Selling a home can bring you closer to it in some ways, such as spurring you to clean out heirlooms in the attic. But other times, you might find yourself dealing with a home sale from a distance, ratcheting up your stress as well as the possibilities for confusion.
Perhaps your job requires you to relocate, like 14% of the US population each year. Maybe a relative has died, leaving you to navigate probate and the responsibility of selling their home as a distribution of assets.
A skilled real estate agent can guide you through how to sell a house from out of state, providing an elevated level of customer care. The agent not only represents your interests but can “be the eyes and the boots on the ground for other things that might come up through the marketing and selling process,” says Geoffrey Adams, a top-selling agent in Phoenix, Arizona who specializes in relocations.
“We preserve the property in order to tell the story of the property and communicate its condition.”
Most important, because of the agent’s proximity, they can readily handle any bumps that might feel overwhelming because you’re farther away. Here’s how.
How distance doubles the stress of selling your home
Selling a house already packs a lot of stress. More than one-third of the respondents in a survey of people who had sold a house within the past three years say the stress brought them to tears!
“Selling a house is one of the most stressful processes to go through because so much of it is out of your control, and you spend a lot of time just waiting,” says Dalton Carroll, a top-selling agent in Arlington, Texas. “You’re waiting for showings, waiting for offers, waiting for your buyer to submit repair requests, and waiting on the lender for the clear to close…”
Add in a few hundred or thousand miles, and that stress magnifies. You’re not close enough to pop over and meet with a contractor or handle small tasks yourself, like replacing a blown fuse.
Depending on the circumstances, you might not know a lot about the property at all. Most of the homes that Adams has sold for owners out of state relate to these reasons:
- Foreclosure: Sometimes these are classified as REOs, or real estate owned properties, because they’re now owned by a bank, government agency, or other lender. As of February, about 282,800 single-family homes and condos nationwide were in the process of foreclosure, with about 3% classified as “zombie” foreclosures because they’re already vacant, according to the national property data warehouse ATTOM Data Solutions.
- Probate: This formal legal process frequently occurs when real estate and real property are involved. It recognizes whether a will is valid and appoints an executor or personal representative to administer the estate and distribute assets. You don’t have to live near the deceased to be named an executor or estate representative.
- Investment property: Individual investors own roughly 75% of the rental housing market, according to a US Census Bureau survey. An investor may want to divest of this property completely or roll the profit into another investment.
In each of these cases, people either haven’t been to the home, or it’s been a while, Adams says. “There’s less familiarity with the property and more of an opportunity for the realtor to step in and bring extra value to that relationship.”
8 things an agent can do if you’re long-distance
If you have a real estate agent who knows how to sell a house with an out-of-state owner, you won’t worry about whether you should visit the property every step of the way.
Incidentally, Adams says he never discourages a seller who lives out of state from visiting a property to gain a better understanding of its value and what it needs to sell. But such travel isn’t always feasible. A trusted local real estate agent can field these responsibilities:
1. Secure the property. The agent can hire a locksmith to rekey the property to ensure no one else has access. “Sometimes the neighbor has a key from whoever lived there, or there are friends or relatives who have keys,” Adams says. The agent also can install two lockboxes, one for showings to track who enters and leaves and a coded one for contractors (or the homeowner, should she or he want to visit and not ask the agent for access).
2. Document the property’s condition. Even if the home isn’t ready to list yet, your agent can capture a detailed set of photos showing the home’s condition: street scenes, shots of the roof and landscaping, photos of major appliances such as the air conditioner, and multiple views of each room. This way you’ll know about anything that impacts the value or needs to be repaired immediately. If your home sale relates to a probate situation, the photos also are important for a probate attorney’s report for the court.
3. Assist with hiring contractors. An agent has the local knowledge to take care of simple tasks such as turning on utilities in a vacant home as well as knowing professionals who can perform repairs and keep it in show-ready shape, such as a cleaning service and a pool cleaner. You can defer to the agent’s advice on hiring someone, or ask the agent to provide bids from three vendors so you can choose the one with whom you’re most comfortable.
4. Keep tabs on the property. A local agent can keep an eye on the home, providing you with peace of mind. Jennifer Murtland, a top-selling real estate agent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and her colleagues regularly check properties for sellers who live out of town. On one such occasion, she found that a water heater had burst earlier in the day. “I was able to clean it up and turn it off, but if I hadn’t gone, mold would have been everywhere,” she says.
5. Price the property, respecting your budget and time frame. Adams says he’ll give out-of-state owners two different valuation ranges, one for an as-is sale and another with any renovations to make the home competitive with the local market. He’ll also offer an estimated cost of the renovations.
“If they’re in no hurry, I always like to price high and then reduce it over time,” he adds. “I never want to be in a situation where we have an offer the first day, and everyone’s wondering, ‘Oh, gosh, did we not price high enough?’” Plus, each reduction keeps the property at the top of the multiple listing service (MLS). “It stays top of list, top of mind, and we immediately see traffic at those listings … because of the way the MLS works.”
6. Manage marketing. In addition to the MLS, your local agent will coordinate showings and any marketing efforts. These might involve social media, online advertising, and open houses. If you’d like to be available to answer questions during an open house but are unable to travel, your agent might arrange a “virtual open house,” or a live-streamed guided tour. Epiphan Video of Palo Alto, California, and Ottawa, Ontario, notes that agents can stream a virtual open house through Facebook Live or Periscope and later post the video on Instagram and YouTube.
7. Apprise you of property taxes. Real estate property taxes vary from state to state, both in amount and when you pay them. If the taxes where you live are about $3,000, you might be shocked to learn those on the house you’ve sold out of state are, say, $12,000, with a payment due at the closing table. Although you can compare property taxes online through sites such as WalletHub, your agent can break down in advance what the taxes from the sale will be and when you’ll have to pay them. (It’s also wise to consult with your accountant.)
8. Close the deal. Depending on your preference and where you live, your agent can coordinate with you on how best to sign the closing documents. Some title companies can act as a notary or will email documents for you to sign, which you can have notarized at your end and return to them electronically or via overnight delivery. Companies such as Notarize can provide notarization online, working with a notary via webcam.
How to find a real estate agent who can help you
When you’re selling a house from out of state, it’s vital to work with a real estate agent who’s right for the job. Interview a few different agents to learn who best fits your circumstances.
For instance, Sue Smith, a veteran real estate agent who serves Arlington and northern Virginia, specializes in probate and is accustomed to situations with multiple heirs. She asks them to sign a listing agreement—“They all have to agree on me,” she says—and discusses details such as whether they’re selling as-is and how to distribute the proceeds.
“Things have to be ironed out before the listing starts,” she says. “During a real estate transaction is not a time to argue about a price.”
Here are some questions to ask:
- Have you ever worked with out-of-state sellers?
- What’s your experience with selling REO property? Probate property? Investment property?
- What value or services can you bring to help me stay abreast of what’s happening at the property from afar?
- How can you help me maximize the value or my timeline (or otherwise meet my goal as a seller)?
Although selling a house long-distance might be unusual for you, a seasoned real estate agent likely has done this before and can prove to be a valuable resource.
“There’s a bit more of a challenge when you’re calling from out of state and trying to identify someone who has these skills,” Adams says, but the confidence you’ll have after choosing the right agent is well worth the research.