Buying property overseas
5 Tips Home Edition: It's not out of reach. We'll help you figure out how to make buying a home abroad a reality.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Ever dream about buying a little place in the rolling hills of Ireland? Perhaps you're drawn to living in Tuscany or wandering the snaggleways of London.
Buying property abroad isn't out of reach. Five Tips is here to tell you what you need to know before buying a home in a foreign country.
1. Get the big picture
Buying property in a foreign country is no small task. But more and more Americans are finding benefits to moving abroad. Today there are four million citizens living outside the country.
Who can argue with buying four acres of prime land in Costa Rica for $43,000? And of course there's always the Internet to help keep you connected to your family back home.
But be warned, sometimes the grass isn't always greener across the globe. You'll need to find out the rules about foreign ownership for the country you're interested in. Some countries restrict foreign ownership altogether, like Switzerland, for example. You can find that information on the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations Web site at www.icrea.org.
You'll also want to check with the U.S. State Department about the stability and safety of the countries you may be interested in moving to. That Web site is www.travel.state.gov.
There are also some countries that prospective buyers should be cautious about. "Vietnam is an exciting new place in Asia, but it has limited property rights and it's still in its development stage," says David Michonski, a certified International Property Specialist at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy.
You should also be very cautious about Russia. It has a declining population according to Michonski, and you'll see the economy suffer because of that.
2. Call in some help
If you're thinking about buying overseas, you may want to enlist the help of a real estate broker to help you figure out unfamiliar laws and customs.
For example, if you want to buy property as a foreigner in Malaysia, you're welcome to do that. But if you decide to sell your property, you'll have to keep your money in a Malaysian bank account.
To find a real estate broker, check out the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations Web site at www.icrea.org. Of course, you'll still have to pay commissions of 4 to 6 percent.
3. Count on paying cash
To figure out what you can afford overseas, assume you can pay cash only. Financing mechanisms like mortgages aren't as sophisticated as they are in the U.S., says Michonski.
"You won't find dozens of mortgage lenders offering you a loan," he says. In many countries, such as Mexico, Greece, Spain and Eastern Europe, transferring property is historically paid for in cash.
If you can't afford to buy property without a mortgage, you'll want to check out English-speaking countries and former colonies like Singapore, Hong Kong or South Africa. But even then, you should be prepared to put down at least a 40 percent, according to Michonski. That's to allay fears that you'll get on the next plane and skip the country.
4. Check your title
When you buy property in America, you get a warranty title that states you are the owner of the property. But if you buy overseas, sometimes the distinction isn't as clear.
It depends on the country you're going to. Boundaries all over the world have shifted so it's quite possible that once you buy a property, someone who is seven generations removed from the original owner could come back and make a claim on the land. This is especially true in Eastern Europe where World War Two shifted many boundaries.
Of course, don't start to panic just yet. The burden of proof is still on the person making the claim. But you can try to assess this risk by seeking the help of a notary. They specialize in verifying legal documents. These notaries, (or Notarios) help you read the title history to see if there are any gaps in the property's history or numerous property claims.
5. Grease the wheels
While here in the States, bribing is a big no-no, in many parts of the world, it's just a normal business transaction. And it may be the only way to buy the property you want.
If you're using a real estate agent, they'll tell you how many wheels you have to grease. If you're not using a broker, you can go to the Notary's office and ask how many gifts you should distribute in order to make sure your property transaction happens quickly.
Your general gift can be $50 to $500 depending on the country, according to Michonski. In the Middle East or Asia, you may give out a dozen gifts. But in most English-speaking countries, offering a bribe isn't as common.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.