By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Major Bahamian realtors are reporting a "significant uptick" in business for the 2017 first half, with one telling Tribune Business: "The recession is finally gone."
John Christie, H. G. Christie Ltd's chief executive, said the company was enjoying "one of our best years ever" after two election results - one in the US, the other in the Bahamas - boosted market confidence.
"We've definitely been seeing significant sales. We've been seeing that from November on," he confirmed to this newspaper. "People are continuing to buy.
"The initial pick up was the Trump effect; the stock market going up and everyone feeling positive and spending. With the new government here, people sitting on the sidelines are moving forward, feeling more positive, and people are still coming here for permanent residency. It's a triple whammy."
Mr Christie conceded that the surge in real estate market activity was "not everywhere", with the more sparsely populated Family Islands still relatively slow.
He added, though, that business had picked up across all price points in New Providence, while traditionally strong markets such as Harbour Island, Abaco and Eleuthera were also performing well.
"It's been significant," Mr Christie told Tribune Business. "We're having one of our best years ever. It's as busy as it ever has been; even before the recession and everything else.
"The recession, 10 years later, is finally gone and we're back in the good times."
Mr Christie's optimism was shared by fellow realtors. Mario Carey, president and chief executive at Better Homes & Gardens MCR (Bahamas), urged potential buyers to move quickly as increased demand was beginning to drive prices upwards.
"We're seeing prices correct themselves again; 20-25 per cent since the decline," he told Tribune Business. "Buyers should enter the market and look for good deals, because prices are definitely going up."
Mr Carey said the real estate market had "heated up" over the past six weeks, with buyers seemingly renewing interest now that the uncertainty associated with a general election was over.
"We're seeing a noticeable uptick in interest," he confirmed. "It seems to have really been heating up over the last six weeks to a month. We see a lot of confidence in real estate again.
"I think it would be safe to say it's across the market; just about any sort of sector - luxury, mid-range, condos, low-end and the rental market. People are confident that the Government is open for business, that there's financing out there and funds available, and that real estate is a good buy."
Mr Carey suggested that the Bahamian real estate market was beginning to mirror the revival now taking place in the US and globally, pointing out that this nation's recovery traditionally lags that of developed countries.
"It's an overall recovery coming out of the recession," he said. "We always tend to lag behind, and the US real estate market has been in recession for a year.
"We're catching up, which is the norm. It's a cycle. We're experiencing some good activity, even though it's the soft months."
Peter Dupuch, head of ERA Dupuch Real Estate, agreed that "people sitting on the sidelines are coming to the table to pull the trigger" on potential real estate purchases, especially since the May 10 general election.
"There's definitely been a pick up. It's been busy for us all year," he told Tribune Business. "The market has been strong, but mostly with foreign sales.
"We've seen a pick up since February, and it's just this whole year. After the election I think people are a little more positive about moving forward. A lot of people who were sitting on the sidelines are coming to the table to pull the trigger. I can't complain."
Mr Dupuch said his firm was ahead of 2016's performance, although he was unable to say by how much.
"We're definitely up quite a bit because we've made a few large sales," he added. "We've assisted with one of the largest sales at the Ocean Club, where we've done some large closings, and have a private island under contract. We're making some good sales elsewhere on Paradise Island, including the Reef."
Mr Dupuch said international buyers were still attracted to Bahamian real estate, with this nation's climate, US proximity and tax/residency advantages outweighing its numerous economic and social issues.
"People are still coming here from all over the world," he said. "Everybody wants to live here, and it's a beautiful place to live.
"We have our issues, but the higher end market doesn't feel the issues as much as we do. They're behind the gates, very wealthy and it's probably their second or third home. They don't have the same issues as those struggling to buy a $500,000 property."
Mike Lightbourn, Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty's president, told Tribune Business: "This has been a good year as far as numbers are concerned. I'm sure we're up; I don't know what percentage, but hopefully it will get better."
He warned, though, that "a monkey wrench could be thrown into real estate sales" should Moody's follow through with its threat to downgrade the Bahamas' creditworthiness to so-called 'junk' status.
This would send a potentially negative message to foreign investors, including real estate buyers, about the security of their investment in the Bahamas and the Government's ability to manage the country's financial affairs.
However, Mr Lightbourn said the potential Moody's downgrade had yet to be raised with him by foreign real estate buyers.
"We've not heard that much discussion at large, to be truthful," he told Tribune Business. "It's something out there if someone sees it, reads it.
"I met with an overseas client this morning with considerable holdings and the downgrade wasn't mentioned. They're getting ready to do something after holding off for many years.
"There were legal items that had to be dealt with and those issues seem to be behind them. I'm not saying it's a considerable investment, but it could be. They're going to start on a relatively small scale and increase it if necessary."