By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent Bahamian realtor yesterday argued that "no industry is immune" from the coronavirus fall-out, with his sector "as vulnerable as any" to the ongoing outbreak and related panic.
Mario Carey, principal of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Group Bahamas, told Tribune Business that the Bahamian real estate market was "unlikely to be insulated" should the virus continue to spread in key buyer source markets such as the US, Canada and Europe.
While some real estate activity could be conducted online in a "worst case" scenario, Mr Carey added: "Definitely things are slow. People aren't travelling. I don't think we're insulated, and don't know that we would be for long.
"When I speak to people, including the resorts, everybody is saying there are a lot of cancellations, things are slow. I would have to concur with what they're saying. We're like holding our breath. We haven't had a case yet, and the Caribbean has been somewhat insulated, but Jamaica announced its first case today [yesterday]. That's how quickly it happens.
"We have so many ports of entry - private boats, yachts and planes, not only commercial airlines. I personally cancelled a trip to Florida this weekend as there's too much uncertainty. Once we get that first case, and God forbid that we don't, I don't know how this conversation will go."
Mr Carey added that it was "legitimate to think that people aren't really in that space of buying real estate and travelling to buy real estate. Hopefully they can see the value and can do transactions online, and maybe their involved in deals that are wrapping up".
However, strong commercial bank liquidity levels and a more "aggressive" lending posture had resulted in increased activity in the Bahamian segment of the real estate market that may help offset any decline on the international side.
But Mr Carey also expressed concern for Bahamian vacation rental entrepreneurs that have built their business around the Airbnb model, as any slowdown in travel was likely to throw their efforts into a tailspin.
"I don't think anybody is immune," he told Tribune Business. "I cannot imagine what industry would not be impacted, and I think real estate is as vulnerable as any. I don't think real estate is insulated.
"We are very close to the tourism business and the banking business. They both impact us directly. We're all tied together - tourism, banking, real estate and lifestyle. It's something we've got to keep an eye on. It's a very unique situation. It's not like a hurricane that you're going to recover from. It's not weather-based, it's not terrorism-based. It's compounding so quickly. It's a wait; a serious wait."
George Damianos, president and managing broker of Damianos Sotheby's International Realty, told Tribune Business that while the coronavirus is not causing clients to decline Bahamian real estate, some have postponed or are reconsidering plans to travel to this nation.
"We have had people cancelling trips saying they will not come now, and will come later in the year, or people saying they are still coming but may cancel prior depending on their travel advisories," he revealed.
"It's a very disruptive thing, and it's very difficult for me on this end to say: 'Not to worry, everything's fine in The Bahamas' whereas if something happens I will feel awful. I'm trying to remain realistic, saying come when you can and it's appropriate, and we look forward to giving you service. It's not that people are not interested in buying in The Bahamas because of the coronavirus. That's not come up."
Mr Damianos acknowledged that the Covid-19 virus's impact would become "very concerning" for The Bahamas should the outbreak intensify to the extent that "travel comes to a grinding halt" or businesses be unable to stay open during their normal hours.
"That's the main concern for everyone," he added. "How far and deep it will go, and how it will affect places like The Bahamas when these are not necessity trips to purchase real estate. People come here to relax and enjoy. It's a luxury item.
"It's more of an exciting thing to do, but if the coronavirus gets worse it will have an impact where people say they do not need to go on a trip this summer, and stay home and decide not to buy a place in The Bahamas or other part of the world. It's something we need to keep an eye on, and be cognisant of what can happen and what is going on around us.
"Obviously if people don't come and look at real estate sales will slow down. There's no secret about that. The Bahamas could be in for an interesting time, and the world could be in for an interesting time. I'm just hoping it doesn't get too crazy."
Mr Damianos said unsettled global stock markets were another potential deterrent to real estate purchases in The Bahamas by international buyers amid actual losses - or the fear of potential losses - incurred by their investment portfolios.