House Hunting in Belize: A Private Island for Less Than $2 Million

This turnkey boutique resort is tucked into a corner of a three-acre private island shaded by palms and mangroves near the southwestern coast of Belize, a quick boat trip from the mainland town of Dangriga.

The island, named Yok Ha Belize Resort, has five waterfront cabanas, a restaurant, a bar, a dive shop and a separate staff residence.

“There are a number of islands for sale in Belize, but few come with all the advantages this island offers,” said Walter Zephirin, the managing director of 7th Heaven Properties, a luxury real estate company specializing in the Caribbean and Central America.

A dock on the island’s sandy south shore leads to a main building with a kitchen, a bar, an office and a restaurant with an over-water deck. Behind the restaurant are a yoga deck and the 440-square-foot cabanas, which stand on stilts in the traditional Belizean style. Each has air-conditioning, vaulted ceilings, an indoor sitting area and a terrace. A two-story building with staff sleeping quarters and storage is west of the restaurant.

Built in 2013, the resort’s cabanas currently rent for $300 to $400 a night. Drinking water comes from the mainland and is stored in two water tanks. The property has a solar system and two generators.

Mr. Zephirin said the resort’s main draw is its location — and its potential.

“With its swaying palm trees, wooden cabanas, and endless views of the wide expanse of the sea, this is the dream tropical island,” Mr. Zephirin said. Just eight miles from the mainland, it is private yet accessible, he added, and the nearby barrier reef creates “exceptional fishing grounds” in calmer waters.

There is also ample space for expansion on the half-mile-long island. “Only one third of the island has been developed, so the new owner could let their imagination run wild on the remaining two thirds,” he said.

Dangriga, with about 10,000 residents, is a tourist base for visitors to the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world. Diving, snorkeling and fishing are popular in the region, along with hiking, zip-lining and bird-watching. From Dangriga, Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport is about two hours north.

Mr. Zephirin said Belize’s housing market has been booming for the last year or so, and has been minimally affected by the coronavirus pandemic. On the contrary, because the country has largely sidestepped the coronavirus — with just 21 confirmed cases and two deaths as of June 16, according to the World Health Organization — demand has “surged,” he said, with people seeking “comparatively larger residences offering space and privacy.”

Over the past three or four years, interest has been fueled by more inbound flights and the country’s popular residency program, which offers tax incentives and duty-free import of personal items, allowing for a “smooth relocation,” Mr. Zephirin said. Prices also tend to be lower than in “more established destinations” such as Costa Rica, he said, with prices for beachfront luxury homes ranging from around $450,000 for a condo to $3 million for a house.

Macarena Rose, the broker of Keller Williams Belize, said home prices rose between 4 and 6 percent each year nationwide between 2018 and 2020. (Belize doesn’t have a multiple listing system or centralized housing price database.) Her firm’s data show that coastal and island condominiums now average about $300 a square foot, with inland residences averaging half that. Foreigners buying inland tend to want ample land for family compounds, while on the coast they’re looking for turnkey condominiums they can vacation in and rent out, she said.

Ms. Rose said the pandemic has led some eager sellers to lower prices, while others have taken their homes off the market. Transactions have fallen, but not halted entirely. She said she has sold properties to foreigners stuck in the country as they wait for its borders to reopen.

“I would say the trend in the last month is that prices are dropping,” she said, adding that some owners might be impacted by job losses or need access to funds, and “because it’s a second property, it’s more easy to let go of.”

Julian Leslie, a co-owner of Century 21 BTAL (Belize), said his company has seen more demand for second homes during the pandemic, with email inquiries up about 30 percent in recent months. Closings for pending sales have continued as planned (though remotely), and new sales have slowed, with asking prices remaining flat, he said.

Mr. Leslie described prices for two categories of properties: those for local buyers and those for foreign buyers, which have amenities like granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. A three-bedroom, three-bath house on three acres in a gated community starts at around $600,000 and can reach $1 million. A comparable property on the beach, but on a quarter or a half acre, would begin at around $900,000. Three regions — Corozal District, the Placencia Peninsula and Cayo District — have seen prices fall and demand rise, he said.

In the northeast, near Mexico, the town of San Pedro, on the popular island of Ambergris Caye, draws foreign investors with its “stunning Caribbean blue sea vistas, white-sand beaches and a holiday-party vibrancy,” said Amanda Syme, the owner and broker of Sunrise Realty, a San Pedro-based realty.

“We have not yet seen any discounting of properties that are listed on the market for sale and we are receiving offers and sales from foreigners,” she said, adding that her company has had about a dozen “sight unseen” offers and sales during the pandemic. “I literally handled three offers yesterday.”

Prices in that region range from $100,000 for a one-bedroom condo in a beach complex to around $3 million for a luxury beachfront villa with five or six bedrooms. Inland in the same northeast region, luxury homes cost around $400,000 to $800,000, with smaller, rustic cottages available for $150,000.

Thanks to the foreign interest, Ambergris Caye has begun to attract new branded luxury developments from companies including Hilton and Marriott, said Robert Colon, the broker and owner of RE/MAX Island Real Estate, on Ambergris Caye. The average price in 2019 fell to $350,000 from about $400,000 in 2018, the result of more transactions, including for more affordable lots.

“It has brought much attention to the country and has sparked an influx of investors that are looking to capitalize on the brand popularity,” he said.

In the southeast, where Dangringa is located, Mr. Zephirin said, the Placencia Peninsula is a quieter tourist destination. “The market in the southern end of the Caribbean coast is smaller and quieter than Ambergris Caye but rapidly growing as more buyers become aware of it,” he said. “The Placencia Peninsula in particular is ideal for buyers looking for affordable homes right on the beach. The south also offers large parcels of beachfront land ideal for resort development.”

Brokers agreed that most buyers of higher-end vacation and retirement homes across the country are from the U.S. and Canada.

Ms. Syme said buyers with her firm come from the U.S. and Canada. The rest are local buyers and a handful of Europeans from Britain, Spain and Germany.

Foreigners can buy real estate in Belize without restrictions. Transactions are handled by a lawyer, and fees for those services are usually between 2 and 4 percent of the purchase price, said Ryan Wrobel, the managing partner of Wrobel & Company, Attorneys-at-Law, a Belize City-based law firm.

Normally the seller pays the real estate commission, typically 6 to 8 percent of the purchase price, Mr. Wrobel said.

Along with the legal fee, buyers who are not citizens of Belize or the Caricom nations pay an 8 percent stamp duty, which is calculated on the market value of the property or the sales price, whichever is higher. Belizean and Caricom citizens pay a 5 percent stamp duty. The first $10,000 are exempt from taxation for all buyers.

It’s hard for nonresidents to get financing in Belize, Mr. Wrobel said, and they usually pay in cash. Most transactions are done in U.S. dollars.

“Make sure that you have somebody that’s looking out for your best interests, that represents you,” he said. “Do your due diligence and ensure that you have adequate legal counsel.”

English; Belize dollar (1 Belize dollar = $0.48)

The annual property tax on this property is $270. Annual combined staff wages come to roughly $50,000, Mr. Zephirin said.

Walter Zephirin, 7th Heaven Properties, 1-855-364-8776; 7thHeavenProperties.com.

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