Updated: Sep 15
The current global pandemic made life difficult for prospective home buyers living overseas. It's hard to believe that you could hop on a plane just a few months ago and come to Israel for a few weeks to check out properties for living or investment. Now that seems like a distant memory. Amid the Covid-19 reality, real estate agents and lawyers are getting creative and finding ways to bring overseas properties to you.
Purchasing from abroad is a legitimate undertaking, and it's quickly growing in popularity. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering buying a property over Zoom...or WhatsApp or FaceTime or any other digital platform that allows you to be in contact with real estate professionals in Israel.
#1: Know What You Want in a Property (and don't want!)
What kind of property did you have in mind? What is most important in your new home?
In a recent digital real estate panel, our experts stressed the importance of creating a list of top priorities. The list shouldn't be too long and complicated, but somewhat limited to essential needs.
What many had viewed as necessities have changed recently. When looking for a home, buyers consider potential lock-downs and prefer properties with a spare room used as a home office. Porches or outdoor space, proximity to shopping centers, and support local communities have become valuable assets.
It's also good to know what you don't want in your new home. Does the apartment have mold issues or illegal additions? A real estate agent or legal professional can guide you to understand the warning signs so you know if to stay away from a particular property. This is one reason why it is crucial to secure a reliable team of professionals, which brings us to point number two.
#2: Build your Professional Team in Israel
What is your "team" and why is it necessary?
Having the right group of professionals on the ground is the best way to go about purchasing from afar. This team includes a realtor, property lawyer, and a currency exchange expert. It will likely include other professionals such as a mortgage broker, inspector, contractor, and more.
When choosing professionals for your team, make sure they are familiar with the Israeli market and experience working with foreign clients. They need to be knowledgeable about property rights, taxes for foreigners, immigrant rights, currency exchange, and more. It's also helpful if they speak your native language and understand the international buyer's headset and preferences.
#3: Virtual Home Tours in Israel
What should you look for in your virtual home tour?
The most challenging part of buying a property from overseas is that you're not able to visit it beforehand. While this isn't an issue for those buying first-hand properties on paper, buyers want to know what they are getting when investing in a second-hand home.
Many realtors are adjusting to the changing reality by utilizing simple or complex technologies to provide personal home tours. There are some advantages to this as well. If prerecorded, it allows for viewing multiple properties in a single day without needing to account for travel time. You can take a virtual tour whenever you want, no matter the time zone. There is an added level of convenience in viewing properties from the comfort of your home without worrying about childcare or a work schedule getting in the way. It also saves you big on travel costs.
Often, virtual tours with an agent happen in real-time. The agent walks you through the property, just like they would in real life. They show you the outside of the building and any communal areas (like an elevator or garden). While viewing the home, the agent can showcase the room from different angles. They can move closets or beds, and point the camera on the home's ceilings, fixtures, floors, and finishes. The agent can fly a drone on top of the building to give you a good look at the building's surrounding areas. You may want to do more than one tour of the same place, so you can see what it looks like during the day in natural sunlight and at night.
It's helpful to have a friend or family member who lives in Israel and check out the place to give an outside opinion. While having too much outside input may be counterproductive, getting a few trusted friends or family members who know your style to look at the place can be calming.
#4: Your Community in Israel
If you are buying a home on paper instead of purchasing a second-hand property, you won't see your new home until it's ready. Nevertheless, you might want to have a good look at the community your home is being built in to gauge noise levels and look at local amenities. An agent can do a tour of the area for you, including "centers," such as schools, synagogues, and parks.
Try to connect to some of the locals, either on groups like Facebook or through family or your professional team. People will be happy to answer your questions and get a chance to talk about their community.
Other things to inquire about include medical facilities, public transportation, restaurants, shopping centers, and social centers. You may want to gather information about the community, such as average age, language, and religious affiliations.
#5: Paperwork and Payments
You can sign your documents and transfer your funds without traveling to Israel.
Signing the legal documents can be done from overseas. Your lawyer can guide you through the process and recommend the best way to get the papers signed and sent back to Israel.
It's essential to consider the process of sending money to Israel and converting it to shekels. Paying for a property can also be done from abroad, and without much hassle, if you use the right professionals. Payments must be made in shekels, which means you are dealing with currency exchange and money transfer. Banks often charge high exchange rates and hidden transfer fees, which can cost you a lot. IsraTransfer offers much lower exchange rates than the bank and no hidden fees. We also guide you through the exchange process and make payments on your behalf.
An issue many people buying from abroad face is dealing with bank checks and payment vouchers. For new properties, certain payments must be made via bank checks, in person, and at the bank. Fortunately, IsraTransfer can make those payments, safely and securely, on your behalf, so you don't need to make the trip to Israel to complete the payment. By using IsraTransfer, you eliminate the need to set up an Israeli bank account. Funds can be sent to IsraTransfer and held until you are ready to exchange/transfer them.
With all the digital technology literally at our fingertips, buying a property without visiting Israel is no longer such a crazy idea! For many, especially those planning on making aliyah in the near future, it is an option worth checking out.