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You want to buy a house, but you're not quite ready to make a big commitment. You'd like to see some properties, but you're reluctant to set up formal appointments. These are the tell-tale signs of "buyer limbo" -- that uneasy state somewhere between wanting to rent forever and signing a 30-year mortgage.

At this stage, prospective owners often visit open houses, virtually the only opportunity to tour a property without making a date with an agent or homeowner. Attending open houses is fun. It's also a great way to see many properties in a few weeks. You'll get a handle on prices, and you won't feel as much pressure of dealing with an agent. Open houses are conducted by sellers' agents.The classified ads of local newspapers list homes you can visit on weekend afternoons (Sundays are usually best).

Be selective. Buyers can get caught up in the excitement of house hunting, scouring neighborhoods for more open houses to tour. Overkill can lead to burnout. And looking at houses out of your price range, even one step above, can make the home you eventually select seem shabby by comparison. Consider getting pre-approved for a mortgage before looking, to establish your buying power.

One more caveat: If you're working with an agent, tell the agent conducting the open house about the connection. This will forestall any misunderstandings if you buy the house and commissions are divvied up.

When you're ready to go, remember you're visiting someone's residence and heed these rules of open house etiquette:

Attend during the hours specified. Agents and homeowners don't appreciate stragglers and early birds.
Don't be offended if you're asked to register or show some identification. Agents who conduct open houses alone are sometimes the targets of crime. Most open houses have some form of screening.
Get a copy of the listing if you're considering the house. Houses become a blur when you visit one after another. A recap of specifics, which usually comes with a photo, will help you remember the best ones. If a listing isn't available, take notes.
Don't bring a crowd. You're looking for a house, not finding a cheap way to entertain the family on a Sunday afternoon. Leave the kids (and pets) at home.


UPCOMING OPEN HOUSES IN AREA