A candid chat with realtor Arun Jagtani “We need official real estate statistics”

POSTED: 01/13/14 1:29 PM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – Arun Jagtani is outside waiting for the appointment. His face exudes patience, and he smiles as he offers access to his offices in Simpson Bay. Inside, a warmly toned, modern interior contrasts the busy and dusty hustle of Welfare Road. He is the man behind Island Real Estate Team, the largest real estate company currently established on St. Maarten, has been featured on Home and Garden Television (HGTV), and is one of the principal founders of the Real Estate Association of St. Maarten (RAM). “We are the largest sales team on the island,” he proudly stated.

The walls inside the snug, but cozy, conference room of his office are adorned with some of the real estate projects he and his team have or are working on, like The Valley Estates. As he settled in, the talk turned to global economic events that naturally affect the island and a recap of the nightmare of any real estate agent: the Great Recession of 2008.

He recalled the pre-2008 boom years, when the local real estate market turned hotter than lava and properties couldn’t be sold fast enough, with investors riding the tsunami of cheap and easy money; then came the post-2008 lean years. St. Maarten wasn’t spared from the economic drought. It witnessed the cancellation or delays of many big projects, and international buyers looking for a second home in the Caribbean evaporated like water, in particular US and European investors.  Local real estate agents, too, began to evaporate like water as the market for second homes nearly ground to a halt.

“It was a very tough time. I started questioning myself. What did I get myself into?” he recalled thoughtfully. “But you come out stronger.” A sentiment almost always shared by entrepreneurs who go through phases of self-doubt, only to emerge renewed after a crisis. He said it was a “character building” experience, but is now optimistic. During those times he found himself reading biographies of famous people, and took inspiration from their grit and determination during rough patches. “You see a lot of yourself.” Still, he said, “I’ve seen a lot of people struggling in the business.”

Jagtani agreed, though, that throughout the world, there are signs of economic recovery, albeit tepid ones. The UK, for example, has seen itself emerge from a painful recession, though David Cameron’s conservative government still sticks to austerity measures and budget cuts to ward off the recessionary bogeyman; the Netherlands has declared that its housing market is seeing pre-2008 levels of sales again; and, perhaps most importantly, Ben Bernanke, the outgoing US Federal Reserve Chairman of the most powerful economy in the world, cautiously said that America is showing signs of solid growth in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

He pointed out, though, that in his opinion and experience, “What I find with St. Maarten, we’re definitely 2 years behind real estate trends in the US.” He has been watching US trends and noted that their housing market has been “strong for the past 2 years.” One of the most important indicators of economic recovery, of course, is the real estate market. Average prices, he said are going up, while inventory is going down, a sure sign of recovery. “We’re starting now to feel the benefits here.”

But he bemoaned the lack of proper real estate statistics on the island. “It’s very, very sad. We don’t have real estate statistics. It’s one of the biggest challenges we as realtors face here.” The raw data, he said, is there. It’s just not collated properly for use by professionals in the industry. “We’re just not using it,” he lamented. He has been trying to get Cadastre to provide statistics for the last 2 years, he said with a sense of exasperation. “Real estate is something that affects everybody.” Cadastre insists on charging for the data, while Jagtani, along with the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), of which he is a the real estate representative, feel that such data should be free and open to the public. “It’s our information.”

The conversation began to shift toward a certain level of standards in the industry that would govern the behavior of real estate agents, like in other parts of the world where they need to be licensed and pass a certain minimum threshold.  Years ago, Jagtani himself took a 6 month long grueling course in Florida to become a certified real estate agent. He wants to see some sort of licensing system introduced similar to what exists in the US and Canada, for example, and of course tailored to meet the specific needs of the local market. “I’m concerned with a certain level of integrity, and paying your taxes. That’s more important to me,” Jagtani said with concern. “If I’m paying taxes and the other guy is not, he has an unfair advantage on me.”

“There can be tremendous collateral damage,” he warned, if proper standards for real estate agents are not introduced, potentially giving the island a bad reputation. “I would love to see some sort of licensing system. Absolutely.”

Recently, RAM and the SHTA have been flirting, sort of like a couple winking at each other on either side of the dance floor, willing to dance to the same tune. The SHTA sees itself as an umbrella organization that lends support, administrative or otherwise, to like-minded organizations that represent key areas of the island’s economy, like RAM. “It’s just a natural fit, really.”

Despite the volatility in real estate markets elsewhere, Jagtani explained that prices remained remarkably stable on the island, for a variety of reasons. One main reason is that owners of some of properties here are comfortable, and can wait out any economic rough weather, and because local banks are conservative in their business approach.

He lamented the fact that many locals are being priced out of the island’s housing market, but that is the result of global demand for second homes in warm climates like the Caribbean. “There is a flip side, though.” Many of these buyers are quite affluent, with much more spending power than cruise passengers, or even hotel guests. Jagtani feels these second home buyers are the most significant type of tourist in the economy precisely because of their high disposable income. “They bring in a lot of money,” he explained, with lots of spin off benefits, like dining in restaurants, shopping, etc, which in turn provides jobs.

He also complained about French real estate agents being able to freely operate on the Dutch side, while the reverse is not true, something he would like to see addressed and balanced.

He has mixed feelings about any future development on Mullet Bay. He waxed nostalgic about the iconic beach. “The beach belongs to the people. Access should always be there.” He described how, like many young locals, a trip to Mullet Bay was almost mandatory growing up. “I don’t want to see the island oversaturated, overbuilt,” he said. “We need to focus on improving what we have.”

 

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Comments (4)

 

  1. I read your ‘candid chat’ with mr. Jagtani with a modicum of embittered amusement.
    Apparently the gentleman who passed a grueling Florida licensing test hasn’t figured out that he is not in the US, but in an area of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
    -By legal realtor standards in NL he would most likely be disqualified and, quite possibly, be behind bars:
    He was unprofessionally prepared to sell a house rife with asbestos, and totally ungrounded as far a wiring went.
    Even though all (3-pronged outlets) indicated the presence of a ground rod.
    In Holland these are simply called ‘verborgen gebreken’, -for which the seller and the realtor are legally severely liable.

    It turns my stomach that this not-so-gentleman in question has the gall to pontificate on matters he would, in my opinion, elsewhere be criminally liable for.

    Incidentally: I know what I am talking about. I bought the aforementioned property.

    I would furthermore agree that there needs to be more professionally oriented legislation, -but primarily in the context of buyer/consumer protection.
    ( won’t even go into the fleecing courtage fees charged here on Sint Maarten by these so-called realtors)

    • First of all I would like to thank Mr. Jason Lista for a great article, I was extremely impressed by the way he recapped and articulated our casual conversation… it was a pleasure working with him. I have received tons of positive feedback from this article… needless to say, I was disappointed to read the negative comments from Mr. Nietzman, his attempt to slander my name is shameful and speaks volume’s of his character. For the record, Mr. Nietzman, purchased a home that was clearly marketed as a “Fixer Upper,” at no point did I offer any guarantees as to the condition of the home, on the contrary I clearly stated that I am not an expert on construction and suggested to him that he should have the property inspected by a contractor, engineer or anyone who might have more knowledge about construction. The seller and myself made the home completely available to him to inspect as many times with anyone that he wanted… Mr. Nietzman did inspect the property on multiple occasions but chose to inspect the home on his own and relied upon his own knowledge. Prior to purchasing the home he chose not to bring any professional to the property to inspect it on his behalf, rather stated that he knew enough about construction to understand what he was getting into. The sales & purchase agreement which he signed clearly stated that the property was being sold “as is.” When he started renovations he discovered that the task at hand was larger then he originally anticipated… Sadly Mr. Nietzman seems unwilling to accept responsibility for his lack of due diligence about the condition of the home and is now trying to attack my credibility… For the record I had NO knowledge of any asbestos or electrical problems at the property, nor did I offer any guarantees about this or the overall condition of the home… To all the potential buyers reading this, please learn a lesson from Mr. Nietzman’s mistake, when purchasing a home, especially one that is marketed as a “Fixer Upper,” please make the investment to have it inspected by a professional and do not rely upon your own knowledge… trying to cut costs by inspecting it yourself might put you in a situation where you will only have yourself to blame (sometimes the money you save, is not always the money you save!)… clearly Mr. Nietzman has a hard time accepting his mistake, so he is choosing to blame everyone but himself… Very sad!

  2. deals deals deals says:

    Whatever the case with Mr. Nietzman is, he is right in one thing. Most -if not all- realtors on Sint Maarten are amateurs. None have them have any professional training in the basics of construction, economics or contract law. Any fool and failure in our society can proclaim him/herself as a realtor and many dig. People who sell t-shirts and (the last) mango’s one day, sell real estate the other day. Many times they do a lousy job for an awful lot of money. It is almost outright theft. They are like vultures lacking any pride and self regulation skills and the majority evade paying taxes. It is a sector in our economy that needs to be regulated as soon as possible and all the rotten apples need to be thrown out.

  3. Sam Rejtig says:

    I am not sure about other St. Maarten Realtors but I can say for sure that Arun Jagtiani is not an amateur realtor. I have dealt with him on several occasions and have found him to be professional, knowledgeable and truthful during the entire process.
    There are definitely “amateur realtors” on St. Maarten as well as everywhere else in the world. Due diligence begins with picking the right realtor.