The Maldives: paradise opens up to overseas buyers

The Maldives is allowing foreigners to buy property on its many islands for the first time
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There's a brand-new property market on the map and it's one with plenty of glamour and no income tax or capital gains tax.

The Maldives, a direct BA 10-hour flight from London, with sugar-fine white sandy islands ringed by sapphire seas and coral reefs, this week opened its doors to property buyers.

British educated President Mohamed Nasheed, a youthful and charismatic leader elected two years ago in the country's first multi-party vote, has introduced new laws allowing foreign buyers to claim a piece of this small paradise.

"We have to be ingenious in attracting foreign investment," he says, explaining the reason for the new laws. "The Maldivian people need local health centres and schools and understand that it is through tourism that they will get them." The legislation allows property to be owned on a 50-year renewable lease, and already two projects are on offer.

Indian Ocean luxury
The first, 12 Blues, is on 10-acre Lundufushi island, 45 minutes by seaplane from the international airport in the capital Malé, a crowded little town and home to a third of the island's 315,000 population - historically fishermen - with the rest spread over 1,192 small islands.

Villas at 12 Blues
Starting from £1.15 million: villas at 12 Blues. Visit 12blues.com
The 12 Blues company plans an atmosphere of serenity and organic luxury when it builds 40 off-plan villas and an exclusive resort, due for completion by 2012. Buyers at 12 Blues must put their property into the rental pool for all but six weeks of the year.

There will be 37 villas on stilts sitting in the clear, warm Indian Ocean. These homes will be large - 2,316sq ft for £1.15 million - and there will also be seven land villas for £1.4 million. Rental revenue will be divided in half with the owners.

Returns are not guaranteed but Brian Shipley, the Texan developer partner of 12 Blues, is bullish, claiming that with only 40 per cent occupancy owners could achieve eight per cent in the first year.

"Investors' money at 12 Blues is safeguarded in an escrow account with no restrictions on resale," says Shipley. "Running costs for owners are capped at 10 per cent and we plan to rent these villas from £747 a night."

The Arabian-style villas are designed to resemble floating lanterns, with private pools overlooking a palm-fringed beach. Onsite facilities will include a serious spa, restaurants and a dive centre. "This is an investment opportunity to become a hotel shareholder in a new property market with outstanding natural resources," says selling agent Jacqueline Wong of Jones Lang La Salle. "Buyers may have concerns about the 50-year lease but the government is legally obliged to purchase property at market value if the lease is not extended."

12 Blues Resort & Spa is launching its Maldives project at the Berkeley Ballroom in Wilton Place, SW1, on November 5 and 6, 2010, 11am to 8pm, 2010. For further information, email jacqueline.wong@ap.jll.com.

Naturally organic in honeymooners' haven
Rustic luxury (of the sort that provides stunning sun-bleached benches carved out of driftwood outside every villa) with five-star service and an organic philosophy is also the story behind Soneva Gili, a spirit-reviving hotel 20 minutes by boat from Malé that is now launching a property sale.

Opened in 2001, it has a well-heeled clientele who pay up to £7,470 a night for the top four-bedroom villas with their own gym and a Man Friday on 24-hour call in a paparazzi-free zone.

Sixteen overwater off-plan villas at the south end of the island are for sale for £3.7 million each. These fully furnished, four-bedroom villas of more than 13,000sq ft will sit in the lagoon, connected by footbridge to a clubhouse.

The Six Senses Spa
The Six Senses Spa at Soneva Gili
Owners use all the luxurious hotel facilities: the Six Senses spa, tennis court, gym and two restaurants. There's a dive school and herb and vegetable gardens, a rarity in the Maldives where palm trees and banyan plants provide most of the greenery.

There is even a wedding villa for marriage services. Guests are brought by boat from their villas to a ceremony held over a sun-sparkling ocean while the solicitous English general manager Ian McCormack, a man perfect for the job, charms the guests, pours the champagne and lights a thousand candles to flicker over the beach when sunset eventually arrives.

The first five purchasers who put their villa in the rental pool will receive five per cent gross guaranteed return. The husband-and-wife owners of Soneva Gili, are so confident of the potential of the Maldives market that they plan to launch two more projects on other islands next year, with prices from £1.5 million to £13 million.

FACTFILE
* 12 Blues: (12blues.com). Jones Lang La Salle (joneslanglasalle.com; 0065 6494 3696).
* Soneva Gili: through Cluttons Resorts (cluttonsresorts.com; 020 7584 3050).
* Property in the Maldives is available on a 50-year lease with no resale restrictions.
* Running costs at Soneva Gili will be about two per cent of the purchase price a year.
* Property transfer fees are £1,245 to £3,115.
* The Maldives has no income tax or capital gains tax.
* January to May is high season. Low season is June to September. It is hurricane-free but has a rainy season
* BA flies from Gatwick to Malé direct in about 10 hours.

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