Buying a Home in New York: Open Houses

Buying a Home in New York | The Amateur Everything

By the time you’ve gotten through all the pre-research and have your commitment letter, you are probably raring to look at some candidates for your future Home Sweet Home. This is the best part of the entire process leading up to home ownership, so enjoy it! This is also probably a good time to get a realtor (if not earlier?), but J and I breezed through that step and jumped heads first into the world of open houses. Looking back, I would possibly recommend getting a real estate agent because if this is your first time, it can be quite confusing to go it alone. Realtors can assist you through the negotiating process when you want to make an offer and many have specific neighborhood knowledge that can benefit you. That said, there are a lot of agents out there so it’s good to find one who understands what you’re looking for — luxury? Pre-War? Fixer-upper? Move-in ready? Find someone in tune with your needs.

As I said, though, J and I just decided to go for it and start looking at places on our own. Not having a realtor was more of an accidental move than a deliberate one. We made a list of open houses we found online and mapped out our route through all of them. Open houses were almost always available on Sunday afternoons, so we spent the whole day wandering around our choice neighborhood and stumbled across some other unlisted open houses in the area.

When J and I first started, we were very uncomfortable. We’d enter the home, sign up on the realtor’s list (I’m still not sure of the purpose of leaving our contact information, as we never heard from these realtors ever), and then walk around the apartment trying to figure out what we should be looking for. Sometimes the apartment would be packed with others also on the home hunt (intimidating!) and often you would see these same people pop up at different open houses later in the day.

During an open house, it’s helpful to talk to the realtor about the place — the current owners, the building, what they think the selling points are. Take your time when you’re looking around. This is not something you want to rush through, so open up the closets, examine all of the details (state of the windows, floors, appliances). I created a checklist that was somewhat specific to our search, which you can find at the bottom of this post. J and I found that it was best if he talked the realtor about the apartment while I walked around and completed the checklist. Then we would switch off. Inevitably, there were things on the checklist that I couldn’t find based off of looking at the apartment, so I’d go over those items with the realtor while J took his own notes.

The checklist really helps you get the basics down so that you can focus on items of interest to you and bypass that nagging feeling that you’re being really invasive (especially if the sellers are still living in the apartment). You spend less brainpower trying to think of what you should be looking at and spend it instead on noticing the details of each place. There are also a million different distractions during an open house that can make you lose focus, so it’s nice to have some guidelines. For example, J is highly allergic to cats so whenever we went to an open house that had a cat, it was his impulse to leave as quickly as possible. The checklist kept him on task while sirens were going off in his head.

It’s also extremely helpful to fill it out because open houses begin to merge almost immediately after you’ve left an apartment. It’s easy to think while you’re in the space that you’ll remember exactly how it was, but trust me when I say that it’s all too easy to forget and it’s helpful later on to have the basics and notes compiled when you’re making the tough decisions.

Taking notes separately is also useful. Each person will notice different things and value different aspects of a place, so it’s a good basis for discussion about what each of you is looking for (although J and I agree on many things, we don’t agree on everything! It’s super useful to know where each person stands on things like windows and sunlight, dishwashers and other appliances, etc.). Granted, this is under the assumption that you’re looking at a place with someone else. If you’re on your own, sweet! Unilateral decision-making.

Download your very own Open House Checklist here.


This is part III of a series (mostly anecdotal) about purchasing a coop in Queens. For the rest of the series, click here.

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