Australian mortgages and home loans: A foreigner's guide

24.08.17
8 minute read
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Having a home in Australia really is living the dream for many expats. Maybe you want a place to live in yourself, as an investment purchase, or to use as a vacation home. What better place than Australia’s sunny shores?

Whatever your reasons, you need to understand the type of mortgages available in Australia, and the steps needed to get one set up. Finding an expat mortgage is not easy in Australia at the moment, so you should be prepared to seek local help, and face higher costs than you might if you were a local - especially if you don’t hold long term resident status.

However, owning your dream home in Australia is still achievable. This handy guide covers which banks and brokers offer mortgages and home loans in Australia to non-residents, the paperwork you'll need to get your loan, the legal ins and outs, and what it might cost.

Mortgages in Australia: What types of mortgages are available?

The mortgage market in Australia is very well developed. There’s a huge choice of mortgage providers and products, so you need to know a bit about how each of mortgage type works, to decide between them. You must remember, however, that as an expat buyer, you might not have access to such a broad range of options.

The first thing you have to decide is whether you want a fixed rate, or variable rate product. Fixed rate mortgages will guarantee the same interest rate will be applied for the duration of the agreement - usually just for a few years.

Variable rate mortgages, however, can cost more or less depending on how the interest rates change. They typically track the Standard Variable Rate (SVR) your bank decides on, or the central bank rates.

Another option you might see, especially if you qualify as a first time buyer in Australia, is a hybrid option, which has an introductory offer of a discounted variable rate, before moving onto the bank’s SVR. This is sold as a ‘honeymoon offer’ for new customers, but might end up costing more overall as the SVR isn’t necessarily the best rate available.

There are also different products which are available only to buyers in specific situations. One good example is known as a ‘professional package’, or pro-pack for short. This is a package of services centred around a home loan, which is available to professional buyers looking to take a fairly large loan. A pro-pack will usually come with other banking services such as credit cards, and feature a discounted rate as long as you take the full package.

Similarly, first time buyers, or those purchasing a second home for buy-to-let will be entitled to different offers to other buyers.

It’s a good idea to get some specialist advice from a qualified financial advisor or mortgage broker, who can explain the options available to you.

Should I go to a bank or use a broker?

You can choose to either arrange a mortgage directly with your chosen bank, or have a mortgage broker help you to do so. If you’re not sure what type of product is best for you, taking expert advice from a qualified mortgage broker is a good idea. This is especially true as a foreign buyer as your options are limited. In most cases, the advice you get will be free if you’re buying a residential property.

A mortgage broker will have access to a large number of different lenders’ policies and offers, so has a good chance of finding the best deal for you. However, individual banks will have only a select range of products on offer, so doing this volume of research yourself can be time consuming.

What are the legal requirements to get a mortgage in Australia as a foreigner?

Foreigners, resident or not, can legally buy property in Australia. However, you’ll have to seek approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). The FIRB charges a fee for their approval, and tend to offer approval if the property you're buying is new, or the purchase somehow supports economic growth in the region.

As an expat you can apply for a mortgage to pay for your new home, although individual banks will set their own terms, and many large banks don't offer mortgage products to foreign investors.

How can I get a mortgage in Australia as a foreigner?

Getting a mortgage in Australia isn’t easy, and the deals available to you will depend on your circumstances. As a foreigner you can expect interest rates of up to 8% p.a., and a maximum loan to value ratio of around 70% in most circumstances. You might also struggle to secure a loan if you earn outside of Australia. If your salary is not in AUD or another major global currency, you might find that banks are wary of lending to you in case currency fluctuations damage your ability to service the loan.

Paperwork (documentation)

The exact paperwork you'll need will depend on the bank you use. However, you can expect to be asked for the following:

  • Copies of your personal identification documents (passport)
  • Proof you qualify to buy a property under FIRB rules
  • Proof of legal residence in Australia
  • Documents to prove you're creditworthy (usually a credit check, bank statements, proof of your wages, tax returns for the last three years or a letter from your employer)
  • Documents to prove the affordability of the mortgage (these might be household cash flow statements, utility bills or bank statements which show that you can afford the monthly payments)

All of these documents should be provided to the bank to get a mortgage pre approval, which means that they agree how much they would lend you if you find a suitable property. Once you have an offer accepted on a home you’ll have to sort out more paperwork, such as FIRB approval for the specific property.

The step-by-step process

To get a mortgage in Australia, you’ll generally need to follow these steps:

  • Decide if you want to use a broker to explore your options
  • Check you qualify with the FIRB
  • Choose a bank with a mortgage that suits your needs
  • Hand over the paperwork requested and get mortgage pre approval
  • Find a property within your budget, and agree a purchase price with the seller
  • Choose a conveyancer who will help with the legal aspects of the purchase
  • Pay your deposit to secure the sale, and agree a completion date
  • Make a formal FIRB application for approval of your purchase
  • Complete the sale, take ownership of the property and become liable for the mortgage payments and any additional taxes

Fees

Arranging a mortgage in Australia will mean you have to have fees to pay such as administrative fees and legal costs. Some states have additional foreigner’s stamp duty which must be paid, based on the value of the property you’re buying.

In Australia, when arranging a mortgage, you can also expect to pay the following fees:

  • Legal fees of anywhere up to AUD 2,000
  • Loan establishment fees, which vary but can go up to AUD 900
  • FIRB approval fees, based on the value of the property
  • Property inspection fees up to AUD 800
  • Stamp duty, and in some cases foreign citizen stamp duty, based on the property value.

Both FIRB and stamp duty costs are based on the value of the home you’re buying. You can find a purchase cost calculator online to give you an idea of the fees in your case, or ask your broker to help you work them out. It’s smart to budget around 5% of the value of the property on average.

If you’re trying to arrange your home purchase before moving to Australia, paying fees and incidental costs will be difficult unless you’ve already opened a local Australian bank account. Even then, if your main account is outside of Australia, you might need to send money to yourself from abroad to pay fees. If you do, it’s important to check what you’ll be charged when you make an international money transfer. You’ll probably find that your home bank won’t offer you the best deal, and on such large amounts of money unfair charges quickly mount up. Even if they claim to offer fee-free transfers, you can be sure that your bank’s cut will be rolled up into a poor exchange rate.

A better option is to use a specialist service like TransferWise, to transfer cash using the real exchange rate you can find on Google with only a small, transparent fee. Alternatively, you can hold cash in any one of 15 different currencies in a TransferWise Borderless account, so it’s ready to transfer over to Australia as soon as you close the deal on your new home.

What are the major banks in Australia providing mortgages to foreigners?

All major banks and building societies in Australia offer mortgage products. However, many of the largest banks have pulled out of the foreign markets following concerns about fraud. That means it might be difficult to find a loan if you’re an expat and especially if you don’t have full residency status. Using a broker is a good idea if you’re struggling to find a product that suits you.

You might be able to get a local mortgage with one of the following brokers or banks:

  • NAB are the last remaining major bank which currently offers home loans to expat permanent residents of Australia and ‘selected temporary visa holders’
  • Brokers Homeloan Experts have a specific service for overseas buyers in Australia
  • Map Home Loans are brokers who describe themselves as the number one service in Australia for non residents seeking mortgage approval
  • Alternatively, brokers Oak Laurel offer expat services, too

If you struggle to find a mortgage locally, don’t forget that you might be able to take out a mortgage in your home country, and use the funds to buy a property in Australia. Again, taking qualified legal advice is essential if you’re considering this.

Glossary of important terms

If you’re starting to look for your perfect new place in Australia, the jargon can be a bit bewildering. Here are some important terms to help you:

  • A loan-to-value (LTV) ratio - this is the value of the mortgage expressed as a percentage of the total property value.
  • Standard variable rate (SVR) - the standard interest rate offered by the bank.
  • Repayment mortgages - with a repayment mortgage you pay back both interest and the capital amount borrowed over the term.
  • Interest-only mortgages - here, you pay only the interest accruing on the capital borrowed, with the capital to be repaid in full at the end of the term.
  • Fixed rate mortgages - the interest rate is fixed for a set period of time.
  • Variable rate mortgages - the amount you pay in interest can be changed by the bank if the SVR changes.
  • Pro-pack - package of financial services including a home loan, targeted at higher earners and covering a range of banking services.

Buying a new home is a big step, and when you’re buying in a new country, it can be a daunting process.

In recent years the mortgage market in Australia has become more difficult for foreigners to navigate as major lenders have pulled funding for expat buyers. However, if you do your research, and have a great local broker you can still get a deal that works for your circumstances. Before you know it, you could be sunning yourself in your new home or summer place in Australia .

Good luck with buying your new home!

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