“Wow. This is really something.”
It was the late 90s, and I was sitting at a palapa in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
The unspoiled beauty of everything that surrounded me had me completely stunned.
Back then, Playa del Carmen had a population of about 50,000 people.
By the early 2000s, it had become one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and today has a population of more than 300,000 people.
I’ve watched in amazement over the past three decades as this part of the world has exploded in popularity.
I can’t count how many times I’ve thought to myself, “If only I’d bought a piece of land along this coast 30 years ago when I first started spending time here…” The experience had one positive outcome, though…
It got me interested in international real estate as an investment.
Since then, I’ve invested in property throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
The Next Playa Del Carmen
For the past 17 years, I’ve been focused on Belize specifically and have taken note of some of the precursors to what I now call “the Playa del Carmen effect.”
It’s not as rugged as Playa del Carmen was 30 years ago, but parts of Belize are yet undiscovered, and it has the potential to explode in popularity in the same way.
Before you think about staking any claim to Belize real estate, however, you need to ask yourself what your objectives are.
Belize is small, but its selection of real estate choices is big.
You could invest in a condo on the beach, a home in a planned community, a house in a local town, or a piece of land in the countryside.
Each purchase has advantages and downsides, so, again, it’s all about what you’re looking to accomplish.
Are you shopping for a place to live or for long-term appreciation?
Do you intend to use the property full-time yourself or only part-time with the hope of renting it out otherwise?
The best place to get answers to these questions is our Live And Invest In Belize Conference, taking place Feb. 21–23 in Belize City. Full details here.
Meantime, here’s an overview of the pluses and minuses of each real estate option Belize offers.
Option 1: Beach Condo
To state the obvious, a beach condo puts you right on the beach, which is almost always a plus in real estate investment.
Keep in mind that, while small, Belize has a long mainland coast and cayes offshore, meaning lots of beach choices.
That said, not all beaches are created equal… Some are Robinson Crusoe-style, completely untouched and unspoiled; others are developed, drawing lots of tourists and noisy nightlife.
Again, it comes down to what you’re looking for. Do you want privacy or company, solitude or parties?
Option 2: Planned Community
A home in a planned community means privacy and security, peace and quiet.
Planned communities are relatively new to Belize.
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Most are being built to North American standards, meaning you won’t have the quirkiness of a Belizean home (lights that turn on when you push the switch down, for example), and you won’t have Belizean neighbors either. This could be a plus for you or a minus. Planned communities are outside the towns for the most part, meaning that, while you’ll be safe and secure behind the guarded gate, you’ll also be a drive from shopping and restaurants.
A drive at night in this country can be an adventure because the roads are basic, often dirt, and almost always unlit. A home in a planned community also means fees.
Monthly HOA fees support the upkeep of community amenities and services. These can range from $150 to $200—something to keep in mind when doing your budgeting.
Option 3: Local Town
A home in town can be your most convenient option and also your most affordable.
Not only is a local-style house in town more affordable than a new-build house in a planned community, but it also comes without a monthly HOA fee.
The trade-off is that, with rare exceptions, houses in Belizean towns are local Belizean houses. You may have to search for a while to find one that will be comfortable for you. If you’re thinking of buying something local in town, understand that zoning doesn’t exist in this country.
If you buy or rent a nice, big house in a good part of town with a vacant piece of land next door, don’t be surprised if, a year later, someone buys that piece of land and builds a disco or a car repair shop.
I’m not saying that will happen, but it could.
Option 4: Land
Another option is buying a piece of land and building your own house.
In this case, you should know about the Central Building Authority (CBA).
This is a relatively new government agency. When I arrived in this country, you could build whatever you wanted.
Now the CBA has put standards in place.
For the first time in this country, there is a building code that you need to adhere to.
How Much Can You Expect To Spend?
To know how much you should pay for the kind of property you’re interested in buying, you have to compare apples with apples, and that’s not easy in this market.
You want to consider the cost of a condo or house on a per-square-foot basis, but you also have to pay attention to what’s included in the square feet.
It’s like asking, “How much does a bag of groceries cost?” It depends on what’s in the bag. The same goes for building a home. Somebody might tell you they can build a house for $80 per square foot, but you can’t let the conversation end there.
Ask what’s included in those square feet. You might be surprised to learn that that per-square-foot price doesn’t include windows, for example, or plumbing or cabinets.
You don’t expect a house to come with appliances, but most of us don’t think of a water heater as an appliance. What About Escrow? One more thing you should know: There are no escrow companies in Belize, and you can’t take escrow for granted.
It’s not typically part of the buying process. You can insist on it, but you’ll have to set it up.
I’d recommend doing that through your attorney. If you have a good attorney, this can work.
I don’t recommend using the seller’s attorney, and I really don’t recommend using the seller’s attorney for escrow.
Where In Belize To Target
Again, this will depend on your objectives.
If you’re looking for rental income, focus on San Pedro or Placencia. Those are Belize’s most popular tourist destinations. If you are looking for appreciation, focus on Cayo and Corozal. These are the fastest-growing districts in this country.