Expats struggle to decide whether to rent or buy a house

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Many expats struggle to decide whether to rent or to buy a house. Which choice will save you money in the long run, depends on so many factors. The state of the housing market, the type of home you’d like to live in, how long you plan to stay in a country or city: all this comes into play! This page reviews some of the key pros and cons of buying vs. renting.


Like in many countries, we have seen its fair share of ups and downs in its housing market over the past 12 years. When you are trying to decide whether to rent or buy your home abroad, the climate of the market can be a deal breaker. Here is a bit of background on the recent peaks and troughs:

  • In the 5 years leading up to 9/11, housing sales prices doubled in popular cities;
  • Following that awful day, prices dropped a little, but stabilized shortly afterwards;
  • Around 2004-2005, they began to rise in some locations;
  • Amsterdam, for example, saw a spectacular 14% price increase in mid-2008.

This upward spiral of property value continued until mid-2008. However, in the early summer of that year, the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis reached all countries. This caused the housing market to enter into a decline, which now appears to have subsided: throughout 2015, house sales went up.

The Break Even Point

These extra costs mean that buying is only worthwhile for those who are planning to stay abroad for at least another four or five years. It is only then that you can hope to reach a ‘breakeven point’ between renting and buying. That is, assuming that housing prices remain constant It is important to bear in mind that expatriates usually stay in abroad for a relatively short period of time.

Does this Mean you Should Rent?

Of course, if you rent a house, you circumvent a lot of these problems and risks. However, renting has plenty of disadvantages as well: the rental market is feeling the effects of the housing market developments. Rental prices have crept up to almost 10% higher than they were in 2015. You also miss out on the possible benefits of buying property!


There is an extremely wide variety of properties to choose from. Your decision will, of course, be very personal. Ultimately, it boils down to:

  • Where you want to live;
  • How much space you need;
  • What you can afford;
  • The majority of expats opt to rent a property.

Once you have a good idea of what’s out there, find yourself a real estate agent.


Researching for yourself can give you a good idea of what you want. However, we still strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a professional estate agent, especially when it comes to the actual house-search and the negotiation phase. Here’s why:

  • Most expatriates have never lived abroad before;
  • Consequently, however many houses they have bought or rented elsewhere in the world, they are unfamiliar with: price ranges, local contracts, ‘invisible’ obligations, laws and customs;
  • Using an agent is more expensive. Still, he or she can help you get a good impression of a potential living area; Your agent will speed up your search; They are trained to negotiate a better deal on a property.

Estate agents also have access to a computerized multiple-listing system. This enables them to remain up-to-date on the properties available in their district.

Hiring a Real Estate Agent

Try to find a real estate agent who is local to the city or town in which you want to buy or rent. Although some realtors work across a wider area, there may be gaps in their knowledge, with regards to the rules and runnings of specific municipalities. Things such as bidding systems, zoning plans, soil contamination and city council regulations vary from city to city. A local realtor will know all the ins and outs.

Estate Agent fees

Real estate agents charge a brokerage fee for their services. The brokerage fee is a percentage of the purchase price of the house. Some realtors will be open to negotiating a percentage though, and the the size of the fee depends on the specific services the estate agent offers.

Finding a Letting Agency

If you are leaning towards renting a property, there are numerous Letting Agencies you can consult. Here is how you find one:

  • Word of mouth is an excellent way of finding a suitable agency;
  • Draw on the advice of friends, colleagues and family members;
  • The Human Resources Department of the company you work for may well be able to help you too;
  • Relocation Agencies can also connect you with local agencies;
  • If you do not have access to these kinds of resources, you can find plenty of advertisements in expat journals.

You can find a list of resources here at HousingAgency.com.

Selecting an Agent

As the client, you begin the dialogue — but pay close attention to the agent or broker and how they listen and ask YOU questions. Most successful agents have access to the technology it takes to make your property seen or to find options for purchase, but it takes a human being to understand and work to achieve your specific goals. Take time to find a human you respect and trust.

Look For Passion, Conviction And Honesty

Look at the agent’s work. The easiest and most valuable way is to review how they’re marketing other properties. Look at their listing materials, website, brochures and signage. Pay attention to their personal appearance. Look for passion, conviction and honesty. You want your agent to tell you what it’s going to take to get your home to sell faster and for the best price.

Make Sure They Offer Adequate Support

Be sure to do your research first. Are they supported by a team? An agent who has support is able to offer a high level of customer service to every customer. Most agents work with several clients at a time. The logistics of buying/selling a home are complicated, and it’s easy to miss something or fall short without a support staff.

Check If They Mitigate Risk

Find a real estate agent who is honest about the risks of buying or selling. Throw out the flattery and fluffy agents. You want someone who is realistic and can proactively mitigate risk. When interviewing agents, pay attention to those using real data in their answers when it comes to investment analysis, neighborhood-level market performance, and long-term impact of your decision to buy or sell.

Look For Strong Core Values

Whether it’s business or pleasure, finding a good person all comes down to core values. Core values are important because you want to work with someone that plays by the same rules you do. For example, if you are an honest person who tells the truth, would you not want someone to tell the truth to you?

Find A Compassionate Agent Who Understands You

Let’s face it — buying a house is a stressful task, especially if you are facing a divorce, having a baby, mourning the death of a spouse, etc.. You need an agent who is patient with you and your circumstances. Interview an agent or broker and see if they have the same emotions, outlook on life, personality, as you do.