess it all depends on whether this is a house or a condo, and whether it’s priced appropriately or not.

If it’s a condo that’s been on the market for 40 days, then perhaps you already know the answer, but do you really expect the agent at the open house (whether it’s the listing agent or not) to answer, “yes”?

I get this question all the time when I’m at an open house for a single-family home that is bound to end up with multiple offers, and it often shows you that the person asking the question is uninformed.

Whether you like it or not, most single-family homes are under-priced to get multiple offers.  If a house is priced at $599,000, and it’s likely going to fetch over $750,000, for a buyer to ask, “Are they flexible on price” shows that they have no clue what market they’re working in.

Either that, or they do, and they’re being facetious…

#1: “Why are they selling?”

This is hands-down, without a doubt, the #1 question that should appear on this list.

Every single open house I’ve ever run has produced at least one person who asks this question.

In a different market climate, this question might have some purpose.

Think about if you asked the agent this question at an open house in 1992…

“Well, that’s a good question!  You see, the sellers of this home have both lost their jobs and they’re completely bankrupt, so the bank has foreclosed on the property, and we would take any offer that came our way….”

This isn’t 1992.

People ask, “Why are they selling?” because they think it might provide an edge in a negotiation, ie. if the answer is, “They’re selling because they’ve already bought another, larger home and they close in June,” then perhaps you’d have some insight as to the sellers’ motivations, and it might help you as a buyer.

But that doesn’t happen in 2014.  Nowadays, every single house in the city ends up in multiple offers, and the listing agent has no problem saying, “My clients have bought firm and they close on June 28th, so we’d love a July 4th closing.”  And if you don’t give the sellers that July 4th closing, your offer might not win.

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. Gilly

    at 8:40 am

    #1 “why are they selling?” makes me cringe. Because we bought a house in 1992, and yup, as first-time buyers we asked stuff like that. And stopped asking, because in the TO neighbourhoods we were looking in, the answer was either the homeowners had lost jobs, or had gone to a retirement home, or had died. Not a cheerful time to be looking!

  2. Paully

    at 9:08 am

    #7 Rules!

    The absolute best feature that any home could have, bar none, is good neighbours!

    A truly savvy prospective buyer would walk around the immediate area and actually talk to the neighbours. The listing agent does not know, and does not care about the neighbours. The neighbours might know a thing or two about the house too that the agent does not want you to know.

    It is possible to make lots of changes to your new house. You can paint, renovate, landscape, change appliances, build an addition…but you cannot change the neighbours!

  3. Joe Q.

    at 10:07 am

    I think a lot of these are valid questions, if a bit naive (naive in the sense that there is no way the Realtor would know the answer). Buyers may be afraid that they are going to be somehow defrauded or are having the wool pulled over their eyes.

    On the topic of lead pipes: our house had lead water service pipes when we moved in. The previous owner, who was himself a contractor and had young kids, had completely renovated much of the house but had not touched the plumbing. The previous owners did not have an inspection done before the house went on the market, and the entry point of the water service pipe was buried under a mountain of junk stuffed into a basement closet. Our inspector found the lead pipe, duly noted it in his report, and when we moved in, we had the water tested — it had double the recommended guideline level of lead — the previous owner’s kids had been drinking the stuff for years.

    We drank filtered water for a while until we were finally able to have the whole service pipe replaced (the City portion took a long time).

  4. Cliff

    at 10:45 am

    Most are valid questions.

    1. David Fleming

      at 11:08 am

      @ Cliff

      No doubt many of these are valid, but it’s the person asking, or the way they ask, that make them ridiculous.

  5. jeff316

    at 11:17 am

    If you move past decor, the staging question is valid because it can be indicative of how the house has/is/can be used.

    There’s the obvious: the presence of small uncomfy rented furniture in a house in order to make it look bigger indicating that the living space is probably too small to be effectively used on a daily basis with useful furniture.

    There is also the less obvious: children’s furniture and decorations in rooms can indicate a family home, or can be stages to make it look like a house is livable for a family of four when it really isn’t and the existing owners are moving out because the place is just too small to eventually fit two adults and two teenagers.

    I think the issue here is less that the questions are dumb but more the probability of getting an honest answer from a real estate agent is about 1%. And I don’t mean that as a slight to agents.

    1. David Fleming

      at 11:44 am

      @ Jeff 316

      I think you’re right – I’m looking at this from the perspective of a listing agent.

      When you ask, “Is there anything wrong with the house?” What kind of answer do you expect?

  6. Kyle

    at 11:42 am

    I think this speaks mostly to how different the market is here vs smaller towns and cities. A lot of these questions are stupid in Toronto (Calgary and Vancouver probably too), but outside of Toronto many of these questions are quite valid. Toronto has become a hyper-competitive, fast paced market, full of battle hardened bidding war veterans. Real active buyers would already have sussed out the answers to most of these questions and instead would be asking questions about when and how offers will be reviewed. But imagine if you were holding an open house in say Lindsay Ontario, i think these questions are pretty much par for the course.

    1. Floom

      at 1:12 pm

      Love the “*Please note house is not built yet” -thank you, thank you very much.

  7. ScottyP

    at 1:26 pm

    Aside from the staging question, these are all completely idiotic questions that have a 0% chance of getting an honest answer.

  8. Paul G

    at 2:15 pm

    Just tell them the house is haunted, it can answer almost all of these questions.

  9. Jonathan

    at 5:30 pm

    What I find weird is when you actually get useful info from the hosting agent that isn’t in the listing, or anywhere else. I once went to an open house where the agent told me the flippers had reinforced all of the second story floor joists – something that is actually important for an old house converted to an open concept main floor, quite invasive and expensive to do after buying, and impossible to see with the naked eye. Anyone who didn’t come to the open house and ask the agent would have no idea…

  10. Gwen

    at 10:15 pm

    RE #9: I sold my Toronto house in 2007. The deal hinged on me including the kitchen stools and dining room table and chairs (both of which I had scored for free). Happily I was moving in with my now-spouse in a fully furnished house. No problem.

  11. Ed

    at 12:02 pm

    #11-How is the feng shui?

  12. FroJo

    at 12:38 pm

    If (most of) these are stupid questions, then the situation is very bad.

    We’ll be telling jaw-dropping stories about this hot market years from now … or we’ll just point our children or our children’s children to the archive of David’s blog.

    Keep fighting the fight, sir.

  13. Nina

    at 12:15 am

    I had a solid offer on my other home in another country for $544,000 that was contingent on me including the custom window treatments in the sale! And these were drapery that I had hand sewn myself. I’m a pretty good seamstress but they weren’t that good honey…

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