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Buying a house from across the country comes with a unique set of challenges

Buying a house from across the country comes with a unique set of challenges


Buying a house from across the country comes with a unique set of challenges

Tamara E. Holmes and Andrea Kramar
 |  Special to USA TODAYHere’s how to relocate across country and buy home, real estate virtuallyThese homebuyers moved across the country during the pandemic and scouted homes online. Here’s how they did it successfully.Andrea Kramar, USA TODAYBuying a house at any time can be stressful. But when relocating from one part of the country to another in a competitive seller’s market, the process poses even more hurdles to overcome.Just ask Adam and Mariah Cooke. The couple had been preparing for their wedding when Adam was offered a job at Duke University as a track and field and cross country coach. They would have to move from Riverside, California, to Raleigh, North Carolina.Flying to Raleigh to see every potential house was not practical. Not only would back-and-forth travel be costly, but during any particular visit, “there’s no way to guarantee that there’s going to be houses that you want to go see, or that you would want to put an offer on,” says Mariah, 27. Instead, they had to plan their visits wisely.Though they wouldn’t be able to see every house, Adam, 28, flew back and forth to Durham and stayed with friends a few times to get a feel for local neighborhoods.“It’s easy to fall in love with a home online, but knowing the neighborhood and how it relates to everything else around it is the hardest thing to assess virtually,” says Kris Lindahl, owner of a real estate brokerage that operates in Wisconsin, Colorado and Minnesota.► The Daily Money:   Get our latest personal finance stories in your inboxThe Cookes depended on their real estate agent to show them potential properties via FaceTime.To streamline the process, they had their agent ask sellers in advance for disclosures such as improvements and upgrades. That let them rule out certain properties upfront, such as those with an old roof or air-conditioning system.They also requested a market analysis for potential houses, which showed similar properties that had sold within the past three months.  That helped them gauge whether a particular house would appraise for the amount they were willing to offer.The two-story, three-bedroom house with two-and-a-half baths that they purchased listed for $270,000, but the couple offered $300,000.Though they knew they were taking a risk bidding on a house they had not seen in-person, they were comfortable for two reasons:The disclosures had told them that the house was renovated and had a brand new roof.Adam had toured the neighborhood during one of his visits. “I sort of knew the area that it was in, which made it a little bit more comforting  seeing it on FaceTime,” he says.Overcoming the limitations of FaceTimeA new job led Nita Losoponkul, 42, to move from Reno, Nevada, to Plano, Texas. Her partner would be joining her, coming to Texas from Los Angeles.Initially Losoponkul planned to fly to Texas every other week. She would scour listings, circling the ones that popped up on Monday only to find that by they were already under contract by the time she flew in on Thursday.  Mounting travel costs also convinced the couple they would need a more remote approach.They made a list of requirements. For example, Losoponkul didn’t want a long commute.   They also realized that their real estate agent would play an even more important role than usual since they wouldn’t be able to see houses in person.  If you can, “select a real estate agent who has worked with remote buyers before,” advises Nicolette Boxe, a Loudoun County, Virginia-licensed luxury real estate agent with Hunt Country Sotheby’s International Realty.Such an agent would likely think of things another agent might not, such as noticing how a property smells or other factors that don’t come across on FaceTime.Losoponkul’s agent once called her from the balcony of a property so she could hear the local traffic patterns and decide if the street was too loud. Likewise, when the agent checked out properties with railroad tracks nearby, she’d listen for how often trains would go by in a given period of time.Losoponkul and her partner ended up offering 3% over the list price for the house they purchased after another buyer backed out of their deal. She didn’t see the house in-person until after their offer had been accepted, though her partner did get a chance to tour the house with the agent.“We were lucky that the seller was really trying to offload the property and so we were able to get it,” Losoponkul says.Relying on social and virtual networksWhen Patrick and Makara Sernett set out to move from Georgetown, Texas, to Louisville, Kentucky, not only did they have to contend with a competitive housing market, but they had to find an accessible home for Patrick’s mother, who has a disability and would be living with them.The Sernetts were relocating because Patrick was in the army and had a change of station from Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Since they weren’t familiar with local neighborhoods, they relied on the military network. “We asked our friends that were already stationed here for recommendations,” says Makara, 32.They also turned to social media for advice, posting questions in Facebook groups about the area. After several people responded with similar recommendations, they didn’t feel like they were flying blind. “I was really surprised how many strangers on the internet were so kind to me during the search,” Makara says.From there, they looked at listings online via email and their real estate agent would schedule walkthroughs using FaceTime.  Sometimes, the agent would tour a house so they wouldn’t have to.  “There are  a lot of homes where the photos look really good, but they may be outdated,” says Patrick, 36. “When the agent actually went through the homes, there was a lot that they didn’t like about it, which means that we wouldn’t like it either.”They ended up buying a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house with a finished basement and detached garage. Though the house listed for $299,000, they paid $315,000 to close the deal.Physically moving cross-country during a pandemic created another challenge for the Sernetts. Moving companies were booked, which added time to the process.Flexibility and persistence saw them through. “You just got to have fun with it,” Patrick says. “You’re going to a new place. It’s a little scary, but it’s also exciting.”

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