International Buyers Guide For Malibu and the USA

by ritasimpson on August 30, 2014

in How's The Market

Foreign buyers have flooded our Malibu market but few know how to navigate the system. Here is a guide to help you get the Malibu property you seek.
In the US, almost all new real estate listings are posted to the Multiple Listing Service – or MLS – within 24 hours of coming up for sale. This ensures that active listings are available to all agents, and differs from practices in many other countries, where buyers have to go from agent to agent to find a property. However, a number of listings in certain markets – the luxury market in particular – remain “pocket” or “quiet” listings. Hence, it is important to have a real estate agent who is a specialist in the area you are interested in who is well connected in the community.
The sales commission in the US is always paid by the seller, and then divided equally between both the buyer’s and seller’s brokers and agents. Generally, commissions range from 2 to 5 percent, depending on the property and the market. Buyers here don’t pay a dime to have an agent working on their behalf, and it is therefore always advisable to work with an experienced broker or agent who will protect your interests in the transaction, and to be loyal to the agent working on your behalf so that they invest in you the time required to best serve you.
 To purchase a home, be ready to prove who you are. You don’t need to be a US citizen, but you do need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This is a number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service to foreign nationals who need to file income tax returns, something you will have to do when 
buying real estate here. You will also need a valid foreign passport, or two or more current photo identifications such as a driver’s license, in order to verify who you are and your country of origin. Though property ownership isn’t tied to immigration or visa status, there are still rules about how long 
you can stay in the US, so if you’re not a citizen, check out US visa requirements before you purchase.

Qualified foreign buyers can generally obtain financing for properties with a 30% down payment – though certain
markets require a 40% down payment. Check the specific state requirement where you plan to buy.
Banks are happy to offer mortgages to foreign buyers, but they usually require a relationship with the customer that
goes beyond just the mortgage. Some banks, such as HSBC (which does a great deal of foreign homebuyer financing) have a requirement that the buyer hold a $100,000 deposit with their bank. Banks often also want to see proof of 12 months’ reserves to cover mortgage payment, maintenance, and taxes, in addition to the $100,000 mentioned above.
I have relationships with many of the major mortgage banks, and  can help you find a lender and mortgage terms
that best suit your needs. Please get in touch if you’d like more specifics on various financing options.
International buyers will usually be asked to provide the following documents, so it’s a good idea to get them in order
ahead of time:
Credit References:Usually at least four references from credit sources will be
required for mortgage loan applications. These documents must come from finance professionals such as accountants,
bankers, or insurance officials. This is very important – in 2012, US realtors reported that most of the deals that fell
through with foreign buyers did so because the buyers lacked adequate credit history.
Proper Visa or Foreign Passport Copy
Double check to make sure these documents haven’t expired and aren’t expiring anytime soon.
Verification of Rent/Mortgage Payments: Proof of rent or mortgage payments are generally required for a period of at least one year before the application.
Proof of Employment: International buyers, just like US buyers, will be asked to :You will need to show that you can afford the purchase, as well as have funds on reserve to cover the full first year of payments, insurance costs, taxes, etc.
Every US lender requires borrowers to purchase homeowners insurance to protect the home from any potential damage
and natural disasters. Insurance costs vary based on the size of the property and by state. Costs tend to be significantly
higher in states prone to natural disasters, such as Florida
and Texas.
Tax liability is different for foreign nationals than it is for US residents. Here’s a quick breakdown of major distinctions:
•  While federal tax on long term investments (holding property for over a year) is 15% for US residents, foreigners pay 30%.
•  Under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA), income tax is withheld immediately after a non US-resident sells property. The rate varies from state to state, but the federal rate is a flat 10%.
•  The IRS requires a “Statement of Withholding on Dispositions by Foreign Persons of US Real Property 
Interests.” In addition, many states request a “Nonresident Real Property Estimated Income Tax Payment Form.”
•  I recommended seeking the expertise of a professional tax accountant to provide assistance with these forms. Consult a Tax Specialist in Your Home Country An international buyer’s overall tax liability will also differ country to country based on the home country’s tax treaty with the US. Therefore, it’s best to consult a tax advisor in the buyer’s country of residence, who is familiar with the tax treaty 
and its provisions. The capital gains rate for US residents is 20% (if the property was owned for more than one year) but it could be higher if you are from certain countries. Check with a local 
tax specialist before you buy.

US law requires that the foreign nationals “elect“ to pay US income taxes on any net income earned from rental property. If this election is not made in a timely fashion – and the proper forms filed with the IRS – a tax of 30% of the gross rental income will be demanded. Even if the property owner is incurring tax losses initially and doesn’t owe any taxes to the government, he or she must still file their tax returns in order to make the “election” required by law.
The good news is that international buyers who finance their purchases with a 40 to 50% down payment will generally not pay income taxes on their rental income for the first 10 to 15 years, since the US is very generous when it comes to expenses that can be deducted from rental income. Mortgage interest, common charges, depreciation, property taxes, insurance, and amortization of closing costs can all be claimed as deductions against income, so in the early years your property will generate negative taxable income and you will not have any tax liability.
NOTE: You Do Not Have To Be in the US to Close the Deal.
When the property is officially closed on and transferred to the new owner, the new owner does not need to be in the
US. Instead, the owner can provide his or her representative (usually a broker) with “Power of Attorney,” and then the
representative will close the deal on behalf of the new owner. This is a common practice and can be very convenient for the buyer who does not want to come back to the US for the closing. Talk to your realtor about that possibility if it may
interest you.
 International buyers should ask themselves if it suits their interests to buy under the name of a domestic US company, or LLC (Limited Liability Company). Although there are benefits to buying through a LLC, such as tax incentives, certain treaties between a foreign country and the US can sometimes detract from those advantages. Foreign buyers should do their research ahead of time, and enlist the help of a tax adviser who specializes in international law.
Here are six things you should know about LLCs in the United
1. It takes one week or so to form an LLC.
2. The LLC has to be created in the same state as the
property to be purchased.
3. The LLC is required by law to file local, state, and federal
tax returns.
4. An LLC can include foreign nationals and US residents.
5. At the time of sale, property owners can sell or transfer
shares of the LLC to a buyer.
6. A US-based LLC can be owned by a Foreign Corporation
for additional benefits.
Tip – If You Want To Avoid the US Estate Tax
When a non US-resident dies, his or her estate will be taxed by the US government at roughly 45%. This can be avoided if the international buyer sets up a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) – which owns the property – and a Foreign Corporation to own the LLC. Since the property in this scenario is owned by the Foreign Corporation, the US would not be able to tax it upon the death of the owner. This can be a huge tax savings and is not very expensive or time intensive to implement, especially if you solicit professional help.
If you are considering buying property in Malibu or the Los Angeles area, give me a call 310-617-0996. I will make your search easy fun and productive!
This is meant as a general guide. Please consult an international tax attorney before you make any decisions.

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