Investing in real estate abroad: 5 tips for working with an agent

Tips By David Cullinan December 19, 2019

This article was created in partnership with Western Union.

Investing in international real estate is often a highly profitable venture, but it can be a daunting task for first-timers. If you’re thinking about investing in real estate abroad, working with a real estate agent with local knowledge can make the process smoother and less stressful.

You may be able to find an agent in your home country who specialises in foreign real estate, or you may prefer to work with a real estate agent from the country in which you intend to invest. Whichever you choose, you will need to take certain factors into consideration, like how you will transfer money internationally to secure your new property. One option is using the Western Union® app, which can help you quickly and reliably send money abroad.

But before you make that bank transfer, review these five tips for working with an agent to ensure the relationship is a productive one.

1. Research your property options first

To make sure you aren’t misled, always do your own research first. Before you even speak to an agent, you need to have a good idea of what is available and at what price. Housing prices vary greatly from country to country, so the price of a two-bedroom flat in London could get you a large villa in another country.

However, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If an agent is pressuring you to jump on a cheap deal, try to find out why the price is so low — the area may have intermittent power cuts or lie under a busy flight route. When investing in real estate abroad, get to know the surrounding area well — if it’s not a desirable neighbourhood, the investment could devalue over time.

2. Verify any certifications

Real estate regulations differ from country to country, and some agencies may be less strict when monitoring employees’ qualifications. When enlisting a real estate agent overseas, verify what certifications they hold and if the company is reputable.

An overseas agent will certainly be able to guide you through the process of investing in real estate abroad, but many investors prefer the benefits of working with a local agent. The choice is entirely a personal one. For instance, if in-person meetings are important to you, you’ll likely want to find a local agent.

3. Be clear about your expectations

Whether at home or overseas, investing in real estate is a big deal, and for many it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When dealing with something so important, you need to be very specific about what you want because it will be too late to change your mind once the purchase is complete. It’s a good idea to make a shortlist of your “must-haves” to share with your agent.

Try not to get emotionally attached to a property or let your heart make irrational decisions. Agents may try and upsell a property based on aspects that appeal to emotional clients. Always remain highly critical and analytical about all aspects of the purchasing process.

4. Clarify time frames and hidden expenses beforehand

When working with an agent, it’s important to clarify specifics, on paper if possible. This becomes more crucial if you’re working with an agent whose native language is not English, as details could be lost in translation.

Make sure all costs are explained beforehand, and ask numerous times about any additional or hidden fees. Be sure to also clarify exactly when specific external payments must be completed, like rates for water and electricity.

Here are some specific details to clarify before purchasing your property:

  • Commission: The commission is usually paid by the seller, but in some countries, sellers might expect to split the commission. Be sure to check exactly what the agent’s expectations are regarding commission.
  • Timeline: Check how long it will take to transfer ownership and what the transfer duty is.
  • Utility fees: Clarify what the rates and connection fees are for water, lights, electricity and any other utilities.
  • Property features: Be sure to follow up on any particulars you require, like private parking or specific appliances. Discuss if there will be any construction or maintenance needed before your move-in date.

5. Use an international money transfer service

Once you’ve chosen your property and finalised all the details, you will no doubt need to find a convenient and reliable way to make payments overseas. When it comes to large sums of money, international bank transfers can be prohibitively expensive. The Western Union® app offers international money transfer services that allow you to quickly transfer money to 200 countries and territories worldwide.

After you’ve ironed out the details with your agent and hit “send” on that payment transfer, all there is left to do is enjoy your new home or investment property.