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Mario Carey Realty recently launched a new division aimed specifically at handling vacation home rentals, a market Carey says has unlimited growth potential.
"For years, homeowners in the Family Islands have benefitted from the desire of visitors to stay in a home rather than a hotel and they have been able to satisfy that demand," said Carey.
Now, he says, the desire for vacation homes throughout the country, including New Providence, is increasing by historic proportions and the once-unregulated sector of the tourism industry is gaining official as well as visitor attention.
"With the vacation home market now under tourism's mantle, with proper legislation in place and the ability of anyone who owns a private home to make it available for rental once they hold a business license, meet inspection standards and pay the bed tax, we expect the growth rate of home rentals to exceed the growth rate experienced by hotels," said Carey.
Private rentals, he believes, are attractive to families who are able to cook their own meals when they want, gather in a living room or often around a pool and enjoy a more personal vacation style than they might expect to experience in a resort.
"These visitors are major contributors to a local economy," Carey explained. "They rent cars, buy groceries, eat in local restaurants, often rent boats or go out on fishing charters, doing beach trips."
With the trend toward private home preference on the increase, Carey said the time was right for a real estate company to step up to a full marketing and management role, previously shared by property managers who managed a property part-time and homeowners who marketed through personal connections and websites like HomeAwayfromHome and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
"Fortunately, for us, we identified an ideal person to head the division, Tina Bain who is multi-lingual and an international award-winner," said Carey. "We are very pleased to announce that effective immediately, Bain is responsible for the Mario Carey Realty Vacation Home Rentals division."
Bain holds a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Management from HFWU Nuertingen-Geinslingen, a prestigious real estate business school in Germany. She won the European Real Estate Challenge in the Netherlands and has worked in the commercial real estate field in Atlanta, Georgia as well as in Germany.
"I am excited about spearheading the vacation home rental division," said Bain, who is part of the expanding support staff of the real estate company best known for its luxury listings record. "I believe we will bring a new level of detail to short-term vacation rentals by finding a home away from home without compromising standard of living. The satisfied, happy client is the loyal client who will return time and again to The Bahamas."
Mario Carey Realty is headquartered in an historic building on East Bay Street and has offices or agents on several islands throughout The Bahamas.
The Ministry of Finance said yesterday that maintenance fees for condominium and homeowners associations will be subject to value-added tax (VAT) if the annual billings exceed the mandatory registration threshold of $100,000.
For some associations, this threshold may not be reached until property insurance services become VAT-able in July 2015.
In such cases, mandatory registration would be put off for six months.
The ministry encouraged associations in this second category to register initially on a voluntary basis so that transparent billing practices can be followed from the outset.
An important advantage of registration is that condominium and homeowners associations would be able to issue VAT invoices to VAT registrants who use such properties as vacation rentals, the ministry said.
While homeowners associations operate on a non-profit basis, their services are of a cost recovery nature, just like common area maintenance charges on commercial rentals and leases.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance explained that, because of this, many associations will see little difference between the adjustment in maintenance fees billed and the change in VAT inclusive expenses charged to them by service providers.
In these cases, the collection of VAT from homeowners will match very closely the input credits that associations would be able to claim. There is no upside revenue potential for the government, the spokesperson said.
Associations might find, however, that there is net revenue that must be paid to the government, if they directly employ a significant number of staff to provide homeowner services.
Unlike for profit operations, business license fees will not be imposed on homeowner associations. However, residential real estate held as assets for investment/commercial purposes may be subject to business license fees and VAT when used as vacation rentals.
The ministry advises that the online system for VAT registration began on October 13.
Applications for mandatory registration must be filed by November 30, 2014.
The sale of a $7 million Ocean Club Estates residence less than two weeks after it hit the market is one indicator that the luxury home market is beginning to rebound, according to the principals of a local real estate firm.
Lamond and Robyn Davis of Sterling Bahamas Realty (SBR) successfully closed a sale for a luxury, two-story estate home on Paradise Island days after listing the property and hosting a successful open house on a similar home in the community.
Lamond Davis credits the quick sale to a combination of factors.
"It is due to targeted marketing based upon comprehensive statistical data and extensive local and international networking," he shared. "It's also being blessed by God."
A stone's throw away from the mega resort, Atlantis, Ocean Club Estates is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the Bahamas market.
The $7 million home is situated on the first fairway of the second hole of the gated community's Tom Weiskopf designed 18-hole par 72 championship golf course.
With movement in the luxury home market picking up, Robyn Davis says it's the perfect time to introduce a new West Bay Street development - a 16-unit condominium complex formerly known as The Palms.
"We have advised the developers to roll out the development now," she said.
The new Ocean Terrace is presently under construction. The property is situated on five acres of land about 800 feet east of Blake Road across the street from a white sandy beach. The development will be completed in eight to 10 months.
The property is listed exclusively by Sterling Bahamas Realty.
A full service boutique real estate agency, Sterling Realty specializes in residential and commercial sales and rentals, appraisals, property management, vacation and yacht rentals, along with dock slip sales and rentals.
Paul Lowe is the firm's broker.
According to Lamond Davis, there is a great demand for oceanfront property out west.
"The proximity of Ocean Terrace to the airport is sure to pique the interest of international buyers," he said. "Residents of this oceanfront enclave will not have the flyover traffic that some other developments out west experience, located as they are within the flight path."
When it comes to gated communities, Robyn Davis believes "bigger isn't always better".
"There are a number of existing and planned mix-used developments in the west that are offering anywhere from 30 to 200-plus residential property," she said.
The small scale of the development is a unique selling point, according to Lamond and Robyn Davis.
"Ocean Terrace is unique in that it will offer the discerning family or savvy investor a boutique, private gated community of only 16 condos with two and three-bedroom residences each with breath-taking views of the ocean and access to a white powdery beach," said Robyn Davis.
Ocean Terrace was recently acquired by Sterling (Bahamas) Financial Group Inc. via one of its newest funds - the New Providence Opportunity Fund, a real estate investment fund.
Sterling Financial Group Inc. is an integrated private equity, real estate investment, development and services company. It is also the fund manager for New Providence Capital Management Partners Ltd., a mortgage lender.
The financial group has active investments and projects throughout the Caribbean and North America.
A newly-opened real estate firm has set its sights on becoming a major player in the real estate market by offering "synergies" to its clients through an alignment with a local financial institution.
Sterling Bahamas Realty Limited (SBR) is a full service boutique real estate agency with a "solution based approach to delivering result oriented services" including bank approved appraisals, residential and commercial sales and rentals, property management, vacation and yacht rentals, along with dock slip sales and rentals.
Dynamic husband-and-wife duo, Lamond and Robyn Davis, aligned with Sterling Financial Group Inc. (SFGI) to offer synergies that would result in a "seamless blend" of real estate services, particularly for international buyers.
"After being in the real estate industry for several years, we recognized the need for excellence in customer representation in the Bahamas real estate market," said Lamond Davis, the one time offshore banker, now real estate sales agent and president.
With SFGI as a consultant, SBR aims to function as a one-stop shop for Bahamians and international investors alike.
"We are able to refer our clients to SFGI for key services such as mortgage lending, project management and development, corporate representation and even investment management services," said Davis.
Robyn Davis, the firm's vice president, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Her career in financial services spans 15 years.
Davis started her journey in commercial banking at RBC FINCO, before moving on to conveyance law at the law firms Graham Thompson & Co, then Lennox Paton. In addition to her education in financial service compliance, she also has a background in corporation and trust management from her time spent at the leading financial services firm, J.P. Morgan.
"Buying a home is one of the most important investments a family will make," said Davis. "We understand that, which is why we have put together a structure to make the process as simple and informative as possible, allowing our clients to make an informed decision."
Since opening for business in February 2014, SBR has secured sales for two Grand Bahama luxury homes, one of which is a unique boathouse with a million dollar townhome on the canal.
SBR also has sales pending on a vacant lot in Ocean Club Estates and two luxurious beach house villas located on the western end of Paradise Island.
"Our formula for success is a sound structure of unmatchable services, modern research tools and technology coupled with warm, receptive agents who are eager to listen," said Davis.
Scores of executives and professionals were on-hand for the official launch of Sterling Bahamas Realty Limited (SBR). The event took place on Thursday at an Ocean Club Estates residence that is fresh on the market and listed exclusively by the young firm.
The official launch did double duty as an open house designed to get the word out about the lavish two-story estate home nestled on a lake and situated on the first fairway of the second hole of the gated community's 18-hole, par 72 championship Tom Weiskopf golf course.
The Paradise Island open house provided an opportunity to market the home directly to potential buyers and get the word out via attendees and their networks about the real estate firm and its high-end listings, said Sterling Bahamas Realty owner Lamond Davis.
"Even if they weren't interested in buying a home, they have clients and other persons who they interact with who could afford this type of property," broker Paul Lowe explained. "The idea is they see it, fall in love with it and they get the word out about it."
According to Lamond Davis, that formula has worked in previous homes they have had listed.
"We believe it's a recipe for success," he said.
SBR is a full service boutique real estate agency specializing in residential and commercial sales and rentals, property management, vacation and yacht rentals, along with dock slip sales and rentals.
Husband and wife duo, Lamond and Robyn Davis, aligned with Sterling Financial Group Inc. (SFGI) to offer unique synergies resulting in a seamless blend of real estate services, particularly for international buyers. With the financial group onboard as an advisor, SBR is aiming to function as a one-stop shop for Bahamians and international investors alike.
The real estate firm refers its clients to SFGI for key services such as mortgage lending, project management and development, corporate representation and even investment management services.
On Thursday scores of prominent Bahamians toured the 9,814-square-foot-home and grounds featuring lush landscaping, a heated pool and covered verandas.
"I think it's a lovely piece of property. It's indicative of the opulence that you would find on Ocean Club," said Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle.
Noting that the husband and wife team are "consummate professionals" with a history in luxury real estate, Rolle predicted the couple are going to do "extremely well".
A partner at Halsbury Chambers said she has potential clients who might be interested in the five bedrooms, five and a half bath home.
"It's a great investment, if one can afford it," said Nerissa Greene.
Since opening for business in February 2014, SBR has already delivered for its clients, securing sales for two Grand Bahama luxury homes, one of which is a unique boathouse with a million dollar townhome on the canal.
SBR also has sales pending on a vacant lot in the exclusive Ocean Club Estates and two luxurious beach house villas located on the western end of Paradise Island.
One client the firm has delivered for is Marvin Bain. He decided to list with Sterling Bahamas Realty because of the relationship he enjoyed with Lamond Davis before he struck out on his own.
"He was always personable and professional. He always had time for his clients, so we felt that was the perfect combination for us. He certainly became more than a realtor for us. He became a friend of ours," said Bain.
According to Lamond Davis, the open house provided an opportunity for persons to see the inside of the home in a manner they could appreciate far more than clicking through photos online or looking at a slick ad.
"While other realtors might not host an open house on this scale, it pays off for us," he said.
President of the Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA) Carla Sweeting said yesterday she was "concerned" by the government's decision to apply value-added tax (VAT) to condo and homeowners associations (HOAs), which will be mandatory for associations with annual billings exceeding the registration threshold of $100,000.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Sweeting said she was "not surprised" by yesterday's announcement, noting that the issue had been raised during a meeting between BREA and the Ministry of Finance last week.
"We have several questions and concerns that have come out of that meeting that we will be addressing in short order," Sweeting said.
In a press release issued yesterday, the Ministry of Finance defends the decision, arguing that allowing HOAs to issue VAT invoices to VAT registrants who use such properties as vacation rentals offers an advantage to registration.
"Many associations will see little difference between the adjustment in maintenance fees billed and the change in VAT inclusive expenses charged to them by service providers," the statement says.
"In these cases, the collection of VAT from homeowners will match very closely the input credits that associations would be able to claim. There is no upside revenue potential for the government."
However, some members of the real estate community have likened compounding the new HOA fees with other VAT-eligible services for housing communities to double taxation.
As noted, the announcement follows a meeting between BREA and the Ministry of Finance that left members of the real estate community with lingering questions regarding VAT's impact on the real estate sector.
Matt Sweeting, local realtor and chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Committee, told Guardian Business last week that members of the real estate sector were still "in the dark" following a seminar hosted by the BCCEC and Ministry of Finance earlier this week.
Yesterday's press release clarified that business license fees will not be imposed on homeowner associations. However, residential real estate held as assets for investment or commercial purposes may be subject to business license fees and VAT when used as vacation rentals.
Sweeting said BREA would seek further clarification immediately.
VAT registration for businesses began on October 13. Applications for mandatory registration, which applies to business and HOAs with annual turnover exceeding $100,000, must be filed by November 30, 2014.
Value-added tax (VAT) readiness training for the tourism industry moved into the Family Islands last week, as nearly 100 participants attended the intensive VAT readiness and registration workshops on Abaco and Exuma being conducted by the Ministry of Finance and facilitated by the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism.
As the sessions roll out into all the major Family Islands over the next several weeks, the Ministry of Tourism has teamed up with the BHTA and the Ministry of Finance to assist in reaching as many tourism-related businesses as possible.
"We are encouraged by the level of participation from the industry thus far," said BHTA President Stuart Bowe. "We are seeing participation by hotels of all types and sizes - bonefish lodges, attractions, marinas, tour operators, restaurants, vacation home management companies and large-scale vendors. The sessions are tailored to the tourism industry and the types of questions and recommendations which are surfacing underscore the value of facilitating training directed specifically to our industry."
During last week's sessions in Abaco and Exuma, attendees were provided with a clear and basic understanding of how VAT works, in areas such as the required recordkeeping and accounting practices and charging and pricing considerations. Pro forma examples specific to the tourism industry were provided to illustrate how input and output VAT reconcile and show the difference in costing with the elimination of cost, insurance and freight (CIF) and the replacement of free on board (FOB) on imports effective January 1, 2015.
The Ministry of Finance representative carefully walked attendees through the process of pricing, offsetting and the filing of VAT returns. Businesses stepped through the VAT registration process, with some actually registering during the training sessions.
During the sessions, concerns were raised about several issues which the BHTA has been seeking to resolve with the Ministry of Finance. These include the treatment of business which is prepaid now but delivered after January 1, 2015, and maintaining the status quo for self-supply whereby taxes are not applicable to the provision of complimentary rooms and services for goodwill and marketing support. As it presently stands, VAT be applicable to the fair market value of these donated services.
Abaco businesses in particular expressed concerns about seeking an equitable arrangement between foreign and domestic charter boat and dive operators. Domestic operators are disadvantaged, paying considerably higher taxes than the four percent which is supposed to be assessed against foreign operators who contribute significantly less to the local economy than the foreign operators. Presently, there is lax enforcement on the collection of the four percent. The BHTA is calling for equal treatment and enforcement.
During the Abaco sessions, the issue of how vacation rental homes are treated also surfaced. A growing number of visitors to the Family Islands are staying in rented vacation homes. Attending property management firms, which presently handle several hundred homes, indicated that the hotel room tax is paid through their management arrangement. With VAT intending to be levied on all the services provided by the property management firms, plus VAT being assessed on the rentals, the firms expressed great concern that more foreign homeowners will opt to book their short-term rentals through sources outside of The Bahamas to escape paying VAT. The Abaco Chamber of Commerce committed at the session to work with the management firms to articulate the problem and offer solutions which will be shared with the Ministry of Finance, the BHTA and the Ministry of Tourism.
At all of the training sessions held thus far, hotel and restaurant operators have expressed concern about the all-inclusive pricing requirement. While some of this has been addressed - whereby businesses will be permitted to conduct VAT-exclusive pricing for sales and advertising purposes provided they asterisk or clearly note that the advertised price does not include VAT - the primary concern being expressed relates to the posting of menu prices.
This requires the added expense of printing new menus, adjusting point-of-sales systems, and it creates confusion for the customers when they are provided a receipt in which a mandatory gratuity is posted exclusive of VAT. While the businesses agree with the requirement that all menus and sales receipts must indicate that a 7.5% VAT applies to the cost, they argued that the requirement can still be met with the posting of notations on all menus similar to that which is required for advertising purposes, indicating that VAT will be added to the posted price.
Thus far, six tourism-related VAT training sessions have been held throughout the country, attracting nearly 400 attendees. Sessions this week are being conducted on Long Island and Cat Island. Tourism-related businesses wishing to attend the sessions should contact the BHTA at 502-4200.
Two colleagues in the real estate arena, William Wong and Chris Darville, have now merged into one company to form Darville-Wong Realty. The details were finalized on February 1.
Both Wong and Darville said they both have been seriously discussing the merger for the last four years and decided now to make the marriage official, which will create a merged firm with a staff compliment of 12 agents and two brokers.
"I think my reason for the merger is economics and the way I travel today," said Darville. He shared that he finds his new partner to be fairly aggressive and both companies have a great team of agents so it made sense. "In this business most agencies have basically the same listings, and we just find that with the combined businesses, we bring synergies together and economically it made more sense," said Wong.
It only makes sense to share and pool the resources, said Wong, and it's something he sees as mutually beneficial for all involved. "We're quite optimistic that with the combined synergies and the staff and our advertising, we could enjoy a good share of the market," said Wong.
"I'd like to see us target more of the commercial properties in New Providence and also expand our wings more in the Family islands," said Wong. "There seems to be an increasing demand for properties in the Family Islands and also we're going to have one of the best registers for rentals in New Providence." The plan, Wong said, is that when people think of rentals they will think of Darville-Wong Realty.
Additionally, the merged firm will offer property management in its services, along with appraisals and sales.
"We will become a one-stop shop. In addition to that, we have a mortgage broker on staff that can pre-qualify and secure financing for potential clients, so you don't have to go anyplace else," said Wong.
Wong, a former president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA), has seen a number of transitions in recent weeks, having relocated his firm from its Love Beach office back to the Cable Beach strip which, he said, only made sense with a number of developments like Baha Mar taking place.
Both Darville and Wong have a number of years of experience in the real estate industry and are committed to making the presence of Darville-Wong Realty felt in the market.
Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty has launched a concierge and property management division, making it a full service real estate company.
Mike Lightbourn, president of Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty, said the new division is in keeping with his company's projected growth plan.
The new service covers vacation rentals, property staging, coordinating general home maintenance, repairs and renovations, concierge relocation services, bill payment and custom tailored management packages.
Owen Shephard, with a background in real estate and construction, heads the new division.
Shephard said the company provides a "truly turnkey" service and takes the hassle out of relocation, home ownership, sales and rentals.
Relocation services also cover helping expats with the school enrolment process for their children, or application for membership into clubs and marinas.
The home staging aspect concentrates on making properties appealing to the highest number of prospects with the goal of selling homes faster and maximizing profits.
Mike Lightbourn Real Estate became affiliated with the giant U.S. based real estate franchise, Coldwell Banker, in 1999, operating from rented premises on Bay Street.
Today it is headquartered on East Shirley Street, two doors away from the Bahamas Real Estate Association.
The business has grown steadily and now has offices in Abaco, Exuma and Long Island, and agents in Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini and Eleuthera, including Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.
The Coldwell Banker network covers about 3,000 offices worldwide.
Property values are expected to increase over the next five to 10 years, according to some of the country's top realtors and developers.
John Christie, vice president at H.G. Christie Limited, shared with Guardian Business that property values, which have been stagnant for the last five years, are poised for an increase.
In fact, Christie estimated that prices could go up five percent on an annual basis.
"Once the demand is greater than the supply, the prices will push up quite a bit. We are expecting that to happen because we are at sort of an equilibrium now. No one really knows how the world is, there could be a lot of economic uncertainty.
If the world becomes unstable financially then you will find that prices that will stay down. If the world continues to make slow progress, then we should see a steady progress in price appreciation."
The realtor also believes the construction of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar mega resort will be a factor in the real estate market demand.
"Once that happens, we are looking for a lot more traffic and bodies. If there are more buyers that will certainly push the prices up. The number of rentals will also drive the prices up. If the rental prices go up, the sale prices will go up. That's the way it's worked in places like Sandyport," according to Christie.
Jason Kinsale, president of the Balmoral development, said that in addition to Baha Mar's December 2014 opening, a big indicator that will determine an increase in real estate prices is the strength of the country's financial services sector.
"We need the bankers to keep driving the demand for rentals and that would bring investors into the market.
Baha Mar is going to have a major influence on what is going on. When we see strong rental demand that is really what is going to drive the prices even higher."
Kinsale also believes scarcity will play a significant role.
"Scarcity is really what is going to drive up prices, so you look at the major gated communities, Sandyport, Columbus Cove, Caves, they are all really getting to a point where they are essentially sold out or have very little inventory left. The reality is that a lot of people don't want to go further west than Caves. There is Lyford Cay and Old Fort Bay, which are unique developments. Even Old Fort Bay is getting to the point where you are seeing vacant lots becoming scarce," he said.
"Historically we have seen prices increase. If you want to use Balmoral as an example, when we launched in 2008 our townhomes that sold for $350,000 are now selling for $390,000 and we validated that price point through actual sales. There is quite a difference between what people believe something is worth and what the actual market will pay. That's a $40,000 increase in some pretty difficult times so if we have been able to do that over the last four years, I'm sure we will be able to do that over the next five to10 years at least."
According to him, The Bahamas generally follows U.S. trends and recovers approximately nine to 12 months after that jurisdiction. Markets like Florida, New York and California are already starting to see an increase in real estate prices.
"If you look at what's going on in the Florida real estate market, that's actually starting to boom again. If you look at what's going on in Cincinnati, they're up by 13 percent, New York, California they are recovering and it's important to get positioned now before you have to pay those higher prices," he shared.
He is encouraging both buyers and sellers to take advantage of the market's current pricing.
"I'm seeing that the foreigners are buying and Bahamians really have to start making decisions because they are going to be a victim of these price increases. One of the things that we have to think about is if a $400,000 townhome increases by three percent or even four percent year over year, how does the average person find $12-16,000 the next year?
"I think if you are buying real estate right now, my opinion is that you have to appeal to the foreign market. Foreigners want to be on the ocean and in gated communities. To buy properties outside of those environments is not opening up your market internationally and selling domestically will limit growth in international demand."