Realtors confident of beating 2017's 40-90% sales rise

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Top realtors yesterday expressed confidence they will this year beat a 2017 sales performance that exceeded prior year comparatives by between 40 to 90 per cent.

John Christie, H. G. Christie Ltd's chief executive, told Tribune Business that the sector's 2018 outlook was "as optimistic as we've had for many years" due to a combination of renewed local and international confidence.

Apart from the soaring US stock market, Mr Christie said the Minnis administration's election had given Bahamians "hope again" of an economic and jobs turnaround.

His optimism was echoed by George Damianos, president of Damianos Sotheby's International Realty, who told this newspaper that his firm was projecting 2018 growth beyond the 40 per cent sales volume increase experienced in 2017.

Identifying similar market drivers, Mr Damianos said early "vibes" made his firm confident they could achieve growth forecasts despite "having big shoes to fill".

"So far it looks to be shaping up to be a very good year," Mr Christie told Tribune Business of 2018. "Properties sold from last year are going to be closing, and there's continued strong interest from people in the Bahamas.

"The record high stock market and people coming for permanent residency; all these factors are looking very good for us. It started in 2016, and then came the Trump election and a lot more people feeling confident about spending money.

"The stock market went up, and the FNM came in. We've got hope again. All these things have solidified the Bahamas' place, and we are in a good position."

Mr Christie reiterated that the Bahamian economy and real estate market traditionally prospered whenever the US economy was strong, and he remains hopeful that the year-end tax cuts unveiled by Congress and the Trump administration will produce a 'wealth effect' that further boosts American confidence and spending.

He disclosed that H. G. Christie saw sales volumes "almost double" in 2017 compared to the prior year, increasing by around 90 per cent, due to renewed international demand for Bahamian real estate.

"Usually when you have a great year it sometimes dips down," Mr Christie told Tribune Business, "but our aim is to have the same year in 2018 or slightly better. That's our goal.

"I think we're looking good. I think it's about as optimistic an outlook as we have faced for many years. It's a good time for people to buy. We've finally realised the recession is over. We've had some tough years, but the recession is definitely over and we can look to the good times."

The Bahamas' recovery from the 'credit crunch', and subsequent 2008-2009 global recession, has been painfully slow and taken almost a decade. The country's annual GDP growth has been anemic, and among the Caribbean's lowest, with unemployment remaining stubbornly in the 'double digits' until the former Christie administration's pre-election hiring spree.

Mr Christie's comments, though, add to the small signs of improving Bahamian confidence as a result of the May 10 general election and the imminent full opening of the $4.2 billion Baha Mar project with its 5,000 jobs.

His optimism was yesterday echoed by fellow realtor, Mr Damianos, who told Tribune Business: "I am extremely optimistic and encouraged by what is going on, and we'll definitely have a good year in real estate in 2018.

"People are interested, and more are inquiring. Sales are happening. We're very much encouraged. I'm cautious, too. Sometimes when you speak too fast things go the other way, but I think the Bahamas is well-positioned to have a good year.

"The US stock market and economy is definitely driving it, and giving encouragement for Americans to invest overseas. With the Bahamas I think everybody is optimistic about the new government and the changes that are taking place, and their intent of doing good and turning this economy around."

Mr Damianos said 90 per cent of his firm's buyer clients are international, and he added: "We definitely see the interest. It's been an extremely busy December for us, and hopefully it continues right through the winter season.

"We were up a total of 40 per cent in dollar value over last year [in 2017]. We are continuing to build our numbers and keep our momentum going forward. The year 2017 was good, 2016 was good, and we're just pushing ahead, keeping our heads down and working hard.

"In my business projections, I'm expecting growth in 2018. We're hoping we end up ahead of 2017 in 2018. We've got some big shoes to fill, and hope to accomplish that this year. The feeling and vibe we have from business already in makes us feel we're able to achieve that."

Mario Carey, principal of Better Homes and Gardens MCR Bahamas, told Tribune Business that anecdotal evidence also indicated rising international buyer demand.

"Somebody landed in a plane the other weekend and said they'd never seen so many private jets at the airport," he said. "The demand for luxury vacation rentals over the holiday was unbelievable. Everything was rented, and we've seen people planning for next year.

"All indicators are pretty good. Everybody is feeling pretty good about what 2018 will bring." Mr Carey said persons in the art business had informed him that Wall Street was increasing its purchases of art works, which was another sign of a strong US stock market/financial services sector that could ultimately benefit the Bahamian real estate industry.

"It's a natural cycle," he added. "We're coming out of a recession; it's taken a little while, but we now have a stock market doing well and affordable money.

"Sometimes you get the perfect storm in a bad way, but let's hope this is a perfect storm in a good way. All my numbers are up, and all agents did better last year than they did the year before."

Mr Carey, though, expressed concern that few new real estate development projects were being initiated beyond those already underway through the likes of Jason Kinsale and David Kosoy.

"Where are the other developers?" he asked. "If we don't have new projects going on that's not good, and there's a problem in the long-term. Once those developments are gone, what's out there?

"Why is our market not being more active? Why are not more developers coming in? To think we can let the market dry up, that's a scary thought. It's serious."

Mr Christie, too, acknowledged that "a lot of the low hanging fruit" has already been sold, which could push prices higher if demand is unfulfilled.

He suggested, though, that more sellers may appear if property demand remains high, adding that prices would likely appreciate "in steps rather than a straight line".

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