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.

Resources You Should Tap Into Long Before Retirement

You’re staring at retirement in the not-to-distant future.

You know you aren’t as prepared as you want to be.

It’s time to fill your noggin with as much good information as possible that will make retirement a breeze.

Being one who loves to research, I decided to start my quest about 6 years ago. The journey is still in progress.

But along the way, I have discovered much about myself and have learned a lot. In fact, the themes that keep resurfacing have helped me to set some goals, make needed changes, and hopefully, take me closer to a more secure retirement.

Let me share some of the resources that I have made a regular part of my retirement education. If these help half as much as they have helped me, the investment would be well worth it.

INTERNATIONAL LIVING MAGAZINE: HELPING YOU TO “Live Better for Less, Overseas”

International Living has been read front-to-back for the past 5 years on a monthly basis. The price is well worth the subscription cost.

International Living has been published since 1979 and provides a very positive spin on moving overseas.

The magazine has regular departments, feature articles about the best places to retire and about those who have successfully retired overseas.

Much of its emphasis is placed on retiring on a budget and how to balance a retirement lifestyle with an overseas income.

The staff at International Living is also busy hosting overseas conventions and publishing other niche retirement publications such as Incomes Abroad which offers tips on starting a business overseas, and Real Estate Trend Alert offering timely real estate opportunities in advantageous overseas locations.

I have personally benefited from recorded messages conventions regarding Income opportunities and ideas. Expertise on online businesses that you can begin now with a goal of continuing with it once moving overseas has been particularly helpful to me. This blog is my attempt to do just that before our move to Belize.

Particularly helpful is the yearly summary of the best places to retire overseas. Locations are graded based on weather, income potential, healthcare, entertainment opportunities and other categories important to future expats.

You’ll locate usable information about Belize here also. You can get a free report about Belize at https://internationalliving.com/countries/belize/

DOUG CASEY: THE INTERNATIONAL MAN

Doug Casey is a character. He’s Flamboyant. He’s Thought-provoking. He’s the kind of guy you either love or hate.

I reside on the “love” side of that street. Here’s why:

Doug has spent the past 5 decades teaching anyone who will listen how to be a “Crisis Investor”, how to “Internationalize” and most recently, how to prepare for what he sees as a coming worldwide “financial hurricane” that will wipe out the retirement savings of anyone who doesn’t prepare now.

He has made his fortune by investing in areas of the world that find themselves in crisis. It’s basically a matter of buying low and selling high, according to Casey, but most people shy away from crisis investing because of fear.

Politically, Casey is a libertarian. He has a good handle on the plight of most countries. His years of experience in crisis investing, living overseas and living through many financial booms and busts makes him a compelling author and speaker.

Doug Casey believes that “Going Global” will help you to diversify your risks only makes sense. He believes that staying put in the country of your birth is not necessarily a smart thing to do especially if your country has heavy taxation and is in debt.

Whether you agree with him or not doesn’t matter. Doug Casey has an opinion about the best places to live, the best places to put your money and how to best protect yourself when the financial hurricane hits.

He believes that the crisis in 2007-2008 was simply the leading edge of the hurricane and that the world has been in the “eye” of the hurricane since then. But according to Casey, the trailing edge of the hurricane is coming and will catch most people off-guard with a global financial crisis.

Casey’s plan is to help those who lost much of their savings in 2008-2009 to prepare in four specific way to weather the coming storm.

He has investment newsletters, daily blog posts, online conferences and other subscription services well worth investigating.

SIMON BLACK: THE SOVEREIGN MAN

Doug Casey may be provocative, but to me, Simon Black is the best of the bunch.

Simon has a podcast, a website, a paid “Sovereign Man” subscription service and more at https://www.sovereignman.com

Simon is low-key, but he makes a lot of sense. He offers much of the same advice that Doug Casey offers, but he presents it in a very straight-forward manner.

He tells his audience that they need to create a Plan B for their entire life because it may help you in a crisis and it will also help you “no matter what!”.

He is proponent for getting a second passport. It will help if you need to travel anywhere and it will be even better if you need it in a crisis.

He says that you should hold some of your cash overseas. It will help in a U.S. crisis, but it will also help protect you in any litigation.

His entire Plan B just makes sense. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.

I receive his daily email, listen to his informative podcast on iTunes and am considering his Sovereign Man, one-on-one hand on approach to helping you achieve a Plan B that will be tailor made just for you.

Know that I don’t receive any compensation from any of these resources. They have helped me and I think they could help you.

Let me know about some of the resources that have helped you in the comments below.

 

 

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.