Welcome to March, the only month that moves. And in beautiful Belize, some things never stop moving, like the year-round tropical weather, the affordable cost of living and, unfortunately an abundance of scams for those unlucky investors or retirees who do not seek expert advice before exchanging on a property.
Property scams continue to be far too ubiquitous in Belize. From constructions not getting off the ground, unreasonably delayed or with vastly different amenities than agreed upon, blocks of land in different locations, or with different aspects and vistas, from unscrupulous developers to real estate agents taking your money and running, with the title to your property being worth less than the paper it is written on!
Our office, Wrobel & Company in Belize city continues to hear a constant stream of horror stories involving unsuspecting buyers purchasing a title to a property in Belize, only to find that the title deed is fraudulent. Obviously, this can have a detrimental effect on the purchaser’s future plans, thus this blog entry is a cautionary tale and shares some tips on avoiding this unfortunate fate.
It is worth taking a look at recent scams to observe some key elements. This website – www.complaintsboard.com – is a good starting point. Type Belize in to the search box, or click this link and you will be able to review all sorts of property scams currently operating in Belize.
Our law office is not involved with any of these cases and does not have any opinion to the merits of any specific complaint. But if you are considering buying real estate in Belize, you can get a good sense of the variety of scams out there and what to be aware of when purchasing property in Belize.
Here are our top tips to avoid being scammed when carrying out a real estate purchase in Belize:
1. Ensure you complete your due diligence in full
Due diligence is a term used to encompass all aspects of the checks and balances required for any type of business transaction. In this instance, it would include having you, or your legal representation complete process such as a title check on the land, for example.
One item in particular to be aware of, is relying on parcel maps to make your purchase decision on a block of land, as these can often be deceptive.
2. Read the fine print of any agreement or contract you sign
It is vitally important to have a solid understanding of what it is that you are signing. Many unsuspecting buyers have been caught out with clauses in their real estate contracts which have allowed the property developer to have an open-ended timeline to deliver the product to the buyer, without penalty.
We recommend having a trained eye review any type of sales contract, before you sign it. This leads on to our third tip,
3. Take your time in finalising your property transaction
You may find that some agents representing new developments, or condominiums, as they are commonly known here will employ high pressure sales tactics, coercing you to sign a contract and reserve your block of land, apartment etc. This is a common approach used by unscrupulous agents (who by the way, do not need to have any official qualifications or training here in Belize to practice real estate). You should not feel rushed in to making a decision. Be sure that you are comfortable with all the details, the area in which you are buying and that you are totally confident with all aspects of the transaction.
4. Use Escrow to complete the transaction
One item to be aware of, is that there are no independent escrow services in Belize. It is, however, available through reputable law firms. We would advocate the use of escrow in any real estate transaction here in Belize. Always be sure to use your own attorney/law firm for this process.
5. Be Present at the closing/settlement
A massive red flag to look out for is if the vendor (seller) discourages you from being present at the closing (settlement) of the transaction. If this happens to occur in your case, we would strongly encourage you to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
6. Retain independent legal representation to the seller (vendor)
Another factor to be aware of, is if the vendor offers for you to use their lawyer, often for a bargain price. There is obviously a conflict of interest in this regard, and we can’t emphasise enough the importance of having your own legal representation, in the form of a real estate attorney in these types of transactions.
As with most things in life, remember the age old advice, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That isn’t to say there is a lack of great value real estate to be had in Belize, however, you would be best served to take in to account some or all of the recommendations above. As a good friend of ours likes to say, actually, a real estate agent in Belize you might like to meet, “Don’t leave your brain at the border!”
Our Belize FAQ has further information regarding topics such as Why Buy Real Estate in Belize? As well as other common queries.
For more information regarding scams in Belize, please visit our other articles in this series:
Wrobel & Co., Attorneys-At-Law have a wealth of experience in real estate transactions in Belize. Consider inviting us to assist you today.
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