Not too long ago, buying a home required you to pound the pavement to tour open houses, deliver physical documents in person or through the mail, and appear in person for inspections, walk-throughs, and the signing of closing documents.
But digital technology now makes it possible to buy a house — whether it’s located down the street or in an out-of-state community — without leaving your current home.
With enough preparation and research, you can figure out how to buy a house remotely or how to buy a home out of state by following these simple steps.
- When you’re buying a home remotely, start your search by making a wish list of potential homes and getting preapproved for a mortgage.
- It’s important to find the right real estate agent who is familiar with the area and has experience with remote sales.
- Closing on a remote home purchase involves many of the same steps as a traditional home purchase, but you’ll sign documents digitally.
Why Buy a House Remotely?
In the past, buying a home remotely was largely reserved for second homes, vacation homes, or investment homes. Needing to know how to remotely buy a house was an uncommon request. And while it’s still used in those instances, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that remote transactions became more common.
“Since 2020, the industry was forced to alter its standard course of business to allow for remote transactions,” says Valerie Saunders, a mortgage broker based in Jacksonville, Florida, and president-elect of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.
There are several reasons why you may want to buy a home remotely, such as if you have a demanding job that doesn’t allow much time for you to view homes in person, or if you’re a real estate investor. Other reasons include you’re purchasing a second home, or you want a move-in ready home when you relocate to another state.
Regardless of your reasons, the remote homebuying process has several similarities and differences to the traditional homebuying experience. By recognizing and understanding the differences, you can put yourself in a good position for a successful — and less stressful — remote home purchase.
Step 1: Start Your Search
If you decide to buy a home in a distant location, then it makes sense to start looking for a neighborhood that’s right for you. This will lay the foundation for the rest of your remote homebuying process. In this case, the internet is your friend.
Think about what you want from a home and its surroundings. With those criteria in mind, you can begin honing in on a suitable location.
It’s important to understand the local real estate market in your desired location so you can know if it’s the right fit for you.
You can check online listing services to get a sense of the area, or you can ask a real estate agent for insights about the local market you’re buying in.
You can even use Google Earth to explore the surrounding area and help you visualize its proximity to nearby amenities. Google Earth also displays the topography of an area, measures lot dimensions, and allows you to check satellite imagery of properties several years into the past.
Make a wish list
When searching for homes, create a list of important details, such as whether you want a house, condo, or townhouse, and your preferred house size, style, and room count. You also should consider neighborhood details such as nearby schools, safety, transportation, leisure options, and climate.
Providing a wish list can make your agent’s job easier, since it will help them guide you toward homes that fit your needs.
Step 3: Get Preapproved for a Mortgage
Once you’ve zeroed in on the details of your desired home, it’s time to figure out how much you can afford by getting a mortgage preapproval. This involves a lender performing a preliminary review of your finances and providing a letter that informs agents and sellers how much it expects to lend to you. You’ll also want to review the different types of mortgages to find the most suitable one for you.
For several reasons, it’s best to search for a lender that’s local to where you’re looking to buy. Lenders of all types are licensed on a state-by-state basis, already have a working relationship with local agents, and are familiar working with local laws and procedures.
This step is mainly the same when you’re buying a home remotely compared to buying one in person. One difference is rather than physically signing paperwork to get your preapproval, the entire process can be handled online, according to Saunders.
Step 4: Find the Right Real Estate Agent
Though real estate agents and Realtors are almost always important to a successful transaction, buying a home remotely will require you to rely even more on your agent’s time and expertise.
“Buying a home remotely takes a lot more trust in the Realtor you choose to represent you,” says Cynthia Rosen, a broker and luxury collection specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ Fox & Roach Realtors, based in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. “You need to be able to see the home through the eyes and camera of someone else, and the only way to do that successfully is with an agent who is trustworthy and who will point out potential issues instead of looking at the end paycheck.”
Below are some relevant questions to ask real estate agents before hiring one.
Does the agent know the area well?
If you’re house hunting in an unfamiliar area, you’ll probably need to rely on your agent. This means finding someone who knows the community well. The right agent can give you a clear and honest understanding of what it’s like to live there.
Does the agent have experience with remote sales?
While a real estate agent may be a rock star among local buyers, they may not have as much experience handling remote purchases. If you’re not there in person to visit homes or discuss your options, your agent needs to be comfortable interacting with a remote buyer.
Agents handling remote home purchases also should be technologically savvy. You’ll be relying on them to take high-quality photos and videos that give you a complete picture of each home, in addition to setting up and attending necessary live meetings, discussions, and negotiations.
Does the agent have time to be your proxy?
As a remote buyer, you’re adding another layer of complexity to an agent’s workload. They will need to perform extra tasks such as taking photos and videos of homes, which a local buyer normally can do on their own with an in-person visit. Whether your agent has time to do these extra tasks is especially important to consider if you’re operating over different time zones.
Buying a home remotely requires additional work that some agents simply won’t have time for. If that’s the case, then you should move on and find an agent who can better fit your needs.
Step 5: Shop For Homes
Working with your agent, you should start finding listings that fit what you’re looking for. Your agent has an opportunity to demonstrate their technological prowess by leading you through a virtual house tour.
Tips for taking virtual tours of homes
Since you won’t be touring homes in person, you need your agent to be your eyes and ears. It’s important for you and your agent to understand what to look for on a house tour. Virtual tours can be handled in several ways, from web-based online tours to live video chats.
Before you go on a virtual tour, make sure to have a list of questions and features you’re looking for in a home. Consider asking about things like the types of materials used in the home’s construction, the age of the appliances, and the condition of the roof.
Sometimes technology can be hindering, so if you can’t see something clearly, ask your agent to clarify. For instance, if you notice a spot on a wall, you can ask it’s a crack or something else. Ideally, you’ll be able to work with your agent to ensure that you get as much information as possible about available homes.
Red flags on a virtual home tour
It’s important to be aware of any red flags when buying a house remotely and attending virtual tours. Some red flags include:
- More photos of the exterior than of the interior, or vice versa. This could indicate issues with parts of the home that the seller is hiding.
- Limited photos of rooms, or photos that don’t capture the full area of a room. An example of this could be a picture that only focuses on the sink and not the entire bathroom. Again, this could mean the seller is hiding something.
- Photos that appear stretched out. This could be a tactic to make rooms seem larger than they actually are.
- Photos that are heavily doctored. House tour photos should honestly and transparently showcase the property.
Step 6: Make an Offer
For many remote buyers, making an offer is among the more difficult parts of the process because you’ll be competing with other buyers who can be there in person.
Also, you may need to adjust your offer before it’s accepted or declined. Throughout this process, your agent will need to handle most of the details since they are more familiar with the local market and can deal with sellers more directly.
Step 7: Use the Due Diligence Period
If your offer is accepted, then you’ll begin what’s known as the due diligence period. During this time, there are a lot of documents to sign, which can be done remotely. This includes beginning the full application process for your mortgage, and documenting and examining the property to ensure a fair transaction.
Home inspection and appraisal
During your due diligence period, you should have the home inspected. This requires hiring a licensed inspector to examine the property. Your agent likely can help you find a good local inspector to examine the home, document its condition, and report any imperfections, flaws, or problems with it.
Lenders usually require a home appraisal to make sure the property is worth enough to justify the sale price and the mortgage you need to complete the deal.
You will need final loan approval to close the sale. Your lender will complete a detailed examination of your finances, the transaction details, and the home itself before deciding whether to approve the loan. This is called underwriting.
Saunders describes the process as “slightly more cumbersome” for remote buyers, as you’ll have to provide more information about your relocation than a local buyer. But as long as the buyer can sign legal documents digitally, then the entire process “should be fairly easy,” she says.
Companies will review public records and other documentation when looking at a property’s title to ensure there are no issues that could affect the home sale. Since this step is conducted online, it shouldn’t require you to do anything in person.
Though it’s preferable to perform the final walk-through of the home in person, this is another area where having a good agent is a huge help. By connecting with your agent via video conference, you can take a virtual walk-through of the property, check that requested repairs were made, and make sure that the home is ready.
If you’re unable to connect virtually for a final walk-through, you might not get to review the property before closing.
Step 7: Closing the Deal
If everything goes as planned, it’ll soon be time to close the deal, make your down payment, pay closing costs, and sign all the documents. Signatures will be required on papers such as the transfer deed, the deed of trust or mortgage, the lender’s promissory note, the closing disclosure, and the escrow disclosure. Though this is usually done in person, digital technology makes remotely signing closing documents relatively easy to do.
“Prior to the pandemic, everyone involved in the homebuying process would come together at the closing table to sign papers in person and hand over the keys,” Rosen says.
There’s a higher chance that a remote closing is prone to small glitches that may delay the proceedings. Having a mobile notary can help make the process go more smoothly.
Whether you’re beginning your home search or getting ready for a remote closing, there are unscrupulous people who have ill intentions. You want to pay careful attention to any potential scams and avoid them if you can.
Here are some common scams that you may come across:
- Mortgage wire fraud. Thieves pose as financial institutions or your real estate agent and give you instructions to wire your closing funds to another account. Instead of going where it needs to, the money lands in the thieves’ hands.
- Phishing. This type of scam is where hackers or thieves pose as a legitimate company or person involved in the real estate transaction. They will ask for your personal information — like your Social Security number — over email and use it to commit fraud.
- Fraudulent listings. There may be folks who are trying to sell a home that isn’t theirs by faking deeds or notarized documents. Listings they create may look legitimate, perhaps because the interior photos look professionally done.
To avoid scams, make sure you work with a reputable real estate agent. You can direct any questions or concerns to them, and they can help you spot any red flags throughout the homebuying process. You can also head to the website of your state’s consumer protection office and sign up for any scam alerts in the area.
Also, don’t forget to practice safe internet usage while buying a house on the internet, which can include:
- Checking to make sure correspondence is legitimate.
- Only using websites you consider safe.
- Being mindful of anyone you don’t know contacting you about any aspect of the homebuying process.
FAQ: Buying a Home Remotely
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about buying a home remotely.
Most of the technology you’ll need to work remotely with your agent and potential sellers are common these days. A smartphone with a front-facing camera, for example, makes remote tours possible and relatively simple. Similarly, almost any internet-enabled computer, laptop, or tablet will allow you to digitally sign documents.
Yes. There’s no reason why you can’t take a more hands-on approach to buying a home if you’ve started the process remotely. Doing so may help you get a better idea of what you’re dealing with. That being said, travel can be expensive, so be sure to keep those costs in mind when considering buying a home remotely.
The Bottom Line on Buying a Home Remotely
There’s no reason why distance should prevent you from buying a home. Just as with any home purchase, it’s going to require a lot of time and research before you close on a property and get a move-in date. As long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls and adjust appropriately, it’s possible to successfully buy a house from the comfort of your current home.
Sarah Li-Cain contributed to the reporting of this article.