Still open for business
Some state and local governments banned open houses altogether in the spring, but the events are making a slow return in some areas.
“Only recently have agents and sellers discussed the possibility of holding open houses,” says Corey Burr, senior vice president with TTR Sotheby's International Realty in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
They’re most common in the Northeast, where 12% of homes hosted open houses during their first week on the market, Redfin says. You don't find open houses as often in the Midwest (9%), the South (7%) or the West (4%).
Where demand is heating up, it’s just logistically easier to set up an open house rather than schedule multiple back-to-back viewings. Some areas are so hot that homebuyers are desperate just to get on waiting lists to attend open houses.
If you plan to attend an open house in this time of COVID-19, be prepared for some changes.
“We are noticing more open houses with specific instructions addressing the number of people allowed in a house at the same time,” Burr says.
Home shoppers will need to fill out a "visitor health screening questionnaire" before arriving to an open house and must keep face masks on the entire time. In some cases, the getup also includes gloves and shoe covers.
Going through all of that to attend an open house is probably a sign your house search is getting serious — and that it's time to start checking out mortgage rates. Get quotes from at least three to five lenders, so you can feel confident you're seeing the best rates in the area.
Homeowners insurance can be a major expense, so you should start pricing that, too. Go online and check rates from multiple insurance companies, to avoid overpaying for your coverage.
Open houses get a virtual makeover
In the current coronavirus era, most prospective homebuyers are starting their home search online and are attending virtual open houses, rather than the real thing.
Sellers may offer a totally virtual reality experience, complete with a 3D-rendered simulation, but more commonly they set up 360-degree photos.
To take a virtual tour, a homebuyer will look for a URL in the house listing or on the agent’s social media sites. Then, you'll need a device like a smartphone or laptop, plus Zoom or whatever software the seller is using for the walkthrough.
There’s plenty of research you can do before attending a virtual open house. Start by reading through the listing and asking the seller's agent for disclosures. These help you figure out if there’s an issue you want to ask about.
Then, look through the photos. Buyers who are interested in seeing more can schedule an in-person viewing.
If there’s anything you can’t see well in the photos or video, or if you spot any noticeable damage, make a note of it. Ask questions when you see the house during your private appointment.
Is the house nearby? Go take a spin through the neighborhood and check out the vibe. What kind of amenities are nearby? How well do the neighbors maintain their yards?
You may discover that with some popular properties, so many people want an in-person tour that the agent will resort to scheduling a conventional open house. So, you may find yourself on one of those waiting lists.