How to Shop for a Home Long Distance

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Post from MilitaryByOwner

If there's one thing military families know how to do, it's move. Am I right? The average person moves 11 times in their lifetime, but military families like to take things up a notch and move every two to three years. But we aren't moving to the other side of town like many of our civilian counterparts; we're usually moving hundreds or even thousands of miles -- road tripping across the country or flying over the ocean. So long-distance moves are simply a part of life.

But house hunting long distance? That never seems to get any easier. Sure, we know the pattern and the logistics by now, but feeling at peace about committing to a property located in a different time zone rarely leaves us with the warm fuzzies.

But whether you're stuck in limbo due to the recent hold on PCS moves or you're on the move again after a delayed move, long distance house hunting has become the norm!

Common Long Distance House Hunting Mistakes

How many times have you heard of someone buying a home long distance, only to arrive and realize that it's subpar? The property is immaculate, but there's construction all around or the area is on the downhill slope to depreciation. How did this happen?

Mistake #1 -- The homebuyer/renter put the location on the back burner. They focused more on the property and overlooked the bigger picture. Remember, you can update, repair, and remodel a home, but you can't rebuild a neighborhood.

Mistake #2 -- Failing to interview real estate agents. Agents aren't one-size-fits-all. A personality that works well for some may not work for others. Look for agents who come recommended by other military families in the area and have years of experience.

Mistake #3 -- Breaking the budget. Getting distracted by shiny and new things is the most common reason we bust the budget when house hunting, but there's another budgeting obstacle when you're working from a distance -- miscalculating the budget entirely.

Your budget goes beyond your Basic Housing Allowance (BAH). To make sure that you find a house that you can afford, take a step back and look at the big picture. Not only do you need to account for mortgage payments or rent, but you need to consider the cost of utilities, groceries, your children's schooling, debt, and investments. It often takes a couple of months to settle into a new budget and realize how much you need to spend to maintain your specific lifestyle. So calculating an appropriate budget from afar can sometimes be challenging.

Related: Check your VA loan eligibility

Tips for Successful Long-distance House Hunting

1. Embrace technology.

The numbers tell us that most people start their house hunt online. But now, more than ever, it's essential to utilize the internet. You can research a new duty station, learn where other military families choose to live, figure out how much it costs to live there, and most importantly, look at homes. Professional photos and virtual home tours are becoming common, and it's fantastic for those who don't have the opportunity to make it to open houses.

2. Connect with local experts.

Realtors and real estate agents in the local area can be your best friends. They know more about the area, new developments, and neighborhoods than you can find online. Not only can they save you from paying too much on a property located in a declining neighborhood, but they should also be able to match your personality with an area suited for you.

Plus, they're already there. With an agent's help, you can start the process long before you reach the area. Ask them to send videos, conduct a walkthrough, and show you the neighborhood.

3. Don't rely solely on your agent.

While their knowledge is often invaluable, unless they're also a veteran or military spouse, an agent might not have all the answers. It's best to couple their guidance with those from the local military community.

4. Get organized.

You're not the only one who finds it hard to keep potential properties straight! When you're living and breathing house hunting, the homes start to run together. Create folders of specific neighborhoods (including the pros and cons of the area), then file the potential properties so that when you've chosen the right community to call home, you can get right down to business.

5. Set a budget.

You can't begin an earnest house hunt until you set a budget. And more than likely, it's going to look different than your current one.

  • Start with your Basic Housing Allowance (BAH). Figure out how much you're allotted for housing each month, then take a look at the average home price at your new duty station. Find BAH rates for any duty station.
  • Determine what you need. How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Are you prioritizing a pool? How close do you need to be to the base? Which school district do you want your kids to attend? Pinpointing your priorities can help you figure out just how much you need to spend to have them.
  • Then, decide whether you'll buy or rent with your current expenses (other mortgage payments, investments, debt, savings) and calculate a number you can put toward housing.

Don't forget to consider utilities on top of the basic rent or mortgage amount!

6. Use that house hunting leave!

If you can, use house hunting leave to visit your new duty station. Nothing will make you feel better about picking a new home than driving around and getting familiar with the area in person.

If you feel overwhelmed by your long-distance house hunt, don't worry -- you're not alone. There's room for error and the process is daunting. Ready to get started? Look for homes for sale and houses for rent near your next duty station on MilitaryByOwner!

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