The current home buying climate can be confusing to many military families who are preparing to move and want to buy a home. With so many worldwide uncertainties around COVID-19 and the DoD limitations on traveling, many military families are forced to rely on technology to find the perfect home. Buying a house online can be risky and intimidating.
But do not despair!
When it was time to buy, not only did we do everything remotely, but my husband was deployed and unable to help. So with my Power of Attorney (POA) in hand, using these tips, I was able to get the perfect home for us.
Here are 6 important tips when buying a home long distance
1. Do not solely rely on others. Do your research—and then do even more!
Even with an amazing real estate agent to help you find the right home (more on that later), don’t rely completely on that. You should always do your own real estate research before purchasing a home, regardless of where you are buying. Different things to research may include school districts, layouts, previous owners, etc. You can find a lot of local information about your new duty station at PCSgrades.com.
Digging through the internet becomes extremely important when you’re buying a home from afar. Nowadays, endless information can be found online. Not only can you see pictures and specifications of different houses, but you can also many times find 3D walkthroughs or virtual home tours. You also want to get familiar with the different terminologies used on real estate websites.
2. Know what you want
This is probably the most important tip I can give you. When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.
It is important to know what are you “non-negotiables” and even your top 5-7 specifications you require. Do you want to walk your kids to school? Are you looking for a single story only? What about a new build verses a fixer? Are you planning to rent it out and come back if you PCS again? Do you want something to “grow into” or just for the 3-5 years you will be around?
Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly. These are especially important in a fast-moving market.
3. Be picky when choosing a real estate agent
When you’re relocating, you need to rely on your agent to be your eyes and ears. So it’s imperative to find someone you trust to have your best interests at heart. My husband and I specifically wanted to go with an agent who was very familiar with military life and who could also help us find resources to rent the home if that should ever be a situation in the future.
Start with personal recommendations from others in your similar situations. I searched and asked all over military spouse pages before finding the right agent and she was a perfect match. You can also use PCSgrades to get matched with a Real Estate Advocate who understands military home-buying challenges and can support you throughout the process.
4. Ask the ‘stupid’ questions
There is no such thing as a “stupid” question when buying a house online! If something is confusing, don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if they seem silly. Regardless of whether you’ve bought and sold property before, the process in another state will probably be very different.
If something seems fishy, it could be a standard process, or you could have uncovered a potential problem with your purchase. Better to open your mouth in the beginning than to be dealing with any problems later on.
5. Get a second opinion, if possible.
Particularly in the face of current events, many agents are utilizing video apps (e.g., Skype or FaceTime) and take you along for a tour of your potential home and the surrounding area. But there’s a lot you can’t tell from FaceTime: smells, sounds, etc. Many homes may also simply “feel” like a better fit. When we purchased our home, we made sure to complete walkthroughs with people we trusted. If you have any friends, relatives or other fellow military families in the area, arrange for them to do a walk-through of the finalists on your list. If possible, also consider utilizing grandparents or local friends to watch your children if you are able to fly out to the final destination to do the walkthrough yourself. So many grandparents would love the opportunity!
6. Don’t stress about all the paperwork
So you can’t be there in the flesh to sign a pile of paperwork. No biggie—these days, remote closings are becoming increasingly common. Technology is wonderful. You can e-sign just about everything! Your Realtor will coordinate all of the forms requiring signatures. Document submission for the mortgage is the same, just all done online. Just make sure you have the correct power of attorney if your spouse is not available. Finally, you set up a time to settle, sign in person–usually with a travel notary–and get the keys! (You can learn more about COVID-19 adjustments from our realtors interviewed here. )
Do not let distance keep you from getting the house of your dreams. Buying a house online is possible, whether for a short term investment or a long term home to grow into, 50 or 5,000 miles away. Utilize the tools at your disposal. Happy buying!
Noralee Jones is a MILSO of 12 years, mom of 4, and strong advocate for self-care. Noralee has been through 7 deployments and 4 PCS moves alone. She is the author of the Self-Care Guide for MILSOs, and co-author of The Newbie’s Guide to Military Life. You can follow along with her journey at www.mrsnavymama.com.