As a relocation specialist, I am always up to the task of previewing homes for my out-of-town clients. But usually they come to town at some point to see homes in person, and make a decision. Imagine my surprise when a new client last fall informed me that he would NOT be coming to Columbus, OH to finalize his search for a new home. So I got to pick out his new home. Not a problem. I wish I got to pick out all my clients homes - it might save us all lots of time. "NO, you don't want that house -- I don't like that street--too close to a busy highway..." or "You really won't like living next to those train tracks..."
To complicate matters, he had a very low price point to work with--roughly 30% of the median price in our metro market! We found a place -- a solid little home with good mechanicals, on a quiet street. We benefited from the former buyer bailing out at the last minute, and a seller anxious to move on. He closed successfully, and made arrangements to move to Central Ohio.
Now this is not my recommended method to shop for homes. In person is best. BUT, you CAN shop remotely. I employed this method when helping my father-in-law shop for Florida homes from our home in Central Ohio. He did have an agent in Florida, sending listings, but we used this method to weed out areas that might not be best, especially since he was going to be a "snow bird" (come back up north in the warmer months).
Its great when the listing agent provides 20 or more photos, but listing photos don't always tell the whole story. It's their job to market the home, not disclose its locational deficiencies.
Here is how you search for Central Ohio homes before you relocate:
1) Go to maps.bing.com. Type in the address in question. (When I send clients listings that they might be interested in, the property address will be highlighted, and when clicked, will open a new window, with the Bing map). Clicking on the "Birds Eye" option above the map will bring up an "fly over" aerial view of the property.
There are 2 views, a wider birds eye view, and a close up view. The close up view is good to see what kind of property it is (size of the backyard, orientation to the street and neighboring properties), like below:
2) Once you have explored the aerial view of the home, its a good idea to "back out" and get the more wide angle Bird's Eye view. This view is where you can identify potential neighborhood or area issues (landfills, commercial or industrial properties, train tracks, or in this case, major highways):
3) Once you like the appearance of the property from the air, its time to see what it might feel like to drive through the neighborhood, as well as what types of businesses are in the area. We used this method to rule out quite a few properties when assisting my father in law with his Florida house hunt.
For this next part of the home search, we will switch to Google Maps. Google has the ever-useful "Street View" that offers a virtual "drive by" view of many streets in populous metropolitan areas, including Columbus and much of Central Ohio.
For the first example, I'll use the former home of my sister-in-law, located just off Lane Avenue, in the desirable area of Upper Arlington, OH.
4) Plug the property address at maps.google.com. On the street map that Google delivers, you'll see many local businesses that Google places on the map for you. For this location, I already am learning some things about this area: I see a couple of coffe shops, restaurants, a toy store, a French pastry shop--I like this area already...
5) Locate the "Google Man" on the upper left area of the map, and drag him to the street on which you want your "virtual drive by". For this house, I would drag him to the house location, to see the house and the neighborhood.
6) Then I would proceed to "virtually" drive down the street, towards the retail establishments on the main roads (these are in yellow). If the main streets are taking too long, you can pick up your "Google Man", and drag him to the main thoroughfare.
7) Once on the main street (Lane Avenue) we can get a virtual view of the businesses. From the types of shops located here, we can surmise that this is probably an upscale area (Wolfgang Pucks, Bed Bath and Beyond, Talbots). In Street View, you can see a 360 degree view of the surroundings, by clicking and holding the left mouse button, and moving the mouse around.
Below is a Google Street view of another area, and you can contrast the business atmosphere there.
For someone relocating to Central Ohio from outside the area, this method can be a helpful tool in understanding the area immediately surrounding the neighborhood.
It should be noted that I am not necessarily advocating completely ruling out a neighborhood if there is not a Starbucks and Abercrombie and Fitch right around the corner. But a high number of boarded up storefronts can be an indicator of the financial health of the community, which can be a consideration for families relocating to a new area.