Crime affecting real estate market

Real Estate Broker JC Calhoun can’t
brush the concerns off any longer.

Once a non-issue, crime is topic
that’s increasingly being raised by his clients. Over the past two years, there
has been a marked increase in violent crimes on Grand Cayman, including several
highly publicised murders.

“I have been getting calls and
emails from clients who have been coming here for many years asking what is
going on with all the crime,” Mr. Calhoun said. “They started last year and I
frankly thought at the time that they were overreacting.

“But, I hear it a lot more now.
 People are very concerned and are rethinking spending their time here.”

Mr. Calhoun says he anticipates
some of them will put their properties up for sale, especially if the situation
continues.

Recently, he received a note from a
Caymanian who made the decision to leave.

“I don’t want to leave! But I feel,
as though am forced to go,” the person wrote. “I will be back, but at this time,
I think it’s best my children, at least, have a chance and are taken to greener
pastures.”

For those who have sold recently, Mr.
Calhoun said it is tough to say how much of a factor crime was, as opposed to
the global economic crisis, but the subject does come up very often.

“As for the potential loss of new
purchasers, that is hard to quantify because we won’t meet those [people] who
because of crime reports, have just crossed Cayman off as a place to buy or
live,” he said.

“And those who do come in and look
around with us often won’t tell us that it is the fear of crime against their
families which was the deciding factor in why they decided not to buy here.”

Kim Lund of RE/MAX says he is
starting to see a negative impact on the activity in Cayman’s real estate
market, due to the increase in crime, especially violent crime. 

Starting with the murder of Swiss
national Frederic Bise in February 2008, Grand Cayman has seen an unprecedented
rise in violent crimes. That murder was followed by that of Canadian citizen
Martin Gareau in May 2008; the rape and murder of Estella Scott-Roberts in
October 2008; and the murder of Sabrina Schirn in March 2009.  There have also been a number of gang related
murders in the past two years, and the recent shooting death of four-year-old
Jeremiah Barnes.

 “While this impact is still fairly subdued,
some trends are beginning to be noticed,” Mr. Lund said.

One trend he points out is that a
select few overseas property owners and investors, who have been in Cayman for
many years, are considering selling their property, due to concerns about their
own and their family’s personal safety. 

“This is a terrible reason for
anyone to consider selling and leaving Cayman,” he said.

“While they could accept the
changes to Grand Cayman with the increase in overall real estate development
across the Island and the increase in population, they cannot accept the fact
that they now have to be genuinely concerned for their safety.”

Another trend Mr. Lund noted is
that some of the overseas customers who are coming here to invest in a vacation
home and reading the newspapers are shocked by the violence and level of
crime. 

“An important reason for them to
come here and invest is the safety aspect and our reputation for having low
crime levels,” he said.

“These potential purchasers are
starting to have second thoughts about investing, whereas a few years ago, they
would not have had any hesitation.”

He also expressed concern about
Cayman’s image overseas.

“If the international press starts
sensationalising our crime problems, we will lose both tourism and investment
on a much larger scale than we are seeing currently.”

Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers
Association president Jeremy Hurst said he personally hadn’t yet had anyone tell
him that the increase in crime has played a factor in a real estate decision,
nor has anyone in his office.

“However one of the major benefits
we (Cayman) offer our investors is a relatively crime-free society,” he said.

“If that changes then it follows
that the real estate market will very probably be negatively impacted, at a
time when we need to be doing everything we can to grow and strengthen Cayman’s
economy.”

Mr. Hurst said a focus of CIREBA
this year would be to support anti-crime programmes in the community as a
practical means of prevention.

“We realise the importance of
prevention and are determined to focus our efforts on things that will assist
us stopping our worse fears coming true,” he said.

James Bovell of RE/MAX and a former
president of CIREBA agreed with Mr. Hurst.

 “Things are getting worse and seem to be escalating
upwards. This is of great concern to all and in our business the safety for a
foreign investor is the No. 1 concern when travelling, especially with families
with young children – which is who we cater to,” he continued.

He noted the other side to the
issue is the local and residential market, which he thinks will be negatively
affected.

“As an example buyers have and
continue to say that they do not want to buy a property in West Bay due to
crime,” he said.  “This in the past was
more of a perception versus fact.

“This is not new and it has affected
West Bay pricing and property values over the years. This effect will spread to
other areas as crime increases in them, and buyers will always choose a safer
place over one that is not,” he added.

“Look at any marketplace and you
will see this. The best example is New York and its reputation of the 1980s and
1990s and now look. As they got crime under control they started to increase
their tourism and their property values started to increase and the lifestyle
improved.”

He is convinced swift action is
necessary, as the knock-on effects are extensive.

“Cayman has to address this issue
now, before it is out of control and truly starts to affect everything from our
small community, to tourism, and into our financial services,” he said.

 “That [sector] will also be affected if we
cannot get the right people to come and live here due to the crime issue.”

Mr. Calhoun put his sentiments
simply.

“If you have followed my writings
over the years, you might have noticed my description of Cayman has devolved
from ‘crime free’ to ‘free of violent crime’ to ‘relatively crime free’,” he
said.

“How will I be able to describe Cayman
going forward? ‘Not quite as bad as where you live’?”

Compass reporter Stuart Wilson contributed to this story.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. You’d better believe crime is affecting the real estate market!!! After 12 break-ins in our small community of 15 homes (and several attempted break-ins where the door frames of our homes have been gouged) we, along with a few of our neighbours, have put our homes up for sale. I will lose at least 25% of what I put into my home (am selling for less than I paid for it), but I want out of here — I do not feel safe. And the police are not trained well enought to be of any help whatsoever. (look at all the forensic evidence they overlooked in Estella’s murder). I am frightened for my family, tired of the thefts and personal violation.

    Neighbours of ours who rent their home to vacationers have put theirs up for sale — they bought it as a retirement home down the line. With crime continually rising, who wants to retire here? AND they report they have had a few cancellations due to guests hearing about the crime down here and changing destinations.
    This island has to be cleaned up NOW — and much more severe penalties for crimes involving guns imposed. Unless the police are committed to a crack-down, unless the government hires more highly trained police officers from Britain, the US and Canada, things will get worse. Much worse. Then your economic woes have only begun.

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  2. what you think going to happen when those young unsupervised never do nothing wrong Caymanian kids,oh lets blame it on the expats. They grown up and turn criminals.for all those Caymanian parent that never teach their child to take responsibility for their actions.you need to find some up standing Caymanian parent to teach you how to raise a child and in still some good values in your child before too late.

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