NASSAU, BAHAMAS – A leading real estate broker is calling for an urgent solution to close the widening gap between those who want to own a home and those who can afford it.
“Home ownership has been shown to be the foundation of safer, healthier communities,” said Mario Carey, a real estate veteran who has watched the market dip and skyrocket over nearly four decades.
While luxury properties continue to demand high prices and pros like Carey, who is also an appraiser, the realtor worries too many Bahamians are being priced out of the middle range housing market.
“What is happening in The Bahamas is that the high cost of real estate combined with the scarcity of high-paying jobs is creating a growing gap between those who can own their own home and those, including well-educated college graduates, who are forced to stall or forego their dream of a home of their own,” said Carey, founder and president of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group.
“We must find a solution.”
Carey sees the Bahamian housing dilemma as part of a larger set of financial challenges that, left to reverberate throughout the economy, could shatter the increasingly fragile middle-class safety net that holds communities together and allows for economic expansion.
“At the moment we are facing the perfect storm of a middle-income pocketbook punching bag,” he said.
“How can the median-income Bahamian household keep up with inflation, with the rising cost of living, plus 12% V.A.T., a lack of capital in the business community meaning not a lot of new businesses opening offering opportunity, double digit unemployment and little diversity in housing inventory?”
Carey fears that The lack of housing at the right price point is fast becoming a thing of the past, especially in Nassau, and now with additional pressure, though it may be temporary by those displaced after Hurricane Dorian.
But, he says, he believes there are solutions.
“When demand outpaces supply, you have to innovate to design and manufacture the supply part of the chain. I believe there are several options, including government spurring the economy by covering costs to develop subdivided Crown Land.”
Careful zoning and development, he believes, can open up vast areas for residential ownership. While government bears the first cost, owners then pay utilities, property tax, hire service personnel or companies, buy everything for their homes from paint to furniture. “With government’s initial investment, we can create communities with parks, jogging and cycling trails, a community centre,” he says.
Some may have retail or service providers from small eateries to a dry cleaner.
“If land development costs are subsidized by government, those who want to invest in an income-producing property like duplexes and triplexes will be better able to do so at a lower cost and in a quicker time frame,” he said. “The income-producing model is interesting because when you look at the list of distressed properties – those foreclosed by a lending institution for non-payment – of the hundreds on those lists, very few are duplex or triplexes.”
Carey took the same solutions-oriented approach almost immediately after Dorian, an historic record-breaking storm that devastated much of Abaco and lashed Grand Bahama.
With homes destroyed or uninhabitable and thousands of people displaced, Carey suggested investment by groups in distressed properties at reduced sales and closing costs.
Making use of foreclosed properties, he noted, would take them off the lender’s books and make them available for immediate near-term rental as well as improving the neighborhood which suffered the repercussions of many empty structures, lessening the value of existing property nearby.
For those who could afford to buy, the foreclosed properties would provide housing and an opportunity for the family inhabiting the dwelling to make improvements.
“Whenever there is a problem, you have to look for the solution,” said Carey, one of only a handful of pioneers in the real estate professional who holds a degree in the discipline.
“After more than 35 years in the business, seeing the highs and living through the lows and watching the market as well as the people who work in real estate mature, I think of it the same way as I do a triathlon. You have to get through the worst part to get to the part you like best and eventually, even though it’s tough, with enough stamina and determination, you get to the finish line.”
In 2016, Carey’s company became the first international firm to qualify for the Better Homes and Gardens brand. Today, the office handles multi millions of dollars of listings and Carey’s transactions, many of which have made international magazines and covers, top $2 billion.
Earlier this year, he named broker Tim Rodland partner.