5 Things to Look for When Attending an Open House

Attending an Open House can be very exciting and sometimes a bit overwhelming. It is not uncommon to get so caught up in all the different emotions that you end up walking out the door and forgetting most of what you just saw! If this has happened to you before, do not worry, you are not alone. The housing market that we are currently experiencing is wild. There are too few homes, too many buyers, and everyone is determined to win the contract contest. Many were shocked when they watch a recent viral video of an open house that was held in Raleigh, North Carolina. The neighbors were so alarmed when they looked out their windows and saw vehicles parked all over the streets and yards that they acutlally called the police. Come to find out everyone was in the area to bid on a house that had just hit the market! So yes, it’s easy to put blinders on when the housing market is this competitive. There are many different things you can choose to focus on when you are walking through a home for the first time. Many first-time homebuyer only have eyes for the kitchen—while others only have eyes for the garage. However, if you desire to save a good chunk of money down the road, there are a couple of specific “red flag” items you can be on the lookout for when attending an open house. 

1.     Water Damage & Mold

Yikes! Water damage and mold are two things that set all my caution alarms off. Though mold can essentially be found anywhere, some places are more susceptible than others. For example the area around Toledo, Ohio is often referred to as the “the black swamp”—very ominous! But in all seriousness, this nickname was given because of all the sticky, muddy, standing water that accumulates around the area. This type of environment is perfect for producing mold.

When attending an open house, look for evidence of mold around the base and corners of bathtubs, drains, and under sinks. Also, look around the basement for both evidence of mold and water damage. You can typically notice water damage by curling or bubbling walls on surfaces, rust, or water stains.  

2.     Evidence of Deferred Home Maintenance

Signs that a seller has not been keeping up the home’s maintenance can cost you-the buyer-a pretty penny down the road. Small things such as cracked or missing caulk around the windows, kitchen counters, bathtubs, and showers can be a “red flag” of deferred maintenance. Additionally, ignoring things such as replacing HVAC air filters, updating fire alarm systems, changing burnt-out light bulbs, and cleaning the fireplace chimney are also indicators of improper maintenance. Deferred home maintenance can certainly cause a buyer to think twice about what a home inspector might find under the home’s “surface.” 

3.     Odd-Smells

Do not be distracted by the smell of yummy cookies that are baking in the oven or the pumpkin spice candle burning on the counter. Sometimes strong, aggressive scents are being used by the seller to mask more offensive odors that are lingering in the house. Breathe deeply when entering each room of the house—especially the basement. Search for mildew or cigarette smoke when opening closets and small storage places. And always be on the lookout for evidence of pet staining on the carpets and flooring. 

4.     Aging HAV System

When was the house built? And how old is the HVAC system? (HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) These are two questions that you should know the answer to by the time you walk out of the open house. Replacing an aging HVAC system can be costly. As of February 2022, a 2,000 square foot home is looking at a replacement cost of between $7,000-$8,000. The average furnace lasts around 15 to 18 years, and the average AC unit lasts around 10 to 12 years. If one of the two components goes out, you’re more than likely going to be advised to replace both. In addition to having a home inspector assess the home, consider scheduling an HVAC company to do an inspection of the entire HVAC system—they will do a much more in-depth investigation. 

5.     Exterior Issues: Roof, Foundation & Siding

One of the most expensive things you can replace in a home is the roof and foundation. Siding can be a bit more affordable, but still costly. The average roof replacement cost of a 2,000 square foot home is typically between $7,000-$18,000. As of 2021, the national average cost to repair a foundation problem landed at around $8,000. However, our present-day inflation and supply chain issue crisis will certainly factor into the current overall cost.

When attending an open house, look for visible cracks around the door frames and windows and check the basement for cracks (if a crack happens to be wider than ½ inch, it’s a wise idea to have a foundation expert examine the area). Examine the roof for curling, missing, or cracked shingles. Siding issues can be detected by evidence of peeling paint, rotted wood, cracked or shrinking caulk, or mold. 


Purchasing a home is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make in your lifetime. It is easy to get tunnel vision and forget to look for “red flags'' when attending an open house. Emotions are running high, and it is so easy to fall in love with a property so deeply that you overlook its flaws. Countless homebuyers have been guilty of this in the past. Looking back, many will quickly say that no matter how profound the love, it was financially painful and emotionally draining to sink thousands of dollars into a property right after closing. So take your time during an open house, pay close attention to small details, and don't be afraid to ask questions. 



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