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Steve McLinden, the Bankrate.com Real Estate AdviserForeigners can buy homes easily in the U.S.

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
If I do not live in or have legal status in the U.S., but have a very good job in Europe, can I still buy a house in the U.S. as an investment or as a vacation home?
-- Maria

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Dear Maria,
You certainly can. While there are still some erroneous perceptions, recent law changes grant nonpermanent resident aliens, such as you, most of the same purchase and home-financing opportunities that American citizens have. If you are worried about your good employment and credit records becoming lost in translation, many major U.S. lenders now use credit-reporting agencies that have reciprocal agreements with European countries and can use a simple currency conversion table to track your current income and assets.

However, you will likely need to come up with a down payment of 20 percent to 25 percent of the purchase price, depending on the rules of the lender, which is a little higher than what most Yanks pay. But relatively speaking, the home-buying process in the U.S. is relatively simple and less bureaucratic for a foreigner than it would be in most countries. And as you probably realize, there are hundreds of Web sites where you can view American properties online from the comfort of your European home to facilitate your search.

But you'll need to find quality representation. As a foreigner, it is very important that you find a U.S. real estate agent who is experienced in such sales and can thoroughly brief you on the buying process and best coordinate your property visits with the rest of the prepurchase and purchase details. These agents are easier to find in highly populated areas, although most regional and national realty firms have qualified people who can serve you.

I would also recommend the services of a U.S. real estate attorney to guide you past the pitfalls, tax nuances and other legalities. For example, even as a nonresident, you will still have to pay U.S. real estate taxes. And if you do not have an individual taxpayer identification number or U.S. Social Security number when you sell the place, you may be subject to 10 percent withholding tax. For more details, visit the Web site of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for rules for foreign owners of American real estate.

There are also a few European Web sites that presently specialize in the U.S. property-purchase process, including a couple new ones, www.immoamerica.com and www.buyahouseinamerica.com, set to debut in 2007.

Meanwhile, good luck on your journey across the pond and your U.S. real estate venture.

To ask a question of the Real Estate Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page and select "buying, selling a home" as the topic.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Nov. 18, 2006
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