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How to Rock a Long-Distance House Hunt and Find Your Dream Home in a New City

Finding an agent you can communicate with, who is comfortable working with an out of area client, is a crucial element of purchasing a home remotely.  

In 2019, we can work remotely, order a pizza in a few clicks, or have a folded-up mattress delivered to our doorstep. So, who’s to say you can’t also buy a home from across the country?

It might not be ideal, there are many situations where buying a home from a distance is the only option. Whether it’s a quick move, a distant relocation, or a hot market, sometimes purchasing a home remotely is the best choice. While it’ll never be the same as buying in person, keeping these tips in mind can make the process more straightforward, and less stressful than you might expect.

1. Get a Realtor Who Knows How to Do It

It almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it: Make sure your real estate agent is up for working with a remote homebuyer. The experience requires comfort with technology and a different level of involvement with the client. Suffice it to say, not everyone wants to work with a remote buyer.

“I go the extra mile because I know a lot of agents in my area don’t do this,” explains Haley Turner, a Cleveland-based Realtor with several remote sales under her belt. “It’s a way for me to differentiate myself — the fact that I’m willing to work with out-of-state clients.”

Turner attributes success with remote clients to her comfort with technology, especially FaceTime. “You can create this experience for clients, but for many, it can be a really stressful time … just finding a person who eases your stress and explains everything to you is essential. It’s something that definitely will sets Realtors apart.”

Beyond the technically literate real estate agent, you’ll need to find someone you trust, who understands you and your tastes, because your agent will be viewing homes without you in many cases. While they don’t have to have the same taste as you, they need to understand your wants, needs, and preferences on a level deeper than that of a traditional agent. “The biggest thing was just constant communication and making sure that everyone was on the same page,” explains Turner.

Because they’ll see everything up close while you’ll only have seen it on your phone screen, having good communication is essential. You’ll need to trust your agent when they say a house is a good or bad fit.

2. Know the City (as Much as You Can)

Maybe a job is calling you to a brand new town, or you’re finally taking the leap to move to a huge place like New York or L.A. Whatever the circumstances, if you don’t know your new city well, you need to take a trip to wherever you’re buying a home before the sale. Even if it’s just for a few days. “I will say the one thing that was really hard was not knowing the neighborhood. That’s one thing that, you cannot explain that over the phone,” Turner says. “You can look at Google maps, which is helpful, but it’s not the same as being there.”

This trip is less about finding a home, and more about finding a neighborhood or area that you enjoy. Turner recommends her remote clients narrow down their areas of interest in a new city to a few neighborhoods they’ve visited and enjoyed. Details like paints and finishes can always be changed, but it’s impossible to move your perfect home out of a community you don’t love.

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3. Know Your Market

In the summer of 2018, buying a home sight unseen became the only option for some homebuyers purchasing in the Cleveland market, explains Turner. “The houses were going so quickly sometimes they would sell in a day or two. We couldn’t wait to put an offer on something until they came actually to see it in town.”

Before you consider purchasing remotely, it’s best to understand the market of the area. Is your move on an accelerated timeline? Is the market moving too fast to wait for a visit?

Buying a home is already a stressful financial situation, and buying long-distance will make it even more stressful. Understanding the market, even just from a high level, will give you a better understanding of how quickly you have to act, and how often you need to communicate with your agent.

How to Get the House You Want in This Red Hot Real Estate Market

In addition to understanding the speed of your foreign market, you’ll also have to have a basic understanding of the real estate process in your new city, as it likely differs from the market you’re currently living in. Realtors typically only have experience in a single market.

“It’s not possible to ask a Realtor ‘How is it different here?’” explains financial coach AJ Borowsky, who bought a home in California while living in New Jersey. “So you need to educate yourself about the process, not just the transaction, to understand how it works in a different area. I think it’s really important because when I went through [remote buying], there were a lot of things that I was confused about.”

Does your new state require a lawyer at closing? Or a more extended closing period? Understanding these differences as you begin your search can help make the process go smoother overall.

With a real estate agent your trust, a city you (somewhat) know, a market you understand, and a decisive attitude, you can save yourself stress in the remote home buying process.

4. Know You’re Ready

This is simple, but vital: Make sure you’re really ready to buy a home in another city before you start the process. Across state lines and time zones, the home purchasing process is harder to improvise.

Home buyers house hunting remotely can’t spontaneously stop by an open house on a Sunday, or stop and start the search with their schedule. More often than not, when you’re buying from a distance, you more so “need” to buy a house more than “want” to, you’re on a tight timeline, and likely under high stress. Compound that with what is likely the largest purchase of your life, and you realize this process can’t be done casually.

If you’re really unsure of your readiness, consider renting first. It may not be what makes the most financial sense for you, but it will give you a chance to get to know your new city before you make a major commitment.

The Bottom Line

Buying a home should be an exciting next step in a person’s life, no matter how it’s done. With a real estate agent your trust, a city you (somewhat) know, a market you understand, and a decisive attitude, you can save yourself stress in the remote home buying process.

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Author: Emma Diehl

Emma Diehl is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh.