Something To Remember At The Dawn Of 2020

Understated elegance is the hallmark of Shell Point in Tucker’s Town

When families gather to celebrate the old year and look forward to the new, the home becomes far more than what Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French modernist architect called ‘a machine for living’.  As an anxious decade ends with the world in political turmoil, our homes comfort us.”     John Gapper, FT Chief Business Commentator

Real Estate 2019 : Bermuda’s Year of the Boutique Agency

Greylock in Shaw Wood, Pembroke

Are you a keen observer of Bermuda’s real estate market? If so, you might have noticed that quarterly and annual reviews by real estate companies (typically in the form of self-promoting press releases in The Royal Gazette) have been less prevalent over the last two years.   One reason for this is that the Bermuda Government’s new Land Title & Registration Office — with its promised online public access to sales data — has yet to fully find its sea legs. Add to this the fact that the former paper file system … where sales were recorded in the Government’s Land Transfer office … transaction by transaction, page by page, parish by parish … is no longer maintained for public review.  What happens in the meantime?  Savvy agents keep a close ear to the ground and maintain their own records based on inside market knowledge … and occasional ( and greatly appreciated) updates from the Land Registrar.

In previous blog posts, I have noted that the number of Non-Bermudian Category house sales typically averages between six and nine completed sales per year.   By my best calculations at this date, 2019 has performed easily at the high-end of ‘average’.  However,  the number of completed sales actually says more about how quickly (or not) the Bermuda Government’s Dept. of Immigration works through the approval of Non-Bermudian purchaser license applications than it does about actual sales activity in the luxury market.  

While the number of completed sales remains ‘average’ based on a 25-year analysis, current luxury market activity is significantly up. Sinclair Realty | Christie’s is aware of at least 14 such transactions at varying stages of contract and completion in the Non-Bermudian category (and there may be more).  To put this in perspective — because completion of higher-end sales can take three to six months  (and sometimes much longer more if there are any legal complexity), 2020 is already set to perform at least as ‘average’, and it is not yet January 1st.

Of the 14 Non-Bermudian Category house sale transactions in 2019, here are some points of analysis …

  • Sinclair Realty | Christie’s continues as the luxury house market leader.   With just two licensed sales agents supported by the strength of the Christie’s global brand, John & Karin Sinclair are responsible for over 40% of the sales in this sector, which is triple our nearest competitor and more than double the performance of Bermuda’s five largest real estate companies combined (a total of 82 agents).
  • 70% of sales were under $4.5 million.  This is unsurprising given the Bermuda Government’s lowering in 2015 of the ARV threshold, which determines if a house is eligible to be sold to an international purchaser. There are simply more houses eligible in the entry level of the Non-Bermudian Category than in previous years.
  • Uptick in the  $10 million – $35 million sector . While these sales will not complete in 2019, the New Year looks promising.   Some readers may interpret this bullet point as irrelevant to their own lives and property aspirations; however, this uptick is positive news for Bermudians at all levels of the market.   ”The fish rots from the head first’ is an old adage; but we sometimes overlook the fact that these large estate purchases at the top of the market are made by individuals who in turn bolster demand for services and products supplied by Bermudians.  They also generate direct revenue for Bermuda ( the Non-Bermudian license fee is calculated as 8% of each Non-Bermudian house purchase, Bermuda Government stamp duties apply to every sale transactions, plus  Non-Bermudian category properties attract a premium annual land tax calculated at the highest band).  So that very same fish head is capable of improving the health of the Bermuda economy.
  • Of the 2019 Non-Bermudian Category house buyers , approximately 57% are actually Non-Bermudians, 21% are Bermudians, 14% are British Overseas Territory Citizens & 7% are Permanent Residency Certificate holders.
  • Most of the 2019 Non-Bermudian purchasers are from North American and non-EU countries.  Again,  that is unsurprising given the uncertainties in the UK and EU. But based on offers and acceptances currently in play, we are highly likely to see those demographics shift in 2020.
  • More than 80% of all luxury house sales in Bermuda involved boutique real estate companies (’boutique’ being defined as an agency with four or fewer licensed sales agents).   This is an interesting fact.  The larger agencies that might give the appearance of market domination are actually not the meaningful producers in this specialised market sector …. here, a reminder that Perception is not always Reality.

So, as the New Year approaches,  Sinclair Realty celebrates and congratulates the work of Bermuda’s boutique real estate companies. John and I wish all our colleagues, clients and friends a productive, healthy, happy and successful 2020. 

 With warm regards from our home to yours — Karin H. Sinclair


Bermuda Real Estate: 10 Facts About The Non-Bermudian Sales Market


LUXURY DEFINED:  For the purpose of this article, Sinclair Realty | Christie’s International Real Estate defines the Bermuda Luxury Market as freehold, single-family houses with prices of $3.5 million and higher & condominiums at $1.5 million and higher.  We note, however, there are houses & condominiums available to Non-Bermudians with list prices starting as low as $2 million and  $500,000, respectively.  Photo: Georgetown:Bermuda’s Modern House

By Karin H. Sinclair

  1. The Non-Bermudian Category House Market Is Small, But Remarkably Steady.   

    Few people (including many real estate agents) understand just how small the Non-Bermudian house market really is — and has always been.  Based on our 25-year data analysis, with rare exception, between six-and-nine freehold single-family houses typically sell in the Non-Bermudian category in any given year.  Of those six-to-nine houses, one or two will have purchase prices in excess of $10 million;  between one-and-three will be in the range of $6 million -$9 million, and the rest will be under $5 million.  2018 performed at the upper end of average with eight completed sales (a further three Non-Bermudian category houses had pending contracts but did not make it through the immigration approval process in time to be counted in 2018).  Some people mistakenly believe the luxury market is ‘down’ because eight is small number. But, in fact, that’s very average in a pattern that has remained steady for over two decades.  There are no great peaks and valleys in the Non-Bermudian freehold house market, just slow, steady growth.

  2. Within the Non-Bermudian Market Are Several Micro-Markets

    What was different about 2018 is that while Bermuda continued to attract international purchasers who could easily afford  $10 million – $35 million ( the current top of our market), those purchasers took a cautious approach, opting for smaller, less expensive homes.   This isn’t surprising considering the global uncertainties and the downward luxury market pressures in Bermuda’s primary feeder markets — the greater New York City area and London.   But we also note that, in comparison,  2017 was a record year in the ultra high end with double the average number of sales — and many of the same global uncertainties and pressures existed.  So, it is also entirely possible that  2018 was simply the real estate equivalent of a musical tempo rubato (i.e. the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening at the beginning or end of a phrase, usually without altering the overall pace)Time will tell.

  3. the 2019 LuxUry Market Is Off To A Good Start.

    It’s only the beginning of Q2, and at least four Non-Bermudian category house sales have already either completed or are pending completion, and there are others are at various stages of negotiation and contract – including large luxury homes.   Remember it’s typically only 6-9 Non-Bermudian house sales per year … so we are already approaching ‘average’ with 9 months left to go.

  4. Bermuda Luxury Real Estate Offers Excellent Value Compared To Other International Jurisdictions  

    If you consider luxury homes as a global asset class,  the truth is Bermuda’s luxury properties offer exceptional value for money when compared to other jurisdictions where the wealthy chose to live.  As an example, let’s look at the very top of the market.   In Bermuda, a US $35-million guide price buys Chelston,  an ultra-prime 14-acre beachfront estate with a 10,000 sq. ft. main house, four cottages, a swimming pool complex, and beautiful park-like grounds leading to a spectacular pink sand beach — all within minutes of the City of Hamilton.  In the Hamptons, you’ll get only 4 acres of beachfront for the same price;  in Cayman,  a super-sized home on a smallish waterfront lot.   And in  London — even with its downturn  — you’ll be fortunate to acquire a five-bedroom lateral apartment at £35 million… albeit in Kensington Palace Gardens. Photo: Windsong House On Riddell’s Bay

  5. Non-Bermudian Category Homes Are Available In a Wide Price Range.  

    In December 2015, the Bermuda Government revised the ‘ARV’ system used to calculate land tax, and that same system also establishes which properties maybe purchased by Non-Bermudians.   ARV stands for ‘annual rental value’, but the Government-assessed ARV may or may not be what the property would be expected to garner in annual rent.  Prior to the policy change, a house with an ARV of $153,000 or higher could be sold to an international purchaser.  In 2015, the ARV threshold was lowered to $126,000, which in turn increased the number of  homes for sale at the entry level of the Non-Bermudian market (by about 30% at any given time).  Prior to 2015, Non-Bermudian houses priced under $3 million were few and far between.  Today,  there is single-family home inventory ranging from $2 million –  $35 million and condominiums from $500,000 – $6.5 million.  One of the best values in the entry level of the Non-Bermudian category is  The Paddocks On Trimingham Hill in Paget, listed at US $3.5 million which offers a supremely convenient location near Hamilton, marinas and schools; beautiful grounds with pool, and a high-quality contemporary renovation just right for an executive family.

  6. Non-Bermudian Land Acquisition Fees Have NEVER Been MORE FAVOURABLE

    As high as 25% for many years, the Non-Bermudian purchaser’s  license fee for acquisition of freehold homes has been calculated at 8%of the property price since 2012 and will now continue at this rate until the end of Q1-2021.  The fee for regular condominiums is 6% ( formerly 18%), and 6.5% for hotel residences/tourism properties.  Permanent Residency Certificate Holders are a special sub-class of Non-Bermudian buyer who can purchase any home with an ARV and at a reduced license fee of 4%.  Photo: Heron Hill On The Great Sound

  7. SElling Bermuda Can Take time For Good Reason.  

    In this age of social media and instant response, observers sometimes ask why it can take years rather than months to sell luxury homes.  First, it’s important to acknowledge that high-end real estate  — anywhere in the world —  often take one-to-three+ years to sell.  A Bermuda real estate purchase is usually part of a much larger international planning sequence involving corporate structure, family offices, and international tax considerations, along with more personal factors like lifestyle and education.   From the moment an overseas purchaser first inquires about a Bermuda property to the time they execute a sale and purchase agreement, it is not unusual for at least one year and sometime more to pass — so that’s one year on the market  if the very first prospect through the door becomes the successful purchaser.   Bermuda Government’s  policies  also dictate a careful purchase because if a Non-Bermudian wishes to sell and buy a different property, he or she will pay the 8% license fee again.    Bermuda is not for everyone, but it works very, very well for certain profiles of international buyers.  It’s a small, highly specialised market and it can simply take time to make the fit.

  8. One Thing That Will Never Change Is The COnvenience Of Bermuda’s Location.

    As a British Overseas Territory uniquely located just two-hours from New York City and 6+ hours from London, Bermuda’s gracious way of life, sophisticated business infrastructure, quality schools, and semi-tropical climate make it the quality choice for today’s International Purchaser who values being near (but not necessarily ‘in’) the United States.

  9. Luxury List Pricing Operates On A Different Algorithm.  

    In the luxury sector, sellers and buyers alike tend to be successful, savvy and relatively patient.  Sinclair Realty | Christie’s detailed analysis of list price vs.  purchase price differentials clearly demonstrates that list pricing is less important to the Non-Bermudian offering process than other market sectors.  Recently, there has been a move within the local real estate brokerage community to apply North American-style price drops models typically used in the middle and starter home markets to the the Non-Bermudian category.  Of course, there will always be circumstances when a list price reduction is either necessary or warranted. But it is an absolute fact that luxury buyers who are ready to buy rarely let a ‘high’ list price stand in their way of making an offer based on their own sense of value.  And luxury sellers  — more often than not —  prefer to quietly accept a reasonable offer rather than play the price drop game.


    These are words of warning as much as fact. Especially in small communities like Bermuda where social, business, and influence circles are closely knit, people tend to believe what they hear and read because they are familiar with ( and therefore a bit more trusting of)  the person who supplied the information.   Trust is a wonderful thing; but when mis-placed, it can breed  an inordinate amount of inaccurate information which then circulates and is even published as ‘fact’ ( think of the children’s game, Telephone).   Regrettably, it is all too common in Bermuda’s agent community to distribute information without fact checking, and to flavour it with heavy doses of exaggerated spin.  Further, there is still no central, electronic source of real estate data, and it will be some time before the new Bermuda Government Land Title Registry is fully operational and reflective of the market on a real-time basis.   So unless your agent or personal advisor is conducting thorough, objective research and analysis,  the ‘expert’ advice you may be receiving and relying on as the basis of your real estate decisions is, at best, diluted through third-party re-tellings and may feature degrees of inaccuracy ranging from inexactitudes to outright falsehoods.

Here AT SiNclair Realty | Christie’S Int’L Real Estate, Quality of Information IS Paramount.  If you have questions about buying or selling,  John and Karin Sinclair look forward to hearing from you at estates@sinclairrealty. com or T. +1-441-296-0278.