THE Attorney-General, Trade and Industry Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, appointed Bob Lowres as a director of Investment Fiji for a year with effect from June 14. Mr Lowres is the owner and developer of Naisoso Island. This has been sourced from the Government Gazette July 1.
Attracting the wealthy to Fiji
Property developers are keen to lure Kiwi dollars to Fiji with a recipe of waterfront sections, wealthy neighbors and gated subdivisions, but LIZ MCDONALD, who visited Fiji recently, asks are buyers put off by the recent coup and the economic downturn?
On Naisoso Island, property developer Bob Lowres is covering grey sand with white, shifting coconut palms, and dredging a shallow waterway for boating.
Lowres is creating a luxury subdivision and resort on this sun-lit piece of Fiji, and he knows what wealthy buyers like.
Two-thirds of his sections were pre-sold before a grain of sand was shifted, with most of the buyers New Zealanders.
Nearby Denarau Island, a master-planned resort development just out of Nadi, has been popular with Kiwi buyers, too.
Here, retired or holidaying baby-boomers enjoy large homes with lush gardens, tiled swimming pools, and boating pontoons on purpose-dug canals.
Others have invested in the development's managed villas, which are used as holiday accommodation for sun seeking tourists.
Twenty minutes south the stalled Momi Resort the hotel, golf course and housing development funded partly by the now collapsed Bridgecorp finance company has also targeted Kiwi buyers for its planned five-star resort villas and elevated housing sites.
And then there is Nukudrau Island, an hour away at Natewa Bay, where marketing for waterfront properties began in New Zealand last month just as winter set in. Access to a sea plane and a marina berths deep enough for a mega yacht come as standard for Nukudrau section buyers.
Buyers are spending $1 million-plus, or the high end of five figures, to secure a piece of water-front land in a country where only 8 per cent of land is freehold.
Sections in established resort areas such as Denarau sell mainly for between $F500,000 and $F1.5m ($NZ440,000$1.32m), while houses go mainly for $F1m to $F2m ($NZ880,000$1.76m), but can be priced up to F$4m or $F5m ($NZ3.5m$4.4m).
This is Fiji designed not by nature but in architect's offices in Sydney, Auckland or Los Angeles.
The developers at this end of the market say that while well-heeled Fijian citizens, including successful expatriates, and internationals such as Australians buy here, New Zealanders are big clients.
After the initial shock of the military coup of 2006, they continued buying, at least for a while.
But Shivas Singh, chief executive of real estate company Harcourts Fiji, says Kiwi buyers have been thinner on the ground this year.
He puts the change down to the sluggish New Zealand economy, rather than the coup.
"We've noticed quite a large decline in foreign investors across the board. I don't think it's really related to our political situation, it's really not that bad.
"The sun is still shining here and the beer tastes good. But it's what's happening in real estate in New Zealand. And I don't think Kiwis have that disposable income the same," says Singh.
However, Lowres says that his end of the market is barely buffeted by global credit crunches or military coups. "The people who buy in Fiji are their fourth or fifth or sixth homes, not their first homes."
Australian-born, Fiji-domiciled Lowres says so many of his buyers come from New Zealand, that he prices properties in Kiwi dollars and banks buyers' checks in Auckland.
Australians tend to choose Queensland instead, he says.
"The people who buy real estate here are from the places in New Zealand that have direct flights. They can be here in three hours."
So for recent buyers and those still looking for property here, what is the attraction in Fiji?
Of course, there is the sun and the chance to escape a cold winter, and a combination of New Zealand and Fiji tax laws which mean no capital gains tax on tourist or holiday properties.
Another attraction there is the level of inexpensive help you can buy in Fiji homes here are kept ship-shape by housekeepers, gardeners and pool boys, and gated subdivisions protected by guards in a country where unskilled labor costs as little as $F2 ($NZ1.75) an hour.
And with construction wages lower here and compliance regulations more lenient, large houses can be built much more cheaply than in Auckland or Christchurch.
The developers are also know what wealthy buyers want. The glossy marketing material for such precincts is thick with words such as exclusive and paradise.
While the brochures tend to feature young bikini-clad models, residents in these precincts are mostly older and successful, with an appetite for a comfortable lifestyle and toys.
This means a pontoon in front of the house or at a nearby marina, or perhaps a sandy beach or golf course bordering the section.
It also means strict covenants ruling out tasteless housing styles, noisy gatherings and annoying pets.
Buyers want like-minded neighbors, hence the lack of any lower-cost homes around; they want safety and security, hence the gates; and they want pristine picture-postcard looks, hence the shifting of sand and palm-trees.
Even the name island used in some of the developments stretches the truth in some cases they are a land-linked chunks annexed from the mainland by canal dredging, then reattached by a guarded bridge or causeway.
But Singh warns that prospective Kiwi buyers do their homework, check out what they are buying, and familiarize themselves with Fijian real estate and taxation rules.
Would-be buyers should always fly in to look at any property themselves, as well as the state of the local roads, power, and water supplies, rather than relying on glossy campaigns, he says.
Originally published press.co.nz news Wednesday, 23 July 2008