Author Topic: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?  (Read 600 times)

rachaelandthegoose

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Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« on: September 13, 2020, 02:39:47 PM »
We're planning on moving out of state after we FIRE, a little more than a year from now. We have criteria we're looking for in the specific property, but are pretty open-ended on where it needs to be.

So far I've been using Zillow, but it seems to be buggier lately, and I know some listings aren't on Zillow. The reason I keep returning to it is that lets me search the largest areas at a time. It seems like most real estate listing websites are designed for searching pretty narrow geographic areas (understandably). And the other sites like Trulia, Redfin, and Realtor don't let me search by all the criteria I want to use.

  • Are there better website or tools out there to do this?
  • If you find an interesting property that's far away, how do you initially screen the property without having to physically visit it? Did you just order an inspection? Ask for a walk-through video? Pay for a third party to check it out?
  • For those who have done a cross country or non-location specific move before, how did you organize and narrow down your search?

Any advice or tips much appreciated!

LaineyAZ

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2020, 06:19:33 PM »
Replying because I'm in the same boat.  I have a primary residence in AZ, but am looking at being a snowbird and getting a cabin-like place in the Northeast for summers.  I've been using Trulia, but like you, I find it tricky to filter for what I really want to see.

Video tours seem popular these days so that would be a place to start.  For myself, I have family back there so in my case I'd be asking a sibling to check it out in person.  And I'd definitely have a 3rd party inspection before purchase. 

I wonder if it's best to start with a Realtor (yes, a licensed local realtor, not just any old real estate agent) who knows the area and can guide you on properties that would be a good fit? 

Cb1234567

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2020, 07:17:12 AM »
Are you looking for city, suburbs, country?

Property - as in multiple acres of it - can be searched on Landwatch or ‘land and farm’ I forget the website differences. I think landwatch was great for what I’d call ranches..doesn’t necessarily need to be tons of acreage, but you won’t find 0.25 ac. suburban developments on there.

Otherwise, I used Zillow, niche.com and city-data.com to hone in on possible areas. Then go to realtor.com for accuracy. Niche.com had helpful demographics, reviews (beyond what they actually say, how the reviewer writes about the area can be very telling!), cost of living...Also maybe check the state GIS maps plus lightpollutionmap.info if you’re into remote quietude.

Sounds exciting!

waltworks

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2020, 07:32:22 AM »
You're approaching this sort of the opposite way as most people, if I'm understanding you right? You want a specific house/property, but don't care where it is?

I'd start with census and climate data, honestly. You can make some assumptions about the cost of land from the census information, and you can figure out what sort of land/climate you want pretty easily. See where those things overlap and start searching specific areas via Zillow.

-W

rachaelandthegoose

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2020, 04:25:53 PM »
Appreciate the responses so far, all! I will definitely play with some of those websites. I have used Sterling’s Best Places to get some candid reviews on some towns. Sometimes there’s a definite consensus. (Fun fact: Apparently everyone in the small town of Sheboygan, MI is on drugs? But it looked so innocuous in the pictures!)

It is really fun to be starting to go through this process. We’ll be using all our vacation time to do “scouting trips” in 2021 to general areas we find intriguing, while continuing to scan specific property listings that might meet our criteria. Basically, we’re trying to screen for properties/houses we like and areas we like at the same time in hopes the Venn diagram will overlap on a scenario or two eventually.

If we found a house we were really excited about, we would definitely go an view it in person, but if we had, say 4-5 front-runners and needed more in-depth info on them, it would be nice to get a video tour of each before committing to visiting each one in person.

Just for the fun of it, here’s what we’re looking for. Pretty much everything is flexible given the right combo of circumstances:

1. 100+ year old house. My passion for historic houses goes back literally to my toddler days, so this is a life-long dream for me.

2. Preferably less than 2000 sf, to keep maintenance costs under control. Just the two of us living there, and several dogs. And a turtle.

3. Husband has always dreamed of living on a property with a creek, so any property with a creek on it jumps to top billing in the running.

4. We want land for foraging and gardening, but mostly for privacy. If we could get less land, but still have some privacy, we’d go for it (i.e. a property that borders conservation land). Wooded land highly preferable. Need enough space for chickens and fun projects. Anywhere from half an acre up could work, depending on the specifics of the property.

5. Lowish property taxes (sadly moves some areas that meet criteria 1-4 down on the list, like pretty much anywhere east of PA, but we’re still open to the northeast if we can find pockets of lower property taxes that won’t have us re-purchasing our house from the government every 10 years)

6. Rural, but not super-isolated or far from important services like hospitals. Just outside the commutable range of a medium-sized city, where the property values start to drop but retirees like us could still easily get to modern conveniences, would be ideal.

7. Temperate climate. Neither of us like arid climates. We like trees and bluffs and creeks and lots of ‘em!

8. Due to being a nice triangulated mid-point for close family, the Midwest gets preference. Currently the states we’re most focused on are WI, MI and OH. We want to get the fark out of IL, so we’d have to see something pretty spectacular in this state to keep us here. ME properties are our guilty pleasure, but it is just so dang far from everyone in our families… We would be moving farther from everyone and closer to absolutely no one.

9. Want to move to a state with decent ACA coverage. We understand this also varies county by county, but some states are decidedly lacking in ACA options. This knocked Indiana down the list, even though we saw some otherwise pretty neat houses there, and it’s a nice mid-point between two close family members.

Would love to hear others’ criteria if you’re in a similar boat!

waltworks

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2020, 04:40:58 PM »
You might be looking a while (and I was just going to suggest Indiana, lol). Some of what you want is contradictory - you want great free/cheap healthcare via ACA, "modern conveniences" (which I read as public services/infrastructure) but low property taxes - that's both philosophically and practically a little difficult. You also want a very old house and low maintenance, which is a bit laughable.

So IMO you need to go through your list and really decide which items are most important, and which you can let slide. Being cheap about property taxes is a bizarre way to approach this, because you're probably eliminating most of the places you might like. I like to think of it as purchasing civilization, not purchasing my house back. But to each their own, I guess.

-W

SailingOnASmallSailboat

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2020, 04:55:36 PM »
another way to lower property taxes is to put land under conservation easement or forestry management. This could also be something to think about, though I think it makes it a little harder on the selling side of things.

fishnfool

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2020, 08:58:29 PM »
The City-Data forum and website is a great resource for getting info on different locals and some entertaining opinions at time. Local people can be a good resource depending on their attitude towards outsiders looking to relocate to their area.

rachaelandthegoose

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2020, 05:30:31 AM »
You might be looking a while (and I was just going to suggest Indiana, lol). Some of what you want is contradictory - you want great free/cheap healthcare via ACA, "modern conveniences" (which I read as public services/infrastructure) but low property taxes - that's both philosophically and practically a little difficult. You also want a very old house and low maintenance, which is a bit laughable.

So IMO you need to go through your list and really decide which items are most important, and which you can let slide. Being cheap about property taxes is a bizarre way to approach this, because you're probably eliminating most of the places you might like. I like to think of it as purchasing civilization, not purchasing my house back. But to each their own, I guess.

-W

We would be looking forever if we were holding out for everything on the list. These are the criteria that we're using to evaluate properties we consider. Different combinations of checkmarks on this list could equal a property we're very interested in. We never expect one property to fulfill them all.

The "buying my house back" comment was referring to houses I've seen in very remote areas of upstate New York that were literally about to fall over, priced at $100K, at had $10k in property taxes per year. That is disproportionately expensive. You're not getting services for those property taxes, you're not close to civilization, and you're literally re-buying the house every ten years. That's the sort of situation I'm trying to avoid. The house appears inexpensive at first glance, but is actually prohibitively expensive on further examination. Property taxes don't always directly correlate to amenities, but when they do, then they may well be worth it.

I know a lot about old houses. I mentioned a more moderate-sized house to keep the maintenance costs more under control, not to eliminate them. We are budgeting for maintenance. Old houses will always need maintenance. In retirement, we'll be able to do more preventative maintenance than we would when working full time, which will be nice.

waltworks

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2020, 07:32:24 AM »
Have you actually lived in an old house on wooded land with a stream? I'm just curious here, because my aunt/uncle used to have a place like this in Indiana (maybe 5 acres, on a creek, 30 minutes outside Indy, though the house was only 50 years old or so) and the maintenance is why they don't live there anymore. Just keeping the driveway clear/graded/etc was a pretty huge task. Keeping the woods from overwhelming the yard/house, another huge task. The lower level flooded several times, because, there's a creek 100 yards away. On and on and on.

Now that's not necessarily what will happen but it is something you're putting yourself at much higher risk for. You want your retirement to be about doing preventative maintenance? Fine, that's great if you actually enjoy it. I suspect that running a brush hog (or fixing a brush hog) isn't very fun after the first 10 minutes or so, let alone the rest of your life.

But that said, different strokes. Is your list of priorities in order of importance? Some places would work (the UP, for example) but don't have a city close by or particularly old houses - but if you can live without a really old house and a city, you are probably set up there.

-W

theoverlook

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2020, 08:32:57 AM »
We spent a week in northern MI this summer and if their summers are anything like that usually I would jump all over that as a retirement location. It was a house on Lake Lancer and it was amazing. Warm but not hot, nice breeze, very few bugs... I don't know what a winter would be like there but dang that summer was beautiful.

joe189man

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2020, 09:10:28 AM »
I love to play with these ideas and try to find the ideal fit for a next home

some things i have considered:

tax burden by state - https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/ - this website shows the property, income, and sales tax by state and ranks them to see what you may have to pay to live where you want to live - Tennessee or south Dakota may be a good fit tax wise

 if you are looking for land check out this website - https://www.landandfarm.com/ - you can search acreage, pretty cool if you want larger land or wooded land sites - i usually use this and zillow to check things

also consider your political leanings as some states and rural areas have different flavors

google earth is another way to check out the property

also check local county GIS websites for property information
if you want to build check zoning and building dept. data also
consider utilities - some rural areas may not have high speed internet

quality schools may be another consideration, niche is good as is schooldigger.com

i grew up on 40 acres of wooded swamp in midwest farm country 14 miles from a grocery store, it was fun, lots of places to roam, but isolating for a kid, i live in a bigger city now and, though i an nostalgic for that way of life, i couldn't imagine moving my family to a similar situation, at least not with small children


 

waltworks

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2020, 09:38:14 AM »
We spent a week in northern MI this summer and if their summers are anything like that usually I would jump all over that as a retirement location. It was a house on Lake Lancer and it was amazing. Warm but not hot, nice breeze, very few bugs... I don't know what a winter would be like there but dang that summer was beautiful.

If you like pond hockey, nordic skiing, snow, and very cold temps, you'd love it.

There is a reason northern MI/the UP are very low population density, which is that most people don't.

-W

rachaelandthegoose

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2020, 05:47:12 PM »
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I have obviously confused the original question here. I know we can find a property we'll be happy with. I've found literally hundreds of cool possibilities over my many years of looking, but I've never been in the position to be a serious buyer before, so I never did more than look at the information I could find online. I really appreciate all the input on other/better online tools to dig deeper into the research process.

I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions about an intermediate step between the online research and the in-person inspection?

Scenario: Say we have 3 houses we think could be good candidates. One's in PA, one's in the MI UP, one's in IA. They all seem, from the pictures, to be in roughly the same state of repair... but we all know that can be a very different story when you see the house in real life. Before driving out to all three, if we want to get a video tour or have some specific questions answered, how would we go about that? Do selling realtors do that? Or would we need to hire a 3rd party to go and represent us, take pictures, answer our questions, etc?

If the only real answer is that there is no intermediate step and we just need to drive to PA, MI and IA to see each house, that's cool, but with all the real estate experts out there on this forum, I thought it would be worth seeing if anyone had any cool tips for that screening process.

How do real estate investors handle it? Do they just hire a local inspector to make sure the property they want doesn't have any major issues?

FINate

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2020, 06:20:07 PM »
We're FIRE and recently relocated from CA to ID. It took us about two months and two road trips to decide where to land. Then we closely followed the housing market for about a year before pulling the trigger on a house. It was built over 100 years ago, but taken down to the studs and added on to (nice, big finished basement) in 2000. Some of the original character was lost in the process, yet worth the trade-off for us to have newer electrical and mechanical and good insulation.

I highly recommend starting with location FIRST and only then start worrying about house shopping. Of course, narrowing down your location should take into consideration the types and price of housing in each area. So put Zillow down and focus on city-data.com, Sperling's, Google Maps/Streetview, etc. Make a list of 5-10 likely candidates and research them to hell and back. Then take a road trip and visit places that made the cut. Visit each place for 5-7 days to check out various neighborhoods. Live like a local: VRBO, grocery stores, parks, and so on. And don't forget to chat with locals to gather on the ground intel. Use this experience to choose your future location. I recommend visiting more than once, during different seasons, to get a better sense of what you're getting into.

Once you've decided where, find a good real estate agent there. Someone you can trust. Word of mouth is best if possible. Meet with them in person to make sure it's a good fit. By now you should be very familiar with the area and have a pretty good sense of what neighborhood you want to be in, and have a very good sense for prices.

By the time we were ready to purchase we knew the area extremely well and were confident going into contract on a house sight-unseen (with our agent, who we trusted, doing a video walk through). I'm certain we would've missed the house if we waited until we could see it in person. I flew there for the inspection.

waltworks

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #15 on: September 15, 2020, 08:27:38 PM »
Yeah, I think you're making it too complex. Figure out where you want to live, by researching and visiting. Then shop for a house.

And yes, for a house you will live in for a long time, you are going to want to visit in person. This is not comparable to buying a rental property.

-W
« Last Edit: September 16, 2020, 07:39:15 AM by waltworks »

Finances_With_Purpose

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Re: Tips for Nationwide Real Estate Searches?
« Reply #16 on: September 19, 2020, 01:03:56 AM »
Yeah, I think you're making it too complex. Figure out where you want to live, by researching and visiting. Then shop for a house.

And yes, for a house you will live in for a long time, you are going to want to visit in person. This is not comparable to buying a rental property.

-W

Read this and was going to say the same.  Pick an area or three and then shop those specifically, doing research locally. 

There's no shortcut to obtaining local knowledge.  Talking to neighbors.  (Who knows whether there's likely to be a new landfill next door or a neighbor with severe septic issues?  The people who already live there.)