ORLANDO, Fla. – With its beautiful beaches, sunny climate and world-renowned attractions, Florida is one of the top destinations for international homebuyers.
Nationwide, 51 percent of all home sales to non-resident, foreign buyers take place in only four states – Florida, California, Texas and Arizona, according to Florida Realtors®’ recent report, “Profile of International Home Buyers in Florida 2012.” Of those sales, Florida has the largest share: 26 percent.
1. Location, location, location
Discover what area of Florida appeals to you. In a state that covers about 58,000 square miles and is about the size of England and Wales, there’s something for everyone. The Sunshine State has 1,300 miles of coastline with 800 miles of beaches and about 30,000 lakes.
Southeast Florida offers urban living in a subtropical climate. Southwest Florida is a retirement haven that has a diverse environment where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Everglades.
Central Florida is renowned for its world-famous theme parks, and has top-tier dining and resorts to match.
Jacksonville and the northeast corner of Florida combine a growing banking/finance climate with a taste of the traditional southern lifestyle.
The communities in Florida’s Panhandle include award-winning beaches, fishing and even a bit of a winter season, though it’s mild and short.
2. The housing market is recovering
Analysts point to increasing sales, lower inventory of for-sale properties and other signs that the real estate recovery is firmly underway across Florida. Property prices have begun to rise once again.
For those looking to invest in Florida, this can be the ideal time to get a bargain – provided you know where and when to look.
3. Work with a Realtor®
Unlike buying in the United Kingdom or some other countries, you do not need a lawyer to complete a property transaction in Florida.
Florida has a legal assumption that all real estate licensees act as transaction brokers, giving the licensee the ability to represent both the buyer and seller in the same transaction (unless another agency relationship is established). The idea behind this is that it helps speed up the deal, while still protecting the interests of the client.
4. Know your price
How much home can you buy? It depends on what you’re looking for and where you’re looking. A waterfront family home in an upscale part of West Palm Beach could cost more than $1 million, whereas a one or two bedroom condominium in one of Florida’s growing business districts may be available for $100,000 or less.
If you begin by knowing how much you can spend, what aspects of the real estate purchase are most important to you, and what trade-offs you might be willing to make, you can make an educated decision on your purchase.
5. Do your homework on how to finance in the U.S.
Because so much of Florida’s homeownership population consists of foreign buyers, Realtors in Florida are regularly staying up to date on the financial institutions that work with facilitating international transactions, the latest changes to investment laws, and anything of which you may need to be aware.
Realtors will connect you with the experts who can make an international purchase go as smoothly as possible.
6. Study on how to get the best exchange rate
If buying with cash, keep an eye on the currency exchange rate and ask about other fees, such as those attached to international money transfers.
In addition to looking at banks to transfer money, you can also work with foreign exchange companies. Review all these options to get the best rate with the lowest fees.
7. Be familiar with immigration laws: How long can you stay?
The U.S. has a complex visa system, and the visa you choose will be based on whether you plan to move to Florida, live in the state part time, whether you will be associated with a U.S. based company, and other factors.
Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of participating countries are allowed to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less for business, tourism, visiting or pleasure, when they meet all requirements. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. Transiting or traveling through the U.S. to Canada or Mexico is generally permitted for VWP travelers. Thirty-seven countries currently participate in the program; a list is available at the U.S. Department of State’s VWP webpage. (Link to: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html)
A visa is required to stay longer than 90 days, or for a citizen who is not from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program. For more information about visas, visit the U.S. Department of State website. (http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1286.html)
8. Understand the taxation
Florida has no state income tax, and therefore many affluent people have chosen to relocate their primary residences to Florida.
Additionally, the local sales tax rates in Florida’s major cities such as Miami and Orlando are lower than those in other cities such as New York or Chicago.
Property taxes are, however, one of the main sources of revenue for county and state projects. As such, you’ll want to get a clear perspective of what the taxation on your property will be when you own it.
Florida also has some favorable exemptions for primary residences, so remember to tell your Realtor if you are planning to relocate to Florida or just looking to invest, as it may affect your tax status.
9. Consider ease of access to home
Many European air carriers offer direct flights to Miami, Orlando and Tampa, while domestic airliners also have international flights from many Florida cities.
Several airports in Florida have recently undergone significant expansions as part of ongoing efforts to add international routes. In total, there are 18 international airports in Florida and many smaller regional airports as well across the state.
For more information, go to the Florida Living Network (Link to www.fl.living.net), your gateway to homeownership in Florida. The site should prove useful whether you are seeking the help of a professional Realtor, or just want to search for properties.