A Beverly Hills-based real estate agency is courting affluent Californians for a new development in a remote corner of the South Pacific.
The 100-acre residential and hotel development, called Vunabaka, will be built on the Fijian island of Malolo. The paradise getaway is an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles.
“This is a place where celebrities and high-profile executives with family can live very quietly under the radar,” said Laura Kalb, a real estate agent for Hilton and Hyland, the agency representing Vunabaka for American buyers.
Among overseas buyers, Fiji traditionally draws Australians and New Zealanders, but Americans are poised to become a bigger presence in the market.
The number of American tourists in Fiji has been on the rise. In July, more than 7,500 Americans visited the country, up 13.2% from a year earlier. The U.S. ranks third in tourism to the archipelago, although far behind Australia and New Zealand.
Claire Fordham, a British-born, Los Angeles-based writer whose son lives in Fiji, is interested in buying property and building a second home on one of the islands.
“There are a lot of Americans in Fiji buying second homes,” Fordham said.
“One reason Americans choose Fiji is that you get more land for your buck than in other tropical locations, such as Hawaii. Some Americans even move from Hawaii to Fiji, saying Fiji is like Hawaii fifty years ago. It’s also a clean, warm, safe environment with strong local communities.”
Hilton and Hyland
At Vunabaka, the developers are selling a series of vacant lots that will allow buyers to build homes on plots of land, ranging from a quarter-acre to just under 1 acre. Marina lots are the least expensive, priced at $600,000 to $750,000; oceanfront lots cost $750,000 to $1.2 million; and beachfront lots range from $1.2 million to $1.4 million.
The developers, a group from New Zealand and the U.S., will supervise the construction of luxury Fijian-style villas designed by the New Zealand architect Richard Priest. Each villa will have between three and five bedrooms, hardwood floors, a pool, and outdoor decking. Depending upon the size, Kalb estimates that the cost of building a villa will range from $1 million and $3 million.
The lure of Fiji for many vacation homebuyers and tourists rests largely on its isolation. Access to some islands is only permitted for homeowners and their guests, but Vunabaka will have more of a communal feeling. “It’s a ‘Gilligan’s Island’ with the creature comforts,” Kalb said.
In Fiji, foreign buyers typically get a leasehold interest for a property, providing the right to occupy it for a period of time. Vunabaka has an overall lease agreement; buyers will sublease their lots for 99 years.
“The villagers own the land, the coast and many of the resorts,” said Heather Gibson, a professor of tourism at the University of Florida and associate director of the Tourism Institute International Education Coordinator, which runs an annual summer program in Australia and Fiji. “Generally, if you’re buying in Fiji you own the rights to the lease, but you don’t own the land.”
Gibson said buyers should be prepared for Fiji’s slower pace, which can be frustrating when dealing with government agencies.
Then again, a slower pace might be just what buyers are seeking.
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