A: The best way to look for a house when you are far away is to work with a good real estate agent in the town who understands your wants, needs, motivations and specific parameters (including price range, location and elimination issues).
You can certainly view properties on your phone once they become available, but you’ll need someone you can trust who can go to the property and tell you whether the property is a possibility or is worth the trouble of making a bid sight unseen.
Real estate technology companies have built many interesting options when it comes to experiencing a home online. You can see dozens of photos, a blueprint-like layout, videos, virtual tours and even 3-D tours. You can even use Google Street View to get a sense of what the street looks like and what the other homes in the neighborhood look like.
Even if you have an agent you trust, it’s helpful to have someone else you trust (perhaps a friend or relative who lives close to your neighborhood of choice) who can give you a different opinion of the property. If that isn’t an option, then make sure the agent is someone who can give you an unbiased view of the good, bad and ugly about a prospective property.
It sounds like you’ve seen a number of properties in the area — or maybe the market is so hot that the four-hour drive has prohibited you from seeing properties in person. If that’s the case, spend a weekend in the area and use it to tour neighborhoods and compare even the exteriors of homes that were for sale (that your agent has, hopefully, seen) so you can learn what true value looks like in your neighborhoods of choice.
Once you’ve done this, your agent will have a better idea of what you’re looking for and how they can help you achieve your goal of buying in that neighborhood.
The next step is being comfortable enough with neighborhoods, housing stock and your real estate agent to bid on a home sight unseen. There are some buyer contracts that would allow you to bid on a home with the condition that you must approve the home once you see it. At least that gives you an out if the home fails to meet your minimum expectations.
Between the research you do online and in the actual neighborhood and working with a good real estate broker or agent, you may eventually make an offer and close on the right home without racking up the miles on your car. Good luck.