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A Water Slide (Plus a House) within the Ocean: House Hunting in Maldives

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This three-bedroom villa stands over a turquoise lagoon off the island of Medhufaru in Maldives, the archipelagic state comprising almost 1,200 islands within the north-central Indian Ocean.

The 6,727-square-foot, two-story villa, with a two-story water slide all the way down to the ocean, was in-built 2016 as a part of the Soneva Jani resort using reclaimed telegraph poles, eco-friendly bamboo and plantation-grown wood, said Robert Green, the founder and managing director of Sphere Estates, which has the listing.

The architecture is “contemporary but in step with the local and Maldivian environment through the use of sustainable materials,” Mr. Green said. “An awesome deal is hand made on island, creating bespoke ‘Robinson Crusoe’ properties with five-star finishes.”

A system of docks stretching from Medhufaru approaches the villa and broadens right into a small deck with seating and bicycle storage. The predominant entrance opens to a living space with a conversation pit and floor-to-ceiling French doors opening to the 40-foot lap pool with views of the lagoon beyond. The villa has lofty ceilings with ceiling fans, in addition to air-conditioning.

The resort reuses and recycles materials where it might, and furniture is included in the house’s asking price, said Eva Malmstrom Shivdasani, a co-founder of Soneva. “Driftwood was crafted into furniture and lampshades,” she said. “The floors are mostly produced from tiles that seem like wood, in addition to Bole floors, that are wood planks that retain the unique curve of the tree. The roofs are produced from river red gum shingles.”

To the left of the living area is a study and a small kitchen, which is “more like a walk-in pantry with minibar,” Mr. Green said. “The owner and guests typically dine within the resort or have a chef come to the villa.”

Beyond the kitchen is a primary bedroom with an adjoining child’s sleeping area, en suite bathroom and dressing room. The bedroom has a retractable roof and tall French doors with views overlooking the lagoon. The toilet has a daybed and a window built into the ground, and opens to a non-public deck with a sunken bathtub and outdoor shower.

One other first-floor bedroom has a dressing room, en suite bath and outdoor sunken bathtub. Stairs ascend to the second floor, which houses a TV lounge, a gym and a 3rd bedroom with a dressing room, en suite bath and access to a balcony with an oak bathtub.

The massive west-facing pool deck is usually sustainably-sourced, sandblasted pine, Mr. Green said. Catamaran nets function hammock beds over the pool and lagoon, and the water slide curves around a big sunken seating area connected to the deck.

Maldives comprises a garland of coral atolls built up from the peaks of a sunken volcanic mountain range; a surrounding shelf creates the shallow lagoons between the islands. Rising sea levels are a looming threat, Mr. Green said, though up to now, little or no variation has been detected in those levels. “You possibly can expect some tidal surges as an alternative, which could cause temporary flooding but without the devastation. The developer provides warranties and insurance.”

Medhufaru, a 150-acre island encircled by a coral reef, is considered one of Maldives’ largest and is leased by the hospitality company Soneva, which in turn leases parcels to individual buyers. When complete, Soneva Jani, the resort, can have greater than 100 villas, though the bulk are hotel villas, Mr. Green said.

The house has access to all resort offerings, including butler and concierge services, a children’s club, a cinema, a dive school and a villa rental program. Residents and guests can congregate at a three-story overwater complex called The Gathering, which has shops, restaurants and bars, a spa, library, gym and yoga pavilion.

Soneva Jani is 35 minutes by seaplane from Malé International Airport, and one hour by speedboat from Soneva’s other resort in Maldives, Soneva Fushi.

Maldives is a Muslim-majority country of roughly 500,000 residents that only began welcoming tourists within the Seventies to its low-lying islands with alabaster beaches surrounded by crystalline cyan lagoons. Tourism has not surpassed fishing as its biggest industry.

There’s little data available about historical home sales or overall market conditions, as houses are sometimes handed down from generation to generation amongst locals, while ownership of land, a precious resource, is restricted by law to Maldivians, brokers said.

“The housing market in Maldives has much more local demand than offerings,” said Paul H.T.M. van de Camp, the chief executive of Dutch Docklands, a developer of floating cities, considered one of which is being in-built Maldives. “There are hardly any agents, and due to huge shortage, selling will almost only be done inside families, friends, et cetera.”

Foreigners cannot legally purchase land in Maldives, though they’ll rent in places just like the Maldivian capital, Malé, or Hulhumalé, a reclaimed island next to the international airport. In relation to purchasing a house, the choices for foreigners are currently limited to multimillion-dollar vacation villa packages on resort islands like Medhufaru.

In those situations, resort operators buy long-term leases from the federal government to develop islands designated for tourism, then sell subleases to buyers of vacation villas. Resort operators typically rent out the villas once they’re not in use, sharing the proceeds with the owners.

Soneva Fushi, a group of 64 villas with a handful still available for purchase, was among the many first resorts to supply the holiday villa packages in 2011 after a change in Maldivian law enabled resorts to sell subleases to individuals. Soneva Jani began sales in 2016.

Properties sell with subleases of as much as 50 years; prospective buyers should check to see what number of years remain, Mr. Green said. Resort operators can extend their primary lease by an additional 49 years, and sometimes achieve this for a multimillion-dollar fee, splitting the price amongst owners who need to extend their subleases.

Properties are currently priced around $4 million to as high as $25 million; up to now there have been 4 resales of Soneva villas, Mr. Green said.Soneva villa owners aren’t required to position their villa within the rental pool, but in the event that they do, they’ll achieve net annual returns of two to 7 percent of the acquisition price, he said.

A villa vacation package must be a secure investment for buyers, said Stephen Petasky, chief executive and founding father of The Luxus Group, which manages and develops real estate and lifestyle assets worldwide. “The danger can be: What if the resort doesn’t operate to the extent of luxury that they originally committed to?” he said. “But a successfully-operated resort, where they’re generating significant revenue for you, and it’s paying the bills, and also you get to make use of it totally free — that’s a reasonably good situation.”

Mr. Petasky, who recently toured Maldives with an eye fixed to entering the market, said the country’s tourism industry, though hampered by the pandemic, recovered quickly, and resort development continues apace.

“The pandemic didn’t a lot affect real estate offerings. It just caused a slowdown consequently of no tourists for a 12 months,” he said. “Now, it looks as if everyone seems to be spending money on reinvesting or refurbishing their hotels, and there are recent ones in the method.”

One such project with the potential to vary the housing market is Maldives Floating City, a three way partnership between Dutch Docklands and the Maldives government. The town, being developed in a lagoon about quarter-hour by boat from Malé, will comprise some 5,000 housing units tethered to the seabed, available for purchase by either Maldivians or foreign home buyers.

Foreign buyers in Maldives typically are high-net value individuals with the wherewithal to buy a multimillion-dollar home with no mortgage. “Some are retired, but many are still energetic of their professions and have teenage to grown-up children,” Mr. Green said.

Soneva’s buyers come from across the globe, including the US, Canada, Russia and various countries in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Foreigners in Maldives must own property through a Maldivian company, which might be arrange by a neighborhood lawyer, Mr. Green said. They’ll pay a 12 percent tourism goods-and-services tax on the house’s sale price, he said.

Mortgages are typically not available, but developer financing or assistance can sometimes be negotiated, Mr. Green said. “Some prefer to waive any rental income for an agreed time frame, say 10 years, in return for a reduced purchase price, as this might be tax advantageous depending on their domicile,” he said.

In Maldives Floating City, mortgages shall be available to qualified buyers, Mr. Van de Camp said.

Dhivehi; Maldivian Rufiyaa (1 rufiyaa = $0.065)

There aren’t any annual property taxes on this villa, Mr. Green said. The owner and the resort share the online rental revenue, minus 10 percent in management fees. The owner’s revenue is further subject to a ten percent government withholding tax.

Robert Green, Sphere Estates, 011-44-20-3617-1360, sphereestates.com

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