How to Shop for a Home in a New City

Relocating to a new city – whether for a new job or even because it’s just something you really want to do – can be very stressful.  Buying a home in an unfamiliar area can ramp up the anxiety even more! But will lay out simple steps to buying a house in a new city that will make the whole process easier.

How to Buy a House

If you’ve decided to move to a new city, whether for work-related or personal reasons – and you know you want to buy a house there – you should also know that you’re going to have to do some homework.

Start Online

These days, over 90% of homebuyers utilize the internet when buying a house – even if they’re just planning to move a few blocks away. It certainly makes sense to utilize this resource if you’re figuring out where to buy a home in a new town.  

You should utilize one of the sites that provides easy access to both housing and neighborhood information. Zillow, Trulia, Yahoo Homes,, and Redfin are currently the leaders in the field. But before you even do that, you should try to learn more about your new city. There are a few easy ways to do this:

  • Find one of the city’s larger newspapers and start following local news online. Since you’ve already found their website, why not also check out their housing ads?
  • See if there are any tourism sites for the city. These sites will often discuss interesting neighborhoods and features of the city.
  • Check with the local Chamber of Commerce. They may have resources or information that would be useful.
  • If you’ve heard about a particular neighborhood or part of the city that sounds interesting, do a search and see what pops up. Websites such as GreatSchools or Walk Score can help you figure out if a certain neighborhood is going to be right for you.

Consider a Real Estate Agent

While it’s certainly possible to go it alone, why should you?  A buyer’s agent earns their commission out of the seller’s proceeds – so essentially using their services doesn’t cost you anything. Additionally, a local real estate agent is likely to know the different neighborhoods in your new city far better than you’ll be able to with a few web searches. However, don’t assume they’re knowledgeable. Interview several agents and if you already have a particular neighborhood in mind, see what they know about it. If you don’t have an area narrowed down yet, then assess their general level of knowledge and experience. Ask them for recommended neighborhoods and then check into them and see how well the agent intuited your needs.

How do you even find agents to interview? Ask for referrals from friends or colleagues in your new city. If you don’t know anyone yet, search for local realtors online and then read reviews from previous clients.

If at all possible, find an agent with relocation experience. There are particular challenges to working remotely. These can all be handled with proper communication – and someone who has worked with clients in a similar situation before is going to have worked out most of the kinks.

While many homes online these days will have virtual tours available, some still don’t. One advantage to having a local agent – you can ask them to do a “virtual” virtual tour – basically, video chatting while they walk through the home and narrate what they see.

Check on Local Laws, Customs – and Quirks When Buying a House

While the basics of buying a home are pretty much the same throughout the country, there are differences both in some laws (particularly regarding disclosure – see our State-By-State Guide To Real Estate Forms) and customs (what buyers versus sellers pay for). There are also substantial differences in the general housing stock in different areas. Some cities are filled with sturdy brick homes – which would crumble in a California earthquake. This is why you don’t see all-brick construction very often in California. You’re also not going to find a lot of Spanish stucco homes in New England. The point is, find out about your prospective new hometown! Is it prone to flooding?  Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Are there a lot of newer homes, or mostly older homes?

Learn the Local Real Estate Market When Buying a Home

All of the previous steps are part of learning the local real estate market. You need to know which areas are up-and-coming – and which may be on the decline. But of course, you also need to keep your personal needs in mind. Are good public schools a priority? Local eateries? Hiking and outdoor recreation? While all of these factors can (and should) be researched ahead of time, there’s just no substitute for going to your new city and checking it out in person. While it’s important to see a potential new home “in the flesh,” it may be even more critical to assess the neighborhood in which the home is situated. You’re unlikely to be happy in your new home if you don’t like your new neighborhood.

While there’s no guarantee that you will find the home you’re going to buy while you’re in town, your visit will undoubtedly give your agent a better idea of what you’re looking for.

While searching for a home in a strange city is going to involve a bit more work – and more money – than searching closer to home, the process is much the same. If you follow a few simple steps to buying a house far from home in order to better learn how to buy a house, you can end up in a home you’ll be happy with for years to come.