Many a holiday in the Caribbean has sparked a dream of owning your own island hideaway — a fantasy tailored to all comers, from louche afternoons by the infinity pool to hardcore para-surfing through coral reefs.
Fortunately, there are island paradises where the prices are right or the buying is easy and the reward is aquamarine water, sugary sands, abundant sun, and fruit so fresh the idea of eating something from the supermarket seems laughable.
The Ian Fleming International Airport opened in January to accommodate private jets - up to six at a time. But even if you are not flying in on the latest Bombardier Challenger, Jamaica still has amazing year-round weather and is a good value for second-home buyers. Most flock to Ocho Rios and Montego Bay on the north coast, where many of the resorts and the new cruise shop port at Falmouth are located. Other areas to consider are Portland in the south, where San San and Frenchman's Cove are known for freshwater and spectacular beaches. Jamaica's unique culture is also a selling point. "Jamaica has a really strong, interesting culture and that comes through in its music and art," said Vanessa Keith, principal of Studioteka and an architect with projects in Jamaica. "You get to know the people too, like the local fisherman, If they catch something big, they will come to your front gate and sell it to you."
A typical condo costs around $200,000 to $250,000 and villas start around $450,000. "Jamaica is the best value around for both a winter and summer resort," said Nigel Pemberton, chairman of Graham Associates in Montego Bay. "The price of real estate is amongst the lowest in the Caribbean." Security can be an issue in Jamaica, and many people buy in a gated community or upscale villas that are monitored by a security service or the police.
"Real estate was affected by the economic downturn, but with the improving conditions, developers are building again," said Howard Johnson, Jr, president of the Realtors Association. Various fees apply when purchasing a home, but the realtor's commission is usually paid by the vendor, not the buyer. Another option is buying in a resort community development like Round Hill or Palmyra where your property is looked after and maintained.
Coastal Belize has some of the most spectacular diving and snorkelling to be found in the Caribbean, and the small country's official language is English, making it a popular destination for retirees and holiday home buyers from the US. Corozal, near the Mexican border, is popular with ex-pats who fly into Cancun - which has more direct flights - and take a bus south. Ambergris Caye, north of the capital Belize City, is fringed by white sand beaches and limpid blue bays where turtles and colourful fish swim above the coral reefs. Swank resorts rub shoulders with brand-new condo developments. Land is at a premium here, so most buyers purchase condos, whereas in Corozal, many buy pre-construction lots.
In Placencia in southern Belize, where Francis Ford Coppola's Turtle Inn has held sway for a certain type of elite traveller, roads have recently been paved, opening the area up to developers, and the entire area is about to undergo a radical change. About a dozen hotel, resort and golf course projects are underway or approved, in addition to a new airport. The developments have Miami-chic style homes, manicured lawns and views of the sea and lagoon.
San Pedro Sun
This incredibly diverse country has mountains, lakes and splendid beaches, and sees a mix of holidaymakers that range from the eco-tourist to the golf fanatic. The past few years have seen an influx of development in and around Punta Cana and the Samaná peninsula, with resorts like Cap Cana and Balcones des Atlantico. They are home to multiple resorts, golf courses and real estate developments with apartments, townhouses and ocean-front villas for sale. There are also many second-home options, along with adventure and water parks, on the north coast, which some consider overdeveloped now.
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.
Go Dominican Republic
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.
Vieques Island Blog
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
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.