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I'm researching my pending retirement to St Thomas.  

 

irish_dj
(@irish_dj)
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May 30, 2020 11:32 am  

I like to plan budget well out in advance for my retirement. I am planning to move to St Thomas by myself, renting at first and buying when location/opportunity is certain. So I have 3 basic questions.

First: For a 2 bedroom place, after rent/mortgage, what would be a ballpark monthly budget for utilities/food?

Second: Location? Obviously electric is high so I would like a place where I wouldn't need it but I hear such places can be very moldy. I hear north side is breezy but water is calmer on south. So if you could choose the ideal location what would it be?

Third: Condo or house? A house could be equipped with solar but then there's maintaining it as I get older. Personally I could live anywhere (I have many times in military) but I have only had brief visits so far to VI and all information would be appreciated.

 

DJ


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jaldeborgh
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June 1, 2020 8:56 pm  

I don’t know the answers to your specific questions but I can offer some data on electricity costs and solar.  We have a 3 bedroom house on STX with Mini split A/C units and a pool and our monthly bills around $300 with minimal use of the A/C.  By minimal I mean only when we’re too hot or when there’s no breeze (not very common), we don’t leave it running all the time.  In technical terms we consume about 30kW +/- a day, maybe a little more when it’s really humid or a little less when it’s cooler.  We recently installed a 9.92kW solar system with a 18kWh storage battery, inverter and so on, turn key this ran about $36K.  With the install we’re still connected to the Grid so we still have to pay WAPA about $50 a month as a net metering fee.  The point is the payback for solar is many years, your going to pay someone, it’s either WAPA every month or a big lump sum upfront.  As for maintaining a solar system, if done right, it should be very minimal.  Our install is designed to withstand just about any storm that doesn’t take to roof off the house, which is 50 years old and has never yet lost its roof (knock on wood).


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rewired
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June 2, 2020 10:39 am  

@irish_dj

Like @jaldeborgh, I'm on St Croix.

Food costs vary between stores and islands, but plan on approximately 25-50% higher prices depending on the item. Snack and convenience foods can be much more expensive. For example, the $3.99 bags of chips you buy now will often be $5.99; plan on about $15-20 for a case of soda and $30-35 for a case of beer depending on brand. That $0.99 loaf of bread at home may run you $3.99. with some creativity, you can save on other items though - a single can of tuna may be $2.50, but you can buy a pack of 10 cans in the bulk section for around $15. By starting in the bulk aisles for things you know you will use before they expire, you can save some money. A 16 oz jar of salsa is $5.99 at my local store but two 38 oz jars of the same salsa are $9.99 in the bulk aisle. I can feed myself at home for $60-75 per week, but I do eat a fair amount of cereal, sandwiches and ramen and drink a lot of water and 'sun tea'.

We had a 1200 sf condo condo with fees of about $650/month for several years before we bought our house last year. Although our condo didn't charge extra for water, many do. Like most condos, all appliances had to be electric. When we went with open windows (no A/C), our power bill was about $300/ month. Using A/C occasionally, it went up to around $500. You can save a bit on that by putting a timer on your water heater or setting the tank thermostat low.

Our house is 2 BR 2 BA (about 1600 sf) with a 900 sf apartment and we don't have A/C. We are in a breezy location though and have a small pool we can jump in if it gets too hot (another mixed blessing). We have a smaller (2.3 kW) solar array and 10 kWh storage that came with the house. When it's time to replace the batteries, we will probably increase it to around 20 kWh. We also have the 'old' net metering program, so WAPA pays us the same price they charge for power for our excess (on the 'new' plan, they pay 75% and charge a fee for the privilege). On average, we make 50-100 kWh per month more than we use, but we have solar hot water and gas range and dryer (which help a lot with the load). Any credit you have on either net metering program is zeroed out (gifted to WAPA) at the end of the calendar year.

I can't speak to locations on St Thomas, but you will see a lot of  recommendations here for at least one PMV (pre-move visit) which I will echo strongly. Explore the island and see where the places you like to go are and where you might want to live. Many houses in the islands have an apartment in the lower level (and no condo fees). You might be able to find one to rent and then consider buying a house with an apartment if you decide you don't want a condo. Talking to people is usually a good way to find places that aren't listed with real estate agents.

Best of luck!


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irish_dj
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June 2, 2020 12:13 pm  

@jaldeborgh

Thanks for the information. It was very helpful. My exact retirement date depends on how much I need monthly. Do you have any preferences on location on island or on house vs condo?


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irish_dj
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June 2, 2020 12:24 pm  

@rewired

Very helpful, thank you. I am planning a couple weeks on vacation next year to explore and get information. And every retirement book/magazine says rent for 6 months to a year to make sure you like the area. How much do you expect the battery upgrade to cost? St Croix is on my maybe list but St Thomas would be easy to get to PR. I like shopping there. But let me know why you chose one over the other. Thanks again.

DJ


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East Ender
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June 3, 2020 12:19 pm  

irish: You say you could live anywhere... I hope you mean because you have funds sufficient to pay for life anywhere. Retiring to the VI is a dream of many people. It is an *expensive* dream. Housing is different from America. You just have to see for yourself. WAPA at 40 cents/KWH can put a dent in things. So can insurance, especially post-Irma and Maria. You may have the second best view on the island because everyone else claims to have the best. Food and supplies are inconsistent, expensive, and at times shoddy. Shopping is a scavenger hunt- multiple stores to check every few days. The weather is beautiful.

You ask questions that can only be answered by either a longer PMV or a move with a open ended ticket back. The best part of the island to live is subjective. Some love the empty west end, others the green Northside. Every place has positives and negatives.

Condo vs. house is a similar question. Condo living is a different animal. You have to share and the rules and regulations will prevent you from having everything that you want. On the other hand, there is safety in communal living and possibly a total backup generator for those lovely WAPA blackout hours, days, months...

For young people, it's often easy. Come to Paradise for a season and live it up. For older folks who have to consider a fixed income, health care needs, and distance from family of the mainland, it is a bigger decision.


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irish_dj
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June 4, 2020 6:29 pm  

@east-ender

Thanks for the response. When I say could live anywhere, I mean I've live in remote places, cities, islands, deserts, and all climates. I wish I had funds like that but it has been a rough couple years now but when I retire, after taxes/insurance/and taking care of family I expect to have 4-5K a month. That's is why I am researching. Every year I delay retirement my monthly take home would increse over $300 more every month. But I am 50% disabled, mostly for pain, which was gone last time I was in the caribbean. Warm temperature and water was quite a blessing. Other than that, my health needs are none for now. 
One has told me they would never live on the northside due to the humidity/mold but I'm not sure how true that is. 
I will be looking for future trips out there to talk to people and explore and find a area to rent at first when I retire. Until then, all information is very appreciated. 
 
DJ

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Alana33
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June 5, 2020 11:56 am  

How is your health?

Limited options for medical/surgical procedures, from hospitals damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria that weren't in great condition prior to storms. Many surgical procedures aren't done here.

Good to have Medicare because you can't get individual health insurance.

How patient are you?

Living in VI is not for everyone. Some take to it like ducks to water, others run screaming back to the states.

Come for a month long PMV, check prices of everything, including condo and condo fees and whether they have a generator. Building a house is an exhausting expensive and lengthy process in the best of times. Maintenance is another issue, the older one becomes. If you can't do it yourself, finding someone to hire, do a good job that doesn't break the bank, isn't the easiest. 

Can you live thru serveral months without power and the devastating aftermath of hurricanes? Do you want to?

 

 


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Afriend
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June 5, 2020 12:29 pm  
Posted by: @Alana33

Come for a month long PMV, check prices of everything, including condo and condo fees and whether they have a generator. Building a house is an exhausting expensive and lengthy process in the best of times. Maintenance is another issue, the older one becomes. If you can't do it yourself, finding someone to hire, do a good job that doesn't break the bank, isn't the easiest. 

 

 

Agree wholeheartedly with Alana33 on these points.  

When we built our home we were behind schedule & over budget less than than a week after groundbreaking and those  delays and cost overruns continued to mount.  Despite very thorough and exhaustive and very detailed pre-construction planing, research and estimate gathering there were lots of unknowns and unexpected adventures that life had in store for our checkbook each month.  And by the way construction took twice as long as the original estimates given by our architect and builder.  That additional time translated into more opportunities to exceed the original budget.

Expect everything to cost more and take longer that you think.


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jaldeborgh
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June 5, 2020 7:36 pm  
Posted by: @Alana33

Living in VI is not for everyone. Some take to it like ducks to water, others run screaming back to the states. 

I think this is the simple reality.

To me moving to any remote Caribbean island only works if you're running to something versus running away from something.  I also saw earlier comments about it works best for young people just out of school or folks entering retirement.  To me this makes good sense as these are times of change in our lives regardless of where we are.  Young people have nothing to loose but a little time and someone entering retirement will be reinventing themselves in any case.

Again, to me I applaud anyone with the courage to step outside their comfort zone and follow their dream.  Worst case is you learn something about yourself, loose a little time and maybe burn a few bucks.  To me life is short, it's about the journey and should be lived to the maximum.  I've made mistakes, I've done a few dumb things, I've also done a few smart things and I've been lucky on occasion.  The one thing I've never done is to not try, I always have a plan and go "all in", it's 100% or nothing.

Don't be reckless, do your homework and ask yourself the tough questions.  If, after this, you feel you have a good plan, then go for it.


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irish_dj
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June 5, 2020 9:07 pm  

@jaldeborgh

Thank you for the response John. Sometimes I'm not sure if people are looking out for me or trying to keep me from going. I think you all are looking out for me though. I have visited the Caribbean more than once but not often or long enough. I am researching (bothering good people like yourself) reading, searching out what info I can early. 1205 more days until I can retire. So basically I have 3 years to visit and research. After over 20 yrs in military I don't have a place I call home, so I will try the place I love being at the best. But I will rent until I'm sure, although I'm not sure where the best place to rent is or where to look. I hope I can find a friendly poker game there too. Until then, all help is truly appreciated and thanks for the response.

 

DJ


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jaldeborgh
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June 10, 2020 5:21 pm  

@irish_dj  A couple of things.  First, and just as background, I'm now nearing retirement myself, in fact next March 1st and my wife has been a stay at home mom since our 2nd daughter was born in 1992.  We have always wanted to get away from our New England winters after my retirement and began our search in earnest for a seasonal retirement home in roughly mid-2018.  We have vacationed in a number of places (Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Roatan and a bunch of islands all over the Caribbean) over the course of 30+ years of marriage.  We ultimately decided, being East Coast people, that the USVI's were our best option, while not exactly a consensus decision, we ended up choosing STX, in part because the house we found, which we both love.  We closed on our house in January of 2019.

House or condo, what part of the island.  That's purely an individual decision.  We wanted privacy, yet not too far from Christiansted.  I also wanted the dryer side of the island, weather unquestionably effects my mood, sunny is good, cloudy or rainy is bad.  In all cases we've found the people on STX to be warm and welcoming.

I forgot to add in my comments on our solar system installation, I didn't mention that we will get a 26% tax credit (next years taxes) on our investment so the ultimate out of pocket will be closer to $27K.  In any case, power ain't cheap.

Best of luck in your search for a retirement home.


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Gator's Mom
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June 10, 2020 7:22 pm  
Posted by: @jaldeborgh

@irish_dj  A couple of things.  First, and just as background, I'm now nearing retirement myself, in fact next March 1st and my wife has been a stay at home mom since our 2nd daughter was born in 1992.  We have always wanted to get away from our New England winters after my retirement and began our search in earnest for a seasonal retirement home in roughly mid-2018.  We have vacationed in a number of places (Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Roatan and a bunch of islands all over the Caribbean) over the course of 30+ years of marriage.  We ultimately decided, being East Coast people, that the USVI's were our best option, while not exactly a consensus decision, we ended up choosing STX, in part because the house we found, which we both love.  We closed on our house in January of 2019.

House or condo, what part of the island.  That's purely an individual decision.  We wanted privacy, yet not too far from Christiansted.  I also wanted the dryer side of the island, weather unquestionably effects my mood, sunny is good, cloudy or rainy is bad.  In all cases we've found the people on STX to be warm and welcoming.

I forgot to add in my comments on our solar system installation, I didn't mention that we will get a 26% tax credit (next years taxes) on our investment so the ultimate out of pocket will be closer to $27K.  In any case, power ain't cheap.

Best of luck in your search for a retirement home.

Solar tax credit works this way.

Suppose you owe $10,000 in federal/IRB taxes in 2020. Then the max tax credit you get for installing a solar system on your primary residence is $2600, which is 26% of your federal tax liability for 2020.

If you install on a second home and live in your second home 50% of the time, the calculation is $10,000 x 26% = $2600/50% = $1300 tax credit for 2020.

Any unused portion of your 2020 credit can carry forward for one year. 

If your battery back up system allows you to charge from the grid, then your battery/ies don't qualify for the credit at all. They have to be for solar storage only.

A rental property qualifies for a different credit program.

A tax credit is a type of tax incentive that can reduce the amount of money a taxpayer owes the government. Unlike a tax deduction, which reduces taxable income, a taxpayer can subtract a tax credit from the amount of taxes they owe, lowering their tax liability dollar-for-dollar. Tax credits reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar.

 

This post was modified 1 month ago by Gator's Mom

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Gator's Mom
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June 10, 2020 7:45 pm  
Posted by: @gators_mom
Posted by: @jaldeborgh

@irish_dj  A couple of things.  First, and just as background, I'm now nearing retirement myself, in fact next March 1st and my wife has been a stay at home mom since our 2nd daughter was born in 1992.  We have always wanted to get away from our New England winters after my retirement and began our search in earnest for a seasonal retirement home in roughly mid-2018.  We have vacationed in a number of places (Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Roatan and a bunch of islands all over the Caribbean) over the course of 30+ years of marriage.  We ultimately decided, being East Coast people, that the USVI's were our best option, while not exactly a consensus decision, we ended up choosing STX, in part because the house we found, which we both love.  We closed on our house in January of 2019.

House or condo, what part of the island.  That's purely an individual decision.  We wanted privacy, yet not too far from Christiansted.  I also wanted the dryer side of the island, weather unquestionably effects my mood, sunny is good, cloudy or rainy is bad.  In all cases we've found the people on STX to be warm and welcoming.

I forgot to add in my comments on our solar system installation, I didn't mention that we will get a 26% tax credit (next years taxes) on our investment so the ultimate out of pocket will be closer to $27K.  In any case, power ain't cheap.

Best of luck in your search for a retirement home.

Solar tax credit works this way.

Suppose you owe $10,000 in federal/IRB taxes in 2020. Then the max tax credit you get for installing a solar system on your primary residence is $2600, which is 26% of your federal tax liability for 2020.

If you install on a second home and live in your second home 50% of the time, the calculation is $10,000 x 26% = $2600/50% = $1300 tax credit for 2020.

Any unused portion of your 2020 credit can carry forward for one year. 

If your battery back up system allows you to charge from the grid, then your battery/ies don't qualify for the credit at all. They have to be for solar storage only.

A rental property qualifies for a different credit program.

A tax credit is a type of tax incentive that can reduce the amount of money a taxpayer owes the government. Unlike a tax deduction, which reduces taxable income, a taxpayer can subtract a tax credit from the amount of taxes they owe, lowering their tax liability dollar-for-dollar. Tax credits reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar.

 

I updated this and it didn't update. What I put above in incorrect. BELOW IS CORRECT

This is an investment tax credit for solar in 2020.

For a second home, if you paid $10,000 for your system, you get a credit of $2,600 THEN

You take the credit amount time the percentage of time you live in your second home. So if you're there 50% of the time, your credit is $1300.

Any unused credit may carry forward though IRS hasn't ruled yet if you can carry forward to a year where the credit is no longer offered.

Rental property works differently.

Battery storage systems that are charged totally from solar power may qualify for the 26 percent federal investment tax credit for solar power systems. The IRS ruled that a storage facility could qualify for the 26% federal investment tax credit (ITC) ONLY if it is charged 100% via the onsite solar.

 

This post was modified 1 month ago by Gator's Mom

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jaldeborgh
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June 10, 2020 8:51 pm  

Thanks for the detailed information, our system only charges the batteries from the solar panels. If the batteries are depleted then the house takes power from the grid.  The solar system had been installed for just over a month and only needed power from the grid on 2 different days and then just a few kW early in the early morning before the sun was generating more than our consumption.  My income in 2020 should allow the full credit to be absorbed but it’s good to know it can be carried over if the tax credit can’t be recovered in a single year.


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rewired
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June 12, 2020 10:20 pm  

@irish_dj

My apologies for my belated response...

My response is based purely on my impressions and experiences, and I'm sure others will disagree (and I will fight for their right to do so!).

My wife and I vacationed (usually 1-2 weeks at a time) on many islands around the Caribbean over several years before we choose the USVI and St Croix. We spent about 3 weeks on St Thomas (including a few day trips to St John) and weren't as 'drawn' to it as we were to St Croix. St Thomas is more 'metropolitan' in many ways, and the traffic and bustle of cruise ship days (around 1,000 cruise ships a year before covid) was a negative for us. There were many areas of the island (away from Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie) that we liked. Flights from the mainland are also normally cheaper than St Croix as well because of higher demand.

When we came to see St Croix, we really liked the more 'quiet' laid back atmosphere and found the people to be friendlier (my very personal impression). We also liked that there were far fewer cruise ships (my recollection is that there were 300-350 a year before covid). We initially bought a condo on the north shore near Christiansted and vacationed 3-4 months per year for several years. During that time, we found that we were often driving to the west end of the island for the beaches, dive sites and restaurants that had become or favorites. When we purchased our house at the end of last year, we found one we loved on the west end of the island. Although we still go to the east end for hikes, shopping and restaurants on occasion, we're happy on the west end. We love how lush and green the west end is (we're on the edge of the rain forest) and don't mind the rain (it's good for the bananas and fruit trees, and water has never had to be purchased to fill this cistern).

Flights between St Croix and Puerto Rico are about the same price and frequency as flights between St Thomas and Puerto Rico. We actually use a 'commuter pass' on one of the small airlines between St Croix and Puerto Rico to save money on our mainland trips when Puerto Rico flights are on sale.

Regarding the solar storage, from the research I've been doing, I'm expecting to spend about $10k if I do it myself and closer to $20k if I buy a professionally installed system.

Here's a link to an article regarding electric rates in the territory (to help underscore the value of going solar): https://viconsortium.com/vi-wapa/virgin-islands-psc-reduces-wapa-electric-rate-by-1-5-cents-bringing-base-rate-for-residential-customers-to-39-and-41-cents-per-kilowatt-hour-and-45-cents-for-businesses-

I retired from a state government almost 2 years ago, but I haven't stopped working - I've just taken control of what I work on (hence the moniker 'rewired'). My wife is shooting for retiring around the end of the year, when the next part of the adventure will truly begin.


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irish_dj
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June 13, 2020 10:34 pm  

@rewired

Thanks so much. I have been getting so much good information here. I liked St Croix for the price of properties also but like St Thomas for the shopping and such. Good to know hat side of the island you liked best. Do you have a problem with mold/humidity? One from St Thomas said they wouldn't live on the north side because of that. I will add west side to property searches. Hopefully they have some nice rentals for when I first to the islands. Not sure if I will be completely retired when I get there or drawing on my retirement and waiting on social security for a couple more years. I found a great youtube video on grocery shopping there showing the prices. Not as bad as I heard on some items shown. 

Thanks again. You have all been very appreciated.DJ 


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Exit Zero
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June 14, 2020 12:45 pm  

This will give you grocery info:

https://wfmpueblo.com/specials

https://www.facebook.com/plazaextratutu/photos/a.1685226398368094/2593670814190310/?type=3

https://www.costuless.com/st-thomas/flyers

 

Mold is not limited to the Northside of STT - it is more evident in the design of the house and sunlight, fresh air and keeping air flow.

Even my leather - belts,shoes, -- don't get mold and I live high up on Crown MT. northside but have plenty of light and air.

This post was modified 4 weeks ago by Exit Zero

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rewired
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June 14, 2020 11:38 pm  

@irish_dj

I agree with Exit Zero on this. Light and air flow are key to avoiding issues with mold and mildew (unless you maintain a climate controlled environment - aka air conditioned).

Honestly, we've only had the house about 6 months, but also have very good light and air flow. We normally have windows and doors open (with screens to keep bugs out) unless it's raining and haven't had any issues. 

We did see a few houses when we were looking that were poorly ventilated and could tell from the musty smell in closets that they might be prone to having issues.


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irish_dj
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June 16, 2020 7:31 pm  

Thank you all for your responses. So much great information is making budgeting for the future much better and less stressful. And the responses on solar are very appreciated. I have learn so much more. Truly, thank you all. DJ 


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