The Wall Street Journal today takes a cover-length look at the Cuban real estate market and discovers a hotbed of activity still hampered by government obstruction and mistrust of the private sector.

Cubans have only been allowed to buy and sell real estate since 2011, so the market is still very young. The only people legally allowed to trade remain Cuban citizens who are current residents on the island — foreigners are allowed to buy only in a handful of experimental resort-style developments.

One of those developments, still five to 10 years out, is a $350 million resort two hours east of Havana with 1,000 villas, a boutique hotel, a tennis academy and an 18-hole golf course. The property is a joint venture between the state-owned Grupo Empresarial Extrahotelero Palmares SA and a British firm named London and Regional Properties Ltd. (owned by London’s Livingstone brothers).

The restrictions haven’t dissuaded everyone, though. Miami Cubans and other foreigners are snapping up properties in the name of relatives who live on the island. The owner of one casa particular in Vedado was offered $400,000 in cash for her place but turned it down. “I don’t know where he got the money,” she said of her buyer. “No Cuban has that kind of money.”

With internet access limited and strict state control on all media outlets, advertising for real estate listings is limited to online publications like that circulate in the weekly paquete and El Papelito, a recent edition of which had 24 pages — four times as many pages as several months ago.

Aside from government flip-flopping and the ever-present threat of expropriation, the biggest worry for foreign buyers is that people who lost property during the revolution will come back one day with hat in hand. One project, a $400 million resort in Guardalavaca financed by a Canadian indigenous group named Standing Feather International was already scuppered by just such a claim.


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