Wrestling With the Concept of Ownership

Realtors tell me, tell others, “Buy now! Buy now!”
“Why?” I challenge Island Real Estate’s Pam Romney, who has been in the business for 30 years and is still going strong. As I sit back in her Road Town office, I ask her to give me her best shot. Convince me. Make me want to buy.

“Calculate everything,” advises Pam. “Youth is a blunder, age is a regret.” This is a tricky market for first-time home buyers. “At times like this, with regards to the recession, a lot of people make offers,” says Pam, “but there is no need to play games. We have a real scenario and are prepared to make sacrifices, which is what homeowners do. There has never been a buyer here who walked away,” confirms Pam. “Every investor here has won in property, and very few have regretted the choice, but knuckle down—think about your finances, and be prepared to prioritize.”

“If you have to rely on renting your property out for vacation rentals to cover your mortgage—forget it straight away,” says Pam. “There are flippers and keepers, and there are lots of places that will just get you the property stake, but if you cannot factor upkeep and maintenance and a standard, you are out of that game. Look at St Thomas—same area but five times the population. It’s sold out and saturated.”

Pam tells me the rent I have paid over the years is money for rent only, and the longer I wait, the harder it will get to break into the market. “It’s a progressive market. Licenses take a year, but it puts the market slightly behind. If you had a property and pride of ownership, believe me, it’s like having children. It’s focus. And once you pay off the property, you are in that game. You can then choose to buy again or collect, but ultimately the house is yours. Or rent, but be warned, if you are expecting a high standard on a lease rental and want to low-ball, sooner or later the rental market will be full of low-standard housing, which we have seen before. It’s now shaping up, but be prepared to pay. A homeowner is not going to subsidize your pseudo-ownership, unless you are paying in realistic terms.”

So, I wonder am I too late? I’ve been enjoying the lifestyle and the immediate sensation of living for now. Life’s been good so far.

“Get that focus into a house,” she says. “There are amazing deals right now, and it’s not just off-islanders that are in this market. We encourage local belongers and established expats to get on them, have a look, and get into the market. It spells real commitment to the community.”

As our session goes back and forth, I begin to imagine the amount I have spent on rent in the past and cringe. I mention to Pam that financing seems somewhat unattainable.

“The banks are in business to lend money,” she tells me, “and a fixed-mortgage rate is the way to go. Forget about building a house here for a minute, unless you have had prior experience or fully understand the demands of building on an island topography or dealing with time constraints. It takes a wealth of planning, and do expect to go way over budget. To get it right, like others have done, it will take a lot of commitment. Financing a construction, unless you have unlimited reserves, is going to put you in the hot spot, over and over again. Buy now,” Pam repeats.

“So, the market, what of the market?” I ask Pam, taking the focus off me as I start to weigh my options.

“It’s solid”, she says. “You are going to have to deliberately do something really wrong to screw up. Prices have only ever gone higher here. It still retains an exclusive sense of ownership. It’s a game of realistic desire. You’ve got to want it. Don’t wait it out.”

Pam points out that most of her clients, which, over a thirty-year period makes up a lot of homeowners, are entrepreneurs. “They have seen the rest of the Caribbean and other parts of the world, but they want the BVI. In that sense they are go-getters, driven and will tow the line with the island community. It’s Island life,” Pam says. Finally, we agree, and I start to search the web for properties and get a plan together, aware that others are, too, but I have one distinct advantage— I’m already here.