30 Nov A contemporary adventure in the Caribbean
Nigel Gore, Director, Blueprint Development, shares the charm of Antigua and Barbuda that inspired him to set up one of the most successful real estate companies in the country
What makes Antigua and Barbuda unique and why should someone consider investing in property there rather than on other islands in the Caribbean?
I believe Antigua and Barbuda is well positioned because of its physical size. There’s a real sense of community, as well as a lot of diversity within a relatively small space. You will find all walks of life enjoying the same places: a tourist could easily find themselves dining in the same restaurant as the Prime Minister, for example. There is very little social separation or hierarchy, which makes everything so much more natural.
For me, the jewel in Antigua’s crown is Nelson’s Dockyard, an 18th-century British naval base. I’ve traveled a lot in my time and there really is no substitute for this type of authenticity; the substance and charm that coexist here can’t be replicated. I could parallelize the experience with my first visit to Rome, where I was overwhelmed by the amount of culture and history. Antigua may not have such an abundance, but what it does have is truly unique.
Over the years, Antigua has established itself as the epicenter of the Caribbean for mega-yachts and sailing regattas, which in turn creates an international feel during the peak season. In addition, Antigua and Barbuda sits firmly between barely developed islands and overdeveloped ones. When you couple that with the best beaches in the Caribbean, you have the option of escaping to one of it’s quiet corners for complete peace and tranquility or immersing yourself in world-class leisure-based activities—the choice is yours!
How would you describe Antigua and Barbuda’s evolution over the last decade, and the lasting effects that the launch of its Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program in 2016 have had on the property sector?
The knock-on effect from the last financial crisis had a delayed impact here. We felt the effects later than most and, eventually, a lot of Antigua’s property developments did come to a halt. Once things started picking up again in the U.K. and the U.S., we had a similar time lag to ramp things up again here. The Antiguan government ensured that only projects fitting particular criteria were approved within the CBI program: it only approved projects in the most prestigious locations combined with sustainable concepts. This was to protect the nation from “ghost towns” being built in the cheapest locations.
Once the program had launched, a lot of people initially thought there would be a huge surge in real estate investment. However, the reality is that it’s more of an added bonus for somebody who already wanted to have a second home in the Caribbean, rather than being the main reason for real estate investment.
Could you tell our readers how the original seed was planted for Blueprint Development, and what combination of factors and ideas led to the vision behind its launch?
I returned to Antigua after studying in London and on the south coast of England. I initially began to look for a property for myself. As a designer, I had a very clear idea of what that should be. However, I struggled to find anything that reflected what was in my mind’s eye. Therefore, I found an amazing development site and embarked on a project to fulfill my own vision of Caribbean coastal living.
I continued to focus on that niche, in the belief that if I couldn’t find the right product in Antigua, there must me others like me. Essentially, I set out to create the type of home that I would want to invest in myself.
Our philosophy is that everything should be driven by passion, with the aim of delivering the best. As a result, we have turned down a lot of jobs that were not ideal, as they would require us to compromise in terms of the quality of the end product.
One cliché about the Caribbean that is true is things can move at a very slow pace, compared to much of the rest of the world. Therefore, although we’ve already achieved a lot, I would say that Blueprint Development is still in its infancy phase, as my mind is always ahead of where we are in reality.
The company currently holds two of the country’s most elegant and high-quality developments in its portfolio: Daniel Bay and Nelson’s Retreat. What are some of these properties unique qualities in terms of their architecture and design? Are there further investments planned for these two projects?
I would say that I’ve managed to use my obsessive-compulsive-disorder tendencies to my advantage. I can easily spend many hours, days or weeks tweaking a particular design aspect of a building in order to deliver an end product where the quality speaks for itself.
Our first show home was completed in 2012 at Daniel Bay and we were almost overwhelmed by inquiries, because it was so different from what the island was used to. We then went on to set up a small workspace in English Harbour that we have been using as a showroom, allowing people to get an idea of the services we provide because there were very few comparable places at the time.
Both of the projects you mentioned have now been sold and they allow us to provide future clients with a sense of what we can produce. The most exciting thing is the fact that we’ve secured partnerships with some of the island’s most desirable undeveloped sites. As such, we know that there will be some amazing projects in the future.
In addition to Daniel Bay and Nelson Retreat, your company has a diverse set of services at the reach of investors who are currently eyeing the opportunities in Antigua and Barbuda. Would you care to expand a little on these?
I am also an agent for the CBI program. I keep myself in that role purely because it allows us to further assist somebody looking to invest in Antigua and facilitate people in whichever way we can when it comes to their establishment and physical presence in the country. Beyond that, we also offer a concierge service, where we provide assistance to anyone setting up their new life on the island.
How does Blueprint embrace sustainability, and contribute to the country’s environment and circular economy?
In a way, the lack of infrastructure on a lot of Caribbean islands has now put them ahead of the game. The majority of homes already have their own water catchment systems. That, coupled with cellular internet providers, advancements in solar energy options and battery technology, has allowed people to live a comfortable, off-grid life here.
This all helps when we’re planning a new home, because we not only want it to blend into it’s surrounding environment but we also strive for it to be carbon neutral.
COVID-19 continues to challenge the world, however there is new hope with the recent news about vaccines. This last year has actually seen a surge in applications for CBIs across the board. How has the pandemic affected your business and in what ways have you shifted or refocused your priorities to tackle the challenges and opportunities that have emerged?
Strangely, Antigua’s real estate market may benefit by what has happened over the last year. We were very lucky in terms of our physical position on the planet. So, we were not completely blindsided by the virus in the way some European countries were. We had the good fortune of critical time to prepare, allowing precautions to be implemented. The tourist season ended a couple of months early when the airport closed. We were then in a lockdown phase for eight weeks. Now that we are gearing up for a new season, we need to be careful about how things develop.
On the flip side, we have had more inquiries for both sales and rentals from people looking for second and third homes around the world. Antigua is seen as a safe haven away from COVID-19. Being a small island, it grants that sense of security and seclusion. The fact that there are a lot of private holiday villas is a great attraction to people who are not so keen on staying in hotels anymore: a family considering a two-week beach hotel will now question the fact that they would be sharing facilities with many other people. Therefore, we are finding many people leaning toward private villas, even if there are two families coming together, because they are more in control of who they see and interact with. Previously, Antigua was all about getting more planes, cruise ships and traffic in general—until this year. This season, we do not expect to have such an abundance of visitors and this is proving to be an advantage, as it is attracting a higher caliber of visitor, who will appreciate the low volume of people and will tend to stay longer.
Since the global lockdown, corporations have adopted more flexible structures. Remote working became a necessity during this period and, in the aftermath, has enabled more people to consider the life of a digital nomad or “stay-cationer.” Is there an opportunity for Blueprint Development in this growing trend?
The type of visitor and their reasons for visiting is something that has been steadily evolving over the years but the lockdown has pushed this forward considerably. The yachting industry is very big here and we’ve started to notice a different class of “yachtie,” meaning people that do not own the boats but work on them. Now, through technological advancements, people can be in touch so easily. It dramatically broadens the range of people the industry appeals to.
Antigua is also seen as a formidable workspace for anyone who simply needs a laptop and internet connection to do business. As one of the go-to companies in that regard, we are low on stock already. Typically, the peak season in Antigua is Christmas and New Year. Every year, we wish that we could multiply our stock for those couple of months. I would say that, if somebody is looking for a lengthy stay in Antigua they need to be quick, because a lot more people are currently looking to stay for six months or longer. This is an unusual phenomenon that we are now witnessing across the island. All the best properties have already been taken and we have turned people down at this point due to lack of stock, which is frustrating but at the same time encourages us to build more.
To conclude our interview, do you have a final message for the readers of Newsweek about Antigua and Barbuda?
There is a flip side to sipping cocktails and watching the sunset—pleasures that the Caribbean certainly can provide. I would say that there are certain challenges to living in a place like Antigua. Things that you may be accustomed to in your normal way of life may not exist, but I think once people come out here and scratch the surface, many will be pleased with what they find. It may not be for everybody, but it definitely deserves serious consideration and once you find your niche here, you may never look back.