Your options for where and how to live in Belize are many, so you should begin the thinking process associated with the idea of buying a home of your own in Belize by asking yourself:
What are your objectives?
You could invest (and live) in a condo on the beach… a home in a private, gated, planned community… a local village house… or a luxury-standard custom home on a piece of land in the country. Each purchase has its advantages and its downsides, so, again, it’s all about what you’re looking to accomplish.
- Are you shopping for a place to live full time or only part of the year?
- Would you like to be able to rent out the property when you’re not using it yourself?
- Are you up for hiring a caretaker to watch over the property when you’re away?
- How much maintenance is too much for you?
- Do you want local Belizeans as neighbors… fellow expats only… or a mix of both?
Belize has a long mainland coast and cayes offshore, meaning lots of beach choices, and not all beaches are created equal. Some beaches in this country are Robinson Crusoe-style; others are rowdy and noisy with lots of nightlife and tourists.
Again, it comes down to what you’re looking for. Do you want privacy or company, solitude or parties?
A home in a planned community means privacy and security, peace and quiet. Planned communities are relatively new to Belize. 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 flip 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 Home Owners Association (HOA) fees support the upkeep of community amenities and services. These are typically in the range of US$150 to US$200, something to remember when calculating your budget.
A home in town can be your most convenient option and also your most affordable, both because local houses are cheaper than houses built for the foreign buyer and also because a local house 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 would be comfortable for you.
If you’re thinking of buying something in town, understand that zoning doesn’t exist in this country (nor anywhere in Central America or the Caribbean, really). If you buy or rent a nice big house in a nice part of town with a vacant piece of land next-door, don’t be surprised if, a year later, someone buys that land and builds a disco or a car repair shop. I’m not saying that will happen, but it’s something to keep in mind.
How Much Should Your New Belize Home Cost?
How much should you 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. Like most of the world, Belize has no multiple listing service, meaning you’re on your own to identify comparables.
To do this, look at as many properties as possible with as many different real estate agents as you have time to meet with. Definitely do not buy from the first agent you speak with. In unregulated markets like Belize, listings are not shared. Each agent is able to show you only those properties he has listed.
Further, the same property can be listed with more than one agent. This is not because the listing is being shared but because the seller has listed it with more than one agent… and each agent, you might discover, could have that same property listed at a different price.
Consider the cost of every condo or house you view on a per-square-foot basis, remembering also 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.
Somebody might tell you they should be able to build the house you’re interested in for US$80 per square foot, but you can’t let the conversation end there. Again, 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 wouldn’t consider a water heater an appliance.
If you’re looking for a second home in Belize to rent out when you’re not using it for income, focus on San Pedro or Placencia. Those are Belize’s highest trafficked tourist destinations. If you’d like your Belize home to double as an investment, focus on Cayo and Corozal. These are the fastest-appreciating districts in this country.
The Purchase Process
The property purchase process in Belize will seem familiar to an American. All contracts and negotiations are in English and based on fee simple, Common Law traditions. Further, there are no restrictions on property ownership; foreigners and Belizeans are treated equally.
The process begins with the seller and buyer signing a purchase contract and the buyer making a deposit of 10%. At that point, a title search is conducted by the buyer’s attorney, and an opinion of title is issued.
If the title is found to be clear and clean, the balance of funds and closing costs are due, and the closing is finalized. A new title is then issued in the new owner’s name. The entire process usually takes 30 to 90 days.
The Belizean government has spent the past couple of years creating a national property title database. In addition, the real estate industry has recently become affiliated with the National Association of Realtors. These milestones make for a more dynamic market and provide the foundation for a Multiple Listing Service, which some in the industry are lobbying for.
Two Important Things To Remember
Real estate agents are not licensed or regulated. Do your due diligence; unscrupulous agents are not uncommon. And remember that a real estate agent in any developing market (including Belize) does not work for you. He doesn’t work for the seller either. He works for the commission. That may sound cynical, but it’s the reality and helps to put the situation in perspective.
Also understand that the seller in Belize (again, as in any developing market) is not legally required to disclose any defects in the property or the title to a potential buyer. As a buyer, you count on your attorney for confirmation of clean title. You should also engage an engineer or surveyor to inspect the property prior to signing a purchase contract. If you don’t push for an inspection, there will be no inspection.