Updated: Nov 25, 2022
Finding legitimate information for the American housing market is often not that easy from abroad. How the local Americans find their new home may differ from what is often found in the German web results.
As a German, I have been living in the USA for over 6 years and have rented many homes, as well as bought property myself.
There are important differences between the German and American process of becoming a tenant and finding the right rental property. The actual buying process is also different than in Germany and the process is important to understand before moving forward and investing money.
In any case, it is important to remember – if you are not sure, it is better to hire an expert! Because fraud and loss must be avoided.
But how do you find legit property in the US in the first place?
Through online portals
Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, Homes, Redfin, Movoto - the range of American real estate portals are endless. Most are national, some local, but each portfolio is stunning and unfortunately often too good to be true.
In short, I do not look anywhere else but Realtor. Through my real estate agent/realtor, I know that even the professionals work with this portal. The site is powered by broker organizations and the local broker network and is therefore the one that can be trusted the most. Not only are listings always up to date, but also first go through strict controls before they are posted. This ensures that no false or modified information appears.
Other sites tend to be run by private companies or the property owners themselves, and therefore sometimes show outdated or inaccurate information. The risk of running into a complete fraud trap is also more likely here and can become dangerous.
If you have successfully found your dream property online, you can make an inquiry directly through the portal. It is important to know that every listing is represented by a seller’s agent. Without having a buyer’s agent, you may not be noticed as a potential buyer.
Through the realtor
If you are unsure about what is shown online and prefer to trust the personal method and insider ability, you can get information through a buyer's agent instead. When you have found your realtor of trust, you give him the requirements of your search and personal preferences and then simply wait for the results.
The realtor not only knows the local real estate market and real estate companies, but also rules and laws. In addition, he is trained in negotiating prices and reaching a good deal. Therefore, the results are pulled through a filter before going to the buyer. The real estate agent works explicitly for the buyer and is also available throughout the further process until the key is handed over.
Finding the right real estate agent and other necessary contacts (insurances, lawyer, title company, appraiser, inspector, tax consultant, notary, etc.) can be difficult from abroad. Here, too, you can find some frauds or many professionals who unfortunately only work with Americans. It takes a bit more to look after a foreign customer. To find the right contacts, including CIPS Realtors, I recommend consulting an expert.
Through the real estate company
A real estate agent works for a real estate agency, which represents various properties. The agency then advertises them on the portals mentioned above, but also displays them on their own website.
If you have already had good experiences with a specific real estate company, you can search directly through them instead of through third-party portals. This ensures authenticity and quality and avoids fraudulent traps. Sometimes you even stumble across properties that have not been listed on other portals. In addition, the agencies also offer open houses, guides, and loan calculators. Some of the best-known real estate companies in the US are RE/MAX, Coldwell Banker and Century21. Nowadays, German companies are also active in the American market, such as Engel&Völkers.
As in other scenarios, the same problems apply here – not everyone offers support for foreign customers. The transaction process outside the United States is unfamiliar to many Americans or not well supported. Here is an intermediary needed to fill this gap.
Through private offers
If a seller does not want to hire a seller’s agent or does not want to join the chaos of big online portals, there are a few other options. With “For Sale by Owner” offers, private individuals can put their properties up for sale and manage the process themselves. This way you can save a lot of money as a seller and as a buyer (professionals cost money), but you do not have the expert opinions of a real estate agent at hand, either.
If you do not know the seller or the property personally, I would not recommend going with this method. Unfortunately, fraud is often unavoidable in this market since many swindlers want to make quick money and there are hardly any regulations or controls on offers or providers.
Through Auctions and short-sale
If someone cannot pay off their house, it goes back into the hands of the bank that issued the loan and they put it up for sale through an auction. Foreclosed properties are usually cheaper than others but are often in poorer condition because the owner ran out of money.
In addition to auctions, there is short sale property, which is offered by the owner just before it goes back to the bank. This is usually the last chance for the seller before it goes into foreclosure. Such a sale is usually faster, but often not much cheaper than others on the market.
Because these properties often need more repairs, I would not recommend buying without seeing it. If you need to hire craftsmen from abroad, it can quickly lead to headaches and large losses. To avoid any disaster, do not try here without specialists.
All in all, finding your dream property from abroad is possible. Stay aware of the traps and gaps and keep in mind that there are local experts that are more than happy to help you.
If you want to learn more or need more details, I'll be happy to help!