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“Top Real Estate Trends Impacting You & Your Business”

My name is Dwayne Wallas, 12 years working in the real estate business with HG Christie Real Estate.  I moved to Abaco in 2007.

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I’ve been asked to come here today and present some insight in the real estate market in Abaco.  As you all know Abaco is a unique part of the Bahamas and a unique part of the world.  In my view it is the people that make it unique.

But also and perhaps more importantly it is the geography – it is the only island in the Bahamas which has a relatively large land mass of 650 square miles similar to Grand Bahama or Andros while also having the 120 mile long chain of barrier cays.

This combination is not found anywhere else in the Bahamas or the Caribbean for the most part.  The ‘mainland’ of Abaco offers the ability for farming, logging, and more light industry or the option to have an estate or many acres with waterfront.  The tourism potential of Great Abaco Island is also very much untapped.

The barrier cays offer unique boating experiences together with wonderful communities.  Put the two together and the potential is tremendous.

I believe Elbow Cay is a perfect example of a thriving development model for the Bahamas.  It offers several small scale hotels together with restaurants and most importantly ATMOSPHERE.

The data I will be showing is derived from the Bahamas MLS.  Therefore it only takes into account sales transactions that have had a broker involved.

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What is selling in Abaco?

Hope Town is booming.  The rest of the Abacos have had a banner year but it all trails way behind Hope Town.  The community has managed to strike a balance between authenticity and capacity.  This year you could not rent a golf cart on the cay unless you booked it well in advance.  The real estate market on the cay is similarly very strong.

Treasure Cay is the close second for driving the economy of the Abacos.  The area sees a strong tourism market as well as posting a strong year for the real estate market.  The condominium market in Treasure Cay was in terrible shape, but the past 2 years have finally seen the inventory reduced and the market is beginning to normalize.

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The Marsh Harbour market is a tough nut to crack.  The market for Bahamians is starting to normalize as the banks are starting to ease lending requirements, but the property values are still depressed.  On the other hand the luxury or foreign investor market in Marsh Harbour (MH) is still very much stagnant.  I see lots of growth potential for the centre of Abaco, but it is suffering as a tourism destination.

Marsh Harbour is generally just a transit point and a shipping/business centre.  There is an opportunity to grow the tourism market here and by extension improve the foreign second home owner market.  From what I see MH seems to lack the charm and “islandy feel” visitors expect when they arrive at the airport.

Baker’s Bay is in full steam construction mode and providing tons of employment but not affecting the real estate market of Abaco at all.  It is its own microcosm and has little direct effect on the Abaco economy apart from the jobs.

Similarly the Abaco Club at Winding Bay is in slow growth mode and provides good employment but has little to no effect on the real estate market anywhere else in the Abacos.  The new developer, Southworth, is slowly rebuilding the prestige and demand.

My last point on this topic, as you can see from the chart, the strongest areas of Abaco are Elbow Cay and Treasure Cay.  The remote parts of Abaco have limited demand.

There are some good opportunities in the remote areas, but be aware that you will be in for a long haul.

Similarly the vacation rental market is only really functioning in Treasure Cay or Hope Town.

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So What about Abaco Compared to the Rest of The Bahamas?  

It is often said that Abaco is a more vibrant economy than Grand Bahama and this chart certainly shows that, although it is given that Grand Bahama is more than just real estate sales.  There is industry in Freeport which we lack here in Abaco.  Maybe for the better, maybe not?

Point is, Abaco is a strong real estate investment market, high sales volume and a high average price point.  Prices in Abaco are not too far off Nassau and second in the country.

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It is, I believe, an economic model to be learned from and encouraged to blossom.  The current test case of locally operated property tax collection on Elbow Cay is interesting and I’m keen to see how it works out.

Chart of Sales Growth Abaco

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Over the past 7 years the data shows growth of sales volume of 18% per year.  Despite the growth in the market and strong activity levels, I’m seeing property values are still dropping somewhere around 5% per year.

I anticipate this trend to turn around in the next 12 months.  As inventory is absorbed, we should see prices start to stabilize and begin to push up a little.

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Government Stimulus to Real Estate

Current incentives of 1st time buyers and Family Island Encouragement Act are having positive impacts.  I believe they should continue.

I believe the taxes on the purchase and sale of real estate is too high.

Stimulating the real estate market and providing incentives to buy here will further stimulate the wider economy.  It is said that a new home owner will further spend an additional 10-20% of the purchase price on furniture or remodeling etc.  That adds up to a significant amount of money being circulated around the economy.

I would urge the government of the Bahamas to further incentivize the real estate market and encourage home buyers, both local and foreign.

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The Acreage and Development Market is completely dead…

There has not been a single transaction of a tract of acreage in Abaco in 10 years.  There are many factors at play but the 2 key reasons I believe to be

  1. Restrictions on foreigners purchasing tracts of land via Foreign Investment Board
    • I believe this market should be liberalized.
    • Keeping it restricted does not benefit the Bahamas.
    • The tax revenue on the sale of large tracts of land is a good reason to encourage the market not restrict it.
    • The vast tracts of raw land are not benefiting anyone by sitting dormant.
    • It is all too common to have a large tract of land owned by 10 or 20 people who inherited it and they will never reach a decision on what to do with it.
  1. The cost of developing land in the Bahamas for sales of lots has risen beyond the ability to realize a profit. The cost of utilities, road paving and legal expenses, plus marketing costs are significantly higher than the price one could sell a residential building lot for right now.
    • A Non-waterfront residential lot on the main island of Abaco sells for an average of $30,000
    • Cost to develop a subdivision of lots for sale in Abaco is around $30,000
    • Therefore No incentive to develop.

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The Tribune has recently published 2 articles on land registration reform, one from the president of the Bahamas Bar Assocation, the other form the president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association.  To quote Mr. Elsworth Johnson

“A registered land system would divulge the number of frauds that cause people to be dispossessed of their land. It would also reduce the amount attorneys are able to charge [for real estate transactions]”

Thank you all very much for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts today.

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Have a wonderful day.

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I must apologize to my readers, I have been too busy over the past 6 months to sit down and write as often as I should.  Since January, I have only had time to write once.  I shouldn’t really be taking the time now to write this but I have put it off for too long.  There have been some significant changes in the real estate market in the Bahamas lately.

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The Iconic Abaco Estate, Man O War Cay.

If you talk to seasoned real estate brokers in the Bahamas how have been in the profession for 20 years or more, they will tell you that historically in the US election year the market in the Bahamas dips.  Suggested reasons include pre-occupation of the US buyers, or uncertainty for the US economy based upon who wins the presidency, or simply that would be buyers are putting money into the campaigns of their chosen candidate.  Who knows the real reason – there is only opinion and anecdotal evidence.  And until 2008 there really was little empirical evidence to prove that the market was up or down.  As I’ve written in this blog before, the presence of our Bahamas MLS is a great improvement and tool for the real estate business in the Bahamas.  We now have 8 years of good data with the possibility to tease out some real trends based upon real numbers.  It’s night and day compared to the end of the 20th century when the internet was still unfolding.

We still have little real access to data from the Government.  But perhaps in the future that will change.  There is a silver lining to the implementation of VAT – a brand new division of government was established to collect and keep track of Value Added Tax.  It is called the Department of Inland Revenue (i know, very original right?)  This division is staffed in large part by trained accountants, who will hopefully keep good records.  Through the collection of VAT, there may be a beneficial result in the provision of detailed accurate data on the performance of the economy and perhaps even real estate.

The Bahamas still needs to clean up its act in terms of the ease of doing business in real estate transactions.  Ask any real estate professional and they will tell you the current system is not sustainable.  Excessive costs, taxes, inadequate recording, and insufficient tenure of title are a few of the downfalls in the business.  Add to it he need to provide an appraisal for every real estate transaction and the speed with which a sale can occur gets slower and slower every year.  It is still possible to close a sale in 2 months, but it is the exception.

Now for some hard numbers:  Last year January –June 2015 saw 248 real estate transaction recorded on the Bahamas MLS, the same period this year is posting 291 sales.  A 17% increase in sales activity is stellar.  Equally positive is the increase from 209 transaction during the 6 month period of 2014, showing a year over year increase of 19%.  (Side note:  There are 25 properties still pending from 2013 on the MLS)

2016 1st half sales volume

The table shows a strong growth in sales volume in the Bahamas.  I expect this trend to continue steadily.  Given this is a US election year which is supposed to be a slow period for sales in the Bahamas and given the data shows a strong market leading into this election, it is reasonable to assume that the real estate market in the Bahamas will see a bumper year. Dare I say bubble?  Or is that too early?

If the 17% growth continues, we can expect to see 340 transactions in the first half of 2017.

One interesting  point for sellers to note, is that over the past 4 years, there has been a steady 3000 listings on the Bahamas MLS.  (this year is 3,010, last year was 3,008).  This would tend to support the idea that there are a large number of sellers around the Bahamas who are fishing with prices which are unrealistic.  And these sellers continue year in and year out just hoping the movie star or lottery winner comes along to buy their home because it is so much better than the neighbors.   While at the same time there is a large segment of the market who are likely listening to their Realtor or broker and being serious about getting their home or land sold.  Point is, listen to the real estate professionals, and get second and third opinions on pricing and values.  Don’t list with a company or agent just because they say they can sell it for the highest price.  Work with the realtor who is giving you the real picture.

There are a few really good opportunities around to take advantage of this growth in the Real Estate Market.  One of them is a package of 16 beachfront condominiums in Marsh Harbour.  The possible returns could be substantial with the right person at the wheel.  Take a look at the details here:

http://www.hgchristie.com/eng/sales/detail/529-l-82276-f1603081131700243/abaco-towns-by-the-sea-16-condo-package-chance-investment-mls21404-marsh-harbour-ab

Aerial Photo ABTBS for web

PS: the construction incentive, called the Out Island Encouragement Act, was extended for another year so building materials are still import duty free until June 2017.  VAT is still payable though.  This is a good reason to start building that dream home now.  Call or email if you have any questions about this.

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