President re-elected record 5th term
BREA elects new board, encourages foreign investment, but vows to protect licensed Bahamian brokers, agents
The Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA), the country’s largest legislated professional association, recently elected a new board of directors, re-elected its president for a record fifth term and vowed to amend what it called ‘loopholes’ in a 26-year-old Act it said failed to sufficiently protect the rights of licensed Bahamians.
After more than a year of COVID-imposed working conditions, BREA members held their 2021 annual general meeting by Zoom in May. The new executives introduced a three-pronged strategic plan they dubbed “determination on steroids” to take the industry to new heights.
“We are fired up and ready to resume our legislative and industry standards agenda,” said Christine Wallace Whitfield, who was elected president for a record fifth consecutive term. “We have three high priority goals and I have every confidence that with the energy and determination on steroids of this new board, 2021 will be the year we will achieve these goals that will take this industry to new heights.”
Top priority, she said, is protecting licensed Bahamian BREA agents.
“That means amending the current legislation and closing the loopholes,” she said, describing the 26-year-old Real Estate Act of 1995 as outdated.
“The industry has changed dramatically since that bill was enacted and the Act needs to be updated to keep pace,” said Wallace-Whitfield. “We have experienced a huge increase in foreign investment but at the same time, we have witnessed a spike in foreign agents doing business here, accompanying or meeting someone they know, engaging in property transactions. The law needs to be amended to make this a criminal charge with fixed penalties and fines. I would not dare go to Florida and show someone’s property and expect to earn a commission. The only reason people come here to do it is because they can. They can get away with it and make tens of thousands of dollars in a single transaction. All we are asking is that when a foreign agent comes here, he or she works with a local BREA-licensed agency whose associates know the market, the law, the taxes and requirements for closing. Buying property, especially for someone buying in a foreign country, is not like buying a car or a set of tools. Local knowledge is critical and the BREA licensing ensures that our agents are knowledgeable which protects the reputation of The Bahamas, too.”
During the pandemic with The Bahamas being seen as a safe haven, Wallace-Whitfield said BREA saw a spike in the number of foreign appraisers, also operating illegally.
Under the Act, the only exclusions to using a BREA-licensed agent are a peer-to-peer sale, that is, a property owner selling directly to a buyer, or a developer employing a resident agent for the sale of property or a unit in that development. According to Wallace-Whitfield, some of those agents, especially in the Family Islands, are reaching further into surrounding communities along with handling re-sales. Though both practices are illegal, she noted, but without stated penalties, there is little enforcement except by the ethics committee reporting to local Immigration officials and hoping action will follow.
One of only a handful of BREA members to hold the distinction of Realtor®, Wallace-Whitfield said BREA does not want to discourage foreign investment.
“We just want them to play by the same rules that Bahamian developers do,” she said.
While much of BREA’s energy between now and May 2022 will focus on protecting licensed agents, the second goal will demand more of them.
“We want to step up our service level, ensure that we are competent in all the technology people depend upon and we want to create a culture of unmatched customer care,” she said. “To do that, we will seek to require more in the way of continuing education to maintain certification and licensing.”
The third goal is one BREA has been pursuing for years – a seat at the table when decisions impacting the real estate industry are being considered.
“They (legislators or advisors in the Attorney-General’s office) come to us the day before, the day of or the day after,” said Wallace-Whitfield. “We need a seat at the table when discussions begin, not after decisions are made. We are more than 700-strong, hard-working professionals who take our positions seriously and the work we do is a major contributor to the economic engine of The Bahamas. Our members and our organization will be treated with respect.”
Working with the president to achieve those goals will be the recently-elected board including Sally Hutcheson, Vice President, Sara Callender, Treasurer, Cara Christie, Secretary, and Directors Brian Austin, Tracey Barone, James Bernard, Nikki Boeuf, Carlyle Campbell, John Constantakis, Kim Kikivarakis-Dillett, Helen Dupuch, June Fife, Mike Lightbourn and Kimra Sweeting.