Selling Bahamas: what you need to know

by Olivia D'Orazio10 Dec 2014
It is a dream vacation for many Canadian agents – a trip to the Caribbean to help a client buy a $2 million home, but agents in those jurisdictions are sending out a reminder about the right – and the wrong – way to do it.

“[According to] the Bahamian law, only a Bahamian or a person with the right to work in The Bahamas is allowed to apply for a licence to sell real estate,” William Wong, a broker in Nassau, and a past president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA), tells REP. “If a Canadian marries a Bahamian and can get legal status and can work in the Bahamas, he or she can apply to take the licencing course to become an agent.”

That law, called the Real Estate Act, follows the same jurisdictional rules that prevent an agent in Toronto from selling a condo in Vancouver, for instance. Like a cross-provincial transaction, Canadian agents should to work closely with their Bahamian counterparts.

“We’re not opposed to working along with a non-Bahamian or a Canadian agent,” Wong says. “We’ll work with you and then pass a referral fee on to you. But anyone wanting to buy property from the Bahamas should use a local agent.”

As with any neighbourhood, a local agent brings a host of insider knowledge to the deal. A native Bahamian can recommend one of the country’s more than 700 islands best suiting your client’s tastes, and can point out the most exclusive areas – the islands are home to such Hollywood heavyweights as Shakira, Roger Waters, Eddie Murphy, Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and David Copperfield, to name a few.

A Bahamian agent can also speak to some of the finer points of property ownership on the islands, and can ensure clients and agents alike don’t unwittingly break the law.

Wong’s comments follow a conflict between BREA and Nationwide Appraisal Services (NAS), a Canadian real estate valuation company. BREA said NAS’ status in The Bahamas is in violation of the Real Estate Act, since it’s not run by Bahamians or permanent residents of the county.

That issue saw NAS attempt to sign mortgage brokers and real estate agents in an effort to circumvent the law. Carla Sweeting, the president of BREA, told Tribune Business that the Canadian banks’ lack of knowledge about the Bahamian real estate industry would impact the housing market.

“We have said this to both banks [Royal Bank and Scotiabank],” Sweeting told Tribune Business. “You need to accept some responsibility for the foreclosure problems you are now facing, as you have incentivised mortgage officers who don’t know how to read appraisals.”

Wong says it’s best for Canadian agents to work closely with their Bahamian counterparts. In return, Canadians can expect a hefty referral fee – upwards of 25 per cent in some cases.

“We welcome dealing with American or Canadian agents,” Wong says. “If they have a client, the customer in Canada would be more comfortable dealing with their agent because they don’t know me. But that agent can call me and we can work together. There’s nothing stopping an agent in Canada from calling me and working around with me.”

On the local front, Wong says BREA has been working to educate the public about selling property to Canadians who aren’t working with agents licenced in the country. However, he says, you can always find someone willing to break the law if you look hard enough.

“We’ve had some unscrupulous agents coming here and selling property without a licence,” he says. “It’s getting a lot better now. If we do find [those agents], we have a word with them.”

In the end, Wong says he’s appealing to the human side of Canadian agents, urging them to cooperate with local laws.

“We’ll make sure they get taken care of, but let’s do it the right way,” he says. “You wouldn’t want us coming to Toronto or Vancouver, taking away your business. And besides, you know the lay of the land better than us, just like we know Bahamas better than you because we live here.”

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