House Hunter: Caribbean

I want to watch cricket in the sun
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The problem

STEVE DOYLE OF TRING WRITES: I am a cricket nut and I love the Caribbean, so I am going to pull down equity from my Hertfordshire house and buy a holiday home there in good time for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Different matches are going to be played in different Caribbean countries, so I am looking forward to island-hopping. But how much should I expect to pay for a property? Which islands are best for travelling directly to and from the UK? Is it easy to travel between the islands? Can you reassure me that this is a sensible move, and not one induced by the euphoria of England's winning The Ashes?

The advice

GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES: Only you can judge whether this is a logical or emotional purchase, but plenty of Britons have committed to the Caribbean.

There is huge choice. Although the Bahamas has many luxurious homes it also has some of the cheapest properties in the region, some in routine resorts lining the coast but also timeshares linked to premium-brand hotels allowing owners to use their facilities. Antigua is also quite cheap, although recent developments have attempted to take it upmarket.

At the other end of the scale is Barbados, which lists Cilla Black, Cliff Richard and Gary Lineker among its second-home owners. Most good-quality holiday homes are £450,000 to £4m or more, although for each property like that there are a dozen "chattel houses", small homes for the 270,000 locals. Unlike other Caribbean islands, most local homes are well maintained. While many coastal chattels were snapped up, knocked down and replaced by developments, those that remain sit side-by-side with large houses invariably owned by Britons or Americans.

It is easy to buy on almost all Caribbean islands, although fees can be high. Rules vary from place to place but usually foreigners require permission from the island government. This is often a formality but is expensive - Grenada, for example, charges up to 10 per cent of the purchase price of a house for issuing the licence to buy it.

Buyers also pay stamp duty and transfer tax, up to 5 per cent of the purchase price, plus legal fees of up to 2 per cent. Annual land tax can be high, especially on Barbados, while new developments can levy steep service charges - £20,000 a year is not unknown for flats in new resorts with boat shelters, hurricane-proof facilities and good security.

Despite the costs, demand is high, especially from Britons and Americans. Caribbean governments are welcoming developers with open arms as they try to get income in place of declining industries.

I have visited five Caribbean islands in 18 months and there is evidence that bland "global" designs from international builders are starting to replace local ones. The infrastructure does not always keep pace the with new developments; for example, Barbados traffic jams take on M25 proportions, while a few airports on smaller islands struggle to cope with increased tourist traffic in peak winter season.

And remember that tropical storms lash the Caribbean most summers, although many developments are in relatively secure locations - and the World Cup takes place well before the bad weather starts.

The solution

Property one: Apartment in Emerald Cove Resort, NonSuch Bay, Antigua

Price: From £268,620

Agent's details: Just being completed on the east coast of Antigua, 12 miles from the island's airport, this resort is set in 190 acres of land in one of the best sheltered bays on the island. Tennis, sailing and a nine-hole golf course (to be completed next year) are available.

Agent: Savills 020-7824 9030

Property two: Hullabaloo View, Barbados

Price: £541,000

Agent's details: Overlooking the golf course that is currently being built at the island's prestigious Sandy Lane, each property comes with a pool and views of the countryside inland.

Agent: Knight Frank, 020-7629 8171

Property three: Two bed, two bathroom apartment at Cable Beach, Nassau, Bahamas

Price: £123,350

Agent's details: Fully furnished, recently refurbished flat in the western district of New Providence, close to white sand beaches and top-class shopping, dining and nightlife. Communal pool.

Agent: Savills, 020-7824 9030.

Fact File

Most direct flights from the UK to the Caribbean take about nine hours.

One of the best-served islands for direct flights from London is Barbados - Virgin's economy return of just over £400 if you book two months in advance makes the region more affordable than many believe. The are good London links to Nassau in the Bahamas, which is also well-served from Miami if you are happy with a connection. There are also direct flights from the UK to Antigua and St Lucia.

Island-hopping is easy in the Caribbean; most have scheduled services but use small aircraft that test the nerves and stomachs. It is common for friends to club together and hire a light aircraft and pilot, just as you would rent a coach in the UK.

You are in for a hectic tour of the Caribbean to keep up with the World Cup itinerary. The West Indies play Pakistan in the opener on 13 March 2007 in Jamaica. Then the circus moves on to St Kitts, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Antigua, Guyana, Grenada and Barbados, where the final is on April 28. For good measure the Caribbean island of Bermuda is playing in the championships too, although it is not hosting a match.

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