Buying or Building a Home in the Caribbean

Waterfront Property on Anguilla. Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board
Waterfront Property on Anguilla. Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board

 

It happens slowly, but often surely. First comes a season cruising in the Caribbean. Then, the boat is docked or stored to make it easier to come back and cruise year after year. Finally, there’s the desire to plant roots and own a piece of an island rock. This may be a primary residence, vacation home or condo.  You may want to live in it for part of the year and rent out for the rest. No matter which, there are key points you should consider about buying or building a home in the Caribbean. ALL AT SEA asked a sampling of realtors throughout the regions for their insights and advice.

 

Old-San-Juan. Photo: Caribbean Tourism Organization

The Market(s)

Keep in mind when buying or building a home that each Caribbean nation has its own micro market.  They are affected by global issues and those specific to the island itself.

“The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) real estate market tends to correlate with the U.S. mainland economy since many buyers are purchasing as a second home or investment property. But we also have lots of residents that need homes, and in this case, we beat to our own drum. So, when hurricanes hit in 2017, prices did not go down a significant amount like many expected,” says Kirk Boeger, who owns Real Solutions Real Estate and Management Services on St. Thomas.

Unlike the U.S. mainland, the selling window is much longer in Puerto Rico, according to Bob Gevinski, founder and president at Paraiso Realty, on Vieques. “It is not uncommon for a home to be on the market for more than a year. Because of that, our inventory tends to stay the same. Before COVID-19, we had hot pocket areas of high demand and low inventory like Old San Juan, Condado, Ocean Park, Vieques, Condado, Dorado, Culebra, Rincon and Palmas Del Mar. It will be interesting to see how social distancing plays out and if folks will move out of cities and into rural areas. Five acres in Puerto Rico, with ocean views and warm weather, can be cheaper than a 1-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.”

Uncertainties surrounding Brexit have had some influence on the real estate market in Antigua & Barbuda given the dual island nation is a constitutional monarchy headed by Queen Elizabeth II and run by a prime minister and parliament. 

“Buyers from the U.K. historically represent an important source of property investors in Antigua. The impact of Brexit, however, was offset some by an increase in buyers from North America, Europe and Asia. In general, the real estate market in Antigua is financially safe and secure due to being solidly grounded in some long-standing English-based laws,” says Bradley Esty, director of Stanley’s Estate Agents Ltd, in Antigua. 

Farther south, last year saw an increase of 35 percent in the total value of Grenada’s real estate transactions, says Paula La Touche-Keller, owner and broker at Century 21 Grenada. “This was bolstered by activity in prime, large, development sites. Real estate transactions are dominated by vacant land sales, as Grenada has great swaths of the country that have very low density and lots of available lands. International buyers made up around one-third of total transactions and the percentage of international buyers is increasing.”

 

Sunset from a Villa in Antigua. Photo: antigua Barbuda Department of Tourism

What is Available?

‘Something for everyone’ is a good way to answer this question throughout the Caribbean. Take Antigua for example. Luxury properties range from US $1.5 million to US $5 million. The most expensive are located on the private island of Jumby Bay resort, located just offshore of Antigua. Here properties can exceed US $20 million.

However, “there are many, much more affordable options available. These range from US $200,000 for a fully furnished, two-bedroom villa in the popular areas of Jolly Harbour, to options as well in English Harbour, NonSuch Bay Resort, St. James Club, Windward Estates, Sugar Ridge, Tamarind Hills, and other established and appealing residential communities. There are also several new developments underway.  These include Half Moon Bay, Hodges Bay and Windward Estates, to name a few,” explains Stanley’s Esty.

 

Beachfront in Barbados. Photo: Barbados Tourism Authority

 

To Buy or to Build in the Caribbean?

When considering buying or building a home in the Caribbean, THINK TIME!

“You can close on a home within thirty days and you are ready to go quickly. Whereas building may take you that long to purchase your land, then another 60 to 120 days to get plans drawn up and approved. So, you may be five months down the road before you even start to build. That said, with limited inventory on a small island, the advantage of building is you can choose your own home design,” says Real Solution’s Boeger.

For those who plan to build, there is a greater emphasis now on building to withstand climate change and hurricanes.

“In Puerto Rico, after Hurricanes Hugo and George, we saw that instead of building wood homes, everyone switched to concrete. Now after Hurricane Maria, homes are being built ‘green’ and self-sufficient. More solar panels, windmills and battery systems are being installed.  Because of this, homes do not need to rely on the electrical grid. Everyone is installing or building larger cisterns as well. Folks want their homes to withstand and fight climate change, while at the same time be a refuge if need be,” says Paraiso’s Gevinski.

 

Community of Scotts-Head in Dominica. Photo: Discover Dominica Authority

Points to Consider

Insurance rates, inheritance laws, and purchasing as an international buyer are considerations when buying a property in the Caribbean.

“Because the Caribbean is in the ‘hurricane belt’, insurance rates are higher than in the U.S. mainland and probably anywhere else in the world. Some of these higher insurance payments are offset by generally lower property taxes in the USVI. If purchasing a condo, people are most surprised by the high homeowners dues.  They forget much of this is due to the high insurance premiums,” explains Real Solutions’ Boeger. 

Puerto Rico has its own inheritance laws which many buyers overlook.

“They figure since they have a will in the U.S., that any property they buy in Puerto Rico is covered. Puerto Rico has a rigid set of guidelines for dividing an estate in probate, even if one has a will elsewhere,” explains Paraiso’s Gevinski.

International buyers must obtain a Noncitizens Landholding License (NCL) to own real estate in Antigua. Or, alternately, acquire an Antiguan passport under the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program.

“The NCL license typically takes three to six months to obtain. Stamp duty on the license is a one-time charge of 5 percent of the government assessed value of the property and paid at settlement,” explains Stanley’s Esty.

Finally, just because life in the islands seems laid-back, this isn’t the mindset to have when approaching a financial investment in the Caribbean, advises Paraiso’s Gevinski. “Be as prudent during your purchase here as you would be elsewhere.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.