The 3-Step Roadmap to Buying Your First House – Out of State

The 3-Step Roadmap to Buying Your First House – Out of State

TL;DR Now, more than ever, first-time homebuyers are making long-distance moves. Remote work has enabled aspiring homeowners to find more affordable properties without sacrificing their careers or everything on their starter home “want list.” Making a cross-state or cross-country move is not without its challenges, but it is easier today than ever before. The key to success? Finding an expert local real estate agent.

- Stephen Freudenberg, Head of Homeownership @ Gravy

Priced out of your local neighborhood? Ready for something new?

Many would-be first-time homeowners are in the same boat.

With newfound flexibility from remote work setups and a strong desire to put down roots (where they can afford it), they’re looking outside their town, county, and even state to find a good place to begin their homeownership journey.

Two quick tips when you’re considering new geographies:

  • Remember, you can always rent first to get a feel for the place before you buy! This is often the best way to figure out which specific neighborhood is the best fit for your lifestyle once you’ve narrowed down the city and state you want to be.
  • Only plan to buy in a new state (or at all) if you plan to live there for at least five years. Less than that, and you’re probably better off financially if you rent.

Ready to make the move? Here is a straightforward three-step roadmap to help you wind up a happy homeowner:

Step 1: Know what you want

While throwing a dart at a map sounds exhilarating, failing to do your research about the best places to move can result in buyer's remorse after buying your first home.

If you have kids, picture the type of neighborhood you'd like them to grow up in. Access to playgrounds, sidewalks for riding bikes, and public libraries might be important to you. Check out reviews on school districts to ensure that local schools provide the resources your kids need.

A place to start with formulating a wishlist for your new location is to examine where you currently live. What do you wish you could change about it? What features or amenities do you want to carry over to your next place?

Next, use these questions to create a profile for the type of place you want to live when buying a house out of state. It's important to remember that different neighborhoods in different cities can be vastly different.

While you may prefer a certain type of house, keep in mind that location is the biggest determinant of a home's value. While you can change almost anything about the way a home looks, you can't change its location.

That's not to say that your desires for your new home aren't important. In fact, it's essential to have a list of must-have features that represent the bare minimum of what you find acceptable going into the shopping experience.

In addition to creating a must-have list, make a nice-to-have list full of features that you're willing to have some wiggle room on. Using these features, you can create a spec sheet for your ideal property that includes:

  • Square footage
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Layout
  • Yard type
  • Year built
  • Proximity to specific amenities
  • Proximity to highway/public transportation

You have to be strategic when you're buying out of state because you can't simply tour on a whim the way you can when you're shopping locally. Every house you tour without proper research could result in a wasted trip that costs you time and money.

Step 2: Get the lay of the land – do your own research.

You have to get the real story on living in a place before committing to a home. Luckily, you can do plenty of remote research to get a feel from afar.

Here’s a checklist:

  • Nextdoor: Follow neighborhoods you’re considering to see the top posts from the area.
  • Walkability assessment: Check out the “walk score” for the streets you may buy property on to see how quickly you can jog to the park or run out for coffee.
  • School ratings: Found a great house but need to double check the schools? Ratings located here.
  • TripAdvisor: Check out TripAdvisor’s “things to do” for the city you’re considering.
  • Yelp: Try to recreate a day out for morning coffee, brunch, ice cream, and dinner by viewing the top local restaurants for all your favorite foods.
  • Google Street View: The best way to virtually drive around a new neighborhood or the main street in town. Pro tip: make sure there isn’t a fire or police station across the street from your new home – the sirens may keep you up all night!
  • Local news: Look at regional news outlets to read about local happenings. Are you seeing lots of positive new developments in the area? This is a good sign.
  • Local Facebook groups: You can browse posts from people who have recently moved to the area to see their questions, feedback, and general opinions about the area.
  • Local Meetups: Browse groups for book clubs, hobbies, fitness, and more to get a feel for how happy you'll be "socially" in your new town.

Should you always visit in person before putting in an offer on an out-of-state house?

While it's not always possible, it's highly recommended that you make an in-person visit before making an offer on a house in a new state. If you're on the fence about this step, here's a glance at the pros and cons of making the trek before writing a check!

Pros:

  • There's no better way to get a feel for an area
  • You can meet the local people
  • You can meet with a real estate agent in person
  • You can get a feel for the different types of neighborhoods you have to choose from
  • You can experience the local weather for yourself
  • You can drive around and see what a daily commute through town may be like

Cons:

  • Traveling costs money
  • You may need to take time off from work
  • You might not have time to see everything you need to see to formulate an opinion
  • You might feel pressure to put in a fast offer during your visit to avoid feeling like you wasted a trip

Step 3: Find a realtor who's truly a local expert

Local license legally required

First things first: you need an agent who’s licensed in the state you want to buy in. A local agent in your current state can't help you out unless they happen to also be licensed in the new state.

Unfortunately, state-specific licensing for agents also means that you can't use a single agent to help you shop for homes in multiple states if you're still in the process of narrowing down where you want to live.

You'll need to find a trusted, locally licensed agent in each state you're considering. If you're choosing between Austin and Nashville, that means you need to research agents based in both cities.

Local expertise absolutely essential

Second, you're relying on the expertise of a local real estate agent more than ever when you're buying a house out of state.

They’re your eyes and ears. They will go to every open house for you. You’re going to start a never-ending text chain, and you’re going to learn a LOT about each other.
How in the world are you supposed to vet them from afar?

Solution: Gravy’s nationwide network

We put together a master database of all real estate agents in the country that specialize in helping first-time homebuyers – and people who are relocating.

Your goal: find an agent that is an expert in both of these scenarios. And we can help.

Step 1: Download Gravy

Step 2: Go to app’s main menu

Step 3: Click “Find an agent”

Tell us when you want to buy a home, and where, and we’ll connect you with a top-tier agent in your target area. But wait, there’s more! When you work with a Gravy partner real estate agent, not only do you get access to the best realtors in each state, but you are also eligible to receive a Homebuyer Bonus, which can save you thousands.

What are the questions to ask a realtor when buying a house in another state?

Your agent should be your personal resource for getting the scoop on local neighborhoods. Agents have neighborhood details, comparative analyses, and many more metrics at their fingertips. Ask about nuances between different neighborhoods. Your agent should be able to steer you to specific neighborhoods based on your checklist of wants.

Agents can also fill you in about any city-specific or state-specific real estate laws and processes that might differ from what's standard where you live. For instance, some parts of the country are more likely to have HOAs than others. Some cities and towns also have higher radon risks, flooding risks, and storm risks than others. These are all important factors that will influence inspections, closing costs, and ownership responsibilities.

One tip for making an out-of-state move smoother is to get an agent involved earlier than you would if you were moving locally. While your buying timeline will be roughly the same, you'll be relying on your agent to provide information that you can't access in person.

You also want to build in extra time for planning in-person visits once you're serious about particular properties. In addition, organizing an out-of-state move requires more time and coordination than lugging boxes the next street over.

The top 3 questions about buying a house long distance

#1: Can I (and should I) buy a house completely sight unseen?

You wouldn't be the first person to do this. Only you can decide if buying without seeing feels right. However, you should keep in mind that some sellers might not accept offers sight unseen. One tip for getting peace of mind with a sight unseen offer is to use the due diligence period to travel to see the house in person after making an offer with contingencies.

Any real estate agent you're working with should be more than willing to provide you with a virtual tour of a property. In fact, you should always request a real-time virtual tour instead of a prerecorded tour to ensure that you're getting an accurate view of a home without any doctored footage.

#2: Do I have to be there for the closing in person?

Not necessarily. There are several options for closing from a distance – the primary one being a mail-away closing where you sign documents at your location (usually in front of a notary or attorney), and then FedEx overnight back to the closing attorney (or title company). Remote closings are also more common because of COVID-19, but aren’t allowed in every case. Have your agent ask the closing attorney or title company about remoteclosing options if you think traveling for closing will be tricky.

#3: How do you get a mortgage when buying a house out of state?

It’s actually pretty simple. All that’s required is making sure the lender is licensed in the state you aim to buy in. Beyond that, you can approach the lender search the same way (in-depth guide here).

You can also search for local lenders in the city you’re planning to purchase in,, but there is limited competitive advantage to using a local lender – unless you’re getting a better rate, or they’re more familiar with local homeownership assistance programs (like down payment assistance)!

Build your out-of-state team

Use Gravy to find the two most important partners on your journey to homeownership: your realtor and your lender.

The Gravy realtor and lender network only includes agents that specialize in helping first-time homebuyers, and lenders that meet our high standards of customer satisfaction. We’ll help you build the homebuying team to make your long-distance purchase a win.

Stephen Freudenberg
Stephen Freudenberg
Head of Homeownership at Gravy
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