Have you ever seen a notice for a Sunday open house in your neighborhood, planned to attend, and then ----at the last minute -- stayed away because you didn't want the owner to think of you as a nosy neighbor?

Or if you got past that, have you ever tried to sneak through an open house unnoticed, declining to sign the register and avoiding eye contact with the hosting agent because you felt you were not there for a legitimate purpose?

Or once upstairs in the master bathroom, have you ever felt uneasy when you bumped into other people you know -- all, like you, checking out your neighbor's house?

If so, you're not alone. But there's no need to be hesitant, embarrassed or to make it a clandestine mission.

Owners and agents expect neighbors to visit. In fact, smart agents encourage it, and some make it a practice to invite neighbors to their open houses.

Why? Well, neighbors may know people who would like to live near them, who may be interested in the showcased property. Sometimes these are people not actively looking who might otherwise never know about the opportunity.

Neighbors also can be great salespersons. I recently learned of a "nosy neighbor" whom one of my colleagues credits with bringing about the sale of one of her listings.

The neighbor reportedly struck up a conversation with potential buyers at an open house and convinced them how great the house was. She noted the home's desirability in terms of location, school district and neighborhood personality. The result was an accepted offer the very next day.

Another reason why we welcome neighbors at open houses is that we're always looking to meet future buyers and sellers. Open houses are the perfect low-pressure forum for doing this. Yes, you may find yourself added to a few mailing lists afterwards, but hopefully that's not such a bad thing. Good mailings may contain useful market information or other home buying/selling tips of interest to you.

Also, attending open houses will make you more knowledgeable about local market conditions. Agents appreciate this most of all, because market-savvy buyers and sellers are the best kind of clients to work with.

A final reason why we welcome neighbors at open houses is that seeing what's on the market may inspire you to take action. To upsize. To downsize. To move to a different part of town. To trade in a stately colonial in a family neighborhood for a bold waterfront contemporary. Bottom line: You are not wasting the agent's time or offending the owner when you attend an open house in your neighborhood -- even though you may not be remotely close to being in the market, and your motivation may be pure curiosity.

So don't hesitate to attend open houses.

Evi Coghlan's "The Real Deal" appears every other Friday. She is a licensed real estate agent with the Riverside Avenue office of Coldwell Banker and a former marketing consultant to Fortune 100 companies. She may be reached by email at evi@evicoghlan.com or by phone at 203-247-6691.