Why You Should Try Out a Home Before You Buy It

US News

One of the fun parts of searching for a home to buy is visualizing living in it. Will your furniture fit? Is the kitchen big enough for all of your kids? Imagining your belongings and your family living in the home can make the buying decision easier.

When checking out a house, some buyers take the extra step of spending the night. It's a simple yet effective way to kick the tires and test-drive a prospective home. Along the way you'll have an opportunity to check for noisy neighbors, test the water pressure, and inadvertently, for one couple - learn how concerned the neighbors are and even how quickly the police respond.

The HGTV show, "Sleep On It," explored this issue by having potential buyers sleep in two homes - with the sellers' approval - before deciding which home to buy. One family's main concern was whether a home's kitchen was big enough to entertain, so they invited some teenage friends over for a pizza party before deciding to purchase the home.

While the show didn't start a national trend of sleeping in a home before deciding to buy, it's still a practice that happens every once in a while, according to some real estate agents.

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Corlie Ohl, a real estate agent at Citi Habitats in New York City, says she had a client from a year ago whose apartment didn't have much water pressure, and he wanted to take a shower in an $865,000 apartment he was considering to buy.

"It's the strangest request I've ever experienced in my life for someone who wanted to purchase an apartment," Ohl says. The seller said "Yeah, I guess, as long as he brings his own towel," she says. While the owner was in a different room, the buyer took a shower and was satisfied with the water pressure and heat.

He wanted to buy the apartment, but had financial issues with the building and couldn't get a mortgage, Ohl says. Owners of other apartments he was looking at wouldn't let him test out their showers, and he ultimately returned to being a renter, she says.

For sellers, the benefit of allowing a buyer to sleep over can be a faster sale because they're more comfortable with the property and can better visualize themselves living there. It's a common practice with vacation or retirement home sales.

Finding problematic aesthetics, such as a worn carpet or malfunctioning light switches, shouldn't be the sleepover's focus, agents say. More significant issues, such as noise from trains or neighbors, should be the main reason for the request, says Nick Jabbour, a real estate agent in New York City.

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In his 10 years in the business, Jabbour has had only three clients ask for sleepovers. The most recent came about a year ago when a buyer was anxious about possible noise in a $2.5 million Wall Street apartment.

For a $1,000 fee so that the owner could stay in a hotel, along with another $1,000 security deposit, the buyer spent the night in the building, which was constructed in 1928 with heavy concrete and has thick walls. "He emerged grateful," Jabbour says of his client, who ended up buying the apartment.

While a nightly fee and security deposit to cover possible damage may not be required by all sellers, a contract for the sleepover is a good idea for both parties, say various agents we interviewed. Liability should be addressed, along with loss of personal belongings.

A buyer can learn more about a potential home late at night than they would during the day, as a couple that Boulder, Colo., real estate agent Bob Gordon was representing found out the hard way. The couple was interested in the noise level at a condo, and since the unit was vacant, the listing agent let them visit alone at night.

They went to the condo after dark, around 9 p.m., and found it to be quiet. The woman wanted to check out the condo's parking area, so they took the elevator down to the garage. "As they exited the elevator, they were abruptly confronted by two police officers, weapons drawn," Gordon says.

It turns out the neighbors heard them in the condo, and knowing the unit was vacant and possibly being burglarized, they called the police. The couple sorted out the issue with the police, and made an offer that night that was accepted the following evening, Gordon says.

"They wanted to buy immediately, knowing the neighbors would be concerned enough to call police," he says. "They loved that this community looked out for one another. It wasn't just an apartment building, but a group of neighbors and friends living near one another."

[Read: Renting vs. Buying a Home: Which Is Smarter?]

Spending the night in a home to check on the early morning noise of a nearby school bell, for instance, or the footsteps of upstairs neighbors, can seem like normal requests when compared to what real estate agent Suzanne O'Neil of Sarasota, Fla., experienced.

A psychic medium asked to stay overnight in a home that O'Neil was selling in Maine so she could communicate with the spirit's presence there and "feel the vibe of the house and get a feel for its ebb and flow," O'Neil says. "It's unusual, for sure," she says. "I do believe there are people who have a sixth sense, or can feel the ebb and flow."

The psychic spent the night and didn't buy the house, telling O'Neill she didn't like the ghost dog or the angry man upstairs. "I never had an issue with either of them," O'Neill says.

One person's noise disruptions - or even a ghost - could be nothing to another buyer. Non-psychics may have a hard time determining if a ghost is living in a house, but a sleepover could make loud neighbors in the unit above or a low-pressure shower easier to spot before taking the final step of buying a home.

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