The Cayman Islands may be home to thousands of banks and hedge funds and may have attracted a substantial and affluent expat community drawn in by the zero-tax regime. However, there are plenty of natural attractions that help to make the islands, and specifically Grand Cayman — the largest and most populous of the trio — a second-home hotspot.
After the white-sand beaches and the cobalt-blue Caribbean, Grand Cayman’s other selling point, according to Paul Young, who has established an affiliate office for Savills on the island, can be summed up in one word: safety. This is a secure, low-crime environment, where children study at private international schools. “It is a great, great place to bring up a family,” says Young.
Research by estate agency Knight Frank suggests that, since coming out of recession, the Cayman Islands have turned a corner. Property prices fell 5 per cent in the year to the last quarter of 2013, but revived in the subsequent 12 months to show a 2.5 per cent rise. This puts the islands ahead of the Bahamas (which saw a 2 per cent increase over the same period), St Barts (flatlining), Barbados (-3 per cent) and the British Virgin Islands (-7 per cent). Only Mustique and Jumby Bay (Antigua) have outperformed them.
Nick Joseph, an attorney on Grand Cayman, says there are several ways to become a resident Caymanian and, as a result, pay no tax on income, investments or inheritance. They include securing a job, incorporating a company and employing yourself, or — for those of “independent means” — investing a minimum of $600,000 on a property and proving you have an annual income of at least $150,000.
New arrivals are mainly from the US and Canada, which partly explains the Caymans’ curiously un-Caribbean environment. Houses are mainly quasi-colonial style, and would look at home in Florida. The US dollar is accepted alongside the Cayman Islands dollar, numerous upscale restaurants serve international menus, and the (tax-free) shopping is heavy on high-end brands.
Grand Cayman’s trophy addresses lie mostly to the west where second-home owners tend to opt for “lock-up-and-leave flats” overlooking the spectacular Seven Mile Beach and prices average about $1,000 per sq ft.
The WaterColours is the latest major development on the beach, and so far 47 units have been sold. The 13 flats still available are priced from $3.9m for a 3,700 sq ft apartment with four bedrooms. There are hotel-style facilities, including a piano bar and gym.
Full-time residents are likely to gravitate to quiet areas such as Canal Point on the northwest coast. Another option is the exclusive suburb of Rum Point, on Grand Cayman’s northern coast, where Savills is selling Camden House, a four-bedroom, 5,500 sq ft home with a roof terrace, pool and beach access, for $6.85m. Nearby, Kool One is a three-bedroom house on the Cayman Kai development, available through Chestertons International for $3.64m.
In future, the focus may turn to Grand Cayman’s east coast, where last year a “health city” specialising in cardiology and orthopaedics opened with a remit to attract overseas patients. Ironwood is a 600-acre development of 2,000 homes due to be completed by 2017. Built around a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, prices start at $310,244 for a 970 sq ft one-bedroom apartment.
This $360m project will include a new road linking the east of the island to the capital, George Town. This, claims the developers, will help make the eastern part of Grand Cayman more accessible.
If the sun and economic freedom make the Caymans sound like paradise, beware. The area has been hit by devastating hurricanes in the past, including Ivan in 2004, and despite tightened building regulations, flooding can still cause chaos. What is more, David Legge, owner of the Cayman Free Press and publisher of its main newspapers, describes Grand Cayman as a “two-tier” society where incomers dominate professional jobs and Cayman-born locals fill most service roles.
In addition, the North American influence has played a part in diluting the sense of Caribbean history and culture on the islands. Grand Cayman is known for its fine restaurants but, while French or Japanese fare is easy to find, you will be hard pushed to get anything as authentic as a plate of jerk chicken.