Buying real estate far from your current residence can be tricky. Typically, you don’t have the luxury to get truly familiar with the new area — and without having a good picture of the surrounding neighborhoods, school districts, local laws, and so on, it can feel like you’re rolling the dice and setting yourself up for buyer’s remorse. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the challenge. Here’s how to get started:
Research the area thoroughly
Before you even start honing in on a specific house, you should research the area very thoroughly. Understanding the home prices, interest rates, and monthly payments for your area of interest will help you get a better sense of what it may cost to live there. Look up the price of food, gas, utilities, medical care, and other common expenses. Check for local parks and restaurants, among other points of interest. This is the kind of research you should do even when buying locally, but as you probably can’t check out the area in person, it’s more important than ever to lean heavily on online research. “You should always do loads of real estate research before purchasing a home,” says Realtor.com writer Audrey Ference. “But digging through the internet becomes extremely important when you’re buying from afar.”
Get a buyer’s agent
Unlike a listing agent, whose responsibility is the seller of the home, a buyer’s agent is legally bound to help buyers and represent their interests. They also cannot disclose your personal information without permission. Additionally, they’ll often have the know-how to get you acquainted with the area. “These agents are often neighborhood specialists, and they can help guide you in making the right decisions for your particular needs,” writes real estate expert Elizabeth Weintraub. When purchasing out of state, finding a buyer’s agent who you can trust will negotiate on your behalf and act in your interests — instead of finding the best possible deal for the seller, as a listing agent will do — can go a long way toward smoothing the home-buying process and getting you the right property.
Get a relocation specialist
If you’re buying out of state because you plan to change primary residences, get a relocation specialist. They can find a buyer’s agent for you, connect you with reputable home inspection and title companies, and even negotiate better rates on moving services. If you are moving due to a transfer at work, your employer may even get you set up with a specialist for you, Weintraub says. “Otherwise, do an internet search for ‘relocation specialist’ or ‘relocation expert’ and the appropriate city or ZIP code,” she writes. The best part is that because relocation specialists make their money from vendor referrals, they usually do not charge clients.
Visit in person
There’s simply no substitute for an in-person visit on-site. If you can only travel once, try to attend the inspection rather than the open house or closing. Being able to spend time in your potential home with a professional inspector can help you get the best possible idea of what to expect when living in it. “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,” Ference says. And while you’re in town, visit around. Check out the city and look for grocery stores, pharmacies, and other destinations you may frequently visit. How will commuting look like? What are the entertainment options? Any additional information you can gather will make the move and adjusting to your new life a little easier.
Buying a home out of state requires a little more legwork than normal, but it can be offset by having good help. As for the financial aspect, everything can now be done digitally, including signing paperwork. This means that for getting a mortgage, it’s the same as usual: visit your local financial institution and ask to get pre-approved.