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Your place in paradise

Your place in paradise

From Family Island hideaways to luxury condos, Bahamas offers wealthy investors a range of high-end realty options

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
August 21, 2017
August 21, 2017
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

Faciliating multimillion-dollar real estate transactions such as the recent deal on a $20-million home in Ocean Club Estates must be a thrill, but it’s not the main reason broker Peter Dupuch does it.

“I love showing people my country; taking them in the boat; teaching them how to catch a fish or how to break out a conch. Taking their kids waterskiing. It’s more than just selling them a house. I’m selling them my home; the place where I grew up. The country I love,” says the veteran realtor.

Wealthy buyers expect a very responsive and knowledgeable realtor and even with this level of passion, Dupuch has had to build his business painstakingly, one client at a time over many years. As president of ERA Dupuch Real Estate, Dupuch has bought, sold and developed property in The Bahamas for 20 years. The leisurely and laid-back island lifestyle, attractive to affluent buyers from all over the world, “cannot be beat,” he says.

The place to be
Indeed, providing a taste of what island life is like is one of the best ways to show property to potential buyers, according to Colin Lightbourn, whose father recruited the reluctant realtor into the business more than 20 years ago.

An “outdoors type,” the former scuba diving instructor was lured into the profession after ferrying some of his father’s clients to Rose Island to view property there. Once, he received a commission cheque, Lightbourn was hooked.

“It made me realize I could show land without being tied to a desk all day,” said the broker who recently partnered with the German-based, luxury real estate brand, Engel & Völkers. Privately owned, the brand touts its independence and its flexibility, having grown 700 per cent over the last five years–since its expansion into the US market.

Lightbourn, a licensed pilot and avid boater, has shown land by air and sea. With the luxury real estate sector “improving,” Lightbourn is kept busy pinning down choice properties for potential buyers from the US, Canada, Europe and South America with even some corporate Chinese buyers expressing interest.

The Bahamas has a reputation for drawing high-end real estate buyers. An attractive jurisdiction, the main lures continue to be the obvious natural attributes, but add to that a stable economy, the option of permanent residency and the nation’s proximity to the US and you have got a winning ticket.

Not surprisingly, many high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) look to follow their money to sunnier climes. With spectacular properties available from Lyford Cay and Palm Cay in New Providence to a plethora of multimillion dollar listings on Paradise Island and idyllic prime properties to be had around the Family Islands, the high- end real estate market is constantly evolving.

“The future is very promising for The Bahamas’ luxury real estate sector. Homes in the $5-million-plus range are selling at all-time highs, and because we check so many boxes and cater to so many needs in the luxury sector, we foresee the future to be limitless,” says Monica Knowles, Bahamas Realty’s top performer for 2016, who adds that many international buyers are enticed by waterfront estates and amenity- packed condominiums.

“Over the past two years we have observed an influx of cash buyers, especially in the high-end markets,” she says. “We predict the uptick in sales will remain steady as high-net-worth individuals continue to choose The Bahamas as a safe haven, offering personal and property security, as well as a perfect place to play.”

Recession rebound
Just as Knowles launched her career, property sales took a nosedive after the 2007-08 global recession. It has taken a few years for the market to rebound and in such a slow market it would have been easy for her to throw in the towel. A tough slough, each year she committed to absorbing as much knowledge as she could about the luxury property market.

Nearly a decade later, that dedication has paid off. Knowles netted a high- profile $7.5-million sale last year making her a shoe-in as the firm’s top achiever.

“Prices across the board have stabilized, so buyers who have been on the fence realize that the time to buy is now. The fire sale is over and distressed properties have been sold, so the current market is trending upwards,” she says. “There is slight room for negotiations, so savvy buyers and sellers are listening to their realtors and sealing amazing and favourable deals.”

Realtors are predicting the upward trend will continue, barring any local or global economic or natural catastrophe.

“As realtors, we do the same thing in a down-market as in an up-market. Everyone remains fully engaged,” says John Christie, chief executive officer of H G Christie Ltd, a firm that has built its reputation on being the oldest and most extensive real estate service in The Bahamas. It is also the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s Great Estates–an international luxury real estate network.

The firm has been known to attract more than its share of wealthy international buyers looking for a high- end second home. Christie says American buyers account for the lion’s share of luxury purchases at his firm, followed by Canadians. However, due to the weakened Canadian dollar, the latter are accounting for a smaller percentage than in previous years. Meanwhile, there has been an uptick in South American and European house hunters.

Being a low or no-tax jurisdiction, The Bahamas is particularly attractive to international investors, says Christie. “Many are getting permanent residency even if they are not actually planning on living here,” says Christie, who has worked in the property market for nearly a quarter of a century. “It’s an insurance policy for them.”

Prime properties
According to Knowles: “High-end buyers are seeking an all-around package. They are gravitating towards communities that can offer an upscale lifestyle experience that offers privacy, as well as a playground, incorporating activities such as boating, dining, luxury shopping and golf. Our islands are ideally situated to provide the best of both worlds, with the most recent developments reflecting those needs and desires.”

Traditionally, there has always existed a steady demand for waterfront properties in luxury communities, according to George Damianos, president of Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty.

Damianos’ son and niece followed him into the business founded by his father in 1945, making it a third-generation Bahamian company. Specializing in the sale of private islands, gated communities and resort properties, the firm’s average sale price is $1.5 million.

A 45-year veteran realtor, Damianos won The Luxury Real Estate Billionaires Club Award in 2014 at the 19th Annual Luxury Real Estate Fall Conference, an invitation-only event that brings together the most prominent luxury brokers from across the globe. The award, says Damianos, recognizes those who have sold a $1 billion in real estate.

“We know the market,” he says. “It’s not something we just decided to take up because it seemed like the thing to do.”

Family island living
In general, Damianos is bullish on the luxury real estate sector and on two emerging markets in particular. “There are a lot of opportunities for growth in the Family Islands, particularly the Abacos; we are betting heavily on that,” he says. “I also think Eleuthera has a lot of potential for growth, so we are pretty robust on those two areas. They are traditionally places that expatriates or second-home owners want to be if they want a laid-back lifestyle. And it’s obviously less expensive [than New Providence and Paradise Island].”

Alongside offices in Nassau, the firm recently opened larger premises in Hope Town, Abaco. It is one of four Abaco- based Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty offices; along with Guana Cay, Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay. In Eleuthera there are three offices in Spanish Wells, Harbour Island and Governor’s Harbour.

Since its 2005 purchase of the Sotheby’s International franchise for The Bahamas, the company has grown at least 15 per cent year over year.

“It’s been a real positive move for us. It has kept us disciplined and focused on what we do,” he says. “Real estate is a hard asset. In general, it goes up in value. It is a hedge against inflation. It’s a way investors and wealthy people preserve their wealth. It’s a commodity people like to own that they can actually use,” says Damianos, whose company accounts for more than half of all sales on the Bahamas Multiple Listing Service, a database of real estate listings throughout the country.

Wide range of offerings

Relatively new communities appealing to international buyers and demanding significant sums include One Cable Beach and Thirty Six on Paradise Island. Christie says the One Ocean is also selling “but not quite as fast.”

Like Damianos, Bahamas Realty too has seen a steady stream of sales within the more established luxury communities of Lyford Cay and Old Fort Bay. Bahamas Realty says it has snapped up a bevy of new exclusive listings in Baker’s Bay Golf and Ocean Club, a private beach retreat in Great Guana Cay, Abaco, which tends to fly below the radar as its homeowners prefer it that way.

“Luxury enclaves such as Albany, Baker’s Bay and so on cannot keep up with the demand,” says Knowles.

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