Questions for Early...
 
Notifications
Clear all

Questions for Early Planning of a Move

 
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

Lived in St. Croix for a bit when I was a teenager and loved it.  Went back for the first time in 40 years last month...and still loved it.  In fact, a lot of the pain points seem lessened since the 1980s (e.g., the grocery situation is vastly improved).  I'm about 4 years out from being able to retire and my wife and I are seriously talking about moving down.  I'll have a pension, we'd have retiree health through BCBS (already checked doctor finder on this), and I have a number of ideas for some light side hustles to keep us occupied, generate a bit of extra cash, and keep us from needing to tap into our 401k balances.  We also bought a house in central Austin 20 years ago, so there's a lot of potential equity there with some timing issues to be creative about although I would prefer to be able to save some it after we sold in Austin/bought in STX.

Been thinking about build versus buy.  I've poked around a bit on the RE sites and seen how limited the built inventory is for SFH.  Don't particularly want a condo and definitely don't want a huge condo fee for golf or something we don't do (our main activity will be scuba diving).  OTOH, there are some nice looking lots for sale where I want to be (west end in the hills N/NE of Frederiksted) although north shore could also be an option.  Not as interested in direct waterfront lots (although the right one could work I suppose).

We could definitely swing buying a lot with cash if the right one came up.  How far do you all think we could get in getting something built in four years?  I'm thinking buy the land, design/permit, clear it, maybe get cistern/foundation/driveway up in 2-3 years?  Something like 2,000 ft2 with a second smaller unit in the 500-800 ft2 range.  We added a major addition to our house here in Austin so it isn't our first rodeo with a big construction project.  I'm also seeing some sites with existing concrete work...how possible/helpful would it be to essentially pick up a stopped project like that and continue?  If we bought a bigger lot...how easy would it be to subdivide out part of it and sell it to recoup some of the purchase price?  Finally, how realistic is it to plan on, say, take a couple of month break from the island every year and rent out the property during that time?

 

Quote
Topic starter Posted : August 19, 2022 11:36 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

I don't want to be the negative one, but, building a home here is not for the faint of heart. Sure it can be done but it'll end up costing twice as much as you planned and take three times as long. We're just getting our hurricane Maria renovations finished and that was what...4 years ago, 5 years?

If it were me (20 year resident), I'd just buy an existing home and renovate it myself to suit my needs.

Life is too short to go through the pain of trying to build a home in the VI.

Enjoy your time diving instead!

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 19, 2022 2:47 pm
gpurcell liked
stjohnjulie
(@stjohnjulie)
Trusted Member

Something I’ve noticed that can slow a job down quite a bit is the use of subcontractors for everything.   Which is the norm.   When you have a crew made up of people who make their own schedule it’s really tough to get things done in a timely manner.   

if you decide to get something with a cistern and slab already there, or any structure currently on it, get your self a competent structural engineer in their first thing.   With structures that sit, there can be a to. Of problems.   Things that could have be easily fixed but now cannot be repaired due to neglect.    

while every process takes a long time here, subdividing isn’t too hard as long as the zoning is already what it needs to be.   If you are starting from scratch.   You will likely need the 4 years you have left to get it done.  

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 20, 2022 3:09 am
gpurcell and vicanuck liked
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

Thanks for the responses; I totally get that building something is going to be a monumental PITA and we'd absolutely plan for at least a rental of a year after retirement to get it finished!

I'm prompted in that direction mainly because the supply of available houses where I'd want to live (west side) is just so limited and the alternative is to wait until we retire to pull the trigger on something and hope for the best.  We've also got a timing issue on selling in Austin and buying in St. Croix and I really don't want to carry two mortgages for years (I'd be OK with it 12-18 months out, I suppose).

What's the story about the area east of Frederiksted in the hills--it's called Frederik's Haab on Google Maps?  Looks like a lot of nice locations with reasonably priced lots (35-90K) and the houses that are built up there look reasonably nice.

ReplyQuote
Topic starter Posted : August 25, 2022 8:38 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert
Posted by: @gpurcell

What's the story about the area east of Frederiksted in the hills--it's called Frederik's Haab on Google Maps?  Looks like a lot of nice locations with reasonably priced lots (35-90K) and the houses that are built up there look reasonably nice.

I've not heard of that area. But, admittedly, I'm not a Frederiksted fan. I can't even remember the last time I was out there.

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 25, 2022 9:37 am
gpurcell liked
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

@vicanuck five minutes to drive down to the pier and grab a tank is a huge incentive for me on this location!

ReplyQuote
Topic starter Posted : August 25, 2022 10:44 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

@gpurcell I get it completely! We do take visitors out that way from time to time to enjoy the beaches and have a few bevies. But, I have a pool and hot tub so I rarely feel the need to schlep my beach gear out there!

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 25, 2022 10:55 am
Gator's Mom
(@gators_mom)
Trusted Member

Please don't build unless you are willing to be the highest bidder for subcontractors. Workers go where the money flows and cash is king here (as everywhere but especially here). Lots of people building now with unlimited money. So think hard about how that might work with mortgage financing.

You cannot manage a build from off-island - you just can't. 

Also, I have been warned by our home insurance company that there are going to be some big changes happening in how properties qualify for insurance in 2023. Watch out for flood zones and/or properties with guts. I looked up Fredrik's Haab and it's pretty darn low in places.

Frederiksted has some big urban renewal grant that may help to make it prettier in the coming years. 

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 26, 2022 2:44 pm
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

@gators_mom thankfully we won't have to worry about a mortgage.  Depending on the scale we can either build through cash on hand or set up a HELOC.  Yeah, not interested anything low lying--want to be elevated with a sea view for sure. There's some interesting lots in the 50-90 range that seem to have that quality.

Buying in central Austin in 2003 opens up a lot of possibilities, although there are some timing issues with accessing that equity.

ReplyQuote
Topic starter Posted : August 26, 2022 3:34 pm
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member

We bought our home on STX in January 2019, about 18 months ago we decided to build a 3 car garage, put in a new driveway as well as a bunch of other work to upgrade the property.  The work is now done and I’m very satisfied with the outcome, here are some of highlights of the process. As background, I’m retired and a seasonal resident.  I do appreciate that there are complexities of building a house that go beyond my project but I’ve built 5 homes over my lifetime so I’m calibrated, I see the differences as mostly around complexity of design and aesthetics, which can be emotional and expensive topics.

I contracted with a builder as I agree acting as your own GC when off island is unrealistic and very unwise.  Next, I was fortunate to have someone very capable on island that could look after the project when I wasn’t around, it’s difficult to overstate the help this was.

The builder helped me connect with an architect that was also able to secure the needed building permits.  The design process took twice as long as estimated but the cost was exactly as planned.

The build itself took just about twice as long as originally requested/committed but the quality was consistent with my expectations.  Actually the cement construction process is amazing to witness.  It takes a while but you can’t help but appreciate the intrinsic strength of the completed structure.  The final product also looks great.

The driveway portion of the project, which involved 130 yards of concrete, done after the garage was complete, went off like clockwork and only took about 3 weeks.  This work exceeded my expectations in every way.

The final cost for the contracted work was only about 15% higher than I originally budgeted, which given the supply chain and inflation issues isn’t too bad.  I did resist change orders, or better said, made sure the design was right before work began.  Having built 5 homes did help here.  Comparing building costs to the mainland, which is difficult because cement construction in New England is rare, but I actually thought the cost was reasonable.

Overall would I do it again, yes, without question, because I ended up with exactly what I wanted and at a fair price.  Honestly the stress wasn’t bad, everyone worked well together and I didn’t let the delays get to me, I simply stayed focused on making sure the quality met my expectations as that’s ultimately what you have to live with.

There’s no right answer to build vs buy, it’s unique to the individuals involved and the state of the market at any given time.  But if you know exactly where you want to be on island and there is little or no inventory it makes the decision easier.  My biggest caution would be that building a house is more than just the construction cost, don’t forget to budget things like site work, driveway, landscaping and architect costs, all together this can be a big number.  Best of luck whatever you decide.

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 28, 2022 9:01 pm
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

@jaldeborgh Thanks!  We've been around the block a bit on construction as well--we added 1000 ft2 and a kitchen remodel to our 1917 2/1 bungalow while we lived in it--had a great GC with good subs!  Your experience is quite heartening.

ReplyQuote
Topic starter Posted : August 28, 2022 9:47 pm
stjohnjulie
(@stjohnjulie)
Trusted Member

All put jaldeborgh!   So smart on getting your design right from the start.   Chang orders are a killer.  They often amount to 30%+ of the overall cost and that can end up being a gigantic number.  I cannot stress the importance of a soils architect enough.  A good GC can often help with a recommendation there as well.  

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 29, 2022 3:32 am
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member

@gpurcell

I think we're a few years ahead of you and took a similar approach.

We bought our house (a 3-4 month proposition) in the hills north of Frederiksted about 3 years ago after having a condo on the north shore for several years.

We have friends that started building a house on the east end before we started buying our house - they're finally finishing and planning to move in around Thanksgiving...

We looked at building but knew that would be a challenge if we weren't on island full time. In fact, our friends' house sat for months at a time (we checked on it for them periodically) until they moved to the island and could make sure workers were showing up and doing the work.

In the end, we love being on the west end (even though - or because - there's not as much going on in F'sted as there is in C'sted). The water is calmer, there's less seaweed and the diving is great...

One suggestion I would make in addition to those already listed - consider buying a small condo or building your guest house first to live in while building the main house. There's a couple that built a 4-500 ft2 guest house near us to live in while they build their main house and it seems to be working well for them. Every morning and evening they can see what work has/hasn't been done and they're available in case an issue arises, but they can still go on with their lives.

Personally, I like the area north of Frederiksted (La Grange toward Prosperity) a little more than Frederikshaab - just a personal preference when we were looking.

Also keep an eye on what's coming on the market while you're working out your plan - you might just find the house that's perfect for you (or close enough for you to remodel).

Best of luck!

 

ReplyQuote
Posted : August 31, 2022 4:23 pm
gpurcell and vicanuck liked
gpurcell
(@gpurcell)
Active Member

@rewired Yes, I definitely would prefer north of Frederiksted--we lived in Sprat Hall and that's such a cool area.  But the pickings are slim, at least publicly.

ReplyQuote
Topic starter Posted : August 31, 2022 7:49 pm
Search this website
Close Menu