Luxury on the other side of the world

, published on June 6, 2018

Tropical property markets are challenging the traditional concept of holiday homes. Below is an overview of these luxury properties on the other side of the globe, where the key criterion is a temperature that rarely drops below 20°.

Experience the delights of an exotic garden with its fragrant species; hunt out some shade under the pergola; take a dip in a sea warmed by the rays of the sun. No – this isn’t a dream. You have simply succumbed to the charm of the Tropics where, with a bit of luck and some good judgment, your only neighbours will be the birds. Provided you are sufficiently well off, these luxury markets, on the other side world, are certainly affordable, and often without the need to spend excessive, 9-figure sums.

The private island, the ultimate in luxury

A small private island, off the coast of Miami, is awaiting a buyer with €6.6 million to spend. It’s a heavenly site, in Florida Keys, forty kilometres from Key West, where Hemingway lived, surrounded by his cats. The island which was named “Melody Key” by its first owner, a leading rock star-rapper, was a refuge for writing music. The island has been fitted with all mod cons, without ruining its essential charm, so you can enjoy a high-tech, eco-responsible Robinson Crusoe experience: tropical-style residence hidden under lush vegetation, solar energy, water desalination, wifi, Jacuzzi etc. And, best of all, you are completely alone with no hoi polloi to ruin the beaches or views. What luxury!

This niche, private islands’ market is flourishing. The most difficult thing is finding a buyer crazy enough to realise his or her childhood fantasies! One of the sector’s major players, Private Islands Online, has 750 islands listed for sale. The other big name in the business, Vladi Private Islands, claims to have sold more than 2,500 islands since 1971. However, island development can work out very expensive. Insurance premiums are likely to be high, as tropical regions experience strong winds. So these are also luxuries.

Miami’s No-Holds-Barred Luxury

In 2016, Miami’s highest property transaction amounted to $60 million. Four months later, new owner, Kenneth Griffin, CEO of hedge fund, Citadel, put his luxury penthouse back on the market for $73 million…. without having lived in it! This kind of media coup is not uncommon in the world of finance particularly when, as in this case, the building was designed by a leading architectural practice and enjoys an iconic location, on Collins Avenue, “Millionaires’ Row.”

The One Thousand Museum, also by the sea, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, is entering the final phase of construction before delivery in 2018. The array of facilities is staggering, including the heliport on the roof of the building. “American-style luxury is evident in the amenities on offer in the residences, for example concierge and valet services which are still relatively uncommon in France, but charges really mount up, as a result,” observes Lucile Savattier, in charge of international development for Marc Foujols.

In recent years, Miami’s skyline has also been enhanced by other sky-scrapers, such as the “Glass,” a residential building, South of Fifth, made entirely of glass. “In addition to the apartment’s high-end fixtures and fittings, luxury here equates with an ocean view or a large plot of land by the sea, something that is really rare in Miami,” according to Stéphane Zerdoun, representative for One Sotheby’s International Realty. The agent recommends Sunset Harbour, a fashionable up-and-coming district where he has just sold a house – a highly sought-after commodity in the city centre – for 3.5 million. Brickell, the old business district, has seen its prices increase dramatically since the  area’s redevelopment. There is no shortage of new, high-end constructions, such as the “SLS Brickell” designed by Philippe Starck (on sale for $6,000/m2) or “Brickel Heights02,” developed by Jorge M. Perez, a leading property developer in Miami ($8,000/m2).

Prices in Miami are often no higher than prices in the outskirts of Paris but you can no longer find the exceptional bargains that were around during the 2008/2010 crisis.

Naples, understated chic

The discreet west coast of southern Florida rarely makes the front pages. Naples and Sarasota are the region’s main cities, located on the coast, like Miami Beach. Naples is set on remaining a “city of houses.” Town planning which is approved by the city hall, prohibits the construction of high-rise buildings; there are currently only around twenty such blocks in the city, and at a mere twenty-five storeys high, these are relatively modest for America. The market in detached properties is booming, particularly in the three to five million dollar bracket. Properties are modern and often have a separate annex for guests. With their contemporary or Caribbean architecture, these Florida-style constructions are redolent of Key West and even Saint-Barts. Krief & Partners have just sold two such villas, one for $3.5 million and the other for more than $6 million. “These two properties are almost equal in terms of quality but the more expensive one has a waterfront location and boat mooring. Direct sea access doubles the price,” according to Fabrice Krief, the agency director. “Luxury properties in Naples are chic without being ostentatious,” he adds. “You can go boating, play golf and enjoy the white, sandy beaches which are never overcrowded because they’re reserved for local residents, and access is controlled. This isn’t the case in Miami where the beaches are public. “

The Saint-Barts community

The island of Saint-Barts in the Lesser Antilles owes much to the early initiatives of a few banker-sailing enthusiasts. In the 1960s, David Rockefeller dropped anchor on this heavenly, but still poor island, where he purchased some land around Colombier cove. Then Edmond de Rothschild joined him, setting up in Marigot bay. Both attracted the financial and artistic elite who, gradually, lent “Saint-Barts” its chic, glamorous allure and an island way of life available to the select few. “Luxury here takes the form of peace, privacy and security,” observes Laurence Vorizot, manager of Barnes Saint-Barth. However, it is impossible to give an average indication of price since, according to her, “there are too few properties. Our agency had a good year in 2016 but since then there’s been a shortage of available properties under five million. When it comes to exceptional properties, above this range, there’s no upper limit and prices remain confidential. The main differences concern ease of access, technical specifications and, most of all, the view.” Nearly all the villas are rented out and the key criterion is a sea view from every room.

Saint-François instead of Saint-Barts?

In general, the starting price for a luxury property is estimated at two million. But in Guadeloupe, prices start at just €1 million. Guadeloupe? A luxury destination? This description may seem surprising after the images of shootings broadcast recently on TV. “The media seized on this isolated act which was by no means widespread. The truth is that Guadeloupians are very welcoming” asserts Valérie Bouillot, director of Villa Prestige Antilles. The agency, which is the only one in Guadeloupe to specialise in high-end properties, regularly advertises around forty properties to rent or buy. In Saint-François, for example, you can pick up a large, waterfront villa with direct access to the beach and lagoon. “Prices, which fluctuate between one and one and a half million, are still attractive given the properties’ exceptional locations,” continues the agent. “Wealthy clientele are becoming interested in Guadeloupe precisely for this reason. We’re picking up regular visitors to Saint-Barts who, instead of renting a villa for €20,000/week, are delighted to pay €2,500/week for a comparable property but with the added benefit of a waterfront location, just 5 minutes from a golf course.

Mauritius for the “French Touch”

Don’t waste time looking for a Maharaja’s Palace on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. It doesn’t exist. “For us, the symbol of luxury isn’t a gold tap,” states Johanna de Robillard, in charge of marketing for 2Futures property developer. “The luxury of Mauritius, so to speak, resides in its quality of life – its pleasant climate, variety of activities and opportunities to relax. It’s not about a beautiful villa in a place where there’s nothing to do!” The developer has been busy in Grand Baie, the main seaside resort, working on developments in Mont Choisy with its golf course, as well at Tamarin, on the beach front.  

According to Mickaël Le Luron, marketing director for the ENL group, one of the luxuries that Mauritius can offer is a “familiar, safe, high-end setting” on the other side of the globe. And then, of course, there are other advantages that are particularly attractive to the French: “The island is both francophone and francophile. The French community remains sizeable as nearly half of the 2,000 international buyers are French and the country, which is politically stable, offers high quality services, including French and English schools.”

And let’s not forget the tax system which is every bit as pleasing as the temperature and the fact that the public authorities actively encourage business creation. However, the need to import products does affect the cost of living but the low cost of leisure activities and services can compensate. ENL has two developments that are currently on the market. Les Villas Valriche, which has its own golf course, with starting prices of €732,000. And the Balise Marina  range which offers a choice of villas, split-level apartments and flats from €616,000. As its name suggests, this project includes an added benefit: a marina, which is still the only one on the island. The developer has been active on the island for roughly a decade which means that a sizeable number of these properties are already completed and occupied. “We are offering a reality, beyond your wildest dreams, where you can enjoy the true delights of both indoor and outdoor living,” continues the marketing director. ENL have just launched a dozen furnished flats, the first development of its kind which is generating good returns.

Maurice by Wilmotte

Alteo Properties turned to Jean-Michel Wilmotte to design eight exceptional villas on its Anahita estate, each with nearly 1,000 m2 floor space, set in up to half an acre of land. “We chose this contractor for his ability to manage budgets and combine international design with Mauritian inspired elements,” explains Hugues Jannet, director of sales and marketing. “This is the only development in the island where buyers can purchase outright ownership of such high-end villas, in such large grounds, on the waterfront, with their own private beaches and an exclusive beach overlooking the Ile aux Cerfs, facing the estate.” The development is currently on the market. In the space of eight months, one villa has been sold and two others reserved. With prices reaching a high average of €11.3 million, the objective is to attract a wealthy international clientele, looking for an elegant, oasis of calm where they can play golf or enjoy some deep-sea fishing.

Tahiti: nature at its most beguiling

The island of Tahiti and Papeete, its capital, are amongst the best known places in French Polynesia. However, this territory, in the middle of the south Pacific, comprises 118 islands, scattered over five archipelagos, each with its own version of  paradise. “There isn’t really one exclusive district. Nearly all of Polynesia resembles a picture postcard,” remarks Jacques Menahem, manager of  French Polynesia Sotheby’s International Realty. In the high-end market, prices are relatively affordable compared to Europe or North America. The price of high-quality properties starts at around €850,000/900,000. “A luxury villa will have at least 60 metres of water frontage, overlooking the lagoon, or if located in the mountains, a sea view and 2,000 to 3,000 m2 land,” according to this estate agent, citing a few typical properties awaiting a new owner: for €230,000 you can buy a “motu” (small island in Tahitian), totally untouched, complete with coconut trees, off the coast of Rangiroa, an atoll renowned for its pink sand and blue lagoon; opposite Moorea, in a 11,000 m2 plot of land, on edge of the lagoon, is a 3.3 million property which belonged to Queen Pomaré, an historic, local figure.

Increasing numbers of American stars are coming to unwind in this remote corner of the world including former president Obama, Tom Hanks and Beyoncé. In certain circumstances, tax residents are exempt from paying income, wealth and inheritance tax, a not insignificant benefit. The time difference isn’t the most convenient. Just as you’re finishing breakfast in Polynesia, they are sitting down to dinner in Paris, but it is an extraordinary change of scene!