How to Find a Home From Afar

June 5th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides

The right agent and inspector are as important as the right house.

If you think buying a house in your own city can be complicated, try figuring out how to find a home from afar. Don’t worry—people buy houses across the country from themselves all the time. With technology—and a trustworthy team on the ground—buying a house long-distance is easier than ever. So what are you waiting for?

Here’s how to find a home from afar.

1. Know your market.
Do houses in your future hometown sell days after being listed, or weeks? Or months? The answer can affect your long-distance homebuyer strategy. If you’re able to take your time, you might be able to flag a number of listings and plan a trip to visit them. If you have to make decisions in a hurry, you’ll want to plan your house-hunting process in a super strategic way for maximum efficiency.

Use internet sleuthing and the advice of local real estate agents to understand your expected timeline, as well as other potential quirks of the local market.

2. Zero-in on neighborhoods.
No matter how great the house is, if it’s not in the right neighborhood, it’s not the right home for you. Whether you’re hoping to walk to your favorite bar at midnight or make sure your kids can fall peacefully to sleep at 8 p.m., internet searches can only take you so far in finding your perfect match.

Get the real story from those in the know: locals. Trulia’s What Locals Say feature gives homebuyers unique insights from real residents about their own neighborhoods, like how many people decorate for the holidays, and how dog-friendly the area is.

Neighborhoods also often have a Facebook group or another online presence that can be worth checking out. “Don’t be shy to interact with the group, and ask all of your questions about the area,” says Evan Roberts, a Baltimore real estate agent.

3. Preview online listings.
Perspective is valuable when buying a home, and the more listings you look at, the more perspective you have. “Buyers often search online prior to contacting me,” says Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta real estate agent and attorney. “This is how the search for a specific home begins.” He recommends paying close attention to the following in every listing:

4. Find a trustworthy, hands-on, local agent.
A trusted agent is essential for every home purchase, but even more so when you’re house hunting from afar. Getting personal referrals and prescreening agent candidates are critical steps to finding an agent willing to the extra mile for you. Ailion says to pick someone who “will go to the property and take pictures and videos—see if the property and neighborhood pass the smell test.” Ask potential agents if they’re willing to take you on a live video call walk-through in every potential home.

5. Hire a high-quality inspector.
When strategizing how to find a home from afar, avoid hiring just any old inspector. Like your local agent, this person’s judgment could make or break your home buying decision, so do your homework. It’s worthwhile to hire a home inspector who may cost more than others, but has stellar ratings and is willing to share references for you to call.

6. Don’t skimp on contingencies.
Of course, you don’t want to lose every home you put an offer on because of too many contingencies, but you don’t want to skip your due diligence either.  Relying on the advice or your agent, build as many contingencies (like an inspection, appraisal, or final walk through) into your offer as you can while still submitting a competitive offer.

7. If possible, visit.
Ideally, you’d fly in to see a home before making an offer, or at least during the contingency period. But if you do, spend your time wisely. “During your whirlwind weekend of home searching, spend several days as if you lived there,” says Ali Wenzke, founder of the blog The Art of Happy Moving. She suggests doing the following on your trip:

  • Stay in a hotel or Airbnb in your target neighborhood
  • Try your work commute during rush hour
  • Visit the local grocery store
  • Check out the things you’ll want to do, like visiting the local dog park
  • Ask yourself if neighborhood feels like the best fit

8. Consider renting first.
Once you understand how to find a home from afar, if you’re not comfortable with the process, rent a house or apartment for a month or two (or six) until you are. “Renting gives you the flexibility to search for homes at your leisure,” says Wenzke.

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