New Development

Building on a Budget

This local builder shows that it can be done.

By Kathy Borsuk

It can be a bit daunting when you turn the pages of the Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association (TCREA) bi-annual Real Estate Guide. Many of the properties ooze uber-everything, boasting sprawling beachfront acreage, ocean views, private pools, ensuite bedrooms counted on two hands, and price tags that can be over $10,000,000! So what’s a “regular guy” to do? Not everyone can afford a super-luxury estate, yet would love to savor the Eden-like weather, turquoise seas, pristine beaches, and casual island lifestyle offered in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

This is the story of a couple who choose the Turks & Caicos Islands as the place to fulfill their dream of a life in the Caribbean. They represent the “middle market,” folks who wish to have a home here, don’t have millions to spare, and are not interested in living in a condominium or townhome community. Thanks to meeting the right people and making wise decisions, this fairy tale has a happy ending!

Thompson Cove is a private community on Providenciales' north shore.

Thompson Cove is a private community on Providenciales’ north shore.

After extensive vacationing in the Caribbean, Jeff & Kari, North Americans from a cold climate, discovered the Turks & Caicos Islands. What was special about TCI? Kari recalls, “We loved that it was a remote, yet developed, location that felt safe and secure. It was easy to get to by air and we loved the seemingly untouched beaches, amazing coral reefs, and the chance to do lots of snorkeling and fishing. In spite of the relatively small population (which means less traffic!), the infrastructure was solid, with a good airport, roadways, hospital, and, of course, Internet access! We were surprised at the variety of excellent restaurants . . . and that there were no fast-food chains. In all, TCI was a perfect fit for us.”
Building a home here, however, loomed as a formidable obstacle. The couple wondered how they would find a reliable contractor who they could trust to handle the project when they would be so far away. Like many a novice island builder, they were not familiar with local codes, regulations, financing, or building standards, and had no idea how to choose a piece of land to fit their needs.
They credit providence with connecting them with Cays Construction Company, a small local firm run by Dave Smith. Dave started in the construction industry as a carpenter’s apprentice in 1979, eventually making his way to the Cayman Islands to work for the notable firm of Arch & Godfrey Ltd. as project manager for The Grandview, Regal Beach Club, and The Pinnacle, and built more than 450 other top condos in Cayman. In 2003, he and his wife Sue came to TCI with Arch & Godfrey to build The Pinnacle on Grace Bay and Donna Karan’s luxury villa on Parrot Cay and to work with Godfrey Been on The Salt Mills shopping complex. In 2009, he partnered with Lewis Walkin of North Caicos to start Cays Construction Company. Lewis is a skilled veteran of construction works, with extensive experience in Florida as well as many years in the TCI.
Jeff and Kari first contacted Cays Construction for advice on how much home they could get with their budget of $400,000 to $500,000. Their top priorities were that the property be waterfront, boat accessible, and in a peaceful, secluded location. Dave knew that all land is not created equal, but when one is familiar with the “lay of the land,” it is fairly easy to make choices that offer value for money. He was careful to consider safety, accessibility, and re-sale value, as well. After giving the couple a variety of options, Jeff and Kari short-listed four lots, sight unseen! Dave explains, “Cays Construction become their eyes. We investigated each plot, gave an idea of potential problems (effects of a hurricane, access, if filling is required, safety) and reported back to our clients. The best two were in the same gated community; one was hilltop, with magnificent views of both sides of Providenciales; the other a plot with extensive canal frontage. In one follow-up visit, Jeff and Kari chose the canal plot because of their love of boats, and were landowners within four weeks!” The couple worked with Karen Biker from Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty for the land purchase, who also was of great help throughout the sale and with the onset of the project.
The next step was for the couple to fill out a short questionnaire on what they wanted their home to include. This served as the basis for creating an outline of the layout, drawing up budgets, and planning a work schedule. Kari adds, “Many of our design ideas came from HGTV’s ‘Caribbean Life’ show! Dave and his team generated construction drawings and, after a bit of fine-tuning, our vision started to become real.”
Following the couple’s approval, Cays Construction created all elevations, structural, electrical, plumbing, and A/C specs for building permits. Local architect Alwood Gardiner presented the drawings to the TCI Planning Department for approval. Dave recalls, “With Alwood’s help, we went for a full building application at the outset, which avoided having to apply for each stage separately. This made the whole application more affordable, very fast, and efficient, with planning permission granted in about ten weeks. Even at this point, the clients had full control of all decisions, yet did not have to leave their home in the States!”
Jeff and Kari made one more visit to the Islands to ensure the home would be positioned for the best view, and with final approval on financing, construction began on March 11, 2015. Dave says, “Prior to starting construction, we worked with the community management to confirm that the designs are in keeping with the strata and that colors and roof finishes complement adjacent homes. We also united with Fortis (local power utility) to agree on discreet areas for power poles to be erected. Our next step was budgets. We believe it is essential to keep to the budget with no cost or job overruns, unless there is a major modification or addition. On the basis of the program, we ordered materials internationally, getting quotes and securing the best deal for our clients.”
With construction well underway, Dave put forward anticipated occupancy to the end of July. For the fittings and furnishings, Kari is working with Pamela Bayer Interiors, who has experience with island projects. Kari adds, “We’ve seen art and tile-work by various local artists that we will ask her to incorporate.”
Jeff and Kari agree that it makes sense to use a one-source company such as Cays Construction. Bringing together all professionals minimizes planning times, costs, and headaches, especially when you are not living in the country where your house is being built. Kari explains, “This has been a learning experience. However, Dave has gone out of his way to guide us through the hurdles. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable of the Islands, but he always went out of his way to answer any questions, gave us good advice to stay in budget, and is as enthusiastic and excited as we are to make our dream come true!”
Dave sees a slow renaissance in new construction in TCI. He adds, “There are lots of local tradesmen who are competent and available. Cays Construction hopes to offer a one-stop alternative to stimulating an area that can only make the TCI more popular with investors.”

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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