Before seriously looking at individual Florida properties, engage a conveyancing lawyer, a building surveyor and a specialist currency firm, such as Smart Currency Exchange. You will need an NIE (identity) number, a US bank account and to have your financing in place or at least agreed in principle.
You need to be aware of the costs of buying a property in Florida and the running costs of owning it. America’s a comparatively safe place to buy property and is probably more akin with buying back home in the UK than in some of the emerging Eastern European markets. Nonetheless, do not be seduced by the sun and exotic cocktails in hot spots (literally) like Florida. Doing your homework before you buy applies to the USA, like anywhere else.
First, find a state approved wellqualified and licensed real estate agent (Realtor). Realtor is a trademark of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and only qualified members may use the word. In America, there are agents who represent the seller and agents who represent the buyer. You want a buyer’s realtor with a good deal of knowledge and experience of dealing with British purchasers. Ask the realtor if he knows about the rentals market if you plan to let out your new home (an agent handling mainly American owner/occupiers will not have this level of expertise).
Do not fall into the hands of a seller’s agent. Traditionally, the buyer doesn’t pay anything to an agent, but the seller does. The commission is split between the seller’s and buyer’s agents, but if you sign up with a seller’s agent by mistake, he will try to hold onto all the commission without giving you the buying advice you require.
Every country has good quality online “portals” listing all or most of the properties in an area. Two of America’s biggest are Zillow and Trulia, but agents also use the Multiple Listing System (MLS), which is available to all realtors, listing virtually every property on one large central database, by price, location and other criteria.
Think about the sort of property you want to buy and how easy it will be to sell on. You might be keen to own a home in a quiet development not close to shops or a good school. This might suit you as a holiday homeowner, but when it comes to re-selling, it is unlikely to appeal to American families who want such amenities on their doorstep.
Ideally, your home should appeal to as wide a market as possible. Equally, it you want to let out your property, keep in mind Americans and Britons have different tastes – Americans favour apartments or condominiums, while the British prefer houses. Make sure you purchase the right sort of property for the main lettings market.
Once you have found a property, the buyer and seller will both sign a contract that sets out the conditions of the sale. This should include property title checks and inspections. Remember, that typically a house survey in America isn’t as rigorous as one carried out by a chartered surveyor in Britain. You might have little recourse if a boiler breaks down, for instance, which you believe the surveyor should have informed you about. In some instances, it might be worth paying extra for a more detailed survey.
A 10 per cent deposit is paid when contracts are signed. It is general practice for the purchaser to buy the property in the state it is in and you cannot complain about any defects once the deal is closed. So, it’s important you check for any flaws or defects before the contract is finalized, and definitely before the final closing date on the transaction. The buyer will lose the deposit if he backs out of the deal, unless the property fails to meet the conditions of sale in the contract.
In the US, the closing date is established when both parties sign the contract. This is the time when all the duties and obligations under the contract are satisfied. This includes the obligation of the vendor to make sure the title to the piece of real estate is ‘clean.’ Also, the buyer has to get all his financing in order. Generally, the closing date is 30 days from the signing of the contract. However, this can vary, and both parties must agree the final closing date.
The buyer and seller appoint a settlement company to complete the transaction. The buyer pays the balance owing and both parties sign all the final documents. A buyer would be wise to take out title insurance before the closing date, which will protect him should a situation crop up where the title to the underlying real estate ends up being ‘clouded’. A clouded title is one where another person or entity ends up having an interest in the Mistakes can occur and liens held against the property, so it is sensible to protect yourself against any expenses or loss you could experience if there is a problem with the title.
The transfer of ownership is registered with the local authority after completion. Generally, the local authority assesses property taxes on your purchase. This property tax (about 1-1.5 per cent of the purchase price annually) is included in the closing costs.
If you are buying on a development, add in homeowner association dues. Americans do not always use a solicitor (or lawyer) when buying a house, but it is recommended you hire someone to oversee the paperwork and represent your interests. For the sake of a few hundred pounds, it will give you peace of mind. You might even give your solicitor power of attorney to act on your behalf and speed up the process, particularly if you are thousands of miles away in the UK.