You're probably looking to find real estate in the Caribbean. We did so, too, and found The Bahamas in 1997.
Now, the first thing to be aware of, before choosing any island is this... Island living isn't for everyone. Why?...
Because you need patience. Not a problem?
All right, then you're good to go.
Is the process of finding and buying real estate in the Caribbean complicated?
Well, it's not a breeze... But it is a safe process if you follow the guidelines below. We have found them to be of paramount importance.
Who are we? A couple from Europe who decided to live on Eleuthera - an Out-Island in the Bahamas - where we own a home.
Before I go into more details, let me give you the most important points about acquiring real estate in the Caribbean in a nutshell. Here is what you should do...
Let's now look at these points in more depth...
If you are not sure yet which island to consider first, take a look at the above map. Then put the name of one of those islands into the Google search window. Add the word island, i.e. antigua island. Then click on the *Images* link above that Google window to see all the great pictures.
Want to see videos of Caribbean islands? There's a Video link above the Google search window, next to the Images link.
Let's take the Bahamas as an example. That country consists of several different islands. Put the two words bahamas islands into Google.
You will soon find that the Bahamas Handbook is one of the most valuable sources of information. But...
For excellent and no-sales-talk info about selling or buying real estate in the Bahamas, click here.
In the Bahamas you can chose from one of the two main islands, i.e. New Providence, home of Nassau or Grand Bahama - where Freeport is the main center of attraction.
Or take a look at the sparsely populated and pristine Bahamas Out-Islands like Abaco, Eleuthera and the Exumas.
Quite a number of U.S. citizens own second homes on the above three Out-Islands which are situated close to the capital Nassau.
The Bahamas Handbook will tell you that investing a minimum of half a million US dollars in a home guarantees permanent residency status in The Bahamas. This of course can also be used as a tax break.
I spoke with an American developer and investor who was looking for an ideal Caribbean destination for building his resort. He found that the Bahamas are still one of the best real estate investments in the Caribbean. Click here to read what he told me.
Or enjoy a story of a friend of ours. Many years ago he bought a 1,000 foot beach front property on Eleuthera island in the Bahamas which is now for sale.
Another waterfront lot near Gregory Town in Eleuthera is this 19 acre perfect tropical estate property or multi-unit development parcel.
Many Caribbean islands have a U.S. or British title system and there are no restrictions on full ownership.
Spanish, French, Dutch and English are spoken in Caribbean countries.
You might want to first determine whether your future real estate in the Caribbean could also be on a non-English speaking island.
If you choose an English speaking island, find out where US residents usually meet and ask them about their experience with purchasing land, etc.
Don't make quick decisions just because you fall in love with the island. This is more dangerous than you might think and is happening all the time. Remember when in love we're almost like drugged. The cure?...
Get personal information directly on the island. But beware of sellers who make an offer to sell you property at a great price, but only if you send the money immediately. We succumbed to the temptation to accept a deal like that, and we paid for it dearly. Why? Simply by not following the official rules for acquiring land in that jurisdiction.
You will realize at the beginning of your search that beach front real estate in the Caribbean is the most expensive. Yes, it is pleasant to step out of the house and jump right into the water. But...
Don't focus on beach front property only. Disadvantages of being very close to the water are increased corrosion, meaning rusting screws, nails and hinges. Sand flies - also called no-see-ums - are active when there's no wind at dawn and dusk.
And remember that all of the Caribbean is exposed to hurricanes. Just one point to sooth your mind... A house well positioned and well built is running very little risk of getting severely damaged by hurricanes.
Most beaches are public... anyone can place a boat on *your* beach and let it rust. And there will be nothing you could do about it.
Instead of concentrating on a beach front location, go for the breeze on your future real estate in the Caribbean. Find out locally what the main wind direction is. Position your house accordingly. You want breeze and shade.
It's a good idea to have a wrap-around porch to ensure you got shade at all times of the day.
What's the most important advice to conclude this section?...
Apply the same due diligence investigating your future real estate in the Caribbean as you would for any property in the U.S.
You could for example purchase an older home with location, location, location in mind. Then renovate it like a Canadian couple living on Eleuthera did. Read what advice these Canadians are giving to potential island home owners.
There is an excellent site for practical, tropical construction tips and resources. Click on Mary Ann's Tropical Building Page. She and her husband went through the entire process, building a Caribbean home, a technology center and a guest cottage on an Eastern Caribbean island. Mary Ann and her husband are showing photos and plans of their completed project. Plenty of practical building tips, building material sources as well as recommended books on how to build in the Caribbean.
Some property owners choose to purchase a condominium in a developed community like for example in the new (2008/2009) 5-star resort Cotton Bay in South Eleuthera, Bahamas.
Advantages? No building headaches and no maintenance hassles with your real estate in the Caribbean. The possibility to rent your space through the condo management while you - the owners - are not on island. You simply let management know you are coming and they'll make sure that your villa or condo is in perfect shape when you arrive.
Disadvantages? The cost is obviously higher. Management fees will be added to the usual maintenance cost.
Before signing your purchasing contract, do your financial homework. Make sure you can afford your ideal property without relying on rentals or property appreciation. Your island's tourism could be negatively affected by an unexpected political or economic situation. Could you live through that without suffering financially?
What fees are associated with the real estate transaction, such as transfer taxes, stamp taxes, insurance, and residency fees? This is an important question you should find the answers to from real estate agents or better yet, from U.S. second home owners on your island of choice.
Find out what your costs will be. Consider also additional yearly costs of insurance, maintenance, sewer, water supply, utilities, taxes, and repairs. Add to this the cost of a local agent to manage your real estate in the Caribbean when you have renters or when you are not in your island home.
Each island has different legal requirements for its real estate transactions. Some of them are very demanding - example Anguilla - where you have to reveal much personal information. Be sure you know exactly what awaits you by getting local advice from a realtor or, as I said, talking to local U.S. second home owners.
You absolutely need a realtor when purchasing property, as well as an attorney. In particular determine whether the seller has legal ownership of the property and whether it can be transferred legally.
The escrow process requires time and good cooperation between your attorney and your real estate agent. An important issue to address when acquiring real estate in the Caribbean is how to transfer funds safely and efficiently.
Real estate in the Caribbean transactions involve large sums of money paid in multiple deposits over the course of several months. Most prudent sellers want potential buyers to make deposits to show their level of seriousness before the title is transferred.
However, equally prudent purchasers are not comfortable giving deposits directly to a seller or even a seller’s real estate agent, as there is limited protection should a dispute over the property or funds arise.
For that reason an independent third party is needed. An independent third party - also known as an escrow agent - holds funds on behalf of a potential buyer and disburses them to a seller once the terms in a pre-signed agreement have been met.
Simply this... It is possible to realize your dream of living in your Caribbean home away from home.
Don't fail to prepare or you are preparing to fail. To help you prevent this, I'd suggest you print out the above recommendations for your study and research. This will ensure that your acquisition of real estate in the Caribbean is an enjoyable experience and hopefully a profitable one as well.
I wish you good luck in your new venture.