ESSENTIAL ADVICE FOR POTENTIAL PURCHASERS AND VENDORS OF PROPERTY 

Richard Watson & Co, Antigua
General Information
Although the country is called Antigua & Barbuda, for historic reasons, it is only possible to buy land and property in Antigua.  Barbuda, Antigua's sister island, is off limits to all but those who are born on the island.

Buying and selling in Antigua is a combination of the U.K.system and the U.S. system with a little local colour thrown in for good measure.  There are no restrictions on foreign nationals buying property in Antigua although non-nationals are obliged to obtain a Non-citizens Landholders Licence unless purchasing through the Citizens Investment Programme.

All prices are in U.S. dollars and properties are available on the island from under US$200,000 to over US$20 million in a wide range of locations.  As with most property purchasing, location is everything and prices will vary according to whether or not the there is a sea view and a number of other factors.
Selling Property in Antigua
Selling a villa, apartment, land or a business in Antigua is a major enterprise and it is most important that you receive the correct advice.  There are no rules and regulations governing estate agents practising in Antigua and vendors should satisfy themselves that they are receiving accurate information. 

The world over, vendors are misled into signing long term agreements.  There is no necessity in Antigua to sign an agency agreement although it is good practise so that both you and the agent know where you stand.  If you do enter into an agreement, you should be able to exit from it with a short period of notice.  Richard Watson & Company is the only estate agent in Antigua governed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and we will only ask you to sign an agreement which requires 14 days notice for you to terminate.

Every vendor wants the highest price possible for their property but do not be mislead by agents who suggest unrealistically high values.  It will not help to sell your property which will probably remain on the market for a very long time, often achieving, in the end, less than it might have done if it had been correctly priced originally.

When thinking of selling, seek good, honest, professional advice and be realistic.  Antigua is an island of dreams but not when it comes to property prices.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is the world’s leading regulatory body for estate agents with a strict Code of Conduct and a high standard of professional ethics which is why we proudly say Richard Watson & Company is Antigua’s most professional estate agent.

Buying Property in Antigua
The term 'Buyer Beware' is as applicable in Antigua as it is anywhere else in the world when it comes to buying property.  It is up to you, the purchaser, to ensure what you are buying has proper legal title and that you comply with all legal requirements and, to that end, you need a competent lawyer.  Ask for recommendations.  Some lawyers are better than others.

Also, try to ensure you are paying the right price for the property.  Make comparisons with other properties for sale and even ask advice from estate agents although some may wish to discourage you from purchasing in order to sell you one of their properties.

Having decided on your purchase you will be required to sign a conditional contract and pay a 10% deposit.  Make sure you take advice before signing.  The contract will be conditional on one or more factors and will be time limited with extension clauses.  The most usual condition for overseas buyers will be the Non-citizens Landholding Licence (see below).  This usually takes 3 to 4 months to obtain.  There could be other conditions such as mortgage or survey.  If you are not resident in Antigua and do not have an income in the country, obtaining a mortgage is almost impossible.  You will need to raise funds elsewhere.  These days, vendors are required to provide a boundary survey which is less than 10 years old. Access to information on the property is easily available at the Land Registry and Survey & Mapping Department for the payment of a small fee.

When paying the deposit, ensure it will be held in a protected escrow account.  If any of the conditions of the contract are not fulfilled or the time limit expires, the deposit is returnable in full.  However, if you fail to complete for any other reason, then you will lose your deposit.  If the vendor fails to complete, you have a choice, the return of your deposit or suing for specific performance - a long and costly procedure and not recommended.

If you are a non-citizen and you are buying land you need to be aware that construction must be started within 2 years (or the time specified on your Non-citizens Landholding Licence) otherwise you might be charged Undeveloped Land Tax.  Also, if you sell without developing and make a profit you could be charged Land Appreciation Tax.  Beware, these two taxes can accumulate as they are designed to discourage speculation. Capital Gains Tax is not normally applicable to property sales in Antigua.

So long as you are sensible, buying in Antigua is actually easier than in most other countries but be prepared for a long wait as the Caribbean is well know for its slow pace of life.
Costs and Procedures

The cost of a Non-citizens Landholders Licence is 5% of the value of the property.  For vacant land, building must be started in compliance with the non-citizen’s license terms which usually means 2 years. Most property is fee simple or freehold. Leaseholds are rare and usually held by the Crown

Government transfer fees are currently 2.5% for the buyer and 7.5% for the seller. Property taxes/rates are based on rental value and are low.  Legal costs for a transfer are 1% to 2% depending on the value of the transaction. There is no title insurance. Properties are registered at the Land Registry which is well organised. Copies of Land Certificates can be obtained for a small fee.  Always obtain a Cadastral Survey of the land/property from the Survey Office and have a land surveyor check the dimensions.  This is crucial as the boundaries are sometimes not where they appear to be from the fences. When selling a property, the vendor has to supply a survey of the land which is registered with the Survey & Mapping Department and is less than ten years old.

Under Section 11(1)(g) of the Money Laundering (Prevention) Act, Cap. 284A, amended by section 7 of the Money Laundering (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2018 - DIRECTIVE (Real Property Business) No. 1 of 2020 Issued: 2 January 2020, estate agents are required to carry out due diligence checks on the purchases and sales of property.  It is illegal to sell property that is the proceeds of crime and it is illegal to purchase property with funds or other consideration that are the proceeds of crime; such transactions constitute money laundering.  Estate agents have a legal obligation to verify the source of funds when engaging in property transactions.

Estate agent commissions are 4% to 6% on sale of both residential and commercial property and free if you are purchasing unless you employ an agent to search for you.  Insurance coverage is approx. 2% of insured risk with a deductible of 2%. Insurance includes earthquakes and named storms although limited cover is also available.
 

Building Your Own Home
There is plenty of land for sale in Antigua and prices will vary according to size, location and view, a sea view in particular.

Building in Antigua is easy as all land, in effect, has outline planning permission requiring only an application for detailed consent (rules in the National Parks are stricter - see below).  So long as one follows a few simple rules, planning permission usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

Most properties are two storey, the colloquial theory being that no house should be taller than a palm tree.  More rigid are distances from the boundaries.  No part of the structure should be closer than 20 feet from a road (there are exceptions) and no part of the structure should be closer than 10 feet from the side or back boundaries.

In the National Parks a further consent is required from the National Parks Authority and not only does it take more time than the standard consent, there are additional restrictions.  It is best to employ an architect, especially if building in the National Park.

All properties are obliged to have a form of water storage, usually an underground cistern and the only drainage is by septic tank.

Building costs for a concrete house in Antigua are from US$125 per square foot for a very basic finish but it is unlikely you will build that cheaply as most people like to add a bit of quality.  Fixed price contracts are available as is cost plus but cost plus needs to carefully monitored.  Richard Watson trained as a quantity surveyor and is well experienced in managing construction projects.  Frequently, a little extra cost is a saving in the long run.  Timber houses are not ideal due to termites and hurricanes and, generally, are not much cheaper.

Allow a year to 18 months for construction dependent upon size.  Most products are available in Antigua but you may get better quality importing from the U.K. or Europe.

The advantage to constructing your own home is that you get what you want and it will probably be a little cheaper than buying something already built.
 Citizen Investment Programme

The citizenship-by-investment program requires a person to make a significant economic contribution to the country. In exchange, and subject to a stringent application procedure, including thorough background checks, the applicants and their families are granted citizenship.

To qualify for citizenship, the person must be over 18 years of age, meet the application requirements and select one of the following three options available:

* an investment of at least US$400,000 plus processing fees of US$50,000 for up to 4 persons and US$15,000 per person for 5 persons or more.  The investment must be into one of the approved real estate projects; such investments cannot be disposed of within a five year period or before the proposed development in which the investment has been made has been substantially completed

* a contribution to the National Development Fund (NDF) of a minimum non-refundable amount of US$100,000 (for a single applicant) plus fees.

* an investment of a minimum of US$1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor or a joint investment involving at least 2 persons in an eligible business totalling at least US$5,000,000 and each of those persons individually invests at least US$400,000

Click here to enter the government CIP website

An alternative is to wait seven years having continuously lived in Antigua & Barbuda and you can apply for citizenship.  Residency is available but each individual needs to check with the Department of Immigration to see if their situation complies with the regulations.

Banking
Bank financing is available to citizens and those with an income in Antigua but interest rates are high by US or European standards and 30% or more cash deposit will be required.  If you are looking to buy a holiday home in Antigua, consider raising a mortgage on your main residence in the country where you live.   It is convenient to have a bank account in Antigua but the banking laws are very restrictive and highly regulated to avoid money laundering.  Many banks are Canadian owned and are controlled by Canada's strict banking laws as well as those of Antigua & Barbuda. As agents, we can introduce you to reputable banks.  In addition to cheque clearing and savings banks, Antigua has a well regulated offshore banking system.
Services

Most houses are serviced by a septic tank, a legal requirement,  fresh water storage such as cisterns are also required by law. Government electricity and water are usually connected or available nearby as are cable TV, landline telephone and broadband.  Although the electricity supply is generally reasonably good, a standby generator is useful particularly at the time of severe storms which can damage the electricity supply infrastructure. Cellular telephone coverage is island wide.  More remote properties may be accessed by little more than a dirt track but most houses have access to adequate roads.  Although all property is supposed to have access to the main highway, check that the road outside a property is part of the public road network and not someone's private drive  


Rental Property

Short term or holiday rents range from under US$100 per night for a basic apartment to a lush fully staffed villa at several thousand US$ per night and there are many fine villas which can be a great alternative to staying in hotels.  Most of these rental villas have swimming pools and close proximity to one of Antigua's great beaches. Villa rental also provides an opportunity for owners to get an income out of their second homes while they are not using them. Due to the imposition of Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax on short term rentals, we no longer offer a short term rental service.

There are also many long term rental properties available and, dependent upon size and condition, can be had for less than US$500 per month.  A long term rental can be a serious alternative to purchasing property as the landlord is responsible for the upkeep and there are no risk of changing property values.

Rental commissions are 10% for long term rentals to include Tenancy Agreement and Inventory. If property management is required, the fee in addition to the commission, is US$250 per month to include a monthly inspection. Any further inspections, supervision of works, appointment of contractors or attending to other matters are charged at US$50 per hour including travelling time. For non-residents, Withholding Taxes are 12.5% of the rental income are applicable.

For management of the property without a tenant, our fee is US$50 per hour subject to a minimum fee of US$125 per visit. Also, where we are not collecting rent, we require a deposit of US$1,000 from which we can draw our fees.

Introductions of Tenants to Landlords including the preparation of an Inventory and Tenancy Agreement is 10% of the total rent or the annual rent whichever is the lesser subject to a minimum fee of US$1,000.

For commercial properties where there is no premium, the commission is 10% of the annual rental increasing to 20% if property management is required.

Time-share is not particularly common in Antigua but there are several older developments which were constructed when time-share was very popular and they still have properties which occasionally come available.  If this is which appeals, it is worth checking the time-share websites.  A few estate agents may have some time-share offerings.


For Antigua and Caribbean property for sale contact
Richard Watson & Company, Antigua

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