Homes, of course, were originally designed not as part of an investment strategy, but for living in! Shelter is a basic human need. But these days, we tend to spend a disproportionate part of our income on shelter… especially if we live in a major city or a developed country in general. You would probably agree with me that housing costs in the western world have, shall we say, gone through the roof!

On the other hand, you might reasonably counter, your home doesn’t really cost you anything. It actually makes you a lot of money. I know countless people who bought their homes for let’s say a hundred grand not so many years ago, and those same houses are now worth well into seven figures. They could easily pay off their mortgages tomorrow and walk away with a million in cash. Others have been even more aggressive moving up the so-called property ladder, trading up to a bigger and better house every couple of years and cashing in capital gains at each stage.

So, are you getting the most out of your home? Here’s one scenario which works for a lot of people these days. It will more than likely be directly applicable to your situation.

First and foremost, you need shelter. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment reducing your standard of living. But the price of housing has become so ridiculously high in places like London or San Francisco, that you could probably cash out, take early retirement and live a much better life elsewhere, for less money. How does a rural house in the South of France, a villa overlooking a Caribbean beach and a pied a terre on the ski slopes sound? Whatever turns you on, with pocket money thrown in… 

You probably don’t need me to tell you that this is easily achievable from a financial point of view. Ubiquitous broadband internet makes it practical from a business point of view. Friends and family? Well how much do you really see of them anyway? How about sending them tickets to visit you and spend some quality time with you instead? International experience is really a must these days for kids.

But what about the financial aspect? Up until recently, this has been the drawback for many people. With cheap, easy credit and house prices rising so fast, anybody selling up and moving away from their home country would lose their footing on the property ladder, so if they ever wanted to return they would not be able to afford a home of the same standard again. And they would lose out on all those capital gains being made with OPM (other people’s money).

This has all changed in the last year or two. The credit crunch has hit rich western societies. House prices are no longer going up, and in many cases they are actually decreasing. Meanwhile, offshore it’s still a different story – though for how long, who knows. It’s never been easier or cheaper for foreigners to finance property abroad. If you looked into this a while ago and were put off by the requirements and paperwork, now might be a good time to revisit the idea.

Of course I can’t speak for every country, but certainly banks in popular destinations from France  or Argentina  through to more newly discovered havens like Montenegro, Belize or Paraguay are eager to finance property purchases for foreigners. Multi-national individuals who earn their income in one country and live in another are becoming much more the norm, no longer being the rare eccentrics who scared bankers so much just a few years ago.

Partly as a result of this easier credit, and partly due to baby boomers cashing in, following my advice and retiring abroad, values of both old and new properties are increasing fast and generating very attractive returns on investments. Put simply: there’s a lot of money to be made as an international property investor.

It’s important to mention what I call the offshore factor too! In fact there are two separate offshore factors leading this trend. The first is that we are talking about destinations where people are buying second homes. People who buy second or third homes are relatively wealthy, and they are much more likely to buy in cash than first home buyers (It’s not even unknown for people to be investing undeclared, untaxed cash!)  Even if second home buyers purchase on credit, they probably won’t be scraping around having a hard time making payments. They can afford to sit tight for a few years and ride out any financial storms, which makes property prices less volatile.

Even while their home economies are in recession, there will be a steady stream of Americans and Brits, Irish and Spanish (to name some of the most active investors), who have the cash in the bank ready to buy a luxury house complete with pool on a palm-fringed beach somewhere, for the price of a small apartment back home.

The recession in the States and the falling value of the greenback won’t stop them, either. On the contrary, it will turn the stream into a river. More and more wealthy Americans will move abroad looking for a better, cheaper – and lest we forget healthier – lifestyle. The declining US dollar also serves to make property in the Caribbean and Latin America, which is still very much dollar based, a better deal still for those with Euros, pounds and Canadian dollars in their pockets. They too are becoming more adventurous in their property purchases. This in turn will keep prices in the region buoyant.

The second offshore factor is tax related. For those of moderate or greater wealth, the tax savings gained from expatriation can be huge. With smart use of offshore financial centres, income taxes can be slashed and inheritance tax almost eliminated, totally legally of course, even when the move is to a nominally high tax country like France or Thailand. If the move is to an established tax haven like Andorra, Belize or Panama (all highly attractive destinations in my view) then you can literally forget about taxes! I’ve talked to gringos who live very comfortable lives in Belize just on the money they were handing over to the taxman each year while they lived stateside.

Finally, though, the way to get the most out of your home, besides it providing shelter, is to enjoy it. In many cases, the best way to enjoy it is to sell it, buy cheaper but better shelter abroad, and pocket the difference. With a higher standard of living for a lower cost, with the excess cash carefully invested in a balanced portfolio to generate income and capital growth, and free of the stress of western society, you can begin to realise your dreams. Do things just for fun. Spend time with your loved ones. Make new friends. Learn a language. And take care of your health.