Each country has its own unique language, cuisine, and culture. Unique, too, are the customs around buying, selling, and owning a home. For instance, did you know that in France, babies can own real estate? Or that in Ireland, negotiations feel more like a game of double dog dare? Check out this globe-trotting guide to surprising (or downright freaky) quirks in home-buying habits.
Eastern Europeans are big on owning Although many Americans aspire to own a home, the country’s homeownership rate is one of the lowest in the developed world, according to data compiled by the Pew Research Center in 2013. (That’s the most recent international comparison available; the U.S. rate has since fallen from 65% to 63.5%.) At the very bottom is Switzerland, largely because of a policy that essentially taxes homeowners on the rent they could be charging themselves. And heading up the list with the highest homeownership rate was Romania (96.6%), with four other Eastern European countries rounding out the top five. Wonder why? The Pew Research Center cites a 2007 paper attributing the Eastern European phenomenon to relatively large rural populations, who typically either built their own homes or inherited them; and the rapid privatization of public rental housing in the 1990s after the collapse of state socialism. In France, your kid could block your home’s sale If you’re a widow or widower in France, you’re not necessarily free to sell the home you owned with your spouse and turn over a new page in life. Per French inheritance laws—which were created to keep estates within bloodlines—surviving partners must share homeownership with their children, and even need their kids’ permission to sell or rent out the home. In Ireland, house hunting is a big game of bluff Think negotiating to buy a home is stressful in the States? It’s nothing compared with Ireland, where it’s more like “an elaborate game of chicken,” according to expat Catherine Dunne, who bought a two-bedroom home there in 1998. “The system here involves just one real estate agent, who represents the seller,” Dunne says. “As a buyer, you’re dealing with this person directly, with no Realtor® representing you in a bidding system that can be very informal. There’s a lot of bluffing and banter that you just wouldn’t get in the States.” The reason? Irish real estate agents aren’t held to the same strict standards in other countries to negotiate in a transparent or verifiable manner with buyers. Likewise, they also expect buyers to engage in a lot of posturing. So, lowball offers are par for the course; only a rookie starts off offering full price. You may also want to negotiate with several sellers at once, which is what Dunne did to keep the seller of the home she truly wanted from resting on his laurels. In China, stubborn homeowners are compared to nails As Chinese cities continue to expand, many homeowners are being pushed to move out in order to make way for highways and shopping malls. But in many cases, the compensation offered by local government just isn’t enough, according to the Associated Press. If a homeowner refuses to move, demolition of the surrounding area moves forward anyway. Such homes have been charmingly dubbed “nail houses” for their resemblance to a nail that refuses to be hammered down, and have attracted domestic and international attention. According to The Atlantic, nail houses have become “powerful symbols of resistance” in China. In Panama, nobody knows how much homes cost In Panama, pricing a home is much more of a mystery because this country lacks multiple listing services, the online services that real estate agents use to list homes, compare prices, and generally check out activity in their markets (and that provide realtor.com® with its listings!). “Take a minute to think through the implications,” wrote Kathleen Peddicord in the Huffington Post. “What should a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment of 2,000 square feet in a certain neighborhood in Panama City cost? Without an MLS, you have no idea.” Which means it’s up to real estate agents to tap into their knowledge of the area and come up with their own best guess. In North Korea, housing is a black market In the socialist country of North Korea, buying and selling a home is flat-out illegal. But according to Reuters, many people secretly buy their homes instead of waiting for a government-issued one. How it works: Brokers sell property in private markets, and deals are conducted in U.S. dollars and Chinese yuan along the Chinese border. Buyers and sellers then bribe housing officials to approve the agreement by falsifying paperwork. According to a survey of 133 defectors conducted by Seoul National University, 67% had bought their own houses. “Homes, one of the few resources North Koreans have, are now extensively traded unofficially,” study author Jeong Eun-mee told Reuters. “The regime has no option but to tolerate this … because officials are involved as well.”