Business

Away from it All

An investment in TCI real estate offers the ultimate in social distancing.

By Kathy Borsuk ~ Photos By Gary James, Provo Pictures

I, like many other expatriate residents and TCI citizens, was gifted with a four-month “vacation in paradise,” thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In a wise move by the Turks & Caicos Islands Government, the country’s borders were closed on March 24, 2020, one day after the first positive case of COVID-19 was recorded here. The last flight from Providenciales International Airport carried off the few remaining visitors and “lockdown” began.

At first, the whole situation was disconcerting. Curfew was from 8 PM to 5 AM, and the rest of the time we were supposed to stay sheltered in place, with brief forays to the grocery stores, water companies, pharmacies or gas stations (all of which always remained well stocked), and exercise (walking, running and bicycling) allowed for several hours in the morning and evening. Until a loosening of the restrictions in early May, that was it. Folks were encouraged to work from home, if possible, but otherwise stay at home. All non-essential businesses were closed.

After the initial shock, I fell into a comfortable rhythm. Early mornings on the back porch were a time to read the Bible and watch the “bush” sprout, bud and flower. Sunrise was a watercolor of pink-tinged clouds and cool breezes. Evenings, I explored our neighborhood’s nooks and crannies, inhaled the fragrance of flowers and soaked in the golden glow of approaching sunset. It was a time of peace. Early in the lockdown, there were almost no cars out and birdsong and seagull calls filled the air, while folks smiled and hailed each other from opposite sides of the road.

Beaches were closed until early May; once they reopened, it was a pleasure to swim or walk in the soft sand along the quiet, empty shoreline. It reminded me of the Islands two decades ago.

Due to the government’s foresight and cautious approach, and a powerful and concerted National Day of Prayer, the Turks & Caicos Islands fared well, with only 14 cases of COVID-19 and one death. The whole experience turned into a welcome respite from my normally hectic life, in a strange sort of way—except for the days when we watched too much CNN. It was also quite different than what my parents and brother and sister were experiencing in the United States.

Providenciales’ beautiful beaches were virtually empty during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Real estate surge
Therefore, I was not surprised when I heard local real estate agents saying that inquiries into TCI properties had actually increased during the pandemic. The Turks & Caicos Islands are and will be a good place to live in this strange new world. Social distancing comes naturally here. Privacy and space are still to be had. The sunny skies, clean air and sparkling sea promote health and well-being. Natural beauty, along with modern amenities, are both abundant. And the stable, UK-backed government has proven worthy to handle a global crisis with wisdom, caution and grace.

My forays around Providenciales by bicycle and foot revealed the extensive construction of villas and homes, both for private and vacation rental use, in nearly every area of the island, from coastline to interior. It is clear that business is booming, and will continue to do so, as an island villa offers the ideal place for a first- or second-home escape from “civilization,” with built-in privacy, comfort and all the social distancing you want.

Real estate sales and construction have been surging in the Turks & Caicos Islands for some time, as investors discover this “jewel” in the Caribbean. In fact, 2019 was a record year for luxury sales, with the first quarter of 2020 following suit. According to Turks & Caicos Sotheby International Realty’s (TCSIR) most recent market report, “In times of crisis, markets come back first to quality, and our market is rich in quality of real estate, in tandem with a tremendous wealth of talent in our Turks & Caicos community and passionate private and public sectors to support and protect it.”

The Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association (TCREA) first quarter MLS figures as of April 6, 2020 showed that the momentum in sales gained through the last two years of record sales continued, with 74 sales (residential and commercial) totaling $65,692,748, for an average price of $887,740. Single family homes continued to carry the sales volume at $34,533,250, with 17 sold at an average price of $2,031,368. Condominium sales remained steady at $15,753,000, with 17 sold at an average price of $926,647. Land sales dipped slightly from 2019 first quarter, totaling $15,406,498, with 40 parcels sold at an average price of $385,162. However, TCREA reports that significant land parcel sales are pending.

Interestingly, past and potential purchasers are tapping into TCI real estate websites with their beautiful scenes and virtual tours as respite from the pandemic blues. TCSIR reports that one customer says she “craves beach more than ever,” a simple reminder of the sanctuary this country represents.

Government support
I don’t mean to underplay the impact four months of closure of all resorts and tourism-related businesses will have on the TCI economy and the industry’s employees. It has been tough and will continue to be for some time to come. That’s one reason that investors will find a welcoming environment, with price flexibility a possibility.

Thankfully, the TCI Government early-on implemented a stimulus package to help “flatten the curve” of the virus’s impact on residents’ and small businesses’ pocketbooks. With input from the TCREA Government Liaison Committee, the real estate industry benefited from three incentives to boost inward investment. They are currently valid until June 30, 2020.
• 50% reduction in Stamp Duty across all islands
• Waived Custom duties on construction material
• 50% reduction in planning fees

Throughout the border closure and lockdown, both the TCI Government and people responded with discipline, diligence and faith. Thanks to the steadfastness of essential workers in all sectors, there was never a shortage of food, fuel or medicines. Police checkpoints at major intersections ensured adherence to the stay-at-home regulations. Residents took to the routine of hand sanitizing, face masks and social distancing with quiet dignity and typical good humor.
The two hospitals on Providenciales and Grand Turk were well prepared for any outbreaks, with protocol and equipment in place early-on. Quarantine measures were put in place for folks in contact with suspected cases of the virus and residents returning from overseas. As well, the UK Government sent a “Specialized Assistance Team” of doctors, medical planners, logisticians, security specialists and planners as back-up.

A new world of opportunity
Besides TCI’s blend of exclusivity, privacy, safety and security, Forbes Realty’s Sara Kaufman notes that due to recent volatility of the stock market, real assets may become more appealing for investors. At the same time, now that people have a taste of slower, more peaceful days, Sara anticipates an increase in retirees and the search for a lifestyle such as offered on North, Middle and South Caicos, along with other family islands in the TCI.

Chandra Craigg, real estate agent at ERA Turks & Caicos, believes that in a world of uncertainty in business, travel and health, we now have an opportunity for people to write their own story. In an age of unscripted territory, real estate will provide opportunities for buyers, sellers and agents to creatively fulfill their goals. She notes that certain aspects of the real estate business will be enhanced, such as digital connectivity through video conference applications such as ZOOM, followed by increased verbal communication and one-on-one dialogue. Besides working remotely from home, many TCREA realtors offer the latest technology for virtual showings, a tool long in use in this island nation where the majority of clients are outside of the country. This allows investors to get into the market immediately, while COVID-19 stimulus incentives are still in place.

Realtors agree—NOW is a good time to step into the TCI real estate market and secure your safe haven in paradise. Selections of properties from homes, villas, condominiums, rental properties and land are available across the Islands. There are also opportunities for entrepreneurs to start new business ventures, especially on the outer islands. This includes B & B operations, ecotourism sports lodges, boutique hotels, family-run nurseries, commercial hydroponic orchards . . . use your imagination. Especially appealing to retirees and folks looking for a second home are some of the new developments currently underway, as the construction industry was allowed to re-start (under regulation and inspection) on May 11.

New developments underway
In mid-May, construction resumed at the Ritz Carlton Resort & Residences on Grace Bay, TCI’s first 12-story structure and major five-star international luxury hotel brand. Walter Gardiner of Regency-Christie’s International Real Estate says the project is still on schedule for a Fall 2021 delivery. He notes, “Our experienced construction team has completed floors 1 to 12 of the hotel and residence tower A, with construction of residence tower B approaching the 10th floor. Also completed are structures for the casino, spa, ballroom, fine dining restaurant, beachfront bar and grill, two of the three resort pools and the parking garages.

The exclusive South Bank project, a low-density, residential resort and marina development, is located in quiet Long Bay and ideal as a haven for folks looking for privacy in a waterfront environment. (See page 74–75 for more details.) It, too, resumed construction in mid-May on homes in the Ocean Estate and Lagoon neighborhoods under careful health and safety restrictions.

Another new project on Providenciales’ quiet, less developed southeast side is The Villas at Turquoise Banks, set on two acres along the shores of Long Bay Beach. Designed by award-winning architecture firm RA Shaw Designs, this gated community of six, three-story luxury villas was designed to be a sea-centric tropical retreat. It has a number of technological innovations new to the Islands, including non-visible solar panels on the roof and the use of a Tesla Model 3 vehicle. Each villa integrates the Google Nest system with smart thermostats, outdoor cameras, interactive doorbell, smart speakers and smoke, heat and CO detectors, all able to be monitored and controlled from your phone anywhere in the world.

Beach Enclave Turks & Caicos’ collection enables homeowners and guests to experience their own private villa home coupled with the facilities and amenities of a five-star resort. With locations on Long Bay, North Shore and Grace Bay—each with a unique personality—all properties feature private homes ranging in size from three to seven bedrooms, a private beach area, private pool, spacious indoor/outdoor living areas, and much more. All villas are serviced by a dedicated private butler, private chef, concierge, and resort staff.

The TCI’s out islands still remain quite untouched by development, although they benefit from stable power, transportation and telecommunications services. Sailrock is an evolving development on the country’s fishing capital of South Caicos. The project won the “Caribbean’s Leading Luxury Island Resort” at the 2020 World Travel Awards.
Sailrock Resort opened its doors in January 2017 as the only five-star resort on South Caicos, bringing a new level of luxury to the quiet island, without disturbing the peaceful rhythms which make the island so alluring. Sailrock includes 33 suites and villas spread over 52 hilltop and oceanfront acres. Residences are supported by the Great House, a central hub housing a lounge, oceanview deck and upscale restaurant and bar. Travelers looking for a Caribbean home-away-from-home will find it in the Private Peninsula Villas in a neighboring 770-acre enclave with an ecological focus and full access to the resort amenities.

Back in Providenciales, a new independent hotel, The Bight by Dream Hotel Group, was launched in early February 2020. This innovative condo-hotel, designed for short-term vacation rentals, is located in West Grace Bay and offers elevated beach views from its ridgetop location, along with beach access. Joe Zahm, president of Turks & Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty, who is representing the project, notes that the Dream Hotel Group gives credibility to US buyers who are familiar with the brand and acquainted with the level of services and amenities they offer. They are in partnership with longtime TCI residents Ryan Jones and Natalie Zaidan of the EA Group, who say, “We want to recreate the magical Turks & Caicos experience that people have when they come here for the first time and never leave. We find that the market really needs a four-star boutique property with culture, design, art, experiences and adventure.”

Andaz Turks & Caicos Residences, on the 5 1/2 acre beachfront parcel to the west of Coral Gardens, is taking shape with site preparation well underway. Expected to be completed in early 2022, the project will include a 59-key hotel and 74 luxury residences — including nine penthouses. Andaz is a branch of the “World of Hyatt” international brand.

Construction also continues on the Oceanfront and Ridge Cottages and Hilltop Condos at the Rock House Resort. The stunning location on Providenciales’ North Shore provides breathtaking views for its 39 private cottages and 4 hillside homes on the 14 acre site. As part of the Grace Bay Resort’s treasure chest of properties, owners and guests enjoy use of the group’s dining and lounge options, fitness center, spa and tennis courts.

The developers of Wymara Resort have completed five villas on the dramatic shoreline of Turtle Tail and are now introducing a second collection of five villas. They include the signature above water sundecks and stunning hillside location.

Also by the Wymara developer is the new H2O Life. Style. Resort., located adjacent to four acres of pristine parkland on Long Bay Beach, a haven for kiteboarders. Currently under construction, the project includes 15 exclusive units in one, two and three bedroom condominums with lock-out suites to maximize rental opportunities.

Modern living in the prestigious Leeward neighborhood is possible at the new Upper East Side Estate. Under construction are 12 private, luxury villas on almost five acres of land with gated access and a paved main street. Three- and four-bedroom options are available, each with an open deck leading onto a private pool.

With the successful completion of Grace Bay West, Latitude 22 is launching Karaya Blue. This private residential development features six luxury villas on three acres, located in a peaceful setting minutes from Long Bay beachfront. The signature architecture with glass walls surrounding the living areas welcomes the outdoor views in. Pre-construction offerings afford purchasers ability to tailor the design finishes to their own wishes.

TCREA agents agree that buyers looking for a private villa in a luxurious neighborhood would best start their search in the Providenciales areas of Leeward, Long Bay, Turtle Tail and Chalk Sound. Long accoladed as the “World’s Best Beach,” Grace Bay is the place to look for a condominium. A private island experience can be had at Amanyara, located on Providenciales’ remote northwest shore or on the exclusive islands of Parrot Cay, Pine Cay, Ambergris Cay and West Caicos.

At home
Residency status in the Turks & Caicos Islands can take on a new importance in the “new normal” of global pandemics, unrest and the desire to isolate. Available is a homeowner’s permit, valid for five years and allowing recipients and their family members to come and go as they wish. Purchasers of any home or condominium valued over $300,000 can apply for the permit to the TCI Government. These permits do NOT include the right to work. The government fee is $1,500, plus legal fees.

With a real estate purchase over $1 million, investors can apply for a Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC), granting the applicant and spouse the right to reside in TCI for life. Children can be endorsed until they are 18 years old. The cost is a one-time government fee of $25,000, plus $1,500 for spouse and $500 per child, along with legal fees. PRC status can lead to TCI (British Overseas Territory Citizenship) and, potentially, a British passport.

Note that foreigners also have the unrestricted right to purchase property, and there are no real estate taxes.

Turn your attention to the Turks & Caicos Islands as you look into the uncertain future. For even though the world has changed, the country’s “Beautiful by Nature” way of life remains the same.



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Photographer/videographer Gary James, owner/director of Provo Pictures (provopictures.com), originally shot this image for Wymara Resorts and Villas. It perfectly captures the natural “social distancing” available on the Turks & Caicos Islands’ beautiful—and uncrowded—beaches.

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