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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 United States United States

Country Information & Lifestyle

 The Land Of The Free

The Land Of The Free

The United States of America is made up of 50 states, all except Hawaii and Alaska are in the continental USA, several other territories and possessions, notably the federal district of Columbia which contains the capital Washington, and several other areas.

This country is so vast and diverse with dozens of major cities and several important global ones such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston.

There is no official language although English is the national language and most commonly used for everyday interaction. Not all Americans speak English but a knowledge of the language is required for immigrants seeking naturalisation.

The USA has 31 ethnic groups mostly European Americans, descendants of European immigrants to the USA, along with non-Europeans. The culture of the USA began with first colonists and quickly evolved as an independent frontier culture, Spanish-Mexican cowboys brought their own culture and with the wave of subsequent immigrants, first from Europe and Africa, and later from Asia.

An important component of the American Dream, the idea that through hard work, courage and self-determination, regardless of social class, a person can gain better life. The Constitution is the supreme legal document in the American system and serves as a social contact between the people of the US and their government, a living document as it is amended by a variety of methods, all of which require the approval of an overwhelming majority of the states.

The cuisine has been influenced by the various cultures and the Native American cuisine uses turkey, potatoes, corn and squash, which have become an integral part of the American culture. Popular food such as apple pie, pizza and hamburgers have derived from, or are European dishes, burritos and tacos have their origins in Mexico, soul food originated from African slaves, and of course Creole cooking from Louisiana has a major part in world cuisine.

The climate is so diverse from tropical to Arctic, with terrain so widely different from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, the Everglades in Florida, New England's stunning fall foliage, California's beaches, to the vast plains of the Lonestar State, Texas.

Louisiana has sleepy bayous on the Gulf Coast, Memphis home to Elvis Presley and Country & Western music, Savannah, Georgia with the beautiful restored National Historic Landmark District preserving the heritage of the Antebellum south, South Dakota with the famous Black Hills, Arizona's Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, in the Silver State of Nevada, with legacies of the silver mining after the Civil War and West Virginia is literally 'Almost Heaven'.

Virginia, the site of the first English speaking colony in 1607 and of course Philadelphia home to the Liberty Bell and the first capital of the USA in 1790. Boston, home of the Freedom Trail, Ole Man River - the mighty Mississippi, California with the fantastic Yosemite National Park and the tallest, most massive and oldest trees in the world, Yellowstone, the first National Park established in 1872, the American Cowboy and the Native Americans who left so much of their legacy and culture for us, the United States of America has it all and so much more.

Wherever you decide to purchase you will not be disappointed as this great land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.

Purchasing a Property

Overseas buyers can purchase freehold and leasehold land or property without any restrictions. There are minor restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate in American but they are insignificant for buy-to-let investment purposes. At the federal level there are only a few restrictions on non-resident aliens NRAs owning or investing in real property.

Generally it will take 2-4 weeks to buy a property. This is dependent on a number of factors, not all of which are in your control. Once you have decided on a property, contact will be made with the seller or his estate agent.

The terms and conditions of the sale can be negotiated very quickly, therefore it is important to have an accurate picture of the condition of the property, likely repairs that will be needed and its consequent value.
When you have found your property make a verbal offer through your agent who will convey it either to the seller's agent or to the seller directly. When you make an offer you are in no way legally bound to it. The seller may counter your offer, beginning a negotiation process that hopefully will lead to an agreement on price, terms and closing date.

Once you have made your proposal the seller must accept it. If it is accepted and the contract is signed, you are both legally bound to comply with every aspect of the contract, even if situations change. The contract should contain, the address and legal description of the property and home, agreed sale price, terms of sale, all down payments and mortgage condition, sellers promise to legally hand over the title of the land, a target date for the finalisation of the sale and amount of down payment, this may also be known as earnest money or deposit.

The seller's attorney begins preparation of the contract of sale and will review the deed, survey, title insurance policy, promissory notes or mortgages on the property, certificates of occupancy, tax bills, fuel and utility bills, leases, permits for elevator, pools, etc.
Meanwhile your attorney (a real estate attorney is required in all property transactions in New York City) examines the financial condition of the condominium where you want to buy.

The buyers attorney reviews and negotiates the contract deed, title search and title insurance policy, as well as the documents referred to in the title policy, such as survey, certificate of occupancy, real property tax bill, heating, cooling and electric bills.

After your attorney concludes that the condominiums financial condition is satisfactory, that the by-laws of the building are acceptable to you, and that the contract of sale is also acceptable, he will allow you to sign the contract. You will then usually be required to present a deposit of 10% of the purchase price.

The contract plus the deposit will then be forwarded to the seller for signature. This money will be held in the seller's attorney's escrow account until closing. It is important to note that until all parties have signed the contract, and it has been delivered, the seller can still entertain and accept other offers.

Earnest Money is not a down payment - it is instead a smaller sum which, if written in the agreement, can give you sole bargaining rights for a specified period of time. The money is usually help by the realtor and is added to the down payment if the sale goes through.

Closing (or settlement as it known in some parts of the US) is the final step in executing a real estate transaction. The closing date is set during the negotiation phase, and is usually several weeks after the offer is formally accepted. On the closing date, the parties consummate the purchase contract, and ownership of the property is transferred to the buyer. In most jurisdictions ownership is officially transferred when the contract is registered at the cadastre, or, in most US states, at the office of the County Recorder of the county in which the property is located.

Several things happen during closing:
The buyer (or his bank) delivers a cheque (generally in the US, a Cashier's check or wire transfer) for the balance owed on the purchase price.
The seller signs the deed over to the buyer, and gives him the keys.
A title company, lawyer or civil law notary registers the new deed with the local land registry office.
The seller receives a cheque for the proceeds of the sale, less closing costs and mortgage payouts.

Closing in escrow usually occurs in the western half of the US states. A title company (rather than a lawyer) or other trusted party holds the money and the signed deed, and arranges for the transfer. This is primarily so that the seller can give up ownership of the property, and the buyer can hand over the payment, without both parties having to be present at the same time. Escrow ensures an orderly transaction, or if something goes wrong, an orderly termination of the agreement.

On the Eastern side of the US, settlement (as closing is called) takes place on a specified date and time during which all parties (usually including the agents involved) meet at a settlement company presided over or supervised by a lawyer. The transfer of money (in form of certified or wired funds) and the property takes place, and the deed is then recorded by the company.

Although there may be additional documents involved, the primary items which are dealt with at the Closing are: The Settlement Statement , the contract, the loan papers, Title Insurance, Homeowners Insurance, the title or deed, the down payment and closing costs.

Closing is your final opportunity to make certain that everything related to the purchase of your home is correct. It is important, therefore, that you do adequate preparation prior to the day of Closing. Although your Agent will most likely review all of the items needed with you, it is a good idea to have the right information in case you need to handle it on your own.

Fees & Taxes

Fees and taxes vary from state to state so it is not possible to give a generalisation. You would be wise to speak with a tax expert from the state you intend purchasing in.

There are a variety of selling costs when buying property in USA. If the seller goes through a Realtor, then fees will vary depending on the agent, but a typical price would be 3-5% of the overall sales price. People choosing to sell the property themselves, on the internet for example, would clearly save themselves even more money.

In 36 US states a property transfer tax of between 1% and 5% is charged on the assessed value of your property.
Stamp duty this tax is a charge made when a mortgage has been obtained for the purchase of the property and consists of documentary stamps calculated on the total of the loan. In states such as Florida stamp duty is charged at a rate of 35 cents per $100 of mortgage.

In addition to stamp duty investors must pay an Intangible Tax at 0.002% on the mortgage amount. Therefore if you obtain a $100,000 mortgage $350 in Documentary Stamps and $200 in Intangible Tax will need to be paid. It is important to note that neither of these taxes will be charged if you pay cash to finance property purchase.

Title Charges - these costs are used to cover the various services performed by title companies and other title related services. These fees include Settlement or Closing Fee, Abstract of Title Search, Title Examination, Title Insurance Binder, Document Preparation, Notary Fee, Attorneys Fees, Title Insurance, Lenders Title Insurance and Owners Title Insurance.

Government Recording and Transfer Charges - These fees are related to costs accrued to the government recording and transfer section of home selling. Depending on how it was stipulated in the Agreement of Sale, they are either paid by the buyer or seller. These fees include: Recording Fees of the Deed, Mortgage, and Releases; City/County Tax/Stamps fees; and State tax/Stamps fees.

Capital Gains Tax also varies according to state, but if the property is owned for more than a year, the rate can amount to anything between 8% and 15%.

Inheritance Tax - These relate to gifts or transfer of ownership while you are alive or upon your death. Both federal and state inheritance taxes will apply while there are great differences between the states relating to how your estate is taxed upon your death, so it pays to find out what your liabilities might be before committing to an
investment.

Sales/Brokers Commission: The seller is typically responsible for paying the total dollar amount of the real estate brokers sales commission, which is generally a percentage of the homes selling price.

Pro-rata property taxes - Paid by the seller, the buyer, or both. Most (but not all) jurisdictions assess taxes on real property, which are usually payable at a specified date annually. Since all but a tiny fraction of real estate transactions close on a date other than this one specified annual date, most transactions must include an adjustment to assure that both the seller and the buyer end up paying their share of the annual property tax, proportionate to the percentage of the year that each has ownership of the property. Usually required by institutional/commercial lenders and by the real estate contract.

Local Taxes - The local tax amount is on the assessed value of the property but is likely to be about 75% of the market value, depending on your state. The good news is that in 2006 ten US states decided to review local taxes in order to decrease them to more affordable levels.

Tax on Rental Income - all rental income is subject to USA tax. A standard withholding tax rate of 30% is applied to all rental income and is paid locally. In some states a double taxation agreement exists between the state and the UK. Tax on rental income can be very low if handled correctly by your financial professionals, as generous allowances are in place, including mortgage interest relief as well as the cost of your inspection flights.

A new bill has been passed through Florida's parliament to help drive interest from foreign investors. The amendment has placed a limit on the tax a non-resident investor will be due on their investment or holiday property. Previously only "homestead" properties, those owned by Floridan residents were exempt from more than one tax increase every year of 3%. Non-homestead "foreign" buyers could be subjected to any amount of tax hikes at any time.

The new law means that a revenue cap has been placed on local government and it can only levy from both domestic and foreign owners of property the same amount of revenue it did the previous year in line with changes in construction and personal income.

The Floridan property market is tightly regulated involving a fair few external parties with the intention of protecting the buyer. Lawyers are rarely used directly during the process, except by title insurance/ settlement firms, but it is worth consulting one to check your legal rights and obligations. Having selected a property the buyer and seller each represented by a different agent, acting through a broker agree a contract setting out the provisions of the transaction (including checks on the title and dates for the property inspections).

Once the offer is accepted the buyer pays a deposit,(which is lost on withdrawal but refunded if the home does not meet the stipulations of the contract). If necessary the buyer then applies for a mortgage or obligatory insurance. Then a settlement (conveyancing) company is selected by both parties with payment of the balance by the buyer. There are no purchase taxes to pay but annual property tax apply expect to pay around one per cent of value annually.

Transfer tax will total between 3-5% of value less if the buyer is not using a mortgage. Visa and work permit required. Deposit 20% for non-US nationals. Agents fees US$1,500+ Legal fees No lawyer required. Capital gains tax 15% No other taxes.

Visas

A citizen of a foreign country wishing to enter the U.S generally must first obtain a visa, either a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.

The type of visa you must have is defined by the immigration law and relates to the purpose of your travel.

Check with the Embassy/Consulate in your home country before making your trip to the U.S.A

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