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New arrivals moving to the US will find a range of high-quality accommodation options available to them. While housing is expensive in the larger cities, those on a budget can mitigate this effect by living on the outskirts rather than in the city centre.
Whether new arrivals are looking to rent an apartment or are eager to purchase a piece of prime real estate, they're likely to find a home well suited to their individual needs and budget.
Types of accommodation in the USA
There's plenty of variety when it comes to accommodation in the USA. This ranges from everyday options such as apartments, duplexes, condominiums and single-family homes to extravagant, luxurious mansions. All these forms of housing are widespread throughout the US, with apartments being the most popular to rent and single-family homes being the most commonly purchased.
Furnished vs unfurnished
There are plenty of furnished, semi-furnished and unfurnished accommodation options available in the US. New arrivals who are in the country for a short assignment frequently choose to rent furnished housing for convenience. Unfurnished housing in the US generally comes bare bones, with the essentials only. This can include appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and occasionally, a washer and dryer combo.
Expats looking to make a space their own without spending on the basics should consider semi-furnished properties. Although they can vary significantly, semi-furnished accommodation typically includes a couch, dresser, dining table and chairs and a bed frame.
New arrivals should note that while furnished and semi-furnished accommodation may be the most convenient, they are also likely to be pricier than unfurnished rentals. Newcomers who opt for unfurnished housing will be spoilt for choice when it comes to furniture shopping, as the US market is inundated with discount furniture retailers such as Home Depot, Wayfair and Ikea.
Short lets and temporary housing
Short lets are a good option for newcomers establishing their lives in the US. Temporary housing allows new arrivals to look for long-term housing while saving money on hotel fees. They also give expats the opportunity to get a feel for their new city before making commitments. There are numerous reputable short-term accommodation providers in the US, many of which operate online.
Renting accommodation in the USA
Most newcomers to the US typically choose to rent initially and consider homeownership once they have settled in the country and found a city they want to call home for the long term. Renting not only provides new arrivals with flexibility but also shields them from the often prohibitive costs of buying a property.
Finding rental accommodation
Finding a place to rent in the US is a relatively straightforward process. New arrivals should begin by doing some research on the city they are relocating to in order to get some perspectives on neighbourhoods that best align with their priorities.
There is a plethora of free websites that carry both short- and long-term rental listings. Registration is optional, and house hunters should note that any web portals that demand payment to search listings should be approached with caution or avoided entirely.
Real estate agents can also assist new arrivals in finding a rental property. However, in the US, realtors typically specialise in helping people buy homes rather than rent them. In the case that they do assist with a rental, realtors will usually charge a month's rent as a commission for helping tenants find a home.
House-sharing is a fantastic option for thrifty expats and students, as it is an opportunity to meet new people while saving money on rent. Several websites specialise in student accommodation and house-shares. Roomi is one of the most popular websites in the US that connects verified prospective roommates.
Signing a lease
Once expats have found a property to their liking, they will have to tender a lease application. It's important to note that, in most cases, potential tenants will need to prove that they are serious candidates for renting the property.
Leases in the US are typically for 12 months and are extendable once the initial agreement has lapsed. Expats must give the landlord 30 days' notice before moving out, but some landlords may request a 60- or even 90-day notice period. Landlords are legally obligated to give tenants the same notice should they wish to terminate the agreement.
When signing a lease, expats will be expected to pay the first month's rent upfront and the equivalent of at least another month's rent to cover a security deposit, although the security deposit can be much higher. Only about half of the states in the US impose a limit on rental deposit amounts, usually up to a maximum of three and a half months.
The deposit will be returned at the end of the tenancy once the home has been inspected and any damages have been covered. The maximum amount of time the landlord can take to do this also varies by state and can be anywhere from 14 to 60 days after the home has been vacated.
Expats with furry, feathery or scaly friends shouldn't have too much of a difficult time finding a rental property in the US. Although many apartment buildings and properties do not allow pets, expats can always negotiate with their landlord when discussing the lease agreement.
It is important to note that some properties restrict the types of pets and breeds that can be kept on a residential property, so it's best to consult with the landlord and obtain written consent. Landlords also have a legal right to charge a pet deposit for non-service animals, so new arrivals should be prepared for this.
References and background checks
As foreigners, expats will need to demonstrate that they can afford the rent. Credit and background checks are commonly carried out. Those with references from previous landlords should be sure to include them with their applications.
Producing a credit record can be a problem for expats who don't yet have a credit history in the US. The expat may need to submit other documentation in lieu of this, such as proof of employment, proof of earnings and any international credit rating they may have. In this situation, landlords might also ask for a higher deposit.
Termination of the lease
When moving out, tenants should leave the property completely clean. All appliances and electrical outlets should also be in working order to avoid losing out on the security deposit. Landlords are likely to deduct cleaning or painting fees from the security deposit should the tenant fail to return the property in the same condition they found it in. Most landlords will account for normal wear and tear and will typically not charge tenants for this.
Utilities in the USA
Utilities are sometimes included in the rental cost but are more commonly an extra expense that the tenant should budget for. Costs to consider include gas, electricity, water, refuse, phone and internet. The lease agreement should specify who is responsible for which utility expenses.
There are numerous utility providers across the country, and the available providers vary from state to state. In most cases, new tenants will receive a set of documents containing details of the home's existing utilities. In other cases, they may be required to set up the various utilities themselves. This will consist of contacting the chosen company, which will likely ask for a deposit, proof of identity and proof of residence. Depending on the area and the provider, utilities can take days or weeks to be set up.
Buying property in the USA
Foreigners employed in the US can buy property and apply for financing. However, plenty of supporting documentation will be needed to secure funding from the bank. Those looking to buy property in the States should also bear in mind that one of the most crucial steps along the way is to secure the services of a reliable estate agent as they will play a large part in the purchasing process.
Initially, buyers provide the realtor with a comprehensive list of individual housing requirements. Based on this, the realtor generates a list of potential properties. Once buyers have identified one or two options that seem promising, the realtor will then further assist in liaising with the seller; organising viewings, house inspections and property reports; negotiating sales contracts; advising on market trends and prices; and conducting title searches. Suffice it to say that buying a house in America is far less a project undertaken individually than it is in partnership with an estate agent.
►Learn about schooling options with Education and Schools in the USA
"A wide variety of housing options are available, from luxury condos with all the amenities of a resort to Spanish-style homes, modern houses and quaint apartment buildings. There is something for every budget and offers are plenty.
"The months of June–July are the most popular moving months so you may not have as much inventory, or you may have to make a quicker decision in order not to lose the property you are interested in and have less bargaining leverage. If you will be moving during the summer, it may be best to secure housing a couple of months before arrival."
Read more about French expat Emmanuelle's life in the United States.
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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