Miles Away

Miles Away

How I Bought a Home Using the from_our_columnistsInternet

By Kara Stefan

kara_stefanTrying to buy a house 2,000 miles away during the school year and within the first year of starting my own business was probably ill advised. But what the heck. Sometimes the best time to take on a challenge is when your life is already in disarray; that way disappointments don’t rock your world quite so much.

Scouting on the Web
Thank goodness for the Internet. I can’t imagine trying to research homes and areas without it–what did people do before the digital revolution? After some initial online scouting, I settled on Virginia based on our minimum criteria:

  • Location in the South
  • Near the ocean
  • Snow in winter
  • No extreme temperatures
  • Large backyard
  • An older home with charm

It’s easy to research areas on the Web. The Yahoo! Search engine allows you to investigate every metropolitan area, city, or town across the United States ( This exploration helped me learn about weather, crime rates, housing prices, schools, recreation, and local attractions.

Home Search
I discovered an area I liked called Hampton Roads–a collection of cities and small towns in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk corner of the state, bordered by the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay.

Next I started browsing for houses, trying to get a sense of neighborhoods. I found the easiest way to conduct a home search was to go to and pick my state. is one of the largest multiple listing services (MLS) on the Web, with tons of houses for sale in just about every locale imaginable.

I received a selection of home descriptions and photos based on basic criteria, such as:

  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Family room
  • Fenced yard
  • Newer or older home
  • Central air
  • Carpet and/or hardwood floors
  • Pool
  • Waterfront property

I found my realtor by sending e-mails to the listing agents for homes I liked. You’d be surprised how well this didn’t work. Apparently few agents view clients 2,000 miles away as high percentage sales. But there was one tenacious agent who called and sent me information by mail.

Our First Visit
We made our first visit to the area during my son’s Christmas vacation. We didn’t actually look at houses, just canvassed various neighborhoods where I had seen houses I’d liked on the Internet. As it turned out, many of the older homes were either in run down neighborhoods or in revitalized neighborhoods adjacent to run down neighborhoods. And they all had one thing in common: Terrible public schools.

I checked public school testing scores nationwide at Also, many K-12 schools–both public and private–have their own Web sites, which you can find under the Yahoo! Regional or Education search engine.

Decision Time
My agent suggested a small, historical town about an hour west of Virginia Beach. I checked it out on the Internet and fell in love with the older Victorian style homes. We planned to concentrate our Spring Break visit there, and I made reservations at one of the charming Bed & Breakfast inns I also found on the Internet.

Located in a rural area, public school scores were disappointing. But I was able to dig up two private schools on the Web and one more from the innkeeper, so I scheduled interviews for the week we were there.

Miraculously–or probably due to all of the research I had conducted–we were able to decide on the town, the school, and even make an offer on a house all in one week’s time. I relied on my agent to handle most of the details, from finding a mortgage broker, to negotiating the offer, to giving her limited power of attorney for the closing a month later.

Shortly after we closed, Money magazine published its best places to live in America that year: Number one on the list was Norfolk/Hampton Roads, VA. It just goes to show you that one online surfer can fare just as well as an entire staff of investigative reporters.

Internet Tips for Home Buying:

  • Do as much research as possible before visiting areas.
  • Stay flexible in your criteria.
  • E-mail locals and innkeepers who have Web pages for the inside scoop.
  • Read local newspapers online.