Shortcuts for Long-Distance House Hunting

It’s never easy to find the perfect new home so looking for one when you’re not living in the same city is even harder.

But finding a home from afar is done every day by people changing jobs, retiring or just deciding life would be better elsewhere. Here’s how to find a great property when you’re looking long distance.

Hire a local agent

A local real estate agent can be an invaluable resource for out-of-towners looking for a home. Search for an agent who knows the neighborhoods that will fit your budget and your lifestyle. She can direct your online search and create a viewing tour of several properties for you to see.

Search online

Set up an online Zillow search of your target city. You can narrow your search by home type, price, number of bedrooms and more. If you know the area where you’d like to be, you can plug in a zip code and pull up current listings and recent area sales. You’ll also be able to see:
• How a property has appreciated or depreciated over 1, 5 or 10 years
• Price and tax history
• Neighborhood details like transit scores and school ratings

When a home peaks your interest, it’s easy to “share” the home with family and friends on Zillow; just click the “envelope” icon on for-sale home pages.

Google Earth gives you a street view of the home’s exterior, yard and other houses on the block. And Yelp is a source for info about nearby businesses which can provide clues about the neighborhood. You can check neighborhood blogs to get a feel for what current residents are thinking about. Pay particular attention to comments about crime and noise.

Tap social media

Alert your hundreds of Facebook and Snapchat friends that you’re looking for a home in (fill in the blank), and ask about must-see neighborhoods. If good schools are your priority, tell your social media contacts; if a rocking nightlife is a must, mention that, too.

Note which neighborhoods are recommended again and again, and which area are repeatedly slammed. That will help you move your search forward.

Get organized

Create a spreadsheet of potential neighborhoods and properties, complete with the address, price and agent selling each property you want to see. If you have kids, make a column listing schools and their ratings. You can also note nearby amenities like parks and pools, and include the distance from your new employer.

Plan a trip

You can’t get a real feel for a neighborhood until you visit in person. Plan a long weekend to check out homes and areas you think will be a good fit. If you give your local agent enough notice, she can create a tour of prospective properties that can include homes you’ve found online.

Before you arrive for your house-hunting tour, make the non-negotiable decisions like your price range, style of home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms. But stay flexible about other home details, like flooring or cabinet style — details that can changed or added later.

Ask for help

If you’re relocating for work, your company may have a relocation specialist who can provide a list of real estate agents and suggest neighborhoods where other employees live.

If you attend a house of worship, tell your congregation that you’re moving and would welcome advice and referrals.

Opt for short-term housing

If you’re not sure you’re ready to buy, consider a short-term rental or sublet to give you time to get to know the area. Many companies even will pay for temporary housing while you look for a home. It gives you a chance to meet neighbors who know the lay of the land.