In June 2018 the European real estate firm Engel & Völkers announced its entrance into the Turks and Caicos market. Since then, Prestigious Properties, the country’s largest real estate broker with roots that trace back over 200 years, has been operating as Engel & Völkers, an international brand that has gained a reputation for flawless service and unique properties around the world. Local businessman and politician Washington Misick, who has over four decades’ experience in Turks and Caicos real estate, continues to lead the company. Here, he explains what the firm offers to an international clientele and the vast investment opportunities available on the islands
How will the switch from Prestigious Properties to Engel & Völkers add value to your services?
Engel & Völkers is one of the world’s leading brands as it relates to property solutions. Being part of that global brand allows us to extend our reach and to expose the Turks and Caicos Islands to a market that did not exist before. As a European company based out of Hamburg, Germany, it gives us a unique entrée into that market, which is quite different from any of our competitors. Our competitors are also generally owned by public companies, but Engel & Völkers is a private brand that is meticulously managed by consummate real estate professionals, whose focus is on providing customer service and value to the clients. It will help us meet our customers where they are and to deliver exceptional value. I know the islands well; I was born here, grew up here and lived most of my life here. I’ve been in this business for close to 40 years and I’ve had some influence over the laws of these islands, having spent some time in politics. Throughout my career, I have established deep connections, but teaming up with Engel & Völkers gives us a global brand. We now have a communication, information and technology platform, which we can benefit from. I believe that my knowledge of the islands combined with the global reach of Engel & Völkers, their concentration of global expertise and ability to network, is an extremely valuable match.
Tell me a bit more about your current investment portfolio.
Our focus is on real estate. We have a fairly extensive listing of properties across the Turks and Caicos Islands, with a presence in all of the islands. We have an office on Providenciales, and representatives in North Caicos, South Caicos and Grand Turk.
Engel & Völkers is well known for its luxurious properties. What does luxury mean to you and how does your group embody that?
I believe you can have luxury at a variety of prices. It has a lot to do with providing the best quality and the best service at any price point. Of course, there is the very high end that we cater to, whether it be a chalet or expensive condominium, a private island, a villa or a family home. But I think luxury is a word that people sometimes overuse; it is not a synonym of expensive. To me, it embodies location and a sense of tranquillity. What I do is to sell a service – the house, the villa or the island that I sell is really a conduit to delivering a service to satisfy the need of a customer. So what we try to do is to focus on relations; it’s been the focus of my entire career in this business. I have second and third generations in my database. By delivering quality service to one generation, we’ve inherited the next generation’s business. It’s the relationship that we’ve developed over the years and to me that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, luxury has to be unique to the individual.
How would you like your brand in Turks and Caicos to be perceived internationally?
Trust is fundamental. I believe, from all of our work in the past, we would be hard pressed to find a customer that wasn’t satisfied. Trust to me is a state where the historical relationship has been built in such a way that it creates a magnet, but it also requires stacks of paper and contracts. I think trust is based on knowing that you can shake someone’s hands and when you turn your back you can be assured that what was agreed upon in a conversation or in a handshake will be put into writing. Trust is what you do when no one is looking. It’s synonymous to me with integrity.
What makes your group stand out in Turks and Caicos?
Our core competence is that we know the islands. We are truly a local company, it’s the oldest independent company in the territory and it’s been operated by one of the oldest families that’s been involved in shaping the economy and development of the country. We also have a very diverse and international office – we have people that speak all of the major languages and people from all over the world. We have Canadians, Americans, South Americans, people from the Bahamas, Jamaica, from Haiti… TCI is a cosmopolitan island and we try to cater to all of the different groups that are here, so what our office represents is a miniature version of the islands generally. That to me is a competitive advantage.
Why invest in Turks and Caicos, and why now?
Turks and Caicos is an overseas territory of the UK, and the Union Jack flies here. It uses the US dollar, which still happens to be the world reserve currency. It doesn’t have a central bank so it doesn’t have exchange rates, and the rule of law is established here because we use British common law and precedence, and we have a very well established legal system. In terms of size and population, we have a country of professions, whether that be people who trained internationally as accountants, trust operators or attorneys. If you look at the hospitality sector, you probably have more five-star properties here than in any of the neighbouring islands. The islands are not crowded, and because of the geography of the islands, there is a wide variety of options. If you like, you may have a low-density cottage community in North Caicos or you may be interested in the seven-star property in Grace Bay. The ability for you to differentiate your investment interests is something that is possible here. We have an extremely friendly community, and we are part of UN conventions, so things like human rights violations will not happen here. We have a BBB+ rating, which is something that most islands cannot say, and a high GDP per capita. I think we really do have tremendous opportunities.
What is the typical return on investment in Turks and Caicos real estate?
From the real estate point of view, I think you have to look at the GDP growth rate. But if you look at the level of international interest in these islands, the number of people looking for special properties, especially beachfront, the return on investment is much higher. People who have owned such assets over the last 10 to 20 years or so could have seen property values multiply by up to 10 times. And over the last five years, I’d say there has been a resale value growth rate of about five to eight percent per annum.
What is the biggest opportunity for investors today?
Turks and Caicos has tremendous opportunities from an investment point of view right now, as the economy grows. We have a significant need to expand the housing sector, so I see opportunities there, both for people who are looking for second homes and to build more housing for locals, middle-class professionals, as well as affordable accommodation for people who come here to service the high-income market. I also see opportunities in creating attractions because the one thing that these islands have is beautiful beaches and proximity to its principal market which is North America. I think an imaginative person could come up with ideas that would be really great draws. If it’s rainy or windy one day, where do people go? I know there are plans for casinos and other activities, but I still think that as a high-end tourism destination, there is room in the market to create new attractions.
Some people may be reluctant to spend time in this part of the world because of the 2017 hurricanes. What would you like to communicate about the safety and the recovery of the country?
I think a lot of it here has to do with the planning laws as it relates to construction. Here, you’ve got some of the most durable constructions of anywhere in the world. Two back-to-back hurricanes has proven that. That may have to do with the marble that we use. Also, we have a private sector that is very switched on and vibrant, and jumped into high gear very quickly to make sure their properties were back up and running. I also think the insurance companies here were very honourable and quick to settle. In terms of infrastructure like electricity, the power grid here has been privatised, so I think that had an impact on the ability to provide services to the community quickly. It’s a part of a network so they were able to draw from different places to get the system up and running with minimal delays if you compare it to other countries. It took us 90 days or less to get back to full services. The physical resilience of the country is tremendous.
Sometimes the Caribbean tends to be bundled up into one, but each country is very different. With that in mind, what would you like the international community to understand about Turks and Caicos?
These islands are very strategic. The first manned aircraft in space landed 60 miles off the coast of Turks and Caicos. This is also reputed to be Columbus’ landfall. So this was both the gateway to the new world and the gateway to space, so that’s why I say it’s God’s country.