Avoiding expat property purchase pitfalls when moving overseas

Published:  8 May at 6 PM
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Whether would-be expats are planning to invest in property as a retirement home, for buy to let or simply to benefit from rising prices, one thing’s for sure, purchasing overseas is a popular idea.

No matter where in the world or for what reason property purchase is being considered, it’s essential to be aware of possible pitfalls as well as advantages. Taking advice from experts in the real estate and financial sectors is a start, but doing your own research both on and offline makes sure your eventual decision is the right one for your circumstances.

The first step is becoming aware that, in certain overseas locations, it may not be possible for foreigners to own property outright, or to own the land on which it sits. Making certain you can buy title to your chosen house is best done by consulting a trustworthy local lawyer, as real estate agents and especially property developers in some countries are known to be economic with the truth regarding expat property ownership.

Secondly, that well known phrase and saying ‘location, location, location’, is even more important when buying a home overseas than it is in your home country, particularly if you’re planning a buy-to-let investment. If you’ve chosen an out-of-town property, it’s essential to check details such as access roads, connected sewage disposal or a property installed septic tank, reliable plumbing, good water pressure and a safe environment. Failures in any of the above can make a dream home your worst nightmare almost overnight.

Unless you’re buying in a first world country, problems with the above realities may have less than straightforward answers. Flooded roads, unreliable utilities, frequent power cuts and damaging tropical storms are almost the norm in many expat retirement hubs, especially in Asia’s more rural areas. Another important consideration if you’re buying a retirement home is exactly how much communication with other local expats you want or need.

Whilst it’s good to learn the local language and have friends in the local community culture, it makes sense to live within reach of an expat community for support and friendship. For older expats, access to medical facilities might well be a priority, as is having transport for day-to-day shopping. Opening a bank account in your country of choice is essential if you’re in receipt of an overseas pension, but can be complicated due to language difficulties. If you’re determined to live in a country with a very different culture, the best idea is to rent a home in order to get a real feel for the neighbourhood and region before committing to a property purchase.
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