House hunting is hard at the best of times, whether you’re looking to downsize or upgrade your current digs or you’re moving across the country.
Long distance house hunting presents its own unique challenges. The internet has made it easier to get to know your new locale and look at properties online, but how can you really know where to buy a house when you aren’t intimately familiar with the area? How do you know the house you’re looking at is in good condition if you can’t make the trip to see it in person?
To help you in your long distance house hunt, we reached out to Realtors® across the country for their expert advice. We asked them four questions:
- What are the most important factors people should consider when long-distance house hunting?
- What are the essential steps house hunters should take when looking for a house long distance?
- What are the most common long-distance house hunting scams and how can house hunters avoid them?
- Do you have any other advice for people who are planning to move to a completely new city or state?
Their #1 tip? Work with an experienced Realtor®. Realtor’s® are the most qualified to help you find your perfect home, and will look out for your best interests throughout the entire house hunting process. They can help you get to know your new locale, as well as connect you with other professionals you might need to work with to complete the home buying process, such as attorneys or home inspectors.
Here’s what else these experts had to say:
1. What are the most important factors people should consider when long-distance house hunting?
|TOP TIP: Narrow your search down to a few key areas. Do online research into your new locale, talk to friends and family in the area, and visit if you can.|
Michelle Gibson - Wellington Home Team
“There are three main factors people should consider when long-distance house hunting: cost of living, job opportunities, and community. Can you afford to live in the area you want to? Are there job opportunities? Does the community have everything you want; great schools, shopping, transportation, community events, affordable housing?”
Paul Sian - Cincinky Real Estate Blog
“When conducting a long distance search for a house, it is important for the homebuyer to visit the area they are moving to in person and to work with a real estate agent who can help them with their home buying needs. Trying to buy a home long distance without the assistance a real estate agent means no one is looking out for the buyer’s best interests. A real estate agent should be attending inspections for the buyer, negotiating and making sure repairs are done, and can even do the final walkthrough on behalf of the buyer. A tech savvy agent can do all that and keep the homebuyers in the loop with live video through a social media or video chat app.”
Kyle Hiscock - Rochester Real Estate Blog
“The most important factor to keep in mind when long-distance house hunting is that every real estate market is different! There are many reasons why real estate markets are different from one to the next. There are certainly major differences in home values, but also differences in the styles of homes available, ages of homes, and other important things to consider when shopping for homes remotely.”
Nathan Garrett - Garrett's Realty
“Typically, the location of the home and the surrounding areas is the largest deciding factor for newcomers. Sometimes it can be hard to find an area that has it all, whether it be a short commute to work, great schools, or local parks and shopping. A good starting point would be to narrow it down to three or four areas and begin your long-distance house hunting.”
Nancy Tallman - Inside Park City Real Estate
“The first step is to try to zero in on one or two locations based on the criteria you set. Perhaps it’s crime, schools, weather, or walking distance to the beach. In my market, sometimes people decide on Park City and Salt Lake City. In big city like Los Angeles, this could mean a couple of beach cities or the Westside. You can narrow the locations by doing research online (I love “bestplaces.net”) and talking to people. It is a small world out there. If you post something on Facebook, you might find that one of your friends has a friend living in a location you are contemplating. After you narrow down the area, it’s time to drill down into specific neighborhoods. Sometimes it’s hard to do this until you make a physical visit to see which neighborhoods resonate with you.”
2. What are the essential steps house hunters should take when looking for a house long distance?
|TOP TIP: Get financing pre-approved.|
“The number one step long-distance house hunters should take is hiring a Realtor® who specializes in the area they are relocating to. A top Realtor® will not only be able to show relocation buyers and tenants homes that meet their needs, but they will also be able to educate them about the area and what it has to offer.”
“The first step to take when shopping for a house long-distance is to find an experienced Realtor® in the area! It’s vital when buying a house that a top Realtor® is hired to ensure quality representation. One of the best tips to remember when interviewing a real estate agent is to request past client testimonials, and also if the agent has any clients that would be willing to discuss their experience.
Other important steps house hunters should take when shopping long distance include getting pre-approved, visiting the area to ensure they’re looking for homes in a neighborhood that is a good fit, and also learning the rules and procedures in the local market. For example, in New York, real estate attorneys facilitate closings, but in other states attorneys aren’t involved with closings.”
“Get in touch with a local agent early! Consider taking a trip to tour the area and preview the neighborhoods and homes that are currently on the market. This can help give you a firsthand experience of the area that otherwise wouldn’t be possible online.”
“Once you decide on the location, it’s time to get a feel for the market. Take a look online at the homes for sale in your areas of interest. Are they in your budget?
Next, it’s time to find a real estate agent. While looking online is a great way to find a property, it’s usually a terrible way to find a good real estate agent. Why? Because anyone can advertise as a “preferred agent” in any neighborhood. Those faces popping up next to a home you like could be brand new agents or agents who live 50 miles away and know nothing about the neighborhood. The best way to find an agent is word of mouth. Ask your local real estate agent to help you find an agent in the place you are moving to and ask your friends who live in that area who they recommend. If neither of those are viable solutions, use Google to find real estate agents in your area of interest, and look up their websites. Do they have listings? Do they have client reviews? Interview a couple of agents until you find one who you feel understands your needs and is knowledgeable about the area.
The real estate agent should be able to recommend good local lenders, an attorney (if they are used for real estate transactions), title company, inspector, etc. If you are not paying cash, it is essential to get pre-approved for financing. You should provide your tax returns, proof of income and all details to the lender so he or she is confident you qualify for financing before you ever set foot in a home.
Once you decide on a real estate agent, work on a list of homes to see before your visit. You want to make sure the agent is showing you all the homes that you want to see. You should also request some market data. What are the average days on market, list to sale price, and price/square foot? These are general numbers to give you a feel for the real estate market and will help when you find the home you want to buy.
Some agents require clients to sign a buyer-broker agreement before they will put you in their car. Ask if you can sign the agreement after you spend the day together to ensure that you like each other and want to work together. It is unrealistic and disrespectful to expect an agent to be loyal to you and work on your behalf if you refuse to sign a buyer-broker agreement. If you find a good agent, plan on signing the buyer-broker agreement.”
What is a Buyer-Broker Agreement?
Buyer-broker agreements, also known as “buyer representation”, clarify who represents the buyer and defines their legal relationship. These agreements explain the duties and responsibilities of both parties, and outline what services the broker will provide. There are many types of buyer-broker agreement. The three most common are non-exclusive not-for-compensation contracts, non-exclusive right-to-represent contracts, and exclusive right-to-represent contracts.
Learn more about buyer-broker agreements.
Tim Thornton - Austin Real Estate Secrets
“Home buying is a process, not an action. Getting to know the area, the communities, the architectures, the amenities, the schools and all the things that go into the home buying process is a key reason why you should spend your time before you move finding the best possible Realtor® to represent you and your needs. Then when you arrive, you, your family, and your Realtor® can start working through the steps of the process and the trade-offs to understand what will and will not work for your family needs. Skipping through the process from Step 1—We are moving, to Step 10—Here is our new house! is a recipe for disaster, and trying to select a home remotely is tantamount to cutting out Steps 2-9 in the process. So, what does the process look like?
Step 1. We are moving.
Step 2. Find a Realtor® whose experience you trust and with whom you feel you can establish a connection. Start talking about what you need and want so that the two of you can start your online exploration to lay the foundation when you arrive in the new city. You can shop online, but the home you select online will not be the same home you select in person.
Step 3. Plan for approximately 30-90 days to transition in the new city to start the search and buying process. Coordinate with your agent as to when you will be there and what will happen from day 1 to the day of closing.
The remaining steps will depend on you and the Realtor® that you choose. Buying a home is a complex operation, but an experienced Realtor® can take much of the stress off of you and help you find exactly what you want and need to meet your family's requirements.”
Jane Peters - Home Jane Realty
“Buying a home in another community is really the same process as buying anywhere. You will need to set your criteria: Do you want a specific school district? Are you interested in a short commute to work? Affordability will also determine which neighborhood will fit your needs.
You will have hopefully sold your current home before your move, because in many areas you will not be able to make an offer contingent upon selling your own home. In a sellers’ market you need to be ready and able to jump on a home you are interested in. This will include being pre-approved by a lender if you are not paying cash. Offers will not be accepted without a letter from your lender.”
3. What are the most common long-distance house hunting scams and how can house hunters avoid them?
|TOP TIP: Rental scams are the most common. Work with a trusted Realtor® or rental agent to avoid rental scams.|
“There are countless real estate scams out there, but the most common ones are related to online rentals. Scammers will post homes for rent online that don't belong to them in an attempt to scam people out of money, and unfortunately they do succeed. There are almost always red flags that it's a scam: the number one red flag is you'll never be able to meet the "landlord"; the second red flag is the rental price is too good to be true; the third red flag is the landlord will want all funds wired. However not every single real estate scam will have three red flags—some might only have one or a variation of one of the three red flags listed. The best way to avoid being scammed is to hire a rental agent who can provide you with a list of legitimate rentals.”
“Not necessarily a scam, but find out what the situation may be if there is an unexpected delay with the closing. Would you be able to keep your belongings on the truck for a couple days? Is there a secured location where the moving company can park the truck until you can officially start moving in?”
“The biggest “scam” involves rentals—you see a home on Craigslist, and the advertiser asks you to wire the rental deposit to another country before you get to see inside the home. Don’t fall for this. As long as you are working with a trusted real estate agent (or rental agent), you will be protected from scams. Buying or renting a home is a big financial decision. Don’t try to save money by 'doing it yourself'."
“It is difficult to buy long distance, and renting first will allow you time to get used to your new situation and enable you to target the area in which you would like to live. If you do decide to rent a place before moving, make sure that you deal with a reputable company, website, or Realtor®. Check and double check that the rental listing is legitimate. Never send money until you are sure. If you know someone in the community to which you are moving, have them check out the place.”
"Do not pay any money until you have seen and toured the property! Look up the address online—does it exist and can you view the property on Google Maps? Often times the address has been changed, so be sure the property is where it is supposed to be and that the person you are talking with is who he/she says he/she is.
Expensive background checks are another scam to watch out for. The property manager will tells you that they need to do a detailed background check, explaining that it is for the safety of everyone. Who wouldn't want that? But they are asking for more money than anyone else has. It is legal for a landlord to charge a tenant to check their credit worthiness, and it is legal for them to add a fee for their time. The average credit check costs between $30 and $50. Anything above that should send up a red flag."
4. Do you have any other advice for people who are planning to move to a completely new city or state?
|TOP TIP: Do your own research about where you are moving to.|
“Research, research, research! While hiring a Realtor® who specializes in the area you are relocating to is a great start, it's not the only step relocation buyers and tenants should take. If you plan on purchasing a home, know all of the costs associated with buying real estate. In addition to these costs, the cost of living should also be taken into consideration, including property taxes, homeowners insurance, car insurance, gas, food, utilities, schooling, and more. If you plan on renting a home, make sure you understand the rental process, what landlords will require, and how much it's going to cost you. Are utilities included in rent? If not, how much will they be? If you have a pet, will the landlord accept it, and will they charge an additional deposit and/or monthly pet rent?”
“In addition to working for a local real estate agent, people who are planning to move to a new city or state should make sure they conduct their research on where they want to live. Neighborhoods can be very different, even between a couple of streets. What may work for a single person or a married couple with no kids may not work for a family that includes kids. Parents should consider the school district they want to send their children too, as well as access to local amenities. After all, nothing can drive a parent crazier than kids who are bored and have nowhere to burn off their energy.
Pets should also be considered as part of the move since they have their own needs as well. Is there a veterinarian close by? Are their day care facilities for pets who need that? How about local pet laws? Do the pet laws restrict certain types or breeds of animal? That all should come into play when moving to a new city or state.”
“The biggest piece of advice I give to people who’re moving to a new city or state is to learn about the area FIRST! When people are thinking about moving to Rochester NY, I always provide them with information about the local area, from economic information to things to do. There has to be a strong feeling of comfort when moving to a new area, so learning as much as possible is extremely important.”
“Do plenty of research online! Browse unbiased sites like Citydata, Reddit, and others to find discussions about the areas that may be of interest to you. Try to discover as much information about the area as possible. Sometimes there are neighborhood Facebook pages as well that are worth checking out.”
“You and your real estate agent are on the same team, and your goals should be the same. If you don’t trust the person you are working with, then you are working with the wrong person. Call the broker and ask to switch agents. Likewise, you should be truthful with your agent. If you need to sell a house before you can buy another one, your agent needs to know that. If you are working with two real estate agents (one to sell your home and another to buy a new home in a different area), by all means, connect them. They will need to coordinate the contracts and your move. Good agents work together for the benefit of the client. And speaking of moving, try to pad the dates just in case something goes wrong. It can be very nerve wracking to have two closings in two states on the same day.
I have worked with many families who have relocated multiple times. These families have told me that it’s easier to move kids during the school year instead of in the summer. It is easier for kids to make new friends while school is in session. Since most families tend to move in the spring and summer, moving in the off season can sometimes offer the best real estate values with less buyer competition.”
“It’s difficult enough to search for homes when you live locally, but looking for a home long distance is even more of a challenge. Ideally, it makes sense to rent for a while in your new city and learn about the different neighborhoods so that you can decide where you would like to live.
You definitely need to work with a Realtor® who is flexible and patient and has worked with relocation clients before. They are going to be more willing to drive around with you and educate you on your options.”
Best of luck on your long distance house hunt! When you’ve taken the plunge and signed the papers, we can help you get your furniture and belongings to your new home.
Learn more about our long distance moving services.
Meet the Contributors
Michelle Gibson is a Wellington FL real estate agent with Hansen Real Estate Group. She has been assisting buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants throughout Palm Beach County with their real estate needs since 2001.
She is the founder and owner of her website, Wellington Home Team, where she frequently publishes useful real estate articles. Connect with Michelle on Twitter @WellingtonHomez, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Paul Sian is a licensed real estate agent in the Greater Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky areas with over 12 years of experience. Paul works with investors and residential homebuyers and sellers to help them realize their real estate goals.
Kyle Hiscock is one of the top Realtors in Rochester NY with RE/MAX Realty Group. He has been helping buyers and sellers in the Greater Rochester area for nearly 7 years with their real estate needs. He is the founder and owner of his website, Rochester Real Estate Blog, where he frequently publishes helpful real estate related content.
Nathan Garrett is the owner of Garrett’s Realty, a Louisville Real Estate website that regularly publishes local content and resources for buyers and sellers.
Nancy Tallman is a Park City, UT real estate agent with Sotheby's International Realty. She has been helping homeowners buy and sell their homes for over 16 years, and has received numerous honors for her productivity, leadership, and vision.
Tim Thornton is a Realtor, Writer and Business person in Austin, Texas. After a long career and journey in high-tech that took him all around the world as the Director of Product Marketing, Mr. Thornton has spent the last decade reinventing himself and his brand. Tim grew up building houses and commercial buildings with his dad and brother and so his real estate brand is really just an extension of years of experience in business, construction and product marketing. Austin growth is the perfect place for this brand and business and having helped over 250 families in the Greater Austin area and investors over the years, his portfolio includes expert buying, selling and building new homes in the Austin area market.
Jane Peters is a real estate broker in Los Angeles with a concentration on absentee owners and out-of-town buyers. She offers a personalized service to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that each transaction is stress free.
Ashley Lipman is a content marketing specialist for UMoveFree, the most popular apartment locator in Texas. Ashley is an award-winning writer who discovered her passion in providing creative solutions for building brands online. Since her first high school award in Creative Writing, she continues to deliver compelling content in various niches, including moving and shipping.