Selling a home when you’re physically outside of the country can feel overwhelming, and for good reason. Any home sale involves many moving parts and if you’re not physically present to keep the wheels moving in the right direction, the likelihood of problems can increase. When you sell from overseas, it’s important to communicate daily and to work with a Realtor you trust.
Who represented you when you purchased your home? Do you feel that he or she was an excellent communicator? Would you trust said real estate agent to act as your Power of Attorney (POA) and sign documents on your behalf? If you feel positive about the professional experience and integrity of your previous agent, call him or her to get the discussion started. Few Realtors have represented sellers from overseas – it’s a unique situation and as such you are not likely to find an agent with tons of experience in this area. Favor trust and communication over experience when vetting your overseas agent.
If you don’t know a trustworthy real estate agent yet, ask for referrals from family, friends, or your employer. If your employer is helping you sell with the assistance of a relocation company, the company can recommend agents in your area and set up an interview on your behalf. Interview 2-3 agents before making your decision.
Virtual closings used to be difficult or even unheard of in some regions. However, the era of COVID-19 has changed the landscape of real estate. While you will still need a POA present in the United States just in case, it may be possible for you to sign most of the documents yourself and even “attend” the closing via an internet meeting service (like Zoom or Google Meetings).
Your agent and/or the Title Company will send various documents your way throughout the listing, selling, and closing processes. Some of these can be sent and signed digitally (via email). Others will require notarization. If you will be signing a paper document yourself, plan to send it back via an express international service (like Priority Mail, FedEx, or UPS). If said document requires the services of a notary you’ll need to visit the nearest American Embassy with your passport and the required fee. You may need an appointment so call ahead.
Also, discuss with the closing agent how the closing funds will be handled. Discuss the receipt or payment of funds with your bank as well. If you will receive funds from the sale of your home, you may need to be physically present at your bank when the wire hits.
If you are actively serving overseas, chances are likely that you already have someone back home who can act as your POA and can also search for a Realtor on your behalf. The National Association of Realtors offers a Military Relocation Program (MRP) training, so look for agents who have this designation. Of course, fellow military families can be a great source for referrals, so ask around to find out if anyone has bought or sold a property in your home state. Social media is a great tool for obtaining referrals and you can set up virtual interviews if time and circumstances allow.
Consult your CPA or tax advisor regarding expatriate taxes, which are sometimes referred to as “expat tax.” The IRS requires special reporting of a home sale when the seller resides outside of the United States. The length of time you owned the home may affect your tax liability. You will benefit from knowing which documents to retain for tax purposes.
Did you leave personal property in the home? Dealing with your material effects, also known as chattel, can necessitate the involvement of multiple parties. Get the wheels in motion as early as possible on this. If you haven’t vacated your property yet, hold a garage sale or mass donation event to rid the home of as much chattel as possible. If you’ve already moved, consider a trip back to the States if you have items of value that need special handling. If anything needs put into storage, it will need moved and unloaded into a predetermined storage unit, which will also require upfront plus monthly payment. Consider donating larger items. Charity organizations like The Salvation Army will pick up larger items and may even take a load of smaller donated items but they require that someone be at the home to sign for the pickup.
Arrange to have your property winterized if necessary. If not, keep the utilities active and have someone (friend, family member, neighbor, or Realtor) check as-needed to make sure the plumbing, electric, gas, septic, or other utility-related items are functioning properly.
Once the home sale is in motion, make sure someone is readily available to follow-up on repairs or replacements related to the appraisal and/or home inspection.
If the thought of selling after you move overseas is too overwhelming, consider selling your home before you vacate. Your Realtor can negotiate a purchase contract in which you rent the home back from the new owners for a predetermined number of months until you move. Whether or not you sell before or after your move, your greatest tool is communication. Stay in touch with your Realtor and respond ASAP to any questions, documentation requests, or contract issues. Good luck and congratulations on your next step!
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