Life can get dull when the dial is always pointing towards the predictable path. Imagine if you could turn that dial in a different direction by discovering and developing your dream property in Belize. Read on and open your mind to new cultures and a new adventure in Belize in this interview with Charlotte Tweed and Rick Becker.
Charlotte Tweed: Hello everyone. This is Charlotte Tweed with Escape Artist. I’m here interviewing Rick Becker today. Rick, thanks for joining me.
Rick Becker: You bet.
Charlotte Tweed: Give us a background on yourself, Rick.
Rick Becker: I live in North Dakota, was born and raised here, and I am involved in some businesses. I’m a plastic surgeon by trade. I do have some other things, a few commercial real estate projects. And I’m also a state representative, and I own a bar.
Charlotte Tweed: Excellent. You have a 20-acre property in Mountain Pine Ridge in Belize where you are building a home?
Rick Becker: Yes.
Charlotte Tweed: Share with us the details on this property.
Rick Becker: Well, the property I bought is two parcels of land in Mountain Pine Ridge. It’s in an area immediately south of Privassion Creek, which I think has been understood to be an area that can’t be developed. My understanding is that sometime—maybe in the eighties or whenever it might have been—there was this little area carved out and plated to be a potential development. It would seem that it is on the very Southernmost or Northernmost aspect of Mountain Pine Ridge.
Charlotte Tweed: Why would the property not have been able to be developed?
Rick Becker: The aspect of the Mountain Pine Ridge reserve, or the terminology they use, but it is a nature reserve if you will.
Charlotte Tweed: Okay. That makes sense. What made you decide to buy property in Belize?
Rick Becker: That’s a good question. I was going to an annual convention called Freedom Fest, which is typically held in Las Vegas. It is a mix of investment ideas and opportunities, with an aspect of being educated on economics. And then intertwining that with libertarianism or small-government politics, so it’s an unusual convention. At the convention, there was a gentleman there, Peter Zipper was his name, and he was having these talks about Belize. It was intriguing. I had been going to Costa Rica quite a bit, loved it. I don’t know how to speak Spanish. I’m 56 years old now. As much as I would like to learn a new language, I’m just not going to. I know that, and not to mention, I wasn’t completely comfortable with the political environment. It seems like it can wax and wane between governments that would be favorable or not favorable to someone who was wanting to invest or spend time in another country.
What I learned at this discussion was that Belize was English speaking, and it had really solid banking. It had solid contract law, property law, and has been a subsidiary of Great Britain up until… I think it was 1981. Belize has a strong parliament representative form of government and seemed to be very stable. All those things clicked for me and made my wife and I want to go down and visit. We visited; we fell in love with it.
It’s this interesting blend of cultures, which I absolutely love. It’s certainly far more Hispanic as you go Westward. A strong Mayan influence, which is really cool. Belize has a good Caribbean influence when you go over to the coast subsidiary. Go to the south coast and you have a strong African component with the Garifuna. And then around Hopkins, a very strong Chinese influence because of immigrants in earlier years. Plus, a strong Mennonite influence. It’s everything. It’s so cool.
I like inland stuff more. The beach is great to visit, but it’s not necessarily where I’d want to live. Even the beaches are different. Upper Ambergris is so different from say, Placencia. I loved Placencia. But the inland part really intrigued me. And so, we went to Blancaneaux Lodge and immediately fell in love with it. It just somehow felt like, “Wow, this feels like where we want to be.” You have the ancient Caribbean Pine Forest meeting the broadleaf jungle, if you will, just incredibly unique, very cool.
And then I lived on the water on the Missouri River in North Dakota. I love being on the water and Privassion Creek, which is really a river. It is so beautiful; I fell in love with it. We started looking, I did a lot of searches online, I did Google earth to identify water features. If you look close enough, you can identify what appeared to be rapids or waterfalls to at least whitewater, which could be a cool water feature. And then reached out to several realtors and narrowed it down to a few. I also decided that I didn’t mind living off-grid at all, but I didn’t want to live in an area where I was so isolated. We were staying at Black Rock Lodge farther to the west, which was really cool, but we were in a more distant one of their cabins.
I was laying there at night, just thinking, “Okay, what if this little distant cabin we were in, there was nothing else, nothing else around?” I’m not a scaredy-cat, but I thought, “So what do I do?” And whatever it might be, Jaguar, or some hard timber thieves from Guatemala or whatever. I don’t know, but I like the idea of being a little bit closer to or at least access to a good road. So Chiquibul Road coming from Georgetown and from San Ignacio, the proximity of San Ignacio. I love San Ignacio, the town, the market, the restaurants, the bars. And San Antonio is coming up to be a cool little town too. And the proximity, if I’m going to sound a little bit like a snootster I can go to Hidden Valley, to Gaia, to Blancaneaux and have a great meal at any of those places. I can go to Pine Ridge Lodge where Neil is there, and have amazing pizza. It’s everything.
Charlotte Tweed: It sounds perfect. You touched on so many interesting things, like the language. I hear the language issue coming up a lot in my conversations. Not everyone wants to learn another language. As you said, you’re 56 and don’t want to learn Spanish, and Belize is English speaking, and I know that is a big attraction for some people that I know.
The pictures that you had sent me ahead of time were not what I expected. I expected more like what you said, the oceanfront, something like that. So, I found that fascinating. I’m with you that I like to visit the ocean, but I don’t necessarily want to live on it. For you to find that property, that remarkable property, incredible. You mentioned Google earth, and then you contacted the realtor. So did the realtor take you to this parcel of property, or did you find it on your own?
Rick Becker: Well, a little bit of both. It was confusing. So, there was a little sign up for sale by owner, but it was for an adjacent property, and actually, the owner had the property lines completely wrong. What he was selling was halfway on the property that I eventually bought. But actually, it wasn’t his. So I contacted several realtors and said, “Here’s what I’m looking for. Here are the parameters of what I want. Send it to me.” Who knows what other opportunities might have presented themselves. And a couple got back to me with this particular property, or so they thought. One of them, it turned out that they were wrong on exactly where it was, one of them was right. I went with the right one.
It was a combination of doing a lot of homework, but I was also driving around the area, looking for anything that might be interesting. I was very open to the idea of cold calling, finding a parcel of land and then going to the land office, and finding out who owned it and asking. I assume that I paid inflated prices. If a realtor has it, and they’re marketing it to Americans, you would be foolish to think you’re not paying a significant premium. However, I loved this property. I’ve learned over the years that it might’ve been an inflated price for there, but for what I was willing to pay for it, say if it was here, it was still a great deal. Theoretically, I could have got a better deal. The point is it still had value for me.
Charlotte Tweed: Exactly. What was the process like buying the property in Belize?
Rick Becker: It was interesting. We negotiated the price down a little bit, not a whole lot. Again, I was in love with it. I wasn’t going to try and save another 10% and potentially not get the property. The realtor had recommended an attorney. I definitely wanted an attorney. We had been going to Belize for, I think two years before we put an offer and found and bought the property. We had talked with other people that had purchased land. I had been reading forums. I learned that you definitely want an attorney. There are some situations where people have thought they purchased land and they didn’t—because it was a nefarious situation—but there were also situations where people bought land from someone who really thought they had the right to sell the land. But it turns out they didn’t have the right because the papers weren’t in proper order.
I ended up with an attorney that I’m very happy with in Belize City, Darrell Bradley. They helped me through it. I don’t know if this is smart or not, frankly, but I created an entity in the U.S. that my wife and I own. That entity owns an entity that was created in Belize. And so that Belizean entity owns the property. It was an interesting aspect because you must pay a stamp tax or something—I forget what it’s called—but you must pay a tax to the government on the sale price of the property. The government has the leeway to say, “We think you underpaid, and so we’re going to charge you the tax that we think you should have paid for it.”
Charlotte Tweed: That is the Belize government?
Rick Becker: Yes. There’s this game that I was advised to significantly under-report the amount we paid on the property. Because the understanding, at least amongst the realtors, is the government’s going to jack it up no matter what. No matter what you paid, they’re going to say, “Actually, the value is more. You should have paid more, so we’re going to tax you on that theoretical value.” If you play the game, you under-report. When they jack it up, you’re going to pay your fair amount of tax. Although very tempting, I chose not to do it. Again, before this, I didn’t have any experience purchasing a foreign property or conducting foreign transactions. I did not want any situation in which I was well on my way to developing the property, and then suddenly somebody comes to my door from the government and says, “Hey, you committed fraud. You forged the property.” Perhaps you go to jail, who knows? And it sounds like it’s the way people do things. And, again, maybe I was foolish, but I’m comfortable with not under-reporting.
Charlotte Tweed: I can understand that.
Rick Becker: Yes. And then that was really it. I had it surveyed, conditioned to buying the property. I did have a surveyor come out to specifically mark the property, identified, the pegs, or the markers. I knew 100% what I was getting. And then it was a done deal.
Charlotte Tweed: That is important information. Being in Canada and the United States, things are quite different than buying properties in Central and South America, from what I’ve heard.
Rick Becker: Yes. It was a good year-long process.
Charlotte Tweed: Are you planning on living on your property full-time once your home is built?
Rick Becker: No, I don’t think so. I think what we’ll do is spend a fair amount of the winter down there. I’ve got four kids that live in the States, one grandson, presumably more grandkids coming, and there’s nothing more important than family. I don’t imagine I’ll be living there full-time. But who knows, a good part of the winter and then hop in down there occasionally.
Charlotte Tweed: Being in North Dakota, you experience winters. I’m Canadian, so we have that in common. Is winter the biggest motivator for you to buy the property in Belize?
Rick Becker: Yes, it is. One could say, “Well, why not just buy property in Arizona or Florida if that is the case?” It’s so much more than that really, than just getting to a warmer property—it’s different. And again, the whole culture thing, I just liked being different. We’re living off the grid. When I go to San Ignacio, it’s an escape to a different lifestyle. And if I move to Phoenix or wherever, effectively, it’s the same lifestyle, but with better temperatures. I want to expand the experience of my life.
Charlotte Tweed: Very good. Another project that you are working on is the possibility of building a spice processing facility in Belize.
Rick Becker: Yes.
Charlotte Tweed: This is intriguing. How did you come up with this idea?
Rick Becker: I don’t want to say too much, but some interesting spices come out of Belize and Guatemala. Some of them have a deep heritage or history with the Mayan people, and I fell in love with one of them. And the people I’ve shared it with find it an amazing, wonderful spice as well. I thought, “Heck, why not? Why not try and commercialize this, because not only is it fun, but it’s for so many people, at least in the U.S., it’s this new product or a series variation of a product they’re moderately familiar with.” And I just thought, “Hey, if I want to hang up some of what I’m doing here in the States, that would be fun to embark on something down in Belize.” And it would be really cool to try and involve the Mayans. There’s a particular family that I befriended and their village has taken me in. I think it would be fantastic if I could do an endeavor to bring more prosperity to them. There’s a lot of opportunity there.
Charlotte Tweed: That’s great. Embracing the culture and the people. You’ve made the connections there. It all just sounds fantastic. And I would love to try this spice you’re talking about sometime. I love to cook just about everything. Your spice idea sounds exciting.
Rick Becker: It may be weird, but I wanted something that I could drive to. For some reason, I didn’t want to go to an island. Even if I have to take the trans-American highway, whatever it is. I’ve got this little background thing, like, “Okay, what about when the apocalypse hits?” I want to be able to be self-sustaining and on a large landmass. And so I ruled out the islands as well.
Charlotte Tweed: And I hear you on that too. Some of my family lives out on Vancouver Island, and we went out there to visit. There are many small islands off the mainland. These little islands are great, but what if the fairies shut down—and they have shut down—so we’ve experienced a little piece of that apocalypse that you’re talking about. You’re stuck on this little island with 2000 people. What if we can’t get any food in?
Rick Becker: Exactly.
Charlotte Tweed: I hear you there. Rick, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today about your property in Belize. I can’t wait to hear more about it and see more when you start building and your other plans moving forward.
Rick Becker: Thank you very much. I’m very excited about it, and hopefully, some of the folks you reach out to will be inspired or intrigued enough to take a look at Belize.
Charlotte Tweed: I hope so, too. Have a fantastic day.
Rick Becker: Thanks, you too.
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About the Interviewer
Charlotte Tweed is an adventurous soul with a goal to take you on a journey where you don’t just visit—you live it. Graduating with a Travel and Tourism Honours diploma, Charlotte is channeling all her passion and skills into writing for Escape Artist. She began her expat journey on June 15, 2021, and will be chronicling her expat roadmap weekly in the Escape Artist newsletter. Reading, writing, and planning her and her husband’s next expat destination in the world are how she fills her days. As a recently published author, her mission is to transform your life with expat travel—one destination, one adventure, one story at a time.
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