While it’s always best to kick the tires on something you want to buy and use every day, it’s not always possible when distance gets in the way. And although searching for just the right home even in your own backyard is not without its challenges, when you add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, it can become what seems like a bridge too far.
Truth is, long-distance house hunting is easier than ever in these days of modern technology, instant communication with the right real estate agent, and some prudent guidelines.
Doing a feasibility study, both with your agent and on your own, is the name of the game. When it comes to long-distance home shopping, the internet permits you to get to know a new neighborhood nowhere near where you live now by using Google Earth, zeroing in on the lay of the land. Zoom in and look around to see how neighborhoods are kept, what their curb appeal may be, and whether the home that interests you matches the surrounding homes. For things like schools, malls, and grocery stores, your agent can find out information like that in no time.
Relocation agents recommend doing more, however. Look 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. If the agent himself is not permitted to offer this sensitive information, he should be able to offer links through which you can get the details on your own. When looking for that seasoned relocation agent, don’t forget to ask questions such as how available they are on a daily basis, how quickly they respond to texts and phone calls, how adept they are at negotiating price, terms and conditions, etc. and how well they work with relocation companies, if you are working with one. Unlike a local agent touring you around, your relocation agent must be sensitive to time zone differences as well, available to you in YOUR real time.
Of course, there is nothing like being there. And if you have the luxury of a travel budget to get a few house tours in person, make sure your agent has all the information he or she needs to make it a prudent weekend. That means informing the agent not only on the number of bedrooms and baths you need, how large a yard you prefer, and that you prefer older homes with character. It also means offering details, such as your need for high-speed internet, a freeway entrance or commuter train station within a ten-minute proximity. A detailed snapshot of what you want will ensure a more efficient tour while you’re there. A house-hunting trip of 4-5 days in length not only offers you a less rushed experience. It also means you can get impressions of an area over a reasonable period of time, ruling out certain locations and adding others that suddenly appeal to you.
If you must cram seeing 10-12 homes a day or 20 in a weekend, prepare yourself with a clipboard, snapping smartphone photos of home exteriors as you go. Comments like “house with all the flowered wallpaper” or “gorgeous place with the steep driveway” will help you remember things the listing itself would never remind you of when you get home and sift through what you just saw.
It’s also important to make a list of your non-negotiable items; things like nearby dog parks, walking distance to schools, your penchant for a north-south facing house in a hot climate locale, or having a hospital within a ten-minute drive.
Considering buying a home you’ve never seen up-close-and-personal? With permission from the owner, your agent can video-chat you through the home as he or she tours it, and once you make the decision to make an offer, can make sure to write in as many conditions (inspections, time frames to remove contingencies, etc.) to the offer as makes you feel most comfortable. This can include a condition of seeing the house in person by a certain date and approving it before escrow can close.
Many buyers prefer to rent for six months or so before taking the plunge in a new area. Even though it may mean unpacking and packing twice (or living out of boxes or storage units for a while), it may offer peace of mind so you can get settled into your job or routine before actually settling down.
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