Love it or Hate it: What to Do After Every Open House

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By Paula Pant

Even if you didn't fall in love, every open house is an opportunity to learn still more about what you're really looking for in a home.

You can learn a lot from a visit to an open house, from whether a home is really as amazing as it looks in photos to whether the street noise is tolerable. But one thing that isn't always so clear after visiting an open house is what to do next.

Whether you've fallen in love or never want to set foot in a certain neighborhood again, how do you best put that information to use? Here are the key steps buyers should take after an open house.

You've Fallen in Love? Do This

You've fallen in love with that Florida home for sale in Boca Raton, and you're ready to make an offer: Huzzah! Here are your immediate next steps.

1. Determine your best offer. Talk with your real estate agent to figure out your initial bid. Kimberly Ehardt, a Texas real estate agent, says your agent can help you find comparable home sales in the area, look up facts such as how long the property has been on the market, and help you factor in any repairs the property may need. "Don't make a move without an agent," she says.

2. Be prepared to hurry up and wait. Accepting an offer is a big decision for the seller too, and as soon as your agent hears something, you'll be the first to know. The waiting is the hardest part, so try to find ways to distract yourself.

3. Don't jump the gun. When in doubt, listen to your gut. If you're worried you may be offering more than you'll be comfortable with, scale down. It's better to lose the property and find another that fits your budget than to win the bidding war and be house-poor.

4. Don't forget the inspection. Getting your bid accepted is only the first step. If the home inspection reveals any major problems the sellers aren't willing to address, you could still find yourself needing to walk away.

If You're on the Fence

When you're feeling lukewarm about a home, sometimes a little thoughtfulness can help sway you in one direction. Here are some tips to help you determine whether a home is right for you.

5. Sleep on it. Don't let a false sense of urgency push you into making a decision you're not 100 percent sure about. If the thought of sleeping on it and potentially losing the home to a more aggressive buyer leaves you brokenhearted, that could be your answer right there. If not, give it a good night's rest and see how you feel in the morning.

6. Know your must-haves. Writing out a list of qualities you consider non-negotiable and deal breakers should definitely be on your home-buying checklist. Compare this property with this list. What matches up? What doesn't?

7. Schedule a personal tour. Open houses can be misleading. The sellers' agent (or the seller himself) is extolling the home's best features, there's mood lighting and fresh-baked cookies, and you hear other buyers ooh and ah. If you're really not sure about a house, make an appointment with your agent to take a second look. "Bring a friend or family member who can offer a fresh perspective," Ehardt says.

8. Consider your lifestyle. If you're a light sleeper and the home is on a busy, noisy street, it probably won't work for you in the long term. If you have a big, active family and there's a tiny backyard, no amount of great rooms inside will keep everyone happy. Imagine yourself living in the home and ask yourself if the fit is right.

9. Consider the add-ons. The cost of a home is often more than just the final closing price -- you'll also want to tally any additional costs you'll incur, such as fixtures and appliances you want to upgrade, items that need repair, and your maintenance costs. (Read: That vaulted ceiling in the main living area can drive up your energy bills.) After considering all these extras, does buying the home still feel like a good deal?

10. Come back at different times of day. That quiet neighborhood you loved on a Sunday afternoon could become mayhem during rush hour or on a Friday night. Make sure you like the property at all times of day.

11. Trust your instincts. Indecision is rarely a 50/50 split. There's often a gut reaction or a little voice in the back of your head pulling you in one direction or the other. Listen to these instincts for a clue into what you're really thinking.

When You Hate the Open House, Learn From It

If you absolutely could not wait to get out of that open house, don't give up just yet. It's OK. There are lots of things you can apply to your house hunt even if you feel as if every house you've seen so far isn't even in the ballpark. Here's the key to following up after an open house you didn't love.

12. Identify the issues. Knowing what you didn't like about a property, and why, can help you hone your search so you have success in the future. Whatever your turnoffs with this home -- location, layout, style -- remember these qualities as you consider visiting new listings.

13. Expand your horizons. Maybe you thought you wanted a ranch-style home, but you're beginning to realize a Tudor or split-level might be a better fit for you. Maybe you're running out of solid options in your target neighborhood, so it's time to broaden your search into similar areas you hadn't yet considered.

14. Don't settle. It can be frustrating to visit home after home that just isn't doing it for you. But don't let frustration tempt you to settle for something that isn't right for you. While no home will be "perfect," there's a difference between making a few small compromises and making a big mistake you'll have to live with for many years to come.

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