The co-founder of Regency-Christie’s International Real Estate based on Turks and Caicos talks about his 35 years of experience of the property business in the area, as well as the unique attractions of these islands. His company specializes in high-value sales, resort development and offshore investment
What is the connection of Christie’s and Turks and Caicos in terms of real estate and investment?
Christie’s is one of largest luxury real estate brand globally, with a reach across the world. Here in Turks and Caicos, we are clearly a high-net-worth destination that caters primarily to luxury vacation properties, such as villas and condos. We attract three basic kinds of investment: offshore investment banking, the tourism industry, which is the main contributor to our GDP, and then real estate, which is a huge factor in that. The tourism and real estate markets go hand in hand. In tourism real estate, there are two categories: the end-use buyer with a second- or third-home in the Caribbean, and developers such as the Ritz. As brokers we promote Turks and Caicos as a place to develop and invest on any of the eight islands.
What does the Christie’s brand bring to your business?
We’ve had a relation with Christie’s for over a decade. We know that Christie’s is synonymous with luxury and is one of the top brokerages all over the world. Being affiliated with Christies means we have access to the same clientele that go to auctions. These people are the same kind of clientele who are looking for luxury real estate, so that’s a great fit for the Turks and Caicos. The global network is massive: 48 countries in the world and throughout the Caribbean. Christie’s is in the destinations where people buy our real estate: New York, Boston and more. So, it’s a prestigious brand and the way the Christies organisation is run is simply impeccable.
What are the key attractions of Turks and Caicos as a destination?
It’s not difficult to court developers or individual buyers. Whatever publication or report comes out, Turks and Caicos always gets a best beach award or has one or two among the top-10 best islands. It’s a lifestyle choice. Then there is a long list of other benefits that people often don’t even realise as they fall in love with the islands so quickly. We are a tax-free offshore destination; we are a British Overseas Territory, locally governed but overseen by the United Kingdom, which creates a strong trust in investment; and we are English-speaking and use the US dollar, being located so close to the United States. We are only 90 minutes from Miami. We also have direct flights from Boston, Charlotte, Texas and New York, which is just three hours away. The major hubs connect people to Turks and Caicos, including direct flights from Heathrow. The when you get here, the population is so friendly and welcoming. Pretty much all of our clients say it’s like returning home when the staff at their resorts welcome them with open arms and they become family. Tourism destinations like the Bahamas and Jamaica have been around a long time. Turks and Caicos is really only starting now to come out as a lifestyle island; it’s only 40 years since the first major development was built. We are still relatively new, so people are only starting to know who we are. That allows for great opportunities for investors. We have eight islands with pristine beaches, many of which have literally have nobody on them. You can find that in North Caicos, Middle Caicos, Water Cay, Parrot Cay, and not so many other places in the Caribbean.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences is the first internationally branded condo residence in Turks and Caicos. What does the Ritz brand bring to the islands?
First of all, the Turks and Caicos Islands is the brand; it’s a fantastic location and will always be the number-one brand. But when it comes to the Ritz, it is famous for service – it is the great innovator in five-star service. In Turks and Caicos we have always had beautiful boutique resorts, single-asset properties within developments each owned by an individual. However, they do not come with the prestige and branding of something like the Ritz. This is the first mixed-use development. There is the 120-suite hotel component with all the services you would expect, and two towers with a total of 60 housing units. As I said, we are a beginning-of-lifecycle island and the boutiques in the complex will be the first example of real high-end shopping on the islands. There will also be a casino, the second in Turks and Caicos. Ritz has its clan that follow the Ritz, and they have plans to maintain that loyalty. If you’re a Ritz person, you’re a Ritz person. You look for a Ritz wherever you go. It brings a whole new set of eyes to look at Turks and Caicos differently.
What does luxury mean for Regency-Christie’s?
One of main components for our clients is privacy, and simplicity to an extent. Many of our high-net-worth purchasers, be they captains of industry or A-list celebrities, can walk down the beach and go to a grocery store unaccosted. Donna Karan and Keith Richards go to Parrot Cay and a whole list of celebrities visit us without getting mobbed by adoring fans. It’s very different to other locations in that sense. Safety is also important; we have one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean. Also we offer security of investment. There is this simplicity about the lifestyle here; the main highway just has one lane and people are able to disconnect when they come here. You have the comfort of the luxury you want coupled with the privacy and peace of mind so you can enjoy what you have accomplished in life.
How is the Turks & caicos brand perceived by the global and UK audiences?
If you are from overseas, as 85-90% of our buyers are, it’s an unfamiliar jurisdiction and the home-buying process is different. It’s actually very simple, but a little bit different under what’s known as the Torrens system. For example, you must use a local attorney who will draw up the final agreement that brokers such as myself have agreed on. I am with my clients every step of the way; I recommend the right attorney for each client, if they so wish. Most of my clients end up becoming dear friends. When you help someone buy a little piece of paradise, it’s a very intimate experience. I tell them it’s not a sales process; it’s an education process in which I explain how the country works politically, the way of life and the whole purchasing process. It’s actually very enjoyable, and the island sells itself. They come here and fall in love, so you don’t want to them to have their heart broken after that.
What can buyers expect in terms of ROI?
I have people who come down from New York and they get their calculator out straight away, and I tell them to stop. There are many factors in Turks and Caicos in terms of returns, so it’s much more than a simple numbers game. However, in raw figures, the direct ROI can be anything from 3-10%, so yes, you can expect a cash-on-cash return. But what is the true benefit on the investment? You can enjoy your property every year; you can let it out and get a 10% return on your money. You have the quality of life factor in this beautiful destination. You are now offshore – health and wealth preservation, I call it; in effect, you have diversified your portfolio. Turks and Caicos is a beginning-of-lifecycle island and if you look at other destinations in the Caribbean, you will see the way value of properties transform through capital appreciation processes. So we are talking about multiple levels of investment.
What do you see driving the local economy beyond the real estate market in Turks and Caicos?
The business sector will inevitably grow with these new real estate developments coming in. The Ritz has broken ground. Turks Cay is another luxury development in Turtle Cove, and I know of at least four more similar plans. All of this builds up the home community and the population grows, creating huge opportunities in services. There are the ancillary services to the tourism sector. As that market grows, this will mean we can support more of a more nightlife environment here, beyond restaurants. Again, it’s a question of being at the beginning of the lifecycle and the opportunities are starting to build. However, Turks and Caicos is not a cheap island, so we will always attract high-net-worth individuals. The change we are seeing is in the age demographic. We were always a baby-boomer destination. Now these people have got a little older and they are travelling less, so we have a new generation of buyers, and an even younger generation following them. I look around at the architecture we have favoured, a very colonial style, and see that this is beginning to change to reflect this generational shift. The Ritz itself has more of a modern look. Everything is changing. In real estate, we know that digital marketing is now the leading way of reaching our clients.
What activities are there for these new, younger generations of visitors?
We are traditionally water based: we are one of best scuba diving destinations in the Caribbean and likewise for Kite boarding. But what about the other days, what about if it rains? There, we are starting to hit that milestone in terms of numbers where we can support other activities. As I said before, the nightlife will come on, and there are also more island tours starting up to explore the fascinating history of the area, going back to pirate days. This gets people to travel and see more of Turks and Caicos. Basically, the only limit to new activities is people’s imagination. We needed a supporting population and that is what we are producing right now.
Turks and Caicos has an investment-based permanent residency scheme. What would be the benefits of gaining TCI residency?
Like other Caribbean countries, we have a permanent resident certificate. We recognise that people who invest here want the comfort of being able to travel to and from the island hassle-free, so the permanent resident certificate offers you the comfort of not having to pay for a work permit every year, and to more or less travel in and out of the country freely.
People who invest $1 million or more in a business or a home in Providenciales are eligible to apply for the permanent resident certificate. In the other islands, it is an investment of $300,000. It is a huge incentive for people who are looking to invest here, move their family here, and move their business here, as the certificate means they don’t have the hassle of immigration every time they enter the country.
What would you like British investors to understand about the islands?
I think there are misconceptions about the Caribbean. Many people refer to the Caribbean as if it were one landmass. There has to be the clarity that Turks and Caicos is, while very small, still its own separate set of islands with its own separate economy. The fact is that the Caribbean was impacted by the recent storms, but the impact across the Caribbean was of varying levels. It was devastating for our economy, but the Turks and Caicos Islands people are a resilient people, and we were able to bounce back much better than we or even the rest of the world thought.
I want people to understand that we are stand-alone. Turks and Caicos has not been squashed. We are still here. To say that everything is business as usual would be downplaying or understating the impact that the hurricane had on individuals. But, I think that for us as a collective body, we were able to stand strong, and it spoke volumes to see Turks and Caicos Islanders coming together after the hurricane to ensure that their neighbours were okay, and to work together on the understanding that we needed to get the islands together in order for our economy to be maintained and to be sustained. With that being said, I think it speaks also to the heart and the nature of the Turks and Caicos Islands people and our character, which shines out through the tourism product that we offer. It’s not just about the buildings, the hotels and hotel rooms; it’s about the people.
What makes you passionate about your work in encouraging and facilitating investment in your country?
Anything Turks and Caicos makes me passionate. I was born in Grand Turk and grew up there, then I moved to North Caicos for a number of years, and then moved to Providenciales, and then I spent a lot of time in Middle Caicos growing up. As a result, there is a piece of me in each of the islands. Turks and Caicos is home for me, so anything that allows me to contribute to nation-building, anything that allows me to contribute to seeing the growth of the people of the Turks and Caicos is what I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about the impact of investment on the Turks and Caicos Islands people because without foreign direct investment, we don’t have a sustainable or stable economy.
With strong competition within the Caribbean, what is your appraisal of Turks and Caicos’ competitive advantages as an investment destination?
I am very biased, but I think we have the competitive edge, not because of any one sole big factor; our competitive edge lies in a combination of factors that make us unique. We do have our sun, we have the sand and the sea and the award-winning beaches, but other Caribbean islands can also boast that. What we also have to complement that are aspects like our political stability, our economic stability, our BBB+ rating. We have an excellent education system, with very good British and American curriculums in our schools. Our crime rate is also very low compared to every other region be that North America, the Caribbean, the UK or South America. We can also boast our accessibility – we are right under the tip of Florida, and we have so many direct flights to various parts of North America and the UK. And of course, we use the US dollar, which is a huge plus. Whereas another Caribbean island may have one or other of these factors, we have a combination that allows us to be the high-end destination that people plan years in advance to come to.