Kenny: Belizean Construction Worker or High Beam Gymnast?

When does your home building project turn into a performance?

When one of the workers uses fancy foot-work from high work spaces.

His name is Kenny and he has worked on many projects in Belize.

It shows.

He enjoys the challenge of scaling the heights where other workers would never go.

When asked if he feared heights, he calmly shrugged from his 10-foot high 2×4 perch and quips, “I’ve been lots higher than this.”

His fellow workers know full well and nod in agreement while commencing in typical construction banter. The giggling is infectious.

Below are some of the awkward, and at times, poetic positions that Kenny found himself in during this typical work week.

Enjoy the artistry, skill and sense of calm that Kenny displays.

Kenny has no problem measuring precisely from atop his wooden perch.
Kenny uses a bit of down time to rest while balancing on a 2×4. There really was no place else to go.
Leverage and balance are needed when trying to hammer from the top of a palapa. The heat and plenty of sweat doesn’t make the job any easier.
Kenny simultaneously balances and holds two 2 x 4 studs in a centered position to form the pitch of the roof. He sat and held it for about 5 minutes while his co-worker, Fred, measured and made slight adjustments to get the perfect angle. It probably felt like much more than 5 minutes to Kenny.
Holding the pitch takes strength and concentration while Fred measures. Kenny would hold it steady until the correct angle was drawn onto each board so they could be cut correctly … and then held again while it was nailed into place.
Hammering causes plenty of vibrations while Kenny tries to balance and hold a 2×4 into place with a vice grip. These planks are made of a Belizean hardwood, much heavier than the pine used in the U.S.
Expensive industrial zinc sheets were used for the roofing and had to be cut while in place using an angle grinder. Hot sparks flew into his legs, but Kenny held steady until the job was done.
Toes, knees and contorted muscles are all needed to steady yourself while measuring and marking at the very tip of the roof line. Not much to grab onto if you slip from this position, Nothing but concrete floor below you.
Their tools may not be the best, but teamwork and a desire to get it done right are key traits of a Belizean construction team. Here, Fred and Kenny feel the heat of a 95-degree day as they assemble the zinc roofing for our palapa project.
Even when Kenny was lucky enough to be at ground level, the team still took advantage of his long legs and arms to hold high framing into place. No rest for the weary.
Acrobats like Kenny need to be able to handle any tool at any angle.
The July Belize heat wears on any worker, especially during the early afternoon hours when many other workers take off of work for an afternoon siesta to escape the hottest part of the day. Kenny took a quick lunch and was right back at it to get the job done on time.
The team got done on time and was treated a feast of Relleno, a local dish of stuffed Chicken, stuffing and more in a dark tasty spice broth. Kenny used the time to ask question after question about Trump, American politics and share his views about the current state of America from his vantage point.

Steps to Building A Home on a Budget in Belize

So you’ve navigated the treacherous and confusing Real Estate process in Belize. You have successfully purchased the land and have valid papers to prove it. Good job!

Now you need to build your home, but your retirement funds and your common sense tells you NOT to finance your building project.

Another wise move! You don’t need a mortgage during retirement, correct?

Provided that you don’t have the full funds for your project in your pockets, you’ve decided that you will build over a period of time before retirement.

Maybe you have 3-5 years before retirement and a bulk of your retirement funds will be tied up for a few years.

So you can take your time, but it may not be so easy to find a Belizean construction team that will agree to your pay-as-you-go plan.

Many construction companies in Belize will require up to 50% down payment with one more payment at the end.  That’s the bad news.

The good news: Belize is filled with talented small construction crews who will work with you, providing that you can pay in chunks that will divide your project into a number of “mini-projects” that make sense.

That’s the route that we chose, mostly out of necessity, but also because we had contacts in Belize because my wife’s family resides there.

Let’s take a tour of our home building project, outlining the steps we are taking to make our retirement home a reality.

This may not be the most feasible route for you, but many of the steps are the same one’s that you will need to take.

Hopefully you’ll get some new ideas and encouragement along the way.

Step One: Agree on a Flexible Game Plan

The land that we will be building on has been owned by Linda for many years.

Long before she met me, Linda had decided she would one day move back to her hometown in Belize, a town she left at the age of 18 to make a life in America.

So she purchased a 75′ x 150′ lot in a new subdivision of Orange Walk town on the West side of the Northern Highway. All the while, she was making monthly payments from America.

The dream started as a 75′ x 100′ lot that needed to be groomed and regularly maintained. Finding the correct team to do the work can mean the difference between progress or failure.

Over the years since then, she would see the slow development of the area every time she visited.

They were nice homes, some 2,000-3,000 square feet that are owned by local Belizean business people, but also others that are modest, 1,000 square feet or less.

Her goal was to “fit in”.  She envisioned a 20′ x 30′ wood structure built by skilled local mennonite builders that are finely crafted.

Time brought me into Linda’s life, and my frequent visits to Belize since then have given us time to talk and reshape the plan.

Seven Belize visits later the dream has grown into:

  • Selection and slight modification of a nice concrete duplex floor plan with built-in flexibility.

This will allow us to gradually build a 2-bedroom unit next to a 1-bedroom unit that can easily be converted into a comfortable 3-bedroom home by simply opening a door in a conjoining hallway.

It will also have a 30′ x 30′ concrete roof patio to take advantage of the nice breezes from the East.

A recent site plan shows the 54′ x 47′ duplex with backyard palapa and car port. The palapa construction was used as test project to see how the construction team would do under our watchful eyes. The one bedroom unit is shown on the left while the 2-bed unit is to the right. The hallway behind the bathrooms will have a steel door separating the two units.  The foundation is planned to be poured early in 2018.

The one-bed half will be finished first, utilizing furnishings we have been gathering for a number of years.

It will be rented out to a local who will also serve as a caretaker.

Then other half (2-bedroom) will be finished by relatives in the family as time permits. Hopefully within the next two years, the 2-bedroom section will be ready.

At that point, we can decide to either rent out the 2-bedroom portion or, if we are ready we can live in the other half.

We also will have the option to move in and utilize all 3 bedrooms as a single-family home. That’s total flexibility dependent on our desires and circumstances.

  • Future option to build a second floor rental unit by converting the 30′ x 30′ rooftop patio. 

This expansion idea came during our recent visit to Ambergris Caye.

We really enjoyed the small cabanas at Royal Caribbean Resort on the South side of the island.

As we marveled at the simple, but practical layout of the cabana, we knew it would be a perfect structure to build on the rooftop of our Orange Walk duplex.

This simple cabana design at Royal Caribbean Resort on Ambergris Caye is a simple, but stylish design, that was the inspiration for our 30′ x 30′ rental space. It will have bedroom, kitchenette, ample living space and large bathroom. Don’t be afraid to dream while you visit the many resorts in Belize.

Linda’s brother can handle the architectural needs on the fly which makes this a feasible idea for us. Just know that making these decisions on a whim can be costly when using an architect at full price.

The genius of this conversion comes from the desire to have family visit us from the U.S.  Having a ready-made place for kids and grandkids to stay will help us to stay connected.

  • Added flexibility to follow our dream to the coast while being a landlord

That’s right. Our dream doesn’t end there.

If you have read our blog on a regular basis, you know that Linda has a dream of starting a Bed & Breakfast or full-blown restaurant.

This could best be executed in a tourist area such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia or Hopkins.

Rental income in Orange Walk will go a long way toward making our ultimate dream a reality.

We could easily hire a property manager to live in the one-bedroom unit and oversee the rental operation.

Bottom line: Dreaming and planning ahead allows you to chop any big dream into manageable projects that keeps you encouraged and moving forward.

Step Two: Pick a Trustworthy Construction Team

This is a lot easier said than done. Contractors run the gambit, and you need to know if you are dealing with one who runs a viable business that makes money by delivering quality construction on time.

In Belize, your choice of contractors come in several forms:

  1. A relative or friend who gained his experience by building his own home. Most will steer you away from this option and choosing this possibility is dependent on the amount of trust you have in your friend or relative. Be aware that the old adage that mixing business and family can be treacherous.
  2. A Belizean who has handled a number of projects successfully and pulls his team together when a project comes along. This option is more trustworthy, but can cause delays if the team is not available during your construction window.
  3. A construction company that builds pre-fab wooden homes either at their site or yours and delivers it to your site. These are mostly mennonites in Belize who make quality homes quickly, but they are made of wood which needs to be continually maintained over the years.
  4. A larger custom builder who designs and builds custom homes and handles all architectural, project management and subcontracting if necessary.  These are the best option to get your home done quickly when you can’t be in Belize to oversee the project. This option offers the least amount of flexibility in payment options.

You can find a list of these options by googling or by searching on Facebook, LinkedIn or other sites. Make sure to pay attention to comments and reviews on blogs, but realize that everyone has different opinions.

You can also talk with others who have successfully built in Belize. Realize, however, that most contractors are regional in Belize and may not travel a far distance to build your home.

Few people share a great experience, but they are quick to share a bad experience.

In the end, you need to chose based on your needs and circumstances.

Project One: The Security Fence (2015 – 2016)

Our first construction project was to securely fence in our land so that when we could have a secure place to store tools, etc. during construction. We were referred to a contractor by a relative who showed us many nice fences in Orange Walk that his team had built.

We stressed that we wanted the combination of cement block and chain link fencing to be done during a two week visit to Belize in 2015.

The contractor actually did his best to get done in the time frame, but a mixture of it being the rainy season and an underestimate of the money necessary caused the project to be 85% complete by the time we needed to head back to the U.S.

The fence was constructed in 2015, but we returned home and the contractor failed to cement three sides of the fence into the cement blocks. this caused us to have to fix it with patchwork in one corner on our next visit. He also failed to fill the blocks with concrete to make it more stable. His demands for more money to finish the work caused us to dismiss him from the project. Beware of this. Despite written estimates, signed receipts and being there for most of the project, the job sat undone for almost a year until our next visit. In our mind, he was taking advantage of our not being there.

Although we intended to use him for the home construction pending a nicely completed fence, we couldn’t move forward with his team due to a lack of trust.

Thankfully, we had a brother that brought in a small team to finish the fence, and build the 14-foot gates during our next visit in 2016.

The 14-foot rolling gates on both ends of the fence were nicely made in our absence shortly after our next visit in 2016. Linda’s brother oversaw the creation and installation and this helped us to gain trust in his team of local builders. Now that the fence was completed, we could concentrate on construction of the home.

You can see that to date, we have used a combination of options 1 and 2 above to get where we are, with mixed results.

Project 2: The Palapa (2017)

We were happy with how the gates turned out in our absence, so we decided that our July 2017 trip would be a great time to test the same team with construction of a small palapa in the back yard (see site plan above).

By doing so, we could see most of the carpentry and construction skills necessary to build our home.  We also could see how the team worked with Quidi, Linda’s brother, and if we could be confident the job would get done under his supervision.

We had a crude drawing of the palapa and only had a few requirements:

  • It had to have a concrete base and utilize a contractor’s grade zinc roof.
  • It also needed to be 6-sided with room for a fire hearth for outdoor cooking as well as Linda’s hammock.
  • We also wanted it done before we left back home two week’s later.

We met with Quidi when we got to Belize in July. We shared our duplex plans and our crude hand drawing of the palapa and left him to design it. We knew he had designed a number of homes in the past.

Quidi is a smart, capable guy who knows how to deal with a team and has all the skills to oversee the construction of our duplex. He lives only 6 blocks away from our land, so we are confident he will pay close attention during the construction process.

While he designed the palapa, we used a day to meet with two other possible contractors.

One was a person referred to us by Linda’s nephew who had little construction skills himself, but had a capable team.

The other was a larger contractor from Belize city. We happened to be renting his Orange Walk rental home during this trip.

The first estimate came back at more than we wanted to pay for a concrete home, but would be a good backup plan if things went awry with our first choice.

The second contractor to date has not gotten back to us and it became obvious that we did not fit into his construction windows.  Their work in Belize City was mostly commercial in nature, so they have bigger fish to fry.

It was a head-scratcher that they also failed to make any other recommendations to us along the way.

Needless to say, Quidi had a palapa plan, an estimate for construction and a team of four men ready to tackle the project when we met with him on Monday.

A separate blog post will soon be written to show the entire process of building the palapa, but until then, know that we were happy and sometimes amazed at the capabilities of his team.

The teamwork shown during the 5 days of full construction that it took to build the palapa built our confidence in this small team. You could tell that Fred (far center), Kenny (left) and Martin (right) had considerable experience and anticipated each other’s next move. They genuinely seemed to enjoy each other and didn’t mind that we were watching over the process along with Quidi.

A summary of the construction process included these steps:

  1. Day 1: Measurements, digging out framing sextagon foundation, Purchasing the madre cacoa hardwood posts, purchasing all other needed wood, hardware and supplies, sourcing the zinc to be used for the roofing.
  2. Day 2: Digging 2-foot deep holes for the posts, Setting and leveling posts, Pouring concrete into holes, Pouring 10-inch thick concrete floor.
  3. Day 3: Allowing all Concrete to set
  4. Day 4: Cutting posts to correct height, Constructing roofing frame and setting desired pitch of roof, Purchasing the Zinc for the roof to be delivered.
  5. Day 5: Cutting, setting and nailing zinc to the roof, insulating roof with foam to prevent leaks, Constructing a decorative apron and securing roof to posts with L-brackets.

The successful completion of the palapa, although a small project, accomplished a number of important things for us:

  • We now have a structure for the construction crew to escape the Belize heat.
  • It also affords Linda a place to oversee the construction process during our visits
  • It allowed us to get to know the workers by name and approve of their handiwork
  • It gives us confidence that the construction can progress under the watchful eye of Quidi and supervisory skills of Fred
  • It cemented in our mind, that we now have a team that could accomplish any construction process.
  • We could enjoy the second week of vacation filled with future dreams instead of construction worries.

Bottom Line: Take your time picking a construction company that fits your situation and project and learn to enjoy even the snarls along the way.

Step 3: Aggressively Revise your Timeline as Necessary

Now that you have the confidence in your team, be as aggressive as your budget will allow.

We have broken our timeline into six phases with a projected finish date of September of 2022, but if we aren’t quite done at that point, we won’t be disappointed. We will still be closer to our goal.

Here is our projected Timeline:

  • PHASE 1: November through December 2017: Construct an 18′ wide x 25′ Carport in the back left corner of the yard with a 6′ x 18′ storage area in the back. This area will be ample room for tools and construction materials that we send from the U.S. to Belize. We also will run electrical from the main hookup to the storage room. We will not be there to oversee this project.  PROJECTED COST: $7,000 U.S. or $14,000 BZ
  • PHASE 2: January 2018 through February 2018: Excavate and build cement block duplex foundation up to 24″-32″ above the ground level. This will also include running plumbing and electrical from the main hookups out at the back fence line to the laundry room area in back that will double as our utility room. PROJECTED COST: $15,000 U.S. or $30,000 BZ
  • PHASE 3: January 2019 through March 2019: Build the outer cement block wall of the structure, including windows, outer doors and cement upper patio area. Fill concrete into blocks and run all internal electrical, plumbing and  butane lines (for stoves and hot water heater). PROJECTED COST: $27,000 U.S. or $54,000 BZ
  • PHASE 4: January 2020 through April 2020: Build roofing infrastructure for master bedroom and all other areas outside of the patio. Also attach zinc roofing and create drainage gutters and water-gathering system. PROJECTED COST: $8,000 U.S. or $16,000 BZ
  • PHASE 5: January 2021 through September 2021: Build interior walls and Drywall one-bedroom side of duplex, install kitchen and bath furnishings, flooring, interior doors, ceiling treatments, lighting and other finishing. PROJECTED COST: $9,000 U.S. or $18,000 BZ
  • PHASE 6: January 2022 through September 2022: Build interior walls and Drywall two-bedroom side of duplex, install kitchen and bath furnishings, flooring, interior doors, ceiling treatments, lighting and other finishing. PROJECTED COST: $12,000 U.S. or $24,000 BZ

Note: After Phase 5 we can start rental of the one-bedroom side of the duplex. Also, all outside patio areas will be finished after the move-in date and will be done as time permits.

Total Projected Cost of the Duplex: $78,000 U.S. or $156,000 BZ.

Our duplex is perfect for our situation and fits our budget and our goals. Note that the front red door that Linda wanted shows proudly while the door for the one bedroom unit is hidden from the front. That’s to give the impression that it is a single family unit. Be sure to share your plans and dreams in the comments area below. We can’t wait to read your story!

If you think we are underestimating our budget, you might be right, but these prices are based on having some of the materials already in our possession.

Your budget will vary based on size of home, quality of materials used, etc.

Our desire is to show you our plan as a starting point for your plan. Creating a home “on a budget” is our goal. Is it yours?

Bottom Line: You might not think that our timeline of 6 Phases is aggressive, but it is quite aggressive for our retirement goals. We have 5 years before “retirement age”. Stick to a game plan that is aggressive for you without causing too much stress along the way. Remember, part of retirement is developing the correct mindset towards the process.

Expat Chit Chat: Frederic and Sylvie in Consejo Shores

Expat Chit-Chat is intended to give you a glimpse into the lives of Belize Expats who have already made the transition to Belize and have wisdom to share to help you make a smoother move to Belize.

This installment will dive into the lives of Frederic and Sylvie who came from France and have settled into Consejo Shores, the oldest and most established Expat seaside community in Northern Belize.

  • NAMES: FREDERIC AND SYLVIE
  • ORIGINAL LOCATION: FRANCE
  • BELIZE LOCATION: CONSEJO SHORES, COROZAL DISTRICT
  • OCCUPATION: NORTHERN BELIZE CONTRACTOR

Q: HOW DID YOU END UP IN BELIZE?

A: Before coming to Belize we were living in the Paris area in France and had a stressful and busy life.

We wanted to change for a more peaceful and less expensive life and started to look for another country to move to.

From the information we gathered, we found out that Belize was one of the best places for expatriation and we decided in 2004 to come here.

After a short stay in Ambergris Caye, we established ourselves in Consejo Shores, the best expat development on the continent at that time.

Q: What else did you enjoy about the area?

We like where we are because it is close to Chetumal in Mexico and it gives us the opportunity to do some shopping and to go to nice restaurants.

Q: Did you have any fears in moving to Belize?

A: We did not have any special fear coming to Belize.

We had already lived abroad and had travelled a lot so we were used to dealing with different cultures.

Q: What is the biggest mistake that you made along the way and how did you rectify it?

A: Our biggest mistake when we arrived here – and the one most expats do – was to listen to everybody we met, which made us make a lot of mistakes.

Our advice to new expats would be: do not listen to everything you are told, whether it comes from local people or from foreigners, but do your own investigations and experience by yourself.

Q: Did anyone help you to make the transition?

A: Nobody helped us in making the transition. We learned everything the hard way, by making our own experiences.

Q: How did your family/friends at “home” react to your move to Belize? How did you handle it?

A: Our family and friends reacted well.

Of course, it was a bit difficult for us to know that we would be far away and would not be able to see them often.

Q: What characteristics do you possess that most helped along the way? How did it help?

A:The characteristics we possess that most helped us are: being independent, smart and resourceful.

Q: What else is important for furture Expats to understand about the process?

A: Expats have to realize that they will not find here what they are used to having in their own country.

This is a country of nature, and expats should stop trying to bring their city habits and requirements.

They should also use common sense and be realistic about their expectations.

Images like this can be found in custom photographic calendars by Frederic. His passion for nature and keen macrophotography skills make his calendars a must-have for anyone who loves nature and Belize. Photos are copyrighted.
to purchase his calendars, visit http://fredericconsejo.net/cal_en.html today

Q: As a Building Contractor, what advice do you have to those looking to build in Belize?

If they plan to build, they should never start a project without a written contract.

That doesn’t mean just a list of materials, but a legal agreement that will specify the 1) scope of work and 2) the payment terms and therefore protect the 2 parties.

Q: From your perspective, how can Targetbelize.com further help the future Expats of Belize?

A: TargetBelize could help the needs of future Belize expats by promoting services that could be useful for them.

For example, one of the most important thing for expats who plan to build in this country is to find a reliable and skilled contractor who will carry out their project and protect their investment.

For more information about this topic, visit the website: www.newbuildingconcept.net.

Editor’s Note: Building in Belize is not the same as building in other established countries where building regulations, real estate standards and building options are plentiful.

Most construction in Belize is done with concrete block due to severe weather concerns, but much inland construction is done by local Mennonites using local wood.

The patented polymer process that Frederic utilizes is quite unique and addresses the insolation concerns of concrete and the pest infestation prevalent with wood homes in Belize.

On his web site, Frederic talks about quality construction and how owners expose themselves to quality problems when they:

  •  select contractors based purely on the cheapest price
  •  choose the cheapest products
  •  specify impossibly short construction project durations

You can read more about choosing quality first here.

Other building services are available from New Building Concept (NBC) such as construction monitoring and property maintenance services.

It is well worth investigating www.newbuildingconcept.net.

You can reach Frederic with your questions by email at info@newbuildingconcept.net

Watch for future posts regarding the different construction options in Belize.

Are you planning to building in Belize? Leave a comment about your search for a builder below.

Coming Soon: Chit-Chat with Belize Expats

Everyone wants good advice from trusted sources.

You have scoured the web, looking for those who can help you navigate your way to Belize. Perhaps that’s why you’ve found your way here?

And because most of the nuggets of wisdom that we’ve gathered over the years have come from others, we want you to hear it directly from them.

That’s why we are initiating a regular Q&A-type feature called “Expat Chit-Chat”.

We ask Expats from every walk of life to tell us how they did it. And of course, there is no “right path”. But there is a best path for your circumstances.

Hopefully we’ll interview an Expat expert who you can relate with.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get expert advice regarding:

  • the best path to take to Belize?
  • the trials and successes that others can share?
  • the motivation that nudged others to “make the move”?
  • the pitfalls that you should avoid?
  • the steps you need to take to successfully settle in?
  • the type of life you can expect once you get to Belize?
  • the mistakes that were painful, but well worth making?

We plan to offer wisdom from every type of Expat, such as:

  • those whose plan was to retire and never work another day in their lives
  • those who have limited resources and need a creative route to exist in Belize
  • those who come from every walk of life and those who needed to recreate themselves
  • those who found a need in Belize and used entrepreneurial skill to meet that need

The Types of Expats We Will Profile

So you’ll meet the local Pastor who works with other Expats to settle in successfully.

You’ll understand the challenges that a Belize land developer overcame to make his development a reality and how he empowered the locals to give his development a unique mayan emphasis.

You’ll grasp the importance of finding a real estate pro who successfully took the steps to transfer the expertise from the U.S. market to the totally different Belizean market.

You’ll see how hospitality plays a role in the every day life of someone who provides short-term and long-term rental properties in Northern Belize.

All of these stories paint a picture of life in Belize for Expats. Each are meant to inspire you, and encourage you to ask all the right questions.

And speaking of asking the right questions, you’ll be given all the contact information for many of these Expats along the way so that you can target those who can help YOU the most.

And if you already know a Belize Expat with wise advice, please pass along their information!

Don’t be afraid to comment along the way and share your struggles and burning questions.

In fact, We would love for you to be the subject of a future “Expat Chit-Chat” segment one day.  Don’t sell yourself short.