International Real Estate: House Hunting in … Belize
AN ‘OFF THE GRID’ TREEHOUSE IN WESTERN BELIZE
This elevated two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath wood house wraps around a 100-year-old bullet tree. Built in 2012, it is on a 1.9-acre lot about six miles from the town of San Ignacio, which is best known among tourists for its jungle eco-lodges and Mayan ruins.
The 2,000-square-foot house is designed with three multi-sided rooms with wood-beam cathedral ceilings, connected by two rectangular rooms. The exterior is palmetto wood; doors and windows in the house are mahogany and the floors are a mix of hardwoods.
The house has a zinc roof and is surrounded by a terrace with views of the Mopan River and local hills. There is a swimming pool on the ground level.
The entrance to the house is reached by a wood staircase to the upper level deck. The two bedrooms are on opposite ends of the house, with the kitchen and dining area in the center multi-sided room. One of the rooms connecting a bedroom to the kitchen is used as an office; the other serves as a living room.
Each bedroom has a dressing area and en-suite bathroom with a shower made from local slate. There is a claw-foot porcelain bath tub in one bedroom.
The kitchen has hardwood cabinets, stainless steel appliances and a commercial-grade stove. The kitchen is separated from the dining area by a counter and a built-in bench. There are air conditioning units in the kitchen and in each bedroom. The furniture is part of the price, including a pool table in the patio area on the ground level.
Although the house was connected to the city power subsystem in 2015, it is designed to operate completely off the grid, using solar panels for electricity, holding tanks for water and a septic tank for sewage. There is also a backup gasoline generator.
The solar panels are perched on the roof of a detached two-car carport and there is a utility room for the batteries and solar power system. The washer and dryer and water heater are under the house, where there is also a half-bath.
There is cellphone coverage and a wireless internet connection available on the property, according to Macarena Rose, the majority owner of Keller Williams Belize, the company marketing the property. The current owners offer the house for short term rentals, typically for between $200 and $350 a night.
The property, which is reached by an unpaved road, is landscaped with fruit and nut trees. The Mahogany Hall Resort, a boutique hotel with a restaurant, is about two miles from the property. It is about three miles to the small town of Bullet Tree Falls. San Ignacio, the biggest city in the area, is about a 15-minute drive from the property and has a variety of small stores and restaurants.
The nearest international airport is the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City, about a two-hour drive from the property.
Belize was once a British colony and the native language is English, which makes it an attractive destination for tourists, retirees and second home buyers from the United Kingdom and North America. The most popular tourist spot is the island of Ambergris Caye, which is about a half-mile from the world’s second-largest barrier reef.
Tourism to Belize has grown in recent years, which has helped fuel home sales, agents said. The number of overnight tourist arrivals increased by 10.8 percent in 2017, compared to a year earlier, after growing 13 percent in 2016, according to the Belize Tourism Board.
There is no multiple listing service or central sales database in Belize, which makes it hard to track sale data. But the number of sales and prices have been steadily rising in recent years, agents said.
In the inland Cayo District, where this home is, Ceiba Realty Belize sold more property in 2017 “than in the five previous years combined,” said Joshua Lohr, an agent at the firm.
Cayo typically attracts people interested in an eco-friendly lifestyle, agents said. There are large parcels of land available in remote jungle areas.
Riverfront property is most in demand, Mr. Lohr said, adding that prices for some properties close to rivers have jumped 25 percent since 2015.
Cayo homes are a bargain compared to Belize’s popular coastal destinations. Prices in the San Ignacio area range from $85 to $125 a square foot, compared to $150 a square foot in the coastal town of Placencia and $180 a square foot on Ambergris, Ms. Rose said.
Buyers in the Cayo district are often “looking for more bang for their buck,” she said.
The decline in the value of the Canadian dollar hurt the market, making it more expensive for Canadians to buy property in Belize, said Cayo-based John Acott, an agent with Re/Max Belize Property Center. “Last year for me was a little mediocre,” Mr. Acott said. “But this year is much better.”
Belize should get a boost from recent announcements that international hotel chains Marriott and Four Seasons are planning to open their first hotels in the country, said Brittany McCann, an agent with Belize Sotheby’s International Realty, a real estate company. International chains are still a rarity in Belize.
“It means a lot more marketing dollars” for Belize, Ms. McCann said.
WHO BUYS IN SAN IGNACIO
About 75 percent of Ms. Rose’s clients are from the U.S. and about 15 percent from Canada, with the rest a mix of Europeans and locals.
About 80 percent of Mr. Acott’s clients are from the United States, primarily seniors taking advantage of Belize’s retirement program, which offers a residency visa and tax breaks. But agents said that Cayo is starting to attract more families and younger buyers.
Buyers are increasingly looking for income-producing properties, such as farms and guest lodges, Mr. Lohr said.
“As recently as two years ago most buyers wanted a place to retire and slow down,” Mr. Lohr said. “Now most buyers are looking for investment opportunities hoping to tap into the growing tourism and rental markets.”
There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Belize. Foreign purchases must be approved by the Belize Central Bank, but the process is typically a formality, said Ryan Wrobel, an attorney based in Belize.
Belize follows English Common law, making the procedures and protections for buyers similar to those in the U.K. or the U.S. “It’s a very simple closing process,” Ms. McCann said. “It doesn’t require tons of paperwork.”
Agents recommend hiring a lawyer, who can handle the preparation of documents and confirm the title. Buyers typically place a 10 percent deposit when a contract is signed; escrow accounts are used to hold funds.
Mortgages are available, but usually cover only 40 to 70 percent of the purchase price and the rates are typically much higher than in the United States. Most transactions are in cash, Mr. Wrobel said.
Belize Tourism Site: travelbelize.org
Official Belize government site: belize.gov.bz
Belize Tourism Board: belizetourismboard.org
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCIES
English; Belizean dollar (1 Belize dollar = $0.50)
TAXES AND FEES
Last year the Belize government raised the stamp tax on property sales by foreigner buyers from 5 percent to 8 percent of the sale price. Lawyer fees are typically about 2 to 4 percent of the sale price, Mr. Wrobel said. Agent fees are typically 6 to 8 percent of the price and paid by the seller, he said. Filing and registration fees typically add $500 to $1,000, he said.
The annual property tax on this property is about $15.
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April 11, 2018 at 02:42PM