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Expat Exchange - How to Buy a Home in the United States
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How to Buy a Home in the United States

By Betsy Burlingame

AGS Worldwide Movers
AGS Worldwide Movers

Summary: The one tip that you hear expats living in the United States repeatedly sharing with newcomers is not to buy a home when you first move to the United States. Rent for a few months or longer so that you have time to find the right neighborhood. Give yourself time to ensure that the United States is right for you for the long term. If you've already taken time to do those things and are ready to take the plunge and become a property owner, here are tips about buying a home in the United States.

Buying a home in the United States can be a complex process, especially for expats who are unfamiliar with the country's real estate market and regulations. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the key aspects of buying a home in the U.S., from finding properties for sale to understanding the legal requirements and potential pitfalls. Whether you're planning to relocate permanently or invest in a vacation home, this guide will help you navigate the U.S. real estate market with confidence.

How do I find houses for sale in the United States?

The United States has a well-developed real estate market with numerous online platforms where you can find properties for sale. Websites like Zillow, Realtor.com, and Trulia provide comprehensive listings across the country. You can also engage a real estate agent who can help you find properties that match your preferences and budget. Local newspapers and real estate magazines are also good sources of property listings.

Are there restrictions on foreigners owning property in the United States?

Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in the U.S. However, some states have laws that require foreign buyers to disclose their immigration status or have a U.S. bank account. It's also important to note that while buying property does not grant you residency or citizenship, it may qualify you for a non-immigrant visa. Always consult with a real estate attorney or professional to understand the specific laws in the state where you plan to buy.

Does the United States have an MLS type system?

Yes, the United States uses a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system. This is a database established by cooperating real estate brokers to provide data about properties for sale. An MLS can help you find a wide range of properties and get detailed information about them. However, access to MLS is usually limited to licensed real estate professionals.

Do brokers have licenses and how do I know if they are licensed?

All real estate brokers in the U.S. are required to be licensed by the state where they operate. You can verify a broker's license through the state's real estate commission website. It's important to work with a licensed broker to ensure that you're getting accurate and ethical advice.

What documents are required when buying a home?

When buying a home in the U.S., you'll need to provide several documents. These include proof of identity (such as a passport), proof of funds, bank statements, and a letter from your bank or mortgage lender stating that you're pre-approved for a loan. If you're buying with a mortgage, you'll also need a good faith estimate, which outlines the costs of the loan.

Do I need a lawyer when buying a home in the United States?

While it's not mandatory to have a lawyer when buying a home in the U.S., it's highly recommended, especially for expats. A real estate attorney can help you understand the legal aspects of the purchase, review contracts, and handle the closing process. The cost of a lawyer can vary, but it's typically around 1% of the purchase price.

Do people typically buy a property with all cash or take out a mortgage?

Both options are common in the U.S. Some buyers prefer to pay in cash, especially if they're buying a lower-priced property or if they want to close the deal quickly. However, most people take out a mortgage, which allows them to spread the cost of the property over a number of years. As a foreigner, getting a mortgage can be more challenging, but it's not impossible.

Are there inspections that take place, and if so what is that process like?

Yes, home inspections are a standard part of the home buying process in the U.S. An inspection is conducted by a professional who checks the property's condition and identifies any potential issues, such as structural problems or faulty systems. The buyer typically pays for the inspection, which can cost several hundred dollars.

What are some of the pitfalls to avoid when buying property in the United States?

One common pitfall is not fully understanding the local real estate market. Prices and demand can vary greatly from one area to another, so it's important to do your research. Another pitfall is not budgeting for all the costs associated with buying a home, such as closing costs, property taxes, and maintenance expenses. Finally, be sure to have a clear understanding of U.S. property laws and regulations to avoid legal issues down the line.

Expats Talk about Real Estate in United States

"Check on commuting times via train and car if need to travel to NYC. Ask about transience of population. Discover the variety of family/children's activities available in your town of choice. Towns have recreation web sites. See free magazines for details," said one expat living in Morristown.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


AGS Worldwide Movers
AGS Worldwide Movers

AGS Worldwide Movers
AGS Worldwide Movers

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SJB Global
SJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
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SJB GlobalSJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
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