This is a longer post than usual because the steps are so annoyingly elaborate for what is a relatively simple process. My business partners and I are investing in US real estate during the 2008-2010 recession. This is what we did to handle the finance side of it. I streamlined some of the steps and eliminated those steps we took that resulted in a dead end. So you are already benefiting from our experience.
1. Start doing some research about candidate city & state in which you would like to invest. Continue doing this for some time but you eventually need to decide to make a purchase at some point. Nothing is perfect. We selected Dayton, Ohio in 2007 because
a. The GM plant had closed over a year prior so the bad news was behind us
b. There is a major US Air Force base and two universities there to provide some stable baseline employment
c. It is a significant city but not a major metropolis so deterioration of urban infrastructure was not overwhelming
d. It is close enough for commuting to two major cities – Cincinnati and Columbus
e. It is not a tourist destination with fickle rental markets
2. Open a personal Royal Bank of Canada bank account; separate from any other account you have. This is your US property investment account. It will morph into a business account.
3. At the same time set up a US account at RBC Bank USA through the same Royal Bank branch. This is not a simple US dollar denominated Canadian account. It is a bona fide US bank account with US cheques encoded for processing in the US cheque clearing system. You will be selecting a physical branch in the US where the account will exist. Wells Fargo is the only other financial institution that offers this to normal Canadians, as far as I know.
4. Link the two Royal Accounts to move money seamlessly and immediately
5. Initially, get the RBC Bank USA cheques personalized in your name with your CDN home address on the face. They will take some time to arrive. Only order the minimum
6. Deposit a token amount of money in your Canadian Royal Bank account
7. Transfer a little money to your RBC Bank USA account so you have funds in each account
8. Over the next few months make more deposits and transfers. Don’t worry you will need your funds in US dollars for the property purchase so start sending it down now.
9. This activity will also generate monthly statements so you can confirm all the bank correspondence arriving at your home address from both accounts is switched to online. You cannot be receiving paper from the branches, as you will be changing the mailing address in later steps.
10. Incorporate a company (I will call it Alpha Co.) in your CDN province with you, your family and/or your business partners as shareholders. If you don’t know how to do this I’ll be putting up a blog post in the near future.
11. Incorporate a second company (I will call it Bravo Co.) in your CDN province with Alpha Co. as the only 100% shareholder. This is to avoid having Alpha Co. declared a sophisticated company because of an ownership of foreign US stockholding. It allows Alpha Co. to retain its qualification for the small business tax deduction (lower tax rate) as it will earn active income from this company rather than from being a passive asset owner. Money will move through Bravo Co. but never remain in it as it would be taxed at a higher rate. You can later sell or transfer shares in Bravo Co. to investors or family members without affecting any property ownership (land transfer taxes), US estate tax, or deemed income tax implications. You may want to do this to raise cash from outside investors or redirect your income streams. Never sell more than 49% so you always retain control and the ability to roll-up the revenue to your master company.
12. Incorporate an LLC (I will call it Charlie Co LLC) in the state where you will be doing business as a landlord – use an online service or a local lawyer.
a. Pay for it using your RBC Bank USA account
b. Have the only shareholder as Bravo Co.
13. Pass Director’s Resolutions in all the corporations to agree you will use the personal accounts for business purposes to reduce costs and facilitate low cost transfer of funds. All transactions between companies will then be accounting entries.
14. Now you can go shopping for US rental properties – We bought houses at first but found small apartment buildings more effective. It gives you diversification in the revenue stream
15. When you make the purchase, file the title in the name of Charlie Co LLC
16. Hire a property manager with whom you can work – This is tedious trial & error process or perhaps a referral if you’re lucky. You want someone who does it full time; not a realtor who does property management as a sideline. They need to provide reliable and credible monthly financial reports and have a capability for advertising, evictions & screening tenants as well as maintenance monitoring.
17. Get property insurance on your property
18. Arrange with the Property Manager to transfer the balance of your income to RBC Bank USA account each month. This will be your gross operating earnings; it is net of their fee, the float held in their account, and any other expenses
19. Set up automated withdrawals from your personal Royal account for
• Municipal taxes on your property
• local utilities on your property
• property insurance on your property
• any loans you used to acquire the properties
20. If you used an online incorporation service, ask your property manger to be the registered representative of your company in the state. You want to have a physical address in the US where you can have mail received if anything ever comes up. If you used a lawyer, it is likely included in his fee.
21. You will need to run like this for a while, say 6-12 months, until you are reasonably satisfied with your property manager. You are about to establish a strong link with him so be absolutely sure before you start changing the physical addresses.
22. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) so Charlie Co LLC will become an entity with the US IRS for taxes – don’t try to avoid US taxes.
23. Once the EIN is approved file the conversion to a Type “C” corporation from an LLC
24. By now, you should have confirmed online banking and no documents come to your home address each month. With your property manager’s permission, switch your bank account physical and mailing address to be your property manager’s physical address in the US.
25. Once your RBC Bank USA account has been open awhile, fly to your bank branch for a personal visit. (Ours is in Naples, Florida and the trip is a business expense!)
26. Ask to open a companion business account in corporate name with the same physical address as your personal bank account (i.e. remember the address is the same as the property manager). This may not work for you so you have to be creative about a physical US address.
27. Apply for a credit card in your personal name (or preferably business name if possible) to establish some business credit history in the US
28. Apply for a small LOC on your business name. (if possible) to establish more credit history
29. Transfer all automated debits & credits from your personal account to your business account.
30. One your first annual property visit you’ll be fly to your state. Purchase a cell phone for your business locally in that state. Register your address as the property manager physical address but have the cell bills sent to your online email address
31. Have that business phone forward to your cell phone in Canada with some sort of low rate plan
32. Set up a 1-800 number for your business terminating to that cell phone in your state; establishing more business credit.
33. You are now well on your way for credit building for future mortgage capability so you can purchase assets in the US directly. You will have credit bureau account references to your business name with a physical address (your property manager) from the following entities:
• Credit card
• Civic municipality
• Electric power utility
• Gas heat utility
• Water utility
• Property insurance company
• Property manager
• Cell phone provider
• Toll free provider
34. Get your DUNS number from Dunn & Bradstreet
What you will have at this point is:
• A tax friendly Canadian corporate structure in which you can change ownership with your investors of any components of the enterprise without generating a costly transfer of physical property assets in the US
• The physical investment property will be forever owned by Charlie Co LLC meaning US estate taxes and any land transfer taxes are eliminated.
• You have limited your liability through the Charlie Co LLC corporate entity in your state where your properties are located to protect you from lawsuits
• You have a US Internal Revenue Service account with an EIN; it will be filing regular tax returns as a full bona fide C corporation
• A Business Bank account in the US with US cheques to facilitate payments in the US banking system and you can pay for any services you need in the US with US cheques
• You can now move money between countries without fees (other than exchange rates).
• You own a business in the US linked to a US physical address with a US business phone number
• You have some credit history in the US with which you can at least approach some lenders for mortgage financing directly within the US