Open House Etiquette, From Using the Bathroom to Opening the Fridge
Life + Money

Open House Etiquette, From Using the Bathroom to Opening the Fridge

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Spring selling season is underway and so is the ritual of sellers opening their doors on weekends to invite potential buyers to snoop around, judge their décor and test the water pressure.

Open houses are a popular way to sell homes. Last year, half of all home sellers used one to market their houses. But just like any event open to the public, everyone is not always on their best behavior, including potential homebuyers.

“Sometimes I sit there and say, ‘What are these people thinking?’” says Julie Longtin, owner of Cityside Properties in Providence, Rhode Island. “There is an etiquette. Don’t make yourself at home if you haven’t bought it yet. It’s like buying a bathing suit.”

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As you hit the open house tours this spring and summer, keep in mind these do’s and don’ts.

Can you use the bathroom?

Generally, avoid this, say most real estate agents, unless it’s absolutely necessary, such as a medical condition. Using the bathroom can also create an uncomfortable situation if other people are touring the house and want to see the bathroom while you’re in there. Long-vacant homes can also pose another problem, says Janice Miller, a broker at ERA First Advantage Realty in Newburgh, Indiana. “Be sure to check if the water is running first!”

Can you take pictures?

In this day and age, almost every activity can be posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for your family and friends to see. But don’t get camera-happy at an open house without asking the showing agent first. You're a stranger, after all, and could be casing the house to rob it!

“Taking pictures can be touchy for some sellers. Often it's important to the potential buyer if their spouse is unavailable, and you don't want to lose an opportunity to sell,” says Rich Degory, a real estate agent at Century 21 New Millennium in Stafford, Virginia. “One thing that's important is security. Ensure personal pictures, awards, military honors, anything identifying the owner is removed.”

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What can you open?

Feel free to inspect pantries, closets, cabinets and drawers that come with a home. Sellers should remove any medication from bathroom drawers and cabinets, says Longtin, because some people will steal them. “When someone closes the bathroom door, I become suspicious,” she says.

Drawers and cabinets in furniture that the owner plans to keep are off limits, however. Same with appliances, unless they come with the house. “I have had the occasion when someone tried to help themselves to some soda [in the refrigerator],” Degory says. “It’s the seller’s food and drinks.”

Can you bring food or drink?

Resounding no. As a consolation, some real estate agents offer snacks or drinks at open houses.

Can I keep my shoes on?

This one got mixed answers. If the seller requests no shoes, buyers should comply. “Remember to wear matching socks,” says Miller. Otherwise, make sure to wipe your shoes off well on a doormat before entering. Some sellers offer paper booties that cover your shoes--especially in new homes with bare wood floors.

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What other behavior should you avoid?

Don’t smoke either inside or outside the house. Don’t throw garbage out in the home’s trash cans. And keep children under control. Longtin remembers one time when some children started playing with toys belonging to the seller’s children. Letting children loose can be a danger, too, if the house isn’t child-proofed.

“Remember, you are a visitor — not even a guest — so act accordingly, as if you were in a museum,” says Judi Desiderio, CEO of Town & Country in East Hampton, New York. “In my 34 years, the worst I witnessed is the fridge being open. Thank goodness for that.”