When you can’t be physically present for your home purchase, such as purchasing a place long-distance, it’s still possible to reach the finish line and buy your new home remotely.
Thanks to technology such as Skype and Zoom for virtual meetings, Facetime and Google Duo for face-to-face chats, and DocuSign and other portals for safely exchanging vital information, the entire home-buying process from shopping to signing can be handled from wherever you are. If your new home is getting near completion, it’s time to get in touch with numerous professionals to make sure you can close on time and move as planned.
Stay in the Loop with Sales Professionals
Just because you can’t pop into the sales center or visit the building site doesn’t mean you can’t follow along with the progress on your home. Check in with the sales representatives or your builder by phone, email, or text to find out how construction is progressing. You can ask someone onsite to video chat with you in real time, or to take a video of the home and send it to you.
Ask if there are any issues or outstanding decisions you need to make. The design center professionals or your sales representative can help you make final choices via video chat if needed. Then, the sales representative can find out the timeline of your closing so you can work with your lender to complete the loan process.
Final Steps to Financing
You probably already have a loan preapproval letter from a lender, and you likely have shopped to compare rates. If you haven’t locked in your rate and you’re a month or two away from moving, now is the time.
Your lender will likely run (another) check on your credit and (re)confirm your employment. You may be asked to produce recent pay stubs or bank statements when you get closer to closing the loan. All these steps can be completed online through a secure portal established by your lender. If you have questions about any of your financing arrangements, your loan officer can easily answer them by phone, video chat or email.
It’s important to maintain your credit profile, so avoid applying for new credit, buying a car, or charging other big purchases before your loan closes. Don’t make any big cash transfers without documenting the paper trail of where the money came from and where you’re sending it.
An important alert about communicating electronically: Scammers have targeted real estate transactions in recent years because of the large amount of money being transferred for the purchase. Don’t provide any personal or financial information via email and don’t follow any wiring instructions to send money until you verify that you’re communicating with your loan officer or title company. Don’t answer the email or call a number in any communication you receive. Instead, find your original contact information for that person or find their website online and contact them directly to make sure you’re not being scammed.
Your lender will also need an appraisal of your property to finalize your loan. Typically, your loan will be approved as “subject to appraisal” before or during the construction phase. That loan approval is based on blueprints and plans for your home, the land value, and comparable homes if there are any. Typically, a certificate of completion is required at the closing. Usually, that certificate is issued by an appraiser who has visited the property. You’ll need to work with your lender and builder to ask about the policy in your area and whether appraisers are able to visit new homes. A virtual appraisal based on a video tour may be an option.
Setting up your Home’s Systems and Protection
In the final month or so before you move into your new home, you’ll need to purchase homeowner’s insurance and have utilities set up in your name.
You can easily shop for homeowner’s insurance online. There are numerous sites that help you compare policies, and you can call an insurance agent or specific companies to gather more information.
Your builder can help you determine when to transfer utilities to your name, which you can also do online.
Contact moving companies as soon as you have a move-in date and ask them how they handle long distance moves. Many moving companies can even give you an estimate without coming to your home.
Traditionally, a closing requires in-person notarized signatures at a builder’s office, a title company, or, sometimes, in your home. Just prior to the closing, lenders often require an appraisal of your newly completed home. After the closing, transaction information needs to be recorded at a courthouse. Managing these interactions to allow for a virtual closing takes a little extra work, but it’s not impossible. In fact, many buyers already do virtual closings.
It’s important to start talking to your lender, your builder, and your title company about the process well before the closing date. Many builders work with title companies and lenders they know and trust to handle any complexities.
Different states have different requirements for real estate closings. In many states, including Delaware, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia, a real estate attorney is required to attend the closing. In others, a representative of the title company can handle the closing.
Most paperwork for a real estate transaction needs to be notarized, but there are ways to handle notarizations without in-person meetings. For example, a video conference can be held via Skype or Zoom meeting so that you can show your ID to the notary and then scan or fax documents with your signature. Web video conferences can also work hand-in-hand with services such as DocuSign. Another option may be to overnight documents back-and-forth with the title company via FedEx or another overnight delivery service. You’ll need to consult your lender and title company to discuss your options since these are governed by the jurisdiction where the closing is taking place as well as the capabilities of the title company.
The closing costs needed for your home are often paid by a cashier’s check or a certified check at the closing, but wire transfers are a simple solution for remote closings. Your financial institution and your title company can help you accomplish this. Technology allows almost everything to be accomplished virtually now, but you do need to proactively consult the professionals involved with your transaction to understand how you can complete your purchase.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.