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When you've got to buy a house from across the country, start with a winning strategy.
Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated.
Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely.
Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar.
Do your homework
When it comes to long-distance home shopping, “the Internet is your friend,” remarks Meghann Shike of Synergy Realty in Nashville. “You know the neighborhoods you live around, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, the [grocery store], or the schools.”
Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes.
One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience.
“You’re going to want someone local on the ground — someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices,” Shike says. “You need to get a feel for how that person operates. Are they available to talk to you? You’re going to have more questions than you realize, and your agent is going to need to be there to answer them.”
Have a travel budget
When Kyle and Samantha Steele found out they were going to be moving from Oklahoma City to Columbus, OH for Kyle’s new job, the couple looked at listings online, got in touch with real estate agents, and picked an upcoming weekend to house hunt in person.
The Steeles’ agent showed them multiple houses, but nothing was quite right. Then they found out that many of the older neighborhoods in the area didn’t have great access to high-speed Internet. That’s when they decided to build.
Their agent was instrumental in guiding them on their short house-hunting weekend, and in finding a builder. “[Our agent] basically helped us with everything, every step of the way,” Kyle states. “When we couldn’t find anything, she helped us find model homes in the area we’re building in, and showed us three different model homes. She answered questions, and helped us find the building company. She even helped us find a hotel for the weekend.”
Inevitably, unexpected appointments came up during the building process that required one of the Steeles to be present. “We had to make an appointment to meet with the design studio to pick out the floors and the carpet,” Samantha remarks. “So far, I’ve been to Ohio twice.”
The couple advises long-distance house hunters to prepare and plan ahead, especially for last-minute travel. “Be flexible,” Kyle says. “Make sure you have a few thousand dollars in reserve that you can spend on plane tickets and a hotel — because you will have to go back and forth.”
From the agent perspective, Shike recommends planning a house-hunting trip that’s at least four to five days long, so you’re not cramming in tons of showings that you won’t remember at the end of the day.
Know what you want
When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.
“I like to tell my clients to do a ‘top five.'” Shike says. “What’s your non-negotiable? Is it being able to step out the front door to walk your dogs? Do you want to walk your kids to school?”
Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market.
“Buyers need to get over the fear of writing an offer when they haven’t seen the house in person,” remarks Shike. “I can video chat our way through the house, but I can’t get you on a plane [to get here] in the same time the local people can who are shopping.”
Overcome remote home-buyer jitters
For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen, Shike says there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it.
Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge. “You could rent for the short term or get a six-month lease, which is enough time to get settled in your job or routine,” recommends Shike. “That can be nice for buyers who are a little more anxious about the process — to relieve that anxiety.”
Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, Shike believes it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance.
“It can be a nice change of pace for people,” Shike adds. “Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.”
Originally published January 13, 2017.