Some of the best bargains imaginable are available to American real estate purchasers outside of the United States, but these excellent deals also offer their unique risks and potential problems as well. Outside of the country, different laws and even underlying legal philosophies mean that every aspect of a complex transaction – like a real estate purchase – should be scrutinized and you should be sure that you know what your rights and obligations are under the relevant legal regime. Therefore, prudence is the order of the day and you have to make sure the people acting on your behalf are legitimate and do not have any sort of conflict of interest or ulterior motive that might leave you high and dry.
Obviously the first thing you should check into when considering buying real estate abroad is who is going to represent you in the relevant country. Even in countries where you know the language thoroughly, it would be extremely foolish to get into a high value transaction without the assistance of a professional who knows how to operate in the country in question. More often than not, this should be an attorney or a real estate agent. In either case, you can find good recommendations from expat groups and sometimes from the American embassy or the American Chamber of Commerce in the country in question. Once you have a name, you should also have them reviewed – again probably by expats or the embassy – to ensure that their credentials are legitimate and they are authorized to perform the services you need. Obviously, hiring a agent with considerable experience is a plus.
Once you have retained a professional to help you, the next step is to get a basic overview of the process for buying real estate in the country in question. Some countries, for example, have restrictions against foreigners in general or foreigners from specific countries buying real estate. Presumably you are moving to a country where you know it is acceptable for Americans to buy, but you still need to know the basic process before you do anything. For example, in Costa Rica, the process involves finding the desired property, going through the national registry to determine who owns it and whether or not there are outstanding liens and finally receiving an environmental impact statement from the government. Only after these steps are finished can you even begin considering investing large amounts of money.
Generally speaking, every country has its own requirements and process, so the success or failure of your overseas real estate investing venture will depend in large part on the quality of your representative(s). Just like in the United States where there are low quality “ambulance chaser” attorneys and conmen with no legitimate credentials at all; the same is true in most other countries. So it is absolutely essential that you spend the money to get a good quality attorney and/or real estate agent to walk you through the local process for purchasing and developing real estate. Before you even think about the details of the property, having the right agents in your corner should be the topic of all your first questions.