The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the largest international real estate association, having over 1.2 million members. They offer incredible resources and reports to both their members and general public, covering “must-know” information about the United States real estate sector. Having easy access to well-detailed data and reports, we, as North Americans, tend to get accustomed to having reputable information at our fingertips. When we start to look abroad we may find that that consistent information is far and few between. But don’t get discouraged! Although it may take a bit of digging, working with reputable, seasoned experts will be key.
Many times, when people are looking for real estate in Latin America, either for personal or investment purposes, they ask us for numbers. What has the appreciation been, what sort of return on investment they can expect, etc. In most countries, these numbers are not recorded by any third-party organization so it is up to the real estate agent or the developer to keep track. Being in the business for nearly 20 years on Ambergris Caye, we have watch the numbers increase, some years more so than others, and have witnessed the true growth of a country over the course of two decades. When talking with local real estate agents about their experience, their general consensus has proven the same.
We recently sat down and spoke with a well-known real estate agent, investor, and developer on Ambergris Caye, William Narod, “The Paradise Guy” about his experience in Belize. Originally from Colorado where he began his real estate career almost 30 years ago, William and his three children now call Belize home. We discussed his reasons for choosing Belize, his experience with the real estate market here, and his projections for what is to come based on current investment trends. After studying and considering various markets around the Caribbean, William relocated to Belize in 2015. He spotted the opportunity in the Belize market and realized that the time to invest here was now. Key indicators like tourism, air transport, and the deficiency of hotel rooms, made his decision to invest, develop, and sell in this market a “no brainer”.
Upon arrival, William says that the market matched his expectations from this analysis and was everything that he thought it would be and more, as he didn’t expect the big hotel brands to arrive as quickly as they did, but this was just more validation that he had made the right choice and gave him more confidence recommending it to his clients. “I couldn’t be more please with the rate that the market is moving,” says William. “The appreciation is steady and strong and isn’t indicative of a bubble of any sort,” which is a top consideration for any emerging market. Narod comments, “Slow steady growth is what you want to see in a market and that’s what has been happening Belize.”
As much of Belize’s economy is directly affected by the financial health of America, he also made sure to look back at the 2008 financial crisis in the United States and how the real estate market in Belize reacted. He was reassured to find that Belize did better than any other location in the Caribbean during that time.
When discussing why Belize was able to sustain itself through these hard times, William noted that proximity to the U.S. is a “big feather in the cap” of Belize – it’s easy to get to and it is getting easier all the time – among other features of the county, English as the primary language, the tourism generated from the barrier reef, and cost of real estate being very reasonable compared to the rest of the Caribbean – are all reasons why the Belizean market is able to sustain it’s consistent growth. William notes that one of the big reasons why Belize is so attractive right now is that, “people are looking for an authentic experience and there just aren’t many like that left – visitors come down and fall in love with the people here and the authentic experience.”
When I asked what he sees happening in the future to the market and land values, Narod replies, “Everything will continue to rise gradually,” Despite foreseeing another financial crisis looming in the US, he’s not 100% sure if it will boost or temporarily slow the market here, but predicts that more people will want to get out of the United States and diversify their investments, and Belize is a good place for them to do that for a couple of significant reasons.
- Belize is a democratic government.
- Real estate transactions are in US Dollars.
- Contracts are in English
- No restrictions on foreign ownership
- Belize is a T-8 Tax Haven
All of the above are significant reasons why people are more comfortable putting their money down here.
William brought up again how big of a deal it was that world wide hotel brands have started to brand resorts in Belize saying, “When the big brands started planting their flags, it is a major validation as they have the wherewithal to research from a 50,000 ft level as well as ground level. When they say the market is good it really boosts the market here. The brands have given people the confidence that they needed and it’s no longer a question of if Belize will develop and appreciate, now it’s simply a question of how fast.”
In regards to advice for first time buyers, William shared a few considerations that people should know. Most important is that buyers need to do research and understand who they are working with in the market to make sure they are getting good, reliable and sound information. There’s a lot of conflicting information because anyone can call themselves a real estate agent as the government doesn’t require any formal training or licensing, yet. Because of this, buyers absolutely have to do research about the land titles on the properties that they are purchasing, and pick the right agent to work with. Also, there is not widely available bank financing in the traditional sense like North America, so buyers need to have adequate cash to complete the transaction or acquire seller financing which is quite common. There’s also an 8% stamp tax + legal and administrative fees for the title transfers, which the buyer has to pay to receive their title.
A lot of people come down to Belize thinking that they are going to buy land and become a developer, but execution is much more complicated than at first glance.
Having experienced this for himself, trying to get permits – environmental approvals, dredging and dock permits, etc. – William says, this process is challenging and requires patience, tenacity, and constant oversight. He comments, “If you’re not on site watching all the time your construction materials may go missing, and your workers might not show up. You really need to find someone that you trust to take care of it all – some have lost all their money because of poor management decisions and inability to execute.” This is why many people choose to work with an on-site, experienced developer. Working with a developer may not always be a fool-proof plan because “partners may fight, lawsuits can happen, and projects can take too long and deplete all financial reserves.”, so William stresses that as with real estate agents, you need to do your homework and know who you are working with…their time frame, resources, experience, and vision for the project, are all factors to consider. Specifically commenting on timelines of projects, Will divulges that, “things move slower in Belize…time frames are really meant to be broken down here and things often take longer, and cost more than expected, even for well-funded developers…if you look at the equipment, materials, and construction methodology, and work force things just have to move slower here.”
As you can tell, and not just in Belize but all over the world, it is incredibly important to understand the game your in, the players, the government, and the intricacies and pace of business. Of course you need a great agent and to pick your partners wisely, too. But once you do, the opportunities for high returns are definitely available for those wanting to invest abroad.
Since moving down to Belize, William Narod, otherwise known as “The Paradise Guy” has fallen in love with Belize and especially the people. He jokes that he has become an unofficial ambassador of Belize and loves the lifestyle that he and his family are blessed with on Ambergris Caye. He believes in the upside potential of the market in Belize and has plans to be here for many years to come.