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Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the real estate waters or you’re deep into your house hunt, spending a weekend (or two) visiting open houses can be an instrumental part of your search.

No matter how many listings you’ve visited online, there’s no substitute for an in-person visit to a home that’s for sale. That’s the only way that you’ll really know just how much traffic you can hear from inside a home on a busy street, for example, or see signs of wear and tear that didn’t appear in the listing’s photo slideshow.

“Open houses are a really valuable tool, particularly when you’re early in the process,” says Ron Phipps, principal broker with Phipps Realty in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to research the market in a more self-directed way.”

The idea of waltzing through someone else’s home, though, can feel overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the process.

What is an open house?

An open house is an opportunity for you to see a home that’s for sale without making an appointment. Home sellers will schedule open houses during set times, typically for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday, and allow potential buyers to see the property at once. Sellers usually don’t attend their open house, but a real estate agent is typically there to answer questions about the home.

While you can bring your own real estate agent along, you don’t need to have an agent with you to attend an open house. This makes it easier for you to see homes up close and at your own pace without any sales pressure.

“It can be helpful to go to an open house, even if you’ve already seen the home with your agent,” says Brendon DeSimone, brokerage manager at Houlihan Lawrence in Bedford, New York. “It’s a chance to go back on your own and go through it again. And, you can see what the neighborhood is like on a weekend.”

How to find open houses

Now that you know what an open house is, here are tips on how to find open houses:

Check online real estate websites. Most listing websites make it easy to search for open houses based on criteria, such as the date and location. Some search portals even allow you to create a list or itinerary on their mobile apps, making it easy to reference on the go. If you make a list ahead of time, double-check it in the morning of the showing to make sure that nothing has changed. Sometimes a home will go under contract just before a scheduled open house, so the sellers will cancel the event.

Cruise the neighborhood. Spend an afternoon driving around  a neighborhood where you’re interested in purchasing a home. Not only will you get a feel for the area’s vibe and character, but you’ll also be able to drop into a few open houses. Look for open house signs, with big arrows and balloons to indicate a nearby listing.

Ask your real estate agent. If you’re working with an agent, ask them how to find open houses. Even if you plan to go without your agent, they can recommend open houses that might be a good fit for your search, including those in neighborhoods that you might not have considered.

What should I do at an open house?

Have fun! Visiting an open house is one of the most enjoyable, low-pressure parts of house hunting. This is your chance to get a hands-on education on what homes in a particular neighborhood and price range might look like. Make a day of it; the more homes you can see, the more confident you’ll feel when you finally do walk through the doors of “the one.”

If you end up touring a home that you really like, take your time during the open house. Look past the home’s cosmetic appearance and think about its structure and condition. Consider how it compares to other homes you’ve seen. Look around the neighborhood to see whether it seems like it would be a good fit for you and your family.

Expect to show ID and sign in to each open house that you visit. This is partly a safety precaution, as well as a tool for the selling agent to get feedback about the home from attendees. Feel free to ask the hosting real estate agent any questions about the property or the neighborhood. Don’t discuss your thoughts on the house — or information about your financial position or timeline for moving — with the agent (who represents the seller) or even those attending the open house with you.

“You never know who’s listening at an open house,” Phipps says. “As a buyer, you want to observe everything, but don’t be too generous sharing what you like or don’t like, or your value strategy. That could hurt your ability to negotiate later.”