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Private Showings: Better Than Open Houses?

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Find out which approach gives you the upper hand when you’re ready to buy.

You might like the energy and excitement of an open house, but if you’re really getting down to the business of buying, is an open house the best way to scope out potential homes? Or will seeing a home in a private showing give you the edge you need to tailor an offer in just the right way?

Let’s find out.

Open-house pro: Party!

If you watch the reality show Million Dollar Listing, you’d think elaborate open houses that resemble parties on steroids are the norm. Well, sometimes they are.

“I like public showings because of the loose, cocktail party atmosphere,” says Arvin Sahakian, a California real estate broker and vice president of BeSmartee, an online mortgage brokerage.

Plus, if there’s a crowd, “buyers get to hear one another’s questions and comments,” he says.

But since when is eavesdropping important or desirable? “Maybe you hadn’t noticed that suspicious stain on the ceiling below the upstairs bathroom,” says Ross Anthony, a San Diego real estate agent. Hearing someone else point this out alerts you.

Open-house con: False sense of urgency

You know the phenomenon that makes you not want something until someone else wants it: a pair of shoes, dessert, the guy who asked you out? Well, the same goes for open houses. When you see others looking at the house you want, you may feel as if you have to make an offer, and a good one, or else you’ll lose the house.

But you might be reading the situation incorrectly.

“You don’t know whether you’re dealing with serious buyers or whether the person next to you is really the next-door neighbor checking out the house after never having been invited in. Or maybe the other open-house attendees are HGTV addicts who are only pretending to be serious buyers,” says Mike Minihan, an Atlanta real estate agent.

This false sense of urgency might cause you to rush into putting an offer on a house without checking out any other homes or to offer more than you planned to, neither of which is desirable.

Open-house pro: It’s like window-shopping

Not ready to buy just yet and aren’t sure which neighborhood you want anyway? Then open houses are great.

“You can choose a town each weekend, drive around the town center, see some open houses, and learn about what your budget will get you,” says Rachel Hillman, a Massachusetts real estate agent.

Open-house con: The sales spiel

When you enter an open house, the listing agent “will swarm around you like a shark that senses blood in the water,” says Minihan. He explains that this open-house agent will try either to sell you the house or sign you up as a client.

Open-house con: You lose your poker face

When you attend an open house, the seller’s agent is watching you.

If you talk about how much you love the house, “you’re giving the selling side negotiating power,” says Rob Williams, a Washington, DC, real estate agent. The same goes even if you say nothing but bring back your parents or friends to have a look or if you spend a long time in the house.

Open-house pro: Get intel by stealth

If you do an open house right, you can collect information instead of giving it away.

“I tell my buyers to chat up the listing agent to see if they can figure out why the sellers are moving,” says Williams. A divorce or job relocation, for example, can suggest a motivated seller who’s willing to negotiate.

Ross Anthony says you can also find out details at the open house from the listing agent, such as the age of the air conditioner and the water heater.

Private-showing pro: Relaxed atmosphere

When you arrange private home showings with your real estate agent, you’ll have someone who can advise you, someone who’s on your side.

“Private showings are absolutely the way to go,” says Williams. Buyers and their agents can “speak candidly about what they like and don’t like about a home.”

Private-showing pro: See the house when you want

Are Sundays between noon and 2 p.m. (the typical open-house window) inconvenient? That’s no problem when you schedule private home showings with your agent at your convenience.

Private-showing pro: You get down to the nitty-gritty

It’s kind of awkward to climb into the attic, turn on the shower, or emerge from a crawl space with a house full of folks and a listing agent nearby.

“Private showings afford you the time to really look through every aspect of the house,” says Williams.

Private-showing con: No private showing allowed

The only drawback to a private showing is that some sellers don’t allow them, particularly during a seller’s market.

“Some owners are only allowing showing during one or two open houses and then offers are due right away,” says Hillman. In that case, take your agent with you.

Although there are reasons to visit those open houses, most real estate professionals agree that if you’re serious about buying a home, a private showing is the way to go.