Accommodation in the USA

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Expats moving to the USA will find a high-standard stable of accommodation options available to them. Whether you are looking to rent a house in the States, or whether you're looking to take advantage of the recovering property market by purchasing a prime plot of land, you'll likely find a lovely home, well-suited to your needs and your budget.

Types of accommodation in the USA

Accommodation in the USA has its own unique terminology, and is usually divided into the following classifications:

  • Accommodation in the USAApartments (self-contained units in larger buildings; referred to as 'flats' in the UK)
  • Single Family Homes (stand-alone houses, usually on a small plot of land)
  • Duplex homes (when two or more living quarters are housed in the same building)
  • Condominiums (separate, often similar-styled homes, located close together – referred to as 'townhouses' in the UK)
  • Mansions (large, extravagant, expensive houses)

All these forms of housing are widespread throughout the USA, with apartments being the most popular to rent for expats, and single family homes being the most commonly purchased.

Note that house-sharing – renting an individual room in a larger house, shared by others – is an option for expats to consider, as it is budget-friendly, and a great way to make new friends.

Renting property in the USA

Finding a place to rent in the USA is a relatively easy process. First, you should conduct some research into the city you are relocating to, in order to get some perspective on a neighbourhood that would best align with your priorities. From there, you can use one of the following avenues to start investigating individual rental properties:

  • There are a plethora of internet sites that carry both short- and long-term rental listings. Remember: you should be able to browse these sites for free, without needing to register and to share any of your personal information. Navigate away from sites that insist that you provide them with this kind of information.
  • Local newspapers and magazines – known as 'home and apartment finders' – are widely distributed in most American cities. These often specialise in providing rental listings.
  • If you're very lucky, you might be able to score with a 'drive-by' – by calling the number on the 'For Rent' sign outside a house/apartment that catches your eye
  • Real estate agents can be used – however, in the USA, it is certainly fair to say that realtors specialise in helping people buy homes, and not rent them. 

Once you've found a property you like, you'll need to tender a lease application. This will probably take the form of a generic document known as a State Rental Agreement. Note that in order to be taken seriously as a candidate for renting the property, especially as a foreigner, you will need to demonstrate that you have at least enough funds to cover the first month's rent upfront, and another month's rent for deposit money. Credit checks and background checks will also be done – if you have any references from previous landlords, be sure to include them with your application.

Lease agreements in the USA are generally signed on a six-month or one-year basis. Whether or not you will liable for your own gas, electricity, water, refuse, phone and Internet bills will depend on your specific rental agreement.

Buying property in the USA

Generally speaking, the process of buying a house in the USA proceeds as follows:

  • A mortgage or loan is obtained. As a foreigner – in the current economic climate – you will need plenty of supporting documentation to organise your home loan, and will need to prove that you are both legally employed in the USA, and financially able to commit to the purchase of your new house
  • Once you've identified the home you wish to buy, a formal offer is made to the seller, in the form of a (legally binding) sales contract. 
  • A deposit on the property is placed by the buyer in escrow, showing good faith that they will commit to the full purchase of the property once certain conditions have been met. Note that, as a foreigner, the amount of deposit money you are required to part with it might be larger than would be expected of American citizens
  • The buyer sees to it that inspections and appraisals are done. While not always necessary, if you are borrowing money to purchase your house, the bank or financial institution that lent it to you will insist on this step
  • A title search is conducted, usually by the real estate agent working on behalf of the buyer
  • A deed of sale contract is drawn up, signed, and filed with the county – creating an official record of sale. At this point, all money must change hands, and possession of the property must be turned over.

Foreigners looking to buy property in the USA should also bear in mind that one of the most crucial steps along the way is to secure the services of a reliable estate agent: one with whom you feel you'll be able to foster a good working relationship; these individuals will play a large part in the purchasing process.

By providing them with a comprehensive list of your housing requirements, your realtor will be able to use the MLS to generate a list of potential properties. Once you've identified one or two that seem promising, your realtor will then further assist you in liaising with the seller; organising viewings, house inspections and property reports (if necessary); negotiating yours sales contracts; advising you on market trends and prices; conducting title searches, etc. Suffice it to say, that buying a house in America is far less a project undertaken individually, than it is in partnership with your estate agent.

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