Roatán: Own on the Best-Value Caribbean Island From $199,000

On many Caribbean islands, buying property on or near the water can seem out of reach…something reserved for the wealthy. But not on Roatán, where you can find the best-value real estate of any Caribbean island.

Just imagine: For $199,000 you could have a two-bedroom Caribbean home right on the water in a quiet neighborhood with no tourists—your own private getaway. If you stayed just part of the year, you could rent your place out when you’re not there and earn a gross rental income of 5% to 6% to help cover your holding costs.

If you lived on Roatán, you’d have the sound of gentle waves and the rustle of palm fronds to wake you in the mornings. Looking out your window, you’d see clear, blue skies and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. You could occupy yourself with a swim…enjoy a cup of coffee on your deck…or just sit back in your Adirondack chair, warm up in the sun, and take in the view of your own private stretch of beach…

On this tropical island, 30 miles off the coast of Honduras, beachfront lots can be had for under $100,000. We’re talking established developments, with amenities like a community pool and/or shared or private docks. Utilities are in place. Construction costs are reasonable, and you can build a home to your specs. If you’d rather buy, finished homes on the water are available for around $200,000 and up.

There are also plenty of turnkey condos for well under $200,000—in resort communities on the beach. And if you’re okay with walking a few minutes to the water, or setting up on a hillside with views, you’ll pay even less for a lot, home, or condo.

Compare these prices to the better-known Cayman Islands, which, like Roatán, offer world-class scuba diving, fishing, and boating. There you can’t buy a condo for under $250,000. And most oceanfront homes are in the millions of dollars. In the popular Turks and Caicos Islands, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any lot under $150,000 (most are double that), condos for under $350,000, or homes for less than $800,000.

The market on Roatán is driven by North Americans looking for vacation homes for enjoying the year-round warm weather and laidback beach lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that, when the housing bubble burst in 2008, the impact was huge on Roatán. Since then, the market has recovered, but prices have leveled off to more reasonable levels. Canada is a big source of buyers, but Canadians have stayed away recently because of the devaluation of the Canadian dollar. That means motivated sellers are willing to deal. So you are in a good position.

And if you’re interested in renting out your place when you’re not there, or simply having an investment property, you can expect a ready market, whether you rent out long term or to vacationers. Based on occupancy and rental rates in the area, you could enjoy gross rental yields of 5% to 6%. Stick to popular areas like West End or West Bay to get the highest returns. And expect to make the most income during “high season” (the North American winter). It saw 1 million visitors in 2016 alone.

I figure this number will increase. The scuba-diving pioneers, drawn by the second-largest barrier reef in the world, have been joined by families, fishermen, and just plain beach lovers, not to mention snowbirds from North America and Europe. The international airport has multiple daily, direct flights from the U.S. and Canada, including from major hubs like Houston, Miami, and Toronto, making Roatán easy to get to.

This is an island where “normal” people can buy a vacation home or permanent digs to live out their sunny, low-cost, and comfortable retirement. The infrastructure is good and getting better all the time, with a new power plant coming online this year and the recent opening of a hospital with specialist care and a 24-hour emergency room. It’s still out of the mainstream, at least compared to other Caribbean island getaways, and that has kept prices affordable for real estate and day-to-day costs. A couple could live well on $2,000 to $2,500—that includes all expenses.

And it’s simply a beautiful place to look at, thanks to the tall, jungle-covered mountains, white-sand beaches, and blue Caribbean (turquoise within the reef and a deep azure beyond it). Living here, you’ll have no shortage of things to do, with plenty of parties, sunset happy hours, watersports, and other fun.

Where to Look for Your Roatán Retreat

Roatán is a small island—it’s just 48 miles from one tip to the other. But it’s quite distinct in terms of lifestyle and types of real estate available along its length.

Broadly speaking, the biggest difference is between east and west. If you go east from the largest towns, Coxen Hole and French Harbour, development is sparse and most expats live spread out in individual homes, sometimes in small communities. There are few condos in the east. If you like peace and quiet, being surrounded by nature, and don’t mind driving 30 to 45 minutes to the big grocery store or for a dinner out…this could be your sweet spot. If so, settlements like Oak Ridge, Brick Bay, and Port Royal are names to look out for when scanning real estate listings.

The west is the population center for expats, with more high-density development. This is where the hotels, the restaurants, and the shops are. It’s popular with divers, cruise ship-goers, and other tourists. If you want convenience and a larger expat presence, go to places like West End and West Bay. Sandy Bay is in the west, but it’s pretty quiet.

First, let’s talk lots.

In Coral Views Village, which is on the north shore and considered the east side of the island, you have a 0.13-acre lot, with a sea view and access to a virtually private beach a few minutes’ walk away, for $45,000. You can access the community dock and pool. It’s a quiet spot for those who want to get away from it all.

In West Bay, one of the most popular areas on the island and often bustling with activity, is a lot a few minutes from the beach for $110,000. It’s 0.15 acres. You do pay more for being close to the restaurants and other services here. Another example: Light House Estates, considered one of the premier communities in West Bay, has a quarter-acre lot right on the water listed at $220,000. It’s “iron shore,” which means the shoreline is rocky. But a sandy beach is just a few minutes’ walk away.

In a small community on the east side, on Caribe Bight, is a nearly half-acre lot for $99,000. It has 100 feet of waterfront, with deep enough water to dock a large boat. There is a community dock, but you can build your own at your property. You can also snorkel and scuba dive just offshore. It’s perfect for boaters.

If you’re ready to go off-grid, you could check out some of the boat-access-only lots, especially on the east side. This is common on Roatán—just set up a well and rain catchment for water and solar panels for electric. A 0.96-acre lot, with 350 feet of waterfront in Jonesville, is available for $50,000. By comparison, a quarter-acre lot in an established development well inland in the Turks and Caicos’s main island, Providenciales, would set you back $149,000. That’s nearly three times the price for a lot barely one-quarter the size.

You’ve got the land; then you have to build. There are skilled contractors on the island, but be sure to ask your expat neighbors for recommendations. You’ll pay $45 a square foot for a simple “island-style” home (think wood construction, small rooms, and simple kitchen) to $90 a square foot for North American-standard finishes like custom kitchen cabinets and a concrete block construction.

Bargain Caribbean Homes and Condos

There are also plenty of ready-to-move-in homes—built to North American standards. On the water, you can buy for under $200,000, although most are in the high $200,000s and up.

If you’d rather have a view, plenty of hillside or hilltop homes are also available. You’ll be surrounded by jungle, with a panoramic view of the Caribbean below and the reef that surrounds the island. A two-bedroom home near French Harbour, set on 1.25 acres filled with fruit trees (to make your own juices and smoothies), with a view of the sea from the large deck, is available for $199,950. See:

On the West End—you can walk to shops, restaurants, and beach bars but are  far enough away that noise doesn’t become an issue—is a two-bedroom home in a resort community. It lists for $259,900. With daily rates hovering around $125, homes like this on the island’s western side usually prove to be the most lucrative vacation rentals. If you were to offer your place up for four months a year, it would leave you with a gross rental yield of 5.7%. See:

If you’d rather let someone else be responsible for outside maintenance and landscaping—and enjoy community amenities like a pool or restaurant—consider a condo. They’re available for under $170,000 for a one-bedroom unit on the beach. (Compare that to a typical unit on Grand Cayman for $262,000, and that’s not even waterfront.)

Right on West Bay beach, in a resort called Mayan Princess, is a one-bedroom condo that comes fully furnished. It’s available for $169,000. You have access to the pool and on-site restaurant. All that this area offers in the way of restaurants, cafés, and busy beach bars is a short stroll down the sand. And if you’re in the rental pool, which means you give up nine months out of the year to vacation renters, you can get free breakfast while you’re there, free airport pickup, a share of the total rental income, and an annual dividend—last year it was $2,000. See:

Over in the heart of West End—a walkable area with restaurants, shops, and beach bars—is a two-bedroom condo for $179,000. It is the perfect property if you want plenty to do right out your front door. And your tenants would like it, too. If you tried a long-term arrangement for $800 a month, your gross rental yield would be 5.4%. See:

With prices like these, Roatán is the  place to buy if you want to realize your dream of a low-cost Caribbean retirement.