If you're in the market to buy or sell, it wouldn't hurt to brush up on the rules of engagement, especially when it comes to open houses. Here, real estate agents offer the do's, don'ts and other protocol for buyers and sellers:
1. Be prepared to show identification and sign New York State disclosure forms
Buyers attending an open house should be prepared to show a driver's license for purposes of safety and tracking interested buyers, says Ellen Zipes with Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty in East Hills. Buyers are then asked to sign a disclosure form -- required by New York State -- to confirm that they understand the Realtor is representing the seller at the open house. Although not mandated, Zipes says that if the buyer refuses to sign the disclosure form, the agent writes his name and address on the form and notes he refused to sign. Information is kept confidential.
2. Hold on to your kids
Better yet, don't bring them along, advises Deirdre Hutton of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Huntington. "But if you have no choice, don't let them roam through the house -- it's distracting and a safety concern," she says.
3. Skip the small talk
Some buyers get too chatty about a seller's artwork, photos, books, knickknacks and diplomas. They may even get competitive about children or careers, explains Reena Khera of Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates in Woodbury. "The broker wants to make a commission, and the seller wants to sell. After you've greeted the host, get down to the business of house hunting," she says.
4. Dress appropriately
While you can leave the Ralph Lauren suit at home, don't wear shorts and flip flops either, says Claire Calladine of Coach Realtors in West Islip. Buying a home is a business transaction. "Obviously financing is the bottom line, but first impressions count," she says, especially in multiple offer situations.
If square footage is important to you, bring a tape measure, says Calladine. And always bring a pad and pencil to take notes because one's memory of a house can blur, she says.
6. Touch before you sit
Some homes for sale are empty and with fake furniture, such as airbeds and cardboard box couches. So make sure you check it's real before plopping on the sofa.
7. Don't snoop
While it's fine to make sure there's enough storage space in bedroom closets, drawers and kitchen cabinets, don't rummage through them, says Khera. Just look.
8. Hold your tongue
The adage, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" also applies to house hunting. "Remember, the seller still calls the place home," says Calladine. "It's one thing to walk into a room and say, 'This room is too small for us,' versus, 'This house is minuscule.' Or just because the kitchen doesn't look like an HGTV spread, doesn't give you the right to say it's ugly." Who knows who may be listening? The seller, a neighbor, a friend? If you end up in a multiple-offer situation where price and terms are similar, you don't want the seller choosing the other buyer because he or she heard you criticize the home, warns Calladine.
9. Use a poker face
Especially if you are viewing an open house with other couples, you may not want to reveal how much you love the house, says Christele Amendola of Daniel Gale's Cold Spring Harbor office. Sharing too much information could compromise your bargaining position.
10. Ask permission before taking photos or videos
"Homeowners, especially those with expensive homes, may get offended, or have privacy and safety concerns," says Khera. For instance, they may not appreciate if an expensive piece of art or furniture or a child is captured in a picturetaken with a camera or cellphone. Ask first.
11. Gotta go?
Don't assume that all bathrooms are for public use. Ask your broker or the seller which bathroom you may use, says Khera.
12. Get out!
Buyers are comfortable speaking in front of agents, not homeowners, and they need to visualize themselves living in the house, says Hutton. A buyer also will often feel self-conscious opening the owner's drawers and closets in front of him. The consensus among agents is that sellers would do well to leave the house when it's being shown to interested buyers.
13. Or fade into the background
If you can't leave, then meet, greet and discreetly step aside, says Gail Carillo with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Ronkonoma. "It's important to extend privacy to the agent and buyer. However, if the seller is in hiding and makes the buyer feel ignored, that's not good either. It's a delicate balance. Make it clear that you aren't being snobby, but just want to grant the buyer privacy to view the house," she advises. Then, Carillo says, be there at the end for questions and to say goodbye. If there's some connection between buyer and seller, it can sometimes be what it takes to get a buyer who is on the fence to commit, she notes. "Buying a house is about more than just an exchange of money -- it's a personal experience, too," she says.
14. No pets allowed
Make arrangements for your dogs, cats or other beloved creatures to leave during the open house. Selling a home where pets live is difficult enough without advertising the fact that pets live there. Buyers may even be allergic. Pets are also a distraction -- you want buyers to admire your home, not your cockatoo (or look in disgust at the cage). Ideally, pets should be out of the house at a neighbor's or friend's and pet smells should be eliminated as much as possible. Be sure any visible cages and pet dishes are spotless.
15. Look presentable
It reflects on your home and housekeeping, says Marie-Denise Kratsios of Daniel Gale's Huntington office. "A buyer may wonder how a house was taken care of if the seller doesn't reflect personal decorum," she says.
16. Provide some direction
Is your house not so easy to find? Pat Nugent, owner of Marashinsky & Nugent in Rockville Centre, suggests making sure that signs are prominently positioned at major and minor roads, where permitted by the municipality, to help buyers find their way. Attach strings of balloons to each open house sign and make sure arrows point in the right direction. Good signage can draw traffic, she says.
17. Keep your car out of the driveway to accommodate visitors
Neighbors shouldn't park in front of your house because it makes maneuvering harder and look like it will be difficult to park if they move in, says Nugent.
18. Set out all house-related documents
If you're a serious seller, Nugent says you should have available all inspection reports, appraisals, proof of major repairs and information on monthly expenses for gas, electric and oil, as well as options to rent.