A Belize Home for $18,000

Every year, on November 15th, I celebrate another anniversary of moving to Belize. Last year was my sixth, and was different for a very special reason: It was in my very own, first-ever, newly-built permanent home.

As exciting as this may be, it was hard-won and definitely not the process I had visualized in my dreams. There were snags and glitches and heart-stopping moments. There was very little time to think, as you’ll see, and working for income would have been impossible in the process.

Just think: A couple of years ago, I sat down and began sketching out floor plans on simple graph paper with a pencil and ruler. With essentially no spatial skills, I knew only that I needed two things: A huge veranda and a spacious kitchen.

The rest didn’t matter because those would be the two places I would spend most of my time.

I dilly-dallied around, though. And although I hadn’t come up with a solid final plan, I had decided the dimensions and had a local guy whom I’d hired to do odd jobs, set up the four concrete footings I would need to build on.

He hired a couple of guys to help with the hard work of digging the holes and mixing cement, and a couple of others came and volunteered their expertise. In one day—and for about $200—the 12 footings were built.

Then I went back to lollygagging around. Doing a little here and a little there. Bought some 8×8 Emery posts for my beams ($400). Had a friend build the concrete post for the electrical service entrance ($175). Got the hole dug for the septic tank ($100). Bought metal poles for my (eventual) fence ($125).

But, as I went through my days in my rental house, enjoying my life and friends in Belize, the worst thing happened: I was laid off from my job.

Completely caught off guard, I had no idea what I would do. I could go back to freelancing, but I had been a direct employee for so long that my freelance portfolio was woefully outdated.

Thankfully, I was offered a severance package from my former employer and that is what built my house.

At the same time this happened, a family that I had come to know and love as my own extended family, experienced their own crisis and needed to build their own house, immediately.

The mom, Abigail, is a traditional Belizean woman who stays home with the wonderful kids and generally manages the house. The dad, Elroy, is a talented young craftsman who has spent his whole adult life building things.

We put our heads (and resources) together and got it done.

In the U.S., we say, “Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”

As Belizeans say it: “Hand wash hand.”

So, since I had more time than they had, I began ordering materials to be delivered to my rental, so Elroy could begin working on his young family’s home. By ordering our materials together, we got a discount and, since I could use my severance, they could pay me back when they were able.

I ordered 37 wood louvre windows at the same time I ordered two sets of doors. I ordered from another district because the price was wholesale, so I got them at $17.50 each. Another friend delivered them to my house for free.

Once the basics of their house were done (in just four days!), Elroy came to start on my house.

Day 1: Put beams on footings and secure with bolts.

Day 2: Floor joists.

Day 3: Framing.

Day 4: Roof.

Day 5: Siding (sheet metal or, as they call it here, zinc).

Day 6: Windows.

And, voila!

In just six hair-raising, hot, sticky days, and with the labor of only three men, my 39×39, one-bedroom home was built, complete with a custom roof.

My Belize home. ©Cristina Johnson.

I’m not saying it’s the ideal way to accomplish it. It takes time to get to know people. It takes time for people to get to know you. And not everyone is kind. Yet, not everyone is cruel. It took many years and a lot of giving, learning, and mutual respect to build my local friendships.

Due to my financial limitations, I had to do post-and-beam construction with a minimalist approach. But my hardwood floors are stunningly beautiful (and the envy of every visitor), and my one splurge—two sets of gorgeous French doors leading onto my veranda—are what makes my beautiful home one-of-a-kind.

And as much as I love the life and cultures of Belize, I simply haven’t adapted to taking cold showers, so I splurged on a “suicide shower” (it has an electrical element in it that heats the water as it goes through the showerhead). I also insisted that even if I only have six outlets and three lights, they are to be the best quality.

The total cost—after I’d done the preliminary stuff like the electrical entrance, footings, and septic—was around $13,000. The cost of my property—which was owner-financed—was $5,000.

So if you can imagine, living in a home that you designed yourself and watching it go up and come to life in less than a week, for $18,000, you can imagine the possibilities in this beautiful place I call home now.

The weather in Belize is commonly known as tropical, but the month of November is when it starts to cool. When nights sometimes dip to the 60s F, and one might dig a light blanket out from the shelf in the closet.

But last November, I happily snuggled into bed with my light blanket, clearly hearing the sounds of nature around me, and in utter disbelief that this was the first time in my life falling asleep in my very own home.

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