Buying property, do you have the stomach?
My wife and I recently closed on a property in the Caribbean and strangely enough the scheduled day for finalizing the purchase actually included an unscheduled shopping trip to the mall, three different attorneys, an Indy 500 style drive through traffic to get to the airport, and signing legal documents that would determine our financial fate until the year 2037 on a curb outside at an international airline's airport terminal (click my signature for the full story with photos).
I would really like to hear about the experiences of other buyers and what they went through to close, or even USVI real estate agents and their most unique cases.
We didn't have anything like the experience you had, but thought that we would share it anyway.
Love our realtor Fiona Stuart. Led us to a sleeping giant. She's back from her yearly mission. Great Lady,Great Returns.
For us it was very smooth. They accepted are offer why we were still there. Then we used a lawyer from there and closed the deal from home, lawyer fee was $500 about the same as title company here with much better service.
Our experience from beginning to end was a comedy of errors. I will tell all when I write our moving story. I wanted to wait a full year before writing our moving story. We closed on our house June 15th 2006 but have only lived full time on STX since November. I will say however that the real estate firm that was the selling broker for our house was Coldwell Banker. The mortgage company was Flagstar Bank. The sellers were Pam and Jack Ward. I can't remember the home inspectors name but will find out. All those parties were extremely dishonest from beginning to end. For 15 years in the states my husband and I bought and sold real estate for a living. We have never had such an experience as this. None of the parties we dealt with were cruzan or west Indian, all transplants. Our experience had nothing to do with how things are done on the island just greedy dishonest people. I will reveal all in November.
May I (very gingerly) proffer the following suggestion - if you really feel that the Coldwell Banker franchise and/or an agent thereof has been "dishonest", report them to the Board of Realtors - I can give you contact #'s. I can assure you that they will investigate fully. This might be more helpful to you than bitter rhetoric posted on a public message board.
Many people have bad purchasing stories here. Dougtamii is not unique. You really have to do your homework on any house you purchase here and you have to expect snags. Not stateside snags....island ones. Do not trust any of the homeowner inspectors....I'm not saying any of them are dishonest (can only speak for stx) but not one of them is an expert in any one field. Most of the houses on island were built by locals a little at a time as the could afford it. Depending on the age of the house and the amount of building knowledge the person had building it will be reflected in the quality (or lack of it) of the work. Hire a electrician, plumber, etc that is well respected on island to check the house out. For example if you were going to hire a plumber to inspect your house on stx call mike sissem. Is it in a flood zone? There may be a reason the house smells musty...etc
Do your homework as well.....check deeds to see how many times it was sold....talk to neighbors, etc... Buying a house here can be risky and dangerous....Anyone who's lived in a beachfront community can tell you how bad the weather can be on a house. Maintenance will always be greater.
Frankly if you're not a handy person I would really think hard about buying a house here. Buying is risky as far as a return as well. One bad hurricane can set prices back for years. Reselling a house can easily take 6 months to a year. Many sit on the market for much much longer.
A lot of people move to the VI, having 'dealt' in Real Estate on the mainland. To avoid the "dumb and dumber" feeling, GET A LAWYER, one well versed in Island real estate transactions. If you do use a Home Inspector - get references and actually call and visit with them. Ask for personal recommendations for everything.
Talk to people in the Realtor's office, on the street, in stores, at the doctor's etc...people will gossip gladly.
Use a plumber, electrician, builder etc to do your home inspection - if you talk to ten people on StX in the income/housing bracket that involves the east end - you will be told 10 x that Mike sissems is the "go to" plumber bar none. He has seen all those properties come and go - same for Rufus James as an electrician.
Do your homework, use personal recommendations, get a lawyer and forget how much you knew on the Mainland.
I was in the Real Estate business on st X for 5 yrs and we saw a lot of extremely avoidable heartaches.
A local purchase is much different than a remote purchase. Had no different experience with house purchase on STT than we did with house purchase on Cape Cod (I lived in NC). Everything went smoothly except that before closing we had no walk-thru...so after closing we had to spend $$$ to move a ton of crap out of our new home so we could move in. Same in both houses.
Jane and Betty, excellent suggestions about local craftsmen.
No diff buying in USVI VS MAINLAND OTHER than usual cost of living differences.
Never buy sight unseen! Trust no one.
I know a fair amount about VI real estate but my practice is in Scottsdale and that is where I truly know the the rules inside and out. Here, if you have clear, written proof that your sellers and/or agent deliberately covered up facts that "would have been pertinent to a buying decision", it is fraud and a felony. I would get a lawyer immediately and then shut up, because you could prejudice your case with too much of what you've been posting here.
Just from our small experience of buying a lot on STX, I think sometimes that the agents are not so much dishonest but more that they do not do enough research on a property before it is shown to potential buyers. My
example would be the exact location of a particular lot. The lot is shown as "it is about in this area". You really don't have a clue of the exact location until you receive a survey. Our experience has been all good with a few bumps along the way. All worth it in the end.
The biggest problem I had when I bought was with the bank. They jerked me around so much that all the income paperwork, etc. they required for the mortgage had expired & due to their incompetence I had to resubmit it 2-3 times. This was First Bank (and yes, I will mention the name) & they were total nincompoops. Trying to remember if they had a different name at that time. Anyway, by the time this ordeal had gone on so long, the seller wanted to back out & then decided to go ahead with the transaction IF I'd agree to pay half the stamp tax.
The first realtor I contacted here, after carefully explaining my needs/wants/must haves took me to every dog property she couldn't foist on anyone else including a termite-ridden wooden house (extremely difficult if not impossible to get insurance on wooden houses at that time) with a swimming pool that was 6' deep with no shallow end & she knew I couldn't swim. She totally thought I was a sucker. She even took me to a 5 bedroom hellhole that was way over my budget & when I told her I didn't want or need, nor could I afford a 5 bedroom house, she told me to get roommates. This real estate couple are very prominent on St. Thomas. I wouldn't let them sell a dog house OR buy from them.
The 2nd realtor listened to what I wanted, checked the listings, drove me here & I bought it. Unfortunately, she's no longer in the real estate business.
With lots its really extremely hard for the realtor to know more then you if the property is overgrown, surrounded by other empty lots and if it is not clearly marked. Ideally an owner should take care of their lot for sale and have it mowed every few months and make sure there are clear markers on the land. But that is extremely rare at least on stx. There's land thats been sitting on the mls for years and years. Or that is just to expensive to maintain given the return. So make sure you study the maps, get a realtor that does have a decade or more experience, I wouldnt go with a newbie who didnt know the island. Finding land can definitely be a pain in the arse. So you have to do your homework on it just in a different way from buying a house.
Betty They actually had our lot cleared and it still did not represent the true size. But in the end it worked out good.
Also we used Bank of Nova Scotia. They were great. No problems and even easier than the banks in NY. Several people told us to go to First Bank and we even made an appointment to talk to them, but when we got there they told us they were busy with other people and we should come back. We didn't.
I couldn't agree more about the BANKS! I just went through the purchase process and I have actually lost count how many times we had to "re-submit" the paperwork....
I was hoping I was the only one. It was a happy day indeed when I paid it off. I also had my own attorney at the closing. I had gone to the seller's attorney when the bank was falling down on the job & he refused to even talk to me & insisted I get an attorney (surprise, surprise.)
After all that, with the seller huffing & puffing about how long it was taking, at the closing they wanted to leave a sofa in the place "until the could get a chance to move it." My attorney prorated the rent & they somehow managed to get the sofa moved immediately. The whole production left a really bad taste in my mouth.
Trade I was wondering why you went to the sellers attorney. I would think they wouldn't speak to you because they represent the other side. Did you try your real estate agent? Our agent did step in a couple of times to keep things moving. They should be involved, they are getting paid. I guess we just lucked out. It sounds like it really could have been much worse.
Out of sheer frustration & that lawyer was a total jerk in the way he talked to me. This whole situation went on & on for months & I actually had enough money in investments to have paid for the place outright but the bank just kept screwing up & screwing up & this attorney was going to be Mr. Bigshot to his clients when they hired him. I can understand the position but NOT his attitude. Also, the big professional attorney he was - NOT - was late to the closing, made several mistakes during it & was red as a beet during most of it, especially after the sofa "favor" they wanted.
The funniest thing was that I ran into the seller about 6 months after this whole mess was over & she started whining to me about how her attorney charged her way over $5,000.00. All he did for her was come up with the idea to make me pay half the stamp tax which sure didn't come close to his outrageous fee he charged her since he only got involved a few weeks before the bank finally came through. I didn't give her any sympathy. Oh, and this place had been on the market for a long time due to the filthy tenants they had in there. I could see beyond that but trust me, as dirty as this place was I can understand others who wanted no part of it.
Vacant land is definitely a pain in the behind to try and identify specifically. If it has houses built on the adjacent lots, that's pretty simple to figure out. When it's in the middle of a thousand other vacant acres, it's impossible to locate without a surveyor and his tools. If you find the general area a lot is supposed to be in, go to the plat map office and see if the survey maps have any landmarks you can look for to identify the property more precisely. Sometimes that helps and sometimes there isn't anything useful to go by. It isn't feasible for every Realtor to independently research every vacant lot that comes into the MLS. We do all wish there was a way to make that realistic. When buyers are serious and not just curious, we can usually help them to narrow the list of properties they find interesting and then do more research on that smaller batch.
If you are buying land, you do have to work with one of the local banks to get a mortgage loan. If you are buying a house or a condo, provided the condo is not "self-insured", you can instead choose to get a mortgage through one of a few mainland mortgage brokers who have gotten licensed to underwrite loans in the USVI. I have a great one in Florida who handles the bulk of the mortgage needs for the buyers I work with. She's saved many deals that would have died a quick death if an island bank were handling the mortgage. If you get the run around from your first bank or two, don't give up. There are some good brokers out there, too.