The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Real Estate in Belize

The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Real Estate in Belize

For many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the allure of tropical climates can be enticing, especially in these winter months.

Many people long for the option to move to warmer regions like Florida or Mexico, but property prices there are rising and foreigners are prohibited from buying property in tourist regions of Mexico. That’s causing some people to look further afield.

Michelle Lyons of Belize Sotheby's International Realty is one of those people. She and her husband had always dreamed of moving to Mexico from their home in Idaho but were deterred by the idea of learning Spanish. But seven years ago they discovered Belize, just south of Mexico, where the language barrier wouldn't be a problem.

It took a while to convince me that English was really the national language, and that made so much more sense than Mexico.

The couple made the move seven years ago, and both stayed in the same line of work they were doing in the United States, him as a general contractor and her in real estate. "We just do it without any snow," she jokes.

Buying Property

There are a few differences between buying a home in Canada and Belize.

For one, attorneys handle the closing by doing the title search and facilitating the transfer of ownership. But that means the initial purchase documents are simple, says Lyons. All the real estate agent does is connect the buyer with the seller, facilitate a meeting of minds on the property’s price, and set a closing date.

Canadian buyers will likely also be struck by the closing cost. As Lyons points out, property taxes in Belize are one of the biggest differences. Where in Canada, homeowners pay a monthly tax, in Belize they collect what is called a "stamp tax" or "stamp duty." The stamp tax is about eight per cent of the home and land value and is collected up front. After that is paid, the cost of owning property falls to about US$50 per year, Lyons explains.

So if you look at the upfront cost of buying property, it’s completely offset by 30 years of next-to-nothing in taxes.

Owner Financing

Another big difference in Belize is that you don’t necessarily have to pay all cash up front. Lyons explains that many sellers today originally purchased their homes in the 80s and 90s, so the place has been completely paid off.

Purchasers can offer a 20 or 30 per cent down payment, and pay the rest off monthly directly to the owner. The sale is registered through an attorney and with the government as a legal transaction, so buyers don’t need to be concerned with the property being sold out from under them. However, an important thing to know if you want o buy a property in Belize is that the ownership doesn’t transfer until the home is paid off, so the seller is protected as well. This gives the seller a guaranteed income, while also giving new residents a little more money to get situated with.

Oceanfront Casa Del Mar for sale at $525,000
Oceanfront Casa Del Mar for sale at $525,000

A Good Investment?

Many signs point toward Belizian property as a good investment. Some professionals say property prices rose 30-to-40 per cent between 2015 and 2017, but it can be a difficult number to nail down as there are no official house price figures. The region was hit hard by the global economic crisis, with values falling by as much as 30 percent, but 2012 saw a rebound that continues today.

A recent tour boom, coupled with the passage of the Retired Person Incentive Act in 1999 has been drumming up more buyer interest in the country. According to GlobalPropertyGuide.com, prices along coastal and tourist areas rose by as much as 30 per cent annually, while inland prices rose by about 15 per cent annually.

These days, in the more expensive regions like Belize’s famous islands or in the Placencia region, it’s not uncommon to spend a million dollars on a home. But if you’re content with something more off the beaten path, there are great deals to be had says Lyons.

People are usually really pleasantly surprised. Especially on the mainland. You can get 30 acres with three houses and a thousand coconut trees for US$230,000.

The jungle and mountain areas are even more affordable, where fifty acres of farmland with two houses, a stream, and a cenote can be had for $500,000.

So you can get a bit more bang for your buck on the mainland as opposed to venturing out onto an island.

And if you’re looking to make a little extra cash, you can always rent out part of your property on Airbnb. There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions against using the service in Belize.

Casa Royale Belize for sale at  $429,900
Casa Royale Belize for sale at $429,900

Cultural Differences

There are some things that folks from Canada might not be used to. For instance, because of the way property taxes are collected, the roads aren’t maintained as well.

It can also be difficult to find some American or Canadian products, but Lyons says that’s one of the main reasons people live in the Caribbean—to escape the consumerism. Part of the draw is to have a simpler life. "If you can’t find it here you probably don’t need it or there’s a substitute for it," she says.

But in a country where the average coastal temperature ranges between 24°C to 27°C, giving up a few creature comforts can seem worth it.

"Even when it rains it’s not cold, it’s just wet," says Lyons. "Leaving the snow behind was our big draw."

General Advice

Lyons suggests that people be open-minded about where they live. Many people are fixated on buying on an island, but there are many other options and climates, including islands, beaches, mountains, and jungle.

Don’t listen to other expats because each person that you talk to will try to convince you that the area that they live in is the very best. So you may come here thinking that you need to live in a beach community because that’s what someone told you, then you realize that you’re much more suited to the climate in the jungle areas.

The Great Blue Hole, Belize
The Great Blue Hole, Belize

Be Aware...

Of course, there are some things to keep an eye out for.

For one, buyers should be extra careful choosing an agent since there's no licensing requirement to sell real estate in Belize.

If you’re interested in buying a condo rather than a house, it’s usually better to deal with an owner-owned condo association rather than an outside management company, according to this New York Times piece. Management companies often take a hands-off approach to the property, but when the condo owners handle things themselves they tend to handle them with more care.

Safety concerns are natural when moving to a place like Belize. Certain areas are more dangerous than others. As the United States Overseas Security Advisory Council says, "there is no indication that foreigners are broadly targeted, although tourists can be easy targets when not displaying situational awareness." It is recommended that people exercise extreme caution when visiting Belize City.

As we’ve seen just in the last year, hurricanes are a major concern in the region around Belize. Since 1930 there have been 16 hurricanes in Belize, eight of them major. The deadliest occurred in 1931, killing 2,500 people. Most storms hit Belize in the months of September and October, but you’re less likely to see the effects of a hurricane in Belize than you are in certain regions of the US. According to the Belize Magazine, the odds of a hurricane landing in Belize in a given year is just 17 per cent, while in Florida the odds are 68 per cent.

Still, storms in that part of the world appear to be getting worse with each year, so buying insurance is highly recommended. Coverage can be bought—known as "all peril" insurance—that ensures against storms, hurricanes, fire, and more. 

Getting Started

Lyons says you should contact a local realtor if you’re interested in buying in Belize. The realtor can send links and pictures of properties while the buyer is still in Canada. In fact, there are a number of Belizean properties already listed on the Torontoism website.

Backyard Pavillon at Belmopan Estate for sale at $780,000
Belmopan Estate for sale at $780,000

Realtors can help out with a rental car and lodgings when they come down to look at potential properties. The realtor will set up the initial offer and then introduce them to an attorney. Those attorneys can also help with importing pets or setting up a business in Belize.

The only requirement is that you have a valid passport and a downpayment to buy property in Belize. The closing can be done as quickly as 60 days or set for six months while the buyer gets their affairs in order back home.

Belize is an untapped resource for many people looking to buy a home in warmer climates. It’s a safe and secure option, but also offers a bit of adventure.

"Like my mom told me, if you go down there and decide it isn’t for you it’s not like we’re going to close the door, says Lyons. "You can always come back home but at least you will have tried."

Available properties in Belize: 

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4 Responses

  1. Susan

    Belize seems like an amazing place! Plus its affordability makes it the perfect place to buy a vacation home!

  2. Priyanka Patel

    One of friend is planning to invest in a property in Belize. I never heard about this place and while exploring about the same, I came across this amazing piece. I will definitely share this article with him and I am sure it be of great help to him.

  3. Larry Wilson

    As a Canadian that has been going to believe twice a year since 1992, I would like to comment. And I know stay there in my own home at six months of the year each year, I I know some, but these statements are all from Belizeans themselves.
    When are stranger goes into the jungle, the first thing he meets are the crocodiles.Pedro the mechanic. In other words, be wary of offers too good to be true or scams. It helps to dress down, no flashy jewelry, and keep your money well hidden . Your money is showing, is a warning often given by Diane at natures way.
    Make up your own mind what you want to do, and do it, or someone will decide for you. An Old ex patriot staying at Villas Demas in Belize city. Don’t be looking sorry I have a tree, standing on a street corner with a map, or looking like you lost, in Belize city; someone will be at your elbow in a moment, offering help, and payment will be expected. Similarly, don’t tell people you were looking for a car, because it is taken as a request for help, And payment is expected, whether or not you get help. An exception is taxi drivers; I have found them very informative, and intuitive as to your needs. Careless Tipping marks you as a foolish gringo, suitable for scamming, unless you have come to know the person, and they have performed an extraordinary service.
    Don’t give money to panhandlers; don’t turn Belize into a nation of beggars. Belize handbook by Glassman. After many years of trying to help a poor Belizean, I saw it didn’t really work, it just led to him feeling entitled to free money. Giving a chance at employment Is something different. Promises are in the air. Flo, a taxi driver in Punta gorda. Don’t believe promises. Belize is a Third World country; many people live day to day. Belizeans notice Things going on around them, and have excellent memories: I suspect it pays them to do so. Try to go with an open mind, with no preconceived ideas. Look for the differences from our world, the unusual things; you may find it hilarious. Think of a jewellery store in your city ; then visit the jeweller on Main Street in Punta gorda. Take your shoe repair to the Cobbler near the airport;Have him repair your shoes while you wait and ask how much. It sometimes seems that the ones that do the most for you cost The least.
    If I need information, I ask three different people; if two of them agree, I am laughing. If you need a job done, get three quotes , And know as much about the subject as you can. Knowledge is power in belize.
    If you find an honest person, value them.
    Real estate is a very in efficient market in Belize; The late Lester Langdon. It means that joe may be selling a one acre property for 50,000 Belize dollars in one area and 5 miles away Sam is selling a similar property for a half of that. If you can, look around, talk to people, and take your time. Bring your money with you: it’s very hard to borrow money, and it’s hard to bring in money. Then it’s hard to deposit it, and it’s hard to withdraw it. Chalk it up to money laundering by drug dealers, and the government of Belize , under US pressure, cracking down on the little guys. What is the drug lords, the Belizeans say mama have so much money that I the police, the politician, and even the judicial system is in their pocket. To illustrate, I was out checking the boundary of a friends lot a few years ago in Cana Landing. I believe you and was beside me; a strange sounding airplane went overhead and I looked up. It was strange looking too, with very Long wings and a deep grumbly engine. The Belizean didn’t look up. Drug plane, he said. I looked at my watch. It was noon exactly. It’s flying right over the local police station, I thought, in broad daylight! Maybe, even using their signal as a beacon! I thought to myself, What kind of country is it this ? I had to see it to believe it.
    In closing, and I could go on and on, I recommend going with few expectations; then, you won’t be disappointed. It’s warm, breezy , with beautiful trees and flowers, and most people are helpful. Just beware of the crocodiles.

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