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Sneak and Peek: Navigating the World of Open Houses

Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to philly@curbed.com.

If you’re just flirting with the idea of moving into a new place, perhaps you want to spend your spring Sunday afternoon in a low-pressure, voyeuristic scenario where you can check out some of the inventory. Fun!

Be aware that if you arrive at an open house and do not have a buyer’s agent with you, you're going to look like a cartoon pork chop to the listing agent, who has every reason to want to snap you up to avoid splitting the sales commission with the buyer’s agent.

If you get excited about a place, it's easy to get that fluttery feeling in your stomach the way you do when you open the door to a really hot Internet date (which happens all the time, of course). But don't let passion overwhelm your rational brain: You're there for a reason, and that's either to rule this place out or to decide you're going to take the next step.

Sometimes it feels funny to open cabinets and turn on faucets, but don't be shy—agents are used to it and not easily offended. If something seems like a problem, don't be afraid to ask about it, even if you're not with an agent.

If the owner is there—which does happen sometimes—it might be useful to have a casual chat. You don't have to pummel them with questions about drywall to get a sense of how the person has lived and maintained the house and why they're leaving. As you'll see from our home-buying horror stories, even the most cautious buyers get scammed by sellers, so assert yourself at every step of the way. If you get a sense that an agent or seller thinks you're being pushy because you want to test the shelf strength in the closet, oh well. It's your thousands of dollars on the line.

Finally, don't let the staging and spotlessness of an open house confuse you. Picture your own furniture in there.

Cruise the merchandise, but don’t talk real business without going through your agent unless you’re an expert, or are in the mood to reenact the great 1986 Tom Hanks vehicle, The Money Pit.

Open houses are listed here:

· Trulia
· Zillow
· Oodle
· Craigslist

You can also go the old-fashioned route and call agents and brokers. Or go walking or driving around the neighborhoods of interest.