Buying a Home Sight Unseen
If you’re living overseas with plans to move back to the States and buy a house – this article is for you! Goodhart Group team member Susie has made many such moves with her family over the years. Twice, she has relocated from overseas to the U.S. (from Japan) and she’s also relocated to the DC area twice (from California and Saudi Arabia!). Here she shares her best tips for buying a home sight unseen in the U.S. from overseas.
Fortunately, technology has changed dramatically so buying a house in the U.S. from overseas is easier than ever before. But before getting into the nuts and bolts of buying a home sight unseen, Susie suggests some key first steps.
Six Months Before The Move
Susie recommends that six months before your planned move, take these initial steps:
- Check your credit.
- Find a lender.
- Find a Realtor (more on this below)
- Sign a buyer broker agreement.
Choose the Right Agent
First things first. You need a very experienced Realtor who consistently goes “above and beyond” for her clients. Start by asking friends and family for recommendations. Plan to interview several Realtors (be sure to read our best tips for choosing a Realtor).
Choose one who is willing to take lots of pictures and also do virtual tours of any homes (and neighborhoods) that interest you. Your Realtor should also be able to point out a home’s flaws and drawbacks and provide you with a good feel for the neighborhood and community. Ensure that your Realtor will play an active role in the home inspection when the time comes.
A great Realtor can also assist in an overseas move by confirming your hotel arrangements and being on call for any transportation challenges that occur on moving day.
Once you have your Realtor and lender in place, it’s time for the next step.
If you don’t know where you want to live, start by asking your Realtor to guide the process. Find one (like The Goodhart Group), that knows the ins and outs of all of the local neighborhoods. Your Realtor can also point you to information on schools, parks, crime, property taxes, utility costs, shopping, dining, entertainment, commuting, and public transportation in your areas of interest. You can also research neighborhood and community amenities and activities.
Once you’ve focused on one or two neighborhoods, you can ask your Realtor to connect you with other clients that live there. Speaking with people already living there can be tremendously helpful in choosing the right community for your family.
Do you already know which neighborhood you want to live in? Great. Your Realtor will set up automatic listing searches for the neighborhood you’ve chosen. You’ll be able to see new properties as soon as they are entered in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
Once you’re ready to start viewing homes, you’ll need to prepare to choose a new home without actually seeing it in person.
Tips for Buying a House Sight Unseen
Make the Most of Technology
With the ability to take video and pictures from our phones and amazing apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp, your Realtor can help you “tour” the home from overseas. Before a showing, ask your Realtor for the floorplan of the home to help you better visualize the layout and flow. A real-time showing will allow you to ask pertinent questions like “How big is the pantry?” Use Google Earth images to get a street view of the home and those around it. Search for online videos of neighborhoods and communities you’re considering.
Request specific photos of items of your “must have” list. For example, if you cannot live without a walk-in closet or soaking tub, ask for multiple pictures, from all angles, of these particular features. However, do not rely on just photos! Which leads us to our next tip…
Send a Scout
Ask a trusted friend or relative, one who knows you well and will be brutally honest, to preview any “finalists” for you. Ask them to report on things that can only be known first-hand. Are there any funky smells in the house? Is there any street or airplane noise? What’s the condition of the homes around this one?
Verify the Property’s Value
Before you submit an offer, your Realtor will run comps to ensure you’re paying the right price for the home. She can also advise you on future resale value. A professional appraisal will also take place as part of the appraisal contingency (more on this topic below).
Know Your Costs (ALL of Them!)
Before submitting an offer on any home, be sure you have a solid sense of all costs associated with the property. Such costs include homeowners’ insurance, HOA fees, utility costs, property taxes, etc. You don’t want any surprises!
Make the Offer
Susie recommends that buyers make the offer 30-60 days prior to the move (assuming you want to move in upon your arrival in the States). This window leaves plenty of time for inspections, the appraisal, finalizing the loan, etc.
This tip is perhaps the most important one. Just because you’re writing an offer on a home sight unseen does not mean you have to go through with the sale if an issue comes up before closing. Your Realtor will guide you through the various contingency options, but plan to include at least home inspection and appraisal. You may also want to order other specialty inspections such as chimney and pool inspections. These contingencies give you an “out” if something comes up during the process that concerns you.
Pay Attention to the Home Inspection
The home inspection is always important, but never more so than when you’ve not seen the home for yourself. Most likely, your Realtor will suggest an inspector that she trusts and recommends. Now is not the time to skimp! Paying for a high-quality home inspection will save you countless headaches down the road. Your inspector will send you a written report of his findings, which you can digest with your Realtor. Again, if something comes up during the inspection that you just can’t live with, the home inspection contingency allows you to back out of the deal.
And Finally – The Closing
Rest assured that your Realtor will guide you through all of the steps to a settlement day. Since you can’t settle on your new home virtually from overseas, you must do one of the following:
- As a couple, fly in to attend the closing in person
- One of you flies back and signs for both of you, using a special power of attorney
- Have a trusted friend or relative sign for you with power of attorney (your title company will set this up for you)
When you land in the U.S., you’ll be ready to move right into your new home! Again, as your Realtor to be on standby for any moving day challenges.
The Bottom Line
Buying a home sight unseen, from overseas, can be a major challenge. But with technology, a seasoned Realtor working on your behalf, and doing some homework, you can fall in love with your next home before you set foot in it!
Are you facing a move from overseas or buying a home sight unseen? We have helped many clients in both situations. Contact us today — we’d be honored to help you too!
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