Buying a House in Another State or City

Parent Q&A

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  • Like many who’ve left the Bay, we’re moving out of state shortly. What’s the best most efficient way to do this? We’ve been searching online and found a few properties we’re interested in. I’m thinking visit in person and if we like it make an offer. Pretty straight forward it seems, but I feel like its not that easy and giving me some anxiety. Both my husband have moved out of state before, but to rent an apartment in which I did the above process. It was fine, but being this will be ours to own and not rent seems daunting. Any advice is appreciated!

    If you are focused on a single area, you should connect with a realtor.  They will understand the local market and a lot of other things that you may not.  And, you should consider renting there first - your ideas about where you want to be may change dramatically. It's expensive buying and selling a house (closing costs, commissions, etc) so you don't want to make a big mistake.  

    While buying a home out of state can indeed be less expensive than in the Bay Area, how easy this would be depends on the specific place you have in mind.

    In general, it would be a good idea to for the first year rent an apartment in the desired location first, and become familiar with the neighborhood(s) where you will eventually want to buy a home.

    Looking at property online can provide a plethora of inaccurate information.  It is a very bad idea to buy real estate sight unseen. (Don't get me started on family stories on this topic!)

    Once you are situated in the new location, work with a buyer's agent who knows the local real estate market well. This costs you nothing.  The conventional system is that the seller pays their agent a commission, which the seller's agent splits with the buyer's agent. Yes, there are realtor-free deals done, and some of them work out OK. But it is very likely that using an agent will be a lot less painful for you, in your situation.

    We moved to Berkeley 2.5 years ago and started putting offers on houses within months of getting here. THANK GOODNESS we didn't win any of those offers as we were bidding for homes in locations we now know would live to regret. We had no understanding of the community nor the nuances of each neighborhood. And now we are looking to leave as it's not the right fit.

    My advice – move and do a long term Airbnb for a few months or just rent for a year. The latter makes much more sense, especially as we dive deeper into a recession and home values across the country continue to drop. Buy low! You can always refinance down the road, which is not saying much for those who bought when rates were 2.5% and were overpriced with no contingencies

    I'm not sure how far you're moving or how possible a last minute trip to see a house is for you. We moved all the way to the east coast, so our experience may not be as applicable if you're moving right across the border to Oregon or Nevada, where you could drive in a few hours. Here was our process:

    • Research local (to the area we were moving to) real estate agents
    • Identify at least 3 possible matches and interview them over the phone (we wanted to be especially sure they were experienced and comfortable with long distance communication)
    • Identify a mortgage broker (we got recommendations from the real estate agents, then interviewed them, too) and get pre-approval letter
    • Plan a trip, in collaboration with the real estate agent, to view houses. We took 2 days and I think we were her only clients during those 2 days, so she could really focus on our needs. So our trip was planned around her schedule and ours.
    • During the trip, be very communicative about what you like and don't like about each house, must haves, good to haves, deal breakers, etc. Even if you see a house you love, make sure she knows exactly why you love it because you may put in an offer and it not be accepted. We made an offer on one house during our trip but it didn't go through, so we ended up having to do the rest remotely.
    • After returning home, we were in contact almost daily, she sent us houses she thought we might like, we watched Zillow etc. and contacted her about ones we were interested in. She did viewings, sent us videos and pictures, and called us after to discuss. She was able to schedule viewings quickly done she didn't have to worry about our schedules, which was a plus
    • Eventually we had an offer accepted, and she helped us arrange inspections, etc. but the first time we saw the house in person was the night before we closed. 

    Keep in mind the housing market is super hot right now in most areas, so if you had a few you're interested in when you wrote your original post, they'll likely be gone by the time you arrange a visit, so getting an agent you trust who can do viewings for you is critical. I know in my area, houses that don't have major issues and are priced realistically are often under contract within 48 hours of listing, usually with multiple offers (over asking, waiving inspections, no contingencies, escalation clauses, etc.). If you can't do a viewing within that time frame, you'll want a proxy. And if you're just making one trip, you don't want to be limited in your selection or end up screwing yourself if your offer isn't accepted. We were first time buyers (no way we'd ever afford to buy in the Bay Area!), so it was really, really important we had an agent with lots of experience. It ended up working out great for us. Good luck!

    We moved from Oakland to a suburb outside Pittsburgh, PA last year. It was a huge undertaking. This is how we did it: First we spent a lot of time making spreadsheets. We researched about 12 different areas over the fall and winter. We zeroed in our top needs (cheap real estate, low crime, and great public schools, in relatively blue city and state). Online we target about 3 areas and tracked hundreds of house sales in Zillow. We got a feel for home styles, sizes, and prices -- all very different from Northern CA! We interviewed realtors on Zoom and chose one to meet.

    Then in early spring I flew across the country to visit the different townships on our list and interview the potential realtor (fortunately we hit it off). I drove for about 10 hours a day, and toured any open house I could.  I talked to everyone about what they liked about where they lived, and what they didn't. I learned a lot that was not at all obvious from online data or even home listings. For example, commute times were much longer than expected in some spots; the region is very hilly; older houses have common red flags ("grading," waterproofing, drains, and "wall anchors" are common in wet hilly places). Most importantly, the political/cultural character of neighborhoods is really not obvious until you are physically there. We were open to houses in two towns right next to one another, both with fantastic school districts. One town had cheaper, larger, newer houses/lots that we loved online, but turned out to be much less inaccessible commute-wise, and more conservative culturally (lots of school board fights). The town next door had older, smaller and slightly more expensive houses, so it seemed less desirable online. But when I visited, I fell in love with the charm and beauty of the town (so many trees!), and learned it was more diverse, more walkable, and a much better cultural fit for us. I also learned the importance of visiting each and every house. One home listed at 1800 sqft might feel cramped, while another might have a finished basement, sunroom and attic -- none of which could be included in the total sqft., but which added a huge amount of enjoyable and useful space. I took tons of phots and videos, and even videotaped my drives through neighborhoods along major arteries so my spouse could get a feel for the character and amenities.

    After that first visit, my spouse, realtor, and I strategized and further narrowed down our parameters. I returned in May for a full week, ready to make an offer if we found the right house, or to try again later if we didn't. The realtor cleared her calendar for me -- and this was really important! Houses were selling so fast, that we didn't have time to travel for a specific listing. I had to tour everything that came on market the week I was there. I didn't sleep much that week, but we lucked out and found a wonderful home. We offered 10% above list price, but considered it a steal by Bay Area standards. This year should be easier for buyers, and if you're not limited to moving only when school is out, you should have even more options. Good luck!

    I suggest you connect with a Realtor and have that person be your partner in this process. He/she/they can help alleviate the understandable anxiety involved here!  Good luck!


Archived Q&A and Reviews

One Realtor or Two?

Sept 2006

We are planning to sell our home and buy in another city in the Bay Area. Is it the norm to use the same realtor for the sale of your home, as well as to buy the new home? I have found a realtor I like to help me sell our home, but I don't think she knows the area where we want to buy well enough. I have found someone who does know the area, but is that just not done, hiring two realtors? Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated anon

Absolutely use two. Especially if your current agent doesn't know the area you are buying in. We will use two in the same area, one to sell, and one to buy, simply because we feel they are more skilled in one area versus the other. Our selling agent doesn't have the more aggressive nature that our buying agent does, but we think she'd make a better representative for selling our home than our buying agent. If your local agent has a problem with this, then s/he is IMHO, greedy, and shouldn't represent you either way. I don't think you have to explain yourself either. Your local agent should be the first to tell you you'd be better off using an agent familiar with the other market. Good luck been there, done that, will do it again

Hi: If I were you, I would work with the agents whom I thought were most capable in the area you're focusing on--two in this case. Your selling agent might be wistful, but I can't imagine that the decision will affect his/her current work for you.

If I have a client moving outside the immediate area (i.e. Berkeley/Oakland/Piedmont), I would personally always suggest that they work with a realtor who's experienced in that other area (and then work hard to get them a great agent with a compatible personality). Real estate is localized enough that local experience is hugely important--prior relationships with the agent selling the house you want to buy, or at least an understanding of his/her approach to negotiation, closing traditions, disclosure requirements, local ordinances (e.g. if you wanted to preserve the option to rent in the future, but together you didn't realize that the target city had rental limitations), school boundaries (Walnut Creek is a total maze on this), and so on. In fact, our brokers often emphasize the legal liabilities of working outside your area of knowledge.

One final item--it's common in the real estate business for one agent to ''refer'' a buying client to an agent working in the target area. In that case, the receiving agent would normally pay a 20-25% ''referral fee'' to your original agent. In this case, it sounds like you've moved past that moment, but again, your current agent's job is to do what's best for you/what you feel most comfortable with, so go for the two agents! Maureen K

Definitely two realtors if you are buying/selling in different cities. You want to get a realtor that is knowledgeable about the area you are purchasing and selling in. There are different rules and regulations for different areas. We found this out the hard way. We used a realtor based out of Montclair (Alameda County) to sell our house in Contra Costa County and found out the day before we were supposed to close that there was a backflow device law that we had not complied with.. a Contra Costa County realtor would have known about that law. I also found out that there is a buddy system between realtors in a certain area and that was how we were able to get our house now (we were competeing against 3 other bids). The sellers realtor did not want to work with an out of the area realtor therefore they took our bid. Lucky us! Hope that helps. Good luck! learned the hard way


Buying in another area - two realtors?

Jan 2004

We are looking at houses in Montclair, we currently own in Berkeley. Our Berkeley-based realtor (he helped us buy our current house) says that he can sell our house and help us look in Montclair. Although it's becoming more and more apparent to us that he doesn't know Montclair as well as we would like him to. He's a great realtor and we're sure he'll do a great job in selling our house, but should we go with a Montclair-based realtor instead? It seems like houses in Berkeley are easy to sell, so maybe we get a Montclair realtor to do both? I'd like to work with the realtor we have now for the sale of our house, but will it cost more to have two realtors? If it's best to go with one in Montclair, how do I let our realtor down easy?

Someone wrote in concerned that the realtor they had planned to use to sell their house in Berkeley wasn't somehow familiar enough with the area they had hoped to buy in, and wanted advice.

As the wife of a real estate broker in Contra Costa, I can tell you that financially, you will likely be better off using the same realtor, whichever one you choose, to both sell your existing house and help you buy a new one. At least in this area, many realtors will list your house for a very favorable percentage if they know they will also be able to help you buy a house (a more favorable price than if you were relocating outside of the area, let's say). If you truly like and trust your current agent/broker, my advice would be to be as specific as possible with him/her about what you are looking for in your new neighborhood. One thing my husband does for people who are actively looking for property is that he sends them a weekly report of everything new that has come onto the market with the buyer's preferred criteria, along with a summary of market activity for the past month (with the same criteria). This report is generated from the MLS, which is the most reliable and up-to-date source for listing information. You might think of asking your realtor for a report like this, unless it is already being provided. Good luck! Lisa

Leaving the Bay Area - rent or sell our old house?

Feb 2004

My husband and I are close to deciding that we'll be moving back east (where we are from.) This decision to move came about due to several factors: -most of our family lives back there. -none of us like to fly on a regular basis and the parents are getting older, less healthy -we just had twins -we need a bigger house, which would cost less (not a lot, but still...) where we're moving -neither of us are tied to our jobs

Now we're thinking about the logistics involved. Has anyone out there done a home exchange or rented their house to ''test out'' their move, so that you have a place to come back to if it turned disasterous? Or is it a bad idea to have that escape clause so to speak? And is the benefit of having that backup plan outweighed by needing to come back, and fix up the house to sell?

A little history: we are somewhat leery about moving because in the past, when we were childfree we moved to Portland and to Washington DC only to suffer culture shock and move back. The difference this time is: we have kids, our parents are older, we have a house (and hence equity). Also, we won't be moving to Portland or DC! Any input on moving, especially east coast v. west coast, home exchange, being near family as they age etc is appreciated.
Possibly moving

The best advice I ever got was to rent out our Albany house when we moved away. My husband was lucky enough to even get a leave of absence at work. We realized that if we did decide to come back, we might never get another home here (or one that we liked as much), and if we decided not to return, we could sell the house then.

Select your tenents very carefully. And, depending where you live, you will need to be VERY careful how you write up the rental agreement so you will not have to evict an unwilling-to- leave tenant. Be very clear from the start that it is for one year (or whatever time frame you decide). You will also want to consider how you will manage it from a distance. You might want to get someone local to manage it.

I suppose, in a way, not cutting totally loose made it ''too easy'' to return. We could have stayed in our new home (in central New York state, closer to family), and it was not an easy decision to return to the bay area. However, in the long run, we're really glad we kept our options open. R.K.

I decided to move out of the State as well. My motivations surrounded the fact that the public schools in my area are horrible, and I cannot afford private. Also, I wanted my son to have a yard to play in, and housing prices here are just not reasonable for a middle of the road income. I also toyed with home exchange (not a very receptive idea for families in the Dallas area where I am headed and I have Condo), also thought about renting my condo out, not as a safety net, but to let the equity grow for tax purposes. In the end, I decided to sell. I talked to my accoun! tant and my realtor. Both agreed I should sell, take the equity and invest short term while I find another home.

Im excited about my move, and it sounds like you are too, and you have all the right reasons. When you have a child, your priorities change. If you embrace that, and look forward to the new life you will be creating for yourselves and your child, much less the support you will be able to give to your parents, I don't think the transition will be difficult at all. Good Luck and God Speed