Buying a Home Remotely
Buying a Home Remotely
The military life makes people resilient, up to any challenge. They’ll go off to war for a year, let the whims of fate send them to their next installation—they’ll even buy a house sight unseen.
It’s old news that mortgage rates are lower than rental rates these days. A military family may want to capitalize on that if they can see themselves putting down roots at an upcoming posting, or for the sake of diversifying their investments (a wise step in the face of the stock market’s current state of flux), or maybe it’s time to settle down after retirement.
The housing market is also in a period adjustment in adherence to social distancing rules, even with clients who already live in the area they’re buying their home in. This means remote buying and closings are more easily accommodated, and tools like 3D or Virtual tours are making the process of shopping for a home from afar even easier.
According to this article from The Washington Post, in the current housing market climate amidst COVID-19:
- Interest rates for loans are at “rock-bottom lows”
- Sales are slowing due to COVID-19, which means prices will lower
- This will lead to the switch from a seller’s to a buyer’s market
- The National Association of Realtors estimate 10% price drop in home sales this year
With all this in mind, here are six steps to follow to a successful remote purchase of a home:
Discover Your Budget
Consult with your current bank or other providers to see what size loan you are eligible for, using local BAH rates as a reference. Shop around for interest rates, and be picky with the mortgage loan officer you get paired with. Communication is key. They will be your touchstone on an intimidating amount of paperwork brimming with legalese, and only one part of what can be a stressful process.
Identify Needs & Wants
Everyone has a different list of things in their head that would make their dream home a reality. Do you want a newly constructed, never-before-lived-in home, a fixer upper that you can bring up to your tastes, or something in between? A pool sounds nice in theory, but what might you have to give up in your house to stay within budget? Make a list of things you consider must-haves (ex. three bedrooms and two bathrooms, in a good school district) and a second list of things that would be nice to have (ex. a fireplace, marble countertops).
Do Your Own Research
Take your needs and wants lists and look into what’s on the market in the area you’re hoping for, at the price point your loan can cover. You may have to adjust your expectations if the results are slim. Sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com offer more than images of the interior of the homes. A listing page holds a vast amount of information on the homes and their neighborhoods, like: previously listed sale prices, walkability/commute score, ratings of nearby schools, and local crime rates.
Find a Great Realtor
So, you know what you want, what you need, what you can spend, and you’ve got a pretty good understanding of what is available in your area. Now’s the time to bring in an expert. Finding the perfect realtor is always important—they identify promising properties, guide you through the (staggering amount of) paperwork upon selecting your home, and are present for inspection and closing. In the case of buying a home remotely, you need to have even more trust in this person.
Interview at least three realtors, and ask them these questions:
- What is their experience with remote sales?
- What is their daytime availability? Compare this to your availability (and timezone).
- Have they worked with military before?
- Ask for references, in particular from past remote buyers and military buyers
Share your wants and needs lists with the realtor you choose, and link them to some of the more appealing homes you found in your own research. Giving them all this information right out of the gate will save valuable time which is bound to be wasted when you’re communicating across different time zones, or even continents!
Realtors will likely know of homes to present to you that aren’t yet on sites like Trulia or Zillow. The realtor will need to be your eyes on these properties, either taking photos themselves or taking you on a virtual walkthrough—preferably both of these things. Realtors can also show you comparisons, or comps, which are recently sold homes in the area you’re interested in, with the equivalent or near equivalent to what you’re looking for.
Don’t Forget to use Your Community
Always remember, the world is big, but the military is small. By nature, military life scatters you, your family, and any friends you make along the way, across the globe. Odds are, there is a military base fairly near to where you’re looking to buy a home. Ask a friend or a family member who live in the region to do a walk through of your favorite properties. If you’re PCSing to the local base, utilize your branch’s Sponsorship Program, which is designed to help you integrate to your new installation. There is always support to be found.
Remember, YOU Have the Final Say
Buying a home is an overwhelming process, even when everything goes according to plan. You are making a significant investment, not just financially, but in your future. You may need to compromise here and there, but don’t forget that you are the one in charge. This is your time and money on the table. There is a shocking amount of paperwork and things to review, from information on the house’s history to inspections to closing costs. It can be tempting to leave it all to the people you’ve employed along the way—like your mortgage loan officer and your realtor— but no matter how good they are at their jobs, they are not you. Do not sign anything without reading and completely understanding it. Ask every question. Ask them twice. In doing so, you take responsibility and ownership of this momentous occasion.
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