There are plenty of good reasons why you might want to buy a house in a different state from your current location — and thankfully, modern technology makes it possible to shop for a home and work hand-in-hand with trusted professionals who can make the process easier for you. Whether you’re going to be living in the house full-time and want to have the purchase handled before you move, you’d like to find a vacation home in one of your favorite places to visit, or you are hoping to invest your money in real estate somewhere you don’t actually live, you’re not alone!
Plenty of people are buying homes from across the country these days, and you can make it work for you if you understand what’s involved and make sure you’re working with people you trust to help you make big decisions. To be successful in your remote purchase, make sure you’re covering these basics.
Consider how much time you plan on spending at your new home if any, and work on your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves from there. This will be useful when you start actually looking at properties to buy: You’ll be able to easily eliminate homes that don’t meet all the criteria on your must-have list, and you can prioritize which homes you like best based on how well they meet your nice-to-have criteria.
Spend some time reading local publications (if they exist) and digging into the information available online about the general areas where you might want to buy. Keep in mind, though, that the internet isn’t going to be able to tell you everything: You’re going to want to talk to some actual humans about what you’re learning at some point …
Get onto Facebook and see if the region or neighborhood has a group created, then join it. You might want to lurk for a little bit to make sure it’s the kind of environment where people will welcome (and answer) your questions, but this can be a good place to start. If there isn’t a Facebook group, try to find property managers, general contractors — even landscapers and house-cleaners can be great resources for giving you details on which streets tend to be more dangerous than others, what you’ll want to keep an eye out for in terms of potential structural problems or damage in the houses you’re considering, and the best places to walk dogs or playgrounds for kids.
Choosing a specific neighborhood or region also has the advantage of allowing you to do some really deep digging on the average homes — their size, their price, their lot size, their amenities, and so on. You’ll need to know about how much you want to aim to spend before you start talking to a mortgage lender, and it’s much easier to do this kind of research on a small set of locations instead of an entire metropolitan area at one time; if most of the houses that seem appropriate to you are out of your reach financially, then that’s a signal that you might need to reconfigure your location options.
A lender who operates in both your state and the state where you’re hoping to buy might be a good choice for you because the lender should, in theory, be familiar with both areas; that said, there are some parts of the country where property anomalies make it beneficial to consider a local lender instead. For example, if you’re looking at homes in a resort area in the mountains, a local lender will have already encountered any potential issues with construction materials, septic systems, and so on.
Purchasing a vacation home or second home is also more challenging than buying a primary residence; your down payment requirement could very well be higher, and it’s possible that you might not get as low a mortgage interest rate as you anticipated. Make sure your finances can accommodate these potential snags, and do your best to get everything cleared up mortgage-wise on the front end so that you don’t end up having to untangle a mess from several states away during the closing process, which is absolutely nobody’s idea of fun.
Local agents will have worked deals in the area before, giving them an idea of what to expect in terms of potential snags or issues; having your own local agent on your side gives you the protection of a trusted, knowledgeable advisor. Some agents even specialize in helping remote buyers purchase homes in their state. Ask any local contacts you’ve cultivated to recommend a good real estate agent, or you can even ask the listing agent to recommend agents who they think do a stellar job representing clients.
If you can’t visit the house in person, make sure that someone you trust — a friend or a family member who knows you well — can do so in your stead. Real estate agents are fantastic resources, but if you just met yours, it’s usually best to find someone who’s familiar with your preferences and quirks and can apply what they know to the property you’re considering and give you an educated opinion about whether or not it would work for you.
If something happens to your investment rental in between tenants while it’s sitting vacant, and that something is a result of a problem that could have been uncovered in an optional inspection, you’ll be kicking yourself for not seeing it sooner; a little extra money spent at this stage of the process could mean a lot saved down the road, so it’s well worth it to be as thorough as possible with the inspection process.
Find a trustworthy property manager
If you’re going to be moving into the home yourself, then you obviously don’t need a property manager, but if the home is going to be an investment property or vacation rental, then you’ll need someone to look after it while you’re away. Your real estate agent probably has some recommendations for people who are reliable, trustworthy property managers, and this way you can make sure that the lawn is mowed, plumbing or electrical problems are promptly resolved, and the place is always ready for you when you show up for vacation or just to drop in and see how things are going.