Trying to buy a house from 500 miles away is no doubt an incredibly difficult task, but there are things you can do make make this experience a bit less stressful. I am currently going through the process for the first time and we are almost done. Looking back, I wish we would have done some things a little differently.
The first thing you need to do is to get your hands on a local real estate book of houses for sale. It is tedious, but read through every house in the book and highlight ones that sound or look like the type of house you are looking for. Even if the description sounds too nice to be true or like it might be out of your price range, mark it for more information anyway. These days you never know what you can get for your money.
The next step is to get online and look these properties up on your own. This way you can eliminate more than half of the houses without having any pressure from a real estate agent to “just think about it and maybe you’ll find that you can afford it”. You will also be able to find more detailed information online than in the magazine. Also, do a search on each real estate agent’s website.
Sometimes not all the houses are in the book. You may be able to find more houses or new listings that did not make the issue date. Some agents do not share their houses with other agent’s websites. You may be able to find a house on one site but not the other, and vice versa. Don’t forget to look in the local papers for houses for sale by owner too.
Once you are ready to look at houses, call the real estate agency that has the most houses you want to look listed. For example, if Joe’s is listing 4 houses you want to look at, Betty’s is listing 2, and Mark’s is listing 1, call Joe’s to look at them all. Any Realtor can show any house on the market unless otherwise restricted. Going with Joe’s, you’ll get the most information on the most houses. They will know or be able to find out information better on at least 4 of the houses than the other agencies will.
This will speed up the process immensely. We had the listing Realtor of the house we are buying show us the house, then call the owners to get more information, and call us back 3 times in one day. If you want to get your questions answered with no chance of miscommunication, don’t hesitate to call the owners directly. You can find just about anyone’s phone number on the Internet these days.
Being out of town, you will need to take some time off to look at houses. If you can, schedule all your house viewings for one day. Saturday seems to work the best because most people are off and can get the house in order at anytime. Take the day after to evaluate the houses. Take LOTS of pictures to go over later. This will refresh your memory of a house and allow you to see something that you may have missed.
Also, take notes while walking through each house of pros and cons. Once you have narrowed your selections down to 2 or 3, call to do another walk through if you can not decide on one. This can usually be done the next day if you tell the owners you are from out of town and will be leaving in 2 days.
Now you have your mind set on a house, or 2, having a possible back-up in case the first choice doesn’t work out. If the house you like is close to your budget but a little too high, don’t forget you can always negotiate. We had the owners of the house we are buying come down from an original $200,000 (a year ago on the market) to $168,000. To speed things up, you should make the listing agent your agent as well. Sometimes this will cause problems in pressure of trying to get you to pay a higher price during negotiation, but stick to the price you have in your head and you will be OK.
We had to use 2 separate Realtors because we are going through a relocation program. If we had the choice, we would have just used the listing agent. Remember that at this point, you are a long distance away again and all communication has to go through the phone, fax, and mail. Information has to go from you, to your Realtor, to their Realtor, to the owners. Cutting out one Realtor will speed things up to half the time.
After negotiations are done I would highly suggest you request all paperwork to be next-day mailed to you. Trust me, it is worth the extra little cost. Faxes will get hard to read and signatures will not be originals. We faxed back and forth from us, to our Realtor, to their Realtor, and back. The contract is now almost impossible to read. Do not send the papers in the regular mail, this will take at least double the time.
Now, a house inspection needs to be done. You should have already been searching for local inspectors during negotiations. As soon as the purchasing agreement is signed, call the inspectors and see who can get it done AND processed the fastest. We had one done over 2 weeks ago and it still has not been processed. Make sure you get a guaranteed date of when you will have the report in hand.
While the inspection is being done, get your mortgage company decided on and order an appraisal. Again, get the date of appraisal and date of when you will have the report in hand. Have a closing date set and make sure all paperwork can be done before that time. We are cutting it down to getting our appraisal 2 days before the closing date. I would not suggest doing this. Make sure you have at least a week in case something goes wrong or you have to re-negotiate. We are under way too much stress right now because of this problem!
Now, you should be the proud owners of a new house in a different city or state. Congratulations! We were able to get our new house taken care of from start to finish in about 35 days. This was using 2 separate Realtors (one who was very inefficient and unreliable) and using faxes. I also need to point out that my husband was out of town for 2 weeks, slowing the process down by about a week. Following these tips, you should be able to close on a house in 25-30 days if you stay on top of things and get the ball rolling fast.