Buying real estate is stressful no matter where you’re purchasing property, especially as a first-time home buyer. Buying a home out of state? That’s downright scary.
We probably don’t have to tell you why: Typically, you won’t have the luxury of being able to spend hours touring open houses. You can’t pop by to see the neighborhood at midnight. And you very likely have no idea how hellish the daily commute for your new job really is.
Understandably, you might feel that you’re rolling the dice on a new home or even your first home—and setting yourself up for buyer’s remorse.
But with the right people on your team, and a good real estate agent (plus a little bit of luck), you can make a purchase with no regrets. I know this because I bought a new home in another state sight unseen—and it worked out great!
So take a deep breath, buyer, and keep reading for the step-by-step essential secrets to buying a new house out of state.
1. Do your research—and then do some more
You should always do loads of real estate research before purchasing a home, regardless of whether it’s 30 miles away in a different state or 3,000. But digging through the internet becomes extremely important when you’re buying from afar.
Of course, you’re going to have a real estate agent to help you find the right home (more on that later). But don’t just count on that. Be your own advocate, fire up Google, see what you can learn—and give yourself as much lead time as possible.
“The earlier people can start the real estate process, the less stressful it is,” says William Mulholland, director of ARC Relocation.
2. Be picky when choosing a real estate agent
When you’re relocating, you need to rely on your agent to be your eyes and ears. So it’s imperative to find someone you trust to have your best interests at heart.
“The relationship between the buyer and the Realtor® is the most important thing,” says Dillar Schwartz, a Realtor in Austin, TX.
“You need to know that your agent is listening, that they understand your specific real estate needs,” adds Schwartz, who helped me with my relocation.
To find the right agent: Start with personal referrals, and then vet anybody you’re considering, Mulholland says. Look for the CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) or CRP (Certified Relocation Professional) designations.
“These designations indicate that someone has gone through an extra level of training,” Mulholland explains.
You can use a real estate site (such as this one) to uncover more info about how long the agents have been at the job, their sales volume, the areas they specialize in, and client reviews.
3. Consider a relocation specialist
If you can’t find an agent with a CRP designation (or even if you can), consider reaching out to a relocation specialist. Relocation specialists don’t just work for big companies; Mulholland says many of his firm’s clients are individuals making long-distance moves on their own.
A specialist can help you with nearly all aspects of your move (aside from actually negotiating your home purchase). They can hook you up with the right agent to start your home search, or connect you with reputable movers, a trusted title company, a home inspection company, or an expert on the local school system.
Best of all? It’s free. These professionals make their money from vendor referrals, not by charging clients. (They can even negotiate better rates on things like moving services, and advocate for you if anything goes wrong.)
4. Be wary of scammers
Unfortunately, buying from out of state opens you up to the possibility of getting taken for a ride.
“You have to be sure the person is actually real, that the home is real,” Mulholland says. “It’s so easy to put something fake online.”
One common scam to watch out for: The swindler will create a listing for a house that’s not actually for sale, use stolen pictures, and advertise it at a price that is too good to be true. After an out-of-state buyer (you!) responds, a fake “bidding war” takes place. When you put down earnest money to secure your offer, the scammer takes off with your down payment.
Avoid situations like this by working with an agent you trust.
5. Ask the ‘stupid’ questions
If something is confusing, don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if they seem silly. Regardless of whether you’ve bought and sold property before, the process in another state will probably be very different.
For instance, earnest money (called a deposit in some places) can range from a few hundred dollars to 10% of the purchase price of the home. Some states do inspections before going into contract, some afterward. Some closings happen just weeks after going into contract, and some take months.
If something seems fishy, it could be standard process, or you could have uncovered a potential problem with your purchase.
6. Get a second opinion, if you can
Ideally, you’ll be able to take a quick trip to your new city to see the most promising listings in person. If not? Your agent can always use a video app (e.g., Skype or FaceTime) and take you along for a tour.
But there’s a lot you can’t tell from FaceTime: smells, sounds, and that hard-to-describe-but-all-important gut feeling that can best be described as “vibes.”
If you have any friends or relatives in the area, arrange for them to do a walk-through of the finalists on your list.
7. Try to make it to the inspection
If you can travel to only the inspection or the closing, you should choose the inspection.
“Pictures on the inspection report are great, but if you can be there in person, you can really understand the issues,” Mulholland says.
Plus, most inspectors are happy to teach new homeowners about regular maintenance they should be doing and show them small things that won’t affect that sale but should be fixed.
“They can teach you things you might not know about your home otherwise,” he adds.
8. Don’t sweat the closing
So you can’t be there in the flesh to sign a pile of paperwork. No biggie—these days, remote closings are becoming increasingly common.
One pro tip, though: Work with a title company that has a national network, so you can be sure it operates in both your current state and your new state, Mulholland suggests. Then you’ll either pop into a local office or pay a notary to come to you.
Once you’ve got the keys (or at least, the closing paperwork) in hand, the really fun part starts: your cross-country move. Bon voyage!