Taken from a recent article by the Canadian Real Estate Magazine.
A GRAND LIFE IN GRAND BAHAMA
Grand Bahama Island, the northwestern-most island in the Bahamas, is also its second most popular tourist destination. Characterized by long stretches of clean and pristine beaches, charming hotels, and boasting world-class scuba diving operations, the island is a classic postcard for paradise. Grand Bahama is also an ecological Mecca, home to three national parks: the Peterson Cay National Park, The Rand Nature Centre and the Lucayan National Park, which boasts of one of the longest underwater limestone cave tunnels anywhere in the world. Dazzling features such as these make Grand Bahama’s real estate some of the most sought after in this hemisphere, according to Daniel Lowe, president of Future Properties & Investments. “On arriving on the island, let your toes slip into the sand of Grand Bahama, if do you, you won’t want to go back home,” says Lowe, a Bahamian who has strong connections to Canada. “Visitors just keep coming back and many make the decision to buy that second home or just move everything to the island. Who could blame them, don’t you want to leave the snow and live in a real paradise?”
The Free Port of Freeport
The city of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama has been known by many names over the years: The Hong Kong of the Bahamas, Singapore of the West Indies and Gateway to the Americas, to name a few. It is more than an tropical paradise; it is also a major free-trade area, which continues to draw investors from around the earth. The reason: The Hawksbill Creek Agreement was signed in 1955 establishing a city and free-trade zone on the island focused on promoting economic development - an area free from taxation on income, capital gains, corporate taxes and various other real estate incentives, initially until 1985—a provision that has since been extended to the year 2054.
Freeport is an important international port. Not just because of its tax advantages, but also for its proximity to the US. It boasts that it has the nearest offshore port to the US and it’s just 20 minutes by plane from Florida. This ideal location within the sea trade routes makes it a hub for international business and the transshipment sea trade that flows through the Panama Canal.
Not only does Freeport have a great climate, it is clean and very well-designed, says Lowe. “but it also allows its residents and visitors to really relax and enjoy life,” he says. “There’s a lot to see and do in Freeport and for that matter on the island of Grand Bahama,” says Lowe, whose company offers a number of real estate services including sales agency, buyer agency, rental and leasing services, property management and development/investment consulting.“It is true that everyone knows Freeport for the free-trade zone, but the real reason people come and buy Grand Bahama’s real estate is because of the island’s charm, beauty, infrastructure and first class amenities. After all, living well is what life is all about.”
Real Estate and Business Development
Investment and economic incentives are currently driving growth in all six key sectors – industry, trade, financial services, technology, real estate and tourism – led by a seamless and efficient licensing process that allows quick and easy access to the local business community. There has always been steady progress, but the latest developments are likely to exceed previous growth. According to Lowe, “one of the major areas of growth in Freeport is being fueled by the trade sector: the continued expansion of the Container Port, Airport developments in the country and the renewed focus of the Sea/Air Business Centre, coupled with excellent opportunities in real estate and tourism.” Competitive advantages, he adds, include a range of tax, duty and related concessions that have been a real drawing card for major investment. A key distinct advantage of Freeport is that it was a planned city, in that new developments can be located in the right areas to make the best use of natural resources, other industries and existing infrastructure.
Growth in the real estate sector has mirrored growth in the industrial sector. There has been a great deal of investment in affordable accommodation, high-end residential communities, resorts and hotels, leading to a rapid growth in sales of real estate. In addition to a lack of property taxes Freeport offers virtually unlimited space for development. It also has a large number of desirable properties available at affordable prices. There is a straightforward purchasing process based largely on the British system. For first-time residential buyers, there is usually a transfer of ownership closure time of between 60 and 90 days. The process is slightly more complicated for buy-to-rent and timeshare options, although this does include a two-week cooling-off period.
While beachfront properties in Lucaya, an appealing community within Freeport, are getting harder to find, there are many plots further east waiting to be developed. Currently, one of the best options are canal properties, with thousands of lots ready to be developed on Lucaya’s southern shoreline and the Grand Lucayan waterway. This growth has come about through availability of waterfront properties at a fraction of the price of comparable plots in nearby Florida – often as little as a fifth of the prices in Florida. Lucaya is an important tourist destination on the Island with beautiful beaches and several big hotels. As the area where most of the population lives in Grand Bahama, exclusive residential communities have been emerging and more developments are being completed and will be coming on stream. These include condos, townhomes, beachfront communities and more.
Home or a Home Away From Home
Another option is the gated communities that are proving popular with semi-retired couples and families with children as these offer privacy as well as an enhanced sense of community life. There is also considerable growth driven by the increase in tourism on the island, with several major hotel groups starting to show interest in developing potential sites. Construction in the Freeport area continues to grow as a result. An attractive feature of Freeport property is that it's covered by the Hawksbill Creek agreement. Under this agreement, personal real estate is tax free until 2015, rather owners pay a small nominal service charge on an annual basis.
Freeport is also sometimes called “the Venice of the West Indies,” due to its network of canals and the lovely yachts that cruise through the turquoise waters. Canal properties are some of the most sought after real estate on the Island of Grand Bahama. First because it is ideal for boating enthusiasts and secondly these home sites have more than ample space and depth of water to accommodate most yachts. These developments and others like them draw retirees, young couples and families interested in purchasing a second home, a vacation home or just a place near the beach to just kick back and relax. Also, homes, townhomes, condos, and other residences are available for long or short-term rentals. Prices will vary depending on location, duration of stay and time of year, proximity to beaches, canals or golf courses as well as amenities.
The Future: Poised for growth
Although the economy, as in most islands, is largely based on tourism, in recent times there have been various developments like the sea trans-shipment port built and operated by Hutchinson Port Holdings of Hong Kong (A subsidiary of the multi-national Hutchinson Whampoa). This port is now one of the largest transshipment container ports in this region and with a harbor depth of 52 feet it now handles the largest container ships and cruise liners in the world.
In addition, the renewed focus on development of the Sea/Air Business Centre when completed, will link the Freeport Container Port to the Grand Bahama International Airport (with a runway that can accommodate the largest aircraft), making it an ideal facility that will broaden the island’s offerings as a important center for trans-shipments throughout the world.
8 reasons to go to Grand Bahama
1) Sand and sea. It really is better in the Bahamas. An affordable part of the world where you can still get a piece of paradise.
2) Access and proximity. Easy access and close proximity to North America, at one point 55 miles from Florida. There are direct flights from a number destinations throughout North America.
3) Currency. Bahamian dollar is on par with U.S. dollar, and both are accepted throughout the island.
4) Stable Government. The Bahamas has a parliamentary democracy similar to the United Kingdom with regular elections and is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
5) The people. Literacy is the highest in the Caribbean, and the majority is employed in the tourism, government, and financial services sectors.
6) Tax Haven Benefits. The Hawksbill Creek Agreement means various tax concessions relating to taxes on income, capital gains, real estate and private property, etc.
7) Excellent climate. Sun, sun and more sun.
8) Reliable Utilities. Throughout Grand Bahama Island there’s viable electricity, water, telephone, cable, Internet.