I like to believe we have all had that magical AHA! moment when you are on vacation watching a beautiful sunset or drinking your third rum punch, and your soul says, “We need to live here.” Well, this happened while on our honeymoon in Turks and Caicos, and I spent the next few months trying to figure out if we could turn this dream of moving abroad into a reality.
Step 1: Convince my wife this is possible – The truth is that I needed to convince myself as well. I have been saving throughout my life for this exact moment. I am extremely fortunate that my wife knows I am an ambitious dreamer, and she encourages me to take on these sorts of projects. So, Step 1 is complete, we are moving forward with the dream.
Step 2: Determine budget – We have $350,000 set aside for a place in our dream location, Grace Bay on Turks and Caicos. We don’t have any idea what this will get us, but it is the amount we are prepared to spend. I considered taking out a small mortgage from a local Provo bank, but they aren’t keen to do business with Americans and response times are notoriously slow. Perhaps I’ll be invited back to write about my disappointing experiences with Caribbean banks, but they weren’t very helpful or responsive.
Step 3: Need vs. Want – Now your budget is set and it’s time to decide what you need versus what you want in your new life abroad. We instantly agreed this purchase would be an investment in our future part-time retirement on Turks and Caicos, as well as a vacation place whenever we can steal a few days off from work. So, our top priority is to find a place that will rent well and has a proven track record of positive rental income. We want low maintenance (think condo) and we desire oceanfront. We’d like 2 bedroom/2 bath, but here is where the budget will make us decide what is more important: oceanfront or a 2nd bedroom. We have fallen in love with the bluer than blue water that surrounds the island, so oceanfront wins.
Step 4: Find an Agent – I randomly emailed four real estate agents in the Grace Bay area, as this is our desired location. One agent doesn’t respond at all, the second sends a canned reply, the third writes a personal reply asking specific questions, and the fourth offers a phone call. I immediately called the agent that offered to speak via phone, but his schedule sounds like he is retired: Italy for 3 weeks in June, Argentina for the month of July, and August he will be somewhere in Asia. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find an agent who will put in the time, get to know you, do the leg work of searching listings, arranging showings, and just go that extra mile. Our agent will be Thomas Watkins of Sotheby’s. Thomas was first-class from the very start as he asked poignant and pertinent questions to determine the best fit for our overseas property needs.
Step 5: Fees – While it is important to have a knowledgeable real estate professional, it is also important that you educate yourself and get a sense of the real estate market in your chosen area. We spent endless hours scouring real estate websites to view condos under $400,000. In addition, we learned about the fees:
- Stamp Duty (likely 8% and paid by buyer)
- Legal Fees (1-2% with each party paying their attorney)
- Real Estate Agent (6% and paid by seller)
- Small Filing Fees ($200-$500 and paid by both parties)
The stamp duty was the costly surprise in our research, but paradise comes at a price. These fees are specific to Turks and Caicos, I suspect you’ll find different rates/fees on other islands.
Step 6: Homework – Our agent, Thomas, set up our search criteria in his database and he sent us a sizeable list of condos to review. We learned that the more space you want, the farther away from the beach you go, and vice versa. We liked 6 condos and asked Thomas for feedback on the various units. Here is where the local knowledge really helps, as he was able to explain about the happenings at the various resorts. Examples include: “Many units are available as the owners here are battling with the condo association,” or, “It’s a great value given its size, but it’s a 7-minute walk to the beach.”
The feedback really helped us put our initial impressions into perspective, as real estate listings don’t tell the whole story. Again, I cannot express the importance of an agent willing to put the time and effort into identifying places that fit your requirements and budget for moving abroad. While the list from Thomas appeared very inclusive, we also considered buying land and possibly building a container house. A container house has always been another dream of mine…hope to get to it someday.
In Part 2 of this article, I’ll cover Steps 6-9 of living out your dream in Turks and Caicos.