Apartment Therapy

I Bought My Arkansas Home Sight Unseen While Living Abroad — and It Was the Best Decision I Ever Made


I was sitting in a rented apartment in Tallin, Estonia, when I first saw what would become my very own house. I had a glass of wine in one hand, and my iPhone in the other on a three-way video call with my husband (who was tuned in from Souda Bay, Greece) and our realtor — whom we’d never met in person — in Little Rock, Arkansas. My husband was on a mission for his job with the Air Force and I was on assignment for my job as a travel writer, and we were about to make the biggest decision of our lives: buying our first home, sight unseen

Without ever stepping foot in the place — or leaving Europe, for that matter — we put an offer on the home that night in 2017 and, weeks later, finalized the paperwork from our empty home in Germany. My husband’s military orders were taking us from Germany to Arkansas, and, instead of living for months in temporary quarters while we tried to figure out a living situation, we decided to enlist the help of a pro and buy our first house without seeing it in person… and it was the best decision we could have made.https://b9712de920e25b9acc9a7d50abda0472.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Shopping for a home from out of state is not easy (or even ideal in most scenarios), which is why we enlisted a realtor who specialized in selling homes to out-of-state homebuyers. Angela Sain, a North Little Rock realtor, had sold more than 20 homes sight unseen and had come highly recommended from friends of ours in similar situations. Without her help, our story could have had a much different ending, but thankfully there were no surprises when we stepped inside that first time, and we fell in love with our new home at first sight. 

Buying a home from out of state? Here are a few tips from Sain, who works with Crye-Leike Realtors, for ensuring your homebuying experience is a positive one.

Research the neighborhood. 

If you can’t drive the streets of your prospective neighborhood, do a little recon online by checking out neighborhood sites like Area Vibes or Neighborhood Scoutto get an overview. Read the local paper or magazines online to get a feel for what matters to your new community, and have your realtor give you an honest rundown of the neighborhoods you’re interested in. If you have friends or family in the area, enlist their help to drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day and report back on what they noticed. 

Check up on your realtor.

“Check out your agent as thoroughly as possible,” Sain says. “The ‘top producer’ or ‘top listing agent’ in an area is not always to your advantage. If they are the ‘top,’ they are probably very busy and will be less likely to provide you with the one-on-one attention you need to make an educated purchase. The agent has to be your eyes and ears. Find an agent who understands your situation and is willing to put the extra effort in helping you find a home.” https://b9712de920e25b9acc9a7d50abda0472.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Hire an agent you trust.

This is the biggest hurdle. What you don’t want is an agent who is only out to show the homes that provide them with a higher commission. It’s best to find an agent who has worked with out-of-state homebuyers before, but most importantly, you’re looking for an agent who can communicate clearly and often and is willing to go the extra mile. “A realtor’s primary function is to provide service,” Sain emphasizes, “to make the buying and selling processes smooth and simple. There is plenty of info available these days for homebuyers, and a realtor is not a requirement. So, if we realtors don’t provide service, we don’t deserve your business.” 

Take a virtual walkthrough… or three.

Have the agent video chat with you while they’re at the home. Don’t just have them look at the rooms; have them open closets, drawers, appliances, and storage areas. Make sure the agent walks through the yard, along the fence, and describes (or shows) the neighbors and their yards. During the virtual walkthrough, ask the realtor to describe what the home smells like, if they notice pet odors or must, and if they think the home needs a deep cleaning. All those things don’t come across in video or in pictures, but your realtor will be your nose, eyes, and ears. “It’s a good idea to view the area after 5 p.m. and on weekends to see what goes on in the neighborhood after hours,” Sain advises.

Ask too many questions.

Your agent should provide as much knowledge of the home as possible, but feel free to ask as many questions as you want, and then some. Find out how long the home has been on the market, how many previous owners the home had, how many other active listings are in the area, the recent sale statistics for the area, the amount the home sold for previously, the improvements the current owner made themselves, if the home was listed or sold by your agent in the past, if the home is the smallest or the biggest in the subdivision, and more. I learned that knowledge is your biggest strength during this virtual process. Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert is a freelance travel journalist with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, Esquire, Fodor’s Travel, and more. Kristy has traveled to 84 countries on seven continents, but her biggest adventure has been her recent journey into the world of parenting. Pick up a copy of her latest book, Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids, wherever books are sold.