How to find a home from afar (© Comstock/Getty Images)

How do you find a new home in a city in which you don't yet live?

If you're anything like Ritch Holben and Ken De Loreto, you have a specific idea of what you're looking for — and you send a lot of emails. Holben and De Loreto sent real-estate agent Ines Hegedus-Garcia 649 emails while they were hunting for a winter home in Miami in 2008.

"(They) sent very descriptive 'wants.' They showed up one weekend, I showed them a few properties and they bought one of them," Hegedus-Garcia says of the couple, who now spend half of the year at their Miami condo and the other half at their home in Massachusetts. (Bing: How to find the perfect vacation home)

Before she met her new clients, Hegedus-Garcia knew not to show them anything with diagonal tile or a cookie-cutter floor plan, that they needed a dog-friendly place and that they wanted to be close to water. These are only a few of the must-haves and don't-wants the couple outlined in their many exchanges.

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"The last thing we wanted was to fly down to Miami and see things that didn't fit," De Loreto says. "We figured the more we could describe and depict what we wanted, the more a potential Realtor could fine-tune what we might look at together."

Hunting for a house or apartment remotely is certainly tougher than finding a new place in a market you're already familiar with, but there are a few tricks that can make it a little easier.

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1. Decide whether you want to rent or buy
Before you can start hunting, you need to know what you're looking for.

If you know you're going to live in the new place for a while and are familiar with the area, you may feel comfortable finding a home to buy.

But because buying a home is such a huge decision, many people who relocate choose to rent before they buy, says real-estate agent Julie Holden of Austin, Texas.

"By renting, you can get to know your new home a little better before making a permanent decision," she says.

2. Do your research
Just because you're not there doesn't mean you can't gather as much information as possible to aid in your search. Here are a few resources you can use:

Your network. Even if you don't have a friend or family member in your new city, someone you know likely does. Ask everyone you know if they have a contact you can use while hunting for a home. This contact could recommend neighborhoods or point you in the direction of a good real-estate agent or apartment-hunting service. Offer to buy dinner for your helper once you get settled, and maybe you'll make a new friend while you're at it.

Read:  Have a kid-friendly move

The Internet. You can do a lot of research online. These sites can help you get to know a new community.

  • Community message boards: On sites such as City-data.com, you can ask about a community and get feedback from people who live there.
  • Chamber of Commerce websites: Most cities have sites that will give you information about demographics, climate and even housing options in the area.
  • Local news websites: Get a feel for what's newsworthy in the community. You may also find information about up-and-coming areas or spot trends in crime.
  • Crime data: Some police departments have online crime databases that can show which parts of a city have higher crime rates. If you can't find this information online, call the police department and ask if it can share crime data.
  • Schools: If you have children, you want to live somewhere with quality schools. Sites such as Greatschools.org can provide insight.
  • Walkability: If you're looking for a walkable community, plug potential addresses into a site such as Walk Score and see how close the nearest park, grocery store and restaurant are.
  • Apartment communities: Many larger apartment communities may have online reviews on sites such as Apartmentratings.com.
  • Check out the manager: Research apartment-management companies by checking for complaints on the local Better Business Bureau website.
  • Find an agent: Sites like Realtor.com can help you find a real-estate agent to help narrow your search. (Realtor.com is an MSN Real Estate partner.)

The phone. Online research is one thing, but sometimes you need to talk to an actual person, even if it's just over the phone. You can call and talk to a real-estate agent or apartment broker to help in your search, or call and chat with a property or apartment manager. Even on the phone, you can get a feel for how responsive a potential landlord or agent will be.

3. Get professional help
You can — and should — enlist the help of a real-estate agent in your new city, whether you're renting or buying.