What a first time home buyer should look for at open houses ranges from checking out the HVAC to talking to the neighbors. As a first-time homebuyer attending an open house, you are now on a search for that perfect home to buy. It is so exciting to walk into an open house that is beautifully staged just to make you fall in love with it. Remember though, that furniture does not convey. You have to look “behind” the pretty furniture. Here are some important things to remember at the open house and some suggestions of what to look for.

A First Time Home Buyer Should Look For Overall Condition

Overall Condition: At an open house, a first time home buyer should look for clues to the general condition of the property.

No matter how beautiful a house looks on the surface, you want to know what the infrastructure is like before making a purchase. One of the easiest ways to choose a home with good bones is to make sure the infrastructure is sound.  The infrastructure is like the skeleton of the home.  If you notice sagging beams or cracking plaster, for example, that could be a sign of problems with the foundation. You’ll also want to take note of when the various systems were last updated, such as plumbing, electrical and heating. If there is a basement, give it the sniff test.  Do you smell moisture? Is there visible mold or flacking paint in the basement.  That could be an indication that there are foundation issues or there is water infiltrating the house.

Take a quick peek at the corners of windows, stairs, doors, and other openings. In these areas, large, diagonal cracks indicate that something is stretching unusually and may need significant labor (and money) to fix the fault.

There is a big difference between a home that needs a new coat of paint or new appliances and one which needs to be jacked up so that you can shore up the foundation.  The first gives you an opportunity to increase the value of your home through sweat equity while the second makes your home into a hole in the ground that you pour money into!

Of course, you will get an inspection.  After all, many aspects of bad bones are hard to see. For example, cracks may be difficult to find if they’re in the interior of the building but will cost you lots to fix. However, even before the inspection, you can tell a lot about a home just by taking off the rose colored glasses and looking at it carefully!  Trust your own eyes!


A First Time Home Buyer Should Look for Information about Structural Integrity

Structural Integrity: A first time home buyer should look for clues about the structural elements of the house, including the foundation, walls, and ceilings. Look for any signs of sagging, bowing, or sloping, as these can indicate structural problems.  Again – trust your own eyes first.

Floor Plan

Floor Plan: Evaluate the layout and flow of the home. Consider whether it suits your lifestyle and preferences. Think about the number and size of rooms, the placement of windows, and the overall functionality of the space.  Is the kitchen separate from the living spaces?  Is there easy access to outdoor living spaces? If you have young children, can you see the back yard from the family room, kitchen or home office? Unless you definitely are buying to renovate and expand at the outset, remember that this home is what you are going to be living in.  Use the time at open houses to think about what your future home needs to have for your wants and needs.

Natural LIght

Natural Light: Take note of the amount of natural light that enters the home. Adequate natural light can enhance the ambiance and reduce the need for artificial lighting during the day.  Some people need more light than others.  This is all about your needs and choices.

Storage Space

Storage Space: Assess the available storage options, such as closets, cabinets, and garage space. Sufficient storage is essential for organizing your belongings and maintaining a clutter-free home.  We all need to de-clutter but we still need a certain amount of storage – and only you can tell what is right for you.  The one thing you can count on is that you will have more things rather than less as you settle in to your new home.  Have room to grow.


Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling: Check the heating and cooling systems, as well as the ventilation throughout the house. Ensure they are in good condition and capable of providing comfortable living conditions.  Again, trust your own eyes.  Is the outside compressor rusty or new?  You can tell the difference.   Is the bottom of the water heater intact or starting to rust?  Are there water stains around the furnace or is it shiny and new?  Are there any service stickers on the HVAC?  When was it serviced most recently? Can you take a peak at the HVAC filter?  Is it clean or solid with dirt?  That is an indication of the maintenance of the HVAC system.   If it is a condo with individual room units, look at the base of the unit.  Are there water stains on the floor? Can you open the control panel and look inside? How does it look inside.  This could be your problem soon.   Don’t be reluctant to take a hard look.

Neighborhood and Surroundings

Neighborhood and Surroundings: Consider the neighborhood and its amenities. Explore the local area, noting the proximity to schools, shopping centers, parks, and transportation options. Also, pay attention to the noise level and the overall feel of the neighborhood.  How close it is to Starbucks? How close is it to a Target?  Those can affect the value of your home.

Outdoor Space

Outdoor Space: Evaluate the outdoor areas, including the yard, patio, or balcony. Determine if they meet your needs and if there is sufficient privacy and space for your intended activities.

Renovations and Potential Upgrades

Potential Upgrades or Renovations: Consider whether any upgrades or renovations may be necessary in the future. Assess the cost, feasibility, and permits required for such improvements.  Don’t fall in love with what this property COULD be unless that is you meant to look for a fixer upper or an expandable property.  Make sure you understand the budget for those renovations or improvements.

Ask Questions

Ask Questions: A first time home buyer should look for an opportunity to engage with the real estate agent or seller and ask any relevant questions about the property. Inquire about maintenance history, utility costs, age of major appliances, and any other concerns you may have.  Ask about the neighbors and the schools.  (The listing agent won’t be able give you answers to those questions – but the seller very well may be Chatty Cathy and give you lots of useful information.)  Ask when the seller will be looking at offers and what is most important to a seller in the offer.  Does the seller want a particular closing date? a specific title company? a free rent back? All this information will make your offer stronger in a competitive situation.

Take Lots of Photos

Take Photos: It’s a good idea to take photos or notes to help you compare different properties later on.  In addition, the photos you take may be more representative of the property than the professional photos on the MLS.

A First Time Home Buyer Should Look for Information at Open Houses!

Remember, attending an open house is just one step in the homebuying process. It’s crucial to get a professional home inspection before finalizing any purchase to ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of the property’s condition.

If all this sounds promising and you live in the DC metro area, give us a call at 240-401-5577 or email us at lise@lisehowe.com.  We at the Lise Howe Group love helping first time home buyers like you!  If you want to start your home buyer search now, just click here. 

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