St John Carnival

St John Carnival time is here!  Fourth of July weekend every year is cause for double celebration here in the US Virgin Islands.

Each island has its own Carnival to celebrate celebrating!  Jouvert (pronounced joo-vay) means first night.  Jouvert kicks off Carnival weekend with a parade commencing at 4am.   Colorful costumes, local music and food means everyone has a good time.



Be prepared for Hurricanes

Summer is coming!  The breeze dies down, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea get warmer…and the weather conditions are ripe for hurricanes in Florida and the Caribbean.  There are a few simple precautions to take to help safeguard you and yours. 

First, get some approved containers to hold fresh water for washing but dont forget your bottled drinking water as well.  Stock up on canned foods and other types of foods that wont go bad if there is no refridgeration.  Keep in mind that if the power goes out, it could be weeks before it is restored.  If you have a gas stove or grill, make sure the tank is full or have an extra one ready.  Have your hurricane shutters ready to go.  Make sure they are in good repair and you have plenty of extra screws. 

Have a full first aid kit, flashlights, and plenty of batteries.  Candles too.  You can purchase radios and flashlights now that you simply wind up, some even have an extra outlet on them.  If you have a generator, check fuel levels and make sure it is in good working condition.

Another good idea is to get together with your neighbors.  Work on the buddy system.  If there is damage in your area, once you are safe, get to your assigned neighbor and check on them.

If you have pets, make sure you have a plan for them.  Have extra food (and cat litter) and have their cages and any medications ready if you need to evacuate.  Make sure they are wearing a collar with name tags and up to date rabies tags.

Keep your fingers crossed that the U.S. Virgin Islands do not experience any hurricanes this summer.  If we do, we are prepared.


St John Hiking

Well, the last hike was so much fun, we went again.  This time my brother and his family are on island so it was a great way to spend the day together in the sun without just sitting on the beach all day drinking (which is ok too!).

For this hike, we took the car ferry from Red Hook on St Thomas to Franks Bay on St John.  The people ferry is now $12.20 per person round trip and the car ferry is $53 round trip.  Since there were five people going and we were headed to the east end of St John it made a lot more sense to ride the car ferry.

Our destination for this hike was Rams Head.  This is a part of the island on the east end that when viewed from the trails looks like a charging ram.  It is an easy to moderate hike.  There is a parking area at the top, a smooth downhill walk to a sandy beach (perfect for a picnic lunch after the hike), after the beach is the Salt Pond, then a moderate trail to the top of Rams Head.  The views from the top of the trail are fantastic!

Make sure to bring plenty of water.  We had a beautiful but overcast day and even I went through almost a gallon of water.  After the hike we went to the car to bring down our packed lunch and enjoyed the rest of the day on the beach.  My friend and my brother went for a long snorkel.  I took a nap on the beach 🙂


St John hiking

I will be heading to St John this morning.  St John is a short 20 minute ferry ride away from St Thomas.  The ferrys run every hour on the hour from both directions.  Going to St John is a great way to spend a few hours, an afternoon, or you can make a whole day of it.  Some just go for lunch or dinner and come back. 

It is looking to be another beautiful day in the Virgin Islands and a friend and I will be hiking so I can get some exercize!  (ooohhh boy, its been a while).  We are going to take the 8 am people ferry and start out on a 2 mile trail.

St John is 2/3 National Park.  The Rockafellers used to own the island.  The Rockafellers donated  most of the land to the Government for use as a national park.  This means that  most of the land on St John can never be built on and will remain as beautiful and untouched as when Columbus first discovered it in 1493. The park service has made many hiking trails and there are several maps to help you choose where you want to go.  There are old ruins and petroglyphs and beautiful beaches to see, just pick your trail.

We picked an easy one for my first time hiking in ummm, well, years.  The trail begins just outside of Mongoose Junction when you head toward the National Park entrance/info center so we can walk to it from the ferry.  Wish me luck!


Ponzi scheme/Gov’t bailout

I was reading the Virgin Island Daily News today and something struck me.  There were side by side articles about the $50 Billion Ponzi Scheme and the $700 Billion bailout.  I noticed similarities within the words written for the different articles.

If you look at the bailout article it says that the lending institutions were lending money they didnt really have to people who eventually would not be able to pay and the lenders were betting on housing prices to keep going up, thus funding the previous loans.

What is the definition of a Ponzi Scheme?  As defined by a Google search  “A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors out of the money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit.”

Apparently the United States taxpayers are paying out on the biggest Ponzi Scheme ever.


Remodeling in the USVI

Wow, what a project I took on.  The biggest projects in the house were…building a wall to turn the main unit into a three bedroom house, rebuilding the two shower pans, and rebuilding the kitchen.   Thank you to all of my friends that gave me a hand!  Your help and support is very appreciated. 

I had also hired some people who did some good work and some who did questionable work.  The most notable of the latter catagory was Caribbean Workshops on St John.  AKA K&S Caribbean, LLC.  A man by the name of Kent Scott found me in Home Depot writing down sizes and prices of the put together cabinets.  He said his prices were comparable to HD and his were custom made solid wood.  (the put together ones are particle board)  I had him come out to my house to take measurements.  He gave me a price that was a lot higher than the cabinets I was looking at, but he said he could have cabinets in before Dec 1st and the doors and drawers on by Dec 5th.  My tenant was moving in on Dec 3 and I was getting pressed for time with everything else that needed to be done.  I gave him the go ahead to make the cabinets.

To make the story short, today is Dec 22 and the kitchen is still not complete and now he will not answer his phone.   His cabinets are a kit he put together, the ends are particle board, the laminate is coming off already, he and his workers left sawdust in and outside the house and a saw in the living room.  The cabinets by the stove were not put in the correct spot and the counter has to be redone to fit the stove.  The drawer slides were supposed to be the self closing kind, but instead they were installed with 20 cent slides from Kmart.  He was unavailable the week of Thanksgiving even though he had set an appointment with a customer I had found for him and a meeting with myself about working for him.  So much for givng a new business a try. 

This has been a learning experience for me. 



How about that election!

I am going to go a little off real estate info for a minute here.  On Tuesday this week the United States of America held presidential elections and on January 20, 2009 the newly elected president will take his oath of office.  Presidential elections mean more to me now that I live in the Virgin Islands because we are a territory and cannot vote for president.  I have missed two elections since I moved here.  They are really the first elections I have wanted to take part in.  I always thought that no matter what, I would not like what happens in the White House, so it would not matter who was sitting in the Oval Office.  I felt very differently about the 2004 and 2008 elections.

Here in the Virgin Islands, because we could not vote, many people became supporters both physically and monetarily.  We were the cheerleaders and bakesale fundraisers in a game we were not allowed to play in.  It seems there is a huge sense of pride in the Virgin Islanders as they have adopted President-elect Barack Obama as their own.

President-elect Barack Obama means a lot of things to a lot of people.  He is a minority.  He did not come from a privliged family.  He is a family man.  He is a father, a husband, and a grandson.  He has faith.  He was a Senator for Illinois.  On January 20, 2009 He will be President of the United States.  I have been reading articles in the paper and watching the news.  Many people are mentioning that he is the first black president.  This is a big step forward for a group of people who would not have even dreamed it possible just 40 years ago.  This step forward is not just for black peoople, but for any minority including women.  His message is that you can be whatever you envision yourself to be.  Wheather that is the best plumber in the area or President of the United States.  There are still people who would try to hurt the president and his family just because he is black.  I hope we can get past the color of his skin to just see what kind of president he is to be.  

Let us not focus on the color of his skin.  Focus on what he says, what he does, and how he handles situations.  Does he listen to the people?  Does he keep his promisses?  Does he conduct himself in a Presidential manner? 

It was his message and the sense of hope that I was attracted to.  It would seem that  George W. with his failures has actually set up President-elect Obama to succeed.  We will have an intelligent, articulate, and energetic soul in the White House who may actually remember that he works for We The People of the United States, not for his family and his cronies.


Finally a homeowner!

I am finally a homeowner myself here in the beautiful US Virgin Islands.  AAAHHHHHHH…the wonders of homeownership.  The cleaning, the spackleing, the painting, the renting…Oh, did I mention I now have apts to rent?  Well I do. 

There is a very nice 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment on the lower level.  It has a large kitchen and is about 1000sf.   It will be available to rent Nov 1.

I am fixing up the 3bedroom, 2.5 bathroom main unit now.  It will be ready mid to end of Nov.  It also has a large kitchen, wrap around porch on the main level and a balcony on two of the bedrooms.  It is about 2600 square feet. 

Both have beautiful views from Inner Brass off Magens Bay all the way to Tortola and St John.  Windows on all sides, so there are great cross breezes!!  The house is on 8/10 acre and is mostly fenced at the end of a dead end road.  Both come fully furnished.  I will accept pets, but if the pets are not taken care of, the owner has to go!

Contact me at islandrealestate@joimail.com for more info!


What do you have to loose?

When a seller puts his home on the market, he signs a listing agreement with a Realtor.  This agreement spells out what is to be expected of the Realtor and states what the seller will pay for the Realtors services.  The amount paid to the Realtor is usually a percentage of the sale price if, during the time of the listing, a “ready, willing and able buyer” is brought to the table .  A “ready, willing and able” buyer is one who wants to purchase the property after all inspections, signs a contract of sale, and is able to pay cash or obtain financing in order to conclude the purchase.  The seller is obligated to sell the house and the buyer is obligated to purchase the house once the contract has been signed by both parties if all conditions are met within the timelines set in the contract. 

The seller puts up his house as collateral and gives the buyer the right to have it inspected.The buyer puts up an earnest money deposit usually (10% of the agreed upon price) that is held in the Realtors escrow account.  An escrow release form must be signed by both parties if the sale does not go through.   Once in a while either the seller or the buyer has a change of heart and decides they do not wish to go through with the contract. 

If the SELLER does not want to sell and the buyer is “ready, willing and able”,  the buyer may request his earnest money deposit returned or, if the buyer still wants to purchase the house, he can sue for specific performance.  Specific performacne is a legal action to compel a party to carry out the terms of a contract.   The seller will still have to pay the Realtors a commission because they performed as to the listing agreement.

If the BUYER decides he does not want to purchase the house after the deadlines in the contract have expired, the seller has the option of making him purchase the house (specific performance) or keeping part or all of the earnest money deposit (minus the Realtors share) for the time the house has been off the market.  He may then put the house back on the market to try to sell to someone else.

There are certain “outs” and time restrictions built into the contract.  These were mentioned in the previous post.



The ‘outs’ in a contract

There are several ways the contract to purchase a house may be cancelled.  Certain deadlines must be met and several ways of determining value that may be negotiated.

The seller must have the bound posts marked to show where the property lies if requested to do so.  I recommend Brian Moseley & Assoc www.visurveyors.com A survey is standard in the US Virgin Islands and required by lending institutions and title companies because there were no building codes or zoning laws until the 70’s.  An owner could literally have built part of his house or fence on a neighboring property. 

The buyer must have a survey and “as built” performed within seven to ten days.  An “as built” shows where the house is in relation to the rest of the property.  This is done to show there are no encroachments (see previous post) and the buyer can have clear title.

A buyer, as an option, may have a home inspection performed within the first seven to ten days of an executed contract.  I recommend Adrian Bishop at The Home Inspector abishop@homeinspect.vi This would make the buyer aware of possible faults with the house.  The buyer then has the option of requesting the seller correct the faults, renegotiating the price, or backing out of the purchase and having his earnest money deposit returned.  The seller has the option of fixing, renegotiating the price, or saying take it as is.  This clause is in consideration to the condition of the house, it is not related to encroachments and clear title.   

Next is the appraiser.  Having your house appraised is always a good idea especially if you are not familiar with prices in the Virgin Islands.  I recommend Tripp Torcia at Appraisal Associates tripptorchia@gmail.com If you are in need of bank financing, an appraisal will be required.  If the appraisal comes in at the agreed upon price or higher, the bank will probably fund the loan if you qualify.  If the appraisal comes in significantly lower than the agreed upon price, the buyer may try to renegotiate the price to satisfy the bank.  If the buyer is unable to obtain financing within the specified time (usually 30-60 days), he will have to cancel the contract.

If the seller and buyer cannot come to an agreement and both are within the timelines set in the contract, the contract may be cancelled.  If either party is outside the timelines set in the contract, the parties each have their different recourse.


Vacation Ritz Carlton Style

 this could be your viewWhen you come to a beautiful island, you just want to relax and play in the sand and turquoise water.  No worries about making beds, cleaning dishes, cooking, or finding a place to eat out all the time with enough room for you and the kids. 

Welcome to the Ritz Carlton Club Suites.  At the Ritz Club Suites you have two bedrooms – in the master suite, a king size bed and in the other bedroom are two queens.  Twice a day maid service, and three meal presentations a day so you dont have to find a restaurant for every meal.  If you do find yourself with leftovers or if you feel like cooking, there is a bistro kitchen in the unit.  There is even a washer and dryer since you will be staying for two weeks at a time in the winter. 

Master bedroom

Just imagine being steps from one of the most beautiful beaches on St Thomas.  When you wake up in the morning, your view is of palm trees, white sand, and water so blue and clear you can almost make out the fish swimming in the shallows from your room.

                                       Ritz Carlton suites

 Come on down and see what the Ritz Carlton lifestyle is all about.



When the seller changes his mind about selling or tries to stall the sale.

For this post I would like to define two terms.  Encroachment-when a structure of any kind (a building, fence, or wall) or portion of it extends beyond the land of the owner and illegally intrudes on land of an adjoining owner.  Easement-the right given to use the land of another for a specific purpose.

A closing date was finally set for last Friday.  All three lawyers, the buyers, the sellers, the listing agent, the selling agent, a rep from the title co, and a rep from the bank were all available.  All final bills had been submitted and the HUD statement was sent out.  Thursday afternoon I received an email from the sellers atty that the seller did not want to pay the commission to the real estate agents.  Since the seller became mysteriously unavailable until Friday evening, the closing was called off.

Over the weekend the listing agent had a chat with the seller and it was my understanding that the closing would take place on Monday or possibly Tuesday at the latest depending on everyones schedules. 

On Monday the seller decided that since he still had to pay the commission, he would try to have the buyer pay for the cost of removing the encroachments to the tune of about $12,000.  In the contract it states the seller must give clear and marketable title to the buyer.  This means the property has to be clear of encroachments.  The seller is now claiming that the buyer said they would pay for removal of the encroachments.  I have a few issues with this.

1. The buyer NEVER said they would pay to have the encroachments removed. Why would the buyer offer to pay for something that was not their responsibility? 

2. This language was never written in to the contract for sale, added as an amendment to the contract, and is not in writing from the seller or the sellers atty.

3. The buyer was never given estimates, consulted as to cost, or allowed to interview the company to do the work.  Why would the buyer give the seller carte blanche with their checkbook?

4. One of the encroachments was to be given an easement.  This means that the owner of the property to the north was going to say on paper that it was ok for the rock wall to be on their property and that that part of their property now technically belongs to the owner of the property to the south. 

5. The seller spent unnecessary money he is now trying to charge to the buyer for removing the wall that was to be granted an easement. 

6. The removal of the wall reduces the value of the property.

7. When the closing was scheduled for the week before and the bank requested all final bills to be submitted, there was no mention of the buyer owing the seller $12,000+. 

8. And finally, THE SELLER IS ALREADY SUING HIS TITLE COMPANY FOR THE MONEY SPENT ON CURING THE ENCROACHMENTS!!!   He is claiming his bank allowed him to purchase the land with encroachments without telling him.

You would think the seller and his lawyer would have remembered about a bill as large as $12,000.  It was only after the seller saw the amount of money they were receiveing from the sale of the house and the commission that was to be paid that the attemt to not pay the commission was tried.  After that failed,  the seller and his atty brought this bill up.

The problem for the buyer is that even though seller put his house on the market knowing about the encroachments, and the buyer has been waiting for the encroachments to be cleared for 7  1/2 months (they are still not officially cleared),  and the buyers have kept to everything on their side of the contract, the buyers cannot make the seller sit down and sign the paperwork.  The seller can tie up the buyers earnest money deposit that is held in escrow.  The only recourse the buyer has is to sue the seller.  This means going to court and could take years to settle.


Insurance in the USVI

 Yes, insurance here is expensive because of hurricanes and possible flooding from such storms as find their way in to the Atlantic. The “replacement cost” on the appraisal is what the insurance companies look at when they decide what to charge you.  The appraisal does not go by square footage alone.  Other factors are what the house is constructed of and if it has hurricane shutters and clips.  When purchasing a home, the appraisal will have this information.  It will also have the three different ways the home was valued.    With a concrete, shutterd three unit home the insurance will be over $10k/yr.  Ouch!  That breaks down to about $850/month.  That is on top of the mortgage and taxes.  The different insurance companies do have slightly different rates, so shop and compare.

The bank will require flood insurance for beachfront, waterfront, and low laying areas, or a flood certificate if your home is not in a flood zone.  If you have rental apartments, I would suggest obtaining liability insurance.   Liability insurance does not cost much extra and it is well worth it.



Closing on property, The Loan Stateside

After reading the previous posts, you may be asking yourself, why would I use a lender on island?  Well, you may have to.  St Thomas and the other US Virgin Islands are territories of the United States, not states themselves.  Although the laws and citizenship are US, there are some differences that become more noticable when trying to purchase property here. 

If you have a good relationship with your bank or credit union in the states, or if you own property in the US, you may be able to use a stateside lender.  The problem is that lenders in the states cannot use a property in the USVI as collateral on a loan.  This means you would have to own something in the US of equal value to what you are purchasing in the USVI.  If you default on your loan in the USVI, the lender would forclose on your US property.

Unfortunately when it comes to finding a financial lender in the USVI, there are very few choices.  We have recently had the opportunity to use lenders located stateside that are licensed to practice in the USVI.  That is a welcome change.  Half of the transaction is still on island time, but it seems to move along a bit better.

Buying a first home or a vacation home should be an exciting experience, not one you loose sleep over.  I have been looking for a home to purchase since I first moved to St Thomas in 2004.  I know that sometimes it will be years before you see the home you love.   I will help you find that home in paradise!



Closing on property, The Loan

Lucky for me a loan officer from another bank came in to my office.  After I told her the story and showed her the appraisal, she said she didnt understand why my 30yr was not approved.  After speaking with her boss, a 30yr mortgage at a great rate would be mine.  Send in the paperwork.  I told her that the only way I could change lenders at this time is if we could close the first week of September.  This gave her just over a month.  She said no problem.

I sent in all the paperwork that was requested.  I mentioned that I would be off island for ten days and anything else they needed had to be submitted before I left since I would return at the end of August and we were supposed to close a few days later.  Upon my return I had a list of ten things the bank needed that were not mentioned before.

After asking many times for a truth in lending statement, I received it Friday September 19, 2008.  Three weeks after we were supposed to close.  Looking over the statement, I noticed the rate stated is one point higher than quoted.  When I asked about the difference I was told that since I was putting it into a trust, they had to charge me a higher rate.  This was not mentioned when I applied for the loan.  

I also wanted to mention that hiring council is recommended here.  There are certain functions that would normally be preformed by a title company or the lending institution in the states that an attorney must preform here.  Inform yourself  as much as possible and stay on top of what is going on.  You are paying these people to work for you.  Make sure they do their job. 

Next…Getting financing from the states