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Amongst the gentry

BC Pires

Amongst the gentry

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OVER THE WEEKEND, we moved into an old plantation house, instantly creating a new real estate class on the island: the landed peasantry.
It’s not the great house from which the plantation-owner would have lorded it over his, nor even the not-so-great house of the eldest son, but the least stately of the stately homes, the old manager’s residence, a little shabby genteel after 156 years, perhaps, but indubitably on the plantation.
And we’re there.
In Trinidad, we would say, “We reach!” But, on polo fields across Barbados, they must be saying something quite different; and I can’t say I blame them. My occupation of such premises goes against all things held dear here for centuries; the Bosnians would have had an easier time accommodating the Serbs.
I’m not Bajan, not white (except for hostility-in-service industry purposes), not North American or European; I’m more likely to touch a nerve than a forelock.
Even I am worried that someone like me can afford to live in such a house. It’s partly the old Caribbean self-loathing: like Groucho Marx, I would never want to join a club that would have me as a member.
But it’s also a genuine concern for Bajan real estate: how come immigrant peasants like us can set up shop within spitting distance of the grand old Bajan way?
It must be very difficult for some to accept that the housing market in Barbados has become this soft, but it’s the simple hard truth: someone who arrived here less than four years ago, without a job, ends up on the plantation; and not carrying anything for anyone, either.
The real mystery of Bajan real estate, though, is not that a plantation house (even a lesser one) falls within the reach of someone like me; it is that so many Bajan property-owners have refused to accept that their bricks and mortar are simply not worth what they were four years ago. Nothing in the world is – apart from Mr Murdoch and his ilk – but, still, South Coast is convinced it’s West Coast.
In my old neighbourhood – which I can sneer at now, from my country seat – I noticed a dozen houses for sale or rent. In the 14 months I spent there, another dozen joined them. The house next door (and the one after it) had been empty for years.
The first rule in real estate is that, if you’ve not had an offer in six months, you’ve priced your property too high. But, in the last year, no price has dropped! Indeed, the asking sale price is often twice the value of the bricks and mortar and the land they’re on. No one with any sense would pay twice as much for a 50-year-old house than it would cost to build a brand new one.
But very many property-owners in Barbados, it seems, would rather their house fall apart than accept a penny less than they’ve always got.
And now you know exactly where such an attitude leads: to me; in a plantation house.
 • B.C. Pires is into polo. Mints. Email your stirrups to him at [email protected]