Building your own home in Belize is cheaper than buying, especially if you act as your own general contractor. As a broad construction rule, you will get more for your housing dollar in Belize by building rather than buying a completed home. You’ll often get a lot more home. However, you’ll also get a lot more headaches. If you can put up with construction hassles you can build a house with details such as built-in furniture, exotic tropical hardwood floors and ceilings and custom-made mahogany or rosewood cabinets that in the U.S. would be found only in the homes of multimillionaires. Rare and off limits hardwoods become readily available once you find the right politicians and bureaucrats with their hands out!
Another option for the expat building in Belize is to purchase an abandoned or half-built home at one of the government or bank auctions, and then finish construction yourself. This is not recommended unless you have expertise in buying foreclosed homes, or have a reliable local expert who can help you navigate this process.
The secret to building your own home in Belize on, or under budget, is to find the right contractor. The best way to do this is to take your time and spend time researching contractors. More often than not, you can find the right contractor by word of mouth. And the best way is to talk with locals and expats who have successfully built their home here and listen to who they recommend. If you are not living in Belize, it may be best to hire a reputable Belizean overseer who will monitor the contractor and architect and ensure that your property is successfully completed.
Home Construction Costs In Belize
Construction costs vary depending on factors such as the cost of transportation of materials to the building site, the terrain and quality of work. Construction costs are higher on the coast and cayes, because of the need to use hurricane resistant construction. In the case of the cayes, it costs extra to transport building materials out to the islands by barge or boat. Building costs also are higher in southern than in northern Belize. Inexpensive building materials are more readily available in northern Belize since some can be imported from Chetumal, Mexico.
Labor in Belize is much less expensive than in the U.S., with carpenters and masons typically getting around US$25. to $40. a day or less. Unskilled construction workers may only get US$15. to $20. a day. The use of labor from undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for cheap day wages, is an open secret in Belize. Shady contractors are often able to get skilled workers from across the borders with Guatemala and Honduras for as low as U.S. $15. a day but this is oft an ephemeral source of labor for your dream house.
While labor may be cheap, construction jobs usually take longer in Belize. Workers may be skilled at construction techniques common in Belize but may lack knowledge about building in the American or European style. Outside of urban areas, it is difficult to find qualified craftspeople such as electricians and plumbers. Building materials vary but are mostly no cheaper than in the U.S., except for locally produced items such as tropical hardwoods which run about US$1,000 for 1,000 board feet. Also, locally produced plywood is roughly one-half the cost in the U.S. Cement is imported from Mexico and El Salvador and is more expensive than in the U.S., a 50 lb. bag typically costs around US$6 to $8. Most bathroom and kitchen fixtures have to be imported and are mostly sourced from Mexico.. Flooring materials such as ceramic tiles from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico are moderately priced and of high quality.
Overall, building costs in Belize range from around US$30. to $150. a square foot, not including the cost of land. At the low end, that would be a simple Belizean-style concrete block bungalow house or frame construction, and at the top it would be high-quality concrete construction with hardwood floors and trim and with many custom details such as hand-made doors and windows. Most commonly, you’d expect to pay about US$50. to $90. a square foot, so a 1,500 square foot home would cost US$75,000 to $135,000 to build, not including land. That’s about one-half or less of typical costs for construction in the U.S.
Regardless of where or how you build, you need to be on the site to manage and oversee the construction, or pay someone you trust very well to do that for you. Expect that the process will take roughly twice as long as you expect. Eight to twelve months, or longer, to build a house is not uncommon.
Especially in rural areas or on the coast, a lot of the cost of building is underground – foundations, pilings, cisterns, septic tanks. You may need two or more septic tanks for a large house. Cisterns for your drinking water cost roughly US $.50 cents to $1. a gallon to construct. But it is cheaper and faster to simply buy poly or steel water tanks and drop them on a concrete pad. Tanks are widely available in the 500 to 5,000 gallon sizes and are imported from Trinidad, Mexico and China. Poly septic tanks are becoming very popular but are almost as expensive as the concrete type. For long-term durability, concrete septic tanks are preferred by most home builders.
Types Of Home Construction Suitable For the Tropics
In areas at risk of hurricanes and tropical storms, you’ll have to put in deep pilings and raise the first floor above ground level to avoid water damage. Depending on the area and the depth and type of pilings, these can cost as much as US$3,000 to $5,000 each. A medical doctor who recently finished his house in the Belize City area told us his foundation and pilings ran him $100,000. – or a third of the cost of his modest home, and this did not include the cost of the lot. Belize City is an extreme example as the terrain is swampy with a peat moss underlay, and it is not uncommon for people who skimp on their foundations to end up with tilted houses that have to be abandoned or demolished.
Reinforced concrete is the preferred construction for house foundation slabs and walls, topped off with industrial galvalume roofing resting on pressure-treated wood, or metal beams. Hurricane straps and rafter ties are inexpensive protection against having the roof blown away. For utmost security, a concrete roof is preferred. But this can be expensive because of the load on walls and foundations, and extra attention must be given to the aesthetics of your property. Insurance companies in Belize no longer will cover traditional thatch construction, and some also will not cover wood frame construction if the house is on the coast or cayes.
Insurance if available at all will vary with the construction: Wood frame construction in coastal or island areas will incur annual premiums of up to 2 to 4% of value, whereas steel construction will see premiums of around 1.25% of value and reinforced concrete about 1.5% or less.
In the past, the only building codes in Belize have been those imposed by local municipalities. Many rural areas had no codes at all, and builders often ignored any existing codes. The country has developed a national building code calling for nation-wide standards of construction. The Central Building Authority (CBA) has now taken a tougher stance to ensure that builders follow the building code. The C.B.A. is a toothless authority that most anyone ignores.
In general Belize’s building codes and permitting and inspection processes are still less intrusive and financially onerous than those in North America or other parts of the developed world.
New immigrants get away with building rustic but sturdy homes in villages and the “bush” where regulatory bureaucrats either do not venture, or are willing to accept a small tip to ignore building code issues. Homes we have seen in this scenario range from rejected lumber siding to shipping containers.