REAL ESTATE

Invest in Paradise
 
We’re setting the pace for the island’s recovery.
 
More than two years after Hurricane Irma caused the worst natural disaster in the history of St. Maarten/St. Martin, the island is well on its way to a strong recovery. There are still challenges ahead, but noticeable progress is visible on both sides of the island.   
 
While the official reopening of some of the larger hotels is still pending, as is the completion of the Princess Juliana International Airport, this has not stopped tourists from returning to the island. Good times are once again easily found on this dual-nation paradise. There is a great sense of optimism among those who are familiar with the island, and expectations are that within a year or two the destination will have reinvented itself with a state-of-the-art airport complemented by new and improved accommodations. 
 
The real estate market has been abuzz since the passing of the storm. The trends have shifted rather quickly, but activity has been the one consistent theme. The first wave of real estate transactions post-hurricane was primarily in long-term rentals that were able to address people’s immediate housing needs. Within a few months, the hot-ticket item had become damaged properties owned by motivated sellers. The majority of these “fire sale” opportunities were quickly purchased by people who, in most cases, were already property owners on the island. Essentially these investors were “doubling down” and showing their confidence in the island’s ability to recover.
 
It took about a year for international buyers to start coming back to the island, but as soon as this became an obvious trend, prices started to stabilize across the board. At present, the luxury segment of the island is clearly a buyers’ market, while the lower-priced inventory that mostly caters to the local population is better classified as a sellers’ market.
 
High-Profile Listings
 
St. Maarten/St. Martin’s real estate market has always had strong appeal for international buyers looking to own a vacation property in paradise. The most famous property owner on the island is, of course, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, who owns a private beachfront estate on the French side. Love him or hate him, Trump is someone who attracts media attention wherever he goes; and when he officially listed his property for sale, the international media took notice. The exposure of such a high-profile listing on the island has helped to put the spotlight on the local real estate market globally and added even more credibility to the allure of owning property on this island.  
 
There are no restrictions against foreigners owning property in St. Maarten/St. Martin and the easy accessibility from many major cities in the United States, Canada and Europe has helped to make this island a preferred destination for second homebuyers. Both sides of the island have a wide variety of real estate offerings, with pricing starting at around US$100,000 and going up into the multimillions. Several property owners have established a solid track record of income from the vacation rental market. This is often a great way to offset carrying costs and maintenance fees. For some, this approach has even turned into a lucrative business. On the Dutch side of St. Maarten, there are no annual real estate taxes (rental income is subject to tax) and no capital gains taxes when the property is sold. On both sides of the island, transfer of ownership is done via a civil law notary who serves as a neutral party between buyer and seller and essentially guarantees free and clear title. Overall the process of buying and selling real estate in St. Maarten/St. Martin is relatively easy and safe.
 
The overall stability of the local real estate market has been a key factor for the island’s economic recovery. As the island moves toward reinventing itself, several new real estate developments have started construction; and, in many cases, buyers have responded with confidence. Probably the most noticeable success story of the new projects currently being built is the Mullet Bay Fourteen development, which consists of two towers that will be 22 stories of luxury condos. The majority of this inventory was presold before the developers even completed the foundation.
 
There are several other exciting projects that are currently under construction or in the planning stages.  The new construction that will be completed in the near future in most cases will be built with advanced technologies, making for a more resilient product, and will offer buyers a wide variety of options in terms of price, architecture and amenities.  
 
Arun Jagtiani is the owner of Island Real Estate Team. His knowledge of the local real estate market has led to multiple appearances on HGTV’s House Hunters International and Caribbean Life. For more information, visit ireteam.com.
 
DID YOU KNOW?
 
Overall the process of buying and selling real estate in St. Maarten/St. Martin is relatively easy and safe.
 

Support the University of St. Martin
 
Investing in higher education pays massive dividends. 
 
Whether it is through tourism, science or creative industries, higher education is always the key to development. For the past 30 years, the University of St. Martin (USM) has been serving the people of this beautiful French-Dutch island. With a student body of 300 strong, and 50 faculty and staff members, the university turns out multilingual, hardworking professionals dedicated to their beloved Soualiga, as St. Maarten/St. Martin was known before the arrival of Europeans.
 
The university was founded in Philipsburg in 1989 to train managers in the tourism industry but quickly evolved into the first officially recognized English-language center for teacher education in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Today, USM offers accredited degree programs in Education, Business, and Hospitality & Tourism Management, as well as Liberal Arts associate degrees that are recognized throughout North America and Europe. 
 
USM boasts more than 800 alumni, many of whom have gone on to become scientists, dignitaries, business leaders, teachers and professionals in various fields. Given the island’s multicultural population, the university also provides such courses as English as a Second Language and GED preparatory classes that help individuals integrate into the workforce. 
 
Now the university is looking to expand its academic offerings with degree programs in the Environmental Sciences, Social Work, Agroecology, Linguistics and Translation. Furthermore, it plans to embark upon research into the sustainability of the island’s economy, as well as waste management, resilient infrastructure and disaster preparedness programs. To accomplish these goals, they need the help of those who want to contribute to the socioeconomic development of the island. The goal is to raise US$10 million for its capital needs and to attract dedicated research-oriented faculty for their students.
 
If you’d like to donate to the university and help the island flourish, send an email to the USM president at president@usm.sx.
 

Set Your Sights on Indigo Green
 
It’s a win-win for investors in this St. Maarten residential resort.
 
Everyone wants to attain paradise but often believe it’s an impossible dream. This is not the case if you set your sights on St. Maarten, says Rene Lepine, developer of the sought-after Indigo Green residential resort. 
 
“When traveling abroad, people often ask me why we are developing a residential resort project in St.  Maarten,” Lepine says. “The answers are easy. Everywhere in the Caribbean has extra delivery costs, but St. Maarten is the only completely duty-free island.”  
 
Most island governments find it far easier to tax goods when they dock at their ports than to tax their residents’ income. Due to this, import duties that average anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent can be encountered on almost all goods, from construction materials and furniture to automobiles. 
 
Lepine adds, “Some islands actually tax automobile imports up to 165 percent. St. Maarten has no import duties on anything. As a foreign investor, that becomes a key decision factor.” 
 
Investing on the Dutch side of the island is highly recommended for the simple reason of taxation. The Dutch side levies no property taxes whatsoever. Transfer taxes when you acquire property are only 4 percent, which is a fraction of what the French side (St. Martin) applies. There are no capital gains taxes on the Dutch side when you resell. “How good a deal is that?” says Lepine.
 
When investing in real estate on the Dutch side, an important plus is that all transaction documents are in English. The Civil Code applies to everyone, so notary protection benefits everyone on property transfers.
 
With the ease of investing being a major draw for selecting St. Maarten, Lepine sees putting down stakes for a vacation home or investment property in Indigo Green as a bonus one should not pass up. 
 
Indigo Green is situated in Indigo Bay, the only new oceanfront gated community. It is the only master-planned community in St. Maarten to have deed restriction to protect the residential resort character of what is being planned.  
 
Indigo Bay is centrally located, close to markets, restaurants and entertainment, and only minutes from the airport, Philipsburg and Marigot.  

 

When designing Indigo Green, Lepine says the goal was to offer the best possible product in terms of a home away from home. “We chose not to cut corners for the sake of cost yet avoided trying to gild the units just for the sake of fashion. This brought us to build all poured-in-place concrete, hurricane-resistant, insulated, modern villas and condos with high ceilings and oversized windows. Then we surrounded them with multiple pools and a gym, all in a gated resort-style setting,” he points out.
 
Indigo Green is not an entry-level product, nor should one compare the residences with existing properties that were built before hurricane concerns and that have suffered decades of salt-air damage. To its merit, Indigo Green will not require the same level of maintenance.
 
Because of Indigo Green’s construction quality — proven by Hurricane Irma — Lepine says, easy financing in US dollars is offered via the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to qualified buyers with down payments as low as 35 percent.
 
For more information on Indigo Green, visit indigogreen.sx or call +1-721-543-7999 or +1-855-545-7999.
 

Feel at Home
 
Rent one of Jennifer’s Vacation Villas and pamper yourself in paradise.
 
Never sleep in a bed worse than the one you have at home is an adage many travelers live by. When traveling to St. Maarten/St. Martin, you’ll never have to feel like the princess in the story of The Princess and the Pea because Jennifer’s Vacation Villas prides itself in offering listings that have all the hallmarks of home without the everyday stress.
 
Jennifer de Gonzague prides herself on matching her clients with the best location to suit their needs and desires. Her commitment to quality is so innate, she ensures each client receives that personal touch and warm Caribbean welcome.
 
At 19, de Gonzague moved to sunny St. Maarten from the colder climes of New York. She went to work for Mullet Bay Beach Resort and later White Sands Beach Club. In 1990, her journey through the hospitality industry took her to Leslie’s Vacation Villas, where she stayed for about seven years before taking over the operation.
 
De Gonzague says she values the connections she has made with clients. “People know Jennifer’s Vacation Villas,” she says. “We give them that feeling of coming home.”
 
Jennifer’s Vacation Villas is a licensed management, real estate and villa rental company specializing in luxurious private villas and condos on both the French and Dutch sides of the island. The rentals accommodate individuals and groups large and small, with all the comforts of home and then some — like privacy, breathing room and jaw-dropping ocean views that instantly transport you to the Great State of Serenity Now.
 
“Our goal,” de Gonzague says, “is to make your vacation stay as comfortable, accommodating and easygoing as possible.” That means eliminating stress by handling details, catering events and offering up some pampering touches like massages and outings.
 
The boutique agency has built a reputation for meeting the individual needs of every client. “We are there to help,” says de Gonzague. “We are always reachable with whatever emergency they may have. We are there to get them a chef or to answer a simple question. It’s important we are accessible.”
 

Fun Fact

At 19, de Gonzague moved to sunny St. Maarten from the colder climes of New York.

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