Attorney Ranj Mohip is a Chicago real estate attorney. The information in this answer is general information and is not intended as legal advice. Further, answering this question or otherwise contributing as a member of Trulia.com does not create an attorney-client relationship. Remember--consult the best real estate attorney in Chicago or in your respective area. Contact us at http://www.ranjmohip.com for more information.
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America wants your cash. If you have cash, you can buy up a small town in the rust belt and claim it as Australia's newest province. Legally, it won't hold, due both to Australia's refusal to let go of the Queen's hand and America's refusal to allow it's return. But you can still put up a bunch of boxing kangaroo flags all over town, and even petition for a name change.
If you want to finance a property, that's allowed too! These guidelines will differ according to banks, but if you have at least 30% to put down, I know there are banks that will lend to you. And for non-usury rates.
As one poster mentioned, there are slight restrictions when you sell, but this is largely due to America's refusal to become another Greece, despite their wonderful charcoal grilled octopus.
Regarding general USA property pitfalls:
Buying real estate here, in terms of owning clean title is as secure as a nation can be, unless you get caught up in a renewed robo-signing scandal, and some bank you never heard of claims it has your deed. But we'll pretend that won't happen again.
In terms of value, this is no different than buying property in Sydney, Melbourne, or Alice Springs. You need somebody, normally a buyer's agent for this site's purposes, who understands the development trends, history, and desirability of the neighborhoods you are interested in.
If you have a solid buyer's agent, who specializes in whatever property you have an interest in, then it's really a simple process. Regardless of being Australian, Kiwi or Fijian.
And the best news, especially for Australians, is that no laws prevent convicted felons from purchasing property.
We can help you find a loan, identify and acquire the right property, and also manage the property. We are in Northern California. Here you can find properties in the sub 200k range in east bay San Francisco or Elk Grove/Sacramento (for a good middle class area with good schools). Or in the 100k range for a 3 bed house in Sacramento area. These properties can be rented out for $1100+ (the latter) or $1700+ (former).
Home buying in Ca (USA) is very safe, since all realtors have to be licensed by the Dept of real estate.
Payment is through escrow (a licensed and bonded 3rd party). Title is insured with a title company against any defects.
Visit http://www.BuyHomeInUS.com for more info on home buying in USA for foreigners.
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Americorp Real Estate
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The US economy seems to be the biggest challenge. Knowing that the Australian dollar is very high, you'll obviously get more bang for your buck over here. As for your purchase, will you be using "cash" or financing the purchase?
My brother in law lives in Australia and was just in town last month to make a purchase (cash) of a bank owned condo. He did set up a bank account in the US to hold the funds for closing.
He fortunately has family in the country to keep an eye on the property.
Best of luck to you on your endeavor.
877 LUCID 99
The US encourages foreign real estate investment and thus implements few restrictions. The main restriction to be aware of involves the sale of property by foreign investors. FIRPTA regulations require that 10% of the sale amount be withheld to insure that taxes and other expenses are paid upon the sale of the property.
Our best advice on avoiding a disaster is to be a smart buyer...not buy impulsively and to become as informed about the local real estate market and your target location as possible. Working with an experienced realtor is invaluable and should be a priority.
The other issue is finding someone to manage the property if you do not live here or do not spend a lot of time here. We went to a couple of management firms to explain what they do and for how much.
Depending on what type of property you want be sure that you pay a good price. Some of the better priced properties often need work so if you cannot handle that be careful, but it sort of depends on what type of property you want adn where it is located.