Developers define themselves within specific areas covering a wide range of opportunities, whether they are low or middle income housing, or at the upper end of the market — mostly related to foreign second home ownership. Some developers also specialize in commercial or niche property, but in every case opportunities are governed by a sense that there is a demand within a particular segment.

Where niche opportunities present themselves, such opportunities are represented by a particular need, such as medical facilities, sporting facilities and joint venture opportunities often with banks, international companies, hotels etcetera. In the case of hotels, most major chains operate though management contracts and where brands are involved the opportunities to leverage those names through the sale of attached real estate adds significant
value. The local Four Seasons Project is a perfect example of this added value, where residential sales will provide the major incentive to the developer.

Barbados has not taken full advantage of fractional ownership. This product is much better known under the heading of time share; however it can be sold at the high end of the market very successfully when attached to signature brands at the level of a Four Seasons. As markets become more competitive and economies more challenging, shared ownership could be viewed as a better opportunity in such an environment since this also provides for shared costs.

I previously advocated the major opportunities which exist under the heading of Redevelopment. Barbados has a major competitive advantage under this heading, especially in our main cities and towns where the existing stock of heritage properties offer major attractions for redevelopment opportunities. Excellent examples exist in North America of sections of cities which have become major successes through retrofitting and adaptive re-use in historic
areas. Particular success has occurred where old waterfront areas have been redeveloped under such initiatives, these include Baltimore, Boston, New York etcetera.

Our Pierhead Project in Bridgetown remains the single most readied project of a major scale which could impact the overall economy, especially at this time with Bridgetown being reviewed by the World Heritage Committee making it timely for this project to be started. It offers the opportunity to serve as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the greater Bridgetown area.

The opportunities for development are made more potent when placed in the context of Barbados’ sophisticated real estate market. Our island has come of age. If a country’s housing stock is one clear indicator of its level of development then a signature style and the quality of homes catering to a signature lifestyle speaks to a depth of sophistication, one which is aimed at making the best possible use of a limited land mass. A “Sophisticated Development Creep” has occurred as Barbadians have welcomed thousands of wealthy foreign home owners to live among us. This island’s building industry has become hugely competent, building numerous mansions in and among the most exciting local residential communities. The average Barbadian home has
mirrored its surroundings as new homes have enjoyed improved access to materials which have been introduced. Nevertheless, the basic local coral stone still remains a most attractive feature. The creation of this sophisticated real estate market has had many influences:

  • Historical
  • Political
  • Natural/ physical — climate and topography
  • Supporting amenities
  • People
  • Location — access

I have suggested six influences, several of which are interconnected, and have left the most promoted one for last — location. Everyone knows the too often repeated cliché — the three most important influences on real estate values are “location, location, location”, and Barbados’ setting within easy reach of
major international cities have influenced real estate’s development. Our island’s natural beauty and amenable climate provided the stage for this development. I have also made reference to our historical strength and supporting amenities, founded on the infrastructure created by the sugar industry and heightened when the shackles of sugar were replaced with the opportunities of tourism and a newly independent political system; and of course
our current stable political climate stems from this history.

However, the greatest influence on the development of our sophisticated real estate sector may be our people. Barbados boasts a Diaspora with a global reach, with well-established settlements in major world class cities such as New York, Toronto and London, promoting the oft stated saying that you can find a Barbadian anywhere in the world. The repatriation of money, skill and “sophisticated” know how is often overlooked and taken for granted — but each overseas citizen is an ambassador. Locally, one of our major strengths is our educated middle class whose aspirations for success have no boundaries. The opportunities for upward mobility are limitless and Barbadians continue to do our country proud though their contributions to the wider society.

As a result of the influences listed above, Barbados has defined itself as up-market. We have to date created a sophisticated society not often found in such a small environment. However, a truly sophisticated society accepts given realities, the main ones in our case being a high population density and limited natural resources. It is clear therefore that future growth must be through urbanization, which by definition allows for higher densities. Urban communities allow for the development of more sophisticated societies as they are the centres for government, the arts and a higher level of intellectual exchanges in itself linked to easier access and cross fertilization of expression. Just look at New York, London, Paris, Toronto etcetera. This in fact may be the most attractive development opportunity for Barbados’ future.

A final development prospect lies in grasping opportunities which surround us in our neighbouring islands and beyond. One major realization is that by adding strength to other entrepreneurial endeavours beyond our shores we will add strength to our own economic base. One success leads to another and it is therefore important to note that sophisticated growth requires constant risk-taking, whereas straight-line or repetitive growth is safer but fails to set you apart.

About the Author

Sir Paul Altman
Sir Paul Altman - Managing Director, Altman Real Estate

Sir Paul Altman has been involved in the real estate profession for over thirty years. He is the Managing Director of Altman Real Estate, the Caribbean’s leading Real Estate Company, and Ambassador and Chairman of the Savills Caribbean Associates.