Damianos Sotheby's Int. Realty

Lenihan Sothebys International Realty Q&A with Peter Whitehead

Nassau, Bahamas (March 8th)Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty had a chat with Bahamas real estate agent and Sotheby’s International Realty affiliate, Peter Whitehead. The discussion is about the real estate market and developments in the Bahamas, the island lifestyle, relocation, and more.

Here is the transcript of the conversation had:

Greg:    Welcome to this edition of Perspectives, a real estate series brought to you by Louisville’s luxury real estate brokerage, Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty. I’m Greg Fleischaker, your host, and today on our podcast we have Peter Whitehead from way down south in the Bahamas. Peter has agreed to speak with me today as we try to work our way around the country, and apparently internationally as well, to check with top agents from some of the most dynamic and interesting locations that our clients here in Louisville ask us about. Peter, how are you?

Peter:    I’m very well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Greg:    Oh, you’re too kind. I have to admit, I’m a little jealous. Right now outside as we’re talking, it’s about 37 degrees here Fahrenheit, so I guess 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. Pretty cold, what’s it like where you are?

Peter:    Today is lovely. It’s always obviously warm here. You probably wear a sweater 1 or 2 days a year, if that. It’s always nice. We’re year round good weather. The winter is a little bit drier, but the days are beautiful. You can swim all year round. You can spend hours in the water all year round with never wearing a wetsuit or anything.

Greg:    Nice. What’s the temperature right now?

Peter:    Probably around 83, 84.

Greg:    Okay. I shouldn’t have asked. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became associated with Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty there in the Bahamas?

Peter:    I was raised in the Bahamas, and lived for most of my life. Actually, Damianos Sotheby’s, growing up, one of my best friends was the son of the owner. Eventually when I moved down to Exuma and started working with construction mostly, and on the development side of things, I joined up with them to be able to bring attention to Exuma, and sell the different things that we’ve been building as well as things that we haven’t built, and that’s it. I basically called up my best friend’s dad and said, “Hey, let’s go. Should I join with you?” That was quick, and we work together very well. It’s the right … Sotheby’s has an amazing reach, and the quality here is of the caliber of Sotheby’s clients.

Greg:    The fact that you and I are talking is a testament, right, to the Sotheby’s brand, and the Sotheby’s reach, but that’s how we got in touch, right? With some of the projects or some of the developments that you’re working on there. Why don’t you spend a couple minutes and tell us about your newest project that you’re so excited about?

Peter:    A project that we’re building and developing right now and selling is wonderful Foster Hill, which is designed to bring out the best of Exuma. Now Exuma is a place where you are always in and out of the water. It’s easily some of the prettiest water in the world. What happens in the Bahamas is, you don’t have rivers, so when you don’t have rivers, you have no sediment, so the water is crystal clear. Unlike the Southern Caribbean, where when you have rain forests and waterfalls, you have rivers, and so the water’s never really clear. The Bahamas is just ocean, and the ocean touching land, so you have this turquoise that is just unbelievable. Then Exuma, you have amazing sheltered water. On top of having just unbelievable colors, it’s always calm and it’s always gentle, and it’s like a huge playground. It often feels like an un-ending pool. We tried to create a development that was very geared to exploring that and being close to that.

We built a … It’s almost a boutique development. It’s 11 houses around an marina, where your boat’s basically straight in front of your house, it’s very high end, and it puts you so close to the water that going in the boat isn’t a 20 minute chore. It’s literally 2 minutes. Walk in front of your house, hop in the boat, go. We have a beautiful beach, beautiful common areas, as well as beautiful homes. Really in some of these houses you feel like you’re on the back of a yacht inside a sheltered area, and in front of you is what’s called Moriah Harbor National Park, which is maybe one of the prettiest parks in the Bahamas, and by default maybe the world. It’s absolutely stunning territory, and we built a development that lends itself to the area and puts you right in the middle of some of the prettiest territory you’ve ever seen.

Bahamas real estate couple walking

Greg:    Wow, that sounds absolutely breathtaking. One of the reasons your office reached out to us is because apparently people in the Midwest US are relocating to the Bahamas.

Peter:    Well, there’s people relocating, and there’s people just wanting to include it in their lives. On many levels with the improvement in communications, people can actually relocate. We’re getting to the stage where moving and working from a place becomes easier and easier, so there are people who have actually come, and moved their families here, and operate from here, they operate their businesses from here. Then some people just want to include it in their lives in an easy way. I say in an easy way, because the Bahamas is … I don’t know if you know this, but the Bahamas is 700 islands. There’s islands that are more traffic, there’s people there, and then there’s islands with nobody. Then there’s places like Exuma which is in between, where they have just the right amount of infrastructure that it’s easy to get to, even though there’s not too many people and it’s more nature than city.

There’s some islands that are so difficult to get to that you have to hop in and out of planes many times. Exuma itself has a direct connection to Miami, a direct connection to Fort Lauderdale, and a direct connection to Toronto, and as well as a direct connection to Atlanta. You can wake up in the morning and by lunch time be sitting on the beach. It just becomes easier to make it part of your life. It’s not such a mission to go on vacation, you can just come for the weekend. People are approaching it that way as well. It feels more like a drive to a cottage rather than a vacation to Tahiti, because it’s really that close.

Greg:    It sounds pretty tempting, Atlanta’s only an hour flight, maybe less than an hour flight from Louisville, so that’s not bad. Take a jump down to Atlanta, then a jump down to you and enjoy a few days in the Bahamas.

Peter:    As far as the southern Bahamas goes, the further south you go in the Bahamas, the more into Pristine territory you get. Where we are, from Georgetown you go in a speed boat for literally 5 minutes, and you’re finding the world as Columbus found it.

But you can get to Exuma easily, but you can’t get to any other island in the southern Bahamas easily. You would have to first go to Nassau, and then get down to a local puddle jumper to go to different islands, and they have not the right level infrastructure, a very difficult infrastructure. Here you have easy access, but you’re in some of the best nature has ever shown.

Greg:    If someone’s listening and they’re interested in learning about the property, they can certainly get a hold of our office here, and we will get them in touch with you, and make sure that everything is ship shape and maybe get some people moving, or getting some part time vacation homes in the Bahamas.

Peter:    I would love that, and we have some good friends from Kentucky who live here, from Lexington, actually. It’s a wonderful fit. It’s horse country, and it’s people who like nature, people who like being with the outdoors, and they fit very well with this environment. This is definitely an environment where you have to enjoy nature, be out in it, be happy to be out in it. It’s a wonderful fit for people, I think.

Greg:    It sounds like it, and we have spring break coming up for families here with school aged children, so maybe some people will head down south for spring break. We like to ask all our guests 5 questions when they’re in different locations to give our listeners a better idea of your marketplace, so if you’re okay, you want to get into those 5 questions?

Peter:    Sure. Happily.

Greg:    Here in Louisville, we say $1 million, and you can laugh at me if you’d like to, $1 million is our threshold for a luxury home, so the difference between … I know it’s kind of arbitrary, but what would $1 million buy in your market? I’m curious if you’re going to say your market is the greater Bahamas, or if your market is a couple of these smaller islands.

Peter:    I call my market the Exumas, and more Great Exuma. If you get up into the northern Bahamas, the prices change again, and you don’t really speak about luxury in the $1 million number. Let me say, for $1 million you would get a 3-4 bedroom house on the water. If it was older you might get it on the beach. If it was newer, if you start talking about 1.3, 1.5, you could have a new, beautiful house on the beach. It’s not that one is way off the mark, but it’s a bit of a threshold. There’s some lovely listings that are in the 700-900 range, but they’re a little bit older, and they would be on the water, maybe on the beach, but an older house. You need it fixed up. If you wanted to be on the water and build something or buy something newer, you would be between 1.3 and 1.5. I think that’s a threshold for a generally nice house.

Greg:    Okay, so it’s a little bit more accessible than I would have guessed.

Peter:    Some parts. There are more accessible things. They might be standing alone. Then when you’re in developments, you have certain infrastructure that surrounds you that increases prices and obviously has its benefits. It is more accessible than one might think, yes.

Greg:    How big’s your market? In a given year, how many $1 million and above properties might you see on the market, and how many might sell?

Peter:    I think above a million, maybe there’s between 13 to 18 and 20 properties on the market at that number, and I’d say probably between 4 to 5 of them sell a year. I wouldn’t say it’s rapid. I guess it is a market influx in the sense that there’s a generation that was here through the 80’s and the 90’s that is kind of changing, and there’s a bit of a changing of the guard on the island. There’s an era that has ended, and then new people are coming in.

cabana in Bahamas real estateGreg:    Are you talking about the smaller Exuma market, or are you talking about the broader Bahamas market for the number of $1 million homes that might sell?

Peter:    The Bahamas in total is a quite amazing market. If you get to further north where more … There’s I guess a bigger market, it’s many, many, many houses in the multimillion dollar ranges. You would be dealing with listings of $20-$30 million, you’d be looking with … There’s a lot of …

Greg:    You can’t build that here.

Peter:    No I know, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. There’s a lot of interest in the islands up north, and in the Exumas as well. The Exumas, people like Faith Hill, Johnny Depp, they have islands in the Exumas. Beyonce, as well as … There’s a long list of people who have houses in the islands. Then if you go north you have developments like Albany, where the price point is anywhere from $5-$7 million, then you have places like Baker’s Bay where the price point is from $6-$12 million. Residents, everybody, I think Tom Brady, Justin Timberlake, big people, major money.

What’s very attractive about the Bahamas is that it’s its own country, and it has English law, and its ultimate court is in England. We have what’s called the Privy Council. We’re not a little island republic where there’s little chaos going on. It’s an organized country, and we answer ultimately still to the Queen.

We have laws, we speak English, we deal with the American dollar, and we’re very, very stable. Because we’re islands, we’re very, very safe because people can’t get to you. People come down here, a lot of very high end people because you don’t need security because bad people can’t get into the country. Then once they’re in the country, they can’t get to different islands. You have inherent security, just because nobody can just drive to you, as in maybe Mexico, or … In a lot of places, a lot of people can just drive up to your door, and in the Bahamas that’s not the case. There’s 700 islands. You have to be able to fly, which means you have to go through airport security, which means you have to … There’s a safety here that is unique, really. A lot of people who have major wealth really do crave that, and there’s less and less places in the world you can find it.

Again, because we have this island advantage, it’s like having a moat around you in every direction, like any castle. There’s a lot of attraction to the islands just because of that. You see major players who come down, and like I said, Albany’s a development in Nassau, it’s a development, and this has sold more than $1 billion in revenue sales since 02-08.

Greg:    Wow.

Peter:    Everybody, like I said, Tiger Woods is part of the development, Justin Rose. A long list, and mega celebrities pile through there almost weekly. There’s a lot of high end wealth that has come through the Bahamas and seeks the Bahamas out because not only is it beautiful, but it’s English. It has English law. The dollar is tagged to the American dollar. It’s tagged, to it’s 1:1, always. You’re safe. You’re inherently safe throughout the country.

Greg:    Yeah, and there are a couple of aspects in that conversation that I hadn’t really thought about, so that’s really interesting that the country’s big enough that there are several markets within it, but the other aspects as well, so the celebrities, and the safety, and the inherent stability. All that stuff sounds quite promising for a real estate investment.

Peter:    Right, and that’s why it keeps coming. The more instability you see and the more difficult it is to travel to certain places, the Bahamas stays this very, very stable, very, very quiet, incredibly beautiful space with law. With functioning courts.

Greg:    A nice benefit.

Peter:    Pardon?

Greg:    That’s a nice benefit, right? Functioning courts.

Peter:    Oh no, it’s a huge benefit. What you do down here, when you leave the continent, you leave the United States and you go out into the world, you’re dealing with a lot of unknowns, right? In the Caribbean you’re dealing independent countries, and there’s always a lot of unknowns. The fact that our highest court, our Supreme Court is in fact in England, it’s very stabilizing. You’re never worried about having a kangaroo court, it’s always straightforward, and that is stabilizing for everybody. It’s stabilizing effects throughout the country.

Greg:    Okay, so that was a very interesting answer to number 2, but we’re going to move onto the third question.

Peter:    Sorry.

Greg:    No problem. This will be a really short answer. You already prepped me, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Usually I like to ask people in other markets who the major employers are, like how many Fortune 500 companies. I’m going to guess you have very few Fortune 500 companies there in the Bahamas.

Peter:    Yes. There’s very few. Maybe none.

Greg:    Yeah okay.

Peter:    Some of them have branches here and do things. I’d say banking is one of our major industries. Banking, hotels, construction. Those are our major employers. There are various factors. There’s always a lot of foreign investment and construction, banking is stable and employs a huge faction of the population, and brings high end people to the country all the time, and also helps them relocate and et cetera. We have a very broad and effective banking system here, very sophisticated banking system. Those are the major employers of the country, but the Bahamas is … People live very well here. There’s no begging, that doesn’t exist. There’s generally a great standard of wealth. People just live well. You never see any dire circumstances or poverty running around.

Greg:    Then on the real estate sales, are a lot of the higher end or a lot of the sales driven not necessarily by industry there, but by tourists or people, like the celebrities you were talking about. Does that drive a fair amount of the market?

Peter:    Do people interested in celebrities drive the market, or …

Greg:    The celebrities themselves, so the wealthy people from outside the Bahamas buying vacation homes. Is that a fair percentage of the market, or is that what people like to talk about, but that’s really not a huge driver of sales?

Peter:    I wouldn’t say it’s a huge driver. There’s no paparazzi in this country, so it’s never really known.

Greg:    It just keeps getting better and better. Every time you tell me something, it just sounds better and better.

Peter:    Paparazzis, they’re not exactly rich people, so they’d have to get on a plane too, and it’s just not worth getting on a plane and renting a hotel to be paid $1000 for a shot. When they’re here, it’s never televised, because the same reason. They just can’t get to you. A lot of stuff is going on that even people here don’t know about, and then also Bahamians make no bones about celebrities, so they’re not interested in it, so they don’t really pay attention to celebrities. They don’t surround persons or anybody, so people can live here freely. My answer is, there’s no big hubbub about it, and it’s not the majority of anything either. Like in Albany, or Baker’s Bay or even Exuma, it’s a lot of people who have businesses, and have done well, and want to include the Bahamas in their life. I’d say maybe celebrities is 1 in 100.

Greg:    I going to change direction on you a little bit. You had mentioned, and this is the fourth question I usually ask people, what’s your impression of Kentucky? What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Louisville or Kentucky? It sounds like you have friends from Lexington, so do you know anything about Louisville?

Peter:    Only that I’ve heard. I haven’t been there, but from what I’ve noticed and the people I’ve met from there, it’s a very high caliber people. They’re well behaved, they treat each other right. They’re respectful and they’re not too city. They have a good southern respect and decency to them.

Greg:    That’s right, it’s our southern hospitality.

Peter:    Right, and it’s always very pleasant talking or engaging with somebody from Kentucky. That’s my experience from now. In my time in Lexington, it’s just an amazingly charming place. People used to living in beautiful environments know how to create beautiful environments, and they know how to support beautiful environments and keep a good thing going. You don’t have to explain to them how to have a beautiful dinner party or how to do these different things. They’ve been around it, so it comes naturally. They’re wonderful people to have around, and I’d love to have them in the mix, so that’s my feeling on them.

Greg:    That’s a very nice answer. I haven’t heard that one before, but I’ll certainly take it. I like it.

Peter:    It’s not New Jersey.

Greg:    True enough.

Peter:    We’ll keep that one quiet.

Greg:    The last question I normally ask people, I think we’ve covered for the last 10 or 15 minutes. I usually like to ask people to give me a quick pitch for their city or their location, but we’ve been covering that pretty well for the whole conversation. Is there something else you want to add about not necessarily your office, but your development, your country, your island? Why should someone think about buying a house there, or move there, or whatever it is people should do in the Bahamas?

Peter:    What I’d say is that the more I travel, the more I see things that are very similar to things that I’ve seen before. It becomes really special when you find a place you’re like, “Listen. There’s nothing like this. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” If you want to include new things in your life or special things in your life, I’d reach for those things that were truly unique and different, and provide actual variety from what I know. The Bahamas is such a gem. The Exumas is such a gem compared to anything I’ve ever seen, that it’s just worth knowing, it’s worth including. It would be something that I’d want to include in my life, and I’m living here and chose to live here because of it, so I want to include it in a huge way.

To anybody who can, it’s a very unique and also, more than anything, one of the most beautiful experiences you can ever have. From the people, to the environment, to the stories you hear. It’s all just … It’s real, and it’s unlike anything else.

Greg:    Sounds like I owe you a visit.

Peter:    Well listen, we have open doors. It’s an open door policy. Any time. I’d really enjoy that.

Greg:    I would too I think. Peter, I really appreciate your time today. I know we ran a little bit longer than I said we would, but thanks so much for stopping in, and hopefully we can do this again. I’d like to check in on your developments and see how they’re doing, maybe later this year or next year.

Peter:    I’d love that. Thank you and thank you, it’s been a real pleasure.

Greg:    Thank you.

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