Open houses are a great way to look at homes at your leisure. You can then make a short list of homes you are interested in to give to your real estate agent. Of course, you are on your own and without the guidance of your agent when at an open house, so it's important that you know what to look for during your tour.
Tip #1: Check for odors
Water or pet damage is often detectable by nose alone, which is why so many agents go out of their way to imbue a home with a pleasant scent during an open house. Make a point to go down into the basement, open closets, and to even nose around in the attic if you can. These are the areas where troublesome odors seem to be most obvious regardless of efforts to hide them.
Tip #2: Listen for squeaks
A few squeaks from the floorboards as you walk isn't a major concern, but if you hear a lot of creaks and groans, there may be an issue with the structural integrity of the home. An open house can be a great time to listen, since there may be more people walking on the different floors of the home to give you a clear audible tour of the state of the flooring.
Tip #3: Look beneath rugs
If a home has large rugs laying over hard flooring or even carpet, ask the agent for help peeking beneath them. Rugs are sometimes used to protect the floor during a viewing, but they are also often used to hide damage to wood or tile or to cover up major stains in a carpet. A quick peek can reveal the damage.
Tip #4: Inspect for cracks
A fresh coat of paint is sometimes used to cover up wall damage that goes beyond the cosmetic. Check the walls closely to make sure there are no hairline cracks or uneven walls hiding beneath that fresh paint. Corners and around window and door frames are the most common spots for cracks that indicate structural damage. Also, look closely at the ceiling to ensure there are no water spots that could indicate a leak.
Don't forget to talk to your agent before going to an open house. A real estate agent in your area can prepare you with a checklist of what to look for at an open house.