Is it time for property hunters to try Tobago?

Is it time for property hunters to try Tobago?

Situated in the south-east of the Antilles, Tobago may just be the unsung hero of the Caribbean.

Forming a republic with its larger neighbour Trinidad, the small island (population roughly 63,000) boasts a friendly, relaxed culture and a tropical climate one might expect. With its sugar-sand beaches, lush rainforest and turquoise seas, it's easy to see how this was the location that inspired the novel 'Robinson Crusoe'.

'Big brother' Trinidad's economy is largely driven by its ample petroleum and gas deposits. Tobago, on the other hand, has largely focused on a successful tourism industry.

The country plays host to an array of nature-based activities. Fishing, diving and sailing are favourite pastimes here, and its rainforest reserve is popular with the more adventurous.

Equally, Tobago's stormy history (Amerindian, Spanish, Dutch and English groups all claimed ownership at different times) has left a trail of famous battle sites and fortifications scattered across its map.

With regards to other cultural delights, the annual carnival (celebrated on both islands) is likely to include the sounds of the steel pan and the distinctive rhythms of the calypso (both originate here).

Meanwhile, traditional goat and crab races attract large crowds every Easter. In Bacolet, Tobago's most famous son - former footballer Dwight Yorke - has a local stadium named after him.

A few miles from the capital Scarborough is Tobago's A.N.R Robinson International Airport. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both operate a weekly flight from Gatwick (roughly a ten hour journey).

Tobago's property market echoes that of neighbouring islands: prices rose as much as 400 per cent during the boom years.

Foreign interest came largely from UK and German buyers.

As Dawn Glaisher, director of the Association of Real Estate Agents (Trinidad & Tobago) and broker for SeaJade investments explains:

"The more popular villas on the island were built in Bon Accord which is close to two good beaches at Store Bay and Pigeon Point - our iconic beach. They ranged from $300,000 to $500,000."

"Tobago plantations - the other golf and beach resort on the Atlantic coast built around 2000 - was and remains the most expensive 'luxury villa' location for the island."

While its property market stalled after 2006 however, signs of revival are evident. Both private and public sector support have boosted Tobago's appeal to foreign investors. Brian Abraham of Abraham Tobago confirms that the market has picked up:

"There's been an increase in the number of buyers from other countries; particularly those looking to move back to Tobago after many years living abroad. Two British buyers bought homes here last year and I'd expect more to follow."

"The average buyer tends to look for a two or three bed property with a pool. Average prices start at around TT$3m (£286,039), with properties at the luxury end going for around the TT$8m (£762,603) mark."

While the majority of developments are found on the west side of the island, note that non-nationals can only buy in specific areas of the island.

As with many other Caribbean islands, potential foreign buyers are subject to the 'alien landholders fee' - effectively a mandatory license to apply for property purchases. Introduced in February 2007, this license equates to ten per cent of the cost of the property.

Licenses in so-called 'Designated Development Areas' tend to be freely granted to foreign buyers.

Tobago Plantations resort, Mt Irvine golf course area, Grafton, coastal Bacolet, Indigo Bay Resort, Englishman's Bay eco-development, and parts of Arnos Vale are all specific investment locations. Properties will often come fully furnished and usually include a pool.

Given the current climate, there hasn't been a better time to buy in Tobago, with two major new developments the first in many years (the Indigo Bay resort at Lambeau and the Culloden Reef Resort are set to go ahead in 2014).

"Between 2007 and 2013 the value of property generally has fallen by some 40 per cent from 2006 highs," comments Dawn Glaisher, "from a financial perspective, this means that our prices should seem attractive to foreign investors."

For those who prefer the appeal of a Caribbean island off the beaten track, Tobago has a lot to offer.

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