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 a community you’ve never visited — without leaving your current home.

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 buy a house in another state 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 vice president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. “In 2022, it’s much easier to accommodate those requests.”

Regardless of your reasons, the remote homebuying process is both similar and different from the traditional homebuying experience. By recognizing and understanding the differences, you can put yourself in the best position for a successful and less stressful remote home purchase.

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Step 1: Start Your Search

If you decide to buy a home in a distant locale, then it makes sense to start looking for a place that’s right for you. This may seem obvious, but it will inform the rest of your remote homebuying experience. 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 homing in on a suitable location.

Make a wish list

When searching for homes, come up with 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 amenities, and the climate.

Drawing up a wish list can make your agent’s job easier, since it will help them guide you toward homes that fit your needs.

Get preapproved for a mortgage

Once you’ve decided on features and a location, it’s time to figure how much you can afford by getting a mortgage preapproval. This involves having a lender perform a preliminary review of your finances and provide a letter that tells 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 fit for you.

It’s best to search for a lender that’s local to where you’re looking to buy for multiple reasons. 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 largely unchanged when you’re buying a home remotely. Rather than having to physically sign paperwork to get your preapproval, the entire process can be handled online, according to Saunders.

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Step 2: 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 questions to keep in mind when conducting your search.

Does the agent know the area well?

If you’re searching in an unfamiliar area, you 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 be as well equipped to handle a remote purchase. Without you being there in person to visit homes or discuss your options, your agent needs to be comfortable interacting with a remote buyer.

Agents handling remote purchases also must be technically savvy. You’ll be relying on their technical prowess to take high-quality photos and videos that give you a complete picture of each home, in addition to being able to set up and attend necessary live meetings and discussions.

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 just won’t have time for. If that’s the case, then you should move on and find an agent that can better fit your needs.

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Step 3: Shop For Homes

Working with your agent, you should start finding listings that fit what you’re looking for. It’s at this point that your agent’s digital technology skills will show their worth in allowing you to tour homes virtually from afar.

Tips for taking virtual tours of homes

Since you won’t be touring homes in person, and you’re basically buying a house on the internet, you need your agent to be your eyes and ears. Virtual tours can be handled in a number of ways, from web-based virtual tours to live video chats.

Ideally, you’ll be able to work with your agent to ensure that you get as much information as possible about available homes.

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Step 4: 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.

As always, just because you submit an offer, that doesn’t mean you’ll get the home or you won’t have 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’re more familiar with the local market and can deal with sellers more directly.

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Step 5: Use the Due Diligence Period

If your offer is accepted, then you 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.

Both processes can be done remotely, with the inspector and the appraiser providing you with copies of their findings.

Loan approval

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.

Final walk-through

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.

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Step 6: 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 signing closing documents remotely 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 slightly 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.

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FAQ: Buying a Home Remotely

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about buying a home remotely.

What are some devices you’ll need to buy 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.

Can you visit the property if buying remotely?

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.

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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.