Ahhh, the lure of a second home – a place of your own to escape for a change of scenery or warmer weather. It’s a dream for some and a reality for others. Two possible buys in the Caribbean region offer a snapshot of how it works and what you get.
As the developer of three condo hotels in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and another luxury residential resort under construction, you could say Mark Durliat is somewhat biased when he touts the benefits of investing in a second home on the island nation.
“The first thing is the beauty of the destination,” says Durliat, the CEO of Grace Bay Resorts. “The weather is attractive too and getting here is so easy.”
Sunny, warm days are typical year-round, and at least two airlines (WestJet and Air Canada) offer non-stop flights from Toronto in just over three hours.
The island, clearly, is not a hard sell. The first phase of Grace Bay Resort’s latest project, Rock House, a luxe 28-home development on the north side of Providenciales, is already 80 per cent sold, even though it’s still under construction and won’t open until next summer.
Many of the qualities that make TCI a popular tourist destination make it an attractive place to own a second home. In fact, says Durliat, many home buyers first came to Turks and Caicos on holiday.
A former British colony, now an “independent overseas territory,” TCI is just south of the Bahamas (926 km southeast of Miami). Known for its wide sandy beaches, diving, snorkeling and fishing, it has eight main islands of which Providenciales (“Provo” for short) is the most developed.
How do you buy a piece of paradise? “We have a land registry system which permits foreign ownership of land and land title guaranteed by the British crown,” says Durliat. “As a Canadian you could arrive, hire an attorney, likely from Canada and running a legal office there, who could advise you and help you navigate things in a matter of days or weeks. The process is easy to understand and the legal system is based on British law.”
For financing, he says potential buyers can approach one of the Canadian banks on the island – Scotiabank, CIBC or RBC.
Unlike some Caribbean islands, says Durliat, you don’t have to apply for approval for an alien land holding license. There is, however, a one-time property tax of 10 per cent for any property valued at over half a million dollars (six to eight per cent for homes under half a million).
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the government slashed the tax in half to five per cent for the month of June, which had a positive effect on sales, says Durliat. “The view is that they’ll reintroduce the five per cent for another period of time to stimulate investment.”
Prices at Rock House range from $700,000 US for a studio suite (about 650 square feet) to $1.9 million for a two-bedroom home with a private pool and ocean views. Owners have access to all the amenities, which include a spa, fitness centre, restaurant, bar, cliffside infinity pool, a secluded private beach and private docks. When you’re away, Grace Bay Resorts will manage the property (for a fee yet to be determined), and, if you so chose, rent it out on your behalf, which would provide additional income.
Durliat estimates roughly 15 to 25 per cent of those investing in second homes here are Canadian. He says Turks and Caicos has been seen as good value for many years. “It’s less expensive than Grand Cayman where a home would cost about 30 to 40 per cent more.”
He says he was surprised that foreigners continued buying property on the island even during the COVID lockdown.
“It seems to meet some criteria that buyers are setting that they were thinking before but weren’t as motivated,” he says. “Some have taken the attitude ‘I may not get a chance at this’… do it now rather than later.”
In part because of its proximity to North America, Belize is another popular destination for Canadian buyers, especially Ambergris Caye a favourite of divers and sport fishers.
A newcomer on the scene here is the Alaia Belize. The 155-unit hotel and residential development comprised of condos and oceanfront villas is part of the Marriott International Autograph Collection portfolio, and due to open early next year.
Prices range from $200,000 US for a studio to $1.2 million for a beach villa. In between are one, two and three-bedroom condos with an average price of about $500,000. Expect a one-time stamp duty of eight per cent.
“Financing of up to 80 per cent is available depending on the credit worthiness of the buyer,” says Robi Das, director of acquisitions for Alaia.
Belize is relatively easy to reach with WestJet and Air Canada offering direct flights from many locations. Fly to Belize City, then take a hopper plane for the 15-minute trip (or a boat ride in under an hour) to Ambergris Caye.
For buyers who want a hassle-free experience, Alaia Belize promises to deliver that. The homes will be fully furnished and fees will cover bills, property upkeep and booking of rental guests, details you’d otherwise have to handle yourself. There’s also access to resort amenities that include a restaurant, spa, fitness centre, retail space and a dive shop. Another advantage is the benefit of association with a branded property (standards of cleanliness and the comfort of knowing you’re dealing with a reputable company).
On the downside, owners cede control in certain areas. For example, buyers can only use their property for six weeks of every year and must agree to rent it out for the first two years, after which it is optional. Owners receive 60 per cent of the room revenue after taxes and fees.
Though the beaches aren’t quite as stunning as on Turks and Caicos Islands, there’s more to see and do in Belize including the aforementioned fishing and diving, which is world-class, as well as rainforest hikes, zip lining and Mayan ruins.
“From a quality standpoint we’re setting the bar a bit higher,” says Das. “There’s little branded product built at U.S. standards…between this and the Four Seasons, you’ll see an uplift in this type of development in the country.”
Advice from an unbiased pro
For those contemplating buying a second home abroad, there are other considerations beyond the property itself.
“Get to know the destination first,” says Anne Brobyn, a Canadian-based real estate travel expert with Hibiscus International. “They have to look at what they want, what’s the lifestyle they imagine?” she says. “Do you want to be near or far from people, do you need a car, how much is insurance, what are the medical services like?” Buying property abroad can be complex, says Brobyn, who says it’s a good idea for potential buyers to seek financial advice in Canada before investing offshore.