By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A leading realtor yesterday revealed his firm had seen a “staggering” year-over-year increase in 2017 first quarter sales volumes, with the new government’s election provided “a great opportunity” to further grow the Bahamian market.
George Damianos, Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty’s president, told Tribune Business that his company was “up considerably more” than the 23 per cent sales volume increase it enjoyed for the 2016 full year. While the general election had no obvious impact on international buyer demand, Mr Damianos said the FNM’s victory gave the Bahamas a chance to send a worldwide message that it was “open for business”.
He called for the Dr Hubert Minnis-led administration to emulate the last FNM government, which pledged a 28-day approvals turnaround for foreigners purchasing real estate worth $1.5 million or more, by introducing similar pro-investor policies that grew the overall market.
“We’re doing fine,”Mr Damianos told Tribune Business of his own company’s year-to-date performance. “We can’t complain. We’ve had a great first quarter. We welcome this new change and new government, and there’s no reason why we can’t continue on the trend we’re on.”
Damianos Sotheby’s saw its sales volume for 2016 increase by 23 per cent for the full year, but Mr Damianos added: “We’re up considerably more than that for the first quarter of this year.
“Some of the numbers are staggering, but we’re just very thankful to be in the right place at the right time and that things have broken through for us early this year. If they continue, that’s wonderful, but we have to be realistic about this stuff and take it as it comes.”
Mr Damianos declined to disclose the extent of the sales improvement, but told Tribune Business it represented a major jump on prior year comparatives.
Damianos Sotheby’s specialises in higher-end properties, and its president said the company was showing real estate “right up to the election”, indicating that uncertainty over the outcome had little to no impact on foreign buyer demand.
Mr Damianos, though, argued that “the real estate industry has a great opportunity here from the new government” to signal increased interest in attracting more high net worth individuals and families to domicile in the Bahamas as their primary residence.
“I’m optimistic this will have an impact on the real estate market,” he told Tribune Business. “I’ve not heard any plans or commitments [from the new government] other than saying they’d like to streamline doing business in the Bahamas and making it more user-friendly.
“We’re optimistic. We’ve already heard some very good things out of this new government, committing to give answers to approvals applications in short order and keep things moving.”
Mr Damianos suggested the new government follow the lead of the 2007-2012 Ingraham administration, which pledged that residency and Investment Board applications would be processed within 28 days for foreigners purchasing Bahamian real estate valued at more than $1.5 million.
“That was wonderful,”Mr Damianos told Tribune Business of the investment threshold for accelerated permanent residency consideration. “They did live up to it with the customers we had.
“It was great we were able to that there would be a definitive answer to people wanting to become a resident of the Bahamas. We’re hoping for something similar from the new government. It would definitely send the signal out to the world that things have come open here, and a new government is here.”
The former Christie administration went in the opposite direction in its final years by seeking to increase the investment threshold for any permanent residency consideration from $500,000 to $1 million.
It eventually backed off following opposition from both realtors and developers, worried that it sent the wrong signal to potential investors and undermined the Bahamas’ ability to compete for foreign direct investment (FDI).
Illustrating the benefits of foreign real estate investment in the Bahamas, Mr Damianos said he yesterday met with an architect and one of his Lyford Cay clients, who employed 17 persons just through ownership of his property.
“This is the spill over from these residents and investments, and people wanting to have another residence and second home,” Mr Damianos added. “It’s full-time employment. It’s nothing but positive.
“He’s not competing against anybody, but is pumping money into the system. The more of this we can get; that’s how we have to look at it.”
The Damianos Sotheby’s chief said there were “a lot of interesting things in the world that the Bahamas can benefit from”, pointing to the onerous tax burden levied on wealthy families in developed nations.
He recalled a conversation with a client who informed him that inheritance tax rates in their home country were 45 per cent, meaning that the generational transfer of wealth would lose “a big chunk” to the tax authorities.
This, Mr Damianos, said created opportunities for the Bahamas to attract more residents and real estate buyers.
“If the Government saw that, and there was a bit more effort, we’d attract more of those people,” he told Tribune Business.
“What would help our market would be a more user-friendly government process with these people getting established in the Bahamas. It would help a lot to get these foreign investors, second home owners or people wishing to relocate to the Bahamas.
“They don’t have to do anything but act on things and get them done. The system is in place, and all they have to do is act and get it done. There are people who come here and don’t qualify no matter what they spend, but those that qualify, act on it and get it done.”