Whether it’s a second home somewhere sunny or you’re relocating to start a brand new life in foreign climes, there’s a lot to think about when you’re buying property abroad. Here’s some advice.
Imagine having your own private pad in one of your favourite parts of the world; yours to escape to whenever you wish. That’s a pretty special feeling - and something many travel-lovers spend their lives dreaming about. Or perhaps you’re keen to start a new adventure and want to relocate abroad to begin a new life.
Either way, it’s exciting!
But let’s try to stay level-headed for the next few hundred words. Because there are some important considerations when it comes to buying a foreign abode. It’s not the kind of purchase you want to get wrong. What you are about to read is a summary of the guidance offered by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for buying property abroad. You can read their advice in full here.
Decide what you’re looking for
It’s a big world out there. Finding your perfect pad can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Knowing what you’re looking for makes the search far easier. Is your heart set on a balcony where you can relax with a nice glass of wine? Is the lack of an en-suite bathroom a deal breaker? Is there a specific location that you’re desperate to live in? Make a list of the must-haves, the nice-to-haves and the must-not-haves to zero-in on your ultimate overseas abode.
Don’t buckle under pressure
Buying property abroad is a huge decision. Don’t succumb to heavy pressure from estate agents or developers to put down a deposit. You should only do so when you have done your research and you feel confident and comfortable in your decision.
Research, research, research
The best decisions are informed ones. Do your research on the areas you are thinking of buying property in. Actually living somewhere can be very different to going on holiday there. If possible talk to locals to get an honest appraisal of local issues. Even better, talk to expats who have already been through the process on which you are embarking. And remember that while estate agents can be very helpful, they ultimately act on behalf of sellers - not buyers. Take their advice with a pinch of salt.
Get it in writing
Always get written confirmation of any verbal agreements as soon as possible as well as paper receipts of monetary transactions.
Seek independent legal advice
The rules and regulations governing property purchases in your chosen location are likely different from what you’re used to here in the UK. Inheritance laws differ from one country to the next too - so you may need to consider drafting a will in the country in which you own your property.
Independent legal advice can help part the clouds and streamline the process of your foreign property purchase. The keyword there is ‘independent’. Be wary of lawyers that are recommended by estate agents or property developers as they may not be as impartial as you’d expect.
Instead seek a solicitor who is independent, fluent in both English and the local language, and who is experienced in properly sales. It’s also worth making sure your lawyer has professional indemnity insurance in case something goes wrong. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has a list of English-speaking lawyers living abroad.
Hire an independent translator
Are you completely fluent in the local lingo? Be honest. The contractual agreements surrounding property purchases involve specialist language. It’s worth hiring an independent translator to make sure your dealings and contractual arrangements are above board. Again, be wary of translators that have been recommended by agents, developers or lawyers. The FCO has a list of English-speaking translators and interpreters.
Do your homework on the developer
If you’re buying a new home from a property developer, ask to look at their previous developments to see how well they stand up to general wear and tear. Talk to the occupants if possible. Did white goods need replacing within seconds of moving in? Are there any issues with damp, mould or drainage? This is the time to find out.
Buying property off-plan
Buying property off-plan - i.e. a property that hasn’t been built yet - comes with its own set of considerations. Firstly do not make any advanced payments without a bank guarantee. You should also ensure that your contract states the developer’s obligation to return all advanced payments to you, plus interest, if construction is not started or completed by an agreed date or if a habitation agreement is not granted. An alternative clause is to ensure that there’s a bank-backed guarantee that if the developer goes bust, the property will be completed to spec at no extra cost to you. Your contract should also clearly detail the specifications and finishes of the property. Again, do your homework on the developer and ask to visit previous projects that they have completed.
No deeds, no deal
Get proof that the seller you are talking to actually owns the title deeds and is able to transfer them to you. If you are buying a brand new property make sure the deeds exist. Also check that the deeds haven’t been offered as collateral against any loans.
Avoid outstanding bills
How do you fancy paying for bills that aren’t yours? Thought so. That’s why it’s a good idea to check if there are any outstanding utility bills or tax demands against the sale property before you take it on.
Are you connected?
You don’t want the hassle of moving in to a property, only to realise it’s not connected to the mains water supply or the electricity grid. Make sure all the infrastructure is in place before you take it on.
Shop around for a mortgage
Just like in the UK, you will likely have a vast range of different mortgage options available to you overseas. Take the time to get the deal that best fits your circumstances.
Get your tax affairs in order
It’s nobody’s favourite T word. But it’s important to make sure you are au fait with all the tax you’ll be accountable for - both in the UK and overseas. You don’t want any financial frights. Your solicitor will be able to advise you.
What if something goes wrong?
The important thing is not to panic. Seek independent legal advice if you feel you have been subject to fraud or malpractice. No matter where in the world you are, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has embassies and consulates right across the world and can help you find a local solicitor you can trust. Find your nearest British consular support here.
Save money on travel insurance
It goes without saying that buying a foreign property usually involves many trips abroad. And trips abroad mean travel insurance. With our cheap annual policies, you can travel as much as you like anywhere in the world for twelve months - and they only cost a little more than standard single-trip policies. Take a look!
Good luck finding your perfect pad.