It's a bit nerve-wracking, I can tell you that. In about a month, my husband and I will be moving into an apartment in Germany that we've only seen via a 10-minute Skype tour during which the previous tenant carried around his laptop, and I attempted to extrapolate the dimensions of the place by comparing them to the three-year-old who was running around in the background. If that kid is short for his age, I'm in for a bit of a headache.
But in spite of the panic (I've purchased legs for a couch I don't own, in case I can't find couch legs in Germany), there are some things that can be done to make the transition a little easier. Here's some of what we were able to take care of:
Neighborhood: Internet research let us compare different neighborhoods in the area, as well as nearby cities we might want to consider. Do you want to live in a woody suburb, or a fashionable nightclub area? There were many areas that might have worked, but the Old Town area appeared to be the best by far, if we could find a place we could afford. When a former grad school acquaintance informed us of a good deal in that area with an English-speaking landlord and no broker fees, we were inclined to jump on it.
Distance to work: Google Maps is the best. Thanks to them, I know that our new apartment is exactly a block and a half from my husband's office.
Make a local friend: I didn't know anybody who lives in Germany, but thanks to the Internet, it's not hard to make new friends these days. If you participate in a large Internet forum for nearly any interest or hobby, you might be able to find someone in the area to which you'll be moving. A mutual love of Minecraft helped me find some helpful people in the area who could tell me if the rent was good for the neighborhood (it was), and what local laws are like regarding renters' rights (pretty darn great).
Enlist the employer: When moving for a job, the person hiring you is probably pretty excited about bringing you out. See if your contact person or friendly HR rep can help you out in any way, especially if the lease is not in English.
Find your nearest Ikea: You might not wind up buying anything at Ikea, but it's a great stress relief to know that there's one nearby, just in case. No matter where you are in the world, an Expedit is an Expedit. Whatever weird layout you wind up dealing with, or how little you speak the language, if there's an Ikea nearby, you know you'll be able to find something.
Daydream: I find myself daydreaming constantly about bookshelves and closets and curtains, and that's just great. Letting your imagination run wild helps replace nerves with excitement. But let your plans stay daydreams until you're actually in the the place; there's no point in buying curtains until you're sure how many windows there are.
Have you or would you rent an apartment sight-unseen? Tell us your stories and share your advice in the comments.