LOS ANGELES (AP) — Casa, maison, hause. Even for veteran homeowners, buying a home overseas can be a daunting prospect.
Fortunately, everything from property listings to details about potential red tape are increasingly available online, if not all in one place.
Experts are quick to warn that anyone considering buying a home outside the U.S. should enlist an attorney, a broker and possibly even an accountant with expertise in the country where they want to buy a home. This is sound advice.
But for budding international real estate barons there's no reason not to start cyber sight-seeing, and get acquainted with the potential opportunities and hurdles that await them. (And for everyone else, it's just plain fun to see what a dollar buys you overseas these days, right?)
Google the words "international real estate" and you're bound to stumble on no shortage of sites, but if you want to cover more ground, faster, I recommend scanning several of the Web sites for the big-brand brokerages, like Coldwell Banker, ReMax International and Century 21.
These companies each have tendrils of affiliates with locations around the globe and offer listings with photos, maps, real estate agent information and other details. It's good to check each, because agents in many other countries do not readily share property listings with competitors.
The sites share similar search features, such as the availability by country, property type, price range and other variables.
Portions of some of the affiliate sites I checked weren't in English. Others listed property dimensions in meters or didn't have prices listed in U.S. dollars. Sometimes it was merely unclear, like when I searched Coldwell Banker's site for a listing in Australia.
On their site I found some 250 properties for sale, including a four-bedroom, three-bath house with a view of Sydney's postcard-perfect harbor on sale for $11 million. But I couldn't easily tell whether that was in U.S. or Australian dollars.
Century 21's site for France left me considerably more confused, specifically because I don't speak French and I couldn't spot any link to switch to English. The site for the company's affiliate in Portugal did have a tab for English readers, but the Web page is still under construction.
The ReMax sites I checked gave users the option to click on a tiny Union Jack and switch to English mode, but not all of the content on the page was translated. While looking up properties in Hungary, for example, information about the apartment in Budapest I wanted to see wasn't translated.
The big guys don't capture everything that's for sale, of course, so looking elsewhere is a good strategy.
Craigslist has built up a formidable foreign reach, with sites dedicated to more than 90 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam.
Ads for real estate for sale are presented in the popular Web site's no-frills display: No fancy maps or interactive widgets. Just links posted by brokers, owners and others.
One drawback, however, is the entries aren't standardized like they are on other real estate listing sites. You're never quite sure how much information you're going to get.
Still, a recent search turned up ads that typically included plenty of details, photos and prices.
Another option is to search for real state sites that cater specifically to a single country, such as Globrix.com, a search engine for real estate listings in the United Kingdom.
Sites like these, however, don't necessarily cater to visitors from the United States or other countries. I had to call up my favorite currency exchange calculator to figure out how much a two-bedroom, one-bath house in London selling for 195,000 British pounds would set me back. In this case, about $296,116.
Viewr.com, which launched five years ago, boasts around 600,000 listings.
"We have at least one listing in every country," says Karl Lingenfelder, president and CEO of the San Diego-based company.
Search sites help answer the question of what's available, but they're only a first step in understanding the complexities of buying real estate overseas. What if you want to find a good agent? Or a real estate lawyer?
The Web site for the International Real Estate Federation, which represents real estate professionals — from brokers to lawyers and appraisers — in 60 countries, is a good start.
I was able to find a profile for a broker in Madrid, with phone numbers, e-mail address, Web site and information on which languages he speaks.
At WorldProperties.com, meanwhile, you can search for brokers by country and language. Users may also search some 3 million listings of homes for sale or rent in 31 countries, including the United States.
The site has links to the CIA World Factbook and other country profile materials, including a tool for looking up information on what kind of potential hang-ups a foreign buyer might face. For example, the Russian Federation and Greece don't allow foreign citizens to own property near border areas, while Thailand bars foreigners from owning coastal land.
The site also provides a slew of information on how real state deals work in specific countries.
Similarly, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, www.relohomesearch.com, offers a wealth of details on overseas real estate markets.
The Chicago-based company operates a network of independent real estate firms and a Web site with information on buying real estate worldwide. It also links to affiliates' Web pages with property listings.
Curious about whether you can own a home in China? The firm has it covered: You can get a land-use right where you lease the property from the government for several decades, typically around 70 years for residential property.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.