How to Conduct a Long-Distance Home Search

House or apartment hunting from afar? Try these strategies.

A happy couple sitting on their couch working on their laptop
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A few years ago, when Obed Diener, 36, and his family moved from the West Bank back to Washington, D.C., Diener recruited his brother, Brian Diener, 35, who lived a few hours away, to spend a weekend looking at properties they prescreened online.

"We had put together a checklist for Brian of the features that were priorities for us," Obed Diener says. "At the time we moved, we had a 2-year-old and 3-month-old, so for us, child safety was important. We had notes for him to look for the handrails on the stairs and if there's a deck, make sure there's a railing." After each property viewing, Brian Diener would call his brother via Skype to discuss his impressions.

The rental home Brian Diener chose for them ended up meeting all their criteria – and interestingly, was shown by a neighbor because the owner also lived abroad. "We were really fortunate to have someone like Brian … We felt like he really nailed the kind of things we were looking for," Obed Diener says. "I just think the more specific you can be with whoever's doing that, the less you're leaving it to chance."

[Read: How to Sell Your Home Without an Agent.]

Consider short-term housing. Instead of immediately buying a new house or signing a 12-month lease, consider a short-term rental or sublet to buy yourself extra time for scouting neighborhoods and buildings. Obed Diener and his family bought a house a year after moving to Washington, D.C. Mauney found another apartment in the East Village after his sublet ended and says subletting first gave him time to explore the neighborhood before signing a lease.

Comer recommends renting for at least six months before buying in a new area. "It's really easy to get stressed out," Comer says. "Stay calm, because even if you don't find it that first time, you can rent and continue your search."