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Finding the Right Home and Property Purchase

Brought to you by O’Neal Webster

Photography courtesy of Coldwell Banker BVI

In the BVI, property purchase has a procedure which can be quite daunting on first glance, but like any process, it’s straight forward once you understand the stages.

The first part of the property purchase scenario is finding that specific abode that meets your preferences. One aspect that’s almost guaranteed with any property in the BVI is a great view, but there are a multitude of variables that you may wish to consider in your home selection.

Here is our checklist of items to consider when finding and buying the right home in the BVI.

Finding the Right Home

Information provided by Chris Smith, Managing Broker – Coldwell Banker

  1. Location

Don’t narrow down a specific search area – be open to different ideas. The best way to define your search parameters is to bear in mind factors that will be fixed such as your work and schools. Maybe decide how long you would be willing to commute for – would it be ten minutes? Half an hour? This will determine the radius from work within which you should be looking.

  1. The steep hills

Everyone finds them shocking at first, but most people adjust to them. New arrivals often say they only want houses with easy driveways on the flat, but try not to let the scary steepness put you off. You’ll soon get used to the gradients and find yourself doing three-point turns on a precipice without batting an eyelid.

  1. Mosquitoes and other nasties

Check that there are mosquito screens on the windows of the property you are reviewing. Sometimes these may be absent in a kitchen or sitting room. Do the bedrooms have screens? If you are looking at a property where rooms are more indoor/outdoor, then try to visualise where you will be able to sit in the evening if the bugs are swarming and you need refuge. Note whether there are screens on the balcony doors. If the windows are large then you may be able to get adequate breeze inside without the doors being open, but make sure there is enough air flow, otherwise you will be hot as well as itchy. Properties with plenty of breeze are generally less buggy, as are light properties and sealed modern ones with no cracks and good windows and screens. That said, you may find a mosquito in even the most high-end of establishments, so you will have to accept that they’re part of life here. Regular pest control service is essential to keep your property pest-free.

  1. ‘Pod’ homes

Homes that are made up of more than one building are common in the BVI, in part because of the steep hillsides and because some owners like the idea of having large areas of outdoor space for entertaining in between bedrooms. Whilst these houses are often very attractive, they mean that different members of your household may not be under one roof at night. If you have young children, this might be awkward – think nightmares, ill kids, power cuts, or rainstorms. Many families have made these houses work for them with baby monitors, walkie talkies, and even just by accepting that life here is a bit safer and more relaxed than in other places.

  1. Water

Most expats don’t drink tap water in the BVI unless they have a UV filter. Many households purchase an office-style water cooler machine and refill the bottles from conveniently located and reasonably priced water machines. Mains water is not available in every house on the island, so we’re very reliant on catching and storing rainwater. Rain runs off the roof into guttering and into a catchment container under the house called a cistern.

  1. Hurricanes

Take note if there are shutters on the doors and windows. It would be prudent to enquire whether the property is built to the Dade County building code—able to withstand a major catastrophic event.

  1. Power outages

The frequency and length of outages vary, but Murphy’s Law dictates that they usually occur just as you have started watching a movie, put the baby to sleep, or sat down to dinner. Some properties have generators, many of which switch on automatically.

  1. Pools and gardens

The idea of a pool is often a part of the Caribbean dream when moving here, but there are some practical things to bear in mind:

– Is it child proofed or is it possible to make it so? Even if you personally don’t have kids, is there a way to shut it off if you have guests that do?

– It costs about $250 per month to pay for a pool service.

– Look at the position of the pool relative to the breeze and nearby trees. Steady winds will cool the water considerably, and an abundance of leaves can be a maintenance headache.

– Gardens here can vary from concrete yards to lush tropical fruit trees and colourful flowers. If there are fruit trees nearby, then this can attract vermin so it is important that they are trimmed back from the house and tended to regularly.

  1. Air-conditioning and ceiling fans

Generally, you need fans in all rooms, unless a property is very high up and therefore cool. AC can be helpful in the bedrooms, but don’t forget you can buy window units yourself and install them.

  1. Laundry, dishwashers and the like

Many properties don’t include laundry facilities, but there are numerous laundromats and launderettes around the island, some of which offer a serviced wash option. More and more properties come with dishwashers, but don’t forget that if you’re relying just on rainwater, you may not use it as much.

  1. Mould

Some of the areas that are high up on the island are prone to mould. If you have asthma or an amazing collection of handbags and leather shoes, then this may not be the area for you. Conditions are almost rainforest-like, so if you don’t enjoy a warm, damp, jungle climate, then don’t choose that area.

  1. Childproofing

Many properties, due to steep balconies, pools, etc. may initially seem unsuitable if you have small children, but making properties safer through the installation of stair gates, balcony netting, and furniture latches can take care of this. Many childproofing materials can be bought on-island or ordered on the internet.

Property Purchase

Information provided by Chris Smith, Managing Broker – Coldwell Banker and Willa Tavernier, Head of Property Department – O’Neal Webster

The process of buying a property has some significant steps that are useful to know for your own comfort and security. Here are the major phases that one must journey through to make that dream home their own.

  1. Offer and Deposit

We will ask you to submit a written offer along with a 10% deposit, which we will hold in an escrow account and return to you if you do not enter into an ‘Agreement for Sale’ with the Seller. If you do enter into such an Agreement, the deposit becomes subject to the terms of the Agreement.

  1. Non Belonger’s Land Holding License (NBLHL)

If you are not a Belonger, you will need to apply to the BVI Government for a Non Belonger’s Land Holding License. The License gives you permission to own the specific property you are interested in. You will need to submit a police certificate or background check to show you do not have a criminal record, bank statements to show you can afford to purchase, and some personal references. You can buy the property in your own name, in a trust, or as a company. An experienced BVI real estate lawyer can explain the advantages or disadvantages of the different holding structures.

  1. The Purchase

It’s very important to have a recent survey of the property, or if none is available to have your own survey done early in the process. This is so that you’re clear on what you’re purchasing and that there are no issues with neighbouring properties. We can recommend several highly skilled surveyors who can do this for you. If you are buying a condominium or villa, you can get an ‘as-built survey.’ 

If you are buying a vacant lot, you will need to describe in your License application what you intend to build—for example, a three-bedroom villa with a pool—and approximately how much you intend to spend. Your licence will contain the amount you submit as a minimum development commitment, so care should be taken in determining this figure. If you’re buying a property that has already been built or is in the process of being built, you’ll need to describe in your License application exactly what is on the site, any plans that you have for renovation, and approximately how much you intend to spend on any improvements.  

We have some very competent architects, contractors and construction managers in the BVI and we’ll introduce you to them at an early stage so that you have a good sense of what is possible and how much it will cost. You can always apply to make amendments later on if your plans change.

  1. Legal Advice

It’s really important to use a lawyer who handles BVI real estate matters on a daily basis and has the relationship with the relevant Government ministries. We’ll recommend a BVI lawyer to advise you, help with the ‘Agreement for Sale,’ assist your application for the License, and aid you with the closing. The NBLHL application fee costs $200.00 for each person named in the application and $300.00 for companies. The NBLHL cost to collect final documentation is $600.00 for each person, or company, or director, or shareholder. Legal fees are typically 2% of the first $50k of the property value and 1 to 1.5% of everything over that.

  1. Appraisal

You will need an appraisal to accompany the License application and that costs approx. 0.1% of the purchase price.

  1. Stamp Duty

Stamp duty, paid by the buyer at closing, is 12% of the higher of the sale price or appraised value. So along with the legal fees, appraisal and surveys (if purchasing a villa), you can estimate that closing costs will be in the region of 14% in total.

  1. Closing

Typically closing occurs within 30 days of the Governor of the BVI signing your License. Ensure that after closing you receive a ‘closing binder’ of original stamped documents as your proof of title. This should include your Non-Belonger Licences, Instrument of Transfer, and a certified copy of the land register in relation to the property. Currently, the entire process is taking around six months. We are, of course, in the Caribbean and the pace of life is a little slower so don’t panic if it takes longer; after all, isn’t that the whole point of wanting to spend more time in the islands? If you’re purchasing land, that time can be used engaging with architects and starting work on the plans for your dream home.


Location is one of the most significant points for your BVI lifestyle. Dedicate your time here when seeking a property!

Air-conditioning is another area you want to keep at the forefront of your mind when property searching. The BVI is on the equator and the heat barely changes!

Hurricane season and mould are areas to do your best by being prepared, unless you have the power to change the weather and climate!

Chris Smith
Chris arrived in the BVI in 1992 to work for Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island. After several great years on Necker, Chris moved to Virgin Gorda and became involved in real estate sales and development, and vacation villa rentals and management as managing broker of Coldwell Banker.
Chris Smith

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