In Ian Fleming’s short story “Octopussy” a retired major, jaded by the “international riffraff” on Jamaica’s north shore, finds joy in feeding a pet octopus. Legend has it that, during his time at his Goldeneye estate, Fleming had his own local eight-armed friend, which, when fed sea snail, would politely return the conch.
Fleming, who described the island as looking from above “very like a swimming turtle”, was one of Jamaica’s original holiday homeowners and he benefited hugely from his time there, penning novels such as Live and Let Die, Dr No and The Man with the Golden Gun. Today, buyers following in his footsteps need less imagination to get returns: when their owners are out of town, homes at the top end of the market can rent out for $10,000 a night.
In recent years, wealthy American holidaymakers have been moving in in full force. “There is a huge influx of overseas buyers”, says David Barr, sales agent at Wayne Walker Property Consultants. Foreign purchasers — who seek holiday homes — make up about 70 per cent of the prime market, says Cadine Reid-Lawrence at Century 21. Of these, roughly 80 per cent are North American and 20 per cent European, says Walter Zephirin, managing director of 7th Heaven Properties.
The recent success of the US stock market is a direct player in the Caribbean property market, says Zephirin. “There is much more money floating around the system, a lot more people who have liquid cash.” Prime transactions in Jamaica have risen about 25 per cent in the past 12 months, and are “easily 40 to 50 per cent” up on 2014, he says.
Prime prices in Jamaica halved following the recession in 2008 and the Caribbean was slow to recover, says Robert Cooper, director of 7th Heaven. Now, 10 years on and bolstered by booming tourism that has brought in international money, prices have risen to about 5 per cent below their pre-2008 peak, says Zephirin.
Asian buyers tend to favour Caribbean countries that have citizenship programmes, adds Cooper, but Zephirin notes that the Chinese have been investing in Jamaica commercially. Projects so far have included the $730m “Beijing Highway” that opened in 2016, cutting journey times between Kingston and Ochos Rios from two hours to 50 minutes.
Gated communities are inevitably popular with the jet-setters as high crime rates are a major problem in Jamaica: there were 38 murders in the first six days of 2018, up on 23 in the same period in 2017. Estates along the north coast such as the Tryall Club in Hanover and Richmond St Ann are particularly sought after, says Pamela Bodden, broker at Victoria Mutual Property Services.
Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth on the south coast provides a rare opportunity to buy houses with land on the beach for less than $1m, says Kaili McDonnough Scott, broker at Coldwell Banker Jamaica — though buyers will have to put up with the hardship of having darker coloured sand.
Just west of Montego Bay, 7th Heaven is marketing a 17,000 sq ft, 10-bedroom property with 16.5 acres of land, a tennis court, helicopter pad, two infinity pools and membership of the nearby Tryall Club, for $10m.
Its buyer should aim to be in it for the long haul — Jamaica has sizeable sales taxes and fees. The seller pays the sales commission (typically 5 per cent) and attorney’s fees (which range from 1.5 to 3.5 per cent) — and a 5 per cent transfer tax, regardless of how long they have owned it. The seller splits the cost of stamp duty and the registration fee with the buyer.
The market might be up, but “a lot of people will hold on to their properties here because they will make a loss”, says McDonnough Scott. The market also has to stand up against the weather. Sales can drop 60 or 70 per cent after a hurricane, says Zephirin, though agents note the effects rarely last more than two or three months. “Once it’s -50C in Montreal, everybody forgets the hurricanes,” says Zephirin. (He’s exaggerating, of course, but not by much.)
Kingston, which sits on a harbour rather than a beach, has a more domestic than international market, say agents, but a hive of new-build development might well start to attract the Americans there too. “High-rise apartment building is trending again,” says McDonnough Scott, noting developments such as 20 South, a block of 80 flats that is due to complete in the spring.
Fleming’s Goldeneye resort near the old banana port of Oracabessa is run today by Chris Blackwell — the founder of Island Records, and son of the woman thought to have been the inspiration for the Bond girl Honey Ryder (played by Ursula Andress in Dr No). He built another 26 beach villas in 2016 and is about to launch a new wave of properties. Coldwell Banker Jamaica is marketing a one-bedroom “cottage” on the lagoon for $3.5m. It is a 10-minute drive from Ian Fleming international airport, should you need to make a quick getaway.
- The buyer and seller split the cost of the 4 per cent stamp duty and the 0.5 per cent registration fee on the sale price
- There are no specific taxes on foreign purchasers, but international buyers should allow two to three months to obtain a tax registration number
- Prices at the higher end of the market are listed and sold in US dollars (US$1 is equivalent to about J$127)
What you can buy for . . .
$1m A three-bedroom villa with a two-bedroom cottage
$2m A seven-bedroom house in Montego Bay
$5m A four-bedroom villa with a private beach in Runaway Bay
More properties at propertylistings.ft.com
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