Why You Should Try Out a Home Before You Buy It

Test-driving a house can help you gather important intel about its feasibility, neighbors and more.

Family discussing with their interior designer how to furnish their new apartment
By + More

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.

[See: 8 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements That Save Money.]

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.

[Read: The Best Online Tools for Your Housing Search.]

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.