Talk about thorough. When now semi-retired Chicago-area agent Hank Roeters was showing a house some years back to potential home buyers, the couple climbed into the bathtub together to make sure it fit two.

Most would-be home buyers aren't nearly as detailed, even in today's buyer's market when they have plenty of time to make informed decisions. In fact, real estate agents think buyers are not exhaustive enough.

According to realty agents, folks tend to pay far too much mind to the wallpaper, paint colors, carpet, greasy appliances and even the seller's furniture, and not nearly enough attention to water stains in the basement, corroded electric boxes, windows that refuse to open, rotted floor joists and cracks in the foundation.

They fret over the small things that can be corrected at minimal expense and tend to miss the big-ticket items or things such as an inefficient floor plan or energy-guzzling cathedral ceilings.

There isn't an absolute "correct" way to check out houses. Some agents such as Kevin Kieffer of Keller Williams Realty in Danville, Calif., and Christie Ellis, owner-broker of Sonoran Mountain Realty in Phoenix, prefer the free-flow method, allowing the client to take the lead.

"I find it best to bring in [my clients] and let them go where the flow of the house takes them," Kieffer says. "I find it's best to give them space to look on their own without trailing on their heels."

Maggie Finegan of Keller Williams-Lincoln Square in Chicago takes another tack.

"I ask buyers to walk through twice," she says. "The first time to breeze through and get the flow and the feeling, and then if they like it, we walk through again and see the details."

Whatever their style, though, most people who sell houses for a living suggest that prospective buyers start the inspection even before going inside.

As you drive up to the property, for example, take a look at the neighboring properties. Remember, although you can change the exterior and interior of the home you will be visiting, you can't change your neighbors or their homes.

Then, when you leave a house you like, try to drive around the rest of the community and exit through a different route than the one you used to enter, advises Valerie Torelli of Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa. Also, come back at different times of the day.

"A neighborhood can have a completely different vibe during the day than it does at night," Torelli points out. "For instance, if the house is near a school, it could be perfectly peaceful at 10 a.m. and then turn into a traffic jam at 3 p.m."

As for the house itself, pay attention to how well the lawn and shrubs are maintained. Make sure that the ground slopes gently away from the house so rainwater is carried toward the street rather than the foundation. And if there is a driveway, check to be sure that it isn't too steep for your vehicles and that the garage doors are tall enough and the bays wide enough to accommodate your vehicle.

When you get ready to go inside, enter through the front door, not the rear or side.

"To compare homes, it is important always to start at the same place — the front door," says David Gordon of Century 21 Commonwealth in Wellesley, Mass.

"Some agents will bring you in another door, which is many times the way you will live in a home," explains Gordon, whose viewing style is to visit the rooms of each house in the same order. "But to compare apples to apples, it's important to always start at the same place."

Once inside, there is a certain etiquette that should be followed. Although putting a house on the market is tantamount to an invitation to come inside and look around, remember that you are a guest in someone else's home.

The general principles of propriety do apply, says Bree Long of Urban Pulse Properties in Los Angeles. "Opening closet doors, attics and basements, cupboards, and checking out appliances is generally considered appropriate," she says. "But potential buyers should never touch personal belongings or anything that is unrelated to the house itself."

Gordon, the Massachusetts agent, considers only a couple of things out of bounds.

"There is no reason to look in a refrigerator or freezer unless it's a style you are unfamiliar with," he says. "Medicine cabinets, except to take a quick look to see if they have the space to accommodate your needs, are off-limits. Other than that, every nook and cranny is fair game."

Many agents say people become particularly shy about checking out houses when the sellers are home. That's why it's practically a cardinal rule that the owners should vacate their places during a showing, even if they have to go for a walk or visit a neighbor.

If the house does pull at your heartstrings, then go back through it thoroughly as many times as needed until you make up your mind one way or the other.