Property investment: time to snap up a Barbados bolt-hole?
Max Davidson heads to the Caribbean, where British sporting talent is taking advantage of the strong pound
Royal Westmoreland, Barbados. The property market there is taking off
Laid back: Jemima Khan, Michael Vaughan and Coleen Rooney are all guests at the Royal Westmoreland
By Max Davidson
Owners of second homes in Barbados have been looking a bit glum in the past few years. A beautiful island, and a gorgeous holiday destination. But the bottom line, financially, has been far less impressive than the bikini lines. In fact, until the back end of the last year, property prices were on a downward trend.
“The first big sign that the Barbados property market was making a comeback came in June 2013,” says Kim Goddard, director of sales at the Royal Westmoreland, a luxury golf resort community. “A French-Canadian buyer paid $51 m for Cove Springs on the west coast. It was the highest price ever paid for a residential property on the island. I just thought, 'Holy cow!’ ”
There have been other “Holy cow!” moments since, notably last autumn, when the pop singer Rihanna, one of Barbados’s most instantly recognisable celebrities, paid $22 m for an apartment in the One Sandy Lane development. Previously, she had rented the property, waiting for the best time to invest long-term.
“What she did was typical,” adds Goddard. “The market was in the doldrums, property prices had fallen, so buyers were naturally cautious. They bided their time.”
Barbadians tend to be glass-half-full types, and as property prices have fallen in the past few years, there has been talk of “a necessary market correction”. But there seems to be confidence that most of that market correction has taken place.
The government has been doing its bit to lure investors, introducing new Special Entry Permit laws to make life easier for long-stay residents and reviewing the option of offering full citizenship to wealthy overseas investors.
“We are very dependent on British buyers, who form much the biggest part of the overseas market, so the signs of economic recovery in Britain have been hugely welcome here,” explains Goddard.
The strong British pound has been another trigger for investors. It has been doing so well against the US dollar, to which the Barbados dollar is pegged, that someone buying a $1 m property today can make savings of $37,000 compared with a year ago.
Kieran Kelly of Chestertons Barbados expects prices to remain roughly static in 2014 (they fell by 10-15 per cent in some areas in 2013), but then rise in 2015 and 2016. “Sales in our office were up by 70 per cent last year.”
Confidence is certainly back at the Royal Westmoreland where the resort’s British owner John Morphet has just purchased an additional 210 acres of land on the edge of the 500-acre site, and development is proceeding apace.
Sugar Cane Ridge is a new development of 22 semi-detached three- and four-bedroom villas priced at between £750,000 ($1.25 m) and £960,000 ($1.595 m), while the Royal Apartments, which start at £237,00 ($395,000), offer stylish open-plan apartment living, Caribbean style.
There will soon be more than 200 properties at the Royal Westmoreland, making it the only “fully amenitised” resort community on the island, with a spa, swimming pool and restaurants to complement the 18-hole championship golf course.
The resort is probably best known for its celebrity villa-owners from the world of sport, including Ian Woosnam, Virginia Wade, Gary Lineker, Joe Calzaghe, Michael Vaughan and Wayne Rooney. In my time, I have chatted to Sir Garry Sobers in the bar, swum in the Rooneys’ infinity pool and hit a drive 250 yards down the fairway only to realise I was being watched by Tony Jacklin. Pure bliss.
But for Goddard, who comes from California, it is the hard-nosed financial investors at the Royal Westmoreland, not the sporting stars, who are the real story.
“I wouldn’t recognise Wayne Rooney if I saw him,” she admits. “But the fact that executives such as Michael Geoghegan [ex-CEO of HSBC] and Neville Isdell [ex-CEO of Coca-Cola] have bought properties here says it all.”
“I have swum in the Isdells’ infinity pool.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? But a resort big enough to accommodate the big beasts of commerce as well as the big beasts of sport, not to mention hundreds of ordinary British punters, must be doing something right.
As the sun sets over the Caribbean and a motley crew of expats gathers at Mullins beach bar to swill cocktails and listen to the band belting out Bob Marley classics, life in Little England, as Barbados used to be known, is good again. When Britain sneezes, Barbados catches a cold. But when Britain perks up up, Barbados goes into full-on carnival mode. Island time: always relaxing, and maybe profitable, too.
*For full details of properties on the market at the Royal Westmoreland resort, visit royalwestmoreland.com