Living in a locale with a more relaxed pace is reason enough for most to make the change, but it's not the only benefit: Investing in Caribbean real estate can be a smart financial move, too. Whether you plan to live in your tropical home year-round, or visit once a year, chances are that buying a residence will pay off in the long term. Statistics show that tourists have been going to the region in exceptionally large numbers in the last six months. As the travelers grow enchanted with their destinations, more and more are choosing to build or buy a primary or second home in a perpetually warm destination. Get in now while prices are still competitive."The market has exploded, like a floodgate opening," says Ajit Mathew George, managing director of Nail Bay and an investor in Palm Bay, both residential communities on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. "All of a sudden more people mostly Americans are looking at, expressing interest in, and buying real estate than at any other time during my 22-year history in this industry."The type of lifestyle you choose depends on the destination you pick. Parts of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are urban and cultured, for example, while select Bahamian Out Islands are nearly deserted. Some homes are in remote areas, while others are in luxury communities with hotel-like amenities, from housecleaning to golf courses. The choices are as diverse as they are back home.Mortgage rates in the States have been impressively low, and that's a huge help. Many times homebuyers can take their loan from an American bank, meaning the interest is the same as it would be for a mortgage in Cincinnati. If your dream destination requires using a local bank, consider refinancing your stateside residence and putting your cash into the Caribbean one. In some states, tax relief from real estate investments may help offset an increase in luxury taxes. And small-business owners who host meetings at their beach getaways might be able to gain tax benefits. Always ask a certified accountant before making decisions, of course.
A single Caribbean escape - exchanging gray winter chills for warm tropical sun - is enough to make anyone fantasize about relocating to an idyllic island. While not all dreamers are prepared to pack up the house and spend the rest of their lives on a secluded beach, many people can purchase a Caribbean getaway that offers a sunny escape year after year.
To help you, nearly every Caribbean destination has established real estate companies whose agents can walk you through every step of the process, making your experience painless. Some consumers prefer beginning the process in their own neighborhoods: Realtors from major realty firms will be happy to find colleagues abroad for you; you'll have a referral chosen by someone in your community.Once you're settled, you can spend the rest of your days swinging in a hammock, get a regular job, or start fresh by buying or opening your own business. Some local governments, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, will encourage you to start a business with tax incentives. Likewise, some destinations, such as Belize, have programs aimed at recruiting retirees.Do intensive research before you make a move. "Make a preliminary visit," advises Rosanne Knorr in The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home (Ten Speed Press, 1998). "Make sure you're not living someone else's dream or being swayed by some travel writer's effusive prose."Consumers have three choices when relocating to the region:
Buying a permanent residenceFrom burnt-out executives to adventurous retirees, many Americans every year opt to cash in their home on the mainland for one in the Caribbean. Whether you pick a two-bedroom cottage steps from the sand or a 10-bedroom villa nestled into lush green hills, you'll be spending your days in the type of sunny, low-key location most people only daydream about.In some Caribbean destinations, such as in U.S. territories, the process is nearly identical to that at home: You have a real estate agent show you around, you select a house, you take out a mortgage and you move in. Others destinations, especially those with no formal U.S. ties, might require more paperwork. Seasoned real estate professionals can make the process easy by guiding buyers through every step.
Buying a home as an investmentMore than ever, luxury homes in the Caribbean are villas that Americans buy with the intention of renting them out, and possibly selling at a future date. Usually investors purchase the villas, stay in them for a small part of the year, and lease them to others when they're away. Whether these homes are freestanding houses in local communities or villas within planned developments, they're as appealing to vacationers as they are to the investors, in part because they offer more space and privacy, along with a kitchen, all of which are attractive extras for long visits.Most houses on Aruba are located in regular neighborhoods, but Tierra del Sol offers an alternative for sun-lovers looking for a home, or second home, in a resort-like setting. The golf community will have 600 condos, villa homes and custom homes upon completion. Management will rent out and maintain the spaces when owners are away. "Our condos and villas are all built with zoning regulations and architectural control, so our million-dollar houses don't sit next to repair businesses and such," says Bob Elwood, community manager. "Since we can rent out homes for the owners, many pay for themselves, and some do a whole lot better than that."Two developments on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands have been especially attractive to American investors lately. Nail Bay is a community with hotel-like amenities including tennis, a restaurant and, soon, a spa and high-speed Internet access. The 146-acre property will eventually have 100 homes, from 650 square feet to 25,000 square feet. A quieter option, Pond Bay, is a brand-new 10-home subdivision with lots from a half-acre to an acre priced from $295,000 to $1.25 million.Americans looking for a major income source sometimes buy several Caribbean villas, often in one destination, and rent them out by the week to vacationers.For investors with one villa or 20, independent villa management companies can make long-distance ownership easy. Many firms will market the properties, handle the paperwork, help guests book their rental cars and excursions, pick renters up at the airport, keep the houses clean, manage the upkeep and even hire nannies.
Buying a slice of a vacation ownership propertyVacation ownership facilities, sometimes called time shares, are in the business of selling part-time homes. Most are located in resort-like complexes with swimming pools, restaurants, spas, tennis courts and even golf courses. More moderate facilities might sell one week a year in a suite with a kitchenette; owners can stay in the unit that week, or trade it for a stay at a sister property in another part of the world. More upscale facilities may even help buyers furnish their properties, from the sofa down to the silverware. Housekeeping is generally included in the cost.Aruba has long offered vacation ownership options. One of the newest projects is Marriott's Aruba Surf Club, a beachfront property scheduled for a July 2004 debut that will feature two- and three-bedroom units with access to restaurants, bars, shops and a casino at two adjacent Marriott facilities. Investors choose Aruba in part because of its popularity with renters. "Aruba is one of Marriott Vacation Club's most requested destinations," says Marriott Project Director Andy Harris, "especially among those vacationers who live in the eastern United States and Latin America."What's right for you? Consider which destinations you love, first of all. Think too of whether you're comfortable with the destination's language, currency, government, infrastructure and available activities. With so many varied choices in so many locales, you're sure to find just the right property to start your Caribbean journey.
Marriott's Aruba Surf Club, Aruba800-931-2234www.marriottsarubasurfclub.comVacation Ownership with Marriott's Aruba Surf Club provides the perfect opportunity to own a piece of paradise. Fully equipped, two-bedroom villas in an exquisite beachfront location offer breathtaking vistas and all the comforts of home. Enjoy a range of amenities as diverse as this unique vacation destination.Nail Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI800-871-3551www.nailbay.comNail Bay, a 147-acre historic waterfront estate in Virgin Gorda, offers a choice of fully furnished accommodations from luxury one- to five-bedroom villas with pools to nice apartments, suites and rooms. Luxury villas and lots also for sale. On-site restaurant, lighted tennis court, pool, sugar-mill ruins and Internet access.
Pond Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI284-495-SANDwww.pondbaybeachvillas.comBe among the first to build a dream home in Pond Bay, an upscale community in Virgin Gorda located on land that was once owned by philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller. Ten home lots, each at least half an acre. Your choice of beachfront, waterfront or hillside. Adjacent to Savannah Bay and Pond Bay beaches.
Tierra del Sol Resort & Country Club, Aruba297-5861-010www.tierradelsol.comAruba, the Caribbean's most revisited island, boasts perfect weather year-round, affluence, genuinely friendly people, and no hurricanes. Tierra del Sol is Aruba's only master-planned community; it's home to a Robert Trent Jones II golf course; charming condominiums, villa homes and custom homes; and a successful Vacation Rental Program.