5 Tips to Make Long Distance House Hunting a Success
In the world outside of the active duty military, most home buyers are terrified to even consider buying a house long distance. The space for error is cavernous. Miscommunication, a short timeline, personality clashes, state to state laws, and even time zone changes can strangle any chance of successfully buying a home long distance.
But. This is when military families shine. Throw a long-distance PCS at us, and somehow, we’ll make it work. No doubt, buying a home before viewing is not advised by any real estate professional, but military life often screams, “You gotta do what you gotta do!”
To read first hand experience, check out Tips for Buying a Home Long Distance where a long time military spouse shares her wisdom. Early prep is the best way to mitigate as many problems as possible. Take these tips and craft a personal plan for long distance house hunting!
5 Tips to Make Long Distance House Hunting a Success
1. Interview multiple real estate agents to find compatibility.
Your number one priority is to find an experienced real estate agent. This is no time to sign with an agent just starting out because she is your cousin’s wife. In fact, a military spouse might fill a long distance need well, so ask other military friends for referrals.
Agents come in at all levels of experience and expertise, but a long distance move isn’t for the standard agent. They must be familiar with a brand of customer service that an agent who solely works in a local area doesn’t possess. You need an agent who:
- Has experience with long distance relocation.
- Can master the technology required for every step of the process from pictures to e-signing; there’s a lot of online work involved.
- Earned the National Association of Realtors Military Relocation Professional Certification.
- Communicates on your schedule, even if you live overseas.
- Understands your non-negotiables, budget, and personal taste.
2. Determine your home buying budget.
The chance that the military will send your family to a vastly different city than where you currently call home is significant. This isn’t as big of a problem when heading to a city with a smaller cost of living--it could be a relief! But, heading to a cost prohibitive area like Washington, D.C., San Diego, or Hawaii often brings sticker shock. Before shopping for a home online, you’ll need to:
- Check BAH rates, COLA, and basic living costs such as transportation, child care, and groceries.
- Begin researching mortgage lenders who are well versed with the language of a VA loan.
- Prepare your finances for a pre-approval.
5 Tips to Balance Your Home Buying Dream Against Your Budget Reality helps military families create a realistic budget.
3. Have an honest conversation about what is needed in the next home.
Buying a home long distance is no walk in the park. Don’t make it worse by previewing homes that don't match your needs. Specificity also helps your agent present viable options. Home shoppers have to know which conditions are non-negotiables and which can be finessed a little.
The top qualifiers usually include price point, location (neighborhood specific), commute time, and access to public education. Beyond these, each family must determine what is mandatory within the home. Consider these options:
- Number of bedrooms/bathrooms
- Square footage
- Yard and garage space
- Distance to amenities, such as shopping, dining,and recreation.
4. Don’t depend solely on your agent to do local research. Make an investigative plan.
Don’t forget that your real estate agent must abide by federal Fair Housing Laws. They are not legally able to answer, “Is this neighborhood safe?” or, “Is this a good school?”.
Most home buyers are quick to investigate a few public records, like school ratings, but for a commitment as important and as expensive as a house is, it's wise to take a holistic look at the entire community. Here are few resources:
- Dive into local newspapers, online neighborhood communities like Nextdoor, local school systems, and neighborhood guides like those written by MilitaryByOwner and Military Town Advisor.
- Family Watchdog, Crime Reports, The U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website
- Maps of your list of most wanted amenities- from grocery stores to coffee joints and dog parks.
5. Plan for at least one visit to your new city if you can.
Budgeting for a minimum of one visit takes a lot of stress out of buying a home with little hands-on time. The two most important dates to try and plan a visit are closing and inspection. Some states might require an in-person closing, while others are fine as long the title companies are all able to work together.
Seeing for yourself the up close and personal defects of the home can alleviate many of the fears of a long distance purchase. A qualified inspector will take into account your geography and work to assure you, within the context of good or bad circumstances. Your real estate agent can help you determine which is most necessary if you have to choose only one day. For help financing your trip:
- Consolidate loyalty points from airlines, hotels, and rental cars
- Make arrangements at the nearest military lodging facility.
It seems crazy, but, among active duty military members, buying a home sight unseen is more common than you might think, especially now that the process of signing documents online is commonly accepted. Buying a home long distance often fills buyers with feelings of loss of control. Take charge of the process by advocating for yourself with these buying tips to ensure the process is managed in your favor!