Buying Property in Antigua - A Beginner's Guide
Antigua, like any developing country, presents its own unique challenges to the would-be property buyer. If you know the buying procedure you are halfway to your dream Antiguan property, but having the right agency behind you will ensure that your dreams become a reality and your property remains the paradise you always wanted.
Overall the process for buying a property in Antigua is very similar to purchasing a property in the UK or USA but there are some significant differences.
Buying a house in Antigua should be an enjoyable experience, Luxury Locations can assist with every aspect of your property purchase from beginning to end. Ideally if you are interested in viewing property it is ideal if you inform us of your approximate budget and the things that you are looking for in your dream Caribbean property. If you have a chance, have a look through our listings to give you an idea of what is available and what you can expect from your budget, however if you do not see your perfect property do not worry we have many listings and you might not immediately know a spectacular property from the photos we have, we also have a very large number of unlisted properties so always ask.
Currency Used - One thing you should note when looking at property for sale in Antigua, as well as rental properties, in almost every case the price listed will be in United States dollars, (US$) and not Eastern Caribbean dollars, (EC$). This is generally for the ease of understanding of value which most can relate to easily without having to grab a calculator. Almost all other prices you will see in Antigua from cars to chicken wings will be listed in EC$ which has a fixed exchange rate of EC$2.7 = US$1.
Property viewings - The earlier you let us know when you are visiting Antigua the better so that we can set up property viewings. It is worth noting that many of the properties are used as rental properties so do require advanced notice to view.
Buying process - Once you have made a decision, it is then time for your offer, the market in Antigua is currently favoured for buyers hence many homeowners will accept a discounted offer of approximatly 3% and sometimes as much as 10%. You will make your offer to us, as your agent, and we pass that on to the owner of the property for consideration. In general in Antigua there is only one agent who markets and shows the property, the actual conveyancing of the real estate or property is not undertaken by the real estate agent.
If the offer is accepted by the property vendor, it is common practice to pay a reservation deposit of around 1% of the property price to secure the property and have it taken off the market until the final sales contract is completed and signed. If a deposit is taken the reservation agreement is normally quite short and does not include all the terms of the purchase.
Once the reservation agreement is paid and signed the purchaser and vendor will engage their lawyers who will work to represent legal position and agree the property sales contract. Most lawyers will charge a percentage fee based on the property price equivelent to around 1% - 1.5% of the property price. Typically you will be required to pay 50% of the legal fee for the lawyer to commence the sales contract vetting and due diligence on the property.
NCL or CIP- At that point, there are two routes that will be taken by your legal advisor, an appplication for Citizenship by Investment, (CIP), or an application for a Non Citizens Land Holding Licence, (NCHL or NCL). There are advantages of both ownership routes, we can provide information so that you can decide which is the best approach considering your circumstances and your chosen property.
In simple terms both of these approaches allow a non-national of Antigua to own property and reside in Antigua.
Citizenship by Investment / CIP -
Rights of a Citizen - This approach gives more rights to an individual as the recipient will become a passport holding citizen of Antigua providing them with all the rights of a citizen.
Visa free travel - The passport is partiularily beneficial for those individuals who originate from a country which does not have a passport that allows visa free access to many nations, eg Russia or some Middle Eastern nations. The Antigua & Barbuda passport allows visa free travel to 138 countries, (at time of writting). For clients originating from North America or Europe this visa free aspect is not so significant as passports from those nations allow a greater number of destinations to be travelled to visa free.
Wealth planning benefits - For some individuals having a second passport can be beneficial for tax and wealth planning, these aspects will depend on each individual and their particular circumstances.
Costs of CIP for real estate purchase - The main cost of CIP is the processing fee of US$50k and a due diligence fee of US$7500 each for the principle and spouse, dependants are US$4000 for those aged 18+ and US$2000 for those under 18. Additionally all CIP applications must go thorugh a CIP agent, not direct to the government, these fees are dependant on the individual agent used, fees will vary from around US$5000 up per person. (a full list of A&B governmnet costs can be found at https://cip.gov.ag/schedule-of-fees/).
- The process for applying for Citizenship is more indepth than that for NCL, a police report, medical and residential history is required.
- Typically takes between 4 - 9 months.
- Only available for certain properties in approved developments. Property must be a new build.
Non Citizens Land Holding Licence, NCL or NCHL -
Advantages of NCL -
Any property be it new or a resale can be purchased with an NCL. The vast majority of property held by non Antiguan nationals is held by NCL as opposed to by CIP applicants.
The process of applicaiton is very easy and the legal / processing fees will be included in your conveyancing fee so there are no addional fees to the lawyer or CIP processing agent.
Costs of NCL purchase - The NCL will be charged at a rate of 5% of the real estate value on the sales contract. As a result for any property under US$1m it will be more cost efficient to purchase with an NCL as opposed to CIP.
- Not the same rights as a citizen of Antigua. ie you would require a work permit to work, no voting rights.
- For properties over US$1.5m the NCL can become more costly than CIP as the NCL is calculated as a percentage of the real estate value as opposed to a fixed fee as it is with CIP.
Your legal representative is probably best suited to advise you on which approach you should take and will be able to guide you depending on your individual circumstances.
Signing and Exchage of Sales Contracts - Upon deciding which ownership route to take, based on your circumstances, the sales contract will be negotiated and agreed to reflect the same, signed by both parties and a deposit paid.
The most common scenario is that the property vendors lawyer will provide the sales contract to the purchasers lawyer for vetting and amendments if required. Once finalised the contract will be signed by both parties. It is not a legal requirement that you must be in Antigua to sign the sales contract, however if you are away from Antigua when signing you will most likely need to have your signature notarised, depending on your location that might cost anywhere from US$25 - US$250.
On exchange of the signed contracts a deposit will be required from the property purchaser, in almost all transactions the deposit is 10% of the total property price, however this can change if building works are required to be mobilsed during the purchase period. The deposit will be held by one of the lawyers as a stakeholder in escrow in preparation for the completion or closing of the sale.
Costs of Purchase - For the purchaser the costs of purchase are typically; 2.5% stamp duty / transfer tax, 5% NCL and 1% legal fees totalling approximatly 8.5% - 9.5% of the property price. These costs may be reduced if you purchase a new property in a development with tax concessions. For CIP the costs will be similar but the CIP costs will be calculated on fixed fees rather than a percentage of the property price.
Waiting & Completion - After signing the sales contract and paying the deposit the waiting game begins, for most sales this time period will be anywhere from three months to seven months. At some point your lawyer will inform you that your NCL or CIP is granted and you are ready to complete, a date will be fixed and the two lawyers will arrange the completion or closing of the sale. Once again, neither purchaser nor vendor have to be present in Antigua, and your lawyer can complete without you being present. Luxury Locations, as your agent, can also assist at this stage, collecting keys and checking your new property for you, if required we can also undertake the managment of your new property so as to maintain it and also provide rental income if required.
Property Management - Luxury Locations' sister company Villa Managment offers a full service of property management that can be initiated on completion of your purchase seamlessly. Please see our property management page for further details of our management services.
Luxury Locations Real Estate top tips for the would-be property buyer in Antigua:
- Don't lose your head because you are in the Caribbean. The legal system in Antigua works in the same way as the UK legal system, conveyancing is much the same as the UK system.
- Be patient, the conveyancing process can be frustrating and might appear slow however be patient and do not rush.
- Choose a lawyer you are comfortable with and are happy to proceed with, Luxury Locations can recommend a number of lawyers to choose from.
- Deposits should only be held by reputable lawyers in escrow accounts under Antiguan law - if not, your money is not protected.
- Never choose the same lawyer as the seller. It may save you money, but in the long run you will want someone who is paid by you to protect your interests.
- Ensure there is a full inventory of the property prior to contract; ensure that photos are included as proof of what was agreed. Luxury Locations can assist you with this.
- Ensure that the property has insurance for the full sale value up to the completion date.
- If you are considering a new build property, ensure you employ a government-certified engineer to ensure that the build at each stage is correctly constructed to the plans prior to releasing any money.
- If you are looking for an Antigua investment property which you wish to let, ensure you consult a specialist property management agent to get the real picture on what your actual income might be. Guaranteed rental returns often do not show the real long term picture.
- Lastly be sensible, transfering large sums of money to a thrid party should be undertaken with care, do not trust emailed details, call and double or triple check the payment details with your lawyer or agent before making any payments.
There are a number of real estate agencies in Antigua but few that can offer the service and professionalism you deserve. Working with the right agency ensures that you only work with those who have extensive experience in this niche market.