Founded in 1965 by Derek Dunlop, Smiths Gore (BVI) Limited. has played a pivotal role in the Caribbean real estate market for more than half a century. As time passed, changes inevitably occurred, but nothing was as singularly transformational to the real estate sector as the storms of 2017.
The historic Britannic Hall on Main Street where the Smiths Gore offices were housed lost its roof, decking and much of its contents. However, during the last 18 months, the building has been lovingly rebuilt and the islands have recovered with courage and momentum. This opportunity to rebuild, reevaluate and recalibrate the iconic Smiths Gore brand has positioned the company in a perfect place to move forward like never before.
A Rich History
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From its establishment in the British Virgin Islands, Smiths Gore shared the trading name and brand identity with the firm of Chartered Surveyors and property consultants based in the UK. While the UK firm, established in 1846, was primarily associated with the management of large, private estates, the BVI office identified with the very early pioneers of property development in the Territory with a focus on project management.
Early clients included the Norwegian shipping companies J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, which developed Biras Creek and owned Trellis Bay Estate, and Peder Smedvig who acquired much of Peter Island from the Cobham and Chubb estates and developed the original hotel. Project management services offered by the Smiths Gore office enabled these early resorts to be built in remote locations, a skill set that was later utilized with developments at Necker Island, Tradewinds (later part of Bitter End Yacht Club), Pasea Trading Estate and other early resort and commercial developments throughout the BVI. These iconic properties have been associated with Smiths Gore for more than 40 years.
Moving to the modern era, the Smiths Gore BVI office is one of the last outposts bearing that historic name, as the Smiths Gore network in the UK was acquired by Savills in 2015 and the name retired.
A New Path Forward
While Smiths Gore has an established brand in the BVI and greater Caribbean, the company has also sought mutually beneficial relationships with international brands across both commercial and residential property.
The residential department has revived its affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate, one of the most recognizable global brands, and continues its association with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and Luxury Portfolio International.
The commercial property department has developed a range of associations throughout the Caribbean given the range of agency and professional work it undertakes throughout the region. For resort and development agency, Smiths Gore partners with CBRE, one of the leading North American real estate companies which has led to many successful sales in islands such as Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia, Jamaica, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos. For the more specialized private island market, Smiths Gore partners with Vladi Private Islands, the leading international island brokerage resulting in island sales in the BVI and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Over the past five years, Smiths Gore has brokered in excess of US $170M in property sales throughout the region.
A visually stunning building, the historic Britannic Hall has played a key role in the community for centuries. The hall was originally owned by John Hamm, a shipmate of Captain Kidd, in the early 18th century. In 1810 a doctor’s house was built on the property, and it was then owned and rebuilt in the late 19th century as a residence by Henry O. Creque, an important trader between Tortola and St. Thomas. The property was sold to the BVI government in 1914 and remained a residence for government doctors and other officials until the 1960s. Smiths Gore bought Britannic Hall from the Government in 1967, and after the 2017 hurricane devastation, Mr. Dunlop was committed to restoring the building with original authenticity to her former glory.
ES Construction Ltd, owned and managed by Eugene Smith, was appointed to carry out the rebuild. Their reputation for high-quality artisan craftsmanship made them the perfect choice. Eugene shared that is was a great privilege to work on such a historic site and there was a strong sense of tradition during the project. The renovation included the rebuild of the original walls, a new roof, deck and windows and doors.
“It was a pleasure to reconstruct this beautiful building; we found mementoes left by past builders, including the date 1927 marked in the concrete ring beam which would have been from the last major renovation. We were to retain the charm and authenticity of the building whilst creating a strong and modern working space and it is great to see the business back where they belong. It looks great,” said Smith.
Once the rebuilding was complete, the fitting out of the office was undertaken to reflect the modern operation of the company within the historical context of the building. One of the positives of being in a very compact temporary office for twenty months was that each speciality area of the business became well acquainted with the inner workings of the other departments. Wanting to retain this closeness in the new office, an open layout was chosen. Also wanting to avoid looking like “just another office”, insights from Debbi Carson and Island Services helped define the ethos of the design, from modern light fittings to custom-built desks within a minimalist feel.
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With a desire to conserve energy, all new LED light fittings with light panels replaced traditional lights in the bathrooms. Sonneman Lighting abstract light fittings in the new entrance hall help carry through the modern aesthetic, mounted adjacent to historic photographs of the building. The minimalist finishes also encompass the glass panel and oak bannister railing around the wooden stairs while the butcher block desktops and Umbuzӧ table legs create the working environment within the office. The walls feature paintings from local and international artists, all represented by Jillian Dunlop via Customshouseart.com
What makes Smiths Gore unique is its depth of coverage and sector expertise. They have specialist teams delivering services in all property related disciplines, including appraisals and valuations, commercial sales and consultancy, office leasing, residential sales and rentals (long term and vacation villas) and property and estate management. At the heart of the business is the commitment to provide clients with the knowledge they need to enable them to make informed decisions and investments. In-depth data analysis is the key to providing this knowledge. Data is compiled from a range of sources, although the BVI Land Registry provides the bulk of the data relating to freehold sales and leasehold transactions. With information extending back to the late 90s, Smiths Gore has been able to capture market trends showing how the BVI property market reacts to international events, such as the economic depression in 2008, or to events closer to home such as Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Property owners seeking to exit their investment often have little data to analyze and wide-ranging opinions on value from the property industry, which can lead to uncertainty as to where the true exit price for an investment may fall. Having confidence in the quality of data and the interpretation of market trends helps investors better evaluate their options and make decisions on how best to exit. In addition to historic sales data obtained from the Land Registry, Smiths Gore also analyses the competitive market set, so property owners can understand what other listed properties they may be competing against. This is a very fluid analysis as property listings change on a weekly basis, however, this data provides owners with a better understanding of how many properties may be for sale within a particular price range or whether listing prices for properties on the market for more than say six months are trending up or down. Ultimately, this data is fed into publications, and Smiths Gore has been a contributor in the international press, including the Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK, as well as BVI Property and Yacht, the BVI Business Guide and the Caribbean Property Magazine.
These articles provide investors with an understanding of the trends in the BVI property market through a range of graphics analyzing sale data by reviewing villa sales over $500,000 with median price and total number of sales, where the sales occurred (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, outer-island), number of sales in certain price ranges and the origin of the investor (belonger and non-belonger).
Post Irma, Smiths Gore has also gathered data on total property sales and sales of villas below $500,000 to determine the extent of the market for damaged homes. The BVI property market can only be understood in the wider context of the BVI economy and international influences. Whether for published articles or in-depth commercial valuations, Smiths Gore undertakes research into the wider economy, looking at trends in the main economic indicators (GDP, inflation, employment) and in particular the tourism industry. This data is compiled into a BVI Economic Overview which is updated regularly and made available to major clients and institutions.
The next season and the future beyond is bright for the BVI. With deep roots in the community, Smiths Gore is positioned to continue their legacy as a pillar of the real estate industry and as stewards of the territory’s beauty and lifestyle.
Smiths Gore Limited | 135 Britannic Hall, Road Town, Tortola, BVI. VG1110
Office: 284 494 2446
SG Villa Rentals: www.villavacationsbvi.com
Smiths Gore would like to thank Meridian Construction for sharing their offices while the repairs to Britannic Hall took place.