Nestled on the north side of St Lucia's landmark Pitons, Freedom Bay, with its year round warm waters and dense rainforest foliage, looks every inch the Caribbean paradise location.
And it's this very natural state, in the heart of a Unesco world heritage site, that the developers of Freedom Bay (www.freedombaystlucia.com), scheduled for completion in 2013, want to preserve.
"The watchword is sustainability," says Robert Whitton, the manager of devlopers Freedom Bay Resort Company. "Natural, local materials are being used everywhere we can, transport to and from the site will be sympathetically carried out and we are harnessing the power of the sea to supply cooling.
"This is a unique location and we want to keep it that way."
But is the first major property development in the Caribbean island – popular with mariners and the soon-to-be married – since the global financial crash also a hard-headed investment? Is there a pot of gold at the end of this Caribbean rainbow?
It's certainly different to many developments put up in sunnier climes across the globe during the property bull market. No high rise is planned, instead a series of luxury eco apartments – managed by the exclusive Sixth Senses brand – and private villas are to be built. The Sixth Senses backing should help ensure a regular stream of well-heeled guests during the nine-month holiday season, with the added advantage of the hotel group taking on the costs and responsibility for maintenance.
All the usual hallmarks of high-end living are planned on site – a luxury spa, gym, tennis, beach facilities, with the added twist of an Andrew Strauss cricket academy. But it's the different ownership options which catch the eye. There are one-bedroom villas available from £660,000, two-bed at £975,000 and three and four-bed villas to be announced. Land plots are available from £330,000 with the cost of constructing a four-bed villa estimated to come in at a little over a £1m.
If these sort of figures are out of your range, there is the option of buying fractions of the planned one, two and three-bed villas. From £17,500 buyers can purchase one 52nd of the villa. This entitles them to stay in it for a week each and every year, exchange their week for another in a top location or let the hotel hire out the villa and earn rental income.
During each of the two years of construction the development company guarantee an annual return of 6 per cent and then 8 per cent in the next three years is guaranteed by the hotel. In short, in the first five years, if everything goes according to plan, investors can expect to get back at least a third of their original investment.
"We are finding that people are looking at this as a home for their poor-performing pension money," says Marcus Edwards, the managing director of Sunsplashhomes. "Fractional property can be incorporated into a self-invested personal pension (Sipp) which means income can be earned tax free."
But buying anything "off plan" is risky – even in the UK – therefore it's advisable to ask the developer plenty of questions and to get indepedent legal advice before signing anything.
"Make sure your funds are escrowed until the developer can show he is able to build what has been sold so that there is not too long to wait until the operation is producing cash," advises Oliver Gobat, the co-owner of the St Lucian development Cap Maison. "If you can get a guarantee during that period, then that is ideal.
"Be realistic about when the operation will be able to pay out cash to the owners, and understand very clearly how the operation works and where your cash will come from.
Mr Gobat adds: "Understand the phasing of a development – if there are many phases it does take longer to maximise the return unless construction is very cleverly planned."
Those looking for luxury properties in fully fledged developments could consider two and three-bedroom homes from £708,000 to £836,000 at Cap Maison and in a new range of beachfront property at The Landings, soon to come to market. At Sugar Beach, they have 10 new properties for sale from £385,000 to £1.2m.
Investors expecting capital growth in St Lucia in recent years have had mixed fortunes. Some of the early buyers at The Landings have seen substantial growth and the same applies to Sugar Beach in the heart of the Pitons and just around the corner from Freedom Bay. But overall, since the financial crash much of the St Lucian property market has taken a hit.
"Looking at Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia; it's St Lucia which has taken the biggest hit on price," says Kieran Kelly, the chairman of estate agency Chesterton Humberts in Barbados.
"Whereas Barbados is classic with golf and long beaches appealing to the British market, St Lucia has suffered because of the problems with the American property market. There had been a lot of American buyers over there. As a result, the price gap between Barbados and St Lucia, with the former being more expensive, which had been closing has widened once again – a little like the north-south divide in the UK."
Freedom Bay's developers reckon that currently property is between 30 and 40 per cent cheaper in St Lucia than Barbados. "Although the island isn't as developed as Barbados, the topography means that really prime locations are relatively scarce, this should help negate the problems of over-development," Mr Whitton says.
As for financing a purchase in St Lucia, this isn't as big a problem as it may seem. The main lender on the island is Scotiabank and it will lend up to 70 per cent loan to value. Remember, though, repayments on mortgages taken out in US dollars will be subject to currency volatility. However, those looking to buy a fraction of a property may be best advised to pay cash, or if they need to borrow, remortgage in the UK, negating any currency risk.
Whatever the ownership option chosen and finance arrangement made, property in St Lucia seems as much about the heart as the head. One look at the Pitons and the location of Freedom Bay confirms this.
Island facts: The vital statistics of St Lucia
Nine hours flight time from the UK courtesy of Virgin or British Airways
Capital the port of Castries
Dry season December to May
Wet season June to November
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