When investors first discovered Cape Verde a few years ago, headlines were filled with tales of the archipelago's investment potential. As many more emerging markets have since caught investors' eyes, has the dream for Cape Verde become a reality?
Four hundred miles off the African coast of Senegal, this collection of islands lies just north of the equator, giving it a wonderful climate to add to its picture perfect beaches. Once touted as "the new tropical island destination" yet just over five hours' flying time from the UK, comparisons were drawn with the Canary Islands and the Caribbean and developers seemed to be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect.
John Howell of the International Law Partnership describes initial expectations for the islands as "completely false" and says that, so far, sales have not been as prolific as expected: "There have been quite a lot of sales but not the thousands upon thousands developers were hoping for." Sales may be slower but Howell believes the debate over tourism and infrastructure has benefited Cape Verde.
"This debate is a good thing and reflects one of the features of the islands that struck me most when I first visited a few years ago. These are people with a clear vision of their future and no wish to destroy their country by excessive development," he says.
Visit the islands today and you find that Cape Verde is still very much an emerging market but all signs point to the fact that, yes, things are changing. Sal is still the focus for buyers and the island now has its own direct flights to the UK, courtesy of tour operator Thomson, along with an all-inclusive five-star hotel, the Riu. There are plans for more upscale hotels on the islands, along with marinas and golf courses, which will attract more holidaymakers and buyers.
Cape Verde Property's Adrian Lillywhite was one of the first agents to sell there and he still feels that the islands have enormous potential: "You can see that, just as the west coast of Barbados is now very upmarket, so the south-west coast of Sal wil be in a few years' time."
Lillywhite accepts that, for the moment, the islands are still an emerging destination but he feels their topographical differences mean there is something for all tastes: "There's a saying that you get four continents among the 10 islands as they're all so different."
The archipelago is actually a closely-knit group of 10 islands and eight islets. Each island has its own identity and character, some volcanic and mountainous, others flat and sandy, but all benefit from dry tropical temperatures of 21C to 31C all year long. Cape Verde Property sell throughout the chain, but Lillywhite's personal favourites are Sal and Boa Vista in the east, which both boast magnificent beaches.
Many Cape Verde Property clients are tourists who fall in love with the islands and then decide to buy, but are investors now out of the frame?
"Definitely not," says Lillywhite, who still tips Sal as the hottest place for investment. "It is still early enough to get a great buy and find yourself a frontline location." Prices have been rising by around 15 per cent annually but entry-level apartments can still be bought for about £30,000. At the other end of the scale, the company is selling a large five-bedroom villa, now under construction, right on Sal's Paradise Beach. For sale at €700,000 (£583,000) Lillywhite is convinced of its investment potential: "I'm sure it will soon be worth a £1m. Properties such as these get snapped up quickly."
TheMoveChannel.com is selling Rosa del Mar, a frontline beach and marina development on Sal, in the resort of Porto Murdeira. Two- and three-bedroom apartments start from £148,000, amenities will include an 18-hole Ernie Els-designed golf course and five-star spa hotel, with completion expected in 2009.
Despite its small population of 15,000, Sal may be drawing most buyers, but other islands are also worth investigation. Completely different to Sal, Santiago is green, mountainous, palm-fringed and home to around 240,000 people, half of Cape Verde's population. It is also home to the nation's capital, Praia. GEM Estates' Carley Todd says: "Santiago is light years ahead of Sal in terms of completed or near-completed amenities." Last autumn, local carrier TACV started flights from London to Santiago and a Nick Faldo Estrela golf course is set to open in 2010.
"Although, as a company, we've undoubtedly had a Sal bias by virtue of the much wider range of property to promote on that island, we're keen to also wave a flag for Santiago," adds Todd.
Gem Estates are selling Vila Jardins do Oceano, a few minutes' stroll from the Unesco world heritage site of Cidade Velha. Forty two- and three-bedroom villas have private pools and this boutique resort also boasts two tennis courts and a restaurant. Prices start from €260,000 (£216,700) for a two-bedroom villa, and the company estimates that similar units on Sal could command a minimum of €500,000 (around £417,000). A rental guarantee of 7 per cent for seven years is being offered in conjunction with a respected Cape Verdean hotel chain and up to 70 per cent mortgages are available through a Portuguese bank.
Monttrust Investments are developing a luxurious apartment-hotel, Bella Brava in Santa Maria on Sal Island and are offering apartments with a 6 per cent return annually for two years. Studios start from €65,500 (around £54,590) and Monttrust's Evandro Monteiro says: "Investors are constantly on the look-out for a new venture that will enable them to get one step ahead of the rest. Cape Verde is an emerging market and this is the right time, it is here and now that the bargains can be found before they turn into gold. Keen investors are benefiting from this emerging market, while the rest of the world is being distracted by the credit crisis."
Cape Verde Property: 01753 859233; www.capeverdeproperty.co.uk. International Law Partnership: 020-7061 6700; www.lawoverseas.com. Gem Estates: 0800 036 0068; www.gem-estates.com. Monttrust Investments: 08444 845 092; www.bellabrava.co.uk.