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Questions to Ask Before Buying or Renting Overseas

Kathleen Peddicord

If you're retiring abroad, either full- or part-time, one of your first and most important challenges will be finding a place to live. Real estate markets, for both sales and rentals, operate differently outside the United States and can be intimidating when you first try to navigate them. How can you safely choose a new place to call home?

Here are four checklists of questions and issues to address when shopping for a residence in a new country.

First, a checklist of the most important things to consider whether you're renting or buying:

1. What is the drive time from the nearest airport?

2. What is your access and right-of-way? That is, how do you get to your house or property? Must you cross another person's property? If so, are you certain your neighbor can't ever restrict your access?

3. Is the property accessible year-round, including in the rainy (sometimes called the "winter") season? Streams that barely flow or don't at all during the dry season can be raging torrents when the rains start. Ask about the road condition in rainy season

4. How far away is the nearest medical care facility? How far is the nearest hospital? Is there ambulance service?

5. Is there enough water and water pressure? Is there hot water? Check beneath the sinks (in every bathroom) to see if the plumbing provides for both hot and cold water. In some parts of the world, it's not uncommon that some bathrooms might be plumbed with cold water only

6. What distance are you from day-to-day services (grocery stores, dry cleaners, pharmacies, banks, etc.)? Consider this (and proximity to medical care facilities) in terms of time rather than distance. Ten miles on a rough dirt road can translate to an hour or more of travel time in the rainy season, for example.

7. Will you need a car living in this place? Does your budget allow for a car? Where will you park?

8. What's included with the property? In Argentina and Panama, for example, when you buy a home, you typically buy bare, stripped walls and empty rooms--no lighting fixtures, no appliances.

Here's a checklist of questions to consider if you're buying into a private development:

1. How will security be provided?

2. Is there a building requirement? What is it? Does it fit with your retirement time frame, plan, and budget?

3. What construction and design standards are in place? Zoning is almost non-existent in Latin America. If you're buying into a private development, you want building covenants.

4. What is the current, existing infrastructure? Understand what's planned but understand, as well, that you're buying only what you see. Promised infrastructure doesn't always materialize. Ask specifically about waste management, phone service, and Internet.

5. Likewise, understand what amenities exist and what is promised but recognize that you're buying (and be sure that you're paying for) only what exists. If there's no marina when you buy, there may never be a marina, no matter what the developer's nice brochures and pretty drawings indicate.

6. What are the plans for a homeowners' association? What will the monthly fees be? Are these enough to cover the developer's responsibilities? You don't want to pay high HOA fees, of course, but neither do you want to invest in a development where the developer has so underestimated his costs that the HOA fees don't cover them. The result can be that essential maintenance and services (for example, security) are reduced.

7. Is the development company financially sound? Does it have a track record? What else has it built?

8. What kind of title guarantee can be provided? If you can't get title insurance, you might want to reconsider the purchase.

Another checklist if you're buying land with the intention of building your own home:

1. Will you be in the country during construction? If not, how will you build long distance? Who will oversee the work for you day-to-day?

2. What's your timeline and budget? What are your contingency plans if the project takes longer and costs more than you're planning? (It will; take my word for it.)

3. Again, can you get title insurance?

Finally, one more checklist to keep in mind if your plan is to live in the place only part of the year:

1. Who will look after the property while you're away? At what expense?

2. Will you be able to rent the place out while you're elsewhere? If so, you could earn enough in rental income during the months you're living somewhere else to cover the property's annual carrying costs.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas--Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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