Caribbean Caper


Modish hotels and fine-tuned property prices are luring high-end buyers to the West Indies, says Cheryl Markosky.

On a tropical isle, the launch of a new hotel – or rebranding of an old one – can cause more ripples than a whale breaching the cerulean seas. Recent undulations to rock boats are the lift-off of St Barths’ Le Barthelemy and Canouan’s Pink Sands Club, makeover of St Lucia’s Papillon, and brand switching from the Viceroy to the Four Seasons Anguilla.

Repercussions of infrastructure adjustments can be far reaching, according to Scott Hauser, director of Sotheby’s International Realty Anguilla. “The Four Seasons takeover of the Viceroy will bring more stable, moneyed people to the island, leading to a resurgence in residential sales.”

He believes that as well as the Four Seasons shaking things up, there will be a knock-on effect to other resorts with upper-strata homes, such as Zemi Beach House that kicked off last February. Spread over six oceanfront acres on the Shoal Bay Estate, studios start at $600,000, while beachfront residences cost $2.1 million.

Despite an anticipated wave of interest flowing out to the rest of this British Overseas Territory, with some of the finest white sand beaches and dining spots in the Caribbean, Nick Cassini, head of sales at Four Seasons Anguilla Private Residences, cites many reasons why wealthy purchasers needn’t stray far from the newly rebranded project.

“Both gym and lobby have been redone, restaurants expanded, and the resort’s fully built with 134 residences for private ownership, including 31 four- and five-bedroom freestanding villas from $4-$10 million overhanging the water or on private beaches,” he says. Thirty-six homes have been sold and a few are under contract, still offering enough variety for all-comers.

Although most buyers come from the United States, about a quarter of the total originate from the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and South America – guaranteeing there isn’t a one-nation ghetto. “We have young owners in their 40s turning up with their children, a number of whom benefit from a rentals programme offsetting running costs when people aren’t using their homes.” Some owners are even making a profit of 3-6% after costs are deducted, Cassini adds.

The downside of owning a resort home is less freedom – “if you want to paint your villa yellow, you might not be allowed to”, points out Hauser. He thinks you’ll integrate more successfully into the island if you buy a standalone home, as you’ll personally deal with local plumbers and shop in local stores.”

Sotheby’s is currently selling a trio of upper-scale homes owned by a British investor: The Beach House at Meads Bay – where Justin Bieber recently stayed – advertised at $16.5 million, and $14.5 million Le Bleu and $9.5 million Indigo, both at Little Harbour. They rent well, Hauser declares, but you need to spend more at this level to keep sophisticated renters happy.

Jack Madden, partner of Ricketts Luxury Properties, argues that whether you opt for a home on or off resort, either way it’s a good time to be buying on Anguilla. A marina to accommodate mega-yachts with a boutique hotel and chic shops is being built, and there’s talk of extending the airport runway. Other pluses: no paparazzi, no jet skis, no casinos and no cruise ships to disturb affluent homeowners.

“Even though vendors aren’t openly marketing property at reduced values, some are increasingly willing to accept lower offers,” Madden explains. He reckons that a 5,000 sq ft villa worth $8.5 million would sell today for about $7 million.

There’s potential in plots, too. “The owner of a piece of land – worth $750,000 and one row back from the ocean – is happy to take $300,000 for it. It will then take a minimum of a year to build a home, ” he notes.

Purchasers of the most expensive properties on St Lucia – a large villa at Sugar Beach between the Pitons is in the $15 million bracket – can be reassured by great airlift to the UK and US, and improvements, such as a marina recently launching at The Landings.

The Landings’ sales director Michael Green says everything has sold, but seven, beachfront penthouses are coming soon. A 3,600 sq ft penthouse on the shoreline sold in an earlier phase for about $3.5 million. It’s a buyer’s market, he suggests, “ but some sellers now realise they can afford to drop prices up to 20% and still get the same rate, due to dollar to pound exchanges.”

The Cap Estate, on the northern side of St Lucia, is probably the most popular, luxe development, remarks Jason Applewhite of One Caribbean Estates. “Resale property’s costs from $4-$6 million.” He also notes an element of price tweaking: “a six-bedroom villa with 260-degree views listed at $4 million six months ago just sold for a million less.”

A big attraction for well-heeled property hunters seeking out St Kitts is authenticity. “People buy here because of the island’s natural beauty – “it’s calm, quiet, and not Disney or Las Vegas,” points out Christophe Harbour’s sales executive Tim Antal.

Game-changing perks for upmarket residents include the new YU Lounge at the airport – “a glass of champers, canapés and whisking through customs to your yacht or villa,” Antal explains – a new super-yacht marina, the Caribbean’s first Park Hyatt hotel, and homes ranging from contemporary cottages at $1.2 million to grander, bespoke villas from $10 million. “And the first nine holes of a Tom Fazio-designed golf course opens in 2018,” Antal adds.

On the sleepier next-door isle of Nevis, well-off young families and fifty-somethings desiring a slower pace – “they want somewhere less plugged-in” – and bigger plots affording more privacy. Some are even demanding private, oasis compounds with guesthouses and first-rate security, says Suzanne Gordon of Sugar Mill Real Estate.

“Home-making’s part of the process, from creating an impressive villa from about $3-$10 million plus at the Four Seasons – where a major injection of money from an outside investor will rekindle confidence – to a bijou, ‘barefoot chic’ cottage that rents lucratively throughout the year.”

James Burdess, Savills’ Caribbean and Latin American director, applauds boutique-y Baie de Sucre, with seaside cottages and villas from $395,000-$5 million on seven square mile Bequia, a top diving and yachting destination in the Grenadines.

“On Bequia, you can read, drink rum and Coke, eat fresh fish, sink into an afternoon siesta and disconnect – the polar opposite to neighbouring Mustique,” he comments.

Walter Zephirin of 7th Heaven Properties has witnessed the effect of Firefly Bequia – sister of the exclusive Mustique hotel of the same name – with the construction of eight, elevated ‘island-style clusters’ with 26 villas priced from $630,000 to $1.45 million.

“Values are very reasonable for beachfront homes, whose owners are granted automatic membership of the Firefly Club and a 25% discount on hotel cuisine, drink and services.” And even though most owners so far have bought for “the love of the island” rather than investment, he believes there are excellent benefits to placing the European-meets-West Indian designed gems in the rentals pool.

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