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August 22, 2005

Water Island housing bill passed

From the Daily News:

Sixty acres of government land on Water Island can now be used to build homes through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.

Gov. Charles Turnbull, on Friday, signed into law a bill that transfers 30 percent of 200 acres of real property on Water Island to HFA. The U.S. Interior Department granted the property to the Virgin Islands government in May.

When the bill came before the Senate Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs in June, HFA Executive Director Clifford Graham said that the homes to be built on Water Island would be for the upper level of people who qualify for housing assistance - with an annual household income of up to $130,725. The homes, Graham estimated, could be 1,600 square feet and larger.

According to the bill, the governor must conduct a land-use study of the 200 acres and develop a land-use plan. The legislation also appropriates $75,000 from any available funds in the government's treasury in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, for the study.

Click here for the rest.

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$4.9M GERS building on St. Croix slated for completion in 2006

So GERS is broke but the can find $5 million for a new building? From the Daily News:

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Government Employee's Retirement System expects construction of its $4.9 million headquarters on St. Croix to begin soon.

GERS board of trustees signed the contract with St. Croix-based Best Construction Inc. on Aug. 1 after confirming that the company received an insurance bond on the project, trustee Raymond James said at the agency's monthly meeting on St. John on Thursday.

Trustees did not say specifically when the work will begin.

The two-story, 6,000-square-foot building will be in Orange Grove, Christiansted.

The project is expected to create 100 construction jobs and is scheduled for completion in 2006.

GERS officials have said the facility will better suit the needs of GERS's members, retirees and beneficiaries on St. Croix because it is larger and will give the staff easier access to records now stored on St. Thomas.

The new facility, which will be behind GERS's current location adjacent to the Casino Control Commission office, will be easily accessible by disabled people.

GERS officials expect to make money on the new facility by increasing the value of the agency's real estate portfolio and revenues from renters. It plans to rent out its current location and some of the space in the new facility, which will include a day-care center and a teleconference center.

GERS confronts growing gap between revenue and payments

This story sounds dangerous. When you start having these kind of shortfalls in a system where the total population is as small as it is, where is all that money supposed to come from? I am afraid for the future of people who have put all their eggs in the GERS basket. The relevant part of the story as it pertains to real estate:

Allowing the GERS board to invest in bonds rated BBB or better. Currently the system can only invest in AAA bonds. The bill also would allow more investment in real estate and alternative investments.

Click here for the rest.

Courts Disagree Over Mortgage Fee Limits

From the Washington Post:

The latest case, handed down Aug. 4 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ( Santiago v. GMAC Mortgage Group Inc. ), involved a class-action suit against GMAC, one of the country's highest-volume home lenders. A GMAC Mortgage customer alleged that the company marked up various fees in connection with the closing of his loan, and thereby violated HUD's ban. Citing earlier federal appellate court rulings that HUD lacked statutory authority to ban markups, GMAC asked the district court to throw out the suit. It did. The home buyers then took the case to the appellate level, where HUD's position on markups was affirmed. The 3rd Circuit covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Click here for the whole story

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August 13, 2005

Nancy Anderson Quoted in the NY Times

From The New York TImes:

Nancy Anderson has to work harder than do most real estate agents to keep her vacationing tenants happy. As the president of McLaughlin Anderson Luxury Villas in St. Thomas, which rents properties throughout the British and the United States Virgin Islands and in Grenada, she faces the dichotomy of trying to serve impatient clients on the islands - where patience is a necessity.

"Whether you are renting ski houses in Steamboat Springs or beach houses in Nantucket, the clients we are now all dealing with have sky-high expectations," she said. "Just trying telling a client that they can't listen to music by the pool because there is an islandwide power outage or that the Jacuzzi isn't working because we have to order a broken part from California."

Then there are the children, who, Ms. Anderson said, have their own expectations - including a DVD player and DVD's and access to instant messaging.

The whole thing is below the fold.

August 12, 2005 DVD's! Wi-Fi! The Race to Woo Renters With Extras

LAST summer, Steve Messinger, owner of a two-bedroom summer lake house in Chautauqua, N.Y., decided to put a washer and dryer in the cottage that had once belonged to his parents so he could rent it out. "To me a washer and dryer qualified as amenities," said Mr. Messinger, who grew up spending summers in the house on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.

Hardly. Had he talked to Joanna Dahlbeck, director of rentals at the Vacation Properties Group, which handles 155 condominiums and houses in the Chautauqua area, he would have quickly learned that a washer and dryer are now a requirement.

"Ten years ago, we had properties that had no television, no phones, no clock radios and no laundry machines," Ms. Dahlbeck said. "Basically, no creature comforts. Now, we ask all owners to have some kind of dial-up access for computers and a television, preferably one with a remote control. Since 9/11, renters want some kind of visual contact with the outside world.

"We don't insist on air-conditioning," Ms. Dahlbeck added, "but after this summer's heat wave that could also become more of a necessity."

Even Ms. Dahlbeck's list barely cuts it in today's rental-house market. "I have customers who want an espresso maker, extra cable channels, a gas - not charcoal - grill, nice china and a gourmet kitchen," said Joyce Nadeau, director of the Cape Cod rental division for Kinlin Grover GMAC. "The days of the old cape cottage with knotty pine are gone," she said. "And if the house has knotty pine, it has to be painted white."

Renters increasingly only want houses with the amenities of their own homes, particularly at $4,000 to $5,000 a week for a lake house, or in the case of many of Ms. Nadeau's clients, $12,000 to $15,000 a week to be on the ocean. "The high-end clients in particular want the upscale feel of staying in a hotel resort but the privacy and comforts of staying in a home," she said.

Luckily there are owners who live in the style to which many top-end tenants are accustomed. Don Wall, a retired data services salesman in Denver, rents out his 9-bedroom, 10-and-a-half-bathroom home in Beaver Creek, Colo., for about 18 weeks a year. The house, called Elk View, has a six-person Jacuzzi and a Finnish sauna, an exercise room, a heated boot room and a wine cellar and tasting room. It also has Wi-Fi; five TV's, including a 55-inch flat screen; Calphalon cookware; and a dining room that can seat 22. During Christmas week the house, which sleeps 20, costs $4,050 a night.

Mr. Wall, who bought the house in 1996 with his brother-in law, Patrick Morris, a retired executive in St. Louis, insists that their own families like the luxury touches as much as the renters do. "I like making the house grander and grander for our family," he said, adding that he would have put in a heated driveway had it not been so large. "But our renters appreciate it. I had one Big Cigar come by who wanted to rent it, and he said to me the moment he saw the master bedroom: 'I don't have to look any further. I have those same Charisma sheets on my bed at home.' "

Mr. Wall and Mr. Morris, who handle the renting themselves, also offer prearrival delivery of rental skis, groceries and liquor as well as complimentary transportation in Beaver Creek.

"We know everyone in town, so it isn't difficult for us to organize," Mr. Wall said. "And again, we do it for ourselves when we are here, so why not offer it to renters?"

Indeed, services like stocking the refrigerator ahead of time are becoming standard for high-end renters. "Easily, the biggest difference I have seen in the marketplace is the demand for concierge services," said Mary Connolly, who with her brother, Michael, owns Peak Properties in Vail, Colo., which caters primarily to executives and their families. "They don't just want the nice house, they want massages, dinner reservations, a ski instructor and a chef. We provide all of that," said Ms. Connolly, who in ski season has a staff of 20.

Nancy Anderson has to work harder than do most real estate agents to keep her vacationing tenants happy. As the president of McLaughlin Anderson Luxury Villas in St. Thomas, which rents properties throughout the British and the United States Virgin Islands and in Grenada, she faces the dichotomy of trying to serve impatient clients on the islands - where patience is a necessity.

"Whether you are renting ski houses in Steamboat Springs or beach houses in Nantucket, the clients we are now all dealing with have sky-high expectations," she said. "Just trying telling a client that they can't listen to music by the pool because there is an islandwide power outage or that the Jacuzzi isn't working because we have to order a broken part from California."

Then there are the children, who, Ms. Anderson said, have their own expectations - including a DVD player and DVD's and access to instant messaging.

IT often falls to agents to inform owners that their houses don't make the amenities cut. "It's a delicate situation to go into someone's house and say that Brady Bunch furniture has to go or your taste stinks," said Ms. Connolly of Peak Properties. "So instead we say to make money you have to invest money. You have to put a TV in every bedroom, put in the steam shower, install the granite kitchen counters."

Heather Maitre of Ramsey, N.J., who with her husband, Frank, owns a five-bedroom log home at Okemo in Vermont, knows the value of upgrading a house. During New Year's week, their newly built cabin, which has a game room with a mahogany pool table and two outdoor Jacuzzis with waterfalls, rents for $1,200 a night. "These days you can buy a new TV for $300, find beautiful bed comforters and sheets for $50 to $60 at Kohl's and purchase someone's old video library for next to nothing on eBay," Ms. Maitre said. "And then you can, of course, charge more for your home."

Some people, of course, opt out of the amenities race. Gail Rodgers owns a three-property compound on a large pond in Chatham on Cape Cod and rents out two of the two-bedroom cottages each summer. They do not have air-conditioning, fancy kitchens or outdoor showers. But she does leave a vase of flowers and a book filled with local information for each tenant. And while similar properties rent for about $2,000 a week, Ms. Rodgers asks no more than $1,800 for each of hers. "Many people tell me I could charge much more, but I like the people who come to me now and don't want to necessarily attract a higher-paying renter," she said.

And even though Mr. Messinger in Chautauqua hasn't put in a river rock fireplace, he hasn't had any trouble renting his house this summer for $2,500 a week. "Hey, it could be a lot worse," he said. "A guy down the road from us makes the renters change their own beds at the end of their stay!"

U. S. Virgin Islands Real Estate and MLS service

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August 08, 2005

Living On Unspoiled St. John

Here is a special feature brought to you by Cruz Bay Realty:

Anyone planning to visit St. John will first behold its beauty from afar, or from the sea, since this unspoiled and underdeveloped island has no airstrip, or seaplane service. Its mountainous outline, extending eastward to the British Virgin Islands, can be seen from neighboring St. Thomas, intriguing from that vantage point since the island’s north shore appears nearly uninhabited, carved with a sequence of tranquil aquamarine bays capped by white sandy beaches. Indeed, this portrait is what sets St. John apart, for over half of the island is protected as the Virgin Islands National Park, a generous gift from Laurance Rockefeller that took over half of St. John out of the real estate market. The lure of owning property is particularly appealing since all real estate laws pertinent to the Virgin Islands reflect stateside standards. Ownership is fee simple, under U.S. flag. There are no restrictions against purchasing solely for investment, and no laws dictating when, if ever, you must build on undeveloped land. Taxation is figured at 1.25% of 60% of the market value, a favorable calculation that keeps this aspect of ownership affordable. Most of the zoning is low density residential; indeed there is very little commercially zoned property allotted on St. John. Plans and permits are issued in accordance with an enforceable building code. Neighborhoods usually have covenants to shape the development and maintain some semblance of order, but these tend to be logical and not terribly imposing. For instance, many areas prohibit hanging laundry in view, or keeping goats, donkeys, pigs and chickens as pets. As charming as these country elements may seem as you tour the island, goats and donkeys can ravage your garden in a day and it’s doubtful that the 5 A.M. wake up call of a rooster will enhance your life.

Development has evolved as St. John has been discovered by more and more people looking for the ultimate Caribbean retreat: that place where you can soak your feet in 80 degree crystal clear water and enjoy your “Planters Punch” under a palm just hours after leaving the mainland. In the past fifteen years two new shopping centers graced the main town of Cruz Bay, and another, located on the outskirts of town, opened in late 1999. Two luxury hotels, Caneel Bay and The Westin, compete for the high end hotel market. A multitude of new homes have been built primarily as vacation villa, rented on a weekly basis to vacationers and occupied by their absentee owners for several weeks a year. The mainly affluent rental market has mandated an upgrading of construction quality, while the architectural theme holds strongly to the West Indian tradition of masonry construction, with arches, galleries, native stonework, tile floors and ceiling fans. Homes are designed for indoor/outdoor living; here you can appreciate having your dining table on a covered porch all year round, protected from the sun and rain, and cooled by the constant trade winds. Locals rarely use air conditioning; however upscale rental villas often install air conditioning, at least in the bedrooms.

If you decide to establish permanent ties to St. John, the scope of the real estate market ranges from modest to astonishing. Home sites start at about $175,000 but that won’t afford you an ocean view; for a view of the sea double that price to start. The more ocean you can see, the more you can expect to pay, with the best hillside lots in the $400K and up range. Since most of the central region of St. John belongs to the Park, residential areas are oriented along the south shore near Cruz Bay and at the eastern end of the island near the tiny village of Coral Bay. If you enjoy the quiet of the National Park surroundings, there are a few in-holdings that garner prices well above $1,000,000, and for the prestigious north shore location at Peter Bay a half acre hillside lot will start at about $1,500,000. Island wide, there are very few oceanfront home sites and even fewer with beach frontage. The higher price tags attached to waterfront sites do not appear to deter buyers; they are among the fastest selling and most in demand.

While the starting prices on homes are high, some properties remain within reason. The average price for a home during the last two years has been over $1,000,000. It is still possible to find something under that amount, especially if you can live without an ocean view. The tendency in new homes is definitely geared more to the vacation market, which is more discriminating and demanding now than in the past. With insurance premiums very expensive, new construction of upscale homes is almost exclusively masonry or native stonework. A great ocean view is a must, as well as a pool, and equally appealing bedroom suites numbering from two to six, along with air conditioning in the bedrooms. Fully equipped kitchens, designer furnishings with a tropical flair, along with all the comforts of home have become necessities. Outdoor areas are an integral, year round, part of the home. Flowering landscapes complement patios, decks, and pool areas which are furnished with comfortable outdoor furniture. New vacation villas list for one million to $3+ million, depending on location, construction and details.

Condominiums cropped up in the early eighties, primarily in or near Cruz Bay, where zoning permits denser development. The largest and only waterfront complex, Gallows Point, sits at the entrance to the harbor. Gallows consists of 60 one bedroom units, in 15 buildings, with manicured grounds and a restaurant on the premises. These units rarely come on the market, but when they do are listed in the $700k range. The new upscale Grande Bay Resort, located on Cruz Bay Harbor, will have 48 units when completed. Other popular condo complexes are: Lavender Hill, Battery Hill, Cruz Views, Pastory Estate, and Serendip. Condos have proven to be a solid investment because most have vacation rental programs in place.

If you decide to live on St. John, be prepared for higher prices for all purchases, and more limited services than you may be accustomed to in the states. St. John is a small Caribbean island where everything is imported, primarily from the mainland. There are approximately 5,000 full time residents, so if you live here you have the chance to know most everyone and they’ll know everything you do. Activities and groups to become involved in are: Yacht Clubs, Kids and the Sea, St. John Singers, Historical Society, Friends of the Park, Audubon Society, St. John Community Foundation, St. John School of the Arts, Rotary, Lions, BPW, and churches of various denominations. People are friendly and come from very diverse and interesting backgrounds.

The views are stunning, the beaches gorgeous, and thanks to our National Park, vast acres of St. John will be preserved for future generations — a St. John property owner’s greatest asset.

Archive link for this entry: Living On Unspoiled St. John | |

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