Many times I am asked how the process of buying real estate in the Bahamas works. Often our foreign home buyers (who love the idea of having a tropical home in the islands) are concerned about the process and the security of the investment. I will discuss the Bahamas Investment Safety and Security at another time. Below I have outlined the rough steps and a very rough estimate of the time it takes for each one. I have to qualify all of this by saying the estimates of the length of time it takes vary widely. How quickly a sale will close in the Bahamas is dependent on many many factors, some of which are beyond the parties control. For instance I have seen a financing application take 6 months for approval. I have seen title and requisition process take as long at 6 months due to continuing questions arising from the history of the chain of title.
On the other hand, I have seen instances where the whole process moved like clockwork and the new homeowner had the keys and were enjoying a cocktail on the back porch in less than 7 weeks from the time of first offer. For things to move this quickly under the bright Bahama sun (which seems to slow everyone and everything down to the speed of warm molasses) is not a common occurrence and it is imperative to have patience when dealing with a real estate transaction in the Bahamas.
There is a major factor which can influence the speed of a real estate transaction here, and that is whether a bank is involved providing financing for the purchase and/or if a bank is releasing and existing mortgage on the property being sold. This is partly a result of the Bahamas banking environment being dominated by 3 major Canadian institutions. The final approvals of any major decisions the lending institution has to make is not made here in the Bahamas, it is made offshore somewhere.
That said, the lender won’t commit to financing a purchase until they have a copy of a formal purchase agreement in hand. We commonly insert a 21 day financing clause in purchase agreements which allows the buyer 3 weeks to formalize their loan and get a commitment letter. 3 weeks may seem like a good length of time, but I would suggest working on getting as much of the paperwork as possible into the loan rep, before making an offer. They will take 2-3 weeks just make a decision, so if they are waiting on something from you like a reference or utility bill that will hold the hole process up. I would ask 3 times for the complete list of all the documents they will need from you just to be sure that all the bases are covered. In my experience they always come back a week later and say they need one more thing, and often that happens more than once.
With the 21 day financing clause inserted into a formal “purchase and sales agreement”, if you don’t get the loan secured you can get your deposit back and everyone can walk their separate ways. The vendor is often weary of entering into an agreement which is dependent on a bank partly due to the time off the market with no guarantee of a sale and partly due to a bit of expense in hiring a lawyer to prepare a purchase agreement and work with the purchaser’s attorney on the deposit etc. Title investigations typically don’t start until after the financing commitment letter is in hand. Once the title is approved, they we move to conveyance drafting and approval and then the mortgage would be drawn down.
Time to close a cash sale (no mortgage involved) is 60-90 days. Time to close with a bank mortgage will be 90-150 days. So keep in mind you won’t be able to take possession of the home for some months while waiting on the lender to do their thing. Some people will purchase a home in cash and then leverage the cash back out with a mortgage after the purchase as it allows them to take possession of the home sooner.
- First step is to get the ball rolling with the bank and get a nod. (about a 1week)
- Second we put in the offer to purchase, negotiate and hopefully reach agreement in principle (1-2 weeks)
- Third you retain an attorney top represent you in the transaction, put up a deposit with the seller’s attorney’s ‘Escrow Account’ and the purchase agreement is executed by both parties. (1-3 weeks, this begins the real process of purchase, get appraisal, all paperwork to bank, references, etc.)
- Forth, you put in the formal application for financing, provide the bank with a copy of the executed purchase agreement and go through the motions with them. (3-5 weeks) (If Necessary, no bank financing involved, it would skip straight to the title search)
- If the buyer is getting a permit from the Foreign Investments Board, the application gets put in right away and approval of the permit can take 2 weeks up to 3 months.
- Then, once the mortgage is approved and you have a commitment letter in hand. Your attorney begins title search. (3-5 weeks)
- Once title is approved the vendors attorney drafts a conveyance, it gets approved and the vendor executes (2-3 weeks)
- Then the bank gets a copy of the conveyance and begins to draw down funds. (2-6 weeks)
- Once the funds are disbursed, the sale closes and you can take possession. (you get the keys).
So, the long and short of it – it could take as little at 6 weeks to close a purchase or it could take as long as 6 months and it all depends on the seller, the buyer, the attorney’s involved, the government for the permits and often most importantly the lender. So make sure to have the right people involved who are attentive, motivated and on the ball to see the sale happen.
I recently had a sale occur where the buyer’s attorney lost the purchase agreement after the purchaser had signed it and neglected to send it to the seller’s attorney for 3 months. So while we all thought the sale was proceeding, it hadn’t even started. Stay in touch with your lawyer and keep them moving things forward.
Lastly, having an experienced and motivated real estate broker or agent on your team can have a very positive effect on ensuring the least amount of frustration and delay. HG Christie is one company with a strong team of professional sales staff who know the ins and outs of Buying and Selling homes, land and development property around the Bahamas. Feel free to comment and tell us your story in buying or selling real estate below. I hope you enjoy this post and find it somewhat useful.