Part 1: Top Tips for Coastside Open House Visitors

Part 1 of 2: How Prospective Buyers Can Get the Most out of their Coastside Open Home visits:  4 Top Tips

Part 2 of 2: How Buyers Find out about Coastside Open Houses

As the web has become a more prevalent home-buying tool(1), we are also noticing a shift in buyer behaviors here on the Half Moon Bay Coastside.  The buyers out and about now are first time home buyers, relocating buyers, local move-up buyers, and vacation home buyers(both locally and from out of the area).  An issue we spoke about at yesterday’s office meeting (held at one of our listings) is the effectiveness of Open Houses here on the Coastside.  It used to be that Open Houses were primarily for the seller to feel that their property was being fully marketed without much result from open houses visitors.  That’s changing in our local towns.  Buyers visiting open houses now are shopping for a home and they are pre-qualified or have cash!  With more buyers utilizing mobile search and mapping applications, and taking advantage of the growing sophistication of web marketing, it is much easier to get to the open houses that are found online.  So, buyers, armed with your smartphone of choice (or not)…here’s a few tips to feel good about your Coastside open house visits…

1. Have fun and be respectful.  Be discreet with comments in public earshot.  Remember, we are “small town” and many of us are less than six degrees of separation – more like 3.  Listing agents handle open houses in various ways – for some it’s an event and for others it’s all business, and everything in between, so enjoy the variety.  While the purpose of the open house is to expose the property to the buying public; as a visitor, it’s OK to look for the sake of looking, and you don’t have to explain yourself.  Respect the shoes/no shoes request since we have a mix of beach, country, and neighborhood properties in all price points.  Ask the agent permission before you take any pictures.  Respect the signs about pets if any animal is on the premise; however, many pets are thankfully taken on an outing during open house days.  (Coastsiders love pets as it is a wonderful place to raise and enjoy animals.)  Coastside Realtors store a wealth of local knowledge in our brains – feel free to take advantage of that unique local expertise.

2. Be aware of WHAT you say and to WHOM you say it.  The agent holding the open house may or may not be the listing agent.  The listing agent is in a contractual relationship with the seller.  If someone else is holding the property open, they may not be representing the seller.  It’s OK to ask the relationship to the seller if not voluntarily provided.  The main reason an agent other than the listing agent holds a home open is to make new contacts, and hopefully establish a new client relationship.  It never hurts to highlight our brands along Highway 1 either.  If you provide your contact information to the open house agent, you are “opting in” to that agent’s contact database and are saying you are open to further discussion.  If you already have a trusted relationship with another Realtor, present her/his business card.  It happens more than you think that we share a buyer “need” with our office mates only to find one or two other colleagues are doing the same work for the same person!  Ask the Realtors that you may be interested in working with “how they work” with their buyer clients before you establish a relationship.  Some Realtors may have this discussion up front.

3. Plan your time and take notes.  If you’re coming from San Francisco, the mid-peninsula towns, or the South Bay, be aware of your timing.  Local open houses usually run from 1:30-4:30 pm.  Some may be from 1-4 or 2-4, or both Saturday and Sunday.  If the weather is warm and sunny, it could take you longer than usual to get to the coast because warm weekends at the Coast are popular!  Leaving at 11:30 or 12 may be ideal so you don’t feel rushed and can stop along the way at some of our fabulous shops if you want.  Make notes after you leave the property so that you remember what you like and didn’t like… perhaps while decompressing at a local cafe.  Some of the best details of the trip may be wasted if you get home and find the stack of flyers have already emulsified in your head.  Those scribbles may be just what you need to help you make a decision at some point in the near – or distant – future.  On nice days, you may experience traffic on the way back also.  Locals know the traffic patterns, so we know what it takes to see an open house on a beautiful weekend day (we multi-task!).

4.  Look beyond the obvious – use all the senses.  A house in a great location may not look like a gem at first, but upon further inspection it might be.  Location is key on the Coastside:  location within the neighborhood and location in relation to Highway 1 and the beaches.  An agent in our office made a very funny (and true?) statement that got us laughing:  “If you don’t want to hear the highway, don’t move to the coast!”  Some people confuse highway noise for the sounds of the surf.  Most buyers pay attention to layout, smells, upgrades, storage needs and stairs.  It’s OK to open closets, we prepare our sellers for this.  If a door is locked during an open house, it’s locked for a reason.  If you are a serious buyer for the property, you can see that part of the house another time.  We also have lots of farms – do you care about the wafting aroma of crops, or flowers, or horses?  As a buyer, pay attention to details that are important to you.

My Buyer clients give me their feedback from their open house visits and I keep the notes to see if there is new information provided based on their initial and possibly evolving criteria.  I look for patterns.  We discuss pros and cons of the various properties as they relate to their needs in the next home.  Sometimes I take them or meet them at an open home if our schedules allow.  Sometimes we see the properties separately and discuss what we each noticed from our different perspectives.

(1) Per National Association of Realtors 2009 Report summary – 90% of home buyers used the internet as an information source.  Actions Taken as a result of internet home search – 77% drove by or viewed the home.

Additional reference:  Not all local (and certainly non-local) agents have accurate information about our public schools.  If schools are important to learn about on your open house visits, follow it up with a conversation with the Superintendent of our local public school district – found on this Schools Reference Page.