For many expats moving to the US you will need to understand the agency relationships, and the local terminology if you’re to make head or tail of what you are looking at. For more information on what documents you’ll need to complete your transaction please read ‘Expats buying or leasing their first home in the US – what documents you need’.
Firstly on the agency relationship, both the Buyer or Leasee, and Seller or Leasor, will have agency representation by a Real Estate Broker, however, the Seller ot Leasor will agree one agency fee or commission and that will be split between the Buyers or Leasee’s agent and the Seller or Leasors agent. So when you are looking for a property you first of all want to find yourself a good agent to represent you, and they will work for you without a fee until you have competed your transaction. There are times when one agent will represent both the Buyer or Leasee and the Seller or Leasor, however these are not as common and if you are new to the market place, not recommended. Also, in the rental market, there are many smaller landlords who will advertise and negotiate their space direct without agency representation and this is generally the norm for lower end, lower value properties, and can work out well for those on a budget.
Some local terminology to help you understand what you are looking for
Single Family Home (SFR) – detached or freestanding house with a garden.
Condominium or Condo – owner occupied unit freestanding or apartment, within a larger development. Owners are subject to Home Owner Association (HOA) dues for upkeep of the common areas and shared services.
Apartment – Flat or Rental unit within a larger building.
In New York specifically these categories can be more specific, with prospective Buyers or Leasors needing to be approved by the owners or renters committee prior to completing the transaction. You will need a local Real Estate Agent to guide you through the process.
Multiple Listing Service or MLS – the largest database of available properties, all residential properties available with an agent are listed here. An agent will be able to tailor a search for you using the MLS, Multiple Listing Service, and set up alerts for when a new property (or listing) becomes available that matches your criteria. The market in the US is hot right now so it is best to work with a good local agent who will guide you through the process successfully.
Agent – The generic term for Real Estate Broker, or Sales Associate.
Real Estate Broker – A qualification above sales associate issued by the State Licensing Board, typically the owner of the firm or in a larger firm there may be several licensed Brokers. The Broker of record for a firm has a fiduciary duty to the clients of the Sales Associates and typically will have a level of oversight over the Sales Associates transactions.
Sales Associate – Typically all other agents are Sales Associates, licensed by the State. They have to be associated with a Licensed Broker to practice.
Realtor – Residential Brokers / Sales Associates who join their local Association of Realtors as professional members.
Unfortunately there is no Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) best practice standards and training in the US, agents are typically on commission-based pay only and as such there is little culture of mentoring or learning good client servicing skills. There is a sink or swim culture which produces some good sales people, but not much client care.
Expats looking for an RICS level of care and expertise can contact my firm HD Realty Partners or one of our local affiliates with which we would be happy to introduce you to.
Good websites for renters and those Buyers wanting to get an idea of market price and availability include Zillow.com and Truilia.com.
For renters specifically at the lower end of the market there are many smaller landlords who post their properties on Craigslist.org and locally in Los Angeles there is Westsiderentals.com, however, there is no quality of care requirement for landlords offering their listings on these sites, and the standard varies greatly.