Buying a House Across the Country
Whether you are moving across the state or across the country, relocation is a daunting prospect for any family. The planning, house hunting, packing, and coordinating is enough to make the most highly organized person dizzy with details.
My husband and I have bounced around Texas like a couple of vagabonds from Austin to Houston to Dallas. Each move involved buying, selling, or renting real estate, countless trips to Goodwill, and an ever increasing efficiency in packing boxes. When it came to relocation, we had it down to a science.
When life presented an opportunity to move well beyond the borders of our beloved home state, we decided to take it. This is how we found ourselves facing our biggest move yet. Being so far away from our destination presented a whole new set of challenges and naturally, housing was our primary concern. Not happy with the idea of renting for a while and then moving again, we bought a house from 1000 miles away and are very happy with our decision.
Location, Location, Location
The moment the move became a real possibility I started burning a hole in my laptop’s keyboard. We had to narrow the field by deciding on an area. Some people want an easy commute. Others want a gated community. The quality of the public schools was our top consideration so I lasered in on that target.
I combed through real estate listings and saw a pretty clear trend. Agents pointed out when a home was zoned to one particular school system but didn’t mention it when zoned to anything else. After cross checking ratings on Great Schools and running it by my husband’s soon to be new boss and his wife, we had an obvious choice.
We needed to buy a house zoned to the award winning, highly recognized school system in the area and steer clear of the others. That decision significantly narrowed down the geographic area of our house hunt.
Find Local Experts
We understand the value that a local real estate agent brings to the table and this is especially true when you are moving to an unfamiliar place. There was no question we’d need a highly qualified resident expert to help us navigate this process. After talking to several agents with listings in our preferred area, we chose the one who impressed us with her knowledge of the market, years experience living and selling in the area, and responsiveness to our questions. We would have been lost without her.
We didn’t realize at the start that the homebuying process would differ so much from our experience in Texas. The area where we wanted to buy had houses on well water, septic plumbing, and basements that had to be tested for radon. There was no “option period” but we would be given the opportunity to ask for repairs following inspections. All of this was new to us and our agent had the know how to walk us through it. She also surprised us with the news that our chosen area was in high demand so houses would fly off the market in a number of days. We’d have to act fast to get what we wanted.
We had an established relationship with a lender and planned to use him but she cautioned us against that citing an advantage in timing and coordination benefits by going local. That ended up being a very wise choice as working with her let everyone else involved feel secure that financing would be approved and delivered on time. Wherever you are buying, find local experts that can make the transaction run smoothly.
Scout the Area
With a move of this magnitude, a visit to scout the area was essential. We were in a position to ask my husband’s new employer for airfare for the two of us for this purpose and they were happy to accomodate. We’d have found room in our budget to make it happen either way. That little bit of familiarity made a world of difference when getting settled in the new location.
We had our agent set up showings with basically everything that was on the market. We did not go with the intention of making an offer on a house. We wanted to get a feel for what could be purchased within our budget. We wanted to drive neighborhoods and see which ones looked like a good fit. We wanted to scope out grocery stores and restaurants and area amenities. By the end of the weekend we felt like we had a fairly good idea of which neighborhoods would be best for us and what we could get for our money.
Several people have commented that they couldn’t believe we bought a house “site unseen” but that’s not really accurate. We saw what we needed to see with the help of basic technology available to all buyers.
One morning about a week after our scouting trip we got a notification of a new listing that met our search criteria. It ticked nearly all of our boxes, the photos looked good, and the price was right. We asked our agent to go take a look in person and let us know her thoughts. At that point, she had a good idea of our likes and dislikes so we knew she’d be able to give us a fair assessment.
After she took a look around and gave it her approval she walked the property on a video call with us. She opened every door, peeked in every closet, and explained the layout as she went. It was the next best thing to seeing it in person.
We’d witnessed houses in the area go under contract just as fast as our agent warned us they would so we knew this one wouldn’t last either. We asked our agent to put in a full price offer and were happy to have it accepted the same day.
Give Yourself an Out
My husband started his new job and was able to get access to the house before closing. The sellers were leasing it from us for a month or so while they transitioned out of state (to Texas of all places!) and they were happy to let him come see our investment in person. This gave him peace of mind and an overview of the all the house’s systems from the people who knew it best.
We could have asked our REALTOR® to write in a termination contingency giving us an out if there was a problem after seeing it in person. We wanted our offer to be as attractive as possible to the sellers so we didn’t do that. In a buyer’s market or with a house that had been on the market for a long period of time, we would have.
We’ve been in our house for about 8 months now and we are very happy with our purchase. We love our neighborhood, the school is excellent, and we have the space we need to spread out while we hunker down in the winter. Buying a house across the miles is not ideal, but it is definitely doable with the right research and use of technology.
Kristen is a Texan living in South Bend, IN with her husband, two boys, and their rescue dog, Townes. Serial relocators and remodelers, they have owned 7 houses in 4 cities in 10 head spinning years. In addition to writing she loves yoga, travel, yard work, and day dates. Follow her on FB and IG or her blog, Long Days, Short Years, Stiff Drinks.