How to house hunt in the USA
Planning a move across the pond? These tips can help you navigate buying property in the States
For UK citizens, buying a house in the USA can see a daunting prospect. Crossing the pond to the USA is a big move, but the large variety of homes on offer across America means there’s bound to be something for everyone. But how where do you start when contemplating a move to the States? Visas, tax laws and, potentially, higher mortgage rates all come into play for non-US residents. Consulting a full-service visa agency may be your best bet.
Which states offer the best value?
The first thing you have to decide when buying a house abroad is your maximum budget, which will limit the number of houses to choose from and narrow down the states you should be checking out. For example, West Virginia is a popular with prospective home owners due to its low prices, averaging around $70 (£59) per square foot, or around $120,000 (£101,400) for a home. If you look at California, the prices quickly rise – $450 (£380) per square foot is not unusual for this area.
Of course, price isn’t everything. Other factors include the standard of living, access to facilities, or the crime rate. A wide variety of websites offer in-depth statistics for this, both on the state level and on a more local level. Doing your research will ensure you end up in an area you’re happy with.
Buying a house as a non-resident
As a non-US resident, buying a house in the USA can involve more complex tax laws as well as higher mortgage rates. You’ll want to read up on these aspects. For example, how much of your property will be subject to taxes and how you can reduce such taxes? In general, the tax rate for property bought by foreigners is 30%. This can be lower if your country has a special treaty with the United States. But, when buying a house abroad, you may also be subject to state taxes and other charges. It makes sense to get advice from an established realtor, who is more familiar with these matters. But if you’re looking to do it all on your own, you’ll definitely want to look at the IRS Publication 515, which outlines the tax rules for non-residents looking to buy property in the USA.
How long will you be staying in the USA?
Establish early on how long you plan to stay in the USA to visit the properties you’re interested in buying. The UK is part of the USA’s Visa Waiver Program, which means UK passport holders can stay in the USA for up to 90 days without needing a visa. Instead, they can apply for an ESTA, a digital authorisation which is linked to the passport. Unlike a visa, an ESTA is applied for entirely online without needing to visit the embassy, which means the costs and approval times are much faster. An ESTA is granted within one or two days on average.
A longer visit
When buying a house in the USA, it’s likely you’ll be planning to stay longer than the permitted 90 days. You’ll need a specific visa for longer stays. Usually, this is the B-2 visitor visa, which allows you to stay in the country for up to six months per visit. However, an interview at the embassy is required to get it, and waiting times can be quite extreme. So make sure to apply well in advance if you want to stay longer than 90 days, or can’t get an ESTA for another reason.
Mortgages and insurance
Non-US residents can get a mortgage in the USA. Just be aware that foreigners usually require extra documentation to make sure their credit is in order. In the USA, some mortgages stay at the same fixed rate for the entire duration. Alternatively, there are variable rate mortgages, which can be cheaper, depending on the inflation rate. In general, mortgages are handled by banks, and they’ll often set a maximum standard of 35% debt to income ratio. In addition, you’ll of course need all the proper insurances, such as homeowners insurance and title insurance. These can differ from insurances that you are familiar with back home, so make sure to read up on them.
Find out more
e-Visa is the UK’s leading full-service visa agency. With a professional team of experienced visa specialists, e-Visa can help you acquire the right travel documents in the simplest and fastest way, even when buying a house in the USA. See e-Visa.co.uk for further information.