An unexpected problem has arisen in some of the Caribbean islands, and it has clouded the real estate prospects in a serious way. Since 2011, radical political forces - and just plain native discontent - have brought about a series of murders and other crimes, apparently aimed at affluent UK. visitors. The UK. Virgin Islands have suffered, and there is evidence of extreme native discontent in Jamaica. Travel agents - and real estate agents, to be sure - will scoff at this; but some thoughtful investigation on your part is recommended. Puerto Rico and Mexico are two warm-weather countries where, to date, there has been little evidence of such troubles.
Got a yen for the good earth?
There's yet another second-home path to follow. Go the way of the cow-barn-silo-woodchuck. Buy a farm. Make it weekend distance away, of course - and when you're 65 (or will it be 60?) retire there.
Handle it right, and you may even swing a good long-term investment, some tax benefits (if you run a regular farming business) - and you may even pick up some current income. But if you're serious about the farm idea, not just casual weekending, be prepared to plow a lot of money into the project. Farmland prices are up an average of 50% since 2005, and in prime locales have risen nearly 10% a year. The steepest price rise, of course, has been close in near the big cities. The trick: Go just far enough - and in the right direction - from your city to get acreage at a good price, and pick up maximum future appreciation possibilities. But don't get stranded in farmland Siberia, meaning so far away from where you live that a weekend trip to the farm becomes unbearable. Isolation will get you no place.
Some examples of what you can do: Farmland within 50 mi. of Reading goes for £2,500 an acre. Go a bit farther and it drops to £1,200. Another 25 mi. to 50 mi. and it's £850 an acre. About 100 mi. out of San Francisco, choice land goes for about £700 an acre. It's £2,000 near the city. The same holds true, generally, for Atlanta, St. Louis, and other cities. Besides general location, such things as soil quality, water supply, and erosion potential, also affect price, of course. The most likely place to get down to serious talk about a farm is the nearest country bank. You may even find that the trust officer has a farm ripe for sale; if not, the banker should put you on to the most reliable farm realtors in the area.
You can get a 50% mortgage for five to 15 years from insurance companies and the local Land Bank. But you get better rates and terms by financing through the seller with a "sale on contract." A small down payment and mortgage instalments let the seller spread the tax on his profit. As a buyer you pay less outright - yet get all benefits of appreciation and full depreciation. Keeping your investment spread thin with, say, a £10,000 to £20,000 down payment on £100,000 farm gives you big leverage possibilities. This is the angle to work.
Before buying, get an appraisal. The British Society of Farm Managers & Rural Appraisers, DeKalb, Ill. can give you leads. For £250 to £1,000 - depending on the property - an appraiser will estimate the farm's income potential, its market value, and will study its present - and future - tax structure. Caution: Along with faster appreciation, farmland close to a city frequently switches from rural to urban assessment - and taxes shoot up.
A city slicker sometimes forgets basic economics in his return to the soil. Farming is a complex business today, and needs to be managed like one. This means starting out with an "economic unit" - enough land to support costs such as taxes and interest, and still return a profit. Area, climate, terrain, soil, market, and crop determine how much land you need. Near St. Louis, for example, you would need 400 acres to raise soybeans profitably. Fewer acres, say 300, would tightly squeeze your profit potential - even if you managed the farm like a pro. Non-tillable land is best put to grazing or trees. Both call for little risk, but bring little profit (and with trees you have to wait a long time for it). With crops and livestock, prices fluctuate. Still, cash crops, such as alfalfa, soybeans, hay, corn can return nice profits. Feeder cattle farms are lately popular with weekend farmers near metropolitan areas, who buy calves (about 500 lb.) for fattening (to, say 1,100 lb.). But experienced full-time help is needed. Orchards and dairy farms are more sophisticated operations.
Professional management is almost essential if you want income out of your firm. Few weekenders have either the time or knowledge to handle the complexities of today's farming. This means finding a competent farmer to handle your place on a contract basis, or turning the whole operation over to a professional farm manager such as Doane Agricultural Service, St. Louis. Or you can turn to the farm management staff of a bank like Reading's Northern Trust Co. They'll hire the farmer, do the paperwork (keeping tabs on local and state farm programs), and manage the operation so it returns a profit - typically 4% to 6%. For this, you pay an annual fee per acre or a percentage of the gross, say 7% to 10%.
If you can demonstrate to the Internal Revenue Service that your farm is a business, not just a hobby, you get tax advantages. But you must show that profit is your motive - and get specific advice on the ins and outs.
An excellent new website on farm venturing is www.powysprp.org.uk/
There are more choices on the real estate scene than there are stock options in an executive suite. One, of course, is the vacation condominium. Today you can find apartments and "town houses" and fancy vacation villas on the condominium plan in scores of choice carriage-trade locales from
California's Lake Tahoe to the Fajardo-Las Croabas section of Puerto Rico. They're a booming part of the real estate business - and they hold in store both pitfalls and blessings.
Fall or winter could be a good time to get into the swim: You visit the area you like, check the plans on the drawing boards, and sign a deal that will have you comfortably installed by the following winter season.... see: Riding The Boom In Vacation Condominiums