Q: I am considering selling my home but would love to see how it compares with others in my neighborhood as far as condition vs. asking price. I have not gone as far a seeking a listing agent yet, but I often see open houses in my neighborhood and wonder what the "rules" are about stopping in.

Is it acceptable to go to open houses without pretending you are a potential buyer? Pictures don’t do it for me in getting a feel for what a house is worth, and I’m afraid to "get married to" a selling agent until I do some research first. –Michelle

A: Rarely do people exhibit your level of etiquette these days. It says something nice about you as an individual that you asked, but yes, it’s totally and completely acceptable, even welcome, for you to attend the open house. It’s also smart thinking for you to want to attend in order to get a much deeper sense than you could from pictures online about where your home falls in the condition and aesthetics continuum against the competition.

There’s an old adage in real estate that says open houses don’t sell houses. That just means that on today’s market, where the vast majority of qualified, ready buyers have their own agents and arrange to see listings in which they are interested privately, by appointment, it is exceedingly rare for a listing agent to hold an open house and have someone wander in who ends up buying the house.

(It does happen on occasion, though. In this market, it makes sense to leave no stone unturned — someone’s house has to be that 1 percent that does sell at the open house, so many sellers prefer to have their home held open at least once or twice. Further, many busy buyers today do use open house hours to get quick access, with their agents, to the list of homes they want to see. And broker’s open houses are especially useful for giving all the buyer’s agents in your area the lowdown on your home.)

With that understanding, there are still a number of compelling reasons that listing agents hold open houses. One of the primary reasons? To get new clients. Agents hold open houses to meet new buyers who are still in lookie-loo stage, as well as to meet three flavors of neighbors:

a) Those who might know someone who’d like to live in the neighborhood;

b) The voyeurs who really just want to look at how their neighbors live and decorate, but are chatty, and might mention the lovely staging and beautiful marketing materials the next time they know someone who needs to sell a home; and

c) People exactly like you, who are soon to list their own homes, and want to get informed about the comparable properties in the area and their condition and appearance, vis-à-vis their price, as well as wanting to meet and select a listing agent in the near future.

Rest assured that if you visit an open house and let the listing agent know your situation, you’ll be treated very warmly — perhaps even more than some ostensible buyers!

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