How to Navigate the Housing Affordability Issue in The Bahamas
Housing affordability is a huge problem for many people, and it can’t be solved with a quick tip or a magic-bullet answer.
The unfortunate reality is a low percentage of listed homes in The Bahamas are affordable for the average household — “affordable” meaning that the monthly mortgage payment would consume 35% or less of the average person’s monthly income. In fact, Bahamians will have to spend about 42% of their income to afford just a median-priced home and ongoing expenses.
Renters aren’t fairing any better, as rent prices continue to increase and outpace inflation in past years, placing a heavier financial burden on those who tend to fall on the lower end of the economic scale. Affordable housing is becoming more and more difficult to find.
Many factors play into how expensive it is to get housing, whether you’re renting or trying to buy your own home. The economy, mortgage rates, and the fact that salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living. Making housing more affordable across the board would require big, systemic changes mostly related to construction costs. But while you’re working with what we’ve got right now, here are some tips for navigating housing unaffordability.
If you’re renting:
Reach out to a local real estate agent
It’s part of a real estate agent’s job to know the housing market inside and out, and if you’re struggling to find an affordable rental on your own, get in touch.
Real estate agents are especially helpful in rental markets that are highly competitive and when you’re looking for something very specific (like a certain feature, a particular location, or you’re on a tight budget). The great news is that if you connect with an agent you like, you can stay in touch for if and when you’re ready to buy a home.
Get in touch with property management companies directly
Tenants often have mixed feelings about property management companies. Conflicts sometimes arise because these companies have a fiduciary responsibility to a property’s owner, which means they often prioritize the owner’s needs.
If you have solid employment, and a good rental history, reaching out to a property management company directly can be a great way to find an affordable rental. Do a little research to find out which companies work in your area, and then give them a call. Even if you don’t see an exact match on their website, they may have other properties in the pipeline, and applying early could give you an advantage.
Tap your network
Still not finding an affordable rental? Put the word out. Talk to friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else in your network and let them know you’re looking for a new place to live. Tell them your price limit and anything that’s on your must-have list (for example, if you need the property to be pet friendly or include a washer and dryer). There’s a high chance that someone will know someone who can help you find what you’re looking for.
Word-of-mouth recommendations usually come with the added benefit of a referral. Landlords may be more willing to negotiate or relax requirements if you’re referred to them by someone they know and trust.
If rental prices in your area are too high, you may find that you’d have a lower monthly payment if you had a mortgage instead.
Stuck on that downpayment? It may be easier to qualify than you think — ask your bank how they can assist.
If you're buying:
Research the Tax Incentives for First-time Buyers
Learn what tax incentives are available to first-time Bahamian buyers to make purchasing and owning your first home more affordable.
Shop around for your mortgage
Not all banks offer the same interest rate and may consider you less of a risk than other banks. So it is worth shopping around to see which bank will offer you the best mortgage rate and terms.
Consider a fixer-upper
If you’ve been looking for a fully-renovated, turn-key home, you’re likely seeing some of the highest prices your market offers. Instead, try checking out homes that need updating. This is important—you’re not looking for a money pit with many issues. But if you find a home that is structurally sound but has dated or less-than-perfect aesthetics, you’ll likely have the opportunity to buy a good house at a lower price. Another benefit? You can make this place your own when you update it to your taste later.
Look outside your preferred location
This can be as dramatic a change as relocating to another part of the island or as simple as checking out the neighborhood a few blocks over.
Look for neighborhoods with a lower cost of housing that also meet your needs in other ways, such as the accessibility of your favorite hobbies, social activities, and lifestyle factors like walkability.
If you want to stay in your current location, try broadening the scope of your search (especially if it’s been narrow). Sometimes looking for a home just a few minutes outside a very popular location can result in significantly lower rental prices, while the convenience isn’t markedly different.
Get in touch with an experienced real estate agent
Real estate agents are experts, which means they can help you find what you’re looking for — even when it seems impossible. Look for an agent with significant experience in your location and within your budget. Where do you find that info? Check out their website, their reviews, and give them a call. Someone specializing in luxury real estate probably won’t be the best bet — but someone who frequently buys and sells real estate in your budget will have a great network they can tap into and find you the home or property you need.