By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamian realtors yesterday hailed the government's post-Dorian Economic Recovery Zone incentives as a "big plus" but warned other measures were required to kickstart the rebuild.
Mike Lightbourn, Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty's president, told Tribune Business that utilities infrastructure and living accommodation for the thousands of construction workers required to rebuild Abaco and east Grand Bahama were priorities just as urgent.
He confirmed that himself and other realtors at his firm were also fielding inquiries from "vultures" eager to snap up Abaco real estate at bargain prices following the deadliest storm likely to have ever struck The Bahamas.
"It's great. It'll be a big plus," Mr Lightbourn said of the incentives. "But we need to put some infrastructure in place before people rebuild. That'll also encourage the vultures even more. We've had several vultures looking for real estate bargains and making it very clear they're interested in any bargains in Abaco or Grand Bahama.
"One guy was quite polite about it and said it may be inappropriate at this time, and apologised for making that request. He said that if it was going to cause problems making this request at this time, he would communicate with me at a later date. The next day we had more vultures e-mailing us looking for deals."
The prime minister on Sunday said the combined tax breaks and incentives package to stimulate recovery in the areas hardest hit by Dorian largely mirrors that employed for his over-the-hill revival initiative, although it goes beyond that in a bid to revive the real estate market so vital to Abaco's economy.
A VAT credit of up to 50 percent upon the sale of all property in the Economic Recovery Zones will be permitted - a benefit that could be worth several million dollars to buyers and sellers of high-end property in Abaco and its cays.
To qualify for this credit, the sale must immediately be followed by substantial construction or enhancement to the property, or its use for significant commercial activity. The qualifying activity must begin within 75 days of the sale closing, be followed through the scheduled completion otherwise the full VAT sum becomes payable.
Elsewhere, real property tax will not be payable on all eligible properties that are reconstructed, restored or otherwise inhabitable by October 2020.
The Government, however, recognised that any real property tax breaks would solely apply to foreign real estate owners, as Bahamian-owned property in the Family Islands is not subject to this tax.
Rather than a blanket exemption, the Prime Minister announced in foreign land holders in Abaco, the Abaco cays and east Grand Bahama "may" be able to benefit from real property tax breaks only if their developed properties are up to standard or they are taking steps to getting them back up to standard.
While this is designed to aid the second home and vacation rental market, undeveloped properties owned by foreigners in the Economic Recovery Zones will not benefit from the real property tax exemption.
Mr Lightbourn added that while the initiatives "sound great, our biggest problem right now, certainly in Abaco, is bringing in construction workers". He had no objection to the real property tax breaks as "we need foreigners to come here to boost the economy".
He was echoed by Mario Carey, founder of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group, who said of the real estate incentives: "I think it's all good. I hope it's a work in progress and that they can make amendments as the process evolves. I hope there's an ability to change things as you're going to need to add to that."
Mr Carey also identified the provision of worker housing as a key issue in the rebuilding process post-Dorian.