Tips for Buying a Home in a New Area

Relocation and Home Buying

A moving and storage container in the driveway of a house
••• Elizabet Weintraub

If a sudden job transfer is in your future, a little pre-planning can help make your relocation move less stressful. Because after the excitement of moving to a new city begins to fade, panic often replaces the initial exhilaration, especially when the realization hits that you might not know anything about buying a home in a new area.

Buying a home in an unfamiliar area carries risks, and it can be scary. Real estate laws vary from state to state. Local custom can differ from one county to another. You don't want to make a home buying mistake or buy in the wrong neighborhood. Plus, if you have a home to sell in order to buy a home, you want the timing to be perfect.

The last thing you want to have happened is to pull up to your new home with the moving truck and you can't move in because of some silly snafu. So how can you protect yourself?

Begin a Search Online

Start an Internet search by entering keywords into Google such as the name of the city, coupled with information or housing. Here are a few places to look:

  • Look at the tourism sites for the city.
  • Check with the local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Go to the Web site of the major city newspaper to follow metro news and housing classifieds.
  • Look up the nearby university and college Web sites.
  • If you've narrowed your choices to specific neighborhoods, search on "name of the neighborhood" plus "neighborhood association."
  • Go to the local police department's Web site to check crime stats.

Talk to Real Estate Agents

While the Federal Fair Housing Law may prevent real estate agents from giving you information about protected classes, which includes where churches are located, neighborhood school rankings, the ethnic make-up of neighborhoods, among other factors, agents can be a wealth of information.

  • First, find a real estate agent. You will be better protected if you hire an inexperienced agent who has worked with relocating buyers.
  • Interview several real estate agents. Some agents might claim to be neighborhood experts but have no knowledge about the part of town where you want to move.
  • Ask whom the agents represent and request a copy of a buyer's broker agreement before you are asked to sign such a document.
  • Find out the agent protocol for working with local agents. Is it OK, for example, to attend an open house without your agent? How often will your agent communicate with you?
  • Determine who pays the real estate agent. It could be you.
  • Talk to a title officer at a local title company about title policies and how closings are handled.

Gather Data on Inspections and Disclosures

Because every state is different, find out how what types of disclosures you can expect to receive and which types of inspections are normally performed. Some states do not require that sellers disclose material facts to potential buyers. Here are questions to ask:

  • Is it customary for buyers to receive reports on environmental hazards and, if so, who pays for them?
  • Are pest inspections generally part of the purchase contract?
  • Who pays for home inspections and what types of repairs do sellers cover? Your agent should be able to refer several inspectors to you.
  • Do city laws govern the transfer of ownership and inspections?
  • Do buyers in certain neighborhoods ask for chimney, plumbing or sewer/septic inspections?
  • Are surveys typically ordered?
  • How are taxes assessed? You want to make sure no delinquent taxes remain unpaid and compute accurate taxes for which you will be liable.

Select Neighborhoods

Whether you choose older or new homes, because agents tend to specialize in neighborhoods, hire an agent who works in the neighborhoods where you want to buy. A neighborhood agent can tell you the differences between homes as sometimes a home across the street from another can vary greatly in price. Local specialists have intimate knowledge about their areas that you won't get anywhere else. Ask for details on:

  • Recent comparable sales. This is your best benchmark to avoid paying over the market for the home.
  • Average per-square-foot cost. Break this down by price ranges and square-foot values because of the larger the home, the lower the square-foot cost.
  • Average list-to-sales-price ratios.
  • DOM. This is important because it could change your offer strategy, but not always.
  • Are you moving into a seller's, buyer, or neutral marketplace?

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.