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Finding, Buying and Renting for Expats in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Finding Property

There is plenty of accommodation available in cities in the USA, and several methods you can use to find a place to live. Estate agents (‘realtors’) work almost exclusively with property purchase, while adverts in local newspapers (‘home and apartment finders’) are good sources of places to rent. Both renters and buyers can find plenty of properties on the internet. The National Association of Realtors’ website, www.realtor.com, is a good place to start. This site also gives a list of ‘international property specialists’, who may be very useful in helping you to buy property. Be aware that some other property websites may ask you register, needlessly demanding money or requesting personal details. Avoid such sites.

Many apartments for rent can be found in managed apartment blocks. Other possibilities include lodging and long-term stays at hotels.


Prices of rented accommodation are reasonable in most cities, but expensive in the more fashionable ones. Most rented accommodation is in the form of flats. Instead of renting an apartment (flat) or house, you could choose to share your accommodation with others, as this is commonly done. Estate agents’ fees tend to be higher where property is at its rarest, i.e. in places such as New York. Whether you or landlord pays the fee depends on which state you are in. Other rental expenses include contents insurance.

Tenancy agreements (‘leases’) generally run for a year, or six months, and rent is usually payable monthly. When first moving in, you will usually be required to pay a deposit of one or more month’s rent. In most states, the landlord must place the deposit in a separate bank account, and return it to you after you vacate the property within one month or less. It is also standard for you to be credit checked. As you won’t have a credit history in the US, it is worth considering finding a place to rent before you immigrate.

Once you have found a place to rent, you need to submit a lease application. This document is typically in the form of a standard State Rental Agreement. You will also need to prove that you have enough money to cover the initial outlay. Credit checks will be made on you help ensure this is the case.

Buying property

Due to the global property crisis, house prices are currently low. There are no legal restrictions to expats buying property or land, even as a second home or an investment. If you are paying cash, you don’t even have to enter the US to start the purchase process; even if you are taking out a mortgage, you will normally only need a Tourist (B-1 or B-2) visa. Expats are, however, liable to pay income tax when selling a US property.

Buying property is quite a quick process in the US. It can take as little as 30 days, and rarely takes more than 60. Most US properties are freehold, with the exception of condominiums, which are owned by a housing association. In some states, you may not need a lawyer to buy property, as the conveyancing is handled by an independent escrow company. House purchases are normally conducted using estate agents, who are involved in nearly all aspects of the purchase process.

When you make an offer to purchase, you must produce an ‘origin of funds’ statement, which proves that you potentially have enough money available to pay the full amount, normally including the mortgage amount. Note that if you are taking a mortgage out, the buyer may ask you to get your mortgage pre-approved before accepting your offer. The lender will probably require you to take out hazard insurance, and possibly other types too. You also need to pay the deposit (‘earnest money deposit’) into an escrow account at this time.

Next, you will need to have the property surveyed (‘inspected’), and if the property does not contain any defects, you are ready to agree on the purchase. At this point, your deposit becomes non-refundable and if you are paying with a mortgage, you will need to complete your application now. The lender then has the property appraised, and, if it is satisfied with the property’s value, it will approve the loan.

You will then need to sign documents that make the purchase official in the presence of a notary public. Then the monies are transferred and the vendor gives you a grant deed, which, when officially recorded at the County Clerk Recorder’s Office, officially gives you ownership of the property.



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