If you’re ready to buy a home, take some pointers from the Frugalwoods: They looked at nearly 300 houses before landing an amazing deal in a competitive market.

The purpose of going to an open house is not to actually buy a house. Shocking, I know! But the real value of open housing (yes, it’s definitely a verb) is to gather information and educate yourself on what you want in your eventual home. It’s highly unlikely you’ll see your dream abode via an open house—you’re much more likely to view it during a private showing with your real estate agent. Open houses are where you’ll develop and refine your housebuying chops; think of them as test drives.

How do I know this? My husband—that’d be Mr. Frugalwoods—and I went to a whopping 270+ open houses before snaring a killer deal on our single-family home in Cambridge, Massachusetts (one of the hottest real estate markets in the country). Here’s how we did it…

1. We Didn’t Limit our Search

For once, we weren’t beholden to a price range. This was our chance to browse everything from $1M+ listings to humble studio apartments. By experiencing a wide range of housing options, Mr. Frugalwoods and I learned what we like, what we don’t, and we acquired an instinct for the real estate market in our area. Viewing properties above and below our price point honed our aptitude for sniffing out a bargain.

2. We Planned our Route

Since open houses seem to—unhelpfully—happen at the exact same time (Sunday afternoons here in Cambridge), it was crucial for us to orchestrate our plan of attack in advance. I used Redfin’s map to identify open houses in close proximity to each other. Then, Mr. Frugalwoods and I ranked our top choices each weekend and filled gaps in the schedule with second- and third-tier options.

3. We Asked Questions

The real estate agent showing the house is there to answer questions—so query away! It’s their job to get as many people as possible to look at the house, and we quickly learned we shouldn’t feel awkward even if we knew we were never going to buy that house. Open houses are all about foot traffic—not actual sales.

Mr. Frugalwoods and I have a standard list of questions for real estate agents at open houses, most of which pertain to urban living, including: Is there a homeowner’s association fee? Is parking included? Is there shared laundry/storage? Your questions will vary based on the nuances of your locale, but imagine what you’ll want to know when you do select a dwelling. Through this questioning process, we taught ourselves to zero in on what matters most to us in a house.

4. We Took a Listing Sheet 

I always grab one of those fancy listing sheets sitting out at open houses; they contain a wealth of information. This is a game Mr. Frugalwoods and I played every Sunday after perusing our neighborhood’s open houses. We’d force ourselves to make a decision about which property we’d buy if we were to put in an offer that very day.

We found this to be a valuable exercise for identifying our deal-breakers, hopes, and general proclivities. And if you’re buying a place with someone else, this activity is doubly important. The more practice Mr. Frugalwoods and I had talking through potential properties, the easier the actual purchasing process was for us. We were on the same page about what we wanted out of a home and we could anticipate how we’d feel about a given property before we even finished the tour.

5. We Recorded how Much the Houses Actually Sold for

Mr. Frugalwoods and I maintained a spreadsheet of all the houses we visited and jotted down the initial asking price and the—often very revealing—amount they actually sold for. Thanks to our open-housing hobby, we had a bevy of real estate stats at our fingertips.

It’s all well and good if you’re admiring $400K residences thinking that’s what you’ll be able to purchase, but not so great if those digs are consistently going for $50K to $100K over asking. Knowing these trends before you take the plunge gives you an edge in negotiations and enables you to set realistic expectations for your ideal home.

Before You Make an Offer…

If you think you might possibly want to buy a home in the next few years, maybe now’s the perfect time to add open housing to your weekend ritual. Mr. Frugalwoods and I put in an offer on our home within hours of seeing it because our years of open housing gave us the perspective and confidence to know a fabulous deal when we saw one. Empower yourself to become an open-house boss!


Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at www.frugalwoods.com
about her journey to financial independence by age 33,
and life on a homestead in the woods with her husband
and their greyhound, Frugal Hound.

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