It wasn’t so long ago that people rarely moved far from their homes. Folks in America and around the world tended to grow up in one town, get their first job nearby, meet their future spouse in the area, and raise their kids there, too. When people did move, they moved to the closest big city or from the big city out to the suburbs. Cross-country trips were rare, as were moves outside the country – for the most part, only people that really needed to would make such drastic moves. The United States was populated immigrants with few other good options, and the West was built by fortune-seekers who headed out in covered wagons, but once these people settled down, their families often stayed in the same spot for generations.
Now, moving long distances is more common than ever. Kids go further to attend college, and adults move from coast to coast as new job opportunities arrive. With the new norm comes new challenges, though. It’s easy enough to find a new home across town, but how are you supposed to find a decent place to live when you’re hundreds of miles away from your destination?
The ideal option: go take a look
In a perfect world, you’d be able to check out potential new homes in the same way people always have: by touring them.
That’s not so easy when you’re looking for a home in Austin but live in New York City. But you may have options even if you don’t have a ton of wealth or vacation days. If you’re moving for work, for instance, your employer may be able to subsidize some of your moving expenses. And a quick trip doesn’t have to be super-expensive. Look for cheap flights on websites that let you compare different airlines. You may not have to rent a car – take a car service from the airport and then have your realtor drive you around. And with options like AirBNB, it’s easier than ever to stay in a region cheaply.
It’s not always possible to go look for new homes in person. But that’s okay, because there are a ton of new ways to tour potential homes online. If you’re looking for a condo or apartment, check out FindOurPad or one of the many similar sites that offer you a look at different housing options.
A good home-hunting tool will give you plenty of information about the location and amenities in an apartment or condo. You should be able to see the place on a map, and you will want there to be decent photos of the place, too. If you track down one that looks good, don’t be afraid to ask the landlord for more photos. Perhaps you can convince him or her to use a service like Skype to give you a virtual tour. It’s a great substitute for seeing the place in person.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with signing a lease for a place you’ve never stepped foot in, as long as you’ve seen it! Get enough information to be comfortable, and then make your call.
Combine the two
And online-only plan works well for renters, because the risks are fairly low. You’re very unlikely to have a bad experience if you do your homework and take a virtual tour, but if something does go wrong, you’re only on the hook for the length of your lease. When you’re buying a home, however, your potential costs skyrocket – and you should be much more careful.
But traveling dozens of times to your future city to look at lots of homes will cost you plenty, too. So what can you do? Simple: combine the two.
Just as there are websites dedicated to helping you find condos and apartments, there are some focused on houses for sale (some websites handle all three). You probably won’t want to make a purchase based on the information on these sites, but you can narrow down your list drastically. In the past, most people bought houses by leafing through real estate catalogs and then visiting a bunch of appealing options. Now, you’re better off with a three-step process: look for appealing options (online, in this case, instead of in a real estate publication); ask for a virtual tour, as you would with the apartments in the last section; and then visit the property.
Adding the middle step will narrow down your options. You don’t need to fly from coast to coast to know that you hate that granite countertop, so decide that ahead of time and dedicate your in-person tour to more specific things – measuring spaces, looking for small details that don’t show up on Skype, etc.
You won’t always be able to completely avoid the traditional home-searching experience, and you won’t always want to. But thanks to modern technology, it has never been easier to find a new home hundreds or thousands of miles from your current one.