The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea, halfway between Cumbria, England and County Down, Northern Ireland. On a clear day, depending on which coastline you are standing, you can see Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Yet despite this proximity, the island is a self-governing dependent territory of the British Crown, with the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world – Tynwald – which was founded more than 1,000 years ago.
Measuring 33 miles by 13.5 miles, the island has a population of around 84,500, half of which lives in the capital, Douglas. Of the total population, 51.9 per cent is “foreign” – mostly from England, but there are also a number of international buyers who have moved to the Isle of Man for both tax and lifestyle reasons: wealthy individuals can take advantage of low income tax, a cap on the amount of tax paid (£120,000) and no capital gains, corporation tax, stamp duty, wealth or inheritance tax.
The Isle of Man government, aware of concerns regarding tax avoidance, has sought to reduce its reliance on the financial sector (2010/2011 figures show that the banking sector accounted for 11 per cent of GDP) and has made efforts to diversify its economy into niche, high-quality sectors including gaming, e-business, ship and super-yacht management, and space commerce. Four of the world’s top 10 satellite companies have a presence in the Isle of Man and the International Institute of Space Commerce was established on the island in 2008, in partnership with the International Space University, based in Strasbourg, France, and the Manx government.
“The island is an attractive location for businesses and individuals because of the ease of doing business with government,” says John Shimmin, minister for economic development. “We have a stable and well-regulated economy, a simple and competitive tax regime, good infrastructure and an excellent quality of life.”
The island is rural with very low density – 336 people per sq mile, compared to 2,100 people per sq mile in Jersey – and it is relatively unspoilt.
The southwestern half is the most popular area in which to live, and is 10-20 per cent more expensive than the north-east, being nearer to Douglas and the airport. From Ramsey – the second largest town on the island – on the north-east coast, it takes an hour to drive to the airport, and residents who send their children to the one private school, King William’s College, near Castletown, usually opt for them to board.
The property development company Richmond Square has been building and restoring property to a high level of specification on the Isle of Man for four years. “All our purchasers so far have been under 40 years old, have come from the UK, Canada or South Africa and have been either entrepreneurs or in IT, gaming or finance,” says Jim Brookman, managing director of Richmond Square. The developer’s next major project is the Ballamona estate at Port Soderick. This is the largest estate on the island, with 120 acres, and Brookman plans to put in a lake, restore the mill building and build a new 16,000 sq ft house with an indoor leisure area, guest accommodation, tennis court and helipad. The price for the estate is around £20m.
Just opposite Ballamona, the estate agent, Chrystals, is selling Hampton Court, a castellated Georgian house with five bedrooms, five reception rooms, its own gatehouse and 20 acres, for £3.95m.
“People living in the Isle of Man have a discreet but energetic lifestyle,” says Shane Magee, chairman of Chrystals. “Ideally, overseas investors like to be within a 20-minute drive of Douglas and the airport. However, there is also some substantial property in the north.”
He is selling a new five-bedroom, six-reception house in seven acres in Kirk Michael on the north-west coast for £6m. Farther south, a 15,000 sq ft, seven-bedroom house in Ballanard Green, just to the north of Douglas, built in 2006 with two acres, is for sale for £4.75m. In Baldrine, a little farther north, a five-bedroom house with half an acre, which was built in 1988 and extended two years ago, is on the market for £1.85m.
There is also a strong rental market, which is good news for anyone looking to buy purely for investment. Dandara Homes is selling a selection of two- and three-bedroom new apartments from £335,000 to £549,950, as well as a fully furnished three-bedroom penthouse for £1.995m, at Quay West, a development overlooking Douglas marina.
The Isle of Man is relatively easy to reach, with regular ferries from Douglas to Heysham in the UK, and daily flights from the rest of the UK and Ireland. “Some people come here only for a few years, but the biggest accolade is when people want to live here permanently because of the quality of life,” says Shimmin.
● Low population density, with 336 people per sq mile
● A top-of-the-market detached house costs an average £750 per sq ft
● Unemployment is 2.1 per cent
● Recorded crime fell 6 per cent last year (2,657 crimes were recorded in 2011-2012)
What you can buy for ...
£500,000: A four-bedroom house with a garden
£1m: A four/five-bedroom townhouse in Douglas
£5m: A historic house with 270 acres in the north of the island
Mary Wilson was a guest of Richmond Square