|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2015
January 21, 2015
“Go for it. Life is too short,” says Sharon Warner to anyone considering retiring in The Bahamas. Sharon, and her husband Skip, did just that ten years ago when they traded their busy real estate business in Florida for a beachfront property in Eleuthera and began building their retirement dream home.
With The Bahamas’ laid-back lifestyle, tropical climate and beautiful natural assets, it is easy to see why the Warners, and many others, choose to swap the daily grind for a slower pace of life in the islands. “The Bahamas is drop dead gorgeous and there are a lot of options right across the board for retirees,” says president of Bahamas Realty Robin Brownrigg, who has seen the retiree market grow in recent years thanks to high-end developments across the archipelago and upgrades to airports on some of the more remote islands. He says now is a great time to buy, as prices have still not recovered from the recent recession. “Land values have held their own since the drop-off in 2008,” he says. “The timing is right now. It is a buyer’s market.”
Retiring in style
Buyers have a lot of options when it comes to securing their own retirement getaway from the more populated centres of Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma or even New Providence to isolated retreats such as San Salvador or the Exuma Cays.
The Warners, who lived in Key Largo, were regular visitors to The Bahamas before becoming permanent residents in 2007. Keen boaters, they often cruised the islands with friends—visiting the Berry Islands, Bimini and Eleuthera. The latter caught their eye because, as Skip explains, it had the feel of a smaller island but with the conveniences of a bigger hub. “Some of the other islands are maybe more fun for a short holiday, but they are too small to live there full-time,” he says. “There is more shopping on Eleuthera. It’s just an easier place to live.”
Sharon agrees and says the sense of community on Eleuthera was also a big draw for the couple: “We have been to most of the islands in the Caribbean [region] and Eleuthera just felt right. We have been welcomed here into the community since day one. We are in one of the older sections of the island and most of our neighbours are locals. They watch out for us and we have a lot of Bahamian friends. Everyone is so friendly.”
According to Brownrigg, Eleuthera is a popular choice for retirees, with most choosing to settle in the Governor’s Harbour area. Other sought after destinations are George Town, Exuma and Abaco. Brownrigg says the perfect spot depends on a number of factors, but advises most people to consider beachfront properties because they generally prove a solid investment. “It depends on your age and your income,” he says. “You need to pick your location carefully—pick a beach, pick a settlement that has the amenities you need. Go for a harbour if you like boating. Make sure there are medical facilities. If you are looking for value, look at beach frontage. That is where the value will hold in down times.”
The more remote the island, the more affordable the land is, adds Brownrigg. “Price varies big time. In the more remote islands the values are a lot lower.”
However, the logistics of living on an isolated island should not be underestimated. Family Island tranquillity does come with its challenges, say the Warners, who note that the hardest part of the transition to their island getaway has been navigating customs duties. Other issues that may crop up are finding and fixing parts and equipment, maintaining the property and adjusting to a more limited selection of produce than in other countries.
Build it yourself
Despite the drawbacks, however, island living suits the Warners and although the pace of life is much slower than they were used to in the US, they are far from bored. The couple run their Eleuthera property as a three-unit guest house, the Barefoot Beach House, which welcomes guests from all over the world. When they bought the property in South Palmetto Point, Skip and Sharon decided to open the guest house, while at the same time building themselves a separate home on the acre-and-a-half site. Outside contractors were used for the foundations and the roof, but everything else was managed single- handedly by the couple. The construction took two years. “We designed and engineered it with our own hands,” says Skip. “That kept us busy for a number of years. We have always worked fast-paced, but that is our fault not The Bahamas.”
Sharon adds: “I am not the typical retiree who reads books all day long and there is always something to be done here. I do not sit down.” Despite being a self-confessed “workaholic,” Sharon says she would not trade her life now for her previous life as a busy realtor. “The guest house involves a lot of work, but I do not have the mental fatigue that I had running an office. We went from being on a super highway to a screeching halt. We were totally wiped out with real estate.”
Brownrigg says that most buyers nowadays are leaning more towards pre-built homes and high-end retirees are particularly interested in luxury developments such as February Point in Exuma and Baker’s Bay in Abaco. “Going into construction is not easy,” he says. “Especially in the Family Islands. Most retirees want to buy a model home and be done with it.”
Every retiree is different and each has different needs and priorities, but Brownrigg says the major selling point of The Bahamas is that it can accommodate everyone.
“If I am going to retire, I want some action around me,” he says. “But some other people just want to read and chill in their hammock. Some people want to be close to nature, to relax and smell the roses, listen to the birds and watch the sunsets. Those things are important. The Bahamas is great because it can fit the bill for all levels of retirees. That is what is so appealing about this country—there are a lot of different destinations.”
The Warners say the Bahamian lifestyle suits them as they both love being outside and being active. “As far as retiring goes, The Bahamas is a great place, particularly if you like boating,” says Skip, who is a keen fisherman and goes out with a local guide to catch grouper, dolphin and wahoo during the season.
Sharon is also a fan of the water and likes to paint, taking inspiration from the tropical landscape. She says island life is more than worth the small inconveniences and fondly remembers the moment she and Skip decided to buy their piece of paradise. “The day we saw the house the sky was totally blue. We came out onto the beach, looked back and saw a rainbow right over the house. That was our sign to buy it, and we have never regretted it.”