Whether you're planning to relocate for a promotion or new job or would like to dip your toe into the rental market but have been priced out of your immediate area, you may be browsing real estate listings in other states. Unfortunately, househunting from several hours (or states) away can be a challenge, and you may be rightfully concerned about making an offer on a home you haven't yet seen in person. When should you buy a home from out of state? Read on for some considerations you'll want to take into account when making an offer on a home sight unseen, as well as some technological advances that can help give you more information to make your decision.
What are some of the potential pitfalls of buying a home without first seeing it in person?
Although an estimated 96 percent of today's new home purchases begin with the prospective buyer browsing online, seeing a home in person can be what tips the scale from maybe to yes (or from yes to no). Because the pictures a homeowner selects for the real estate listing are designed to be eye-catching and as flattering as possible, you may find that less remarkable parts of the property are overlooked or outright excluded from the listing. For example, the home you're browsing may have a picturesque bay window that photographs wonderfully but looks out onto a neighbor's hoard of junk cars or old appliances. In other cases, photos may not reveal structural issues, like a settling or leaking foundation. Even if an inspection turns up these issues before the sale is final, putting in an offer on a home sight unseen carries some risks that aren't present if you're able to physically inspect the home yourself.
However, this doesn't mean purchasing a home without seeing it first is always a bad idea. By conducting some extra research, you'll often be able to give yourself a leg up on the competition and avail yourself of as much information as you'd glean by being there in person.
What can you do to increase your odds of a prudent out-of-state home purchase?
In some parts of the country, homes enter and exit the market so quickly that trying to purchase from several states away can be all but impossible if you expect an in-person look. Fortunately, advances in technology (particularly aerial drones and satellite photography) have made it easier than ever before to view and inspect your prospective home from anywhere with a wireless signal.
Many real estate websites now offer interactive tours, letting you peer into every nook and cranny of the home simply by moving your mouse back and forth. Others utilize aerial drones to provide birds-eye views of the property and any neighboring features -- helping you see qualities that might otherwise be hidden, like that the neighbor's living room window peers directly into your prospective home's bedroom or that the home is located just a few feet from a busy highway.
If the homes you're browsing don't have these features, you can still use online satellite maps and the county's geographic information system (GIS) website to identify the edges of the property, the amount of property taxes assessed, and sometimes even the value of the neighbors' homes. You can also use the city police or county sheriff's department websites to look up crime statistics in the areas you're searching.
For situations in which you need a human touch, you may also be able to partner with a real estate agent in the area you're browsing and use this agent to scope out any potential properties to find issues that don't translate to an online search -- for example, determining whether the home smells like pets or cigarette smoke.
Keep these tips in mind as you look at homes for sale, and you should be able to find the right property, even from a different state.