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Selling a home long distance

When a job opportunity beckoned in southern New Jersey, journalist Jennie Phipps had to leave her house in upstate New York without having sold it. The real estate market in that area had gone soft after an Air Force base and a major employer both left.

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"So I rented it for five years until a buyer came along," Phipps says.

Along the way, she learned the difficulties of managing and selling a property by remote control.

Lesson one: Work those local contacts. You need someone who can keep an eye on the place.

Phipps used a real estate agent she knew and hired a local handyman, a friend of a friend, to keep the property in shape.

"He took care of all the maintenance issues and I paid him a monthly retainer plus a fee for the occasional major repair," Phipps says. "I was lucky enough to be able to rent the place for about what my mortgage payment was."

Her second tenant decided he wanted to buy the house, but didn't have enough for the down payment. This was several years after she had moved out, so she decided to be accommodating.

"The bottom line was that nobody was lining up to buy the house and I was really sick of managing it from afar," Phipps says.

So Phipps had a lease-purchase agreement drawn up that put a portion of the rent toward a down payment. About two years later, the tenant had the down payment and the sale closed.

While Phipps found it difficult to sell her home, her story illustrates the primary advantage that most long-distance sellers have over long-distance buyers, they have connections to help them find trustworthy and reliable help to manage and sell a property in their absence.

"You have to develop a trust factor (with your real estate agent) and take it from there," says Barbara Alexander, broker-owner of Howard Hanna Premier Properties in Morgantown, W.Va.

Most likely, you will already know your agent in this scenario. If you don't, which might be the case when you're selling a house long distance because a relative is incapacitated or deceased, Alexander advises you to get recommendations from family or friends.

Then, interview the agent. "Choosing the right agent is critical," she says.

You should spell out what you'll need. Will you be renting at your destination and leaving behind your furnishings until the property is sold? (A good idea since an empty house is harder to sell.) Do you need to sell before you can buy? Do you have a friend, neighbor or someone you've hired to manage the property already or will you need the agent's advice on hiring a property manager? (Some real estate agencies manage properties, too.)

"I would want the house to be professionally cleaned prior to them leaving," Alexander says. Then, she'd take you on a walk-through to make sure things are working properly and that any furnishings are where you want them to be.

Just as you shouldn't let a car sit without running the engine, don't let the house sit without utilities just because no one is living there. It's best to have someone check in to make sure everything's OK, as well as to flush toilets, open faucets and get some air circulating every so often. Otherwise, the atmosphere in the house can become stale.

Next: "The communication is the main thing."
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