Barbados is one place that's always in fashion, beloved by celebs with a penchant for the Caribbean good life. But as we reveal, you needn't be Mr or Ms Moneybags to bag your own slice of the paradise island...
Many long-haul destinations have fallen off the radar for British property-hunters in the current climate. The combination of airport stress, rising flight prices and a fear that heading further afield means higher risk has steered house-buyers to look within a few hours' flight time of the UK.
One exception though is Barbados, an island that continues to see packed plane-loads of British decamp there in winter and where the vast majority of overseas property buyers are British. Just the mention of Barbados suggests luxury and glamour.
This is where Simon Cowell spends his Decembers on jet-skis and Coleen Rooney nips off to when she gets bored with Cheshire. But if you take your average flight from London - sociably timed for mid-morning, so you can be swimming in turquoise seas by late-afternoon - you'll see a similar crowd of holidaymaker to that on a flight to Spain. There will be the wealthy retired set who have been going there for decades, the self-made 30/40-somethings jetting off for a quick dose of sun and golf, and young families wanting to go no further than the beach.
Less than £500K
The profile of property-buyer in Barbados isn't vastly different from your typical buyer in Spain either. Celebrities including Cowell and Andrew Lloyd-Webber own homes in both destinations. But so, too, do people who don't have telephone number fortunes, as while Barbados has some of the most opulent mansions in the Caribbean, it also has plenty of options for people with less than £500,000 to spend.
"You need quick access to funds though and be able to complete a deal quickly as the sub-$1m is extremely competitive at present. But it's possible to find properties in prime areas," comments Cassie Preece, head of sales for West Coast Villas, Sotheby's International Realty's agent in Barbados.
One of last year's hot successes was Weston St James, a new project within a minute's walk from the beach on the prime west coast, with apartments starting at £100,000.
Naturally they were snapped up within weeks and, as most buyers want to enjoy their purchases themselves, just three have come back on the market - a one bedroom for $270,000 (£166K), a two bedroom for $340,000 (£209K) and a four bedroom for $432,000 (£265K) through Cluttons Barbados.
Now Cluttons has launched Weston's sister project, Ixora, a few roads back from the beach in Holetown, the small but lively west coast town that is seeing major regeneration, including a new beachfront boardwalk and the soon-to-open Limegrove centre with loft style apartments and Barbados's first designer boutiques.
At Ixora, just two of the 11 one-bedroom apartments remain on the market, costing from $215,000 (£132K), with secure entry, allocated parking and designed as turn-key apartments for holiday living and easy management when you're home. Peter Thorneycroft, a retired man of many trades - builder, garage owner, restaurateur and buy-to-let landlord among them - has just
bought a one-bedroom apartment in Ixora for £125,000, overlooking the communal swimming pool and due for completion next April.
"We bought a house in Catalonia in northern Spain 30 years ago and we've seen our children grow up there. But we've also been spending holidays in Barbados for 20 years and I've been sniffing around the property market here since then," says Peter, 66, from Matlock in Derbyshire.
"You couldn't find anything for less than £750,000 10 years ago, so it just wasn't feasible. But for £150,000, which is what our apartment will cost in total, including buying costs and furniture, that's got to be as cheap as you can get in Barbados," he says.
"Spain is pleasant in winter and you get a number of sunny days, but when you step off that plane in Barbados, you can just smell the summer," says Peter. "I love swimming in the sea here and I love the island's quaint charm. The people are very courteous and it's exotic - we passed a family of monkeys as we were walking down the lane from our development. The day-to-day living is also cheap compared with the UK or Spain, as long as you eat and drink where the locals do."
For Peter and his wife Margaret, 67, their Ixora apartment is a holiday home for them and their family to enjoy. "But I also feel confident the market is on the turn, so we have bought at the right time," says Peter.
70 per cent more buyers
Kieran Kelly would agree. While Barbados's property prices have fallen by about 15 per cent since mid-2008, the past year has seen a large increase in interest from buyers again, with numbers up 70 per cent from 2009 to 2010, Kelly reports.
"Discounts are still achievable, but we expect prices to increase by mid to late 2012," says Kelly, who will soon be launching Mullins Walk, next to Mullins Beach, with 12 three-bedroom apartments starting from $499,000 (£306K), set around a communal pool and tropical gardens.
"Mullins Walk will sell quickly as it's in a prime location and it will offer good potential income, with buyers standing to enjoy 20-25 per cent capital appreciation and rental yields of around 8 per cent if they buy at pre-launch prices," says Kelly.
Most property buyers in Barbados want to be on, or near, the west coast. It's here that you find the quintessentially Caribbean beaches, lined with palms and pines and dotted with the curious combination of multi-million pound houses and the traditionally small, wooden "chattel houses". The west coast is also home to the island's main towns (after the capital Bridgetown), so you are never far from shops, bars or restaurants.
Near Holetown, Beach View in Paynes Bay has seven units discounted by the developer, now starting from $499,000 (previously $715,000). "This is an exciting new condo-hotel and buyers get a beachfront location at excellent value, with the complex designed to make the most of the sea view and tropical setting," comments Suzanne Davis at Barbados Realtors Limited (www.barbadosrealtorslimited.com) in Holetown.
Other good-value developments in the coveted St James parish are Heron Court, where Knight Frank (www.knightfrank.com) is selling three-bedroom, 2,000 square foot townhouses for $595,000 (£365K), and Battaley Mews, a 10-minute walk from Mullins beach, with three-bedroom, Colonial-style townhouses - beach spanning 2,500 square foot - from $650,000 (£399K).
Buyers should also bear in mind that annual community fees can be high in Barbados. At Battaley Mews, for example, you'll pay around $5,300 (£3,252) a year. Also factor in buying costs, which are around 1.5-2 per cent of your legal fees. When you come to sell, costs amount to around 10 per cent of the sales price, including a 5 per cent estate agent's commission, transfer tax of 2.5 per cent, 1 per cent stamp duty and 1.5 per cent legal fees.
With a sea view, but a short drive from the coast, is Royal Westmoreland, until recently purely the preserve of those who could afford to spend a couple of million pounds on buying a plot and building a villa, like fellow Westmorelanders the Rooneys and Joe Calzaghe. But the resort now has apartments for sale from $429,000 (£263K).
"They will always be successful rental properties, earning a 6-8 per cent yield, due to the five-star facilities, including a Robert Trent Jones Jr championship golf course, spa, gym, tennis and a beach club at Mullins Beach," says Kieran Kelly.
Buyers with a £500,000 budget could also just stretch to a small house at Royal Westmoreland. Forest Hills is a furnished two-bedroom townhouse overlooking the 10th tee and the sea in the distance, on sale for $825,000 (£506,000) through Cluttons Barbados.
The south coast
The south coast has a very different feel. If the west's so-called "Platinum Coast" is where the old money and celebrities are, where property owners are more likely to spend their evenings dining in the five-star beachfront restaurants such as Fish Pot or Lone Star, the south coast is for the young, fun, party crowd.
Here, you will find lively bars, windsurf shops and a procession of 'reggae' buses heading to Oistins on Friday night for the fish fry, where the town is taken over by stalls selling fried fish to the crowds, accompanied by pounding live reggae.
As property in the south is cheaper than in the west, but rental demand is still high, your return on investment is potentially higher too - particularly in the Christ Church parish, "the most popular parish on the south side with overseas visitors, expats and some returning nationals," comments Maureen Smith from the UK-based estate agency, Tropical Connections. She is marketing a detached three-bedroom house with a large pool and garden in Christ Church for $625,000 (£383K).
Staying in Christ Church, one of the best-known south coast developments is Silver Point, a simple but chic condo-hotel set next to a white sand beach, with 58 apartments for sale. Remaining studios cost from $190,000 (£117K) and two-bedroom units from $450,000 (£276K) through Cluttons Barbados. Or there's Ocean Two, with 54 one/two-bedroom residences starting at $374,250 (£230K), all with oceanfront views, marble floors, wireless internet and a communal pool.
One to watch...
The wild, protected east coast, with its crashing Atlantic waves and long, empty beaches more akin to Cornwall or New Zealand, has offered little in the way of property for holiday homebuyers. But it's the place to watch, thinks Sotheby's Cassie Preece. "It's proving to be the next up-and-coming area with some high end developments in the south-east and the refurbishment of at least two hotels on the east coast," adds Preece, who is marketing fractional ownership properties at Edgewater Villas, which allow buyers on a low budget to get their foot on the Barbados ladder. The development of apartments and villas, designed in classic Caribbean style, overlooks the beach and prices start from $225,000 (£138K) for a one-bedroom, 750-square-foot apartment (full ownership) or from $62,000 (£38K) for shared ownership.
As buyers are proving with their wallets, some places are worth flying those extra few hours for.