Tips for Selecting Your Dream Vacation Home

By: Boris Mannsfeld

Palm trees. Gentle breezes. Secluded sandy beaches. The tantalizing image of living in a tropical paradise makes you want to call the movers right now. Resist the impulse!

As with all major investment and lifestyle decisions, take time to evaluate whether it's the best choice for you. The great thing is this -- part of your evaluation includes play. To make a good decision, you need to experience the location of your dream vacation home firsthand.

I'm going to use Belize as an example of a country you might choose for your vacation home because of my familiarity with it. But these same principals can be used for choosing a vacation home in the mountains, major city or in a desert location like Arizona.

These four and a half steps will help you decide whether it meets your lifestyle:

1. Explore Belize from Afar

Become an avid armchair traveler. A great place to start is on the Internet. Dozens of email newsletters, websites and blogs regularly provide helpful, detailed information.

You can read today's news online, as told by Belizean newspapers. You can get the current weather forecast, both for the shore and inland. And you can explore the country via online maps.

Round out your armchair travels with guidebooks and travel DVDs. And talk to people who have spent time in Belize. Find out what they liked and whether they'd go back.

2. See Belize Through the Eyes of a Tourist

Taking a vacation helps you get a taste of the culture, geography, climate, economy and politics. Consider an excursion that gives you an overview of Belize. Explore the Mayan ruins. Kayak through caves. Go bird watching in the jungle. Snorkel and dive among the coral reefs. Or, if you already know the type of area you prefer, such as the coast, create a travel itinerary that focuses on that area.

Do you like what you see? Are you enjoying the experience? If so, go to step 3.

3. Enjoy an extended stay in Belize.

An extended stay of at least a month gives you the opportunity to experience the rhythm of daily life. While there, think of yourself as a resident. Venture beyond the tourist attractions and gated communities.

Buy groceries, cook meals at home and get to know your neighbors. Read the local papers. Listen to what people are talking about on the streets, in the stores and at the library. Attend a church service, public meeting or festival.

Start visiting master planned communities and other real estate options for your vacation home. Be sure to find out the legal requirements for property ownership and which residency regulations you qualify under. For example, Belize offers an attractive retiree incentive program that permits U.S., Canadian and United Kingdom citizens to establish official residency in Belize -- and free of most Belize taxes.

If time permits, have extended stays in Belize during different seasons and at different locations. I have a friend whose parents spent several winters near Bonita Springs, Fla., in a rented apartment before they ended up buying a villa in a new development. From their time there they were able to decide on what kind of home they wanted, what activities their lifestyle would revolve around, and where they wanted to be located in that area.

During your visits, ask yourself these questions. What do I love about being here? What bugs me? Can I get used to that, or will it make me miserable?

4. Back Home, Reflect on Your Visits to Belize

From the perspective of your current turf, ask yourself these questions over a period of time.

Ã?â‚??What do I remember most about my experiences in Belize?
Ã?â‚??What stories do I tell my friends and family?
Ã?â‚??Am I eager to return?
Ã?â‚??Do I dream of living there?

The topics and tone of your answers will quickly reveal whether Belize and you are a good match. If the answer is yes, ...

4.5 Return to Belize, prepared to select your vacation home.

Now the next stage of fun begins. This time your focus is on selecting the home location. From your previous visits, you already know what type of setting - coastal or inland -- you prefer. And you already have an idea of which properties you want to evaluate in depth.

Enjoy the process!

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