Dominca Real Estate
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Dominica Real Estate Investment
For a long term real estate investment in the "greenest" jewel of the Caribbean, take a look at the little known island called the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Half way along the curved necklace of islands comprising the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean basks a mountainous rock of 290 sq miles (750 sq km). At longitude 61º 20W, and latitude 15º 25N, Dominica is a land of steep mountains and cliffs plummeting straight into the blue Caribbean sea on the western side and the grey Atlantic on the eastern. Rising at the highest point to Mt. Diablotin at 4,747 ft. (1,447m), this is a country of raw beauty, rugged headlands and moody mountains, their peaks often buried in cloud.
Originally from the UK, but having lived, cruised and built businesses in the Caribbean over the last two decades, my husband and I always hoped to be able to buy some real estate and make a home in Dominica when the time was right.
The main attractions?... its untamed, unspoiled tropical countryside, the Dominican people's natural pride and understanding of environmental stewardship and the chance to be a part of that heritage.
The reason it took so long?....formerly it has not been easy to make a living in Dominica, but things are changing. Improved infrastructure and communications, a stable government and support from external organizations are contributing to making the country attractive to outside investment.
Now that the time is here, we are overwhelmed with choices. The question is what do we want to do? Build a home for our family, or develop a tourist accommodation project, or both? We thought we would keep an open mind, and explore the possibilities.We worked through http://www.caribbeanlandandproperty.com/ and were shown a wide range of real estate by the agent that they sent us to, who is one of the very few professional real estate agents on the island and has both experience and qualifications.
Roseau is the capital of Dominica. Small, charming, dilapidated, the heart of Roseau beats with a pure Caribbean rhythm. On every street corner is a vendor selling fresh fruit, vegetables or home made snacks. The narrow, hot streets look unbendingly down towards the seafront, and the cruise ship dock which is neighbour to a large marketplace selling local produce and fish in a noisy, colourful, smelly atmosphere.
There is not a great deal of real estate for sale in Dominica. The majority of existing construction tends to be small and though charming, is in need of modernizing, strengthening and bringing up to standard. There are a few large houses for sale, and also some resorts and hotels, either half built or a casualty of insufficient guests. So most of what we looked at was land.
Dominica Real Estate
High in the rain forest, lush, green and teeming with wildlife, beside a busy hiker's trail we see a piece of real estate which is ripe for sensitive development as a "rainforest rest and retreat". Treetop cabins, a shop, even an exhibition centre for the surrounding trails with an emphasis on eco-tourism would be just the perfect development. Alternatively it would make a quiet cool rainforest home, for those seeking a hideaway.
This is approximately 8 acres of land, at around $35,000 an acre, of steeply sloping rainforest which bounds the hiking trail going straight up to Morne Trois Pitons at 4,550 ft. This land at its southern boundary abuts the National Park Rainforest and the World Heritage Site which includes one of only two only 'boiling lakes' in the world. Throughout the year, hikers from all over the world toil up and down this trail into the National Park.
The land can be broken up into smaller lots, most of them with running water, as there are a number of small streams and ridges crossing the site. It lies just 5 minutes from the central roundabout on which all the main roads of the country meet, about 20 minutes from Roseau and an hour from the main airport at Melville Hall.
Layou Valley View
Another piece of land we view nearby, is a sloping site on a mountain side, and which has not yet been fully surveyed. The hillside faces north west and is at a height of well above 1500ft, the views across the valley are stunning, and include the Layou Valley Ravine. Although the real estate is central on the island, it is possible to see the Caribbean sea through the valleys. The air is cool and there is a rain shower most days, making this the most lush part of the "nature" island.
A well established track with mature flowering shrubs and trees render this site easily accessible for development, with utilities close by on the main road at the highest point of the land. There are 12 acres available at around $25,000 an acre. Photo Below of Morne Trois Piton from Upper Layou Valley.
Further down the mountain range, is a 2.2 acre piece of prime rainforest, one third of it bounded by the Massacre river. The river water is drinkable. There are so many possibilities for this chunk of real estate, that the imagination runs wild! Only a few miles from the World Heritage Site at Morne Trois Pitons, the rain forest here includes amongst others, huge mahogany trees, ylang ylang and bamboo in abundance. The land is centrally situated in a sloping valley overlooking Roseau with steep rainforest hills on either side, and is cool and breezy with access via a beautiful wide planted driveway. The rainforest visible teams with birds, butterflies, moths and geckoes.
At the end of the driveway is a large concrete structure, including foundations, pillars and floors of over 10,000 sq feet. It has three levels, the highest being in the treetops and revealing spectacular views of both the ocean and a birds eye view of the surrounding wildlife. This appears to have been constructed to a very high standard. As an unfinished construction, it would lend itself to completion in a number of different uses, one of the most sympathetic being a wellness, yoga or spa centre. The proximity of the cool fresh mountain river, is an important factor in the use of this site and adds considerable value.
Although there are no visible neighbours, the site itself is within 10 minutes drive of the capital of Dominica, Roseau, and is 10-20 minutes drive from some of the most spectacular walks, rambles and climbs in the Caribbean, with mountains of over 4,500 feet, and a waterfall for every day of the year. There are also hot sulphur springs for healthy bathing within 20 minutes drive.
Additional acres are available at the lower boundary for purchase if needed.The current owner is looking for a buyer who will use the site sympathetically whilst enjoying and improving the rainforest and the river, current asking price is negotiable at $325,000.
On the north east side of Dominica, there is an area of gently sloping land, striated by ridges and ravines, and which runs down to the Atlantic from the high slopes of Morne Diablotin. This has been cultivated for centuries and much of it was banana plantation. There are some interesting pieces of real estate for sale along these slopes. A four acre south facing slope which begins on an east/west ridge, this land is currently a banana, mango, plantation above the seaside tourist village of Calibishie. This land goes for around $35,000 per acre.
We walk down a driveable track along the ridge which bounds the north side of the land and cool our feet in a stream which runs continuously at the southern boundary. There are other mature trees besides the banana and mango, including breadnut, avocado and coconut palms. This is an excellent site for a home and a guest cottage at the top, with gardens and some agricultural useage on the lower more steeply sloped area.
We can see the ocean and the islands of Guadelope, Les Saintes and Marie Galante from the high part of the land. Cool breezes blow up from the ocean. The highest mountain in Dominica, Morne Diablotin and surrounding peaks are clearly visible, and there are many spectacular walks and rambles in the area. The area boasts some spectacular coastline, with stunning headlands of sea grape trees and red rock, tiny bays, and a number of famous beaches.
Currently this is an agricultural area but some surrounding sites have already been sold to expatriates and this area will become very sought after.
There are many local small holding farmers and their families in the surrounding area available to caretake the property and gardens during an owners absence. As we wander further along the track, farmers greet us and shake our hands. "Welcome" they say, "When are you moving in?"
We wonder about beach properties. They are available, although harder to find. Being low down, they tend to be hotter, but on the Atlantic side there is almost always a sea breeze. A 2 acre site on the east coast, close to Wesley and 10 minutes from the Melville Hall Airport was one that we looked at. It reminded us of the rugged coast of Cornwall. The windward coastline of Dominica is wild and windswept, interspersed with beautiful protected bays and sandy beaches. Where there are no reefs or bays, the coastline is fully exposed to the power of the Atlantic Ocean. This particular site is situated at sea level and takes full advantage of the rocky coastline. There is a small bay to one side, which on calm days could be used for swimming. The track to the site is driveable and the area is cleared for construction.
There are views to the mountains behind and the area is bounded by mature sea grape and coconut trees. Photo below of the Atlantic Coastline of Dominica near La Plaine.
Dominicans are amongst the kindest and friendliest of all the Caribbean peoples. We work in the region with Caribbeans from every nation, and many of them are a joy to know, but most of our long term friendships have been formed with Dominicans.
These people have a resourcefulness and a confidence that is quite rare here. This is best illustrated in the fact that the island is counted as one of the poorest of the Eastern Caribbean countries, and yet the abundant natural resources, national pride for both Dominicans and Carib Indians, festivals, music, culture, environment, diversity of language and life longevity (second in the world) make this a rich nation indeed!
Dominicans speak English and a Creole which is a mix of French, Spanish and English. Education is based on the old British system, and is both rigorous and thorough. Whilst other countries, including Britain have diluted the old system, Dominica maintains an excellent standard. We have yet to meet an inarticulate Dominican!
Dominica overflows with natural resources. The high rainfall in the mountain area has created the famous 'boiling lake', which only remains a lake because more rainwater falls and is captured than can be boiled off by the volcanic heat trapped in the mountain.
In 1997 Unesco confirmed Morne Trois Pitons National Park as a World Heritage Site.
"Luxuriant natural tropical forest blends with volcanic features of high scenic appeal and scientific interest in this national park centered on the 1,342 m high volcano bearing the name of Morne Trois Pitons. With its precipitous slopes and deeply-incised valleys, fifty fumaroles and hot springs, freshwater lakes, a "boiling lake" and five volcanoes, located on the nearly 7,000-hectare park, together with the richest biodiversity in the Lesser Antilles, Morne Trois Pitons National Park presents a rare combination of natural features of World Heritage value." (Ref: http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=814)
Because of the rainfall the island is verdant throughout, and there is food to be found growing in such abundance that some of it falls and rots. Breadfruit, coconut, mangoes, grapefruit, oranges, limes, avocado, cashews, coffee, cocoa, tannia, bananas, plantains, pawpaw the list is almost endless, grow throughout the country. More importantly, Dominica can support itself with food, water and energy, a claim not many small island nations can make.
This is a gardener's paradise. If it's a plant, it thrives! Some of the world's most rare tropical plants are grown in private gardens here including orchids and ferns. This was the plant nursery for the Garden of Eden!
The history of Dominica over the last thousand years includes a long settlement by the Carib Indians, followed by successions of Spanish, English and French.
Dominica has the only Carib Indian reservation in the Eastern Caribbean, which proudly maintains a complete and separate social and economic culture, lead by a Chief and a Council of Elders.
Somehow the Carib nation of Dominica survived the bloody onslaught from the Europeans, the history of whose supremacy is best preserved at the historic Cabrits National Park, which is an 18th century Garrison built by the British between 1770 and 1815. During its years of dominance the Garrison had over fifty major structures. Most of the construction was done by the British but the French made significant additions during their occupation from 1778 to 1783. At a height of 600 ft, the garrison had a clear view of some of the major sea battles which were fought between the English and French during the days of Trafalgar.
During the next 150 years the "plantation" economy supported the island and became the framework for the Dominica of today.
Since independence from Great Britain in November 1978, Dominica has struggled to find a market and a 'niche' in the international marketplace. The days when the UK was the chief importer of agricultural goods, have long passed, and for some years Dominica has continued to maintain the economy with agricultural and manufacturing exports and tourism. For a while it dabbled in offering offshore financial services, but with little success.
Tourism historically has been limited, due to a number of factors including a general lack of infrastructure, hotel rooms and a coordinated marketing strategy. But the potential to increase the level of tourism is huge if a sustainable long term strategy can be implemented. Certainly, with a little investment, the current airports have the capacity to increase many times the number of daily flights, without increasing the size of the planes or the runways.
Finally, when ecotourism became an important high end tourist market, Dominica naturally and with foresight found its niche. It has begun over the last decade to explore its position as the 'nature' island of the region, and strengthen its image and brand globally as the 'green' island. This has included applying for Green Globe 21 Certification http://www.greenglobe21.com/. The problem with ecotourism is that it implies cheap travel for people not wishing to use planetary natural resources, and it can create a destination ‘image' of low cost tourism. It is difficult for Dominica, for many reasons, to offer cheap holidays and neither should it. Cheap holidays bring high impact tourism, for which the country has no infrastructure under its present environmental goals. At present Dominica needs a co-ordinated sustainable strategy for the long term growth of low-impact ecotourism.
The island can accommodate many more hotel rooms and good restaurants, and welcomes and encourages investment from entrepreneurs interested in supporting the drive for increased ecotourism.
This would bring in more visitors which would provide much needed employment across the board, and especially in areas like the Tour Guides. The many treks and expeditions which are available throughout the island to visitors are professionally and safely organized through the network of Dominican Tour Guides. These Guides are all licensed annually by the Government, and do an excellent job as countryside adventure guides. Their knowledge of the natural and social history of Dominica is unparalleled, and is learned through centuries of oral teaching.
Dominica needs low-impact tourism alternatives, with minimal infrastructure, which could include:
- second homes for wealthy Dominicans and expatriates,
ecotourism projects based on the Green Globe 21 standards for the global environment,
niche market projects which can provide exports such as pure health products
As an Offshore Financial Centre, Dominica has now become a player, but in more of a minor role than many of the other Caribbean islands.
Agricultural exports have slowed to a trickle and are difficult to sustain. For example the banana and coconut markets are too small to be really viable when up against the huge might of the south and central American conglomerates.
Those farmers who still make a living through their banana smallholdings and the local co-operative, are hostage to the whims of large British supermarkets.
I see a full, ripe hand of yellow figs (bananas) on the ground, discarded, in the middle of a plantation. I wonder why? "Run your finger along the skins" says the owner. I can feel small, almost indiscernible blisters on
them. These bananas were rejected for this alone, although the fruit inside was perfect and delicious. A small blemish on one banana condemns the hand, and thus the tree, and thus the farmer's whole crop. The week we were there, 19 crops were rejected in the Calibishie area, 19 farmers with small holdings cut down their trees to reuse as fertilizer and were forced to replant, an 18 month crop cycle.
There are other possibilities for exporting crops such as, specialist natural health and beauty products. Some products such as soaps are already produced by hand, and if well branded and marketed, could become the success story for future exports.
The local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar which is fixed against the US dollar.
Recently Dominica has put in place a successful plan for short and long term sustainable growth which the IMF is actively supporting. (Ref: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2004/pr04199.htm)
Notwithstanding, Dominica is currently undergoing a decrease in population. Families, and especially the young, are leaving the banana plantations and the mountainside smallholdings, their rural heritage for generations, and finding work in Guadelope, Toronto, New York and London. Older people talk sadly about their sons and daughters who have married and have families and new lives abroad. The schools are empty and closing. Recently a head teacher in Wesley called her diminishing pupil's parents together, to appeal "please, make more children"!
Without a renewal and controlled increase of the population the sustainable growth plan will struggle to reach its targets and succeed.
Dominica is a member of the two most important regional organization which support the economic and cultural growth of the region, Caricom http://www.caricom.org/ and the OECS http://www.oecs.org/.
Dominica's electricity is generated from the copious rainfall, which is harnessed 3,000 feet up in the lakes in the Morne Trois Mountain range. (Photo Above) It's piped cross country in a wooden barrel, an amazing feat of engineering, and well worth a hike to see it! This strange wooden pipe, snakes for miles across the mountains and down towards Roseau. From here, at Domlec, it becomes the energy supply for the country. Most of the island is served from overland cable. Domlec (Dominica Electricity) is the only electricity resource in the country. The supply is not reliable, so many homes and businesses keep a back up generator.
The infrastructure of roads, harbours, resorts and utilities has grown slowly with the help of grants from Canada, Japan, China and others.
For example, a new 10 million dollar US harbour, is being built in Marigot, on a Japanese grant. This will provide shelter and a centre for fisherman, and a deepwater dock, which amongst other benefits, will allow the big French ferries which run between Martinique and Guadelope, to stop on the eastern side of Dominica. This substantial increase in the movement of goods and people between the Carib Territory, and larger towns on the eastern coast such as Castle Bruce, Wesley and Marigot and the big industrialised French islands will have a large impact. These ferries currently stop in Roseau, but Roseau is a one and a half to two hour drive from the eastern coastal towns.
Telecommunications are excellent. Since the deregulation of the Cable and Wireless monopoly which has denied competition in the region for so many years, Dominica now has Orange in some areas, AT&T and Cable & Wireless. Every farmer has a cellphone!
The roads, which are generally narrow, are basically good, and there are many axle breaking potholes (I swear one of them went straight to the earth's core!) which ensure that the driving speeds are kept at a safe level.
Security within the island is much the same as the rest of the Caribbean. Within the vicinity of the larger towns care and attention must be paid to securing ones home and property, but in the country areas, around the smaller villages and in the Carib Territory, there is little crime, and as such, self policed.
Ross University is a Medical University supported privately from a US source. It provides additional resources to the country, which has a basic medical infrastructure. Good hi-tech hospitals are found in the neighbouring islands of Martinique and Guadelope. Basic healthcare is found in clinics around the island.
Dominica Real Estate Investment Opportunities
There are many different benefits that obtain from investing in land in the Commonwealth of Dominica, these include:
- Investment in our global environment by purchasing prime rainforest for the future
New business opportunities for overseas investors through the development of tourism and environmental projects
An opportunity to have a second offshore home in one the most beautiful islands in the Eastern Caribbean:a World Heritage Site, where building costs are 1/3 of those in other EC countries.
A retirement home
Green Globe 21 Certification: this is in process. As Dominica becomes the Caribbean's environmental leader, real estate will become an extremely valuable investment
Some of the land that is becoming available for expatriate investors is farming land, some is rainforest from the lower slopes of the mountains and coastal hillsides, and some village plots sold off by families who need money to continue to live without work in the country.
The controlled sale of this real estate, will bring foreign exchange, new jobs, expand tourism and encourage immigration from those willing to invest in a personal as well as a financial future. As the small farmer is forced to find something else to do with his land other than commercial farming. He can secure his future through the sale of a few acres to foreign investment. Expatriates, who will invest in a small tourism venture: a couple of villas, a small eco-resort, or a nursery for rare plants, will bring employment to the families, the villages and foreign exchange into the whole country.
Historically, Dominicans farmers cut down the rainforest along the lower slopes of the mountains, and farmed the land according to their own needs. Agricultural crops include, coconut, avocado, citrus orchards, banana, pineapple, coffee, passion fruit, mango, tannia and many other root crops. After seven years of continual farming the government grants them the husbanded land under a type of 'squatters rights' rule.
The same rules do not apply to the Carib Territory where land is not personally owned, but is held by the reserve in perpetuity for its nationals.
The two National Parks are the mountains of the north and the Morne Trois Pitons mountain group in the south. These protected areas are reserved land for the nation and can never be sold for development.
Building and zoning regulations are limited and are not currently enforced. This can result in unsafe building practices, and relies on each individual owner to design and build responsibly. Regulations are in place to control the purchase of land by aliens, or expats.
A Land Holders Licence must be applied for and granted to each expatriate wishing to make an investment in Dominica. There are taxes to be paid by the purchaser and these vary according to the type of investment made, whether for private or commercial use and the number of acres purchased.
Government issues good title documentation for land, but this is best checked out to ensure proper legal transfer for purchased land. We found Paul Blanchard very knowledgeable and willing to act as a consultant and advisor in these areas. His local connections to government, local contractors, architects and lawyers are invaluable.
Permission to reside in the Commonwealth of Dominica can be obtained for anyone investing in real estate. Naturalisation is also possible and may be granted after the necessary applications and background checks.
Without local understanding it can be very expensive and time wasting, working through the many bureaucratic barriers which are the line of defence of all local authorities. There are a few architects, engineers and developers available in Dominica, as well as in other parts of the Eastern Caribbean. There are almost no project managers on the island.
On any private or commercial projects built anywhere in the Caribbean which is a hurricane and earthquake zone, a construction project manager becomes a necessity. We consulted Design Management Ltd about our construction ideas. They offer project management and architectural design, with years of experience in the Caribbean. They can be contacted through http://www.dmglimited.com/.
A second article will follow this one with more detailed information on the purchase and acquisition of investment real estate in Dominica, and the development of a particular construction project.
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