The good news is that real estate costs less in Belize than it does in the U.S., Canada or Western Europe. To be sure, in a few prime areas you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on North American-style luxury home, but you can also buy raw land at prices not seen in the U.S. since the 1970s and in some areas find a simple but pleasant rental house near the sea for under US$400 a month. More good news: There are few restrictions on the purchase or use of real estate by foreigners, legal documents are in English and follow English common law traditions.
Shopping for Housing
Except for occasional ads in the San Pedro Sun on Ambergris Caye and in Belize City newspapers, and listings on the Internet, few properties are advertised for sale. Real estate agencies do maintain listing brochures, and you can contact them to request a copy. Most real estate brokers use the Internet as the primary way of presenting listings and of getting prospective buyers. See the real estate agent listings below for addresses of real estate Web sites in Belize.
Even with the Internet, however, you’ll miss one-half or more of available properties. To find out what’s really for sale, you’ll have to spend time on the ground in Belize. Many properties are for sale by owner, rather than being listed with a broker. In many cases, you will see no sign or other indication that a property is for sale. Just start asking around, and before long you’ll have more deals being offered you than you can even begin to consider. This goes double for rentals. It is rare to see a house advertised for rent in a newspaper, except in San Pedro or Belize City, and brokers handle only the most expensive rentals.
About the only way to find a house or apartment to rent is to spend some time in the area where you wish to rent. Drive around and look for vacant homes, or ask foreign residents or Belizeans for tips on what’s available.
Note: Several web sites not affiliated with a real estate company have Belize real estate listings.
Belize First maintains a section of free listings of Belize real estate for sale, wanted and trades. Visit www.belizefirst.com/indexrealestate.html. Also on the site are some rental listings.
Real Estate Brokers
In Belize, anyone can be a real estate broker. No license needed. No schooling, no bonding, no continuing education. All you need is enough money to print business cards, and, presto, you’re a broker. Selling real estate is a popular first job for expats in Belize, and some do it on the side without a work permit. Quite a few hoteliers, dive shop operators and taxi drivers peddle real estate to tourists on the side. One of the best-known real estate guys in Placencia, until he left to sail his boat around the Caribbean, was also the proprietor and barkeep of one of the most popular bars on the peninsula.
Efforts have been made to require some basic licensing of real estate brokers, but as of this writing this is still a work in progress. The Belize National Association of REALTORS® has been established – the group’s web site is www.belizenar.org. Agent members, of which there are more than 100 in Belize, subscribe to a code of ethics and are supposed to follow other professional guidelines. Another group, the Association of Real Estate Brokers in Belize (www.arebb.com), was established in 2006 and has more than 80 agent members.
Not surprisingly, the quality of agents varies. Some are professional and honest. A few are out for a fast buck. Some are just not very knowledgeable. The ones we’ve listed here are among the best we know about, but even so your mileage may vary. Real estate commissions in Belize are similar to those in the U.S. Agents typically charge the seller 7% commission on residential property, and around 10% on raw land. Of course, rates are negotiable. Because many properties are in remote areas, brokers often charge prospective buyers expenses for travel and transportation incurred in connection with showing properties.
These are some of the best real estate agents and companies in Belize:
Bayshore Limited, 100 Embarcadero road, Maya Beach, Placencia Peninsula, Stann Creek District, tel. 501-523-8019; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bayshorebelize.com. Jenny Wildman and her agents specialize in property on the Placencia peninsula.
Belize Land Consultants, P.O. Box 35, Corozal, tel. 501-423-1005, fax 423-1006, email email@example.com, www.consejoshores.com. Bill Wildman, a land surveyor, developed Consejo Shores near Corozal Town and also has more than 30 years of real estate experience in Belize.
Diane Campbell, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-226-5203 or 501-610-5118; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Diane is a former Californian who with her husband has built a number of homes on Ambergris Caye, including the Los Encantos development. She is very well informed about real estate on Ambergris Caye.
Charlotte's Casa Belize, 78 5th Ave., Corozal; tel. 501-422-0135, cell 501-607-0456; email email@example.com, www.charlottescasabelize.com. Charlotte Zahniser has been in Belize since around 1999. She can probably help with rentals in the Corozal area, too.
Ceiba Realty (Jonathan Lohr), 119A Western Highway, Santa Elena Town, Cayo; tel. 501-824-4050 or cell 501-610-4458; email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ceibarealtybelize.com.
Emerald Futures Real Estate, Mile 3 ½, Northern Hwy., Belize City, tel. 501-670-6818, fax 501-223-2609; email email@example.com, www.emeraldfutures.com. Emerald Futures has properties in most areas of the mainland. Owners Madeleine and John Estephan were born and raised in Belize.
Rainforest Realty, P.O. Box 195, San Ignacio, Cayo; tel. 501-670-4045 or 727-490- 7710, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.rainforestrealty.com. Talk to Macarena Rose, who is also the founding president of the Belize National Association of REALTORS®.
Regent Realty, Ltd., 81 N. Front St., Belize City; tel. 501-227-0090, fax 227-2022, email email@example.com, www.regentrealtybelize.com. Regent Realty was formerly associated with Regent Insurance Co., one of largest Belize-based insurance companies, before it merged with F&G Insurance to become RF&G Insurance.
Southwind Properties, P.O. Box 1, San Pedro, tel. 501-226-2005, fax 501-226-2331, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.southwindproperties.net. Specializes in property on Ambergris Caye. Southwind is also a real estate developer, having done Belizean Shores and Coral Bay condos.
Sunrise Realty, #1 Barrier Reef Dr. (P.O. Box 236), San Pedro; tel. 501-226-3737, fax 501-226-3379, email email@example.com, www.sunrisebelize.com. Brokers Chris Berlin and Amanda Syme are San Pedro residents. They focus on properties on Ambergris Caye.
Tropic Real Estate, P.O. Box 453, Belmopan, Cayo, tel. 501-824-3475, fax 501-824-3649, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.realestatebelize.com. This is one of the oldest real estate agencies in Cayo. The owner is originally from Texas.
Katie Valk, P.O. Box 1108, Belize City; tel. 501-223-0376, 501-610-1923 or 561-210-7015 in the U.S., email email@example.com, www.belize-trips.com. Katie Valk has a home in the Cocoplum development (a first-rate place) in Placencia and offers lots and homes for sale there.
Other Real Estate Agents
Here are other real estate agents in Belize. In many cases, we have no personal knowledge of these agents. They are listed for your convenience only. Also check the Belize National Association of REALTORS® web site at www.belizenar.org for other real estate agents.
Ambergris Seaside Real Estate, P.O. Box 163, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-226-4545, fax 501-226-3545, www.ambergrisrealestate.com.
Alpha & Omega International Realty & Consultants, Corozal Town, tel. 501-207-8887; www.AlphaOmegaBelizeRealEstate.com.
Arabella Chambers Limited, Real Estate Agents & Home Builders (Luigi Lungarini and Alexia Malo), San Ignacio, Cayo; tel. 501-824-2161 or 501-624-0951; www.arabellachambers.org.
Belize Land Properties Ltd. (Hector Romero), 9 Third Street, King's Park, Belize City, tel./fax 501-223-4807; www.belizelandproperties.com.
Belize North Real Estate, P.O. Box 226, Corozal Town, tel. 501-422-0284 www.belizenorthrealestate.bz.
Belize Property Agents Ltd. (Managing Partner David Gobeil), Box 273 Dangriga, Physical Address: Mile 6 Hummingbird Highway, tel. 501-522-0512, cell: 501-665-2412, www.belizepropertyagent.com.
Belize Realty Services 29 Burns Avenue, San Ignacio, Cayo, tel: 501-801-0195 or 501-610-2265, www.belize-real-estate-services.com.
Belize Shores Realty (Paul and Karol Kammeyer) San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-226-2825, www.Belizeshoresrealty.com.
Blue Diamond Realty (Janelle Castillo), # 1 Barrier Reef Dr., San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-226-3933 or 501-620-4149; www.bluediamondbelize.com.
Buy Belize Real Estate, (Estevan Perera), 2.5 Miles Western Highway (P.O. Box 2276), Belize City, www.buy-belize.com.
Alex Canalez, Buyers' Agent/Real Estate Advertiser, 3781 Marina Drive, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-608-5535, www.affordablebelizerealestate.com,
Caribbean Properties Consultants, P.O. Box 149 Dangriga, Stann Creek District, tel. 501-523-7299 or 669-9000, www.belizeproperty.com.
Casa Cayo Real Estate (Richard McMinimy), San Pedro, Ambergris Caye; tel. 501-226-2791, www.casacayorealestate.net.
Cayo Connection (Jose Mendoza), #1 Bullet Tree Rd., San Ignacio, Cayo; tel. 501-670-3296 or 824-4691, www.ownlandinbelize.com.
Century 21 Isla Bonita, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye; tel. 866-589-4618; www.century21belize.com.
Caye Caulker for Sale, Caye Caulker, 501-622-3254, www.CayeCaulkerforSale.com.
Coldwell Banker Belize, (Jonathon Mullen) San Pedro, Ambergris Caye; tel. 501- 226-3400; www.ColdwellBankerBelize.com.
Coral Beach Realty, Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro, tel. 501-226-2681, fax 226-2875; www.coralbeachrealty.com.
Eden Isle & South Point Developments, Caye Caulker, 501-622-3254, www.CayeCaulker.net.
Hopkins Bay Real Estate, 1613 Pelican Lakes Point, Windsor, CO 80550 USA, tel. (877) 467-2297, fax (970)-674-5090; www.hopkinsbayrealestate.com.
IVORR Real Estate Agency, 7145 Slaughterhouse Road, Belize City, tel. 501-223-5560, cell 501-620-3711, www.ivorr.com.
Pelican Properties, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, tel. 501-226-3234, fax 226-3434, www.pelicanbelize.com.
Premier Real Estate, Mile 2 Western Highway, Belize City, tel. 501-224-4075 or 225-9052, cell 501-610-4343, fax 501-222-4150, www.premier-realestatebelize.com.
Realty Management of Belize Ltd., 24 Daly Street, Belize City, tel. 501-223-3523, fax 223-3375, www.realtymanagementofbelize.com.
RE/MAX Isla Bonita (Daryl Carlson), 10 Coconut Drive, San Pedro Town, Ambergris Cayem tel. 501-226-4400, fax 501-226-440, www.owninbelize.com.
RE/MAX Property Center (Looey Tremblay), San Ignacio, tel. 501-824-0550, cell 519-241-1230 (Canada), fax 501-824-0447, www.belizepropertycenter.com.
Sirena del Mar Ltd. Real Estate & Development Services, Front Street, Caye Caulker, tel. 501-226-0404, www.realestateofbelize.com.
South Belize Realty, www.southbelizerealty.com. Tel. 512-382-6779 in the U.S. Ron Forrester at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Southern Belize Real Estate, www.southernbelizerealestate.com.
Triton Properties, Barrier Reef Dr., San Pedro, Ambergris Caye; tel. 501-226-3783, fax 501-226-3549; e-mail email@example.com.
Vista Real Estate, 122 Eve St. (P.O. Box 2383), Belize City, tel. 501-223-2427, fax 223-2228, www.vistabelize.com or www.belizerealestate.bz.
Yearwood Properties, General Delivery, Placencia, tel./fax 501-523-3462, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Few Restrictions on Ownership
Belize imposes few restrictions on ownership of land by non-nationals. Unlike Mexico, which prohibits the direct ownership of land by foreigners on or near the coast, in Belize foreigners can buy and hold beachfront real estate in exactly the same way as Belizeans. Formerly an alien landholder’s license was needed for purchases of 10 acres or more (or more than 1/2 acre within a town or city.) However, such a license is no longer needed.
The only limitations on ownership by foreign nationals are these: Government approval is required, from the Ministry of Natural Resources, before the purchase of any island, regardless of size. In a few coastal and caye areas such as Caye Caulker there are rules limiting purchases by non-locals, and approval by the local village council or board must be obtained in advance.
Real Estate Prices
Property prices vary greatly in Belize from one area to another. They generally are highest in Belize City, on Ambergris Caye and in Placencia, and lowest in remote rural areas.
In large tracts, raw land is available in Belize for under US$300 an acre, but for this price access may be poor and surveying costs may exceed the cost of the land itself. Agricultural land might range from US$500 to $3,000 an acre, depending on quality and access.
Home prices range from under US$20,000 for a simple Belizean-style home in a small village to US$750,000 or more for a luxury home on the beach in San Pedro. Finished, newer homes typically sell for from US$75 to $150 per square foot, though of course the location of the lot or land also is a major factor.
The condominium type of ownership is new to Belize, and most condos are on Ambergris Caye. There are a few condos in Placencia and Belize City and on Caye Caulker. Prices start at around US$125,000 for a one-bedroom unit and go up to well over half a million dollars. On a square foot basis, you can expect to pay US$200 to $300 per square foot for a two-bedroom condo with sea views.
Belize has a few timeshares and “fractional ownership” properties, mostly on Ambergris Caye. These are generally not a good investment, in our opinion.
Property in Belize has appreciated over the past two decades, but by exactly how much is more difficult to say. Real estate agents say that some beachfront property in Placencia, San Pedro and elsewhere that was selling for a few hundred dollars a front foot in1980 is now going for US$3,000 to $5,000 or more a front foot. Real estate agents naturally talk up the appreciation potential, but keep in mind that the Belize economy is closely tied to the economy in the U.S.
Since the U.S. economy went into a tailspin in 2008, real estate sales in Belize have slowed, especially in beach areas. Condo sales in particular have stalled. Lot sales also have slowed significantly. “Very little is selling in Placencia,” one agent said. However, there still seems to be interest in small tracts of land in inland areas such as Cayo.
Despite the slowdown, price levels seem to have held up in most areas. The only big cuts in asking prices are on properties that were overpriced to begin with, real estate agents say.
As of this writing (late 2009), very little new condo or new home construction is going on in formerly “hot” areas of Ambergris Caye and Placencia.
Even with appreciation, real estate prices in Belize are still inexpensive by the standards of the U.S. or most of Western Europe. That’s especially true of beachfront prices. Waterfront lot prices on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. or in Florida rarely are less than US$200,000 to $500,000, and in places like Hilton Head, S.C., or Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., can easily reach US$1 million or more, whereas beachfront building lots on Belize’s Caribbean are still available for US$100,000 to $200,000.
Precautions and Pitfalls
Most of the same rules of thumb that apply when looking for a home, land or apartment in the United States or Canada also apply in Belize. But Belize also has its own special situations:
Be prepared to get out and hunt. You’re not going to get a deal if you only go to a real estate agent. Most properties in Belize aren’t listed with brokers. You’ll need to go out and look for available properties. Just start asking around, and you’ll soon have plenty of choices. In Belize, money talks, and if you have the cash some people who have never considered selling may decide it’s time to cash in.
Understand that the Belize real estate market is small and inefficient.
Someone asked me why a piece of property near Placencia was still on the market three years after he had first seen it advertised. “Was there something wrong with the property?” he asked. No, I told him, nothing wrong with the property. It’s just Belize. The real estate marketplace in Belize is even more inefficient than it is elsewhere. The pool of financially capable real estate buyers in Belize is small, leaving many sellers dependent on foreign buyers. There is little real estate classified advertising, and most properties are sold or rented by word of mouth. No real multiple listing services exist, though there have been efforts to start one, and many properties are for sale by owner. Thus, it’s not easy to find out exactly what is on the market or what the prices are. There are relatively few well-trained real estate agents, appraisers and surveyors. Mortgage financing is not easily available for foreign buyers, further reducing the size of the buying pool and requiring cash sales or owner financing.
All this means that prices for similar properties can be all over the board. Also, the time to sell a property may be measured in years rather months. Which is something to think about as you buy real estate, which you may someday want to sell.
Negotiate. If you’re a good horse trader, you’ll likely get a better deal in Belize than the guy who isn’t. Keep in mind that in most parts of Belize there is far more available real estate than buyers with cold cash; so don’t jump at the first deal that comes your way. Remember, too, that in real estate you almost always make your money when you buy, not when you sell. The more you know, the better price you’ll get. A common saying among expats in Belize is that the second house you buy or rent is twice as large as the first and costs one-half as much. The real estate market in Belize is so thin that many sellers just pull an asking price out of the air -- similar properties can vary widely in asking price. Unscrupulous real estate agents also sometimes change the asking price in mid-negotiation, in many cases without telling the owner. Spend as much time in Belize as you can before you put any money in real estate.
Caveat emptor. Buyer beware applies as much in Belize as anywhere else. Real estate agents in Belize still aren’t licensed, although licensing efforts are under way. That beachfront lot that looks wonderful in the dry season may be under two feet of water in the rainy season, and there are no laws in Belize that provide for you to get your money back if the real estate agent didn’t provide full disclosure. In addition, as soon as the word gets out that you’re in the market for a place to live, everybody and his brother will tell you about this little piece of property owned by a cousin of theirs. It may be a great deal, but look before you leap.
In Belize, especially outside resort areas, there are sometimes two prices: one price for locals and another price for foreigners. The difference may only be a few dollars, but sometimes the Belizean price may be one-half or less of the “rich foreigner” price. From the expat’s point of view, this is unfair. From the Belizean point of view, this is perfectly kosher and reflects the reality that Americans (or Canadians or Europeans) make far more money for the same work as Belizeans and can well afford to pay more. One way around this problem is to get a trusted Belizean friend to find out the “local price” for you. Another is spend enough time in the country to get a feel for the difference between the Belizean price and the non-Belizean price, so that at least you can bargain with your eyes open.
What You Get for Your Real Estate Dollar in Belize
Here’s a sampler of what you can expect to get for your money in Belize in 2009:
5 to10 acres of land in Orange Walk District or other rural area
one-half acre building lot in Corozal, Belize, Toledo or Cayo districts
Seaview lot on far North Ambergris Caye (no utilities, boat access)
15-acre farm with small very basic dwelling in rural area
Small beachfront lot on far North Ambergris Caye
Beachfront lot in some areas of Hopkins or Corozal
Small concrete home in Belmopan, Corozal or Cayo
Mennonite “prefab” small house on lagoon or riverfront lot on southern coast (including lot)
50-acre farm with small dwelling and outbuildings in northern Belize, Cayo or Toledo
Modern 1,000 square-foot home, possibly with waterview in Corozal or Hopkins area
One-bedroom condo on Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker
Two-bedroom condo with seaview on Ambergris Caye
Deluxe 2,000 square-foot home on nice lot in San Ignacio or Corozal
150-acre farm with nice home, outbuildings and equipment in rural area
Luxury 5,000 square-foot home on small estate in Cayo
Luxury 3,000 square-foot home on wih sea view on Ambergris Caye
1,000-acre farm with home, outbuildings and equipment in rural area
Small private island
Fees and Costs of Purchase
Besides the cost of the property, you are likely to incur charges associated with the purchase that total 6% to 17% of the purchase price. These include the following:
Stamp Duty: This real estate transfer tax formerly was 15% for most foreign nationals. In 2006, however, it was reduced to 5% across the board, regardless of the nationality or residency status of the buyer. This tax is due at closing and is calculated on the gross sales price of the property, or, in the case of property being transferred at less than market value, of the actual value of the property. There is no stamp duty due on the first US$10,000 of the sale – so if a property is sold for US$50,000 there would be a transfer tax of 5% on US$40,000.
GST: The GST of 10% applies to the FIRST-TIME sale of new or substantially renovated property. This applies, for example, to newly constructed condos and houses. Substantially renovated means that 60% or more of the property was renovated. It also applies in some cases to residential lots selling for the first time in a subdivision. It does NOT apply to the sale of other land or previously occupied homes. In some cases, the GST is rolled into the sales price.
Attorney’s fee: For around 1% to 2% (usually 2%) of the purchase price, the attorney will draw up sales agreements, transfer documents and ascertain that the title is sound.
Thus, if you are buying a new condominium for US$200,000 at the time of closing you will pay the 5% stamp duty, 10% GST and 2% attorney’s fee, for a total of 17% of the sales price, or US$34,000. On the purchase of an existing home or tract of land, the total would be around 7% of the sales price.
In addition, there usually are nominal other fees and charges associated with transferring a title, such as for photocopying or filing.
Property taxes: Property taxes vary but are about 1.5% of the assigned value (NOT market value) of the undeveloped land, payable annually on April 1. In Belize, property taxes outside cities are based on land value rather than the developed value of the property, to encourage development. Property taxes on homes and other developed land even in cities are low, although the government has been increasing them in some areas. For example, the property tax on a nice four-bedroom North American-style home would likely be in the range of US$200 to $400, but in some areas the tax might be under US$100. Some property owners pay as little as US$20 or $30 property tax.
Speculation tax: There is a 5% speculation tax on land of 300 acres or more, payable annually based on the value of the land.
Capital gains tax: There is no capital gains tax in Belize.
Registration and Title
There are three different real property title systems in Belize:
Registered Land Act system, in which application for transfer is made, and a new Land Certificate is issued to the purchaser. Belize is moving to this system throughout the country, but at present it is not yet available everywhere. Under this system, an application is made for title transfer and a new Certificate of Title is issued to the grantee. Any existing “charges” will be shown on the Land Register for that parcel of land. The owner holds a Certificate of Title, and this, together with the relevant Land Register entries is the proof of ownership.
Conveyance system, which involves the transfer of land by conveyance and registration. This is the system used in much of the United States. In order to assure that the seller actually owns the land, a title search must be made in the Lands Unit in Belmopan to unearth the chain of title and to uncover any encumbrances such as uncanceled mortgages. This search usually is done by an attorney or a paralegal. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult or impossible to trace old conveyances with any degree of certainty of results, due to the condition of the index books.
Torrens system, which involves a First Certificate of Title followed by Transfer Certificates of Title. Unlike the Torrens system in use in parts of the U.S. and elsewhere, the Belize systems is not backed up by a fund, which guarantees title. Under this system, the uncanceled charges or encumbrances and the transfers from the title are shown on the relevant Certificate, so no further search is normally needed before the new Transfer Certificate of Title is issued, following the application for transfer.
Which system you use depends on where your property is located. You won’t have a choice. If for example your property is located in an area of Belize where the Registered Land Act system is in place, such as around Belmopan or in a planned subdivision, your property will be registered under that system. Land in Belize is being put into this system area by area until eventually the entire country will be included in it. Each year, more of Belize is converted to this system.
Some property purchasers in Belize complain that it can take many months or even years for the Lands Department to provide them with their Certificate of Title.
Title insurance is available in Belize, though most buying property don’t use it. RF&G Insurance and other insurance companies offer title insurance. Typically, title insurance costs 1% of the purchase price. Stewart Title, a U.S.-based title insurance firm, does not have an office in Belize but provides title insurance for some properties through Belizean firms.
Need for a Lawyer
In Belize, attorneys remain trusted advisors. They’re usually well-connected, well-paid pillars of the community who wield real power. Fees are not all that different from what you would pay in a small or mid-size city in the U.S.
A roster of attorneys in Belize reveals the surnames of prominent families with histories in Belize going well back into colonial times along with those of today’s political leaders including Barrow, Young, Shoman, Musa, Courtenay and Godfrey.
In any real estate transaction, you should have your own Belize attorney. Typically the fee will be around 2% of the purchase price.
For a list of attorneys, DOWNLOAD THIS LIST OF BELIZE ATTORNEYS prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Belize. This is a list of attorneys who are associated with the Belize Bar Association and provide a variety of legal services in Belize. Neither the Embassy of the United States of America in Belize or BELIZE FIRST assumes responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the following persons or firms. Inclusion on this list is in no way an endorsement by the Department of State or the U.S. Embassy Belmopan. Names are listed alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. The information in the list on professional credentials, areas of expertise and language ability are provided directly by the lawyers. You may receive additional information about the individuals by contacting the Belize Bar Association at 501-227-2785.
Note: Here is updated information on two Belize attorneys, provided as a service to readers:
ARGUELLES, EMIL of ARGUELLES & COMPANY, LLC, 4th Floor, The Matalon, Coney Drive, Belize City, Belize. Born July 4, 1972, Belize. Graduated from Marquette University – B.A., UWI – LL.B., Norman Manley Law School – C.L.E. Trust & Estate Practitioner (TEP). Admitted to Belize Bar in 1998. Appointed Speaker of House of Representatives in 2008. Corresponds in English. Corporate, Tax, Intellectual Property, Real Estate and General Practice. Can provide translator/reporter/ stenographer/notary. Will take cases outside Belize City. Office Phone: 223-0088, 223-0858. Fax: 223-6403. Email: email@example.com Website: www.belizelawyer.com Personal Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ARGUELLES, MIKHAIL of MIKHAIL ARGUELLES & ASSOCIATES, 35 New Road, Belize City, Belize. Born August 31, 1981, Belize. Graduated from York University, Toronto, Canada – B.A. (Political Science), University of Buckingham, UK – LL.B., University of West of England, UK – Postgraduate Diploma (Law), Norman Manley Law School – C.L.E. Called to the Bar of England & Wales in London by Middle Temple, 2008. Admitted to Belize Bar in 2009. Corresponds in English. Civil Litigation, Asset Protection, Commercial Law, Real Estate Law, Intellectual Property Law and General Practice. Can provide translator/reporter/ stenographer/notary. Will take cases outside Belize City. Office Phone: 223-6798, 223-6799. Fax: 223-6790. Email: email@example.com Website: www.attorneysinbelize.com Personal Email: Mikhail@attorneysinbelize.com
Caution about Buying Leased Land
Many Belizeans own property under a leasehold from the government. The Belize government provides building lots and other small pieces of land to Belizean citizens on a lease basis. After the Belizean clears the property and improves it with a building, he or she can apply for a conversion to a fee simple title. However, some Belizean owners never get around to doing this or cannot afford the cost. Be sure that you are buying a fee simple, freehold property, not a leasehold property. Again, this is an area where a Belizean attorney can help you.
It is difficult for a non-resident to get a mortgage loan from a bank in Belize for buying or building, so you should be prepared to pay cash, arrange owner financing or get financing through a loan from a non-Belize financial institution on your assets back home. Acreage and building lots in Belize are often purchased on terms under an Agreement for Sale or Contract for Deed whereby the seller keeps title to the property until it has been paid for in full. Terms vary but can range from 10% down with 10 years to pay at 10% simple interest per annum — about the best deal you can hope for — to 50% down and three years to pay at 12 to 14%, with perhaps a balloon at the end. Residential property may also have owner financing, although commonly the lowest price will be for all-cash deals. Some owners of condos and homes in San Pedro and elsewhere offer financing, typically with around 20% down.
For citizens and official permanent residents of Belize only, the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a financial institution owned by the government of Belize, formerly made loans of US$2,500--$50,000 or more for building or buying housing. Terms were for up to 25 years at interest rates of 8.5 to 13%. The DFC also developed housing subdivisions near Belmopan on Ambergris Caye, on the Northern Highway in Belize District, and in Corozal Town. These subdivisions offered new homes, such as a small, three-bedroom, concrete house near Belmopan for US$35,000 and a three-bedroom, two-bath home of 925 square feet at Ladyville for about US$47,000. Financing was at 12% for up to 25 years.
Belizeans did not seem to care much for most of these subdivisions, and many homes were never sold. Some of the houses were poorly constructed and located in undesirable areas. In 2004, the DFC ran out of financial string. As of this writing in 2009, plans are under way to reorganize and restart the DFC.
Real Estate Foreclosure Auctions
From time to time there are foreclosure auctions in Belize. They sell property put up as security for bank or other financial institution loans. Usually these are advertised in the weekly newspapers in Belize City. Foreigners can participate in these auctions. There may be no particular problems in buying at a foreclosure auction, other than those ordinarily associated with auctions, such as the fact that among the savvy bidders may be local people who know more than you do about the property and its value. However, in Belize sometimes the owners of the property will still be in possession at the time of the auction. If so, you may face a real problem getting the owners out. Before putting up your money, you may want to consult with an attorney conversant with real estate property law.
Rental levels in Belize also vary widely, being highest on Ambergris Caye and in Belize City. In upscale areas of Belize City, you can expect to pay around US$.80 to $1.50 per square foot per month, or about US$800 to $1,500 a month for a 1,000 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment. On Ambergris Caye, a one-bedroom apartment goes for US$500 to $900 and a two-bedroom US$700 to $1,500.
Elsewhere, rentals are much lower. In rural areas and low-cost towns such as Corozal, you can find a small house in a safe area for under US$400 a month and sometimes for as little as one-half that amount. Modern three-bedroom homes near the water go for US$500 to $1,000 a month. We know of expats in Corozal who rent for under US$200 a month, and while their homes are not fancy they are comfortable, typically of concrete block construction with a couple of small bedrooms, bath, a living room and a kitchen with stove and refrigerator. In all areas, North American-style housing with air conditioning, modern appliances, and security systems will be several times more expensive than a traditional Belize rental, simple concrete or wood house, with only basic amenities and probably no appliances except for a butane stove and a small fridge.
If you’re coming to Belize on a scouting expedition of a few weeks to a few months, consider a short-term rental. Staying in a house or apartment rather than in a hotel can help you decide if Belize is really for you. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of short-term vacation rentals in Belize. Most of them are concentrated on Ambergris Caye, but there are a few in other areas including Placencia and Corozal. In most areas, however, you can find a hotel with housekeeping facilities.
You may have heard about a program of homesteading or otherwise getting free land in Belize. Yes, there is such a program in place, but there are big catches: First, you must be a Belizean citizen or have lived in the country as an official resident for at least three years. Second, land is only available in certain areas. Mainly it is small tracts or building lots. This is not the homesteading hundreds of acres of prime farm land that you read about in the your American history book. Third, you have to lease the land from the government, clear it and actually construct a home. At that point, for a nominal amount you can buy the property from the government, and you will get title. Given all the time and red tape involved, and the low cost of land in Belize, it’s hardly worth it to get a small piece of land worth a few thousand dollars. Frankly, if the only reason you moved to Belize is to take advantage of such a scheme, it’s unlikely you’ll have the financial resources to make it in Belize long enough to qualify for the program.
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