Real estate: 5 things to know before you attend an open house
Five critical pieces of advice homebuyers should know before visiting an open house.
House hunting can be a daunting task, whether it's your first time buying a home or your fifth move in a year. But after scanning your local real estate listings and investigating every ‘For Sale’ sign in your favourite neighbourhood, you may have finally found your dream home. If you’re planning to attend an open house to give it a thorough inspection, don’t go in blind.
What am I actually looking for when I visit an open house? How do I know what's staged and what's authentic? What should I ask my real estate agent before making an offer? These are all burning questions on a homebuyer's mind before a showing. To ease your angst, here are five essential things to have on your radar the next time you attend an open house.
1 Systematically explore the entire home
Occasionally, attending an open house can be a bit awkward (after all, you are walking through someone else's home). The key is to be polite but thorough with your tour of the house. "Don’t be afraid to open doors. Often powder rooms, wine cellars, pantries, laundry rooms and secret hideaways get missed, particularly if it is a crowded open house," says Kara Reed, a Toronto Real Estate professional. "Come prepared and bring your tape measure, notepad, camera and questions for your real estate agent."
2 Overlook elaborate staging
When you participate in an open house, the interior (and exterior) will most likely be dressed to the nines while the current owner is attempting to sell. The trick is to ignore simulation furniture, beautiful bathrooms and organized basements and inspect the home as it really is—pure real estate. "Many people forget to look past the staging at an open house," says Kara. "You may be so wowed by the perfect decor that you overlook other more important aspects of the home." For example, be sure to examine the parking scheme, look for broken appliances, damages the house has suffered and reasons why the seller has decided to move.
3 Have your eyes and ears peeled
It's one thing to be on the lookout for black mold, cracked drywall and rusty fixtures in a potential home, but an open house is much more than meets the eye. "Listen to what other people are saying and pay attention to their comments as you walk through," Kara recommends. "Although they may be your competition in the bidding, they may also notice things that you didn't catch," she says. In addition, you should be listening for squeaky floors, breezy windows and leaky taps—these can all lead to major issues in the future if you decide to purchase.
4 Discover the surrounding neighbourhood
The advantage of attending an open house is the ability to see a prime piece of real estate in its natural habitat (it's no longer just a picture in a newspaper or on a website). This means having a critical eye for nearby homes and the location the house resides in. "Take some time to explore the neighbourhood and surrounding streets. Drive around and check out proximity to amenities, schools and coffee shops," Kara advises. "Don't forget to look at the adjacent properties. If there are four doorbells, two fire escapes and a junky backyard, you may be living next to a tenanted property or a frat house!"
5 Go with your instincts
If a house looks too good to be true—it probably is. "Trust your gut and sense of smell, especially when heading to the basement. If something feels wonky, damaged, warped, whitewashed, water stained or smells musty—it might not be the place for you," says Kara. "Chances are there may be a home inspection available to view, so don’t be afraid to ask to see it or have it emailed to you." Last but not least, feel free to request more data on a listing from your real estate agent so you can make the most informed decision upon walking out the door of an open house.
Fresh and refined white and lilac living room.
Take a tour of this cozy family-friendly retreat bursting with farmhouse chic.
The pink front door complements the pretty scheme inside and makes the residence stand out.
Elements like the curvaceous loveseats, Scandi-style brass armchairs and salvaged wood coffee table lend the living room a casual yet refined aesthetic. A built-in bench gives a bay window purpose.
The second bay window, which looks out onto the lush front garden, creates an intimate sitting area in the living room. Chairs from the homeowners’ previous house were recovered in a sophisticated floral fabric.
The living room’s wall colour – white with a lilac undertone – was the jumping-off point for the home’s feminine scheme. “This white makes everything feel so fresh,” says designer Margie Doyle White.
For Margie, formerly a designer on W Network’s Take This House and Sell It, the tricks to injecting the space with character were keeping the layout intact and adding or updating architectural details; replacing the tired, dark kitchen with something timeless and white; and incorporating key elements to create an urban English farmhouse aesthetic.
A reclaimed wood trestle table surrounded by linen-covered chairs gives the dining room a laid-back vibe. A large-scale drum pendant light on a pulley anchors the table.
The built-in shelving unit lined with lilac grasscloth wallpaper provides character.
The kitchen’s high ceilings allowed for chunky crown moulding, and glass-fronted upper cabinets with an “X” detail add even more architectural interest. A backsplash of greyish taupe ceramic subway tiles offers a soft hit of colour in the all-white space.
In the kitchen, see-through elements like the stools keep the look bright and airy.
Homeowner Raewyn Fahlenbock with two-year-old daughter Olive.
The former garage, which was basically a windowless stucco box, was supplanted by a coach house-style structure. Its board-and-batten siding, shingled roof and shuttered windows now give the backyard a good dose of character. It also serves as a charming backdrop for the alfresco dining area.
A cedar deck and pergola define the outdoor sitting area and provide a shady spot to lounge in the backyard.
The lilac and pink plants throughout the backyard tie in with the home’s interior palette.
These products will help you stay warm and cozy all season long.
These products will help you stay warm and cozy all season long.
Seasonally perfect products for staying warm and cozy indoors all season long.
As the mercury drops this fall, don’t despair about the cold, dark evenings that have you heading indoors to seek refuge. With the right at-home accessories, you can enjoy your coziest fall at home ever! You’ll be so comfy cozy indoors that you’ll be perfectly happy to settle in and enjoy the season from the comfort of your couch!
1 Cable Knit Throws
There are blankets and then there are blankets (like the one that everyone in the family fights over when it’s time to curl up with a movie on a crisp fall evening). These gorgeous throws from Boll & Branch are truly luxe. They're certified organic and made with eco-friendly, non-toxic dyes. Best of all, a portion of every sale is donated to Not For Sale, an organization dedicated to helping end forced labour and human trafficking. Cable Knit Throws, Boll & Branch, $125 each.
2 Philosophy Living Grace Shampoo, Bath & Shower Gel
When the wind is whirling outside and the leaves on the ground are swirling, seek solace in your own personal at-home sanctuary. Run a hot bath and top it off with Philosophy’s Living Grace Bath Gel. The luxurious formula will cleanse, condition and soften dry, tired skin, leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Philosophy Living Grace Shampoo, Bath & Shower Gel, Sephora, $31.
3 Mahabis Classic Slippers
Chilly fall nights mean chilly floors. Keep your tootsies comfy and cozy with these stylish slippers that look as good as they feel. With their distinct focus on design (they have a Scandinavian aesthetic and boast European craftsmanship), these aren’t any slippers you’re used to. With Mahabis, the simple slipper gets a luxe makeover: Lightweight and breathable with a wool lining, they also come with detachable wool soles so you can wear them outside, too. Mahabis Classic Slippers in Larvik Dark Grey, Mahabis, $138.
4 No. 35 The Earl Grey Tea
Nothing warms up a cold night like a hot cuppa tea. But this fall, take your tea to the next level with something a little more special than the tea you normally buy at your local grocery store. This classic blend Earl Grey tea is made from organic full-leaf Ceylon black tea and is scented with Sicilian bergamot. The rich taste combined with the intoxicating aroma will make you forget how cold it is outside and relish every moment indoors this season. No. 35 The Earl Grey Tea, Bellocq Tea Atelier, $15.
5 Blanket Wrap
You’ll never feel fall’s chill when you’re swathed in this handsome wrap that’s part blanket, part sweater. It’s interchangeable, offering two colour options and can be converted to two different lengths. Plus, it’s 70% wool and 30% cashmere, making it totally luxurious. You’ll look chic wearing it but feel like you’re still in bed. Win, win! Blanket Wrap in Teak/Ebony, Kit & Ace, $428.
6 The Couple Next Door
There’s nothing like a gripping thriller to get you through those long dark evenings. Once you’re completely sucked into this novel's suspenseful storyline, you’ll forget all about the wicked weather outside. A New York Times Bestseller, The Couple Next Door is quickly gaining acclaim from readers and thriller authors alike and is poised to be the book of the season! The Couple Next Door, Amazon.ca, $15.36.
7 Staghorn Cable Reading Socks
Speaking of books … when you’re curled up on the couch with your latest can’t-put-down read, you’ll adore the coziness of these cable knit reading socks. Super soft, warm and soothing to cold, tired feet, they’re just what you’ll long for at the end of a long day. Staghorn Cable Reading Socks in Grey, Indigo, $20.
8 Byredo Bibliotheque Candle
There’s something about the rich fragrance of a luxe candle that fills a home with a sense of place. An aroma you love can quickly become strongly associated with positive memories and the gentle glow of candlelight is no doubt relaxing and romantic. Which means that adding candles to your home is always a good idea (just don’t forget to keep an eye on them and don’t leave them lit and unattended!). We love this candle from Byredo Parfums. Handmade in France, it has notes of peach and plum, violet, leather and vanilla. Byredo Bibliotheque Candle, Holt Renfrew, $108.
How to really keep your dish sponges clean
Sanitation tips on how you can keep your dirty dish sponges clean.
E. coli, salmonella – nasty things can lurk in a kitchen sponge. Our resourceful research editor, Mary Levitski, shows you how to keep it germ-free.
How to keep dish sponges germ-free
Step 1: Forever moist and full of dark nooks and crannies, a kitchen sponge is ideal breeding ground for all kinds of harmful bacteria. Sterilize it on a regular basis, preferably daily. The best method is soaking it for a few minutes in a mixture of two teaspoons chlorine bleach and one cup water. But if you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly approach, you can also place the sponge in a pot of boiling water for five minutes and hang it to dry.
Step 2: To deter germs from thriving in your sponge, keep it as dry as possible. Always rinse and wring it well before depositing it in a designated spot that has good drainage. If possible, the spot should also be in direct sunlight, which will significantly speed up drying time.
Step 3: Replace the sponge about once a month. If your sponge has a foul odour even after you sanitize it, toss it out immediately.
Give your sponge a home that’s beautiful and practical. The Meridian from Umbra ($5, umbra.com) attaches to the wall of your sink with a suction cup. The fun plastic lattice pattern and ventilated bottom keep air circulation at a maximum, encouraging fast drying.
To keep bacteria in check, consider replacing your dish sponge with an alternative.
Made of peach pits or corn cobs, these stringy scrubs are so good at resisting microbes that you can use them sans soap! Goodbye Detergent! The Original Spaghetti SCRUBS, $10 US per pack of 2 each, vat19.com.
The recycled plastic bristles dry quickly when this brush is propped up or hung by its bamboo handle. Be Good Dish Brush, $8, williams-sonoma.com.
A washable microfibre dishcloth is a great substitute for a sponge. No matter how grimy it gets, just toss it in the washing machine to disinfect. We love this one’s scrub pad for lifting stuck-on foods. MÜ Kitchen Dishcloth in Red Poppy, $7, bedbathandbeyond.ca.
TIP: To minimize cross-contamination, designate a sponge for each surface: one each for dishes, countertops and floors.