Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Critters On St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Thomas has a number of roads that are kind of tricky to drive with steep hills, narrow passages and pot holes. Combine that with a fair number of Iguanas, chickens, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, mongoose, and an occasional cow and there is, unfortunately, considerable road kill. Some drivers are fairly considerate and will, if they can, stop to allow animals safe passage across the roads. I can recall seeing taxis loaded with tourists waiting for a hen with her chicks to cross a busy road.

The other day I left my home headed down town on a road that is not particularly rough.  As I approached a straightaway I saw something in the road that initially appeared to be moving in a very awkward manner, almost as if it had been injured. I slowed to see what it was. I quickly realized it was not injured at all but a Red-Footed Tortoise making it's way across the road.  This reptile is protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means it can not be exported from it's home country without permits.  I put my flashers on, stopped the car and got out. I knew if I simply drove around it, I would probably see it in the road, crushed.  So I picked up the tortoise and moved him to the other side of the road. 

Surprisingly, he did not withdraw completely into his shell. He was quite beautiful with the distinctive shell and the red spots on his feet were quite pronounced. I have seen these tortoises in people's homes as pets, wild on Water Island but this was the first I had seen, wild, on St. Thomas.

As I returned home later, I checked the road to see if he had continued on his way or turned back and not survived the return trip. I was pleased to see he was safe, at least for the day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One Bedroom Rental

This lovely one bedroom apartment is located high in Mandahl on the North side of St. Thomas.This is just over the hill from downtown Charlotte Amalie, one of the business centers of the island and close to world famous Magen's Bay Beach and Mahogany Run Golf course. It is one of four apartments in this gated complex with an infinity edged pool. The rent includes a credit of $100 towards your electric bill. The water is on a separate cistern. There is one off street, parking space that comes with this unit.

The rent is $1500 per month for an annual lease. Contact Van Blake-Coleman Realty at 340 344 2959 or for all real estate in St. Thomas, U.S. VI

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Crunch of Relocating

As Realtors we do our best to make the search for a new place to live or vacation as easy as possible.

Asking all of the right questions to define what you need and want,  whether you are purchasing or renting. Scheduling at the convenience of the customer, and in the most efficient pattern to save time and gas. Previewing to make sure it is what the customer to name just a few things we do.

I have a few buttons when it comes to customers. This is a synopsis of a rental situation I recently experienced:

 Lateness, I had  customers yesterday, who I called after waiting a half hour. They forgot. I guess a reminder call on my part might have headed this off. Tried that. The cell said I could not leave a message. After contacting them through their new employer;  turns out with the relocation they had cut off the cell number I had, they forgot to give me the new number.

 Not giving pertinent information. With the first round of showings, since our initial contact,  they have decided they will be moving all of their furniture, okay. So you need an unfurnished place. This information comes as we are standing in  the second of a string of appointments. Scratch the rest of the showings and regroup.

 So, I review the parameters of what the customers are looking for. We clearly define what they need; bedrooms, bath rooms, pets, none smoking, school for children, time frame of move, commuting time, and price range.

Too much flexibility. We are in the middle of looking at places during a second appointment and the neighbor has a pet. He remarks "oh, clearly pets are allowed here". Answer, "yes, in this particular apartment". Statement,  "I thought you didn't have any pets".  Response, "We don't, I promised my kids we could get a dog when we move". He forgot, again, to mention that; to placate the children about the move, he'd made this promise after the first round of looking at places.

Many rentals don't allow pets and this severely limits the choices.

Not enough flexibility. The customer has two children to accommodate in a single bedroom due to budgetary restrictions.  Every bedroom in each apartment I show is too small. I couldn't figure it out. Twin beds would fit comfortably in all of the bedrooms in the apartments I was  showing. Finally, it is mentioned that the children have one queen size bed and a double bed, which they want to put into one bedroom.

I understand when relocating you want to keep as much familiarity as possible, especially with children but at times common sense needs to take precedence and if you want to put two children in one bedroom their furniture may not fit from two separate bedrooms, a compromise is in order.

Next, we are in a brand new, apartment building,  where no pets are allowed, looking at a two bedroom, they ask to see a three bedroom which I have explained is about $1000 over their budget. Well, they want to see it anyway, we were right there and what harm could it do? I reluctantly conceded.

OOh's and Ahhh's abounded. Of course they loved it, it is the best thing they've seen. Then they wanted to know if the landlord would give them a break and rent the three bedroom at the two bedroom rate? And why couldn't the dog stay out on the balcony?

This is not going to happen in a new building even in a down market. Now we have unrealistic expectations, although I have done my best to focus them in a realistic direction.

Relocation is difficult and overwhelming to everyone. Managing the customer's expectations can be a challenge, especially when they are downsizing to a rental apartment from a home.

Taking time, communicating and listening is so important.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First Time Home Buyers in the Virgin Islands Assisted by Realtors

First time home buyers in the U.S. Virgin Islands now have a helping hand from the Realtors of the territory and the Virgin Islands Department of Housing Finance.

The National Association of Realtors offered a grant to each state level organization (for us, the Virgin Islands Territorial Association of Realtors or VITAR). The grant is named after Ira Gribin, and is in the amount of $50,000. Two of the conditions for receiving the grant were that the fund had to be self sustaining and also help impact home ownership. Belton Jennings our CEO of VITAR, wrote the grant proposal and secured the funds for the territory. The money will be used to assist with closing cost for first time home buyers.

Closing cost can be prohibitive when you are trying to purchase your first home anywhere. Inspections, lawyers fees, the appraisal, down payment, and insurance is especially high in the Virgin Islands and can take a toll on one's pocket. For a concrete dwelling, insurance can run as high as 2% of the value of the home, annually. If the home is constructed of wood the premium can go as high as 3% of the value, annually. It is rare to find habitable homes valued under $200,000 in the territory, especially if you have a family.

At our annual meeting on St. Croix, Delegate Donna Christensen was in attendance speaking on the importance of preserving the secondary mortgage market and helped to make the presentation of the funds. I was also present, as president of the St. Thomas Board of Realtors, along with BJ Harris, president of the VITAR, Sherrymae Morales, president of the St. Croix Board of Realtors, Adrienne Williams, Interim Executive Director of Housing Finance and Lisa Richards Director of Home Ownership (pictured above).

The seed money will be used to establish loans with a ceiling of $5000 per household for qualified buyers. The loans will be at the very low interest rate of 2%. Half of the interest will go to help cover administrative costs for Housing Finance and the other half will help to perpetuate the fund.

Housing finance can be reached at 777 4432 for more information on these loans.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Relocating to the St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands Means Getting Your Things There.

Relocating to St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, requires getting your belonging to your new home. Because it is often an extreme change in weather and accommodations, some choose to only bring clothing and very personal items. Others want to bring as much as possible with them.

If you want to ship a household of furnishings you will want to start with a moving company to do the packing as well as the shipping. We used Viking . Our home was packed, loaded into a container on a truck at our home on the mainland, delivered to a port and loaded on a ship. Then shipped to St. Thomas, loaded on a truck and unpacked at our new home. The only thing that did not make the trip was a tissue holder that I was probably better off without.

If your have less to ship, you can pack it yourself and have it put on a pallet or a number of pallets and shipped as a portion of a  container. Tropical Shipping is a company I have used to import supplies. Contact them in advance, give them the weight and dimensions of what you are shipping and they will let you know what it will cost. Do this close to the time you will ship, as rates change with the cost of fuel. You will be notified when your shipment arrives. You then  go to the dock, clear it through customs and make arrangements to get your belongings where you want them on island. This is more labor intensive but a lot less expensive.

For a more gradual, small move, you can send boxes to yourself by the United States Post Office. As an American territory the USPS does deliver mail to the island. For the most part, they do not deliver to private homes, most of us receive our mail via  mail boxes. There are many mail box rental facilities on island. You will want to pay for first class mail as parcel post is put on a ship and will take  4-6 weeks to arrive, unless you have the time.

FedEx does ship here, but don't expect  it to arrive overnight, they can be reached at 1-877-838-7834. They may even accept your money to deliver it overnight but the reason it often does not make it, is Customs may hold it. Your money will not be refunded if the delay is due to Customs. This is true of Express mail too.

UPS or Big Brown, also ships here. I believe they treat us as an overseas destination. The local number to reach UPS is (340) 776-1700. The cost of calling numbers in St. Thomas from the mainland, is no more than calling from state to state on the mainland.

I provide the local numbers because I have been told in the States, they don't ship to the U.S. Virgin Islands or they want to send it to Puerto Rico, which is only part of the way here. You may have to provide a State side location with the numbers of the local offices. I have also received calls from some bewildered delivery person wandering in Virginia trying to get a package to me, in the VI.

When ordering online, you will often find there is no "U.S. Virgin Islands" in the drop down menu or they won't mail to a mail box.  You can get around this by having shipments sent to your work place or having a good friend or family member who will forward things to you from their address on the mainland.

I found it most interesting when I saw a UPS truck parked at the U.S. Post Office in Sugar Estates today, which inspired this blog. When I questioned the driver, he told me they deliver everywhere!