When moving to the USA, buying a home is one of the most stressful events in your life and when that home is in the US where the procedures are unfamiliar, the whole experience can be very daunting. However once you have a grasp of the basics and some good advice you'll soon be on your way to moving into your US home.
This guide is by no means definitive and only offers a snapshot into a complex process. Every state has its own regulations which are impossible to cover on one page, so even with US citizens, you learn pretty much as you go along.
Your first step is to make sure you are dealing with a qualified estate agent. Realtors can only call themselves that if they are listed with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) which compels members to adhere to high standards of training and ethical behaviour.
The Realtor will work for a Broker who looks after all the legal issues for you. You can also choose a Buyer's Agent who will act on behalf of the buyer rather than the seller.
You may be asked to sign a Buyer Broker Contract which ties you in to that agent, but they will then ferry you around showing you properties and searching the market for you as well as negotiating.
The seller usually pays the commission for the sale, which is around 6% of the sale price. This is also the case with a Buyer's Agent so using a qualified and professional Realtor comes at no cost to the purchaser.
Finding a US Property
Real estate in America is big business and as a result it's very well organised. Unlike the UK where you have to contact the local estate agent office in the area you want to buy, in the US you can just contact one of the large real estate offices and they will give you details of any house in any area. Realtor Offices don't have window displays so the internet is the best place to start your search. The Multiple Listing Service is the tool most Real Estates use for an updated list of homes for sale in any US state.
Auctions are a popular way to buy cheap properties in the US. You need to register with the auction site first for access to the property disclosures and title. You can contact the broker direct and attend an open house showing. The highest bidder is legally obliged to buy the property and you'll need to pay around 10% of the price as a deposit. The US Treasury has regular property auctions, selling off seized land and property. You can grab yourself a real bargain and best of all, you don't need an estate agent broker!
As a result of the recession, repossessions are becoming common and many people are choosing repossessed homes as affordable housing. The US Dept of Housing and Urban Development have a list of available properties.
Once you've found your dream home you can pay a deposit which will be returned to you on completion of the sale. All there is left for you to do is crack open the champagne!