If you’re considering buying a property abroad, either to live in yourself or as an investment, you’ll need to find a good local estate agent to help you. Navigating an unfamiliar property market can be challenging without the right support network, and leave you vulnerable to excessive costs, scams and legal problems.
The positive news is that you can find a good estate agent in Sri Lanka, with experience in helping foreign buyers, as long as you’re prepared to do a little research. This guide covers all you need to know - including answers to the most important questions you’ll have:
- How to choose an estate agent and find the best property available?
- What legal restrictions do I need to consider when planning my purchase?
- What do estate agents charge, and what taxes will be applied to any property purchase?
Getting the right estate agent on your side will mean you can find the right property for your needs, at the right price. But there are also other ways you can keep your costs down when purchasing property overseas.
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Now, back to what you came here to read.
You’ll find a wide range of estate agents online, covering the major cities of Sri Lanka as well as the more popular areas for tourists and foreign buyers. You’ll be able to look at marketplace sites which list properties from many different estate agents all in one place, to get an idea of the market in the location you’ve chosen. You can then select an estate agent based on the sort of home they represent, and the services they offer.
If you’re considering buying or renting a place off the beaten track, you might find that it’s harder to find an online estate agent which covers your area. In this case, it helps to visit the area and look around for local estate agents which may not have much of an online presence. Depending on your familiarity with the country and language, you could benefit from having a translator or local friend to support you.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can have a look at an umbrella site like Lanka Property Web¹. Here you can browse available properties for research and inspiration, and also use the ‘find an agent’ tool to identify estate agents working in the areas you’re interested in. Don’t forget to use our ideas of how to compare estate agents, and questions you should ask to find the best estate agent for your needs.
Here are a few of the larger estate agents in Sri Lanka, to help your research:
- Re/Max Sri Lanka² - this global company operates franchises in many different countries. Use the smart search facility to find a property to buy or rent
- Simply Property³ - find a place to buy or rent, or use their services on offer when selling or letting your own property in Sri Lanka. You can even search properties by road name if you’re sure of where you want to live
- Ceylon Estate Agents⁴ - range of services including sales of land for development and support for hotel owners. You can also find homes to rent or buy throughout the country
Not all estate agents offer the same services, or work in the same way. It’s a smart idea to compare the options you have, before you make a final decision.
Work out what really matters to you when selecting an estate agent. If you’re only visiting Sri Lanka and don’t have a lot of time to househunt, you might need an agent with a large portfolio of properties online so you can research before you arrive. If you’re working in Sri Lanka, you could decide that an agent needs to be available on weekends and evenings to help you view properties. Or you might look for an agent which deals exclusively with customers like you - perhaps someone focused on family properties, or first time buyers looking for small, modern apartments. Putting some thought into the services and points which make a difference to you can make it much easier to find the right agent for your needs.
Once you have a shortlist of estate agents you can start to gather some more detailed information. Ask them some direct questions, using the ideas we cover below, and have a look at the service packages they offer. You can also get feedback from previous customers, either by asking the agents to give you details of clients they’ve worked with before, or by using expat Facebook groups to solicit opinions from other foreigners who have already taken the plunge and moved to Sri Lanka.
Before you choose an agent to help you buy, sell or rent a place in Sri Lanka, make sure you take a good look at the services and fees they offer. There will be a range of different options available - with different agents providing different levels of support. Here are a few of the fees and charges you need to check out.
|Service||Estate agent fee|
|Estate agent commission - property sale||Fees are negotiated, usually around 3-5% of the sale price achieved. The seller will usually pay the fee, unless this is agreed otherwise. You can also employ an agent to help you in buying a property - in this case you will pay a buyer fee depending on the exact service they provide.⁵|
|Other costs when buying property||Ask your estate agent for the likely costs, taxes and fees based on the property type you’re buying. From 1 April 2019, 15% VAT will be charged on apartment sales. Only lower cost units in buildings exclusively offering more affordable housing will be exempt. Stamp duty will usually be 3-4% of the property price. If you lease land, you’ll pay 1% stamp duty. Legal fees could be 2-3% of the purchase price.⁶|
If you’re hoping to buy a modern apartment in a new city development, you’ll likely have no problem finding both a place and an estate agent to help. This type of home is commonly marketed online, via individual agents and umbrella websites. However, if you’re considering buying an older property or in a more rural area, you might find you need a local estate agent to help you find a place.
That’s because many Sri Lankan people prefer not to advertise their home or land for sale, to avoid public speculation about their finances. A good estate agent will have access to unlisted properties, as well as those more openly marketed, so you get a bigger choice.
It’s also important to note that estate agents in Sri Lanka are not subject to any regulation, so you’ll need to do your own checks to make sure anyone you work with is legitimate.⁷
Before you get too far into your research, you need to understand the restrictions in place for foreigners buying property in Sri Lanka. As an overseas buyer, you can buy an apartment, although you may need to pay the entire value upfront through a government approved inward remittance.
Buying land as a foreigner is more difficult. You can rent land for a 99 year period, or purchase land through a registered private company with a majority Sri Lankan ownership. You may also be able to buy land if you have a public company, even if it’s over 50% foreign owned. Because of the complexity in the rules - and as laws about property ownership can change over time - you should take professional legal advice early if you’re considering buying a place in Sri Lanka.⁸
If you’ve already got a short list of potential agents, it’s time to ask them for more information. Consider these questions:
- What are your working hours? Do you cover evenings and weekends if customers need you then?
- Who is your usual customer? Do you work with a lot of expat buyers?
- How many properties have you currently got listed? How long does it take to sell a place, on average?
- How do you value properties you sell?
It’s also worth checking what languages your agent can speak confidently. Having someone who can speak your language - and also that of the seller of any property you choose - can help to reduce misunderstandings, and miscommunication.
Buying a property in an unfamiliar place can have its pitfalls. That’s why having a great estate agent and a local property law specialist is essential. Once you have chosen the right estate agent for your needs, you can relax and enjoy the process of finding your dream place in Sri Lanka. Don’t forget to also take steps to make your money go further once you’re there, like using TransferWise to make and receive international payments, and manage your money while you’re overseas.
Sources checked on 20-May 2019.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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