How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Buying Property Overseas- By: George Sell
Anyone who has bought a property knows what a complex and fraught process it can be. Factor in the numerous problems that can arise when buying property in another country, and the potential for drama increases significantly.
Language barriers, legal complications, exchange rate miscalculations and dodgy builders are just a few of the obstacles that can be encountered if you don't do things properly. So, to make sure you don't repeat the mistakes of others, Homes Overseas has asked a selection of industry experts what the most common pitfalls are that UK buyers encounter, and collected their suggestions on the best ways to ensure you avoid them.
Firstly it's important to know your motivation for buying. Are you simply buying a holiday home for your own occasional use? A rental property, perhaps? Or are you purely going for capital gain?
When you have thought this through you can start making sure you buy in the right location. Andrew Hawkins of Chesterton International says: "Many people don't research the local area enough. Have a really good look around and check that all the facilities and amenities you need are nearby. Don't be close-minded in terms of a location. Give yourself time to look at all the options and think about areas and countries that you may not have considered. You may find a similar location with prices a lot lower; for example Abruzzo, in Italy, as an alternative to the more expensive Tuscany."
If you've settled on an area, make sure you thoroughly familiarise yourself with it. Charles Roberts of IRG Portugal says: "Visit in August and then in January - or other times throughout the year - so you have a good feel what the area is like in different seasons."
When you know where you want to buy, you need to find the right agent. Miles Beacroft, sales director of Titan Properties advises: "Go to a qualified independent agent who can show you a full portfolio, and don't get trapped by unskilled unprofessional expats who have limited access to stock." He adds that it is a good idea to use a local agent who lives and works in the area as "they are unlikely to run away or be able to hide. They will be honest and upfront".
Next on the checklist is to dispassionately decide what kind of property you want, and how much you can spend. Look at lots of properties, even if you think you might have fallen in love with the first one you see. When you settle on the one you want go back and look a second, third, and even fourth time if necessary - don't be pressured into rushing what is a big decision. This is especially important if you are on an inspection trip, where it is vital to keep researching properties on sale through other agents. Remember the agent you traveled with is not your new best friend - he is there to make money, and any offense he may feel at you being 'disloyal' is felt most keenly in the wallet.
"Don't run the risk of buying a home, moving in, then looking around some more and wishing you had bought another - it happens a lot," says Beacroft, while James Barnes of Robson Barnes says: "A common mistake is buying too cheap at the start and wishing you'd splashed out when you initially bought. If you're buying off-plan, think about what you'll be doing when the property is completed and whether it is worth buying a larger apartment than you initially wanted."
Barnes adds that a good tip is to be as realistic as possible when planning how much time you can spend in the property: "Don't overestimate how much you will actually use your property. Take into account how long it takes to get there, how much time you can take off work and realistically, how often you will be at the property."
The legal aspect of buying overseas property can be a minefield. Each country has its own system, and although some are based on British law, it is vital that you employ an independent local lawyer, preferably one who has a good command of English - not to mention the language of the country you are buying in. This is probably the single most important piece of advice that anyone can give you.
"One of the most common mistakes people make is not getting proper legal advice. You need to make sure that you take the same legal precautions that you would when buying in the UK," says Roberts, who is backed up by Beacroft, who advises: "Ensure your lawyer is local, and ask for referrals from clients to see if they are any good. Find out if they respond in timely fashion and whether they know the area and developer well."
When it comes to financing your property, make sure you remember all those little additional costs, which soon add up. Hawkins says: "Be aware of the extra costs. Remember that there will be legal fees and other buying costs. On the flipside, some countries do not have stamp duty."
Beacroft has a handy formula for this: "Do the total budget: house price, plus ten per cent buying costs, plus mortgage set up, plus furniture and running costs."
According to Roberts, a common mistake is not taking into account currency fluctuations. "Currency rates fluctuate and you need to be prepared in the eventuality of a currency changing. You can fix the exchange rate through various agencies, so do this when you buy."
Beacroft agrees, noting that "a lot of customers come out and use the airport exchange rates as they have never heard of the big foreign exchange companies - they end up costing themselves a lot of money".
If you are going to rent your overseas property, the core message is the same - do your research and be realistic. Barnes says many people underestimate costs and overestimate projected rental revenue. "Make sure you are realistic about how much your property will be rented out and err on the side of caution when projecting figures," he says.
If you're buying your rental property off-plan, bear in mind that construction schedules are not set in stone, and that completion dates will affect when your rental stream can start. Roberts says: "Don't buy off-plan expecting to have the property to use and rent when finished. Be realistic about when all facilities will be completed, not just your particular property. Or, if you want to be able to use your property as soon as possible, buy at a resort that is complete or almost done."
Hopefully this article hasn't scared you off buying your dream home overseas. It can be a daunting experience, but if you follow the advice given here and use common sense it could end up being the best thing you've ever done.
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George Sell for Homes Overseas - Overseas property for sale, overseas property investment advice and international property news.
International property experts since 1965.