|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 4, 2007
January 4, 2007
A vacation in The Bahamas can be quite a lavish affair—one that includes limousine pickup at the airport, maids and butlers at your beck and call, private swimming pools, secluded white-sand beaches, Frette sheets on the beds, a supply of whatever champagne suits your palate, orchids on every tabletop and the run of some of the country’s most exquisite homes. Of course, when you’re spending $16,000 a day to rent a luxurious Bahamian home or more than $340,000 a week on an exclusive private island, your every wish is someone else’s command.
The Bahamas has emerged as one of the hottest destinations for the ultra-wealthy looking to get away, relax and unwind in their own private rental accommodation. And according to those who handle these exclusive deals, the islands’ popularity shows no signs of abating. “The Bahamas are extremely hot right now,” says John Greer, whose Unusual Villa and Island Rentals handles properties in 56 countries. “With the onslaught of all of these big expansions in The Bahamas … there’s going to be a huge demand [there] for villas.”
Definitions vary, but as a general rule of thumb, a luxury rental property should be worth at least $4,000,000, offer extreme privacy, be exquisitely furnished and include as standard high-end amenities. Those amenities typically include a private pool or beach access, butler, housekeeper, chef and gardener. For an additional charge, renters can add anything from private golf and tennis lessons to increased security personnel. A typical stay is one week long, although some Europeans may stay for as many as three.
For the world’s wealthy, the selection of The Bahamas as a vacation destination affords numerous advantages. The islands lie in close proximity to the US East Coast, with Nassau and Freeport less than an hour’s flight away from South Florida, making it a quick getaway for Americans. An ever-expanding menu of flights also links The Bahamas with other international destinations, providing easy access for global travellers. And for the celebrity set, who cherish their privacy, The Bahamas has become a place where they can relax and explore without attracting excessive attention.
The best of the best
Despite the top dollars garnered by luxury rental properties, realtors and property managers say that renting out a multi-million dollar home, villa or island is not a money-making venture. George Damianos of Damianos Realty says that placing a luxury home in a rental pool simply helps its owners defray the tremendous costs associated with owning and maintaining their property. “Most of these properties keep staff full time, year round to look after the homes as if the owners were there. It’s an expensive endeavour. Renting the house out is a means of justifying having a second, third or even fourth home for these owners. It’s available when they want to use it, and helps defray the costs when they’re not there,” he explains.
The domestic economy also benefits tremendously from these high-end rentals. “The last time one of the homes we manage was rented for a week the grocery bill was $11,000,” says James Moir, whose Moir & Co Realty manages some of the most exclusive homes in the Lyford Cay, Old Fort Bay and Paradise Island rental pools. “Some of these homes have electricity bills that total between $12,000 and $16,000 a month. Then you have all the extras. They rent orchids. They have gardeners and butlers and maids and other staff who work full time. There’s the pool service, the air conditioning companies and even cable television. These visitors take limousines from Lyford Cay to the casino at Atlantis. When you look at the amount of money that trickles into the economy, it’s mind boggling.”
The Bahamas is home to one rental property considered by many to be the most prestigious in the world. A week at Musha Cay, nestled in the Exuma chain, runs about $340,000 plus tax per week for up to 25 guests. In addition to the island’s unrivalled natural beauty, first-class accommodations and amenities, weary celebrities seeking sanctuary from fans and paparazzi can be assured of complete seclusion. Condé Nast Traveller declared that “Musha Cay, a lush, palm-studded sanctum, is so removed from the nearest hint of civilization—82 miles to be exact—that no prying camera lens is long enough to breach it.”
In 2006, renowned magician and illusionist David Copperfield bought Musha Cay, the resort and neighbouring private islands from Blockbuster Video baron John Melk for $50 million.
Another Bahamian rental opportunity of note is Nygård Cay, situated on the tip of the exclusive gated community of Lyford Cay on the island of New Providence. This rental’s impressive list of amenities takes in 10 bedrooms, two pools, five jacuzzis, a tennis court, two volleyball courts, a basketball court, a 24-seat movie theatre, three boats and limousine transfer to and from Lynden Pindling International Airport. Nygård Cay’s staff of 20 is always at the ready and food and liquor are included in the rental price of $35,000 a day ($40,000 on holidays).
While Musha Cay and Nygård Cay are among the most famous luxury rentals, more conventional high-end homes are also in great demand. Damianos, who handles rentals in the Lyford Cay area, says that use of these properties for weddings, whether as accommodation for guests or as a backdrop to the ceremony and reception, is a growing trend.
Serendip Cove, for instance, on the beach in Lyford Cay, rents for $16,000 a night with a minimum one-week stay. “It’s by far one of the nicest homes available in the Lyford Cay area,” says Moir. It accommodates up to 24 guests, but Moir has rented it to as few as eight. With classic colonial architecture and an interior designed by Sister Parrish Hadley who renovated the Kennedy White House, Serendip Cove epitomizes taste and sophistication.
Lightbourne House, also tucked away in exclusive Lyford Cay, commands $8,500 a night. This estate home built in the 1960s by the late CBS chief executive Bill Paley and his wife Babe boasts eight bedrooms, a private beach and European and Asian furniture and art. Situated on 7.5 secluded acres, the property is surrounded on two sides by white-sand beach and the tranquil waters of Lightbourne Creek. Interestingly, it’s said to be a favourite home away from home for actress Sharon Stone.
In this high-end segment of the rental market, history and celebrity are strong selling points, and The Bahamas has its share of luminaries and properties that fit the bill. Kilkee on the western end of Paradise Island was built in the 1960s by US entrepreneur Huntington Hartford II, a man who saw the potential in what was then a scrubland called Hog Island.
In 1968, Irish actor Richard Harris bought the home as his own personal enclave. With no road access, visitors are ferried back and forth across the protected Nassau Harbour. During his time in The Bahamas filming After the Sunset, Pierce Brosnan called Kilkee home. When it was in the rental pool, Kilkee commanded a cool $6,000 a night.
Other Bahamian islands are emerging as hot destinations as well. In Eleuthera and the Abacos, where vacation rentals and second homes constitute the lifeblood of the local economy, an ever larger number of properties are becoming available. The recently constructed Sea Lily Cottage is located on Savannah Sound in central Eleuthera. The estate includes four buildings, two garages, a sprawling 3,500-square foot marble terrace, a beach pavilion and an elevated infinity swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Weekly rental of the home runs at $24,000.
Non-members wishing to stay at the Abaco Club on Winding Bay, a private-member club and retreat, have the option of renting a privately owned cottage or one of 20 inn-style suites ranging from $7,000 a week for a one-bed, one-bath cabana, to almost $20,000 for a four-bed, four-and-a-half-bath cottage overlooking the sea.
Tilloo Pond, nestled on Tilloo Cay, was designed as a corporate retreat, but is also a popular escape for couples seeking relaxation and solitude. The spot’s three villas rent for up to $17,000 a week during peak season and can accommodate as many as 12 guests. The property, which was completed in 2004, includes a pool, hot tub, great room with fireplace, and spectacular views of the Little Bahama Bank and the Atlantic Ocean.
In Exuma, where a development boom is under way, new luxury homes being constructed at Emerald Bay and February Point will also be added to the rental pool, with daily and weekly rates varying from home to home.
According to Greer, Grand Bahama is also a flourishing market for vacationers, and he attributes much of the interest to the forthcoming $4.9-billion Ginn sur Mer development slated for West End. “Freeport’s opening up dramatically. They’re going to have a lot of villas over there. Right now there’s only about seven or eight really good villas in that area and there are probably going to be, in the next five years, over 100. Freeport’s getting ready to take off,” he says.
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