Lawyers are not always used during the buying process in Florida, as title insurance firms review all documents. However, it is better to be safe than sorry, by seeking advice from one to check your rights and fully understand your legal obligations. After all, the Floridian system of property purchase is very different compared to the UK, with several pitfalls for those unfamiliar with it, so appropriate professional guidance is essential.
Once a price has been agreed between the buyer and seller, a Standard Contract setting out the conditions of the sale, which also includes title checks and property inspections, will be drawn up by the Florida Association of Realtors and The Florida Bar specifically to be used in the sale and purchase of real property.
Both parties are represented by different agents, who act through a broker. But it is wise to also have your legal representative thoroughly check the terms and conditions of the agreement, because once accepted and signed by the vendor, it is legally binding. Once signed the vendor cannot sell the property to anyone else as long as the contract is in force.
New homes which are bought in pre-construction stage from a developer will often have a different contract of sale. This contract will also show the legal description of the property, the price, terms of payment including any stage payment schedules. There will also be clauses that stipulate time limits for payments by the buyer and the terms of financing.
When buying from a developer, you will be asked to sign a purchase agreement which will give basic information about the property that you wish to buy. You must have a copy of this signed by the developer, because up until it is signed it not legally binding and the developer retains the right to make changes to the property.
NOTE: Most Florida developers write their contracts for Americans and not for foreign buyers and this can be very detrimental to international purchasers, and so make sure you (and your lawyer) go through the contract with a fine-tooth comb looking for loopholes.
Whether buying a resale property or a new-build home, a deposit is occasionally paid by the purchaser at the time of making the offer on the property as a show of good faith. These deposit monies are held by an “Escrow Agent” who is a third party to the sale.
A deposit of at least 10% is then usually paid at the point that the initial contract between the buyer and seller is signed. The purchaser of the property loses this if he/she withdraws from the deal, but if the property fails to meet the conditions of the sale outlined in the contract the deposit is refunded.
Title Insurance is a policy that you take out to insure against any liens (claims to the legal ownership of the property) that may be against the property but have not shown up during the regular title searches. The cost is based on the purchase price as a percentage. It is advisable to get a few different quotations before signing. A good realtor may be able to obtain refunds based on the vendor’s previous policy which could reduce your costs.
Closing documents are another set of paperwork that you have to agree to and have notarised. Unfortunately these documents generally only tend to arrive only a few days prior to the closing itself, which could leave you with little time to get them notarised and sent off in time.
Once all necessary checks have been completed and the property purchaser and vendor are satisfied and happy to proceed, they will then both appoint a settlement company in order to complete the transaction. The balance is paid by the buyer and both parties sign the final documents.
Once the contract has been signed and monies paid, the transfer of ownership is registered with local authorities.
When buying property in Florida you may find it hard to spend the necessary time out there, especially if you are based in the UK. One potential option you have is to take out a Power of Attorney. This would allow the legal process to proceed without you actually being in Florida yourself. You can elect a trusted individual, such as a legal representative, relative or friend based in Florida. This person will have the legal rights to represent you in specified transactions.
Aside from having a legal representative in the US it may be worth also hiring a UK-based American notary to also oversee the paperwork.
When visiting or living in Florida, it is important to get the necessary passports, visas or residency papers arranged in good time.
British citizens may visit the US for business or pleasure without a visa for up to 90 days per year. A passport is required.
Florida’s immigration laws are strictly enforced. Those seeking a Florida Green Card, which entitles them to live and work in the state, face close scrutiny by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, particularly if they wish to start a business.
Those wishing to immigrate into the USA will require an EB-5 Investment Visa, and in order to qualify for one, will need to meet the following criteria: