Talking Real Estate in St Barth With Sibarth’s Christian Wattiau

Above: a home in St Barth (Photo: Jean-Philippe Piter)

By Alexander Britell

Just like the rest of the Caribbean, tiny St Barth’s real estate market was impacted by the downturn that began in 2008. But the eight-square-mile island in the French West Indies is beginning to rebound, particularly at the high end, as North American buyers, particularly from the United States, start to return. To learn more about the state of the market, Caribbean Journal talked to Christian Wattiau, a 30-year veteran of St Barth real estate whose Sibarth Real Estate is the St Barth affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.

How is the market in St Barth today?

Well, it’s certainly much more active than we had in the last few years. We went through a low, but it’s really picked up a lot in 2011 — a little later than some parts of the States. 2012 was the first year we started seeing American buyers back in the market. There was a little lack of confidence, but it’s a market that was dominated mostly by Western Europeans so far, with quite a number of buyers from Russia or Eastern European countries, as well as South America. So our market is quite diversified. But because the market is euro-denominated, it was not great for the Americans — they would come and rent houses, but buying houses was a little weaker. Now we’ve seen a change in that this year.

Is there a segment of the market that’s performing best?

Well, we were lucky to sell a few very high-priced properties. Generally, the best recently were the properties that were from two to three million up to six million euros. That’s where we saw the most activity. And we have a number of offers on the way now. Remember, it’s a very small market, because we have only eight square miles, but it’s an active market, drawing people from around the world.

Above: Christian Wattiau at the Christie’s booth at ArtMiami earlier this month (CJ Photo)

What is the state of the rental market?

The rental market is very active, and we’re looking at a very good season. The rental market [in St Barth] works well with the real estate market — you buy a property over there, and you can rent it, and it is an extension to say you can cover all the expenses and costs, and keep your house in running order so it’s ready for you when you come in. So it’s not something people discard.

What kind of activity are you seeing from the market in mainland France?

Traditionally, it has been about 50 percent of the buyers in St Barth. Unfortunately, tax concerns in France evolved. We are part of France in St Barth, and that certainly creates a concern of taxation that it brings to properties in St Barth. But we see a lot of people from the UK, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Monaco.

Is there a connection between the tourism market and the property market in St Barth? Are most buyers those who are staying at a hotel and decide to make a purchase?

It’s been the case historically. The connection is emotional between the buyer and the property. The market has been emotional over the years. It is that kind of trigger when people are on the island. It’s only in the last few years that the market became a little more speculative in St Barth, but that’s not the main character of our market. It’s more emotional here — that’s how they connect and get involved with buying real estate.

What’s your outlook for St Barth real estate going forward?

Certainly, we see a strengthening of the market. I’m not saying prices are going up because ofi t, but certainly there is a lot more of an ability to sustain the level of prices asked by the owners, which was not the case in 2009 and 2010. So you see the interest, you see the activity, and you know there is a better exchange rate for North Americans as well.