This month's theme is all about setting up a new home, which happens to coincide with my own long distance move. Unfortunately, I've had to conduct the search for a new place to live from over 800 miles away. Here's what I've been using to search for new place to call home from afar...
- Custom Maps. I was fortunate to have several very knowledgeable native-to-the-city friends help me. They created a custom Google Map for me based on their knowledge of the city and my needs. This proved extremely invaluable. If you're not fortunate enough to have such local knowledge to pull from, make your own map based on your research. Of course, pull from tried and true neighborhood sources, but don't forget to also include local crime statistics to get a good picture of safety, block by block.
Note: the newly updated Google Maps doesn't have all the customization functionality as the old Classic Google Maps yet. Here's how to create a custom map in Classic mode:
- Sign in to Google Maps.
- Click My Places at the top left panel.
- Click Create Map.
- Search Nearby. This tip came from an Apartment Therapy reader who used the Google Maps Search Nearby feature to identify points of interests, like grocery stores, for each potential new home. This is very handy when you don't have time to physically visit each place, but want to know what's close by so you can winnow out which ones are worth a closer look.
- Seek Out Non-Traditional Online Reviews. An unexpected source of valuable information about neighborhoods can be found on both Yelp and Airbnb. I used Yelp to get the skinny on local businesses near areas where I interested in living and often found not only was the business itself discussed in reviews, but the neighborhood as a whole as well. Reviews that mentioned a certain business being a "bright spot" or the "one rare place open after 6" told me perhaps the neighborhood didn't have what I was looking for. Airbnb reviews of short term rentals also revealed a lot about neighborhoods, including valuable information in regards to safety, noise, and desirability; often these neighborhood characteristics were discussed more than the specifics of the rental itself!
- Hire a Helper. If you don't have a large chunk of time to look for places or suss out their suitability, consider hiring local on-demand help. I'm not just talking about realtors here, but helpers like those available using a service like TaskRabbit. The online service allows users to submit any project and receive bids from an online community ready to get an assortment of jobs done. TaskRabbit works best when projects are well defined, so instead of requesting, "find me an apartment," try "visit these 3 places and take high resolution images," or "write a short neighborhood bio based on your local knowledge."
- Plan Your Visit Wisely. This should go without saying, but in order to make the most out of a short scouting trip before a long distance move, schedule your potential new home visits before you leave your current home. Before my big move I was only able to make one short visit (less than a week), and so I did my best to schedule as many rental visits as possible, while setting aside a little bit of time to walk around each potential new neighborhood, both during the day and at night to get a true feel for the area.
- Store Solid Records in the Cloud. Keeping track of which places you're interested in and what you liked about them can be tricky when you're running around, crossing state lines, and searching online frantically before a move. Do yourself a favor and keep a spreadsheet and/or notebook using a cloud based service (iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc) to help you keep it straight wherever you go. I kept an Evernote notebook for my new city destination, adding photos of noted and relevant spots, alongside any info I learned about the city, tagging it accordingly so I could easily find it later. I also kept a Google Drive spreadsheet with the address and info of each potential new rental, and created a little comparison matrix so I could look at it in an objective way. If you want to read about this tip in further detail, you can read the post I wrote about it here.
- Rent an Apartment Instead of a Hotel Room. Instead of staying in a hotel when you visit your new city before you relocate, consider a short term rental at an apartment in a the same potential neighborhood you're considering moving to. Better yet, if you're looking at apartment complexes, you might even be able to find an apartment for short term rent in the same building, and you can use the stay as a trial run. I did this for my upcoming move and it helped me identify the neighborhood I wanted to call home...and the complex I did not!
This list is by no means complete, and I'd love to hear about what others have done to find their new place from far away.(Image: Shutterstock)