Paradise Found

15.11.17

The Cayman Islands is emerging as the high-end Caribbean hotspot for international investors, reports Jane Slade

Just when you thought the Caribbean had been well and truly colonised another island has emerged as the new hotspot in paradise.

Lapped by turquoise seas and fringed with white sandy beaches Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, has undergone a dramatic transformation from scuba-diving haven to exclusive enclave of marinas, residences, restaurants and hotels.

And it all started with American billionaire developer Ken Dart who ‘discovered’ Grand Cayman in the late 1990s and in addition to his real estate activities has boosted the island’s local economy by basing his global investing business there.

Dart Realty is now one of the islands’ largest developers and responsible for the shiny ‘new urbanist’ waterfront town Camana Bay, 10 minutes north of the capital George Town, near the world famous Seven Mile Beach.

“Camana Bay is now the focal point of Grand Cayman,” confirms James Burdess, who heads up Savills’ Caribbean and Latin America department.

“It’s a huge mixed-used development which when finished will span over 650 acres. The infrastructure of restaurants, shops and lifestyle facilities are going in first with some residential, a hotel and more to follow.”

Microsoft’s Paul Allen cuts through the local waters from time to time in his 414-foot yacht and just last year a roll call of tennis legends played in a tournament attended by Richard Branson.

“Camana Bay is not a mall culture, but more sophisticated and high end with farmers and artisan markets giving it more of a European feel,” adds Burdess. Here Dart has built the first major hotel to open in 10 years – the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, which opened in December, offering 265 rooms and private residences.

“They’ve paid huge attention to architecture and landscaping,” adds Burdess. “There’s a Marina with expensive yachts and mixture of long-term rental and holiday lets which give it a year-round vibrancy.”  Waterfront condos at Camana range from $2-$15million.

The other high-end hotspot is Watercolours in the exclusive Yacht Club area, a well-established, low-density residential neighbourhood, favoured by boating enthusiasts and walking distance from the Seven Mile Beach.

Here the Residences of Stone Island, a stunning waterfront development are being marketed by Savills, comprise 44 three-storey homes offering some 4,500 square feet of living space, private plunge pools, and space for a lift.

Properties here are well-priced compared to the more established Caribbean islands of Barbados and Bahamas argues Burdess.

“A two-bed condo measuring 2,000 square feet on the beach will cost $1.5 million on Cayman which is about a third less than elsewhere in the Caribbean,” he says. “A property costing $500 per square foot in Cayman would be $800-1,000 in Barbados.”

According to the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association the waterfront market appears to be improving at a faster rate than other property segments with growth centred around Seven Mile Beach condominiums.

This coupled with strong demand and limited supply are resulting in a shift towards a seller’s market which suggests that 2017 may see availability being a bigger issue than pricing.

Of course the big attraction for overseas investors is that the British dependency is tax free. There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate if the property is for personal use and there are no annual property or capital gains taxes.

No wonder then that the emerging newcomer is positioning itself as a destination for luxury investment.

“Buyers come from an eclectic market of Scandinavians, British, Europeans, Canadians and Americans,” adds Burdess.

Cayman’s tax-free status has also created a new culture and growth, attracting young IT entrepreneurs, lawyers and hedge fund managers looking for a dream home where they are park their Ferraris.

And architects like Robert Towell who moved to Cayman in 1997 from Canada are making their mark designing contemporary homes with a Caribbean twist.

“It was like the wild west when I first arrived,” says Towell, originally from Toronto. “The houses were timber frame with thatched rooves and built in the colonial style.”

Towell has transformed the landscape pioneering the minimalist, ‘boxy’ style home with lots of glass and exposed concrete.

“Young lawyers had the money and wanted a more modern style,” he explains. “People have criticised me for changing the way the island looks – but people want high ceilings, open plan living areas, lots of glass and flat rooves. I don’t build thatched homes with hammocks.”

Most of his residential projects measure from 4,000 square feet up to around 11,000 and cost from $2 – 5 million to build.

In South Sound, there are several large developments including the Vela, currently in the first phase of constructing a 168-unit complex which is already sold out. Plus, the Tides project, which will comprise of 24 two, three and four-bedroom ocean-front condos, on the coast south of George Town.

“The outlook for the market still looks positive for the 2017 and onwards,” reports CIREBA. “The rental market is growing along with the population of the islands.”

Cayman’s attraction is set to continue not least because it is also in a great location close to America and with daily flights to London.

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