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building a house on st.john

 
bailey
 bailey
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*What do you know about building on St.John. We are currently in the process of buying property in Coral Bay and wonder everything involved in building a second house when we are in the states.

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Topic starter Posted : January 21, 2005 1:31 pm
Anonymous
 Anonymous
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I built a house "long distance" from the US on a different island and can give you some general comments which pretty much hold true for building a house on any island.

First, hire a locally based architect to design your house as they will be more familiar with the local building requirements. Architects from the states do not have a good grasp on what is needed for a house in the Caribbean. You'd be wise to hire a local attorney to review your contracts with both the architect and General Contractor. As part of your due dilligence, check plenty of reference for both your architect and General Contractor. Insist on getting estimates before you approve any change orders and under no circumstances allow work to be done without a cost estimate (unless, of course, you like to be surprised and don't mind paying big bucks for seeming little items).

Second, you will need to hire a competent project manager to oversee your construction and protect YOUR interests. Do not leave this to the architect or your General Contractor as neither of them have your best interest in mind (no matter how friendly or nice they seem) and they are often at odds with one another and sometimes your instructions to one of them will not be communicated to the other. There are a number of people who do this thing for a living so find one you like. Most often PM's will work part-time for you (say one or two visits to the building site each week) but if your budget allows hire one full time for the entire length of the project. It will prevent a lot of headaches and descrepancies and is well worth the extra cost especially if you are building a high-end home. Trust me on this - if you are not prepared to be "on-site" yourself through all steps of the project you need a Project Manager - don't attempt the project without one. I got this same advice from others and I followed it with great results. Those acquaintances I know who built wth using a PM often have horror stories to tell. Keep accurate notes of all your conversation and put as much as you can in writting. Make sure your PM, GC and architect get copies of all correspondance, e-mails (a great tool for long distance building) and change orders.

Third, you are building on an island and just about everything has to be imported so you building costs are going to be more than you'd spend for a similar house "back home". Figure around $100 to $125 per square foot for your basic structure (four walls & roughing for roof) and anywhere from $50 to $150 for the finish material. If you want good quality finish material be prepared to do your own resourcing. Depending on the General Contractor you use he may or may not be able to get the materials you specify. When I was building my house we purchased and shipped in four 40' containers of building materials (windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, kitchen cabinets, appliances, floor tiles, wall tiles, roof tiles, mastics, grout, paints, hardware, electrical switches and fixtures, etc. (you name it, we shipped it - just about everything but the concrete, block and stucco needed to build the "four walls").

Fourth, everything moves on "island time" so if you are in a rush to build your house don't do it. Figure a minimum of 12 months from ground breaking to completion for a small basic house. If you are doing a medium size upscale villa you are probably looking at 18 to 24 months for completion (these estimates do not include the architect's design time which could be as much as 6 months). Of course, you could purchas a pre-designed floor plan to save on archiects fees and design time but that is something only you can decide (but here again if you go this route get a plan from a locally based architect).

Fifth, be prepared for all the extras and contingencies. More than likely you will spend a lot more than your initial estimates. At the very least, make your best guess as to what building a similar sized house would cost where you now live then add 50%. If the resulting number doesn't frieghten you then proceed with your project. Building in the tropics presents its own challenges. You may encounter solid rock or water just below the surface and either of these means you will spend unplanned money on "site work" or drainage issues. Don't forget to budget for landscapng around your property. If you have beautiful tropical gardens in mind you can easily add tens of thousands of dollars to your finished costs.

You are undertaking a "labor of love". At times it will be exciting and at others it will be frustrating but in the end hopefully you find it was worth it. Good luck and have fun.

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Posted : January 21, 2005 2:58 pm
kudzu
 kudzu
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btw, make sure to select a real architect too-- as in, licensed in architecture, went to school as an architect, aia member, etc. loopholes exist in the virgin islands where draftsmen can call themselves architects [and can even list themselves as architects in the phone books...] and represent themselves as such.

http://www.aiavi.org/memberstt1.htm
[add to that list, by the way, bill willigerod in the marketplace. but i think thats it as for real architects on st john]

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Posted : January 22, 2005 11:23 pm
Chin4-islandlife
(@Chin4-islandlife)
Active Member

What about building a tiny house on St. John?

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Posted : August 3, 2016 12:24 pm
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

http://www.stjohnusvi.com/architec.html

List of architects

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Posted : August 3, 2016 12:43 pm
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

Read this blog about building a house on STJ.
A good primer.

http://bongobongostjohn.com

Just remember, there were 4 barges running when they built their house. Right now, we're lucky if there are 2 running.
Until they get the barge situations sorted out, delays will be a fact of life as your building materials must come from STT.

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Posted : August 3, 2016 1:02 pm
LoveUSVI
(@LoveUSVI)
Advanced Member

In addition to the blog that Alana mentioned, check also
http://www.seasthedayvi.com/construction-blog

It is another great blog about building in St John.

All the best for your project!

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Posted : August 3, 2016 3:06 pm
OldTart
(@the-oldtart)
Expert

It's a little confusing sometimes when someone adds a new query to a very old thread but the OP is dated 2005. Someone enquiring about building a "tiny" house probably wouldn't be helped much by reading blogs about building huge vacation villas.

Somehow building a "tiny" house on St John seems redundant given the price of land. Chin4-islandlife, have you seriously looked into buying land, have you bought land, or is this just a fanciful thought?

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Posted : August 3, 2016 3:19 pm
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

Big or small, some of the issues regarding building any home remains the same. Clearing the land, creating a road, digging and building a cistern, installing septic, laying foundation, etc.

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Posted : August 3, 2016 3:33 pm
Exit Zero
(@exit-zero)
Trusted Member Registered

It's a little confusing sometimes when someone adds a new query to a very old thread but the OP is dated 2005.

Hey at least they used the search function we all try to get posters to consider!

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Posted : August 3, 2016 5:49 pm
Pammerjo
(@Pammerjo)
Advanced Member

I second the bongobongo blog! We considered building, but just after reading their blog, we decided to purchase an existing structure and save ourselves a lot of headaches and $$!!

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Posted : August 3, 2016 5:57 pm
Scubadoo
(@Scubadoo)
Trusted Member

I just watched a tiny house HGTV episode last week built on STJ.

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Posted : August 4, 2016 1:38 am
Jumbie
(@ohiojumbie-2)
Trusted Member

I second the bongobongo blog! We considered building, but just after reading their blog, we decided to purchase an existing structure and save ourselves a lot of headaches and $$!!

Smart decision to buy and not build.

The worst decision we ever on made on St Croix was to build. Even though we had researched builders for several years, our highly reputable builder in the beginning ended up going bankrupt towards the end and left us with about 30% yet to be finished, even though we had wired him 100% of the monies he had quoted to build it We had to hire his foreman to finish the job with about $40K in cost over runs.

The worst part is the penalty to this builder was zero. The prosecuter said wire fraud had been committed but they had bigger fish to fry. (This was right after 9/11 in NYC). The builder/contractor merely went over to St John and started over. He's still there & still in the construction industry.

Jumbie

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Posted : August 5, 2016 10:19 am
OldTart
(@the-oldtart)
Expert

... left us with about 30% yet to be finished, even though we had wired him 100% of the monies he had quoted to build it We had to hire his foreman to finish the job with about $40K in cost over runs.

Jumbie

Maybe just part of the learning curve but isn't it more the norm to pay in installments as construction progresses rather than paying the total amount up front?

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Posted : August 5, 2016 10:33 am
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

I'd never pay everything 100% up front.
If contractor demanded that, it would set off all kinds of alarm bells and I'd find another builder. Of course, Hindsight is 20/20 and we all live and learn.
Sorry, you had that happen.

You couldn't put a lien on him to satisfy the debt?

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Posted : August 5, 2016 10:47 am
Jumbie
(@ohiojumbie-2)
Trusted Member

Old Tart- I should have clarified our payment. We paid a modest down payment in the beginning & then after that the builder would send us spreadsheets showing progress on the home construction. So over the span of 10-12 months installment payments were made to the contractor. Bottom line contractor "faked" false spreadsheets on progress.

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Posted : August 5, 2016 10:50 am
OldTart
(@the-oldtart)
Expert

That stinks - so presumably you weren't on island so couldn't check on actual progress? Lessons to be learned for true!

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Posted : August 5, 2016 11:10 am
Afriend
(@afriend)
Trusted Member

That's one of the reasons we hired a Project Manager (PM). Our was full-time but we know people who did just as well with a part-timer. We couldn't be on-island during construction of our home so we needed someone to look after our interests. We had an excellent builder and a terrific architect but we knew that they would be looking out for themselves no matter how much we trusted them. Hence the PM - yes it cost us a pretty penny but compared to the overall cost of our project it was a small price to pay. We ended up with a fantastic house with everything just the way we wanted it.

Regarding payment to the GC - we gave hime a initial deposit and then made progress payments based on Requisitions submitted by the GC and approved by our PM. Our contract provided that we'd do a 5% holdback on each Requisition (to be paid upon completion). Interesting thing was, the GC never had a "holdback" clause in any of his prior contracts and actually forgot we owed him the remaining 5%. I had to remind him to send us a "final" bill.

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Posted : August 5, 2016 11:45 pm
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