The Caribbean: Tropical treats for everyone

It's a buyer's market, with some stunning properties for sale, says Tom Rowland
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The Independent Online

With the pound riding high against the US dollar this spring and many American citizens still reluctant to venture abroad in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001, it is a lousy time to be selling a villa in the Caribbean and arguably a very good time to buy.

With the pound riding high against the US dollar this spring and many American citizens still reluctant to venture abroad in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001, it is a lousy time to be selling a villa in the Caribbean and arguably a very good time to buy.

"The problem for sellers like me is that we relied for buyers on a steady trickle of Americans with a hankering after a trophy in the sun and the money to pay for one. The trickle virtually dried up," says Jeremy Stone. The Suffolk-based businessman is selling a large and attractive villa with glorious mountain views (pictured, right), five minutes from the beach and the golf course. At £430,000, the asking price is 35 per cent less than he could reasonably have expected to get three years ago.

It is hard to feel too sympathetic towards his predicament as Stone sits by his mosaic-tiled swimming pool clutching a Tom Collins in one hand and the financial section of a Miami newspaper in the other, but there is money being lost beside similar pools the length of the Caribbean, from the Bahamas just off the Florida coast to Stone's house here on Tobago, close to the mouth of the Orinoco and mainland South America.

"The continuing weak dollar over the last few months has encouraged those looking to buy," says Jonathan Salsbury, international manager at Hamptons International.

On Barbados it is detached houses in secure developments at between £400,000 and £550,000 that are most popular with overseas buyers, he says. "A good example is Pavilion Grove in St James Barbados, which has six detached houses, each with its own plunge pool. Five properties have recently sold at $795,000 (£440,000)," he says.

Over 80 per cent of Hamptons' business in Barbados comes from the UK. Those prepared to be more adventurous can pick up even more competitively-priced bargains.

Garry McMatthews, principal of Big Mac Real Estate in Bridgetown Barbados, will sell you a spectacular colonial-style mansion with fretted wood balcony on first floor level, set in a luscious tropical landscape and with its own collection of ice-cream-coloured shacks, all for £125,000.

The drawbacks to most who want a holiday home in Barbados is that this house stands in the parish of St John on the less fashionable windward side of the island. Spectacular views of the crashing surf along the length of the coast do not make up for distance from trendy St James and the more shaded delights of Sandy Lanes on the leeward seaboard.

Mass long-haul tourism is devaluing another currency on which the Caribbean has traded. Parts of it are not as exclusive as they used to be.

"There are cheaper developments going up on many of the more popular islands," says Jeremy Stone. "The smaller islands retain an exclusive cachet, but they can be politically unstable. It is why I like Tobago which is small but part of large, stable Trinidad," he says.

At The Tryall Club, Montego Bay in Jamaica, cheaper certainly does not mean common, but you can now buy a three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa for around £200,000. Set on a 2,200-acre secure estate surrounding an 18th-century mansion with on-site golf course, tennis centre and private white sand beach, it supplies most holiday needs.

In Antigua, two-bedroom villas are being offered for less than £100,000 on the 370-acre development of Jolly Harbour that is built on reclaimed mangrove swamp. It was the idea of a Swiss entrepreneur who wanted to create a combination of affordable and expensive holiday homes and took over a collection of what had been rundown lettings properties and then revamped them. They appeal to mini tycoons and retired yachting enthusiasts, for whom Antigua's tax-free status is an added benefit.

It is still possible to make serious money out of buying and owning property on a Caribbean island, one that is part of the United States. Prices in Key West have rocketed by 35-60 per cent in the last year, says Ed Salazar, President of the Key West Association of Realtors. The island is the last outpost of the US and has benefited from the very factors that have kept American citizens away from other Caribbean destinations. It also has a charm that is conspicuously lacking from the rest of the Florida Keys and has been home at various times to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and many more.

"You can buy a two-bedroom Conch house near the historic centre for $350,000 (£195,000). If it is already renovated, then $400,000 (£220,000)," says Salazar. "You should be able to get an 80 per cent mortgage and the house will rent well. At the end of two years you will be looking at a very healthy return."

Salazar says the days have gone when owners could expect to cover all of the outgoings on a holiday home in Key West from rental income.

But with capital gains on a scale that you expect from booming stock markets, most are happy to provide a subsidy to their dream homes and drink their rum punches with a deep, satisfied complacency the rest of us can only envy.

Tobago: Real Estate Tobago: 001 (868) 639 5263, www.realestatetobago.com

Barbados: Big Mac Real Estate: 001 (246) 423 5830, www.barbados.org/realest/bigmac; Hamptons International: (London) 020-7589 8844 (Barbados) 001 246 4225550, www.hamptons-int.com; Jamaica: The Tryall Club: 001 (800) 238 5290, www.cbjamaica.com/tryall;

Antigua: Jolly Harbour. Waterside Properties: 001 (023) 8023 0066;

Key West: Ed Salazar Real Estate: 001 (305) 304 0762, www.salazarsells.com

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