Second homes: Punta Cana gets a tide of better access, options

— -- At a time when so much real estate news is bad, tourism officials in the Dominican Republic are having good things to talk about.

This summer, then-tourism minister Felix Jimenez announced a billion-dollar government infrastructure investment that includes a new cruise ship marina and road upgrades for his island nation. Then, last month, his successor, Francisco Javier García, announced that private investors have begun an additional $9 billion in developments.

The announcements included especially good news for visitors headed to the hot spot of Punta Cana, a peninsula on the easternmost coast of the Dominican Republic that has long been the home of all-inclusive resorts and, more recently, several large residential developments.

An international airport already serves the area, but the new infrastructure investment will add high-speed ferry service between Punta Cana and Samaná, another popular tourism peninsula on the northeast coast. It also will build a new highway that will reduce travel time to the capital of Santo Domingo from four hours to about an hour and a half. Both projects are scheduled for completion before 2012.

Punta Cana's main attraction is more than 20 miles of powdery white beaches. About 30 beach resorts, casinos and second-home options occupy this stretch. Several of the larger residential developments, including Roco Ki and the Punta Cana Resort & Club, offer complimentary mini-vacations for prospective buyers.

Housing prices in the upscale developments generally begin in the $400,000-$600,000 range and go upward into the millions. For buyers willing to look outside those developments and forgo resort-style amenities, prices can be much lower. Three-bedroom houses start at $250,000. One-bedroom condos begin at under $120,000, and many one- and two-bedroom condos are in the $150,000-$200,000 range.

Affordability, however, is not the Dominican Republic's sole appeal. For second-home buyers, the nation also offers a stable democratic government, ease of doing business in a region otherwise infamous for red tape, easy air access, a vibrant community of other foreign home buyers and a top-notch portfolio of golf courses with layouts by the likes of Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Nick Faldo.

A look at three Punta Cana neighborhoods:

•Cap Cana. This huge development ( spans 29,000 acres and includes nearly 3½ miles of beach. The master plan calls for 5,000 residences, as well as hotels, golf courses, shops and restaurants, some of which are already open. There are 26 residential communities now, ranging from six to 474 units. Home sites begin in the $400,000 range, bungalows start at $480,000, and single-family houses start at $895,000.

•Punta Cana Resort & Club. The latest phase of this upscale resort (, built on a stretch of beach and around a golf course, is The Estate, which encompasses three enclaves of single-family houses. Lots in the Arrecife and Hacienda enclaves start at $450,000, and the gated Corales enclave commands $1.8 million and up. The Estates are being co-developed by singer Julio Iglesias and designer Oscar de la Renta, both of whom have built homes in Corales.

•Roco Ki. This new development includes more than 3 miles of beaches and coastal cliffs, atop which sits a Nick Faldo golf course. For housing, choose from several residential communities and two resort hotels: the Westin and the Fairmont. The Fairmont, expected to be ready in 2010, will offer fractional ownership in a residence club. The Westin, scheduled for next spring, already is selling options that include high-rise condos, single-family houses and bungalows. Prices range from $475,000 for a condo to $2.75 million for a beachfront home.