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How to Buy a Home in Another City

An expert weighs in on everything you need to know before beginning this daunting process.

By Redfin on December 26, 2016

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Image via courtneyk/iStock

Moving across the country is always a challenge, particularly if you’re buying a new home as well.

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While it may seem an immense task, the keys to purchasing a home in another city are preparation, knowing what to expect and finding a team of professionals to help you every step of the way. Instead of stressing over how to buy a home in another city, break the process into a series of manageable chunks.

Identify the Neighborhood Factors You Want to Target

Think hard about what’s important to you in a neighborhood. Is it commuting time? How about the quality of the local schools? Do you want to be able to walk to local restaurants? Once you know the type of neighborhood you want and where it needs to be located, websites like Walk Score and GreatSchools can help you narrow your search to the neighborhoods that match your needs.

Find a Reliable Real Estate Agent

You want an agent who knows the local area very well, ideally someone who has helped other out-of-town clients figure out how to buy a house from another city. You want someone whom you trust and whose advice you are comfortable with, despite being many miles away.

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To find an agent in your soon-to-be new city, ask friends or relatives who live there for suggestions. If you don’t know anyone in the city, read online reviews and conduct interviews with as many agents as needed until you find someone with whom you are comfortable. Redfin publishes every review of every Redfin agent online, so you can see what others have to say about their work.

Have Reasonable Expectations for Your Visit

If at all possible, make a visit to your new city. You’ll get to walk around the neighborhoods you’ve had your eye on from afar, you’ll meet your agent in person, and you’ll be able to tour homes that are currently on the market. You’ll have a chance to take in the area’s vibe and see if it’s what you anticipated.

However, don’t expect one weekend to make up for not having spent time in the city before. A visit is a great supplement to a long-distance home search, but it won’t replace being there.  No matter how good your agent, if you’re visiting for less than two weeks, you’re simply not going to be able to tour homes in the same way you would as a resident. Particularly if you have very specific needs and you’re searching in a tight market, there may only be a few suitable homes listed on the days you’re visiting.

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While it’s certainly possible (and in some cities likely) that on your visit you’ll find the home you end up purchasing, it’s wise not to expect this.

What you can expect is that your agent, by touring with you in person, will develop a much better sense of what you’re looking for – and will be better positioned to help you find your dream home, whether it’s during the visit or later on down the line.

Stay in Touch and Make Use of Technology

Distance can be overcome with cellphones, video chats, email and the like. For example, all Redfin listings feature a Redfin 3D Walkthrough that allows users to tour a home virtually, which is just one way that out-of-town home shoppers can get a sense of a place without being there.

Consider having your agent give you a “virtual tour” of homes you are seriously interested in via Skype or another video conferencing system. It’s a great way to see the home while being able to ask questions of an agent who’s there.

Constant communication is especially important once you’re ready to make an offer. It can be hard from several time zones away, but you need to be able to answer the phone at a moment’s notice, since offers can be touch-and-go during negotiations.

Build a Team of Professionals

Even after you’ve had your offer accepted, you’ll need to lean hard on your real estate agent for referrals to local lenders, home inspectors, real estate attorneys (if necessary) and movers. Your agent will help you build a team you can trust and can serve as an in-person proxy for you when necessary.

Always have a gap between your closing date and when you’re moving in, particularly if you’re moving cross-country. While it’s rare that closing dates need to get rescheduled, on occasion it does happen. Rather than arrive, moving truck stuffed to the gills, with no place to unload, plan to close at least two or three days before you need the home, to give yourself a buffer.

Good News: Home Prices in Hot Real Estate Markets Are Leveling Off

The key to a successful long-distance home purchase is patience, research and the ability to stay calm. If you have a dedicated real estate agent on your side, and you don’t act rashly, you’ll ultimately find a home you love.

This article originally appeared on Redfin.com.

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