An open house or a private home showing can become a disaster with one wrong move or one simple mistake. Recently, we published a guide to open house etiquette and asked readers to submit their horror stories.
Here are just some of the strange, and sometimes horrifying, things people have come across when seeing a house, either at an open house or a showing.
Originally published Spring 2011.
Stealing food: Some realtors may put out cookies and refreshments for any potential buyers who come through. But buyers shouldn’t assume all food in the house is theirs to take.
Ralph from Medford said that his wife had made a pot of 30 meatballs before a showing and, afterward, found that one was missing. “Seems our showing got hungry and decided to pluck a meatball out of the sauce!’’ he said.
Using an open house as a ‘pit stop’: Many restaurants will want you to be a paying customer before using the restroom, but there is usually no such policy posted outside the front door of an open house. David from Boston said that one couple walked into an open house he was hosting with no interest in actually seeing the house.
“I went upstairs to see what was going on when I heard the toilet flush,’’ he said. “They had used my open house as a pit stop!’’
Not respecting the bathroom: Not only is bathroom use a problem at open houses, according to some home sellers, but some open house guests don’t adhere to basic bathroom etiquette. A few readers complained that people came into their home for an open house and didn’t bother to flush the toilet. Molly from Boston said that “I’ve asked a few agents around Boston about this topic – sad to say it’s not uncommon.’’
Dissed by the real estate agent: Some realtors don’t give the amount of respect to those they are working with, and that includes potential buyers. Anna from Malden said that she and her husband were asked to leave an open house by the realtor when they didn’t respond to a question right away about their price range.
“I see this realtor’s signs everywhere, and there is no way I would ever do business with her,’’ said Anna.
A late or nonexistent agent: One of the more important aspects of a listing agent’s job is to sell the house, and it would seem a key part of that would be to show up at an open house. However, one reader said that there have been occasions when the realtor either arrived late or never showed up. “Things come up, but you’ve got to at least get someone out there to post a notice,’’ said the anonymous reader.
A dirty house: The open house is supposed to show the property as a place that potential buyers can imagine themselves living. This becomes difficult when the house is disgusting.
DJ from Cambridge said that one house was so dirty that potential buyers were dusting the floor “with our socks.’’ One reader from Burlington said one house had pet droppings all over the lawn and a “stinky nasty dark bedroom’’ in the basement.
Dealing with ‘control freaks’: Kate, formerly from Massachusetts, said that she once attended an open house with a very involved and controlling seller and broker. “He watched our every move,’’ she said. “We could not get away from him to comment… on the features of the house.’’ It didn’t stop her from buying the house, though.
Having guests around: The open house is for the potential buyers, not the owners’ relatives or other guests. When an open house is in the works, the house should be empty, not like the house visited by Kate from Westford. She said that the teenage son was still sleeping in one bedroom, and there were several kids in the basement.
“Charming all around,’’ she said.
Problems with pets: Pets can cause a multitude of problems at an open house. Phil from Cambridge said he and his wife were startled by a large iguana, while Amy from South Boston said she went to a house that was covered in cat dander and caused allergic reactions.
However, things get ugly when a pet uses the house as a bathroom. Sarah from Watertown said she found a puddle in a living room courtesy of the resident canine. “No sign of the dog, but we got out of there quickly,’’ she said.
An unfinished house: There were multiple accounts from readers about houses for sale that were not finished or were missing some essential parts. Jamie from Boston, for example, came across a house that had a completed interior but had no front stairs or any other way to easily enter.
Another reader from Goffstown, N.H., recalled one house that had no doors on any of the rooms. Finally, a reader from Norwood wrote about a house that had settling issues and was tilted.
Illegal or suspicious rooms: Some houses are not suitable for inhabiting, let alone selling. Sometimes potential buyers come across illegal rooms or suspicious construction that turn them away. One reader wrote in about a house that had “several illegal rooms built into the back, some with just a mattress on the floor, filthy, moldy, urine-smelling rugs and a TV.’’
Tony from Brookline recalled one house that had “small rooms divided by plywood with people sleeping inside. Definitely an illegal boarding house!’’
A flooded basement: If you’re selling a house, it probably won’t help you make a sale if your basement is underwater. Yet a few readers reported that they have seen flooded basements during open houses. Lee from Braintree, for example, said that one house completely flooded during a rain storm, the water pouring “into the foundation from the outside.’’
“Definitely check out a house ‘in the rain’ prior to submitting an offer,’’ Lee advised. “You truly get a feel if the house floods.’’
Walking in on the aftermath of a party: Elizabeth from Tewksbury had an experience with a house showing – not an open house – where a few college kids were living. Apparently the owner was a parent of one of the college students and the house had turned into the “party house.’’ At the showing, there were four people sleeping in beds all over the house, one was passed out in the bathroom, and another who was using a bathroom with the door open.
“Hysterical and horrifying,’’ Elizabeth said about the experience.
Owners ‘busy’ in the bedroom: You are free to do almost anything you want inside the walls of your home, but not when you’re expecting people over for a showing. Dee from Boston said that when she arrived for an appointment to see a condo, the current owners were “getting busy.’’
“The woman came down in just a sweatshirt looking very embarrassed!’’ Dee said.