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How to Buy a House Remotely

[Updated: Jun 21, 2020] Oct 18, 2019 by Jean Folger
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In a real estate sale, it's easy for sellers to skip the closing. They simply pre-sign the paperwork and have the sale proceeds wired directly to their bank account.

For buyers, however, it can be a different story. Traditionally, buyers have had to make a physical appearance at the closing table to sign all the paperwork. That can mean traveling to the new home, taking time off work, finding a babysitter, and a lot of other inconveniences.

The good news: Buyers today have a more convenient option. It's called a remote closing. In fact, buyers can conduct the entire home buying process remotely.

[Update]: See how one couple bought a house during the COVID-19 outbreak

Why buy a house remotely?

There are lots of reasons you might buy a house remotely, but here are some of the more common ones:

  • You live out of state and don't want (or are unable) to travel back and forth.
  • You have a job or other obligation that limits how much time you can spend on the home-buying process.
  • You're buying a home for an adult child and don't mind buying the house sight unseen.
  • You're a real estate investor who wants to buy in a different real estate market.

No matter why you want to buy a house remotely, here are some tips to make the process easier.

Find the right real estate agent

If you plan to buy a house remotely, you'll depend on a real estate agent to handle most of the details. That's a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of moving parts in a remote transaction, and not every agent is willing to put in the extra effort.

It's critical that you find an agent who's a good fit for the task. An interview is helpful. Be sure to ask about the agent’s experience, and how many times he or she has handled a remote home purchase. In this scenario, experience matters.

An agent who has worked with remote buyers before is more likely to:

  • Understand how the remote homebuying process works
  • Find suitable properties for you to consider
  • Negotiate favorable terms with sellers

Share your wishlist

Once you find an agent who's a good fit, share your wishlist so your agent knows exactly what you're looking for. Be clear about what you want and why you're buying. A good wishlist helps your agent narrow down the options -- and that can help the search go faster.

Still, if you have too many requests on your wishlist, your agent will have a hard time finding a match. Stick to the features that matter most -- things like location, size, house style, number of rooms, and the like. Leave out the minor requests, especially for things that would be easy to fix or update yourself.

And if there are any features that you absolutely can't live with or without, let your agent know as soon as possible. That way, he or she can focus on homes without these deal breakers.

Trust your real estate agent's judgment

You might find a house online that looks perfect. But if your agent says it's not the right home -- even if it seems to tick every box on your wishlist -- trust his or her judgment. Your agent knows the local market and knows things about homes that won't show up in the listing details. Keep in mind: Sellers aren’t going to advertise that their home is right next to an active railroad track or a loud nightclub.

Use the due diligence period

The due diligence period starts immediately after the seller accepts your offer. It typically lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month. It's intended to give you time to review your title documents, consider the deed restrictions, and get a home inspection.

Ask your agent if you have any questions or need clarification on anything. You can also use this time to negotiate for repairs and price reductions and finalize your financing plans before closing.

The remote closing

Thanks to the E-SIGN Act of 2000, your digital signature is just as valid as if you signed a physical piece of paper. Remote homebuying takes advantage of that. It's easy to review and sign a range of documents, disclosures, and agreements, including:

  • Offers to purchase
  • Sales contracts
  • Mortgage documents
  • Residential disclosures
  • Closing disclosures

Before you close, your agent will send you all the pages of the contract and any addendums. You'll have a chance to review them and ask your agent any questions. When you're ready to proceed, you'll add your digital signature, click the "I agree" button, and the forms will be delivered to the appropriate parties.

After that, your agent will head to the closing table with the closing documents, and the funds will be wired to complete the transaction.

Considering the remote option

A remote purchase is an excellent option if you're unable to be actively involved in the home buying process, if you're buying a home for an adult child, or if you’re an out-of-state real estate investor.

If you're on the fence about buying a house remotely, it might help to know it's becoming more and more popular. And that means more real estate agents have the type of experience they need to guide you through the process seamlessly.

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