When first-time homebuyers start going to open houses, it’s an exciting process! They get to drive up the driveway imagining that they are coming home, what their furniture would look like in the space, or what it would feel like to naturally walk through the house. But oftentimes, first-time homebuyers don’t realize that going to open houses is more than just getting an opportunity to visualize living there, but it’s also an essential time to look for potential problems — to really look at all of the details in the house that they may move into and live in for years. And there are a lot of details that need to be considered.

Iron Gate Real Estate has been helping homebuyers find their dream home in the Columbia area for years and we have been to our fair share of open houses. Our realtors can help point out things that you may not have thought about — it’s so much more than the color of the bedroom walls or what fixtures are in the bathroom. If you’re looking to buy a house in Columbia or one of the surrounding suburbs, our real estate agents have the experience, skill, and knowledge to make the entire process smooth and efficient. Get in touch with a realtor today and we’ll soon send you a list of MLS houses for sale and start taking you to open houses.

Outside the Home

Other than looking at pictures of the house for sale online, the first thing you’ll see in person is the exterior of the house. Here’s what you should pay attention to:


You will have hopefully considered the location at least a little bit before going to an open house. Whether you’re moving to Columbia or Centralia, the location of a new home should be within schools, your work, grocery stores, and other amenities that you will want to have around. Outside of the house’s geographical location, you’ll also want to pay attention to how close the neighbor’s houses are. A smaller yard may be fine for some, while for others the proximity of their neighbors could be a deal-breaker. Consider how much privacy there is, if there’s a fence or trees in between homes.


This may be only a minor consideration, but if you’re trying to decide between two homes, it’s these little details that could make all the difference. If you have a big family with multiple cars or if you often have a lot of family or friends over, consider whether everyone will be able to park comfortably in the driveway. Ask your realtor if street parking is possible or consider whether guests will need to park on the grass for larger parties.


A landscape can tell you a lot about the property and how well it’s taken care of. Is the grass overgrown with weeds along the driveway and sidewalks? Is there debris from the last storm that came through still sitting on the lawn? Do trees or shrubs look like they’ve been recently trimmed? Are there any large trees that are too close to the house that could cause damage to the house’s foundation? New home buyers often only look at the landscape for its size, but there’s a lot more to consider and a lot you learn from looking at the landscaping.


These are possibly some of the biggest things to pay attention to when it comes to the outside of the house. Siding should be clean and well taken care of. When there are streaks of dirt or spider webs in the corner, this is work that you may need to complete if you purchase the house (unless you put this into your contract). Before you get too close to the house, try to get a good view of the roof. To get a full understanding of the quality of the roof, you’ll need a home inspection, but within eyesight, you can see if there are any large patches of shingles missing or if the gutters are old and need cleaning or repair. Issues with the siding or roof could be quite expensive down the road.


Not only are front porches and back decks nice to have when you want to relax outside, they also require regular maintenance. Take a look at any steps, corners of the woodwork, or the quality of the wood itself to ensure that they are structurally sound. If you’re not willing to put in the work to keep them well maintained, you may want to find another house.

Inside the Home

While the outside of the house is just as important as the inside, you will be spending more time inside and need to make sure it’s a comfortable as well as practical fit.


If there is a basement or a crawl space that is big enough for you to check out at an open house, it’s worth the time. The basement, as well as the outside of the house, is one of the best places to look for potential issues with the foundation. If there are cracks in the walls or on any exposed foundation outside, it’s definitely worth asking your realtor about. If a potential house has foundation issues, it could be a significant cost and will most likely complicate the negotiating process if you want to include repairs in the contract.


If the windows are old, it’s a good sign that the home isn’t very energy-efficient. If they’re really old they could even pose a safety issue. Vinyl windows took the place of wood and double-hung windows replaced a single pane of glass to increase efficiency, and there are other features that make windows easier to clean as well. Old windows are typically recognized by the material and the style of the window. If you’re not sure how to recognize new vs. old windows, just ask your realtor at Iron Gate Real Estate.


The flow of a house is a big priority for many homebuyers. Do you want an open concept home? Or do you want a formal dining room off the kitchen? Do you want the kids’ bedrooms upstairs and the master downstairs? In an ideal home, where are the bathrooms located? What do you want to see, or your guests to see, right when they enter the front door? There may only be so much you can control in terms of the floorplan, but it’s essential that you buy a house that feels natural when you walk through it. And you want to make sure that it works for your family’s needs. For example, many new parents like the idea of having the kids’ rooms next to the master so they don’t have to walk from one end to the other multiple times a night.


It’s not uncommon for homeowners to make sure the house smells good when an open house starts. This can create a warm, cozy atmosphere for potential buyers. On the other hand, in extreme cases, a good smell might be trying to mask a bad odor. When you’re walking through the kitchen and bathrooms especially, pay attention to the smell. When mold gets bad enough, it can give off a rotten, mildew smell. Just like issues with the foundation, mold is something that no one wants to deal with. Take a look at shower tiles, notice if there are stains on the walls, or if the floors sag.


Whether the flooring is carpet, hardwood, or tile is one thing, everyone will have their preferences, but what we really want you to pay attention to is the quality of the floors. If the floors are uneven, it could be a sign that there is a structural issue or a bad “flipping” job. If hardwood floors look scratched, it means they’re in need of refinishing. Or if tiles are chipped or cracked, they will also need to be repaired. Many homeowners will put some work into the flooring, but it’s not a good sign if there are loud creaking sounds, sagging, or uneven floors.


Light fixtures are similar to the color of the paint on the walls, it might take some work and some money to update the look, but it comes down to a personal choice and shouldn’t be considered too strongly when purchasing a home. On the other hand, natural light is something to take note of. Pay attention to how many windows there are in the home and which direction the house faces. South-facing walls with a lot of windows will provide a lot of natural light, but will heat up the home. Or there could be a wall with only a few smaller windows that keeps out the light and the room will need to rely on lamps or ceiling fixtures. If you’re not too concerned about having natural light, you’ll want to consider how much additional money you’ll need to spend on electricity.


Like death and taxes, always having laundry to do is one thing you can count on. If you have a big family and do a lot of laundry, you’ll want to consider where the laundry room is located and how far away or close it is to the bedrooms. If the laundry room is on a different level, will you be OK with going up and down the stairs for each load? This might not be a deal-breaker but can make a big difference in how comfortable you are in the home.

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Always a big concern for new homebuyers, pay attention to how much storage there is for each room. Spend some time looking at the kitchen cabinets, the pantry, linen closets in the bathrooms or hallways, coat closets in the entry, clothing closets in the bedrooms, and how much space is available in the garage. There’s nothing like moving to a new house that you love only to find that there isn’t enough space for all of your shoes.


One of the most important considerations is the kitchen. The room that adds the most value to a house and a space that your family will be spending a lot of time in, you should probably be fairly happy with the look and design of the kitchen without doing too much, if any, remodeling. It may be nearly impossible finding a kitchen that is exactly how you want it, but if you’re dreaming of granite countertops, you might not want to settle for laminate.

Even though going to an open house is an exciting prospect, there’s a lot of work involved and it takes a close attention to detail to make sure that any issues aren’t missed right from the start. If you need the professional guidance of a realtor, get in touch with the team at Iron Gate Real Estate. Our agents can help you find the home of your dreams.