Freeport real estate sees 25% surge before market ‘explodes’


Tribune Business Editor


Freeport property sales and rentals were yesterday said to have increased by 25 percent in recent months as buyers seek to enter the market before it “explodes” from $2bn worth of investment projects.

Multiple realtors told Tribune Business that real estate activity in The Bahamas’ second city has surged sharply amid growing recognition that developments such as Carnival’s $600m cruise port, the Grand Bahama Shipyard’s $600m expansion and multiple other investments appear to be for real with many already underway and into their construction phases.

Donna Laing-Jones, a broker with Keys Bahamas Realty, estimated that 2024 first quarter business volumes had grown by 10-15 percent year-over-year with the buyer mix split 50/50 between Nassau residents and foreigners. She added that inquiries have picked up by some 20 percent in the past two weeks alone.

And, apart from sales, Ms Laing-Jones said Freeport’s rental market is set for a major boost with Carnival having released a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking leased units for its workforce with effect from January 2025. Demand will also be driven by the student population’s continued growth at Western Atlantic University’s Medical School, and this is likely to outstrip supply leading to accommodation shortages.

With real estate values around one-third of comparable properties in Nassau, the Keys Bahamas broker added that many capital residents with access to financing were trying to close deals in Freeport before prices increase from market forces stimulated by Grand Bahama’s potential economic revival.

“I’m telling everyone that any property find abandoned, whether it’s a duplex, triplex or whatever you can afford in real estate, buy it,” Ms Laing-Jones said. “The buyers are coming out of Nassau, the buyers are coming out of the US.

“I had a broker from Miami call me this morning, and she wanted to spend a couple of days with me to find out what’s going on. Many of her clients have been talking about Grand Bahama, and she reached out to me to ask if she can come over for a couple of days to understand what’s going on and what opportunities may be available to her clients.

“Properties are closing left, right and centre. We’re going to close on a commercial building in a couple of weeks. It was sitting there for $1.5m and the guy called me and said: ‘Let’s get it’. There’s momentum here on Grand Bahama and we just need to be ready.”

Ms Laing-Jones told Tribune Business that inquiries from potential buyers are “probably up about 20 percent in the past couple of weeks”, with many simply requesting details on what’s available and the dollar value they are prepared to meet. “We have a lot of cash buyers in the market,” she added.

“It’s very active compared to past years. I would think in this first quarter we probably have increased as a percentage about 10-15 percent over the prior year. It’s the busiest I’ve seen for a long time. There’s a lot of buyers out there; a lot of Bahamians out of Nassau for sure.

“I would think it would be 50/50 Nassauvians and foreign buyers. When they can purchase a property in Grand Bahama for $300,000, they’re probably looking at $1m in Nassau.” Trevor Johnson, broker and appraiser with Churchill & Jones Real Estate, confirmed the growing interest in Freeport by capital residents.

“We have seen quits a few persons from Nassau coming over and trying to catch the market before it explodes and takes off,” he told this newspaper. “The market is ripe and ready. I guess they’re trying to catch it before Carnival opens next year and prices uptick, and it won’t be too late for them to get in at the beginning.

“Contracts are becoming more and more every day. People are buying waterfront properties, and folks here are buying older buildings, dilapidated buildings and refurbishing them and putting them back on the market. I would say the rental market has picked up about 25 percent and sales about the same.”

However, with the multiple investment projects already underway or anticipated to start in Grand Bahama, and the size of the construction and, ultimately, full-time workforces that will be required, Mr Johnson conceded: “We have a housing shortage here and will have a serious influx of workers.

“We’re stressed right now looking for apartment rentals. There are a lot of workers coming from Nassau to participate in finishing the Carnival cruise port, and the medical school students are taking up a lot of rentals as well. We have a shortage of rentals in lower and middle income neighbourhoods.”

A Freeport resident since 1969, Mr Johnson acknowledged that it has “been an uphill battle for us, but I’m a real patriot and will be the first one to hang the flag out”. He added that market activity is the busiest he has seen it in 20 years since Frances and Jeanne, and a succession of other hurricanes, devastated the island.

Ms Laing-Jones echoed Mr Johnson on the rental concerns, saying: “The majority of the contractors coming in are looking for housing for up to 100 persons and it’s almost impossible to find. They have to be all over the place; you couldn’t keep them in one area. A couple of contractors couldn’t come because they couldn’t find the housing.

“It will be like when they built the Grand Lucayan, when we had so many rentals and all the agents were making money because we couldn’t find enough housing for people needing it. Certainly we have a supply issue. We have had a supply issue since Dorian and COVID. We definitely need more rental units. We’re encouraging everyone to build a unit, update, restore, repair your unit. There’s not much time.

One Freeport-based source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Tribune Business that the city’s property market is showing signs of reviving after two decades in the doldrums following the Royal Oasis closure in 2004 and Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

“There’s new buyers. I have three deals today between $600,000 and $1.5m with sales agreements to be signed. Deposits are in place. There’s activity and people are buying. I have felt it for the past two months but am only really seeing it now,” they said.

“Buyers have been absent for almost two years. They are mostly residents looking around now. We’re going to boom. The airport is going now and Carnival is causing some excitement because they’ve got people looking for apartments.”

James Sarles, principal and broker with James Sarles Realty, said Freeport and Grand Bahama now have “a positive story to tell” potential buyers due to the up to $2bn worth of investment projects in the pipeline. He conceded that the city was still “banking on” its “future potential”, and many developments will take years to come to fruition, but there was growing belief this time might be for real.

“The hurricanes are behind us, we have the infrastructure here. People are recognising that,” Mr Sarles said. “I’ve always said we’re always the bridesmaid, never the bride, but it seems like this could be Grand Bahama’s turn. We’re getting a lot of people from the US, especially the boating community, who realise it’s near impossible to build new dockage there....

“We need everything to keep moving. We need the hotel [Grand Lucayan], we need the airport. It’s years in the making all these things, but people see it in advance and it’s a positive story to tell. There’s a lot of unemployment and a lot of things we need here, but if you are asking me if we’re on the right trajectory for the first time in a while, we are.”

Mr Sarles urged Grand Bahama residents and businesses to prepare for what is to come, with the island able to “get its footing” once again if all promised investments come to fruition. “We have to get our level of service up, we have to raise our standards,” he added. “We have to accommodate these projects, accommodate these people. It’s a chance for sleepy Freeport to step up to the plate.”


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