Due to the dramatic changes in financing rules, getting pre-approved for a loan should probably be your first step - this ensures that you don't spin your wheels looking at homes and come to find out you can't get a loan for it.
Using an agent with local experience is important - you want someone who is detailed and honest and comfortable working with people from out of town.
Interviewing a couple agents would be beneficial - each agent, even in the same brokerage, offers dramatically different skills and experience.
Good luck to you!
Shane Milne | Loan Officer in Orange County, CA | NMLS #81195
Direct local #'s: 949-273-4161 or 646-257-4842
Lending in all 50 states, all types of mortgages
Decide on the areas you would liketo be in and come up with a wish list of what you would like in the property, and how you are going to use the property (rental, main living space, etc).
Interview at least three agents who know the areas you would like to be in and around. Generally, you would look for key items - an agent who you are comfortable with, someone who works with out of state buyers, and someone who will preview properties with an experience eye.
Once you have a few properties in mind, visit the properties. Once you choose, the agent will coordinate all the details with the title and mortgage companies. Papers generally can be signed wherever you live.
Long Beach is a beautiful area and I think you will find MN just as comfortable and well worth your time and investment.
The process of buying a seasonal home while living in another state will be very similar to buying a primary residence, only from a distance. Fortunately technology is on your side. Look for a realtor that uses things like electronic signatures to make things go much smoother rather than the old way of faxing documents back and forth.
Let me know if I can be of assistance.
Lastly, make a visit and view some property...make sure the Realtor is staying with your program and showing you houses you are really interested in.
Enjoy the experience and good luck.