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Buying a House from a Distance

When military families get PCS orders, one of the first questions usually is, “Where will we live?” If you don’t want to live on a base (or base housing isn’t available) you may need to start shopping for a house before moving.

Sometimes, service members can get a few days of house-hunting leave to visit the new area, tour houses, and make an offer in-person. However, for families stationed overseas or without childcare arrangements, a house-hunting trip isn’t possible before a PCS move. That means your entire home-buying experience must be completed from a distance.

Buying a house from a distance is challenging, but not impossible. You will need a real estate agent who is willing to work with your unique situation, and ideally, a local family member or friend you can use as a legal proxy. Keep reading to learn tips for communicating with real estate agents from a distance and options for touring a home and completing paperwork, even when you’re in a different time zone!

One Military Family’s Home-buying Experience

Like many military families, mine has jumped through hoops to find somewhere to live after a PCS move. Our first home-buying experience was mostly traditional: we got orders, drove to visit the new base for a weekend, visited some homes, and made an offer. A month later, when mortgage payments began, I moved in with the toddler while my husband finished his remaining weeks at the previous base.

The next time we bought a house (years later, after selling the first one), the situation was a lot more complicated. My husband was approaching his 20-year retirement date, and we started to discuss our plans for where to live after leaving the military. We wanted to buy a home in Pennsylvania and rent it out for a few years until he retired.

There was one major problem: neither one of us lived on the East Coast. I was living at his current duty station in California, and he was deployed to Japan! It was far too expensive to fly there for a house-hunting weekend, so everything would have to be done virtually.

Amazingly, we made it work! We found a home we loved online, did virtual tours with the real estate agent, and even managed to have the paperwork signed and keys exchanged from a distance.

If your family is in a similar situation and needs to buy a home from a distance, here are some things to consider.

How to Buy a Home Remotely as a Military Family

  • Work with a military-friendly real estate agent. Military families face unique situations like PCS orders, moving timelines, and the VA loan, so you want to work with an agent with experience in those matters. When looking for an agent, ask if they have handled remote sales before and how the process will look for you, especially if you are living in another state. The more you know in advance, the smoother your home-buying process will be.
  • Get the most out of virtual visits. Virtual video tours are helpful to get a quick sense of a house, but they don’t always tell the full story. If the service member and spouse can’t be on the call together, you will probably have different questions or reactions. Our agent uploaded tour videos to a private YouTube channel so my husband could watch them in Japan. Try to get tours moving through the house from one room to the next so you see how everything connects. Ask the agent to open the closets and turn around for a slow pan of each room so you don’t miss any unusual features.
  • Have someone visit the property in person. The best way to get a feel for a home is to be there in person. When buying a home from a distance, invite someone you trust to do it for you. If you don’t have a local family member, ask in the military spouse group if someone will go and do a walk-through with the agent, take pictures, and give you their honest feedback. Ask about smells, the view from the windows, the neighbor’s houses or yards, and other details you wouldn’t pick up from photos and videos.
  • Get proxy paperwork prepared. To finalize your home sale, there will be lots of paperwork to sign. While some documents can be signed virtually through email, other documents must be signed in person, in the county where the sale occurs. Discuss your options with the real estate agent. Be prepared to get a Power of Attorney for a local friend or family member to sign for you. If that isn’t an option, it’s good to know ahead of time whether you will need to fly in to close the sale and get the keys.

Buying a home from out-of-state can be a challenge during a PCS move, but if you find the right real estate agent and ask these questions, you will be fully informed and ready to face this challenge. Happy house hunting!

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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