Buying some land

Although we made arrangements to see Barba’s solicitor on Grenada during that final week of the October 2016 stay, we had no idea the deal would progress at Caribbean speed.

Having set the wheels in motion, we returned home to gather documents together for our Alien Landholder licence which would cost us 10% of the price being paid for the land. This involved letters from our accountant to prove our income since we were both self-employed, character references, bank references and a police criminal records’ check. All these documents had to be notarised which is a costly endorsing/verfiying procedure carried out by a kind of lawyer called a notary public. While notary publics are doubtless three-a-penny in the Caribbean and elsewhere, they are significantly less common in the UK. Nevertheless, we found one, paid her excessive fee and sent off all the required documents.

Meantime I set to work designing a house which had to sit on a hillside. We had a pretty good idea of the size, shape and location of the plot from a previous plan but how steep exactly was this hillside? As any self-respecting cub-scout leader would know, you need a map showing contour lines. Despite the whole of Grenada and Carriacou having once been nicely contoured by the UK’s Ordnance Survey folk, these very old maps were not available or copies of them anywhere to be found. Google, and other more modern digital maps gave some idea of the slope but not with sufficient detail, so we would need a topographic survey.

Plan of the land held at the solicitors

The name Denis Thomas had been suggested as a surveyor to confirm the boundaries of the land. Almost all plots are marked out with iron posts with red tape on them and because these posts can get moved or covered with undergrowth it was vital to establish exactly what we were buying. I emailed Denis to get a quote for the boundary survey and also asked if he could provide topographical detail. But like so many in the area his response to emails was extremely slow, so slow in fact, that I contacted other surveyors in desperation. The others mostly replied equally slowly but we did eventually get agreement from Denis that he would travel to the island from his base in Grenada with a couple of stick-holding helpers and a measuring gadget and do us a survey.

We did hear from Barba that Denis himself stayed at the bottom of the steep hill and only sent his stick-holding operatives up to do the work but at least we’d got a survey done.

Topographic survey data

The drawings themselves arrived in due course along with a report — if you could call it that, because it was all of 63 words long.

Denis’ report [verbatim]:
I have confirmed boundaries as shown on plan.
Actually, the +39% slope as shown on attached file is very challenging to construct normally, a rule of thumb, we use a maximum 31% slope
Generally, the soil is somewhat stable but overtime towards the North Western Boundary there will be minimal wind and water erosion
I have now produced the topographical data as requested

I thought the words ‘very challenging’ needed a bit more clarity since this could range from ‘a bit tedious’ to ‘damn-near impossible.’ But in keeping with his previous very brief replies, Denis clarified only by saying the drawings were intended for the architects and engineers so I should kindly get advice from one of them. Still at least I now had knowledge of the slope for designing the property so hopefully the builders would be able to take a view before we were committed to buying this land.

Early in January 2017 a detailed house design along with all the information we had available about the contours of the land went by email to four builders asking for them to quote for the construction of the house.

Two of these we had met and talked to and two of them we had not met but they came recommended. One guy had only been asked quote for building the road up to the plot but he said he also did buildings, so we thought ‘Why not?’ Three out of four builders quoted and all but one of them overshot the stipulated deadline in true Caribbean fashion. They ranged from a brief description with a total price to a several page bill of materials detailing every last spoonful of cement. The most detailed quote was from Abraham Pope — a general contractor who had previously quoted for the road. We were impressed by him not least because he was the cheapest. The other quote we liked best was from another builder we had not actually met. However both quotes were well over our ideal budget which had become squeezed by the unfavourable post-Brexit exchange rate,  so we needed to trim the design and by quite a lot.

We pressed on getting our UK house ready to sell while things progressed at  sedentary pace across the Atlantic.  As we entered the second half of March it was becoming clear we really needed to pay another visit to Carriacou to get some some loose ends tied up, meet our two prospective builders, make sure we still felt fully committed to this crackpot idea and maybe also open a bank account on the island which was proving nearly impossible to do from the UK without the dreaded notary public.