Buying Out of Sight Without Going Out of Your Mind

We all know that buying a home can be a bit of a stressful life event (understatement?), but buying from across state lines is even harder! With some thoughtful planning, you can undertake a successful interstate move without losing your mind on the way.

Think about the costs

You may be relocating for a job or to be closer to family, which will determine which state and maybe even which city you’ll be moving to. But if you have a little more freedom, think about the relative cost of living – it may be quite different in your new neighborhood!

A little online research, and a tool like CNN’s nifty cost of living calculator, you can get a sense of where you should move and what kind of adjustments you might need to make to your lifestyle and budget. The calculator breaks down how much more you’ll save or spend on things like groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, and health care.

Get a seriously good agent who knows the area

Having a great real estate agent as your ally is important any time you’re buying or selling a home, but it’s all the more important when you’re buying mostly out of sight. Even if you visit your new potential neighborhood a few times, there’s no substitute for local knowledge.

If you don’t know of a reliable real estate agent in the area, read online ratings and reviews to get a sense of who works well with out-of-state buyers or works in the specific areas you’re interested in. It’s also a good idea to have already conducted some neighborhood-level research, so you have a general idea of where you’ll be looking.

For instance, I live in Oakland, and boy, does it have a bad reputation. But with a little research, especially using our interactive map, and out-of-towner could quickly figure out that homes above Interstate 580 have a higher price point and are closer to higher-rated schools. So why do I really need an agent, you ask? Well, once you have your general criteria, only someone who really knows the area can tell you about “hidden gems” like my well-priced, lakeside micro-neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.

You can also get more insider perspectives on neighborhoods by reading Agent Comments on particular homes on or checking out community forums like your local ZipCommunity to ask about schools, crime, the local vibe, etc.

Get a seriously good agent who’s easy to reach

Availability is a chief asset of any great real estate agent, but if you’re working across state lines or even time zones, you want someone you’ll be able to reach quickly and consistently. You’ll be working mostly over the phone or email, so you want someone who will be able to get right back to you.

This isn’t to say you should expect your agent to be waiting by their phone at 3 a.m., but an agent who is tech-savvy and can communicate with you via text or email from their smartphone will make a great choice for an out-of-state buyer.


A few other things to keep in mind

·         Many banks and lenders will require you to sell your home before financing your new mortgage. Check with your lender and have a plan for the time period between selling your home and closing on your new one.

·         If you’re prepared, you can make the most of an open house weekend by staying in the area to get a feel for it, seeing only your favorite homes for sale, and checking what your commutes would be like to work, schools, etc.

·         Take your time, relax, and trust your agent (if you have a seriously good one; if you don’t, find a new one!). Buying from out-of-state is tricky, but it doesn’t have to make you crazy.

Sarah Louise Green lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes about national real estate trends, home financing, advice for buyers, and DIY projects for the home and garden. Follow Sarah on Twitter:@slouisegreen