We dropped by a real estate agent’s office in the center of Waterford City, where we sat down with Mr. O’Shea and gave him the rundown on the kind of house we were looking for…
Georgian, stone, at least three bedrooms and three baths, with a bit of land for a garden, and maybe an old barn for a pony…
Mr. O’Shea seemed to take our criteria under advisement and suggested a time later in the week when one of his agents could show us available properties.
That first day out, we saw four houses, not one of which in any way fit the description we’d given to Mr. O’Shea in his office. Instead, his agent kept taking us to see new-built “bungalows” in “estates,” as the Irish refer to the suburban housing subdivisions that were popping up all across the country when we arrived on the scene.
I refused to get out of the car to walk through the fourth place. It looked just like the three we’d already seen and that we’d already explained weren’t anything like what we were interested in buying.
The Celtic Tiger was an established economic phenomenon by the time we took up residence in Waterford, and the better part of the money that boom was throwing off was being plowed into real estate—building it, buying it, selling it, one Irishman to another.
Dozens of the housing estates of the kind Mr. O’Shea’s team was so intent on introducing to us were being developed across the Emerald Isle in what was the start of what proved to be one of biggest Ponzi schemes in history. Over the next seven years that we lived in Ireland, the real estate market in this country continued up and up and up. It was a self-fueling spiral.
This chaotically expanding Irish marketplace of the late 1990s was our introduction to shopping for real estate in a foreign country. It took us months to begin to realize even how much we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
My objective these days, of course, is trying to help you benefit from our missteps over our now two-and-a-half decades overseas.
Specifically, as we’re focused this week on the big opportunity on offer right now for you to use a real estate purchase overseas to diversify both your life and your portfolio, my aim is to show you how to avoid the frustration and the confusion that Lief and I suffered as we felt our way through that first purchase in Ireland and our other early property buys.
How Should You Approach The Process Of Buying Real Estate Overseas?
#1. Start With The Where
Don’t chase promises of high yields in Bulgaria if you have no desire to be in Bulgaria.
Even some places where Lief and I have enjoyed spending time, we’ve opted not to invest because we didn’t expect to be able to return often or at all even if we owned property there.
To maximize your return on a cash-flowing investment anywhere, you should plan to visit the property at least once a year. Focus, therefore, on destinations where you’d enjoy vacationing. In these dispatches lately, I’m focusing your attention on Portugal, France, Northern Cyprus, Croatia, Panama, Belize, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic, because those countries offer the best investment opportunities in 2021 and will continue to do so long term.
These aren’t the only places you can find good real estate cash-flow investments overseas, but if one or more of those destinations appeals to you as a place to visit, then that’s the place to start.
If you vacation internationally, think back over places that you’d like an excuse to return to, then look into the current local real estate opportunities.
If you like to dive, beach and diving destinations in the Caribbean should be at the top of your shopping list. If you’re a fan of classic architecture and Old World history, look first in Europe. Sailors might look in locations with marinas. Surfers should prioritize countries in the Americas with a Pacific coast.
You get the idea.
Make a list of at least three destinations before planning your first scouting trip. Give yourself options for where to go. You could find that the place you are most excited about doesn’t make sense for some reason.
In each location you visit, schedule time both to view properties and to have fun. Always remind yourself that buying a cash-flowing property overseas isn’t only about the money. This is as much about reinventing your lifestyle as it is about building a portfolio. Plan out your visit but leave yourself time to wander around. Walking is the best way to get a feel for a place, and Lief and I prioritize this when scouting a new destination. We want to develop a baseline lay of the land before meeting with a real estate agent.
#2. Meet With A Real Estate Attorney And A Bank
Also allow time for meetings with a real estate attorney and maybe a bank on that first trip.
In most markets where you’ll be interested in shopping, you’ll find that real estate agents will resist scheduling viewings until you’re in the country. If they’ve worked with foreigners in the past, they’ve been burned by people changing their plans and not showing up without warning. In some tourist markets, real estate agents who’ve wasted time with looky-loos killing time on vacation might even ask you to pay a fee for them to show you around. Respect the real estate agent’s time.
Real estate attorneys on the other hand should be willing to schedule an appointment before you get on a plane as long as you have a solid date for when you’ll be in the country. If you don’t have a lead for a good real estate attorney before you arrive, ask the real estate agents you’re speaking with for a recommendation. You can also check the U.S. Embassy website for that country, which should include a list of English-speaking attorneys by specialty. Interview at least two attorneys.
#3. Research, Research, Research
Before you get on the plane, do as much research online as you can to get an idea of property prices.
We Americans are used to being able to search for comps on websites like Zillow. No such services exist in most markets outside North America, because almost nowhere else in the world operates with a multiple listing service. Where you find a multiple listing service in place, they aren’t helpful.
#4. Get Your Boots On The Ground
To get an idea what’s available in a market, you’ll have to speak with several real estate agents and see a range of properties. Agents don’t cooperate, so it’s not disloyal for you, as the buyer, to work with several different ones. It’s the only way to get a proper overview of the market… as Lief and I found out the hard way in Ireland.
While the Internet is a good place to start looking, any foreign property listings you find searching online in English are going to be priced at a premium. To break through the gringo-pricing barrier, you’ll need to do some research online in the local language. With online translators, that’s easy these days.
#5. Find A Good Rental Manager
Another important connection to make during any initial scouting trip is with a rental management company. The rental manager is key to success with a cash-flow investment anywhere. Some real estate agencies offer rental management services. Depending on the market, this can be the best option. Before committing, though, research the availability of independent management.
#6. Speak With Other Foreign Property Owners And Investors
Finally, when scouting a new market and even when returning to a market where you have experience, try to speak with other foreign property owners and investors. I’m not talking about the geezer in the corner of the local bar who knows everyone and everything. He’s usually a time sucker who likes to hear himself talk.
Make an effort to connect with serious people with firsthand experience in the market. Your real estate agent and attorney probably have clients they could introduce you to, and social media makes it easy to connect with like-minded people anywhere on the planet.
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter