Nov 7, 2009
With the freedom-loving hippy generation now reaching retirement age and anti-materialist back-to-nature movements sweeping the developed world, increasing numbers of people are shedding their inhibitions and embracing the naturist lifestyle, especially in hotter climates.
Quite where to place your property particulars when house hunting on a naturist resort might fluster more recent converts but the prospect of buying into a stable real estate market and even pocketing a tidy profit means that "clothing optional" resorts and communities are a growing – albeit niche – market sector.
Nudists in general are an estate agent’s dream. "They tend to be older people, probably a little more settled, who generally don’t require mortgages and are prepared to pay a premium just to live here," says Marc Seligman, who lives at The Oasis, a small naturist community in Pasco County, Florida. Commonly referred to as "the nudist capital of America", Pasco boasts dozens of clothes-free and clothing-optional communities.
"It is a very big industry," says Carolyn Hawkins, spokesperson for the American Association for Nude Recreation. "We’ve gone from a $400m to a $450m industry in the past five years, mostly based on real estate. There are now 268 naturist clubs and resort-communities throughout the US [up from 212 in 1998], with about 30 in Florida alone."
Modern naturism originated in Germany in the 1920s. It took root in the Lake Como area of Pasco County in the 1940s, when Avery Weaver Brubaker, the son of a Mennonite minister, founded the Florida Athletic and Health Association with his wife. Weaver Brubaker bought 350 acres in Lutz and set aside a section for use as a nudist resort. Today, Paradise Lakes, Caliente and Lake Como are the big naked destinations in Pasco County, while smaller venues have developed as like-minded individuals flock to the region. The county’s strong reputation in the "skyclad" community provides a national base of buyers for nudist real estate.
The extent to which residents live disrobed varies from resort to resort. At The Oasis residents are inclined to spare the blushes of visiting deliverymen. "We consider it a hybrid community," says Seligman, who also runs a website for naturists looking to buy and sell homes. "In the front yards we’re a regular ‘textile’ [i.e. clothes-wearing] community but in the back yards, where all of our homes are connected by a common fenced-in area, we tend to be nude at all times."
Seligman’s five-bedroom home is one of 28 upscale family properties at the complex. It has a swimming pool, an outdoor shower and is connected via the central communal area to a clubhouse with hot tubs, tennis courts and further swimming pools – all naturist. Seligman built his $750,000 home in 2004, when most of Florida was riding a property high. He reckons that although prices have dropped within the naturist community, the fall is not as steep as in the general market.
Seconding this view is Toby Caroline of nudist estate agency Sun ‘n’ Fun Realty, which is based at Paradise Lakes, a "clothing optional" community of more than 700 homes. Properties range from 400 sq ft studios priced from about $65,000 to $1m family homes. About 60 per cent of those living at Paradise Lakes are full-time residents, the rest holiday home owners.
"Because we’re a target market, we still have that market in both good and bad times, and more and more people are coming into this lifestyle," Caroline says. "The downturn in the outside textile [ie clothed] market has certainly affected non-clothing communities through loss of jobs and mortgages, but we’ve only had two short-sales [bank foreclosures] at Paradise Lakes, which is low compared with the Tampa area."
At Caliente Resorts near Tampa and in the Dominican Republic you can be completely nude wherever and whenever you want, including restaurants, dining rooms, bars, club house and nightclubs. "It’s a lot like living in a community set around a golf course, except that rather than the amenities being around golf they are about being nude wherever you want to be," says Steven Dorsey, chief operating officer.
Set on 130 acres, a total of 700 villas, apartments, casitas (small chalets) and villa lots sold out during Caliente Tampa’s 2006 launch. "The market was very hot right across Florida at that time and the prices accelerated very rapidly in the first year, although they’ve since come down by about 20 per cent," Dorsey says. Nevertheless, he still reckons that the price of "the same unit inside the Caliente Resort is probably about 20-30 per cent higher than in the immediate area outside".
The rentals market is steady as committed naturists are more limited than most in where they can spend their holidays. "About 40 per cent of people who own property at Caliente Tampa live there full time and the other 60 per cent use them as holiday homes," Dorsey says. "Most of the detached villas rent for around $1,500-$2,000 a month."
Following the success of Caliente Tampa, in late 2005 the group purchased a second nudist resort, near Cabrera in the Dominican Republic. The country was already popular with European naturists, especially from the UK, Russia, France and Spain. As well as remodelling and upgrading the existing facilities, the group is due to start construction on up to 2,000 more units in 2010, including detached houses and villas priced at $200,000-$500,000. "Any time you have a business model that proves this successful you’re looking to grow," Dorsey says.
That increasingly applies to European nudism, too. "Hundreds of thousands of people earn their living from naturism," says Andrew Welch, commercial manager of British Naturism. "There’s no question that it’s becoming more acceptable than it was 10 years ago. Frankly, when you look at what most women wear to the beach these days the difference in practice is quite small."
Many naturists contend that communities stripped of one of society’s usual means of judging one another – "Is she wearing Prada or fake Versace?" – and where there is not much point in busybody neighbours "twitching the curtains" make for friendlier places to live.
Cap d’Agde, on the Mediterranean close to Montpellier in the south of France, is one of the world’s largest naturist communities. In the self-contained town (sometimes referred to as "the naked city") nudity is legal and common in the whole resort, including its restaurants and shops, day or night. It has a 2km beach, a marina, a hotel and 2,000 homes, from detached villas to duplexes, chalets and Le Corbusier-inspired apartment complexes comprising up to 600 units. The marina has 60 berths for boats of up to 17m. Prices for apartments close to the beach start at about €90,000 for a studio and rise to about €200,000 for a two-bedroom unit. High season lasts for about 17 weeks, from May to September, and at the peak, when there can be 4,000 visitors, the best apartments rent for about €140 a night.
"There’s something at Cap d’Agde for everyone," says David James, who runs a rental and sales agency there. "We have been affected by the recession and this year I’ve seen more property available than ever before but the naturist centre is unique and therefore the prices are still around 20 per cent higher than on the non-naturist side of the village."
In keeping with the French reputation for laissez faire attitudes towards others, the country is dotted with naturist villages. Most, such as La Jenny, close to the Atlantic near Bordeaux, are located in forests, in keeping with many nudists’ "back to nature" ideals.
Prices at Le Jenny, a self-catering holiday village with about 750 chalets a short walk from a beach, start at about €80,000 for a two-bedroom unit with kitchen and living room and rise to about €300,000 for properties with additional lounges and large terraces. Owners can let them for €4,000-€5,000 for a two-month term in high season, of which Le Jenny’s management company takes a 25 per cent cut.
Similar arrangements can be found at nearby Euronat, a 335 hectare estate with direct access to the beach on the Gironde coastline. The naturist village Club Oasis, at Port Leucate, 30km south of Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast, offers modern apartments right next to a beach, plus swimming pools, tennis courts, bars and restaurants.
Spain is not known for the same degree of liberalism towards nudists but there are three large complexes on the costas. The Costa del Sol has Costa Natura, a naked village adjoining an official naturist beach that offers a wide range of holiday apartments, starting from about €90,000; El Portus, a resort that is part-campsite, part-apartment complex and rurally situated on a bay 10km from the historic city of Cartagena; and Hotel Vera Playa Club, on Spain’s south-east coast, where the naturist zone includes a beach, restaurants, bars, shops and 250 properties costing from €100,000 for a modern, one-bedroom apartment to €1m for a five-bedroom detached home with pool. In high summer the 2,000-3,000 people on the beach are all nude.
"Vera Playa is very much a family resort," says local resident and estate agent Peter Mason. "All the bars and restaurants are fully naturist, although people do tend to wear clothing in the evening. The mosquitoes will have you for supper if you don’t."
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