Going private in the Maldives, at long last

For years, the Indian Ocean’s most exquisite islands, the Maldives, have been solely the preserve of hotels. Now, they’ve begun to open up to foreign buyers, thanks to new laws introduced by the pro-enterprise President Mohamed Nasheed. Before Nasheed, elected two years ago, leaseholds were too short to attract European buyers – but they have now been extended to 50 years, with plans to extend them to 99 years over the next few years. As a result – with zero income or capital gains tax, not to mention utterly idyllic surrounds – the islands are swiftly becoming an attractive place to own property,

The Maldives property market has already kicked off in grand style with the launch of 12 Blues Resort &?Spa late last year, a luxury development, resort and spa set on the 10-acre Lundufushi island, with 40 off-plan villas due for completion by 2012. Starting from $1.5m per villa, owners can use their homes for a maximum of six weeks a year, the rest of the time putting them back into the rental pool for use by hotel guests. Even at 40 per cent occupancy, investors can expect to make 8 per cent return per year, according to optimistic Texan developer partner Brian Shipley.

Certainly, you’re buying a slice of supreme beauty and – in the case of 12 Blues – opulence. The style is Moorish, with Arabian-inspired villas designed to resemble floating lanterns, each with private pools overlooking the beach. On-site facilities will include a serious spa, restaurants and a dive centre.

The other big investment story on the Maldives comes via Six Senses, the luxury Thai-based spa resort company, which sells a more rustic, Robinson Crusoe-in-a-five-star-location dream. Soneva Fushi and Soneva Laamu, two of the company’s most high-end resorts, are marketing a variety of multi-million dollar villas suggesting 5 per cent returns. Superluxe stilted villa resort Soneva Gili is finalising plans to sell villas, too.

Why now? Robert Green of Cluttons, the agent selling the Six Senses villas, says: “The Maldives was an obvious place to allow foreign investment. It’s always going to be appealing to honeymooners and holidaymakers, and it’s easier to get to than Thailand or the Caribbean. A lot of clients like that they can fly directly from the UK, Switzerland or Dubai.”

And it’s a promising market to get into now, since it’s young and with great promise. “As always when a new market opens up, prices will go up as the market becomes more established,” says Green. “Other developers will be coming into the Maldives – which is a good thing for investors.” As for space, surprisingly there are quite a few empty islands, and developers are flocking to them now.

Of course, there’s always the threat of trouble in paradise – the Maldives were on the 2004 tsunami’s hit list, with several resorts totally wiped out. And, we’ve all heard predictions that the atolls could be under the ocean within a few years.

Insurance is your main guard against the first concern. Buyers pay a small percentage of the overall insurance cost which is rolled into the annual maintenance charges and equates to 1.5 per cent of the purchase price per annum. Many villas have now also been constructed with tsunami-resistant timber.

The second worry can be taken with a pinch of salt if you’re so inclined. Some scientists say that if the Maldives are to slip under water, it won’t be for 200 years. So, even if the worst is to happen, you should still have a while to enjoy your luxury villa in sunny Eden.

BUYING A SLICE OF THE MALDIVES | WHAT’S ON OFFER

12 Blues Resort & Spa

33 Water Villas and 7 Beach Villas

Price: From $1.86

Location: Raa Atoll

Construction: estimated to take 18-24 months

www.chestertonhumberts.com

Soneva Fushi

5-6 bedroom villas available

Price: 4 bed beach villas: $10m; 6 beds: $15m

Location: Kunfunadhoo in the Baa Atoll

Notes: Island is large, covered by jungle, with an ice cream parlour and an open air cinema.

www.cluttonsresorts.com

Soneva Laamu

15 beach-front villas

Price: $2.5m

Location: Olhuveli Island in the Laamu Atoll

Opening for business on 2 April 2011

www.cluttonsresorts.com

Soneva Gili

The ultimate stilts-over-water villas.

Location: Lankanfushi Island, North Male Atoll

Plans to offer 4 bedroom residences here in the future – with any luck they will be ready to market around September 2011 but no concrete information is ready yet