October is Luxury Month on Inman. Inman Handbooks offer deep dives on luxury marketing and agent branding, luxury staging, referrals, and more. We’re thinking about what luxury means now, examining how the pandemic is reshaping the needs of luxury buyers, and talking to top luxury agents, all month long.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging on, many are looking for new safe havens where they can shelter-in-place this winter if lockdown life returns. And for a slice of the very wealthy buyer pool, a property in the Bahamas is looking more attractive than ever.
The brokers in the Bahamas, an island nation with only 385,000 permanent residents, have been overwhelmed by the number of affluent buyers calling with questions about buying property in Nassau or the surrounding islands — this can range from a waterfront condo to one’s own private island. The Caribbean nation, which is composed of over 700 islands, is known to attract some of the wealthiest people in the world as an average home in the Bahamas commands upward of $3.5 million.
“We are seeing a great deal of interest from empty nesters who would rather be stuck on a beach than in a big city,” Ryan Knowles, the CEO of The RK Team at Keys Bahamas Realty in Nassau, told Inman. “Most of them are coming from the Eastern Seaboard. We are also seeing some families take the opportunity to relocate to a warmer climate that’s close to the U.S. and offers great schooling.”
While the island nation’s tropical weather and pristine views have always attracted wealthy retirees from cities like New York and Toronto, agents in the Bahamas have not seen this much interest in more than a decade, as first reported by The New York Times. The one short-term exception happened during the catastrophic Fyre Festival in 2017, which left nearly 5,000 people who paid to attend what they thought was a luxury music festival stranded on the beach with nowhere to go.
Local agents first reported a major drop-off in sales when COVID-19 hit the United States in the spring, but as it became clear that the virus wasn’t going away, more people are now trying to find a way to come to the country for the winter season — and spending a lot of money to be able to do it while abiding by the Bahamian government’s 14-day quarantine requirements.
“People are spending $16,000, $18,000 a month to rent a home, quarantine in the home and then start looking at properties,” Tim Rodland, a broker at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group serving Nassau and Paradise Island, told Inman. “Others are quarantining on their yachts and then getting off to look at properties.”
Home features that are currently most desirable in the U.S. during the pandemic, like space and interesting amenities, are also popular in the Bahamas. Buyers are especially interested in waterfront homes with lots of space to isolate as well as vacation rentals that can be booked for several months at a time. While the occasional private island sometimes sells, single-family properties worth between $1 and $5 million see the highest demand.
But traveling to paradise during a global pandemic comes with complications that even a lot of money cannot always solve. The British Virgin Islands has barred all foreign visitors since the start of the outbreak in the spring until the first of December. The Bahamas has been allowing international visitors to enter the country provided they complete a 14-day quarantine. At the start of November, they will no longer require that if visitors test negative for COVID-19.
Even so, the idea of having to pass a test and potential refusal is still scaring off many visitors who may have otherwise considered coming. The frequent phone calls do not always translate to direct sales.
“We’ve had some that pulled the trigger virtually and we’ve had others that started negotiating and then went MIA when it was time to sign the contract,” Rodland said. “We’ve been getting a lot more phone calls but cannot always tell whether people will pull the trigger or not.”
George Damianos, CEO of Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty in Old Fort Bay, told Inman that they’ve been adapting to the unusual situation in several ways — amping up virtual tours and online marketing as well as adding contract clauses that protect buyers in case a deal falls through due to COVID-related difficulties.
“Prior to the pandemic selling a house sight unseen in the Bahamas was a rarity, now we are promoting and encouraging buyers not to wait to physically inspect,” Damianos told Inman.
While all three agents have reported an uptick in sales done sight-unseen, this type of purchase tends to attract a very specific type of buyer — one who comes to the Bahamas often, is familiar enough with the area to be able to discuss specific locations and is wealthy enough to not be phased by dropping millions on a property without visiting it. Other buyers are waiting and hoping to jump into the market, which typically starts at $750,000, when the restrictions ease up.