Living in: Caribbean beach areas
On the east coast, properties for sale are typically apartments and small homes that begin as low as $150,000. However, the luxury market is also strong. "There is a very healthy market for luxury apartment developments in the Punta Cana-Bavaro region," said Luis Migoya, sales manager of Puntacana Resort and Club. "These can be priced up to $1 million and give owners access to golf, restaurants, spa, gym, tennis and other amenities." For any purchase, he said, it is important to hire a local lawyer to conduct due diligence and review the property's legal status. At Puntacana the government gives first-time buyers an incentive in the form of tax breaks: no transfer or property tax until 2013.
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Vieques, Puerto Rico
The US Navy's base on the island has now been vacated and an upscale W hotel has arrived, but Vieques - a 20-minute flight from San Juan - and its residents are still holding on to their quiet ways and spectacular, commerce-free beaches that kept the island under wraps until about a decade ago. The small island contains the largest wildlife refuge in the Caribbean, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In fact, the island still has no traffic lights, no movie theatres and no golf courses, which is exactly the lure for a certain type of visitor.
"Our main entertainment is dinner parties," said Sheila Levin, president of Vieques Fine Properties and a 24-year resident. "And all the beaches are 'private'. The joke is that if there are more than 10 people on a beach, you go to a different one." However, she says that with the W's opening last April, the influx of well-heeled guests has had an impact on the island. "The hotel attracts a clientele that is willing to spend a lot of money."
Currently, because there are so few condo buildings on the island (only four according to Levin), people buy stand-alone houses, from a fixer-upper in the $120,000 range to a three-bed with swimming pool in the $450,000 to $700,000 range. Because Puerto Rico is a US territory, buying in Vieques is as transparent a process as buying in the States, with one large benefit: property taxes are still based on 1942 home values. "The Puerto Rican government faces the problem that if they change it for wealthy gringos, they'd have to change it for the locals," said Levin. In addition, an exemption is given to full-time residents, full-time being six months and a day.
This happy island is not in the Caribbean at all, but sits splendidly in isolation in the Atlantic Ocean. A two-hour flight from New York (which has made it a favoured second home of that city's Mayor Bloomberg), nothing on Bermuda comes cheap, not its pink sands or its emerald bays. Even the prices at the Marks & Spencer in Hamilton, the capital, would raise the eyebrows of most high street shoppers. But Bermuda's remoteness has its plus sides too - the cab drivers have never heard of Starbucks, the local fish is called wahoo, and the native bananas growing in front gardens are smaller and sweeter than the monocultural type found in supermarkets.
The Bermudan government jealously protects the land in this 22-mile collection of islands for locals, and there is a strict limit on how many non-Bermudans can purchase property. Demand has typically outstripped supply, although the recent economic downturn has government offering incentives to non-Bermudans in the form of lower taxes and fees. Through the nine parishes, from St George's in the east to Sandys in the west, condos typically start at $1 million and a single-family home at $4 million. This makes fractional ownership attractive, according to John Bush, executive vice president of residential development at Tucker's Point resort. A buyer can spend $250,000 to $300,000 to get a 1/10 slice (at least five weeks) of a villa or townhouse at a resort like the Reefs, Tucker's Point or soon-to-open Park Hyatt that comes with all the resort amenities, maintenance and interior design plans.