The American market at a glance
Like many other destinations at the moment, there are certainly some good deals to be had on American property and the bargain hunters amongst you will have no problem in sourcing a wise investment. As a result of a period of heavy sub-prime lending, there are plenty of bank owned properties (foreclosures) available at a more than reasonable price. Be warned though, if you were hoping for a foreclosure purchase you do need to keep your wits about you. You're essentially trying to buy someone's home when they don't want to sell and that's always going to lead to a difficult situation, regardless of the price tag.
So is now the best time to buy in America? Well, there is no crystal ball to tell us when the property market in the USA is likely to recover and because of this, borrowing on an American home may still prove to be difficult. So the advice is, if you are looking for a stateside pad, then make sure that it's because you want to enjoy your time there rather than assuming that you can also make an easy sale and a quick buck.
Popular buying locations
Without a doubt, one of the most popular states for overseas buyers is Florida. Orlando, Miami, Naples and Key West are just a few examples of the Florida hotspots which continually attract the overseas buyer. Florida offers a wealth of entertainment for all its visitors and residents - both the young and the young at heart and the Florida climate in particular, is a real influential factor.
Florida has it all, whether you are looking for a holiday home, a retirement property or a long-term investment, there truly is something for everyone. The beaches and amusement parks are world renown, appealing to families and thrill seekers and thus proving an appealing option for buy to let investors. On the other hand, the retirement villages are perfect to attract the more mature visitor.
Community living plays a huge part of Florida life with gated residential communities offering owners the security and comfort of controlled access, as well as a resort lifestyle choice with top facilities and amenities on your doorstep. Furthermore, with golf being on the agenda for many, there is a wealth of fabulous golf courses in the area. Residential golf resorts are becoming more and more popular and due to the relaxed and convenient lifestyle they represent, certainly shouldn't be dismissed by non golfers. With all this combined, it's easy to see why Florida presents a very interesting option for those looking for a buy to let option as well as those looking for a property to use themselves.
With the vast publicity forever focussed on Florida, it's important not to overlook other fabulous areas in the USA. Some of the best and most popular destinations in the world are located in America: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas to name but a few. Let's not forget Colorado with its well groomed ski resorts, or indeed Hawaii, for that picture perfect beach backdrop.
The buying process
It's important to understand some basics about the American property system before you go any further. The first major difference that you will find when buying real estate in America is that properties are listed on one of the Multiple Listing Services (MLS). As a buyer, this is great news as it means that you can view many different listings via a single real estate agent (realtor). Find the realtor that you like and stick with them. Brilliant.
Moving on, once you have found your dream property, the actual buying process is relatively straight forward. Once you have had your survey done and agreed a price, then you have committed to buying the property in that as seen condition – this means that you can't change your mind at a later date or indeed decide to withdraw a formal offer in favour of a lower offer.
Once the contract has been signed by both parties, a completion, or closing date, will be established. Usually, this is set for 30 days from the signing of the contract. Whilst in this period, it is certainly recommended to secure title insurance, this will protect you against any potential problems relating to the title of the property.
Although you don’t need a visa or residence permit in order to buy a property in America, you will need one if you are looking to move to America on a full-time basis. And that is easier said than done. Obtaining residency in America is notoriously difficult which is why so many choose to buy a property in America purely with holiday use in mind. If you are planning on staying for 90 days or less at any one time, then you don’t need to worry about obtaining a visa as long as you have an electronic passport. You should check the rules for your own country as they will vary.
If you do wish to stay for longer than 90 days you might not be surprised to hear that many people beat the system by simply nipping to another country for a short break before returning to start another 90-day stint. Whilst not illegal, this is in no way encouraged and certainly shouldn’t be something undertaken on a regular basis.
If you're looking for more than part time residence in America then you could always try your luck with the Green Card Lottery. The American government issues 50,000 green cards every year via the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program however, applicants are selected completely at random by a computer, so this isn’t exactly a foolproof method. Good luck!
Non residents are able to open a bank account in America - something that is imperative for the running of your property. Be prepared to show off many different forms of identification as well as signing a huge amount of paperwork. You will be required to pay anyone involved in the purchase, e.g mortgage broker etc using funds from your American account.
If you are looking for a mortgage in order to purchase your property, then don't panic. Despite the sub prime market it is still possible to get finance on an American property, albeit with a fairly hefty deposit of at least 20%. You will also need to prove your employment for the past two years as well as verify any assets that you have declared as collateral.
This does mean that for many, it becomes more cost efficient and hassle free to raise finance from your home country in order to buy in America.
Fees and taxes
As a rule of thumb, purchasing costs in America vary from anything from a very welcoming two per cent, up to a higher seven per cent. It goes without saying that you should of course budget for the higher figure - anything less and it's a bonus!
Associated fees and purchase costs can include processing fees, lender fees, title closing costs, flood certification, recording fees, mortgage broker fees, survey fees, stamp duty, lawyers fees and home insurance – all in addition to your deposit.
If you are buying an apartment, or condo, then you should also be prepared for the service charges. These charges are paid on either a monthly, quarterly or annual basis and cover the upkeep and maintenance of all communal areas, gardens, swimming pool etc. Of course the more facilities, the higher the bill.
There is also a "Special Tax" applied to new build properties. This basically contributes towards things like the new roads and drainage systems required. The developer will pay a proportion of the charge with the rest being the responsibility of the owners to pay over time. This is a bit of a double edge sword as the arrangement can work well when the development boasts full occupancy, but beware of it in a ghost town where the same bill is divided by far fewer people.
Another cost to consider is that in America, it is also quite common to pay installation fees for your utilities such as telephone or cable television.
New-build or resale?
Like most places in the world, there are some good deals to be had from developers who started a project before the credit crunch hit and are now in a position whereby they just need to shift their stock. Inevitably, this means that there are some good bargains to be had although of course, you need to be sure that you aren't purchasing purely on the basis of the price.
The nature of the real estate market in America means that even resale homes are unlikely to be very old, meaning that you may get a similar home on the second-hand market for a similar price. Of course, you will sacrifice the guarantees that a new build offers although often these are compensated by better locations, established neighbourhoods etc.
Be wary of incentives offered to you. It's not uncommon for developers in American to throw in complimentary tickets to Disney World and other amusement parks to secure a deal. Don't let these be an influential factor, there are far more important reasons to base a house sale upon. Mickey Mouse can wait.
Real Estate Investment potential in America
As with anywhere, buying a home in America can present a bit of a gamble. However, you can minimise your exposure by sticking to popular areas. Tourist hotspots such as Orlando and Las Vegas are seemingly destined to forever be a tourist destination so assuming that you buy sensibly, then there is a good chance that you will be able to resell for a profit further down the line.
If you are looking for a buy to let option, you must ensure that your property falls within a rental zone. Many homes cannot be let if they are situated in the wrong zone.
The distance between your permanent home and America is also worth taking into consideration. For many overseas buyers it would be beneficial to use the services of a reputable maintenance firm and cleaning company to handle all of your change overs and ongoing maintenance. Don't forget to calculate for these additional costs.
Healthcare in America
To enter America, no vaccinations are required. Furthermore, the medical facilities are some of the best in the world. However, health care can be extortionate. There is no free health care service so whether you simply visit a GP or need major surgery, it must be paid for in full. Needless to say, comprehensive health insurance is an absolute must. In many cases, you won't be treated unless you pay up front. The same applies to dental care, so ensure that this is covered by your insurance.
Getting to America is very easy, with a wide range of direct flights available to major international airports and a huge network of connecting flights.
Unless you are staying in New York - where the subway will be your best bet - it's wise to hire a car. We're talking about a large country and a lot of America is spread out and car dependent. The distances from one city to another may provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely road trip, but can be pretty frustrating if you are in a hurry.
In general, all of the roads are good, but do advise your car rental company if you are planning on covering any large distances. You should also be aware that aware that traffic laws can vary slightly from state to state and you should check the requirements for an International Driver's Permit before you go.
America is a large, diverse country that really does have plenty to offer the overseas buyer. However, research is imperative in order to decide which exact location best suits your needs.
The sheer size of America means that not only can the time getting there vary by up to four hours, but the climate and even the time zone can vary dramatically depending on where you are heading. Of course so much variations also leads to a huge difference in the local culture from state to state. It can almost be comparable to buying in a different country when you cross the borders from one state to the next.
As a parting tip, it is essential that you buy any property in America with your eyes wide open - there is absolutely no predicting the recovery of the real estate and economic market. Capital appreciation may come bouncing back within the next five years but likewise, it could also remain down in the basement for the foreseeable future and beyond. So with that said, your property in America should be the right one to suit your needs - rather than being a financial gamble that you can’t afford to lose.
Where to find out more
Homeadverts has partnered with Buy Association in order to be able to present these fabulous country guides. Check out Buy Association for more impartial, expert, information on buying in America.
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