Purchasing a Home Out of State – Buyers share their journey ups and downs

By Lisa Iannucci.

Traditionally, if you wanted to buy a home, you would take several in-person tours until you found the place of your dreams.

But what if you live in New Jersey and want to buy a home in Florida or another state? And how can you tour an out-of-state home if that state has travel restrictions? Buying a home might look a little different today, but it can still be done.

Linda Anderson lives in Pennsylvania, but her mother, Rose, lives alone in rural Maine. Rose wants to age-in-place, so Linda and her husband decided to purchase a home near her where they could retire. The couple took a road trip to narrow down the places they liked, but after losing a bidding war on the home they wanted, they were back to square one. This time they looked for a home but decided not to make the trip. Instead, thanks to technology, buyers like Anderson could go along on a video walk-through with their realtor.

“Our Realtor did a video showing with us, and from there, we decided to make a full-price offer,” said Anderson.

That Realtor was Jessica Niles-McDonough with Niles Shedlarski & Co., Better Homes and Gardens, The Masiello Group in Windham, Maine, who said that she is the eyes, ears and nose of her clients who haven’t seen a house they are buying.

“It’s important to look for the minute things you personally wouldn’t necessarily think to mention if your client was present,” she said. “Anything that there might be to notice when considering your senses is worth mentioning. Some people have a sensitive nose or hate traffic noise, or don’t like to be on top of a neighbor. These are broad examples, but every house has its own set of characteristics to consider.”

Rae Hoffman, a real estate agent with Roots & Wings Realty Group by eXp in Katy, Texas, also takes her buyers on a video trip that goes one step – actually an entire neighborhood – further than that.

“I’ve taken video of the surrounding area of the home once the buyers think they found the one, so they can get a feel for the neighborhood and the various amenities and local dining and retail opportunities,” said Hoffman.

She also suggests that buyers explore the area they are interested in by using Google’s street view cameras. “You can virtually walk the neighborhood and any surrounding shopping centers or attractions,” she said.  

A few months after putting a bid on the second property they fell in love with, the Andersons closed on their soon-to-be retirement home. The home buying process for the couple wasn’t without some lessons learned.

“The one challenge that buying the house sight unseen presented that I could never have anticipated was that some of the real estate photos were edited to look better than they are,” explained Anderson. “There are things that we would have asked the inspector to look out for had we been there in person to notice these discrepancies, but we just didn’t know they existed.”

Keeping a close eye on the photos is important, but Cynthia White found out the hard way that buying a home from out-of-state without doing enough research on costs could be, well, costly.

In 2003, Cynthia and her husband needed to relocate from Dublin, Ohio, to the Hudson Valley, New York area. Once the job offer was finalized, the next thing to do was find a home, so the couple traveled to New York to look at a few options.

“My husband’s employer mentioned that he had a great house to show us,” explained White. “The minute we pulled in the driveway, we loved it! It had so much charm and resembled the southern homes where we were originally from
in Georgia.”

White did some basic research on the area’s cost-of-living and then put an offer in on the home. It was accepted, and they moved in a few months later, but she realized that her research missed a few numbers that would adversely affect the
couple’s budget.

“We bought the home without knowing the area well enough and, soon after we moved, oil went from $1 per gallon to $2 per gallon,” said White. “Also, once we got our first tax bill, we were in total shock.”

Keep in mind other expenses that might affect your bottom line, including moving and travel. Then, when you’re ready to buy the home of your dreams, it’s important to have a trustworthy relationship with the agent in the area you will buy. “Use professionals you can trust throughout the transaction,” said Niles-McDonough. “If you are an out-of-state buyer, you likely don’t have reliable resources in-state yet, so using someone I would use as an agent can make the buyer feel better about who is inspecting their house or closing the transaction.”

In hindsight, what would White have done differently? “I would have researched further about taxes and probably would have rented instead of buying for a while to get to know the area and its residents more,” she said.

Most areas also have Facebook groups for people who reside in the area. Consider joining them to see what the residents talk about, including everything from looking for favorite restaurants in the area to chats about taxes. For more information on the cost-of-living in different cities throughout the United States, visit http://coli.org/.

With your research as well as a qualified professional team to help you, you’ll soon be living in your home sweet home.