House Hunting Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Viewing Someone’s Home

7 Min Read
Updated Oct. 31, 2022
Young couple house hunting together in a home entryway.
Written By Victoria Araj

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You may recall certain moments of your childhood when a parent or adult would tell you to “sit up straight” or “say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” These are just a few examples of common etiquettes you may have been reminded to exhibit throughout your adolescent and adult years. However, etiquette is not just reserved for the dinner table.

When searching for your future home, there is certain etiquette to follow during the house-hunting process. Whether you’re a buyer looking for a home, a seller preparing your home for viewing, or an agent acting as the communicator between the two parties, here are a few examples of the dos and don’ts of viewing someone’s home.

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Do: Arrive on Time

First impressions are everything, so start off on the right foot with the seller or listing broker by arriving on time. After all, you could potentially be putting a bid on this particular house.

Luxury residential real estate professional Sheryl Simon, of Benoit Mizner Simon & Co., advises to show up on time no matter whom you’re meeting with. While most sellers won’t be present in the home during the showing, the potential buyers will still be interacting with the listing broker, or as Simon refers to them, “the spy for the seller.”

“Brokers report back to the seller, especially if there is a bid on the home,” says Simon. “You want to present yourself in a very positive light, remembering that it’s the job of the listing broker to help pick a great buyer that will get to the closing table.”

Long story short: don’t be late. Make a good first impression by arriving on time (or early) to your showing appointment.

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Do: Take Your Shoes Off

While it might be just an understood common courtesy to take your shoes off at the door, you may encounter sellers from different cultures who may require shoes to be taken off before entering their home.

Patti Sabla of Patti Sabla Coaching & Counseling and e-book author of “101 Tips for Selling Your Home Fast” recently sold her home and reveals a few quick telltale signs that you need to take your shoes off:

  • Is there a pile of shoes directly outside the front door or on a rack inside?
  • Is the carpet in the home a lighter color?
  • Did you do an outdoor tour before you came in?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, Sabla suggests forgoing your shoes.

Doug Gartley, associate broker from Rocket Homes suggests to be aware of the seller’s situation.

“Taking off your shoes goes a long way of showing the seller that you want to buy the house,” said Gartley. “Sellers appreciate that you respect their home or culture by taking your shoes off.”

The short answer: Just ask! Before you walk in, ask the seller or listing broker if you should take off your shoes.

Do: Ask Questions

It’s perfectly OK to ask relevant questions about the home, e.g., the age of the roof or furnace and information about the neighborhood and surrounding community. Additionally, while in the house, it’s acceptable to open:

  • Closets
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Bedroom doors
  • Bathroom doors
  • Pantries
  • Linen closets
  • Dishwasher door (if it’s staying with the house)
  • Refrigerator/freezer doors (if they’re staying with the house)
  • Washer/dryer doors (if they’re staying with the house)

If any or all of these things are part of the decision-making process, it’s acceptable to want to view these items. If you’re feeling shy, just ask! Most likely, the seller or listing broker will allow it.

However, it’s unacceptable to open:

  • Dressers
  • Nightstand drawers
  • Medicine cabinets
  • Laundry hampers/baskets

Often, sellers will leave a written request for what they do/don’t want viewed during house showings. For example, any private areas of the home (a safe room, home office or anything that contains private information) may be off limits to potential home buyers.

Always be respectful of their wishes. At the end of the day, if you end up going through with the sale, you can always view these areas during the home inspection.

Don’t: Use the Bathroom

Unless it is an absolute emergency, there should be no reason to use the bathroom at a house showing. Some sellers are very uncomfortable with the thought of strangers using their bathroom, especially if the house is vacant and has already been cleaned.

However, there are a few instances that would appropriately allow you to use the bathroom. For instance, if you’re really looking to buy the home, you might want to check the plumbing. With the listing broker’s or seller’s permission, it would be acceptable to flush the toilet, let the sink run for a minute and search for strange noises coming from the plumbing system. This can be an indicator if the plumbing is old or faulty.

However, Gartley suggests to first make sure the water is on. If sellers are not living in the house at the time of showing, they might turn off the water. Before you try anything, ask the seller or listing broker about the water.

Of course, should an emergency arise and you must use the bathroom during a house showing, Gartley asserts: “Leave it as you found it.”

Don’t: Bring Food

It is never polite to bring food to a house showing, so leave the snacks in the car.

Sometimes, a seller or a listing broker might provide water and dry snacks to potential buyers. Sabla suggests pretzels because they don’t stain.

“I didn’t provide chocolate, candy, gum or chips that leave a residue,” says Sabla. “I already had a toddler-sized orange cheese handprint on the flipped side of my white couch cushions that wouldn’t come out due to an incident with a neighbor’s child and some unsupervised cheese puffs, so I learned my lesson!”

Gartley adds that food is a bad idea due to any unknown food allergies. You never know if the seller or any potential buyers looking at the house after you might have an allergy (even to a smell), so it’s best to avoid bringing any food to the showing.

Don’t: Negotiate While You’re in the Home

The house showing is not a time to sit down and discuss negotiations. Additionally, it’s not the time to pick out every flaw in the house. Simon warns that this could mark you as a “buyer who would not get past inspection.”

Instead, wait until you have left the showing to discuss your findings and opinions. Remember what Simon warned earlier: The listing broker is the “spy for the seller” and could pass along any commentary you make during the showing.

Don’t: Bring Your Kids/Pets

While Gartley says that kids should most definitely be a part of the house-hunting process, it may be wise to attend the initial house showing without them, if possible. Here’s why:

  • They may require your undivided attention, forcing you to miss parts of the home
  • They may accidently open certain drawers, doors or cabinets that the seller asked to remain unviewed
  • They might not want to spend time looking around a house and could become restless

All of these reasons and more might contribute to your decision to leave your kids out of the initial viewing. Remember that purchasing a home can be a hectic process, so by alleviating any possible stress that may arise during the process, you’re better able to focus on the home.

Same rule of thumb goes with pets. While we all love our four-legged, furry friends, they might bring complications into the house showing that you may have not anticipated.

For example, your pet might go to the bathroom in the seller’s backyard. While you might not see an issue with this (when you gotta go, you gotta go!), the seller might be protective of their lawn and might not appreciate the mess.

It’s also important to remember that some people may have allergies. If the seller is allergic, it might not be wise to bring your pet to a showing, as their hair and allergens could spread in the home.

Go with Your Gut

At the end of the day, it all comes down to first impressions, so it’s critical to get it right.

As a buyer, you’re looking to make a good impression with the seller and listing agent. Be on your best behavior and remember: When in doubt, go with your gut. If you think an area of the home is off-limits or leaving your shoes on might be offensive, talk to the listing broker and find the best way to view someone’s home; it just might benefit you when it comes to making an offer.

Have you recently sold your home and have tips or funny stories from the house showings? Let us know in the comments below!

Take the first step toward buying a house.

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