By Margaret Summerfield

Most folks think that finding a property overseas that fits their tastes and budget is tough.

In fact, it’s much easier than they think. There’s plenty of opportunity out there when you know where to look, even when you’re on a tight budget.

In recent weeks, I’ve written about lots in Uruguay for $32,000…a Pacific beach town with homes from $39,500…and a lake-view house for $69,000 in my free e-letter.

I know from my scouting trips that finding your dream home is the easy part. It gets a little trickier when you move to the next stage—the fine print detail of sale contracts, carrying out legal checks, and analyzing permits.

That’s a special area of interest for me. I’ve spent years scrutinizing sale contracts and running the legal rule over projects large and small. I deal regularly with attorneys, developers, planners, and architects.

I’m at the stage where I know what paperwork needs to be filed to make a property above-board and legal. I know the right questions to ask. And when you’re buying overseas, you should, too.

My first piece of advice is to always hire a good, in-country attorney, ideally one that specializes in real estate. But don’t just sit back and let your attorney get on with it. You need to ask him some basic questions from the get-go. Some folks don’t—and it can lead to problems later on, problems that could have easily been avoided by getting the right information from the beginning.

To help you avoid any costly mistakes, here are the top five questions to ask your attorney:

Question #1: Are You Only Working for Me?

It seems like a no-brainer. An attorney should only represent one side of a property transaction. He’s either the seller’s attorney or the buyer’s attorney. But in many countries overseas an attorney can legally represent both parties. It’s not seen as a conflict of interest. He may not even have to disclose his relationship with the seller to you. Always ask your attorney in writing if he’s got any connection, past or present, to the seller of the property. You need to know that your attorney has your best interests at heart.

Question #2: Can I Own It?

Foreign buyers sometimes face restrictions when they buy property overseas. They usually can’t own land close to a country’s international borders. They may need to buy a property with a minimum value or build a home within a year of buying a piece of land. In some countries, foreigners (and sometimes locals, too) simply aren’t allowed to own land at all.

Question #3: Is the Property Fee Simple?

At Pathfinder International, we recommend that you only buy freehold titled property, also known as fee simple. But you’ll come across different ways of owning property overseas. These include rights of possession and concessions. I explain those in more detail in my free report (click here to get your copy). You really need to understand what kind of property ownership you get. It can become a costly mistake if you don’t.

Question #4: Can I Do What I Want with the Property?

If you need a permit to do something back home, you’ll likely need a similar permit overseas. You need to comply with local planning and zoning regulations that govern setbacks and access and density. If you buy a piece of land and dream of building a sprawling mansion make sure that local laws allow you to do that. If you’re buying in a private community or high-rise, you’ll have to stick to the community guidelines. They may dictate that you can’t sublet, work from home, or keep a large dog. Always make sure that you can do what you want with the property you’re buying.

Question #5: Is the Property Free & Clear?

In much of the world, a mortgage stays with the property. The seller needs to pay it off in full or it will transfer with the property title to you, the new owner. The same applies to any unpaid property taxes, fines, and liens. Ask your attorney to get all debts cleared before the property you’re buying transfers to your name.

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