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  • Gil Stose

Wall Street Journal.

It is always a privilege to work with icons in the industry.

M12 | Friday, May 19, 2023 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. MANSION interior courtyard, an 85- foot-long pool and a 30,000-gallon koi pond, according to marketing materials. Neither Thurston nor Moore responded to requests for comment. Despite a brief market correction at the end of 2022, Puerto Rico’s luxury housing market is booming, and investors and developers are rushing to capitalize on the desire for high-end homes. Located about 2½ hours southeast of Miami by air, Puerto Rico is known for year-round warm weather and historic areas like Old San Juan, along with beaches, mountains, and rainforests. For years, the U.S. territory has also grappled with population decline, a weak economy, and infrastructure woes. But wealthy home buyers have been flocking to the island since Covid, boosting sales volume and prices, local real-estate agents said. In Dorado Beach, a wealthy enclave on the north shore of the island, the median sale price for homes priced above $1 million nearly doubled to $6.2 million in 2022, up from $3.4 million in 2021, according to Sotheby’s International Realty. Prices are also up in other areas, including Condado, an oceanfront neighborhood of San Juan, Bahia Beach, on the island’s northeast coast, and Palmas del Mar in the southeast. Local real-estate agents said much of the market surge is rooted in tax incentives, known as Act 60, that are available to individuals and corporations that relocate to Puerto Rico. Individuals who make their primary residence in Puerto Rico by spending at least 183 days a year on the island don’t pay federal income taxes on income sourced in Puerto Rico, according to the tax code. Since 2019, there has also been a requirement that anyone receiving the tax incentives must own a home on the island, which local agents said caused the buyer pool to swell. During Covid, Puerto Rico’s warm climate coupled with the adoption of remote work and Puerto Rico’s low cost of living accelerated the trend of wealthy individuals buying primary and vacation homes on the island. At the top end of the market, the island’s real-estate growth spurt has played out in a series of megadeals, including Thurston’s $40 million purchase. In December 2022, hedgefunder Glen Scheinberg paid $37 million for a 10,250-square-foot home in the East Beach area of Dorado Beach Resort, two years after the home sold for $18.995 million, according to the local MLS and property records. It couldn’t be determined if Thurston or Scheinberg have been granted the tax-exempt status. Scheinberg declined to comment. In March 2021, Sean LonErgan, founder and CEO of PruGen Pharmaceuticals, and his wife, Michelle LonErgan, sold a custom-built home in East Beach for $30 million, according to the local MLS. The buyer was Dan Morehead, founder of Pantera Capital, according to records and people familiar with the deal. It couldn’t be determined if Morehead has been granted the tax-exempt status. He and the Lonergans—who did claim the benefit, records show—didn’t respond to requests for comment. The deals aren’t an anomaly, said Oriana Juvelier of Sotheby’s International Realty, who was involved in the $18.995 million sale in 2020. She said that following Hurricane Maria in 2017, opporContinuedfrompageM1 Tax Haven In the Sun tunistic investors snapped up distressed properties in Puerto Rico. Momentum in the housing market was building when Covid hit, and the luxury sector “just exploded.” Tax incentives introduced by Puerto Rico in 2012 were designed to spur economic growth. With a population of approximately 3.2 million as of July 2022, some 40% of Puerto Rico’s residents live in poverty and the median income is just under $22,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Eleven years ago when the incentives were approved, 44.9% of Puerto Rico’s residents lived in poverty, when the median household income was $19,429, census data show. Under Act 60, the name given to the incentive programs in 2019, eligible businesses pay a 4% corporate tax on services exported from Puerto Rico, said Raul Vidal y Sepulveda, an attorney who advises individuals and companies on tax incentives. Companies with revenue of $3 million or more must employ at least one full-time employee locally, he said. Individuals granted Act 60 benefits don’t pay federal income EL YUNQUE P U E R T O R I C O Viejo San Juan S a n J u a n P a l m a s d e l M a r ATLANTIC OCEAN V I E Q U E S Camille Bressange/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Christian Mickelsen moved to Puerto Rico from San Diego in 2018. He owns two condos in the Dorado Beach Resort, one of which is pictured above. at Weitzman, a residential and hospitality development consulting firm, said Puerto Rico’s tax benefits transformed it from a place people wanted to visit to a destination for wealthy home buyers with the flexibility to move their businesses, including hedgefunders, crypto investors, and other entrepreneurs. He said the movement began in 2012 and was a “slow burn” that skyrocketed in 2020 thanks to Covid and massive wealth generated in the stock market. “Part of the appeal was you could move to Puerto Rico, save on taxes, have an incredible lifestyle and generally spend less than what you’d spend on a comparable place in Miami or other resort destinations,” he said. “It created this almost club of high-net-worth households that have chosen to establish residence in Puerto Rico.” Crypto investor Michael Terpin was an early mover. He relocated to Puerto Rico from Nevada in 2016 to take advantage of the tax benefits. “I look at this as a 20-year play,” he said. “How much in taxes will I save over 20 years?” Terpin said since he arrived, a crypto community has formed in Puerto Rico, and he has more friends there than he does in Nevada or Florida, where he also owns homes. In Puerto Rico, he’s fixed up two properties, a condo in San Juan’s Miramar neighborhood and a house in the Beverly Hills district of Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan. He said he paid $280,000 for the condo, which is now worth $2.5 million. He paid $700,000 for the house, which is now worth $6 million to $7 million. Christian Mickelsen, a business coach, author and investor who moved to Puerto Rico from San Diego in 2018, didn’t expect to like living on the island as much as he does. He came for the tax benefits, but said he found ample networking and business opportunities along with tropical weather, restaurants, nightlife and watersports. He lives in the Dorado Beach Resort, where he drives around on a golf cart and can order room service. “Living in California, and paying more than half the money I make in taxes, that was pretty rough,” he said. Mickelsen also began investing in real estate as the housing market shot up. After buying a five-bedroom home for $3.375 million in 2018, he sold the property for $5 million in 2020. He later purchased two three-bedroom condos in Dorado Beach for $3.6 million and $6.9 million. Both are on the market, for $10.997 million Dorado Beach Newtax incentives help drive prices up YEAR Median Sale Price ($1M+) 2014 $1.25 million 2015 $1.425 million 2016 $1.9 million 2017 $1.975 million 2018 $1.8 million 2019 $1.96 million 2020 $2.69 million 2021 $3.4 million 2022 $6.2 million Source:Sotheby’s InternationalRealty tax on income sourced in Puerto Rico and they also are exempt from paying Puerto Rico income taxes on interest, dividend income and certain capital gains. To qualify, individuals must live primarily in Puerto Rico, they must own a home there within two years of being granted tax-exempt status, and they must annually donate at least $10,000 to local charity. After several years of steady growth, the number of individuals granted tax-exempt status under Act 60 jumped from 514 in 2019 to 714 in 2020 and 1,238 in 2021, according to data from Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce. The number dropped to 721 in 2022, which Vidal y Sepulveda attributes largely to a crash in the crypto market. Crypto entrepreneurs and investors, he said, flocked to the island for Act 60 capital-gains benefits when the virtual currency was hitting its peak. Peter Bazeli, a principal Michael and Maxine Terpin moved to Puerto Rico in 2016. They purchased this home in Guaynabo for $700,000 in 2017 and did $1 million worth of renovations. GIL STOSE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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