Business

Don’t Worry, I’ve Got This!

Protecting the interests of owners and investors.

By John Galleymore

ISLAND LIVING . . . It’s a common misconception that life in the Islands is a stress-free routine of lounging in hammocks, drinking rum cocktails and watching sunsets. Yes, while that may happen some of the time, for the majority of us in order to play hard, we have to work hard.

Island living for a resident expatriate like me and my wife Sally has its challenges, but we deal with them and embrace the Caribbean way of life, its culture and the wonderful people that live here. We can tell tales of quirky “island” situations that we’ve all had to deal with, mostly with a smile and a dose of patience and understanding!

For the most part, folks visiting the Turks & Caicos Islands are on vacation and the gracious staff of resorts, restaurants and spas, along with transportation and tour operators, cater for their every need. A fair share of those visitors choose to invest here, most often in a vacation property. For those “newbies,” the Islands take on a whole different persona when they enter the realms of real estate and property development. Dealing with architects, contractors, tradesmen, government permits and the like is far removed from what they may be used to “back home” and it’s easy to get stuck along the way. And here, becoming unstuck can end up costing big bucks!

I originally arrived in the Turks & Caicos Islands in 2006 to work on a huge hotel development on West Caicos. In spite of having spent many years in UK construction, I still had a very steep learning curve of how things were done in the Islands. Luckily, I was working with Projetech Ltd., one of the longest-standing and most reputable building companies on Providenciales, so the issue of quality was never a problem. 

Parrot Cay serves as a get-away place to many celebrities, including Donna Karan, Bruce Willis, Keith Richards and other lesser-known but equally successful people.

Sometime after this experience, I ended up on Parrot Cay—home to many celebrities—and found myself in the villas of Donna Karan, Bruce Willis and Keith Richards, as well as other lesser-known but equally successful people. It was during this time that my personal ethos of treating everyone equally really came to light. I was asked in passing by a wealthy owner what my thoughts were on some expensive outdoor woodwork that was being installed, after all, he commented, “It’s costing me half a million dollars.” I politely pointed out that if the contractor had used stainless steel screws, there’s a good chance he would not have to take it all up and re-do it in five years! 

To say he was shocked was an understatement, and the fault was soon remedied at the contractor’s expense, who had actually quoted for stainless steel screws but opted to save thousands of dollars by using regular. 

Over the years, I have picked up on a fairly common theme. Not one of institutionalized fraud or wrongdoing, but more that some workers and contractors sometimes cut corners and occasionally “overlook” some cost-critical items. For the unwary investor, this can cost hugely. Fortunately, the majority of TCI’s established quantity surveyors, architects and building managers, including those whose ads you see in this magazine, work to protect their clients from maintenance problems caused by the harsh Caribbean environment.

I have found myself assisting new owners and developers all over the Caribbean, South America, UK and USA. As an experienced project manager drawing on 35 years of construction experience, I can view a project not just from a contractor’s viewpoint, but also from the owner’s. This is especially critical if the owner has little or no construction experience, is not on island, or commonly, both. It’s imperative they have someone whose sole focus is protecting their investment.

Bruce Willis has a fabulous private estate on Parrot Cay that was just recently sold for an astonishing $27 million. When I was lucky enough to meet him, I actually offended him by being critical of his property. However, once he realized all the items I highlighted were actually issues he had been reliant on (and paying) others to fix for years, he realized that I was not a “Yes man” and that I’d tell it to him straight—good or bad. He looked me in the eye and said, “I need someone to have my back!” I replied, “I got this . . .”

I viewed his property as I do any other, regardless of size or who owns it—I treat it as my property. If there is work being done or an expenditure to cover, I always think, “Would I accept this on my house? Would I pay this much for this item if it were my money?” 

I normally start by arranging a full survey of the property and highlight where costs can be saved and what work needs to be done. Home-running costs—utilities, staff, maintenance—can be quite high, often excessive. Over time, with the use of some great workers, local suppliers and successful TCI vendors, we reduced the annual expenditure on the Willis estate from close to a million dollars to around $300,000. 

John Galleymore (far right) had the opportunity to talk with former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle during a recent project in the British Virgin Islands.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to live in the beautiful Turks & Caicos Islands, and many people own modest homes and villas. It’s a very common practice to own a second vacation home and rent it out to offset the running costs. This can be very lucrative if handled in the correct way.

When starting out on a potential rental-income property investment or vacation home, there are a number of key factors to consider:

1.  The property location;

2.  The property’s condition and works needed;

3.  Choosing contractors, architects and suppliers;

4.  Deciding who will manage the property; and

5.  Choosing a property manager.

Location

As with any property purchase, this is paramount and even more so for an island rental. Over the years, focus has shifted from the “key” areas of Leeward and Grace Bay out to Long Bay, Turtle Tail and Chalk Sound. Good island knowledge is invaluable when advising on location or predicting the next upcoming “hot spot.”

Property condition

A glance through the bi-annual Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association’s magazine Turks & Caicos Islands Real Estate or the corresponding MLS system at www.tcrea.com shows that a tremendous number of properties on island are for sale, and that is quite normal. Homes are often finished to a very high standard and many are listed almost immediately. 

If you wish to buy a turn-key property, there is a vast array available. However, some investors may wish to either buy a fixer-upper or break ground and build a bespoke property. Buying a run-down or even half-finished building may seem daunting, but with the right guidance and crew onboard, it will soon be transformed into your dream home in paradise.

Choosing the professionals

Whatever condition the property you choose, at some point you may need to employ the services of a professional contractor, engineer or architect—and possibly all three! The larger, long-established contractors tend to have more in-house protocols for quality assurance, scheduling, payment schedules and progress reporting. Recent years have seen the emergence of competent and professional independent contractors, who are able to produce extremely high-end work, often without the overheads of a larger company. That said, the type of project you are undertaking will determine the contractor and this decision should be taken carefully.

Engineers and architects will often already be involved in larger projects such as house builds and large renovations. You should determine if acting as a client’s representative is within their designated scope of works. They can be an excellent resource for any homeowner.

Property management

Once the house is completed, the furnishings are in, and the pool is cleaned, it may be time to think about heading home to North America or Europe. That’s when you need to decide who is going to look after your new piece of paradise.

Firstly, a decision is made whether to rent it for an income or keep it secure as a visiting vacation home for you and family. Renting brings many benefits—income to offset expenditure being the main focus. However, it can also bring headaches—legislation that needs to be adhered to, such as standards for renting (fire and pool regulations included); taxes and service charges that need to be billed and paid to government; regular maintenance; guest issues and complaints—soon it can all seem too much.

Even just having a home locked up until you return can bring its own set of issues—who will check it regularly for leaks, bugs or storm damage? Sometimes, even a simple fix has a way of becoming very complicated too!

A reliable and professional property manager will take all this stress away from you—but for a fee, of course. How your home is managed will determine how much you pay. You will need to decide on such things as bookings, payments, and who will manage those. The taxes and charges collected from guests must be paid regularly to the TCI Government or fines can be incurred. Cleaning, maintenance, grocery stocking and meet-and-greet are amongst a long list of tasks needed to run a successful property.

For these services, managers will charge up to 20%, although 15% is more normal. This can end up being a large chunk of income that you will need to account for to run your property. If the home is secured and vacant, a set monthly fee should be agreed on in return for a regular duty. Some owners choose to offset expenses by taking care of such things as online booking themselves. This can save money, but your time value needs to be weighed up against the savings made.

Choosing a manager/caretaker

What to look for in a reliable manager? For me, the most important attributes are commitment and attitude—a manager who is 100% focused on your property. A reliable manager should be sending weekly updates on the property, as well as looking ahead for any maintenance issues. There is an old saying about “putting out fires” and this is often the case (thankfully, not literally) with many property managers. They will REACT to an issue (blocked drain, faulty A/C) and not be PROACTIVE in preventative actions.

They should also be aware of property expenditure and spend your money as if it was their own. Quite often I am told by owners that a repair part, service or goods has been purchased with no regard to its cost or research into cheaper alternatives. I once had someone buy a replacement part for a septic tank costing $1,700 that could have been bought online for $120 had they just carried out some basic research.

To summarize, a professional manager will:

  Send a weekly update as to the house, its condition and any issues.

  Instigate a full PPM (Pre-planned Maintenance Program) to ensure potential issuse are caught early.

  Obtain tenders and price comparisons for goods, services and materials needed.

  Visit the house regularly, in person, whether occupied or not, to check for issues.

  Warn you of advancing storms and protect/secure the house as needed.

  Visit the home within 24 hours of any major storm to report back on its condition.

Owning a piece of paradise is a dream that is available to you if you set your heart to it! With some good research and dedication, you will be able to surround yourself with a great team who will love your home as much as you do! a

John Galleymore operates a successful homeowners/ concierge service in the TCI. He consults, advises and acts as an owner’s representative on properties worldwide. To contact him for advice, call (649) 232 7083 or email compasstci@gmail.com.



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On the Cover

Agile LeVin grew up in the Turks & Caicos Islands and has a keen eye for capturing the country’s natural beauty. This aerial shot depicts kayakers exploring Mangrove Cay, a very well-known kayaking and paddle boarding location near Leeward on Providenciales, part of the Princess Alexandra Nature Reserve. To see more of Agile’s work, go to visittci.com.

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