A Piece of Paradise

0049_01-01-80-76My husband Jon and I worked for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a US Government agency that offers political risk insurance and financing to US companies investing in developing countries. Our work took us around the world, and we’d always add a weekend or take some vacation days. As Jon was analyzing the economic impact of a US company investing in Papua New Guinea or West Africa, we’d always be in search of the perfect beach. As a member of a Presidential Commission for Central America and the Caribbean, Jon was able to check out numerous Caribbean islands. After years of “research”, Barbuda and Anguilla were at the top of our list for an ideal beach location. Barbuda just didn’t have the infrastructure, nor did the political environment thrill us.

As investors, the fact that Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory gave us great confidence. The language is English, US currency is readily accepted, and the people were, and still are, very friendly. In 1981, when we first came, there were guest houses and small restaurants. A boat delivered fresh produce on Wednesdays, and we’d try to be first in line at Benny’s Market on Thursday morning. There was infrastructure here that Barbuda didn’t have.

In the 1980s, places like Jamaica, Caymans, and St. Maarten were already losing their appeal to casinos, cruise ships, and bulging populations. Anguilla is still wonderful 34 years later, because it’s not trying to be American or British with Club Meds, Taco Bells, or Hilton Hotels. It was, and it is, special. It has all the charm of a simple, quiet life. And the people of Anguilla sincerely welcome foreign tourists and residents to their island.

Investing in Anguilla
Our first investment was a condo at Carimar Beach Club on Meads Bay. Fifteen years later, we felt limited by having only two bedrooms—we wanted to share our piece of paradise with our friends. We had learned a lot during those first 15 years, and we had seen the devastation of hurricanes to beachfront properties. It took us a year to find a piece of property that offered beach access but wasn’t directly on the beach. In any event, in Anguilla, you’re always close to a great beach.

After a year of looking, a year of planning, and two more of construction, the Bird of Paradise at Sandy Hill Beach was complete. It has panoramic views of the mountains of St. Barths and St. Martin and overlooks the perfect crescent beach of Sandy Hill Bay, which is a three-minute walk down our path.

Buy or build?
If we could have found a home as maintenance-free as we wanted, we wouldn’t have built. We saw beautiful homes, but none at that time were what we wanted. I’d recommend that anyone thinking of building here speak to others who have done it before and learn from their experiences. I’m glad I did!

One thing that hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people. we’ve made wonderful friends who we love to see when we spend time on the island
—Melody Dill

1_28-10-12-15It wasn’t easy to build on a small island, where every nail and piece of wood needs to be imported. Several articles could be devoted to the building process—the twists and turns and setbacks. We did extensive research on the tropical hardwoods, so our home would be maintenance free and last a generation. Since there are no freshwater sources, we built a large cistern, added a water treatment plant to reuse water, and installed a great irrigation system to support our lush, tropical landscape. We also added a water purification system with charcoal, UV, and sediment filters. We have a large generator that comes on automatically, as electricity can be unreliable at times.

We knew we needed hurricane protection, but it also needed to be unobtrusive, so designing shutters that disappear into the roof at the press of a button was one of our biggest challenges. Florida’s code for shutters is to withstand winds of 110 mph, but past hurricanes in Anguilla have been much stronger, so we had ours designed to withstand 200 mph winds.

Renting the Home
The house is built. It’s wonderful, but we can only be on Anguilla a few weeks a year. We decided, “Why not share it with others and cover our costs of operation?” It’s been a fun learning curve.

For true success, we’ve had to be proactive in marketing the villa. Over the past six years, we’ve been fortunate in being asked by magazines like Robb Report and Design Anguilla to be on their covers. Our design firm submitted photos, and we’ve won awards, which helped publicize the property. I’ve developed an extensive mailing list and do a monthly newsletter. I’ve had to grasp social media and set up a Facebook account for Bird of Paradise. If you’re willing to spend the time, your payment will come in the form of tax-deductible business expenses and “working” vacations.

With a rental business, we don’t have to spend that cash for vacations—and when we visit for business reasons, we can write off the airfare and car rental expenses. They’re all legitimate expenses for a villa rental business.

I think managing a home rental is a fun and financially rewarding endeavor. You’ll never make a lot of money, but at the Bird of Paradise, we cover all the costs of operating our home and any expenses for improvements, marketing, and related travel. Of course, we also get a wonderful vacation home.

How have things changed in the past 30 years?
Access to fresh produce, more reliable electricity, and a more educated and experienced population are wonderful improvements. The fact that there still aren’t any big cruise ships, jet skis, or casinos differentiates Anguilla and keeps it special 30+ years later. One thing that has not changed is the warmth of the people of Anguilla. The island is like a small town, and we quickly made wonderful friends who we love to see when we spend time on the island.

Investing in Anguilla gave me a wonderful vacation home that pays for itself.

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