Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020
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Selling ourselves short

As a Bahamian real estate broker who makes a living selling real estate, I can already anticipate that my opinions in this article may not sit well with some of my colleagues in the business.

Some may assume that the position I am taking may, in fact, take business away from them; however in the long run Bahamians will have ownership of their properties.

As the older generation would say, it might be a bit late, as the cow is already out the gate, to close it may prove to be an exercise of futility; in this case because most of the prime islands have been sold to expatriates.

The main issue I speak of is our practice of selling our islands and cays to non-Bahamians, which, once sold, significantly decreases the chance of reverting to Bahamian ownership. Instead of selling these islands/cays outright, I believe we should adopt the approach of many other countries and lease our land for a period of time, to ensure that they remain in our hands.
These days, many cruise ship lines either lease or own several of our cays, including Coco Cay, Little Stirrup Cay, Half Moon Cay and Disney Castaway Island, all of which are occupied by thousands of visitors each year. It is understood that the cruise ship lines operate all of the stores on these islands, water sports, jet ski rentals, deep sea fishing and horseback riding – of course there are Bahamians who are employed, but wouldn’t it be great if locals could be given the chance to own these operations, rather than the cruise ships?

Cruise ships have always been a power unto themselves, and governments have been hesitant to stand up to them, as the threat of them pulling out from the port would cause immense financial strain to the Bay Street merchants.

Despite The Bahamas being in a enviable position as the closest port to most major U.S. cruise lines, it appears as though we are selling ourselves short. Until we stand up to them, they will continue to bully us and always get the best deal.
It is unfortunate that other ports in the Caribbean have the same issues with cruise ships, and, like us, they are afraid to ruffle the feathers of the mighty cruise ships. However, until all the islands in the Caribbean join together to form a united front, these ships will continue to conquer and divide.

It certainly seems as though negotiating our natural assets may not be our strong suit. Perhaps we should mirror the process of a real estate brokerage and retain a professional skilled in negotiating value for prices.

In addition to ceasing the sale of these islands to non-Bahamians who are inactive in their developments, it should become best practice to institute a mandatory building period; if no progress takes place during a certain period, the land would revert to being the property of the government of the Bahamas. A similar practice occurs in the Fiji Islands: a foreigner who purchases a lot to build a home has within two years to build. There are penalties if they fail to do so, and 10 percent of the value of the property is reduced every six months from the value of the land.

Recently. Canada has imposed a 15 percent tax on properties purchased by foreigners, as it attempts to slow down the purchases by them as housing prices continue to escalate out of the reach of most Canadians. Asians, particularly those with pocket loads of money, are on a spending spree causing bidding wars send prices through the roof.

With a similar situation happening in The Bahamas, where properties are out of the reach for the average Bahamian, some way and some how we must get a handle on this, as homeownership is certainly a common dream.

I support raising the threshold of foreigners purchase price to $750,000 in Nassau, perhaps leaving it at $500,000 in the Family Islands. It is high time we stop focusing on the “chicken in da bag” tourists and endeavor to focus on the exclusivity of our islands; sought out by high-end investors. Let’s face it, these wealthy folks prefer to be associated with neighbors in a more comparable socioeconomic bracket.

This may be the exact reason why communities such as Lyford Cay, Old Fort Bay and Albany attract the wealthiest to our shores, based on their success, why should we as a country lower the bar? In closing, The Bahamas must be dedicated to knowing our worth!

• William Wong is a two-term president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, and two-term president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association. William Wong is a partner at Darville-Wong Realty. E-mail: williamuwong@gmail.com.

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