International customers are an extremely important to the Florida real estate market. OS Florida brings years of experience with sophisticated foreign customers to bear when we represent any customer. In addition, our extensive network overseas allows us to market properties we have listed to a truly global clientele.
Several recent statistics demonstrate why non-US buyers are so important to our market.
Foreign home buyers will find the US real estate market very friendly. Indeed, the process of buying a home is not very different for international buyers. But US practices can be different from what you are used to, so it is important to understand the basic elements of real estate transactions.
Unlike in many countries, in every US city, there is a single source for nearly all residential properties for sale. When a homeowner wants to sell a house, the homeowner’s real estate agent (usually a Realtor (TM)), enter the home’s description on a massive “list” or database. A home for sale is called a “listing” and the database is called the Multiple Listing Service or “MLS”.
Realtors are required to “list” a home within 24 hours of being available for sale. Buyers can be assured that when their Realtor reviews the MLS, they have a complete view of all properties for sale.
OS Florida is one of a small group of Realtors who have negotiated with the Southwest Florida MLS for the right to allow our customers to access the MLS in real time.
Unlike the vast majority of websites and national portals, OSFlorida.com is updated every fifteen minutes, so our customers can be confident they have the most up-to-date information available anywhere, exactly the same information as a Realtor.
In some situations, a seller will engage a real estate agent to sell a home but not “list” the home on the MLS. In general, this occurs because the home is not quite ready to be sold. Such a home is called a “pocket listing.” OS Florida is part of Downing-Frye, the largest real estate company in Southwest Florida, so we are “in the loop” and in a good position to know about most pocket listings in advance of their MLS debuts. We use that advance knowledge proactively to benefit our customers. We are often able to identify “the perfect property” and close a deal before it ever reaches the market.
In the US, buyers are in a very good position because commissions are paid entirely by the seller. Commissions for the seller vary depending upon many factors, but buyers never pay.
OSFlorida specializes in assisting international buyers find “the perfect property.” We understand your special needs and work hard to help our buyers understand the local market. We can provide detailed or overview information at whatever frequency they prefer. With OS on your side, you can be assured of the highest standard of service. We work hard, we listen to you, we communicate well, and we take care of all the details, like a 5-star hotel concierge.
You do not need to be a citizen or permanent resident to purchase property in the US, but you do need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). We can help you get one. Although owning property does not necessarily require you to pay income taxes, foreign nationals need to file tax return forms annually. Please ask us for our current memo on taxes that affect real estate owners.
Foreign buyers should be prepared to present a valid foreign passport, and two or more current photo identifications such as a driver’s license when purchasing real estate or obtaining financing.
Owning property does not automatically grant immigration or visitor status, but the requirements can usually be easily met, so you can enjoy your US home. It is important that you understand immigration and visa requirements before buying your home. In some circumstances, the amount of time you may stay in the US can be limited in any particular year. We have years of experience working with immigration issues and can provide more information applicable to your particular circumstances.
We frequently work with foreign investors seeking residence or citizenship in the United States. It is sometimes possible to structure real estate and other investments to obtain long-term and permanent resident immigration status. If you would like more information, please ask us and we will be glad to help.
Many transactions involving non-US buyers do not require financing. In our market, all cash buyers can account for more than 50% of foreign buyer transactions.
Financing is available for non-US buyers, although documentation requirements can be a little more demanding than for US customers. Larger down payments, or evidence of 12 months’ financial reserves can be required, for example.
OS Florida has relationships with several public and private lenders; we can help you find a lender appropriate for you and help you develop a financing package that meets your requirements. We monitor programs available from a number of institutions, so we can provide you with a current summary of options. Please ask us, and we would be glad to assist and to put you in touch with the right lender for you.
Credit reference letters from professionals familiar with your finances in your home country are generally required for financing applications. Your accountant, attorney, banker or insurance provider should write a letter describing your financial history and circumstances. Several years of financial history should be provided. Please ask us (or one of our financing partners) what specific elements would be appropriate for your situation.
Current Visa and Passport
A current passport and a valid visa (and your timely I-94) are generally required to complete a purchase and financing; please review these documents to make sure the expiration dates are not coming soon.
Verification of Rent/Mortgage Payments at home
Proof of rent or mortgage payments are generally required for a period of at least one year before the application is made.
Proof of Employment
International buyers, just like US buyers, will be asked to verify their employment when applying for a mortgage.
Asset Qualification Evidence
Some of our clients satisfy the "financial capacity" requirements of financing by using assets, rather than an employment-based income stream. Doing so is slightly more difficult under post-2009 regulations, but it is possible to do so by appropriately structuring the assets. Several of our financing partners are particularly experienced in asset-based real estate financing; we can bring them into your transaction whenever appropriate.
As a general matter, you will need to demonstrate that you can afford to pay for your real estate purchase, based on employment, income or assets, as described above. You might also be required to show that you have funds in a liquid reserve account to cover all costs for the first and sometimes second, year. These costs include mortgage payments, insurance, Homeowners Association fees, and taxes).
It is advisable and most US lenders require borrowers to maintain homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance protects against most kinds of damage and most natural disasters. Some parts of Florida are located in areas prone to flooding and storms, for which insurance is available as well. We can recommend several excellent insurance professionals to help with obtaining appropriate insurance coverage to protect your investment.
Depending upon what your home country is, US taxes can seem exorbitant or a bargain. In general, there are three types of taxes in the US: property taxes, capital gains taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. Most foreign buyers are more affected by property taxes than any other type. Sellers might be affected by capital gains taxes. Income taxes are applicable only to the extent one earns income in the US. Sales taxes are applicable to retail purchases and range from 3% to 9% depending upon location. We have a detailed memo specifically addressing US taxes for foreign homebuyers that we would be glad to share with you. Please contact us to learn more.