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To many, property on the west coast of Barbados is a source of curiosity. Cheek by jowl with the island’s most opulent gated mansions are classic Bajan chattel houses – the simplest of wooden homes, often needing repair – on the island’s most desirable and expensive beachfront.
The mansions can sell for $20m or more. Currently on sale through Savills is Four Winds on Gibbes Beach with a price tag of $55m. Owned by British financier Sir Martyn Arbib, it is the most expensive house ever to come on the Barbados market.
Chattel houses, on the other hand, rarely come up for sale. Despite routine and tempting offers from developers, their owners often refuse to cash in. The common explanation is a mixture of pride (these houses have often been passed down through generations) and pragmatism: why, when you have one of the best beachfront views in the world, would you choose to move?
“From the developer’s point of view, it would take at least several neighbouring owners to sell to provide a plot big enough to build on – and that’s unlikely to ever happen,” says Paul Altman, managing director of Altman Real Estate.
“It is one of the trends of Barbados’s social integration,” adds Altman, who is the mastermind behind the Lime-grove Lifestyle Centre, a mixed-use development that has brought global designer brands to the island. Altman claims to be socially sensitive in his approach. “We don’t ever want to make Barbados just for the rich,” he says. “It has to be for everyone, so that even the poorest man can still relate to it and say it’s theirs.”
Certainly, Barbados’s diverse population is part of its charm and, beyond the portered front gates of upmarket resorts, you will see – and hear – noisy “reggae” buses careering past, as well as locals skinning fish off the rocks alongside jet-skiers and paddle-boarders.
But the rich still tuck themselves away in lavish cocoons such as UNNA Resorts’ Saint Peter’s Bay development near Speightstown, where large, high-spec apartments overlooking the beach cost from $1.95m, and Settlers Barbados, where the 12 villas with private pools start at $6.5m.
In Port Ferdinand, Saint Peter’s sister development north of Speightstown, it has taken three years just to dredge the marina so that every property owner can have their own yacht berth. These apartments cost from $2.15m and offer watersports, children’s clubs and concierge services. Stand on the vast wraparound terrace of the $6.5m penthouse, however, and you overlook a row of run-down fish shacks lining Six Men’s Bay.
A further disparity has emerged in the local market in the past year or so between the price of condos and apartments versus houses. Some astronomical figures are being thrown around for the latter. Racehorse owner JP McManus recently spent more than $100m rebuilding his villa next to the Sandy Lane Hotel and Altman Estates says there are more $10m-plus homes on its books than ever before, including west coast plantation houses such as Porters Great House, once owned by the Guinness family, for $12m.
For those seeking beachfront apartments, “there hasn’t been a more affordable time to buy in the last decade”, says Alistair Brown, sales director for UNNA Resorts. “It’s a particularly good time for sterling buyers as they get around 10 per cent more for their money than a year ago and beachfront values for new-build condos stand at about $700-$750 per sq ft, which hasn’t been seen since 2004. With supply on the beach available at the right price now, it makes it very hard to sell ‘off beach’ unless it is in a high-amenity gated development.”
There are some striking examples of this price disparity. Opposite the $55m Four Winds, which sits on 2.5 beachfront acres, is a house in need of renovation on one acre for $2m, also on sale through Altman Estates. Their relative values are determined by much more than whether you have to cross the road to get to the beach or not. “Not all beachfront is the same in terms of value,” says Altman. “Houses around Sandy Lane, Gibbes beach and Cobblers Cove have significant premiums which can range from two to four times the value of properties on the other side of the road.”
Further up the coast is the Lantana development with sea views but set on the non-beachfront side of the road. Apartments here went on sale a few years ago from just under £100,000 and sold out fast. Now resale prices start at $275,000 through Savills, which is also selling the one-acre beachfront plot opposite, with planning permission for a villa, for $11m.
While investors can benefit from some of the best buying opportunities in years, with Barbados’s prices having fallen across the board by 20 per cent since the 2008 global downturn, according to Savills, developers are struggling to sell some landmark apartment projects.
One Sandy Lane, despite its prestigious address, has failed to sell well so far, with agents on the island saying that buyers of apartments that cost $25m-plus dislike the idea of a communal pool. And a nearby development of multimillion-pound apartments in Holetown, where a few years ago original investors included Sir Cliff Richard, has been redesigned post-downturn as four villas costing from $10m.
It may be taking some product reinvention and price readjustment, but Barbados’s property market seems to be on the turn and buyers, in particular those buoyed by London’s renewed prosperity, are returning. “Property is the main topic of conversation at every winter season party here and everyone has become an authority on the subject,” says Altman. “What I feel is that after a five-year decline, prices aren’t going any lower.”
Zoe Dare Hall was a guest of Saint Peter’s Bay
● The average annual temperature on the island is 27C. High season runs from December to April
● House prices have fallen by about 20 per cent in the past five years, according to Savills
What you can buy for . . .
$500,000 A two-bedroom apartment near Holetown
$1m A three-bedroom house at Port St Charles, near Speightstown
$5m A four-bedroom house on the Sandy Lane estate
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