Real Estate Purchase Overview for Foreign Buyers

1 Why New York
Manhattan is the most expensive, most stable and most recognized market in the US.  The recent Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015 ranks Manhattan as the top real estate market in the world based on factors including economic environment, political climate, knowledge and quality of life.  Globally, Manhattan is a bargain when compared to cities like London, Paris and Hong Kong.  

2 Can foreigners buy property in Manhattan, New York?
Yes. Our foreign clients buy property in Manhattan because of brand value and appreciation potential. They often purchase as a pied-a-terre (vacation home), or as an investment property.

3  What type of properties are popular among foreign / international buyers?
There are two categories of apartments - condominiums and cooperatives. We recommend condos because of the higher appreciation and investment values. Co-op buildings often restrict ability to rent and perform renovations.  This reduces their attractiveness as an investment property. The process of buying a co-op is subject to board approval which prolongs the buying process.   Further, a co-op board may even reject a buyer.

The value of a condo, on a per-square-foot basis, is about 30 to 50 percent higher than that of a co-op. However, the appreciation potential and demand for condos are higher as well.  

Besides apartments, our clients also purchase commercial mixed use and multifamily buildings.  Apartments are more popular because they are easier to manage and simple to understand. 

4  What are expenses associated with owning a property in Manhattan?
For apartments, the main monthly expenses are: 
(i) property taxes
(ii) common charges
(iii) insurance
(iv) if financing is used, mortgage principal and interest.

New development apartment buildings often have a tax abatement which reduces the monthly tax bill. Without abatement, annual taxes are between 0.5 to 1 percent of property value.  Common charges average $1 per square foot per month and goes up or down depending on number of units and amenities.  Insurance is about $500 per year.

Expenses for mixed use or multifamily buildings are higher and include taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs, property management and others.  

5  Financing for foreign / international buyers
Mortgage loan financing is available and can be obtained either through a U.S. or non-U.S. bank.  Since the credit crisis, lenders have tightened credit criteria and will require about 40 percent as down payment from a foreign buyer.   

Financing allows the ability to leverage funds, thereby magnifying returns.  For example, if  an investor buys one condo at $1 million in cash, he gets the appreciation benefit of  only one  apartment.  But if the investor obtains mortgage financing and only puts 50% down payment, he can actually buy two apartments, effectively benefiting from the appreciation of two properties with the same (theoretical) equity investment. 

The two ways of arranging financing are:
(i) Financing from U.S. lender:  This option is easily arranged through a bank in the U.S.   The requirement is usually a 40 percent down payment (60% Loan-to-Value).  Also, the buyer needs to show liquid assets that is usually based on a multiple of the monthly payments.  Since financing is in the U.S., the buyer would have to pay about 2% mortgage tax.

(ii) Financing from home country:  This refers to getting an international mortgage from the home country of the investor.   Hence from the U.S.'s perspective, a cash transaction.  The main difference is saving on the mortgage tax and various bank fees.  But of course, there may be other fees associated with the financing bank.  

We would refer our foreign clients to contacts for both options.  Ultimately, the international investor needs to do a cost benefit analysis.  It's a matter of comparing loan terms, amortization period, interest rate, costs etc.

6  Cash buyers 
Foreign investors purchasing in cash save on the New York mortgage tax, about 2% of the loan amount.  In addition, the cash buyer saves various bank related fees.  

7  Transaction costs
For the buyer,  transaction costs are about 5-6 percent of the loan amount.  This estimate includes mansion tax, mortgage tax, title insurance,  attorney fees, recording taxes and other administrative expenses.  With an all-cash closing, the transaction costs are about 1.5 to 2 percent of property price.  The broker's commission is paid from the seller's proceeds.

For the seller, transaction costs are about 8% of the selling price and this is driven by the broker commission and transfer taxes.

8 Taxes, taxes, taxes
The categories of taxes are: 

(i) Property tax
These are reflected as a monthly expense with each condo and paid quarterly.  If there is a mortgage, the bank could escrow the tax amount.  This means collecting and paying on behalf of the owner.  For properties without a tax abatement, this tax is roughly 1 percent of price per year.    

(ii) Capital Gains Tax - depends on how ownership is held.  

(iii) Annual Operating Tax
This refers to annual taxes on profits assuming the property is rented out.  The U.S. government allows depreciation of property every year.  In Manhattan, 40 percent down payment is typically required for rental income to offset carrying costs including financing.  Hence, assuming break even cash flow, the depreciation allowance would create a NEGATIVE taxable income.  This means no operating taxes for the owner.  However, depreciation would have to be recaptured at time of sale.

(iv) Estate tax:
The largest tax exposure to a foreign property owner (compared to a U.S. owner) is the estate tax.  U.S. law is such that if a foreign owner passes, estate taxes could be as high as 50 percent.  The good news is that there are tax structures that can be set up to remove this risk.   

We have tax attorneys and accountants in our network that are qualified to advise our clients on all the above tax matters.  

9  How does the agent fee work when buying or selling?
In New York, agent fees are paid by the seller. When the seller’s agent agrees to list a property for sale, a certain percentage is agreed upon as commission.  If the buyer is represented by an agent, this pre-negotiated commission would be split with the buyer’s agent.  If the buyer does not have an agent, then the seller’s agent keeps the entire pre-negotiated commission.  Hence, it is in the best interest of the buyer to have agent representation to help identify the right property, negotiate the best price and coordinate the entire purchase process.

Access to inventory:  The property inventory in New York is openly accessible to all.  For example, if there are 5,000 listings for sale at a given point in time, all brokers and consumers have access to this inventory.  There is no restricted or exclusive access given to certain brokers.  Brokers usually access the inventory through the broker system while consumers can access them through websites like and  Any broker can bring a buyer client to view any property.  As such, the value of a buyer's broker is in identifying and negotiating the good buys.  The value is not in getting access to properties.   

The fiduciary responsibility of the buyer's agent is to the buyer while the fiduciary responsibility of the seller's agent is to the seller - regardless of the fact that the commissions for both is coming from the seller's side.   This is just the way the brokerage trade agreement works in New York.  

Buying Process For Foreign / Overseas Investors

Below is the process for buying a condo in Manhattan, New York.  The process is similar for those buying the condo as an investment property or as a vacation home.  Main difference is that for investment property buyers, down payment required by the lender is higher.  

Estimated Time to closing after identifying property:
With Financing:  10 to 12 weeks
All Cash:  2 to 3 weeks

1.  Obtain pre-approval from lender (1-5 days)
Lender can be a U.S. bank or overseas bank at buyer's home country with an international mortgage program.  

2.  Identify Property (2 days - several months)
Property viewing can be a pleasurable or tiring experience.  Our value is in filtering properties based on the client's objective to maximize productivity of the client's time.  

3.  Make offer and negotiate price (1 week)
Negotiation skills are critical.   Experienced negotiators could obtain many favorable financial and non-financial terms for the buyer.

4.  Execute contract (1-2 weeks)
The agreed upon terms are provided to both parties' attorneys who will prepare the contract.  The buyer's attorney will perform due diligence on the property prior to actual contract execution.  Once all is agreed upon, the contract is executed.  At this time, a 10% deposit will be required from the buyer to be held in escrow by the attorney.

5.  Apply For Mortgage and Obtain Commitment Letter (6-9 weeks)
The buyer formally applies for a mortgage after which the lender will perform due diligence, including appraisals etc.  Consequently, the lender will issue a commitment letter.  

6.  Submit condo package to condo board for approval (1 to 4 weeks)
This occurs concurrently with Step 5 above.

7.  Schedule Closing
At closing, all parties - buyer, seller, bank, attorneys, brokers, will come together at a table.  A lot of paperwork is signed and funds will be provided to the seller in exchange for the buyer getting legal title to the property.  The deal will be completed at the table and usually no future follow-ups are necessary.


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