Our Guide on Renting or Buying a Home in the US
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Housing prices in the US, compared to the average wages, are relatively affordable. However, costs depend on location as well as the type of accommodation you choose. From a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs to a modern loft apartment in the middle of downtown, the US has a great variety of different types of houses and areas available.
But before you even decide on the kind of place you wish to live in, you should think about whether you wish to rent or buy. Renting a house or an apartment is the most common option for many expats; however, buying a house in the US is not that complicated and many foreigners opt for the title of a homeowner.
If you do not know what to do yet, take your time exploring the various possibilities while staying at one of the many available short-term rentals. Finding such temporary housing is not too complicated and will not require a lot of paperwork.
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Renting a House or Apartment
Whether you are a foreigner or a local, the how-to for apartment and house renting in the US is very similar. The process and contracts are usually the same and you cannot be denied tenancy because of your country of origin. The main difference might be in the number of documents you need to present before signing the lease and size of your security deposit.
Average Rent in the US
Determining the average rental price in the US can be complicated because of the variety of renting options available across the country. US rent prices usually depend on the type of property and where it is situated. The median rent of a single bedroom apartment in the US is around 900–1,000 USD. Median rent price for all types of property is generally around 1,700 USD.
Average Monthly Rent in the Most Expensive Areas
Area 1 Bedroom Apartment (USD) District of Columbia 2,400 Massachusetts 2,100 California 1,600 New York 1,600 Maryland 1,500
Average Monthly Rent in the Most Affordable Areas
State 1 Bedroom Apartment (USD) South Dakota 550 New Mexico 550 Arkansas 600 Wyoming 650 North Dakota 650
Depending on where you reside, you should expect to pay a minimum of 30% of your salary on accommodation rent in the US.
How Much is Rent in the Biggest US Cities?
City 1 Bedroom Apartment (USD) San Francisco 3,500 New York City 3,000 Los Angeles 2,500 Boston 2,500 Miami 1,800
Rent Control in the US
Rent control functions as a price ceiling for rentals. It puts a limit on how much the landlord can increase the rental price when the tenant wishes to renew the lease. It is in effect in four states in the US (California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland) as well as the District of Columbia. Other nine states allow for rent control but none of their cities or districts have chosen to enact it.
Renting in the US as a Foreigner
The main difference between renting in the US as a local and foreigner is that as an expat you might need to provide more documents to prove your financial stability. As you will not have US credit records the first time you arrive in the US, your landlord will not be able to rely on them when weighing your ability to pay rent. That is why you should be prepared to show your international credit score and employment documentation and, in some cases, pay a higher security deposit (anywhere from two to twelve months rent).
US Rental Process and Rules
Start your rental process by looking into your options online. Research the neighborhood you would like to stay in and see what type of housing is available there.
In most cases, whether you choose a studio apartment in a high-rise in the middle of a metropolis or a house in the suburbs, the accommodation will be furnished. Finding unfurnished apartments might be tricky, but you will have better luck if you are looking for an unfurnished house.
Working with a professional relocation service provider or real estate agent will make the rental process smoother and help you avoid rental scams. If you continue looking for an apartment on your own, you can rely on many online tools, social media, or local newspaper’s classifieds to find a place you like.
After you find a place that suits your needs, you will have to fill out a rental application. This document is usually put together by the landlord. It asks you to provide your contact details as well as information about your employment and prior tenancies.
After your landlord approves your application, you will sign your tenancy agreement.
Rental Agreement or Lease?
When looking for a place, make sure you know what type of tenancy contract you prefer.
Lease is usually the most common option when it comes to rentals. This document lasts a fixed amount of time (six months, a year, or longer) and needs to be extended at the end of the rental period. During the length of the contract, the landlord is not allowed to make any changes to your agreement (e.g., increase the rental price) unless both parties agree upon them.
Rental agreements are more appealing to tenants that are interested in short-term, month-to-month type of rentals. These contracts usually last a month or 30 days and get renewed automatically unless a written notice of termination is given. This type of tenancy agreement allows for the landlord to change contract details anytime; however, they have to give prior notice.
What are the Required Documents for Renting?
When dealing with your landlord, be prepared to provide the following documents:
- Proof of employment (letter from your employer, employment contract, etc.)
- Financial information (bank statement, proof of support, etc.)
- Social Security Number (if already obtained)
- Contact information of previous landlords
What to Expect from a US Rental Contract?
Your rental contract should include the following information:
- Length of contract
- End-of-contract obligations (for both the landlord and tenant)
- Termination clause
- Rent due date
- Method of payment
- In the event of late payment clause
- Utility bills payments
- Maintenance and repairs clause
- Security deposit amount along with how and when it should be returned
If you are moving into an apartment, also take the time to familiarize yourself with the building’s rules. These might be restrictions for pets, quiet times, and hallway and stairway maintenance.
In general, US tenancy laws are pro-tenant. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on origin, gender, race, religion, disability, or family status.
Deposit and Other Expenses
About half of the states in the US have put a limit to how large security deposits can be. In those states, the sum cannot exceed three and a half months’ rent. Some states might require transferring the deposit into an account that is separate from the landlord’s. The amount of time that the landlord can take to return the tenant their security deposit also varies from state to state (can be from 14 to 60 days).
Other expenses you might need to expect are application fees, renter’s insurance, utility deposits, parking and maintenance fees, and a pet deposit or monthly fee.
Many tenants often want to see their accommodation or survey the neighborhood before committing to a long-term lease. That is when short-term rentals come in handy.
Average Price for Short-Term Rentals
Short-term accommodation costs tend to be higher than the usual market price. While it depends on what type of property you choose, you can expect to pay double the usual costs. However, higher prices usually guarantee all-inclusive, fully furnished, high-quality monthly rentals.
What Documents are Needed for Short-Term Rentals?
Usually, temporary rentals contracts do not require as many documents as long-term leases. A proof of ID should be sufficient for you to sign a short-term tenancy agreement for an apartment, room, or house.
Things to Know About Short-Term Rentals
Many areas have different types of restrictions on short-term rentals. For example, not all states allow for renters to stay in certain housing units for less than 30 days. Other areas might not allow short-term rentals at all unless they qualify as hotels.
Buying Property as a Foreigner
Buying property in the US is rather easy for both locals and foreigners. That is why homeownership here is fairly common. And while prices are fairly affordable, the market is saturated with many home loan options as well.
What are the Requirements for Foreigners Who Want to Buy Property in the US?
There are no specific requirements for foreigners who wish to buy property in the US as long as they are eligible for a Social Security Number. If they are not, they have to apply for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number that will allow them to purchase a home.
US House Prices
Property prices in the US vary greatly across the country. The median price of a home in the US is around 220,000 USD.
States with the Most Affordable House Prices*
West Virginia 160,000 USD Ohio 170,000 USD Arkansas 175,000 USD Mississippi 180,000 USD Missouri 180,000 USD
Areas with the Most Expensive House Prices*
Hawaii 620,000 USD Washington DC 600,000 USD California 545,000 USD Massachusetts 450,000 USD Colorado 420,000 USD
*According to Business Insider
Types of Property in the US
- Single Family Homes (SFH) – detached residences for one family; usually entails a garage, driveway, as well as front and back yards; typically located in suburban areas.
- Multi Family Homes (MFH) or Semi-Detached Homes – residences that house two or more families; usually come as duplexes (for two households) or triplexes (for three households).
- Bungalows – small, square, single-story homes; typically located in suburban areas.
- Condominiums (Condos) – apartments (most typically) or houses with common areas like pool, gym, tennis court, etc.; popular in urban areas.
- Townhouses – tall and narrow buildings attached to one another with small backyards; built for inner-city living.
Process of Buying a House in the US
Step 1: Budget
Assess how much money you have and how much you can afford to invest in a property. If you do not have a sufficient amount of money, consider mortgage opportunities. Also, think about the type of home you want. Consider the size, location, and amenities that are necessary.
Step 2: Check Your Credit Rate
Another step to take before you decide to purchase a home is checking your credit balance. If you wish to take out a mortgage, the rates offered to you will vary depending on your credit score. Mid- to high-700s will give you the best options available.
If you are taking out a mortgage, this would be a good time to get a preapproval letter. This is a document that states that your bank of choice is willing to lend you a certain amount of money to purchase a property. You can present your preapproval letter to sellers to prove your ability to buy the place they are selling.
Step 3: Gather Your Documents
The requirements to buy a property in the US are:
- Proof of ID
- Social Security Number (or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
- Bank statements
- Most recent pay stub
- Tax return forms
Step 4: Start Looking for a Home
Find a professional third party or real estate agent to help you find and purchase the property. Choose a professional who has experience working with foreigners as they are more likely to know the rules of the state you are in and the necessary documentation you will need along with other legalities and information. Do not hesitate to ask for recommendations before hiring.
Step 5: Choose Your Future Home
When you have decided on a place, express your interest by making an offer and start the negotiations. Inspect your future home, make sure you agree with all the statements in the contract, and put down the initial payment.
This is also a good time to settle on your mortgage lender of choice.
Step 6: Close the Deal
The best way to handle the closing stages of the house buying process is to hire a closing agent that will help you review documents before finalizing the deal, and arrange payments. Keep in mind that closing the deal involves additional costs, such as title search, insurances, settlement and notary fees, and other payments.
For more information, refer to the US government site that provides an in-depth guide on buying a home in the country.
Buying a House in the US to Get Citizenship, Permanent Residence, or Another Visa
Given that buying property in the US as foreigners is fairly easy, the government does not treat homeowners in the US any differently from home renters. You will not be granted citizenship or permanent residence in the US for acquiring property.
While some apartments might already have utilities set up and may be ready for you to use, in other cases (especially if you move into a newly constructed apartment), you will need to contact utility companies to set up your own accounts. Setting up a new account usually includes a one-time fee as well as a financial deposit.
Keep in mind that utility providers in the US vary depending on state, and sometimes even by specific towns and cities. When moving to the US, it is always best to research the provider in the specific area where you will be living.
- How long it takes to set up: 1–2 days after contacting them
- How much does it cost (monthly): 70–150 USD (depending on state)
- Things to know: The main source of US electricity is fossil fuel (gas, coal, petroleum).
The biggest US electricity providers are:
- Pacific Gas and Electric
- Southern California Edison
- Florida Power and Light
- Consolidated Edison
- Georgia Power
- How long it takes to set up: 1 week after contacting them
- How much does it cost (monthly): 60–120 USD (depending on state)
- Things to know: Just like many other countries, the US adds mercaptan to the natural gas, so it has a distinct odor.
The biggest US gas companies:
- Exxon Mobil
- How long it takes to set up: 12 days after contacting them (if you already have a water meter installed)
- How much does it cost (monthly): 50–90 USD (depending on state)
- Things to know: 85% of US tap water is safe to drink.
Some of the US water companies:
- Aqua America
- American Water Corp
- American Water Works
- American States Water
Documents Required to Set Up Utilities
Each utility provider requires a different set of documents to set up accounts; however, in most cases, you need the following:
- A valid ID
- Verification of Tenancy (usually needs to be filled out in person at your local city hall)
- Your credit information/a US bank account
If you do have a poor payment record, utility companies might ask for a letter of agreement from you trustee who would be able to cover your bill in case you are unable to.
Sometimes you might also need proof of employment or to provide your Social Security Number.
Internet and Mobile Phones
Due to the lack of competitiveness in the markets, both internet and mobile phone connection in the US is rather expensive. In addition to that, the quality of services is known to be rather limited.
Many internet providers offer contracts and bundles that include high-speed broadband, Wi-Fi, and TV and streaming services. Additionally, some providers also include mobile phone plans in their deals.
The average price of an all-inclusive internet bundle can range from 60 to 120 USD.
Some of the US’ internet providers include:
Many carriers offer both, monthly contracts and pay-as-you-go services, as well as the opportunity to buy mobile phones paid with monthly installments.
The average price for a mobile phone plan varies depending on your needs. An all-inclusive one, with 4G data, calls, and text messages, can cost you between 50 and 100 USD.
Some of the biggest US phone carriers are:
- Virgin Mobile
How to Get a Phone Number in the US
Contacting local phone service providers online or by visiting their stores is the best way of getting a phone number in the US. Shopping around online might help you pick the best deal available. Note that so-called family bundles are really popular in the US and many carriers offer deals to customers that opt for three or four phone numbers.
When it comes to TV, customers can often choose between cable, satellite, and broadband services. All of the providers usually offer a huge variety of channels that provide entertainment, movie, and kids programming. A month of cable television in the US can cost you anything from 20 to 80 USD, depending on the provider and the number of services you choose.
Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and many others are extremely popular at the moment. Their usual subscription prices are around 10 USD.
How to Watch Your Home Country’s Television in the US
If you wish to watch specific TV shows that are only available in your country, the best solution is online streaming with the help of VPN services. Those allow you to stream shows no matter where you are in the world, so location restrictions should not apply.
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