You hear about it a lot; a foreigner comes to a exotic land wants to open a bar on the beach and live the rest of his life in the sun – Some make it… some do not. You just have to look on various forums and will find people asking questions about moving to Dominican Republic without ever having been here – or worse having been here on a 2-week all-inclusive holiday and thinking life is like that here 24/7. They say the only way to leave the Dominican Republic with a $1million is to come here with $2million! Now unfortunately I do not have that luxury so I have to start from the bottom up.
Here is my story… So here is me with Katherine my wife living in the Dominican Republic – Katherine was born here and has lived here her whole life so the decision was where do we want to live? Here? The United Kingdom? Or somewhere totally different? Of course the choice was here, I could not imagine going back the UK now and Katherine is not keen on living there although she is desperate to visit which hopefully will be soon.
So what’s the first step when moving to a new country? Start making money… ok so me with my very poor Spanish skills went looking for an English speaking job. It sounded like mission impossible at first but to my surprise I found one straight away. Ok not a CEO of a company but a job in a call centre will do me while we decide what we are going to do with our lives. The call centre was quite a distance from where we were living with Katherine’s mum so I decided to use some of the last of my savings to buy a car. Something which I quickly found out was not cheap – to buy or run! I wanted something big as the drivers are pretty crazy over here so managed to find a Mitsubishi Pajero TD. I did take public cars for a while to work but if I was to allow myself one luxury living here the car was it – a lot more convenient than taking 3 public cars each way to work every day.
Now working in a call centre is actually almost four times the minimum wage over here which sounds good, but it’s not… So when my gas bill was half of my wage the first month I thought it might not have been the cleverest move to buy a big car, but hey you live and you learn (sometimes not – remember this quote later on). It was actually quite good fun working there and I met some cool people; one, Jose, who turned out to be my best friend here and has been so much help in my new venture.
I didn’t last that long working at the call centre as it was not something I wanted to do long term, so myself and Katherine decided to go back to the United States to work for the summer to top up the funds as we had our wedding to pay for at Christmas.
Whilst in the states we were constantly trying to think of business ideas that would work over here. I look back now and laugh at some of the ideas we had and I am not afraid to share them (well some of them). We thought why not open a beauty salon and liquor store. These are two very popular businesses in the Dominican Republic. So the thinking was that if Dominicans are opening them they must make money right? No… well… yes, of course they make money but the problem is there are so many of them around. Even if we were successful I am not sure it would be enough of an income to make the investment worthwhile. I am sure there are some millionaires out there that have made their money from these businesses here that would disagree with me but it was just my perception.
The biggest thing that killed that idea was the rent… people that think the Dominican Republic is cheap just because you can get a cheap beer are wrong. This is probably of the more expensive countries I have been to on my travels. If you want a half decent location, you are looking at very high rent.
So after looking for a couple of months at places to rent we decided that the salon and liquor store idea was not for us. Rent really can be crazy prices – if you want a good location with some room you can be looking at $2000 + a month. We visited a few other ideas but nothing really came to fruition – yes the standard beach bar did even cross my mind! Until one day we were walking around the Colonial Zone and saw a colonial building for sale and it got us thinking. Now we had an idea what we wanted so we started looking for properties that suited to our needs. Now property is not cheap in the Colonial Zone but there were some places in our price range so we spent a couple of months walking around and found a place that we really liked and was in budget.
It was the biggest property we had seen for the money – it was just under 350sqm which was not a bad size plot in the Colonial Zone. A lot of the properties have either been split into two over the years or turned into apartments so it was a good find.
Now in Dominican Republic not many people have mortgages, most Dominicans either pay cash, or pay off a loan as quick as they can on a property – I found out why… to borrow Dominican Pesos is at an 18% interest rate, yes 18%…. I could not believe it. You can borrow dollars around 8% but even then in my eyes it’s still too high. I am a firm believer in buying over renting.
I can say from experience that it is tough trying to buy a house in the Dominican Republic – you need a lot of patience. The problem is Dominicans will put a property up for sale almost twice its actual value. People say it’s a buyers’ market but I have to disagree. A lot of the owners are in no rush to sell, it’s like waiting to win the lottery for them… if someone comes along and pays them what they are asking that’s great – if not they just seem happy to wait. It’s almost like property has three values here:
1: The government appraised value – which is miles below market value, they don’t really move with the times.
2: The market value – what it is actually worth in today’s market.
3: The owner’s valuation – which is the most interesting… No, just because five generations of your family lived there does not mean its worth $1million and no I’m not stupid.
Now back to the first house we liked, just after our wedding we put an offer in and it was accepted. We paid a deposit and the owner rented us the property until the completion of the deal. It was such a great feeling to move into our first place together – along with one of our wedding presents; Linda. Linda is a parrot – I have always wanted a parrot and one of Katherine’s aunties had two so very kindly gave us her. She is crazy and I love her to bits and we have been through a lot together already.
One of the first days we got her we were sitting in our house with the balcony door open and she was gone! Straight out the window! I was gutted, there was no trace to be seen. However, one morning (after sulking for a couple of days) I heard squawking across the street… woop woop it was her! Only problem was she was up a tree in someone’s back garden. Luckily this tree was not that big. So there I go at 8am in the morning knocking on doors trying to find which property has the garden with the tree.
Now Linda was born in captivity so she has not got the skills to live in the wild. So she is up this tree, starving and making one hell of a noise. I look back and laugh as the owner of the house opened their door and saw me, speaking one word Spanish trying to explain that my parrot is in their tree. So there I am with a big stick trying to get Linda out of the tree when something scares her and she takes flight again… and out of all the trees in the Colonial Zone (which there isn’t that many) she chooses the biggest one around. At this point I thought I lost her for good as I couldn’t even see her and she flew right to the top.
Later that day my friend Jose came around and I filled him in on the story. He is very proactive and told me to get off my ass and climb that tree, I thought he was joking at first… So back down we go knocking on doors trying to find the owner of the property with this big tree in. The owner didn’t really want to let us in but Jose has a way with words and before we knew it we were in the back garden. Now this was a big tree and I am not the biggest fan of heights but you gotta do what you gotta do! So up at the top of this tree that was swaying quite a lot I see Linda. Squawking away. Now this was the first few days of having her so she was not that tame and I had only managed once previously to get her on my hand. It took about 5 minutes of her biting me but she eventually grabbed hold of my T shirt and clung on whilst I climbed down – battered, bruised and bleeding. It was all worth it however. I have had Linda for about 10 months now and she is a part of the family.
So there we go, living in what we thought to soon to be our house in the Colonial Zone. The completion date was a couple of weeks away and all looked good. However, things soon turned bad. It turned out that the owner had been trying to sell it to another party at the same time even though we had signed a contract and given her a deposit. I cannot go into it all on this blog but even though we had a contract and completion date we had to back out of the sale. We were very lucky and managed to get our deposit back, even if it was a few months later.
Now if anyone reads this I have one piece of advice… NEVER pay a deposit for a property here. If it means you lose the house it doesn’t matter – only exchange money when you have the title in your hand, it would have saved us a very stressful few months wondering if we were going to get our deposit back. Speaking about titles, it is imperative that you get the title checked out by a responsible lawyer, I forgot the statistic but apparently the Dominican Republic has twice as many titles going around then there is actually land. So always do you research, we are lucky that Katherine’s dad is a lawyer which has come in very handy.