In a new Australian novel, Other People’s Houses, the main character Kate spends her weekends inspecting beautiful open homes in Sydney to peek fleetingly into a lifestyle beyond her own. Author Kelli Hawkins paints a picture of every real estate agent’s nightmare because Kate steals a small memento from every home she visits. Most people would never dream of stealing from an open home. But there are also other unwritten rules buyers might be breaking when inspecting homes.
It can feel voyeuristic to open other people’s cupboards and get a peek into the labels in their wardrobe or their preferred brand of scotch. However, it’s also fair to say that prospective buyers need an idea of the storage space in the home. Real estate agent Sam Wilkinson of Kay & Burton in Melbourne’s Hawthorn says: “Use common sense. If you’re checking out kitchen drawers and pantry space, that’s reasonable. But if you’re going into more private areas, like the bedroom, then it’s worthwhile getting the agent’s approval.”
While nature might call during your visit, most agents would prefer if you go to the loo elsewhere. Wilkinson says: “I really think it’s best to assume that the bathrooms are out of bounds. Wait until you’re somewhere else if you need to go!”
Sydney-based property adviser Brooke Flint of Flint Property works for both buyers and sellers. She says: “I did have someone do a poo at an open home, and that’s not okay. You need to give it the grandma test. Would you go to your grandma’s house and do a whopping, stinking poo while all her friends are there? I didn’t tell the lady off for doing a stinky poo. But I did say: ‘I appreciate that you had to go the bathroom. However, it would have been nice if you asked first.’” The reality is, if you’re desperate, you have to go. However, agents may direct you to the bathroom that is most tucked away.
The poo issue doesn’t don’t end there. McGrath Pittwater’s James Baker says it’s important to wipe your feet and check your shoes if you’ve been outside. “I’ve had a situation where a buyer walked into the garden, trod in dog poo and walked it through the whole house, through the kitchen, up the stairs, everywhere,” he says.
While you may not like a property, most agents agree that it’s rude to put down a property in front of other buyers. Baker says: “It’s incredibly rude and disrespectful to the vendor to be putting a house down in front of everyone else. That might be your personal view, but someone else might love it. They don’t need to hear your negative comments, so save them for your own private conversations.”
On the flip side, if you love the look of the house, it can be tempting to share some Instagram-worthy pics. Or you might want to take pics so that it’s easier to remember various rooms or dimensions. Baker says: “If you’re taking a photo to help you remember the property, that’s generally fine as long as you ask first. But it’s not OK if you’re showing off on social media where you’ve been.”
Should you make yourself at home by sitting on the sofa during an inspection? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on this one. Sam Wilkinson says: “We don’t want people sitting on the sofa or, worse, trying out the bed! People do need to realise that the home is on display. The vendor has gone to the trouble to present it well. It’s there to inspect, not to relax into.”
On the other hand, Brooke Flint says it’s a good sign from the buyer. “Personally, I think that sitting on a sofa shows interest. It’s part of what an open home is about, letting the buyer get a feel for the house. Open homes create a space for us to imagine ourselves in a better life.”
Victorian-based buyer and vendor advocate Miriam Sandkuhler says the biggest sin is when buyers behave in a way that results in damage. “When little kids are let loose, I’ve seen things get knocked off coffee tables and break. It’s important to keep an eye on your kids. I’ve been in an open home where the child’s room had a lot of toys displayed nicely. A little kid, who was at the inspection with his parents, took a shine to one of the toys and walked out with it. The parents didn’t realise till they got to the car – fortunately, they then came back and returned it!”