From First-Timers To Old Hands--How Kathy And Jim Retired To Belize

Feb. 3, 2013 Belize City, Belize: Kathy and Jim Suits retired from Washington State to Carmelita, in Belize’s Cayo District, where they’re embracing a sweet, simple, back-to-basics life in the company of fellow and like-minded American retirees.

Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,

"As soon as we got off the plane in Belize for the first time," Kathy Suits says, "we immediately felt comfortable. It felt like coming home, even though we'd never been here before."

Today, Kathy and her husband Jim are full-time Belize expats. They participated in this week's Live and Invest in Belize Conference, but not as attendees. Kathy and Jim came to tell all their fellow readers in this country for the first time about their own experience progressing from Belize first-timers to old Belize hands.

Move to Cayo Belize

Like everyone in Belize City this week, Kathy and Jim began their Belize adventures by attending a Live and Invest Overseas Conference. During that event, four years ago, they were intrigued by Phil Hahn's presentation on the community he was, at the time, just beginning to create out in the Cayo at Carmelita. After the conference, Kathy and Jim traveled out to see Carmelita with Phil. It was everything they had expected and more--a green and verdant part of this country where people embrace a sweet and simple lifestyle. Kathy and Jim were hooked. They bought a lot on the river.

When they discovered Belize, Kathy and Jim were both already retired from the U.S. Air Force and were operating the financing planning and income tax preparation business they'd started. They sold that business last year, then, six months ago, made the move to Belize they'd been planning for and dreaming about for so long. The relocated from Washington state to San Ignacio, Belize.

"We feel like we've retired to Mayberry," Kathy explains.

Kathy and Jim are renting a house in San Ignacio until their custom Carmelita home is complete, later this year. They visit the site several times a week, checking on construction progress. Their new home, when it's finished, will look out over the river and feature a large kitchen and living area with adjoining bar. This living space will open onto their pool and deck, facing the river below.

"We've designed the place for lots of company," Kathy says. "I love to cook, and Jim is perfecting his bar-tending skills."

The couple is already earning a reputation as the community's on-site welcoming committee. Speaking on behalf of all fellow Belize expats, we can't wait to be invited over for the housewarming party!

Ann Kuffner

P.S. What else this week?

  • In today's mail arrived a thick package. Inside were the page proofs for my new book, "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas," ready for final review and sign-off.

This book is the culmination of nearly 30 years' experience covering this beat and about 15 years' experience buying and selling real estate around the world, mostly successfully and for profit, sometimes not, and one time with disastrous results (yes, in this tell-all guide, I share the details of my biggest real estate investment failure).

I could not have written this global property adventure memoir without the help of my husband, Lief Simon. Lief has been my number cruncher, tax advisor, currency converter, spreadsheet guru, and partner for every overseas real estate investment I've made throughout my career.

With one exception--the accidental developer experience I found myself involved with a few years before I met Lief, on the south Pacific coast of Nicaragua. For that adventure, I have Bill Bonner and Mark Ford to thank, and I do...

  • For me, it was love at first sight.

From the first morning I arrived in Belize, about 28 years ago, climbed down from the plane onto the runway, threw my backpack over my shoulder, pulled on my sunglasses, and walked across the tarmac in the direction of the one-room Belize City airport, I was smitten.

It was nothing I could put my finger on at the time. Just a feeling, like falling in love. You know it when it hits.

Belize City is referred to as the Calcutta of the Caribbean...a hell hole...a slum town. Those descriptions aren't undeserved, but they refer not to Belize but Belize City and not to the heart and soul of this country but to the face of the town where, unfortunately, its international airport happens to be located.

Smitten as I was by the experience of being in Belize, even I, young and naïve as I was, recognized that Belize City wasn't a nice place to be 28 years ago. This hasn't changed, but it didn't matter to me then and isn't the point now. What won me over from that first visit was the simple, sweet charm of this country, which, somehow, I sensed straightaway...

  • How much money do you need to retire and move to a new country?

In fact, that's not where I'd start. Here's where I'd start: How much money do you have to retire? What does your retirement nest egg amount to, on a monthly basis?

In these dispatches, I introduce you regularly to places where you could retire and live comfortably on US$1,000 or US$1,200 a month, even less. The average monthly Social Security check is about US$1,200, meaning that you may well be able to retire overseas on your Social Security alone.

If your Social Security income is less than US$1,200 a month, however, or if you're not of the age yet to collect it, and you have no other pension to count on, what option do you have?...

  • Guidebooks to Malaysia give it barely a mention. Good thing, therefore, that we don't rely on guidebook reviews but prefer word-of-mouth recommendations from fellow expats and travelers when planning our scouting trips. Otherwise, we might never have discovered Johor Bahru (JB), which nobody is paying any attention to but which we found to be a city that, while clearly removed from the tourist circuit, welcomes foreigners.

Whenever we visit a place, we try to imagine ourselves living there. Some places are beyond our imagination, and we dismiss them. Occasionally, we find a hidden gem that far exceeds our expectations; Johor Bahru is one of those places...

  • Conference Insider Ann Kuffner reports live from the scene of this week's sell-out Live and Invest in Belize event:

Belize is a small country (about the size of Massachusetts) that offers amazing geographic and ecological diversity. Not surprisingly, equally diverse and attractive lifestyle options are now springing up in the most appealing locations across this little country.

Six very different development community choices were represented at this week's Live and Invest in Belize Conference, each appealing but in different ways and for different reasons. Three of the development communities we looked at are located in Belize's lush Cayo region. One is near the town of Corozal, on the Bay of Chetumal. Another is located in Stann Creek, between Hopkins and Placencia. And the last is on Ambergris Caye, in lively San Pedro Town.

These qualify as the most interesting choices available right now for anyone thinking about living or retiring in this country. In all cases, these are also great choices for second or vacation homes, and the turn-key (condo, house, etc.) options offer the potential for cash flow, too. Invest in one of these, and you could rent it out when you weren't using it yourself.

Belize Lifestyle Option #1: Carmelita Gardens--On The River And Off The Grid

As Phil Hahn, the developer behind this community, explains, "Carmelita is all about wide-open spaces and back-to-basics living." It's also a top budget option, as lot prices start at just US$25,000.

Carmelita has been conceived as an agrarian community. Orchards, groves, and community gardens will be center stage. The property sits about 7 miles from the Mennonite community of Spanish Lookout and alongside the meandering Belize River (the famous Ruta Maya kayak race takes place on the Belize River each May and originates just upstream from Carmelita). This part of Belize is blessed with rich, fertile earth. It's like a well-manicured Midwestern town...except for the palm trees.

Carmelita Gardens covers 450 acres and includes more than a mile of riverfront. The lots have spectacular views of the Maya Mountains, and remnants of the Mayan civilization are evident all around, including visible mounds covering unexcavated Mayan ruin sites.

Residents at Carmelita Gardens will be completely self-sufficient but still only a few miles outside San Ignacio, the biggest town in this part of the country.

Carmelita offers a variety of river, garden, village, and estate lots priced from US$25,000 to US$45,000. Almost anyone could afford to invest in a lot here. When you're ready to build on your lot, you can choose from house designs that Phil's team has put together integrating off-grid technologies for water, wastewater, and electricity into simple but charming "Victorian Caribbean" hardwood homes with long, breezy porches. Two homes have been completed to date, and another seven are scheduled to break ground. A community is taking shape.

Of the two houses that have been built, one is the Serifina Model, a Tennessee Williams cottage, priced at US$78,500. It's finished, furnished, and has already been rented for the next few months. The second home completed, on the river, is the Tortuga Model, a two-bedroom, two-bath home with a fantastic river view. This model is priced at US$175,000, including the furniture and appliances.

Many Carmelita owners are choosing to build custom homes, and Phil is happy to work with you to design what you want. He is also offering financing. You can reach Phil for more information on Carmelita Gardens here.

Belize Lifestyle Option #2: Maya Spring Estates--Space, Tranquility, And Privacy With A Cayo Valley View

Maya Spring Estates, situated on a lush 100 acres also in the Cayo District, consists of 20 beautiful estate home sites. Maya Springs is for those who want space and privacy but who still want to be part of a community. A natural spring feeds a creek that meanders through the property, and the elevation delivers views of the valley below, as well as the nearby hills.

The size of these estate sites means room for a private family compound, a place where you could set down roots and establish a legacy. Maya Spring is secluded but not isolated, offering both the convenience of easy access to local resources and the security of a private community. The developer will be installing electricity to all property sites, and owners will be able to tap into the local aquifer. The 3- to 10-acre lots are priced from US$75,000 to US$140,000.

You can request more information on Maya Spring Estates here.

Belize Lifestyle Option #3: Mahogany Park--Your Own Riverfront Escape For As Little As US$20,000

Mahogany Park is an outstanding option for someone looking to retire on a budget in an established community. Lot prices start at just US$20,000, and you could build a 1,000-square-foot house here for as little as US$70,000, including the septic system. This is an option where you could be all in for less than US$100,000 and is a top choice for the would-be expat or retiree wanting to own his own home and to embrace the simple life in a rural setting.

Mahogany Park is located within walking distance of the Cayo village of Bullet Tree. This isn't a gated community but, rather, has been conceived and designed for the retiree who prefers to integrate into an existing Cayo Belizean community.

Mahogany Park sits on the Mopan River, meaning cooling breezes and pleasant views, and includes a half-acre riverfront park for use by all owners. And (as you may have guessed) the property features dozens of mahogany trees. There are but 23 lots in total, including 3 riverfront. Lot sizes range from 1/8th to 1/5th acre. The developer will be installing roads, water, and electricity.

For more on Mahogany Park, you can get in touch here.

Belize Lifestyle Option #4: Orchid Bay--Turn-Key Homes On Tranquil Chetumal Bay

Carmelita, Maya Spring, and Mahogany Park are all great options in the Cayo. However, perhaps you're coming to Belize not for the mountains, the rain forest, and the rivers, but for the Caribbean Sea!

Orchid Bay is hidden in the Caribbean paradise of northern Belize, on the peaceful and protected waters of Chetumal Bay. This community includes more than 4,000 feet of uninterrupted waterfront frontage and, when fully developed, will include up to 500 private residences, from seaside casitas and condominiums to half-acre estates.

Orchid Bay embraces the ideas of New Urbanism and walkability. The town is planned around central plazas, providing gathering spaces for community members.

One of Orchid Bay's biggest advantages is its location, on the bay but also only 10 miles (across the bay) to Chetumal, Mexico, with its hospitals, museums, movie theatres, restaurants, and shopping malls. There's even a Sam's Club in Chetumal, meaning you could live a quiet and simple life by the Caribbean Sea but not have to travel too far for supplies or medical support. This situation near Mexico also means easy access from North America. You could fly directly to Belize City and then drive up the mainland coast to Orchid Bay...or you could fly into Cancun or Chetumal (via Mexico City).

Indigenous flora and fauna, Mayan influences, and a pedestrian-friendly design characterize Orchid Bay's different residential neighborhoods. First-class amenities include an equestrian center (complete with a 6-acre horse pasture and stables), miles of walking and riding trails, an on-site outfitter for excursions, tennis courts, and an observatory. The beachside cantina on site serves up fresh local cuisine, and there's also a palapa bar, a beachside pool, a bonfire pit, and a lounge deck perfect for enjoying sunset views. One 300-foot dock is in place; two more are planned.
Lot prices start at US$54,000, and you can buy (with developer financing) a turn-key casita home for US$179,000 to $214,000 (three are currently available). To date, 40 homes have been built at Orchid Bay.

Underground utilities, wireless, wastewater treatment, and reverse osmosis water treatment are already in place, and houses have been built so that owners can choose solar or other alternative energy as a backup system.

Orchid Bay is preparing to break ground on its condominium phase (the pilings will be pounded this week). Each 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo is being located on the waterfront. There are 24 units in total, and the condo community will have its own swimming pool and dock.

The top two floors of this condo structure have been sold pre-construction, but ground and second-floor units remain available. Again, the developer is offering financing. Prices range from US$284,000 to US$399,000.

For more on Orchid Bay, get in touch here.

Belize Lifestyle Option #5: Grand Baymen--A Guaranteed Leaseback Program On Ambergris Caye

Belize offers a long Caribbean coast and a few little outlying Caribbean islands, the most developed of which is Ambergris Caye. Here, in San Pedro town (the only town on the island, a former fishing village), is the Grand Baymen condominium development. The Baymen Gardens condos sit on 4 acres, and owners (and renters) here enjoy access to the San Pedro Fitness Club, pool, and tennis courts on the adjoining 2 acres, as well as beach access at the Exotic Caye Beach Resort. The San Pedro Club amenities are already in place, and have been operating since 2003.

The developer at Grand Baymen is currently offering 410-square-foot one-bedroom condo-apartments specifically designed for the tourism rental market. This offer has been well received, and only three of these units remain available. This "leaseback" program is especially attractive for investors and future retirees who would like to live part-time on the island. The big attractions are the guaranteed rental income for the first three years, which is unique in Belize, and the low entry price point, which is well below what's typical for this Ambergris Caye market.

In addition, the developer is offering financing. You can lock in a unit for an initial investment of about US$32,000 then finance the balance with the developer over the three-year guaranteed-yield period. At the end of that three-year period, you could refinance through a local bank, for a 10-year term.

The developer financing is for 10% interest, with a 30-year amortization. This translates to a monthly payment of US$842. The monthly guaranteed rental income from the developer is US$1,250. Out of that, you pay the mortgage, the HOA fees (US$140/month), and the property taxes, leaving you with a positive cash flow of US$233 per month. That's an 11% cash-on-cash return on your down payment and furniture cost.

Future retirees with a limited budget can buy today locking in the current low price. You could then enjoy some extra cash flow over the next three years, while your unit is rented out. After three years, when the rental leaseback program expires, you could sell, refinance and move in, or refinance and return the unit to the rental pool.

For more on Grand Baymen, get in touch here.

Belize Lifestyle Option #6: Sanctuary Belize--Fully Master-Planned And Secure Gated Community (With A Marina)

Orchid Bay sits on Belize's northern mainland coast. Grand Baymen is on the island of Ambergris Caye in the Caribbean just offshore from Belize City. Your other option if you want to be on the water in this country is the southern mainland coast. Here, your best choice is Sanctuary Belize, in the Stann Creek region, between the towns of Hopkins and Placencia. This fully master-planned, private, gated development includes 40,000 acres, 10,000 of which, jungle and rain forest, have been set aside as a wildlife sanctuary.

In 2011 and 2012, Sanctuary Belize received several international development design awards, one for being the best mixed-use development in the country. The property is unusually diverse, with five separate eco-systems …riverine, savannah, jungle, coastal, and reef--and could well be the only development project in the world offering such eco-system diversity. Each eco-system offers a different lifestyle option, but all focus on healthy living and nature-oriented activities. At Sanctuary Belize, you can hike, kayak, ride a zip line, fish, view birds and other wildlife, snorkel, dive, and sail.

The land to be developed is consolidated along the ocean and river boundaries. Amenities include an equestrian center, a dock, a marina, and a private island. There are even airfield lots if you'd like to be able to access your Belize beach getaway by private or chartered plane.

The marina and marina village are major selling points. The deep-water marina will be world class, covering 40 acres. Aboveground construction is under way.
Choices for lot size and location are many and varied. Prices start at US$130,000.

Both model and custom homes are possible. The model homes incorporate flexible contemporary styles. There is even a kit option (from Vietnam) that allows you to build a turn-key bamboo house. If you'd prefer to custom-design your home, Sanctuary recommends four preferred builders. Construction costs average US$150 per square foot. Eventually condos will also be built, in the main village.

One of the most appealing things about investing at Sanctuary Belize is the flexible developer financing. You can negotiate terms from 0 to 30 years and even a US$0 down payment. Cash discounts are offered if you choose to make a cash down payment.

For more on Sanctuary Belize, get in touch here.

Image source: Ian Mackenzie

 

Share
Enter Your E-Mail:

Readers Say

"I wish to congratulate you for the quality of your reports. The plain, matter of fact, but essential and wise information we all need to take vital decisions, especially in these extremely difficult times."

Peter L., United States
Share

Search

"Thank you for all your hard work. You have made a lot of people dream and a lot of dreams come true. I enjoy all the e-mails from all your staff living all over the world. I am always telling people about you and how you started your publications years ago. In fact, I just today told my banker about how honest and smart you are, letting us know where to go. Wish I had listened to you more years ago..."

— Marlene M., Alaska
Share

Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

SIGN UP TO OUR FREE E-LETTER

Sign up for the Overseas Opportunity Letter

Receive our editor's latest research reports...absolutely FREE!

letters The Best Places For Living And
Investing in the World for 2014