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A Guide to Buying Real Estate in Belize

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Dubbed “Mother Nature’s best kept secret”, Belize surely steps up to the plate and hits it out the park. Diversely filled with island properties lining the coast to lush forests inland, the Belize real estate market surely has options for even the choosiest buyer. And the process here couldn’t be easier.

Purchasing property in Belize is a straight forward, uncomplicated process.  You are sure to find that purchasing real estate in Belize is cheaper than purchasing from other parts of the world.  Belize is a country where visitors can still find an apartment on the beach for under US $300 per month.  All legal documents required for selling or purchasing property in Belize are in plain English and follow English common law traditions.

Shopping independently from overseas for a property or home in Belize can become a very tedious task at times.  Even with the evolution of the internet, you’re sure to miss many available properties if you’re not actually in Belize to look around.

Most of the available properties are for sale by owner rather than being listed through brokers or real estate companies.  In most cases, you won’t even see a for sale sign indicating that a property is actually for sale.  Apart from the occasional listings in the local newspapers and TV Ads, your best bet at attaining a piece of this jewel is to do so through one of the local real estate companies.  The local brokers maintain listing brochures and websites to make shopping for a home in Belize easy.

Unlike land ownership laws in other countries, Belize allows non-nationals to own land in exactly the same way as Belizeans.  Offshore companies (Belize IBC) are allowed to own real estate properties along with any other type of property in Belize. You are only required to obtain approval from the local Ministry of Natural Resources before purchasing any island. There are many residential lots available for sale throughout the country if you want to build your own home. Many good contractors and construction companies like Streamline Construction are at your disposal to assist you in personalizing your home.

Some coastal cayes, such as Caye Caulker limit the purchase of their land by non-locals.  For a non-local to purchase land in these areas, approval would have to be obtained in advance from the local village council or board.

Renting in Belize

Renting in Belize is similar to purchasing real estate.  The same rules apply.  You will rarely see a house being advertised for rent in the newspaper or on television Ads.  Most high end rentals are handled through brokers and the only way to identify your options is by driving around in your area of interest and scoping out vacant houses or by word of mouth.

Commissions

Commissions on real estate are similar to those in the U.S.  Agents typically charge 7% commission on residential property and approximately 10% on land.

Real Estate Prices

Belize’s property value varies from one area to another.  It is generally highest in Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Placencia.  Even with the appreciation of real estate prices in Belize over the years, purchasing real estate is still very inexpensive by U.S. and European standards.

Precautions

In Belize, money talks and if you have the cash on hand, some people who have never considered selling may decide to cash in.  Realize early on that the real estate market in Belize is small and inefficient.  Belize has only a small number of real estate agents, appraisers and surveyors and mortgage financing is not easily accessible for foreign buyers.  This further reduces the size of the buying pool and leaves owners to require cash sales or provide financing options to prospective buyers.

Fees and Costs

When purchasing through an agent, expect to pay a percentage of the purchase price upon closing.  There is also a 5% land title transfer fee or stamp duty, as it is otherwise called.  Foreigners pay an additional 5% tax.  If you are a resident under the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program, this 5% fee is waived.  For about 2% of the purchase price, an attorney will draw up transfer documents and search the title of the property.

Property taxes are about 1% of the value of the undeveloped land.  This tax is payable annually on April 1st.  To encourage development in Belize, property taxes outside cities are based on land value rather than the developed value of the property.

Registration & Title

There are three types of property title systems in Belize:

  1.  Registered Land Act system – An application for transfer is made, and a new Land Certificate is issued to the purchaser.  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.
  2. Conveyance system – This involves the transfer of land by conveyance and registration.  In order to assure that the seller actually owns the land, a title search must be made through the Lands Department to unearth the chain of title and to uncover any encumbrances such as un-cancelled mortgages.  This search is usually done by an attorney.
  3.  Torrens system – This involves a First Certificate of Title followed by Transfer Certificates of Title.  Under this system, the un-cancelled 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.

There are three different types of property ownership in Belize:

  1. Deed of Conveyance – This is the oldest form for ownership of property in Belize, ownership by way of Deed of Conveyance is in fact the absolute right to ownership of property. The ownership by means of conveyance may be converted to a Certificate of Title through an application for a first registration. Thereinafter any subsequent purchaser is issued a Transfer Certificate of Title. It must always be noted that a Deed of Conveyance is a valid legal title once it has been confirmed that the seller is confirmed to have good title on the property.
  2. A Transfer Certificate – A Certificate of Title is a physical title to a specific portion of land. This means of ownership is secure and is the more costly and time consuming manner in which to transfer ownership in comparison to the transfer process of Deed of Conveyance. The process for Transfer Certificate may drag on for months and may incur high cost in attempts to fast track the document.
  3. A Land Certificate – A land Certificate is an absolute title, applying to properties in new or special developments. The Government of Belize, presently is undergoing a process which calls for the re-registration of all freehold lands under the Registered Lands Act, which the overall goal being a uniformed system of nationwide land ownership. This process, though underway, entails much work and re-surveys are yet to be scheduled.

Note that title insurance is not necessary for purchasing property, and that closing cost tend to be very minimal. The purchase price is assessed and a 5% stamp duty is charged on the declared purchase price.

Tips

Negotiate – Belize has a very limited pool of interested, financially capable buyers, thus leaving many sellers dependent on foreign buyers.  Don’t jump at the first deal that comes your way.

Research and win – Try to spend as much time as you can in Belize just researching prospective buys.  This will save you lots of money in the long run when you realize that you could purchase real estate that is twice as good for twice as less.

Buyers beware – This applies to just about anywhere in the world.  Remember that most of the real estate agents in Belize aren’t licensed and may not provide full disclosure on properties.  In Belize, there are sometimes two prices, one for locals and one for foreigners.  Try to get a local agent to do the “shopping” for you.

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