There’s no place like home

Buying or selling a home is a significant milestone for people. Whether it’s that first-time home buyer’s exciting moment of receiving the keys, or a family relocating to the Cayman Islands, or a home away from home in a tropical paradise that will be passed down from generation to generation, these moments have long carried immense weight and importance in people’s lives.

Yet over the last 2 ½ years, since the beginning of the pandemic, home buying and selling has dramatically changed as people’s attitudes of where and how they want to live have been shifting. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explore some of the more common changes that I’ve seen occurring over the last few years with respect to the buying and selling of property in the Cayman Islands.

The importance of virtual tools

Even before the pandemic, a key tool in the marketing of our listings was virtual tours and when our borders were closed, and people were unable to come to the Cayman Islands to view property in person, a virtual tour could become the difference between a sale and someone choosing another property.

The reality is that most people start searching for property online way before they contact an agent. They’ve explored dozens if not hundreds of properties they are interested in, browsed detailed property descriptions, scrolled through photos, and taken virtual tours. Many people will already have an area picked out. They may have walked the neighbourhood on Google Earth and seen every single home in that neighbourhood before even stepping into one.

Even though our borders are open, and we are welcoming back visitors the importance of virtual tools will remain in the future. Many people will come to our islands, fall in love, and then start the serious research of buying property in the Cayman Islands once they return home making virtual tools as important today as they were during our lockdown.

Virtual tours also enable people to spend as much time in a home as they’d like. Maybe they have been to the home for a showing but want to go back and look at it further. Virtual tours allow people to go back and explore as often as they’d like.

Choice reimagined

Although I’ve touched on this in previous articles, I thought I spend some more time looking at how where and how we live has changed over the last 2 ½ years.

This was a trend that started prior to the pandemic. As a shift to work from home was already slowly beginning, I was seeing people moving to the Cayman Islands not only because of what our islands have to offer, but because it was so easily accessible. People were able to fly off for a day or two, do their meetings, and be back home in time for the weekend.

While people once chose their home based on its proximity to family, workplace, or school, wider shifts in socializing and flexible work cultures are impacting the concept of home and where it is situated.

In many ways, the pandemic put the brakes on modern life, and those in traditional office roles have had the chance to embrace a slower, quieter, and more contained lifestyle. In the US, 54% of employees want to work from home “all or most of the time” after the pandemic ends.[i] As a result, there is now less focus on populated cities, as people seek areas with better conditions; air quality, warmer climate, space, access to nature, or somewhere they always dreamed of living like a tropical island in the Caribbean.

Location, location, location

‘Location, location, location’ has taken on a whole new meaning since the pandemic. Many people are moving from more densely populated areas to places with year-round warmer climates. We are seeing younger people enter the real estate market much sooner than their older counterparts. We are also seeing older people plan retirement moves a lot sooner than they had originally planned. This was spurred by the pandemic, but these new locations must be convenient and easily accessibility to services and amenities.

The great thing about Grand Cayman is everything is convenient given the small size of our island. No matter where you decide to live in Grand Cayman you can be as close as 5 minutes to some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, and other everyday conveniences. Even if you decided to buy a more remote property such as Jellicoe Quay in Governors Harbour or even as far out as Pelican Point on Rum Point Drive you are still relatively close to everything you could possibly want or need.

The importance of lifestyle

Homes have come to be viewed as hubs; places were a growing number of activities take place on the property. Previously, homes could have been considered as lighthouses – used mainly for sleeping and eating, with most time spent in other places like workplaces and leisure environments. However, as time spent in the home has grown, it has placed greater importance on living and functionality. Choices are being made to suit short-term lifestyle needs and requirements with typical home buying pathways becoming less linear and more adaptive.

Expecting to spend more time at home, home buyers are deciding on properties that allow them to easily enjoy their lifestyles. Popular picks include larger yards, outdoor amenities such as pools and BBQ kitchens, and convertible areas like garages that can pulled in as a gym, extra bedroom, media room, or Nanny area, or extra office space that can be better utilized not only now but in the future for a variety of different situations.

The one real positive thing I’ve seen in the real estate market since the beginning of the pandemic is that people are buying properties they really want with the features, design, location, size, and layout that is most important to them. Turn key. Buyer’s do not want to do any work. They are receptive to paying a premium to have that work already completed. This makes the decision process easier when purchasing.

Research shows that having a backyard has become even more important than it ever has been before, and that living isn’t just done in the home itself but takes place outside which as we all know who live in Cayman is just part of our lifestyle. Homes like 649 Yacht Drive offers a stunning backyard, large pool, koi pond, large outside terrace, and a wraparound dock plus the added bonus of having direct access to North Sound just around the bend, which offers both onshore breezes and expanded views of the North Sound.

If you are looking for a private estate home offering luxury and privacy, Chiaro di Luna is a waterfront estate located in the prestigious gated community of Vista del Mar. Situated on 1.02 acres, this masterpiece among Cayman homes has unobstructed open water views extending to Rum Point, 140’ of water frontage, and a backyard that is an entertainer’s dream with large swimming pool, huge deck with multiple seating areas, separate BBQ area, bar area, and beautiful cabana style covered dining area all surrounded by mature tropical gardens plus a separate marina dock. Now this is a backyard that must been seen to truly appreciate.

Although backyards are ranked as one of the top features for US property buyers now, not all people are looking for properties with backyards especially in the Cayman Islands.

We have many people here that are looking at property to use as a retirement home and maybe that doesn’t involve the management and upkeep of a yard. Similarly, we have people buying property here which they will use as a second home or investment property. Therefore, other benefits such as lock-and-go become important to those buyers; properties where people can lock up their residence and know that it will be safe while they are away.

These types of properties are mostly condominiums but many of these residences can feel like estates given the size, scope, features, and location of these condominiums. On Seven Mile Beach, you can take in the soft sand, turquoise tropical water, and breathtaking sunsets from a brand new 4,256 sq. ft. residence at The Watermark, or a two-level 4,711 sq. ft. penthouse at Aqua Bay, or a 7,029 sq. ft. penthouse at Sea Breeze.

Other residences that are not only conveniently located but create the feel of a private backyard without the maintenance involved in a yard’s upkeep are found in Grand Cayman. 6 One Canal Point is a 3,016 sq. ft. townhome located in Seven Mile Corridor. It is a canal front residence that is situated right on the water. Great for families and entertaining, the townhome features a top floor terrace and plunge pool plus the community itself offers a wealth of other amenities such as private club house, pool, gym and more.

What does this mean for the future?

With increased flexibility, home buying is becoming less constrained and associated with key milestones such as marriage, starting a family, new job. It has become more adaptive. Consequently, a new choice set is leading to greater interest from a wider more diverse range of home buyers in the Cayman Islands. And, as people take their requirements and desires with them, places like the Cayman Islands are more likely to become more popular not only now but in the future as people become more and more guided by where and how they want to live.

[i] Pew Research Centre, December 2020