By Brendon DeSimone

SEATTLE (Zillow) — Years ago, after closing on your American Dream with a 30-year fixed loan, you probably didn’t think much about the home’s value until you were ready to sell. Today, there’s so much more information available to homebuyers. Markets move quickly, and life happens a lot faster.

As a result, many people have become hyper-aware of their real estate investments, frequently watching the rise and fall of market values well after the close. Listing emails flow daily, and the Zillow app likely sits prominently on many homeowners’ smartphones and tablets. Good real estate agents compile “mini CMAs” -- comparative market analyses -- for their past clients, too, updating them yearly on the latest comps and values.

While it helps to be mindful of your home’s value, you shouldn’t obsess over it. A better strategy is to stay abreast of the local real estate market, just as you’d keep an eye on any long-term investment. Have an idea what’s selling and what’s not. Know what the trends and changes are in your neighborhood, school district or town.

One of the best ways to do this is to go to open houses. Here are some reasons why:

You can learn a lot from listing agents.

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Open houses aren’t just for buyers. Often, would-be sellers and nearby homeowners represent a large portion of open house traffic. Use the open house not only to see what’s for sale and the price of comparable homes but also to learn about the market. Pick the brain of the listing agent to get his or her take on what’s happening in your area. Real estate agents tend to be aware of market changes well before the mainstream press.

You’ll stay current with the latest home design trends.

Sellers generally put their best foot forward. Some go as far as making cosmetic updates or design/staging changes before putting their homes on the market. They likely rely on their real estate agent to suggest the latest and greatest in the market. So if you bought a home that needs updating or you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to choosing paint colors, countertops or bath fixtures, going to open houses will allow you to see styles and designs.

You can get referrals for local real estate specialists, contractors or designers.

Want to be connected to a good local designer or contractor? Ask the real estate agent selling the home you liked if they can get you the contact information. Though getting referrals from friends is also a good idea, seeing the finished product in an open house can inspire you to replicate what that owner did and how they did it.

Never forget: Your home is an investment.

Ultimately, it’s not just property you’ve bought; for most people, it’s a home. You should make remodeling or upgrade choices according to your wishes (although without forgetting your home is also an investment). Try to find a balance between whatever personal choices you have in mind and what might appeal to potential buyers down the road. For example, painting a room a dark red or choosing highly taste-specific fixtures or designs may appeal to your taste buds – but will likely alienate a buyer down the road. Of course, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to make last-minute changes to their home to make it “market ready.”