How to Invest in Real Estate in a Foreign Country

How to Buy Land for a Retirement Home in a Foreign Country

Like many Minnesotan’s, my husband and I leave freezing cold temps to enjoy sun drenched beaches in the Caribbean. After spending 20 years of vacations touring the Caribbean Islands, Mexican beaches and the Yucatan we were lucky enough to run across a spectacular deal we could not pass up. It pays to keep your eyes and ears open for real estate opportunities. I try to pick up a paper with real estate ads for each vacation we go on. This casual research really pays off in the long run. We purchased land and built a home in Isla Mujeres, Mexico in the Cancun area for our retirement home.

Location, location, location. Shopping on the internet is the most productive way to get an idea of price for value. By surfing, you can obtain tons of info. I recommend making a spreadsheet for each area that interests you categorized by location. Determining factors for us were: ease and price of travel, crime rate, investment probability for resale, hospital care and insurance availability, rent-ability when away, homeowner association, maintenance fees, general cost of living, friendliness and honesty of community and whether or not there is language barrier.

Once you have chosen the general area, find out if you need a realtor or just a lawyer. In Mexico, everything goes through the notary, who is similar to a judge in the US. Get personal referrals whenever possible. Is there a language barrier? Make sure to work with fluent people. Legal language can be confusing in your native language let alone when it is foreign. No question is dumb. Ask 2 different realtors the same question to make sure that your information is correct. Patience on all sides will be required. List your expectations. Ask for answers: time frame, loan availability, refund-ability of deposit, money transfer safety, dispute resolution. I highly recommend doing all this in the most kind and happy tone of voice using casual body language of languid patience. Feed yourself before or during these meetings. It improves communication.

Research the legal barriers. As an American, we have assumptions about laws that could be false. Double check your basic facts about the transaction. A word could have a different meaning in Spanish than in English . Example: notary. In Mexico, your deposit on the property transaction is non-refundable usually. As a matter of fact, it is legal to charge the full amount of the transaction, even if you backed out. They have different laws about backing out of the deal than we do. Always check your facts before paying for anything and get a receipt, signed and dated. Write your dollar amounts in U.S. dollars if possible. What is the exchange rate? If there is a time lag, what happens when the exchange rate changes?

We had a wonderful experience buying and building in Mexico. We were lucky and now own both a condo and a new home directly on the ocean. It took over a year to obtain the deeds. We have hired an accountant to be our representative. She is invaluable to us. Oceanfront prices seem to rise every year. The price of our condo has risen approximately 10% per year. The oceanfront house has doubled in 2 years. Hopefully this investment will be wise. We actually use it and it cannot disappear to some crooked EnRon executives’ pocket. If you wish to, check out our websites. or to see our casa in the build process.