How to make the most of open house visits

The annual spring homebuying season is starting to warm up, even if the weather isn’t.

Winter has several weeks yet to go. But in the realm of real estate, it’s already spring.

The annual spring home-buying season traditionally kicks off in the weeks following the Super Bowl, which serves as an unofficial cap to a typically slow holiday season.

More homes are hitting the market, which means would-be buyers can expect to see a pickup in open houses, when real estate agents allow prospective buyers to tour a home, usually within days after it’s been listed for sale. Open houses offer more than just the opportunity to get a closer look at a property. Here are tips to get the most out of your open house visit:

1. Do homework: Unless you’ve stumbled upon an open house while on a drive, take time to online research the home you’re going to visit. Before you set foot in the house, rule out potential deal-breakers. Do you have concerns about the area schools? Is the garage too small? Is the neighborhood not walkable enough for you?

2. Have the tools: Be sure to carry a tape measure, notebook and camera, especially if you plan on hitting several open houses in one weekend. You will likely want to follow up with the sales agent later on specific questions.

3. Look, listen: Rather than settling for a fast walkthrough, consider spending some time at the house, getting a feel for what it would be like to live there. Staying 20-30 minutes or longer makes it more likely you’ll spot something that you might otherwise miss. Don’t think twice about opening closet doors, peering underneath a corner section of carpet, inside cabinets or behind paintings, which sometimes may be covering up damage or flaws in the house.

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Walk around the house and around the block. Check out the condition of nearby homes.

If you’re in the market for a condominium, make sure you view any common areas.

4. Chit-chat: Chatting up the other people in the open house to determine if they live in the neighborhood can pay off, as you could glean more information on the neighborhood and whether anyone else on the block may be looking to sell.

5. Crash the tour: Often, an agent hired to sell a home will offer buyers’ agents an opportunity to visit the property ahead of the initial open house. This so-called brokers’ tour typically happens midweek, during business hours. If you can make it, it’s a good way to get a look ahead of other buyers.