Haitian landowners who plan to leave the country to escape violence and economic stagnation are struggling to sell their homes and lands. The reason: Potential buyers are fleeing, too.
The situation has become dire for the Haitian real estate market as landowners, homeowners and real estate agents report almost no interested buyers and alarming downward numbers in sales — the latest crisis triggered by the increasing violence of powerfully armed kidnapping gangs that has ravaged the country in recent years.
“Right now, we have over 200 properties on our website, bestofhaitirealrstate.com, available for sale, and we have accumulated that in a two-year period,” said Mathieu Louis, a Haitian-American real estate agent and founder of Best of Haiti Real Estate. “Out of the 200 in the last two years — this is fast statistics — we only sold two.”
There are no institutions in Haiti that keep track of periodic home sales. Louis moved back to Haiti three years ago to run the real estate agency located in Petion-Ville. About 60% of his property owner clients are in Haiti. The rest are from overseas.
When those who reside in the country call, they usually sound in a hurry, asking Louis to immediately come to get pictures, videos and descriptions of the properties as they try to leave the country before selling.
“ ’I’m leaving tomorrow,’ ” he says clients tell him. “ ‘I’m leaving the country, and I’m leaving for good.’ ” Mario, 40, is one of the landowners with plans to leave. He owns approximately 1,300 square feet of land in Fermathe, a mountainous region south of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, which he decided to put on the market in early February. He said no one has asked to see the land or made a formal offer.
“This is a big mess,” said Mario, who asked that his last name not be used because he fears for his safety. He said he doesn’t openly advertise for fear of being on the kidnappers’ radar. “Someone can make an appointment, and it’s a trap,” he said.
Mario said he uses word of mouth to inform his inner circle of friends and family of his intentions. Still, he said he must be “very careful” because not everyone can be trusted — because, in Haiti, some kidnappings are orchestrated by people who know the victim. Mario initially purchased his land for $30,000 in 2007 when he was a young professional in his mid-20s. For more than a decade, he had put aside plans to build on it since he and his wife already had a house. But because of the country’s precarious situation, he has begun the application process to receive permanent residency and migrate to the U.S. He expects to leave within a year.
Rather than risk losing the land to squatters, Mario prefers to get rid of it and use the money as a down payment for a home in the States. But regardless of his being able to sell in time, Mario does not want to wait once the process is complete. “If I could leave tonight, I would,” he said. Stephane, one of Louis’ clients, is looking to sell his land located in Montagne Noire, near Petion-Ville in Port-au-Prince. Like Mario, he didn’t openly promote his lot, which has been up for sale for more than five months. No one has shown interest in buying or even visited the property.
“It is beyond discouraging,” said Stephane, who prefers not to use his last name for safety reasons. “It’s not just land, it’s cars, home furniture, businesses that are difficult to get rid of.” Mario and Stephane’s properties are in relatively safe areas near Petion-Ville. They are asking $55,000 and $90,000, respectively.
They both said Petion-Ville’s value has doubled over the years, but they know people who have had to sell below market value. Louis, the real estate agent, argues the opposite, that the asking prices for land or homes tend to be more than its market value. Louis said the real estate sector in Haiti is informal. People price the properties based on their feelings, not with market data or according to how the market is doing. “Property owners prefer not to pay for appraisals and come up with the prices based on how long they’ve been building the house or how attached they are to the property,” he said.
Nonetheless, Haiti is experiencing a buyer’s market, in which buyers have the advantage with the endless options of properties for sale. Yet, there are few if any buyers, leaving the market dry. “Even people who had started to invest — to create business plans, started to execute some of those plans — are putting those projects on hold,” Louis said. “So that creates not only a present economic crisis but also a crisis that can affect the country in the long term.” He said the market is currently focused on local rentals. Haitians who live abroad are trying to move their families out of unsafe areas in Haiti, such as Croix-des-Bouquets, Tabarre and Martissant.
Etzer Emile, a Haiti-based economist, said that the people who could have afforded to buy a house or land in Haiti — middle- and upper-class families — are also the ones who have been able to afford to leave the country.
Their exodus has had a real impact on the Haitian economy, which has seen a fourth consecutive year of negative growth. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s not just the real estate sector that’s affected. It’s every single thing, but especially those long-term investments.”
Members of the Office of Real Estate Agents of Haiti complained about the desperate situation in a Facebook post last Tuesday, which they called an “alarm in the face of the rise of kidnappings in the metropolitan area.”
“The kidnappings not only affect the real estate sector but the society in general. For us agents, there’s no such thing as a real estate market because the business has stopped,” said Eavans Juste, the office’s president.
us agents, there’s no such thing as a real estate market because the business has stopped,” said Eavans Juste, the office’s president. Solstice Realty 3.jpg “For Sale” sign above a house located in Montagne Noire, Haiti. Photo Courtesy of Jacques Guillaume, founder of MLS Haiti and Solstice Realty. Agents at MLS Haiti, a real estate company with offices in Miami and Haiti, say that their Haitian clients who live in the U.S. are waiting for better times and interested buyers are almost nonexistent. Géto Sainristil, the director of Solstice Realty, a Haiti-based agency that is affiliated with MLS Haiti, said that he was about to close a sale transaction when the buyer decided to withdraw at the last minute. “His family told him it was bad timing to invest in Haiti,” he said. “It was too risky.” This story was originally published August 2, 2022 2:27 PM.
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