Sun | Feb 23, 2020

St Thomas poised to go prime in real estate market

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:11 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter
 A view of the Caribbean Sea from Johns Town in St Thomas.
A view of the Caribbean Sea from Johns Town in St Thomas.

The price of property in St Thomas is already trending up, and realtors expect the trajectory to be maintained as major improvements to roads and other developments get under way in the parish that for years has held the title of being ‘forgotten’.

The pending rehabilitation of the 110-kilometre roadway between Harbour View in St Andrew and Port Antonio, Portland, and the launch of construction of the Morant Bay Urban Centre, which will bring commercial activity to the parish and its capital, are feeding demand for real estate and could potentially push up the price of new properties by double-digits, according to realtor Howard Johnson Jr.

Spanning 365,000 square feet, the Morant Bay Urban Centre will create a “one-stop shop” for residents with the amalgamation of the essential services provided by the Government, supported by additional services offered by the private sector. It will also deliver jobs in substantial numbers from the call centre that is expected to operate there.

However, it is the road project and its logistical implications that are seen as the biggest drivers of St Thomas’ property market.

“We expect to see an increase in property prices primarily because of the road infrastructure. Once there is infrastructure, property prices change. If you bought into a community that doesn’t have light and water at a certain price, the minute that infrastructure goes in, the price changes,” said Johnson, the broker and CEO of Howard Johnson Realty Limited.

A year ago, Jamaican Teas, through its real estate subsidiary Mahfood and Sons, developed and sold two-bedroom homes in Albion, Yallahs, which included a bathroom, kitchen, living area, and a porch at $8.5 million, up from the initial $6.5 million when the project started in 2013.

Today, a couple looking to relocate to the same community would have to fork out at least $5 million more for the two-bedroom home, according to a current listing on realty company Valerie Levy and Associates.

Yallahs is a 30-minute drive from Kingston and is in the proximity of the Norman Manley International Airport and downtown Kingston.

“I’ve always been an advocate for persons living on the outskirts of the Corporate Area, especially with the redevelopment of downtown. If you live in Harbour View or even Albion going towards Yallahs, you are within half an hour of work without traffic, and if you look in other markets, a 30-minute commute from home to work is not unheard of,” said Johnson, who is immediate past president of the Realtors Association of Jamaica.

“But if the development of Orchid Estate wasn’t profitable, I think it was the timing. It was premature to what is happening now. If you build or launch a development like that now, I think you will get better traction,” he reasoned.

Work on the four-lane Southern Coastal Highway Improvement project which will run from Harbour View to Port Antonio forms part of a larger plan by the Government to spur development and improve access across the 14 parishes of Jamaica. The Yallahs to Port Antonio leg has been put to tender and is expected to start next week.

St Thomas has a population of just under 95,000. Aside from the “bad roads” and the distance to Kingston, the parish of St Thomas has had two big disadvantages: its rural culture and its reputation for practising obeah; and crime.

“If there is a negative, I would point to criminal activities. People are scared to live out there. Also, if there is strong weather, then parts of Harbour View and St Thomas are prone to flooding. So along with road infrastructure, if we look at some of the other elements that are needed, then we should be in good stead for property purchases and property values,” Johnson said.

However, he dismissed the concern about cultural issues, saying that it has been used to stigmatise the parish and had no bearing on property values.

The realtor is confident that St Thomas can become another one of Jamaica’s prime real estate areas, given its proximity to the sea and the Norman Manley International Airport and its large acreages of untouched lands.

While he had no comment on the level of increases likely for property prices, saying that he is yet to do an analysis on the parish, Johnson says property buyers are likely to face price escalations anywhere between 5 and 16 per cent on new acquisitions.

He expects the market in St Thomas and the communities leading to it to open up both in terms of rentals as well as sales/purchases and that rentals would fall within the range of $60,000 per month as the redevelopment of downtown Kingston kicks into high gear.

“Quite a number of opportunities are developing downtown, and I believe that even for rental, there will be demand. Harbour View is going to become very relevant again. That’s the catalyst in my point, and the more we put in good road infrastructure, it’s going to make Seven Miles, Bull Bay, more attractive,” he said.