America was founded on a dislike of taxes, so how did it get the IRS?

From Cambridge to the other Newark, via the valley of bureaucratic hell

House-buying hell

The Register: Bureaucracy: talk us through this US house-buying caper you're trying to sort out.

David Hough: House buying works differently over here. In the UK the agents tend to only act for sellers, over here buyers usually have an agent too, which helps a lot when you're new to game and are learning the rules.

The cost of this is borne by the seller, an eye-watering six per cent commission on sale price (see above for house values) is split between the two agents.

A lot of the basic steps are the same, surveys, mortgage, etc. You make an offer with contingencies, which once accepted is binding on the seller provided the buyer proceeds according to the agreement — usual contingencies are that the surveys are OK and that the mortgage company will provide the necessary money, etc.

At time of writing this is where we are, but as I understand it, at some point we remove the contingencies, possibly after re-negotiating the price based on anything revealed by the surveys, and that's the equivalent to exchanging contracts in the UK, with closing (completion) some days or weeks after that.

Rather than have the legal profession manage the money transfers, the buyer puts all the money in an escrow account in advance of the closing date, and it's distributed from there to relevant parties.

There's a lot of paperwork to read and sign, both when making the initial offer and then at the end — about 150 pages of disclosures and other stuff that California law assumes we've read so far, so that we can't sue later because they didn't show us a bit of paper.

The real Kafka-esq thing is the credit score. You need a credit history to get credit, and you need to have credit to build up a credit history.

There was no trace of me in the system when I first arrived, but fortunately we'd kept my wife's old credit union account active and I managed to get them to give me a car loan and eventually a secured credit card, which helps with the history.

Eighteen months later and we're in a position where a mortgage company will talk to us, although I suspect a decent down payment from the sale of our UK house has helped that. Credit histories do not cross national boundaries, it is apparently just as bad going the other way too.

The Register: America looks great on TV: has there been anything you assumed to see or experience that turned out to be wrong/different/just weird?

David Hough: I don't think there's anything that weird, probably because we've visited quite a few times — I've visited 33 states, we've done a few driving holidays including Boston to San Francisco, down the East Coast, and down the West Coast.

The Register: Your wife's American: was there a thing she said was so great about America that turned out to be a turkey?

David Hough: Not really, turkeys are mostly confined to Thanksgiving. I think I've had enough exposure to the place that there were no real surprises.

The Register: How are you coping with American English, especially the "we're world-leading market-making exponents of disruptive ..."

David Hough: I always refer to American Football, real football being played with the feet. I can confirm that most Americans I have questioned do not know the meaning of the word 'bollocks', although my co-workers have been enlightened as part of this discovery process.

Having had many discussions with my wife over the years about word origins and usage, I have plenty of British slang to throw back at American jargon. I still use British spellings, although I'm slowly learning to write dates the wrong way. I brought a couple of UK keyboards with me, too.

The Register: What will you miss about the USA if you go home to the UK?

David Hough: I'm enjoying the weather. I graduated to long-sleeved shirts at the start of December, but it's pretty mild.

The Register: Is it possible to stay in touch with proper British sports? Or get a game of rugby or cricket?

David Hough: I've been following the FA Cup, enjoying the performance of Cambridge United, being my local league team, and my father's family comes from the red side of North London so I check on them too.

I did actually see a cricket game in progress the other day, it looked like most of the players were of Indian descent as we drove past, so clearly there is some proper sport over here.

Proper football is gaining popularity too, as more parents are concerned about the dangers of American football.

I still listen to BBC local radio via the internet, so I get to hear UK news from that.

The Register: What's your top tip to help new arrivals settle in?

David Hough: If coming to California, read up on the driving licence rules and book a written test on-line as soon as you can after arrival.

The driving licence is the official state ID and life is a lot simpler if you've got one because all the financial institutions cope much better than if you're presenting a passport or green card.

Have access to plenty of cash, because it may take you a while to get stuff set up and you don't want to be paying foreign exchange fees on a UK credit card if you can help it.

Also, if the price tag in the shop says $10, you'll need more than $10 at the till because unlike the UK, that's where they add the sales tax so you'll be digging in your pocket for some coins.

The Register: What advice would you offer someone considering the same move?

David Hough: If coming from the UK, ask lots of questions even if you mostly get the obvious, expected answers.

I learned from my wife's move to the UK that you get so used to the places being similar in approach that you'll get caught out on the occasions that something's different.

Beware the US tax system — for a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes, it beats me how they ended up with the IRS. You will need all sorts of documentation from the UK for your transition year and note that the buggers tax you on your UK private pension fund gains, and there's not a lot you can do about it.

Here's the idea: I'd like to get to the point where we alternate between eXpat files and On-call tales, like this one about being locked out of the data centre on a very cold night. So if you've made a move like David, or encountered oddities when the phone rings at nasty times, tell me about your adventures by dropping me an email. ®

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