On St John, in the US Virgin Islands, there are too many views to count. Everywhere you look is stunning and magical. There simply is no way to capture it all on camera. Only being there, in person can burn into your mind the permanent glory of all of the vistas. I got a chance to go take some pictures yesterday, this post is only about the views.
People love Air BNB. Well, they love the idea of it. They think they are getting a better deal. They think they have stumbled upon a gem of a unique hideaway that makes their trip special. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are stuck in a poorly cared for the spot with a green pool. Frequently, they are hiking up the hill with their luggage searching for the spot on an island with no street signs.
Occasionally, they run out of water and can not get the Air BnB system to load so they can communicate with the owners leaving them without showers and toilets for the night.
I get the call all of the time. “um yeah, hello, we are on St John right now and are wondering if you have any availability for the next three nights…” Eventually, I pry as to what happened that they ended up here without a place to stay and get the stories above. Stories like Jake from last week. Jake flew in on a balmy August night to find him self-waiting on the ferry dock for his Air BNB host. The person decided to text him directions rather than assist in finding the place. That was just the beginning. Jake then proceeded to arrive at the villa to find damaged screens allowing mosquitoes to eat his girlfriend’s tasty fresh skin. Then the internet went out; the hot tub was not working. Again, trouble communicating with the host, due to the Air BNB method of managing the conversation between guest and host. Eventually, Jake gave up called us and checked in.
Not all Air BNB hosts are bad. Some are great. But there is a real difference between a professionally managed or operated vacation rental and an Air BNB property looking to catch extra cash through casual, friendly business (supervised of course by a large corporation). For me, these un-vetted rentals are an issue. They degrade the quality product that many vacation rental properties have strived for decades to do well. The homes that we manage are run like well-oiled machines. That is not to say issues don’t occur. But rather, that when, or if an issue arises, it can be solved instantly, and we can be reached immediately on the phone for good old fashioned personal service.
Reviews are not enough.
We have terrific reviews from guests, hundreds of them between all of the homes – Don’t base your decision on them. Don’t choose a home based on anyone else's reviews either. In the hotel business, the guest experience is extremely personal. One guest dream room is a nightmare for another. I suggest a direct phone call with the property manager or the owner. Air BNB discourages this; they are wrong. From an owner/manager perspective, this is ideal for me.
I can tell if the customer is right for a home or not, and if not, lead them to the home that is better. Communication, in advance of booking, is crucial to satisfaction upon arrival. Having a corporation in between an owner/manager and a customer is a barrier to success. For the guests, this phone call will allow them to ask critical questions about the property and get honest answers back.
Texting and emailing eliminate inflection and tone. The call is key.
Here are some samples of questions travelers should ask to help them better understand the property and the management of it before they arrive:
1. Is someone available if we have an issue? How long is the typical response time? Can we contact you directly? - This will tell you a lot about how the home is cared for and how you will be cared for as guests.
2. Is everything on the property working right now? – If something is wrong, its probably been wrong for a while and won't be fixed before you arrive. Deferred maintenance results in adjacent failures I can assure you.
3. If we arrive late, will someone meet us? For me, when people ask this, I can give them the comfort that I am there for them 24 hours a day if needed
4. How often is the pool cleaned? - If it is less then weekly, you know your dealing with a casual program.
5. Do you own or manage any other properties and if so, are you licensed for business? Knowing this will differentiate between the casual operation and a professional company. Technically, anyone taking bookings and collecting money, especially advanced deposits should be a licensed Virgin Islands Realtor.
Overall, especially on St John, you will probably be taken care of either way. St Johnians have pride in our island and want you to have a great trip. However, professionally managed and cared for properties can provide a far better experience, while still offering you the extensive benefits of staying in a Vacation Home rather than in a hotel. On St John, people had been renting vacation homes professionally for more than 30 years before AIR BNB came along. Take the time to find out who your hosts are and how they care for a place before putting down a deposit.
1. Grilling fresh Caribbean lobster. With Lobster, its not what you know, It’s who you know. Some people can catch lobster, most cannot. My guess is most of you can’t catch a lobster; some of you think you can and may try, but it is a talent hard learned. The Caribbean spiny lobster is aptly named, for its very sharp spines. It tends to hide among sea urchins and fire coral. Snaring one is an art… if you can find one. If you can find one and you can get it without being cut or burned or poked... Fortunately for you, we know the where and how and can deliver you a live one and show you how to cook it.
2. Full Moon Drum Circles – The Danish Sugar Mill ruins are magical and full of a dramatic and dark past. A daytime visit will only begin to fill your appetite for the long and complicated history of St John and the Virgin Islands. At night, some ruins become a gathering place for drum circles under the full moon. Entering the cavernous halls under a monstrous stone sugar mill in the moonlight will be intimidating, magical and transcendent if you carry with you an open mind, respect for the scene and the freedom to participate.
3. Private catered dinner with live music – Honestly, how many of us have had a world-class chef over to cook us dinner in our house for our friends and family? On St John, this opportunity is easily arranged and could be one of those meals you remember forever. Make it truly special by hiring a local musician to entertain you between courses. St John has some amazing talent, a personal house concert in a villa over the sea with a skilled chef to cook and clean up… I am sold are you?
4. Sky tour of the night sky – Many of our guests cannot even see the stars from where they live. Others simply don’t have the time to look up. On St John, the light pollution is so minimal in some places that the milky way can be seen as easily as recognizing your wife’s voice from the upstairs bedroom when your watching TV in the man cave. Take the time to tour the night sky, whether with a guide who comes and can explain the galaxy to you or just simply sitting on the beach in the dark with a good star guide app. Don’t miss a meteor shower if you’re on St John at the right time. If it's cloudy, or too much moon, look around for Night Blooming Cereus flowers. They are as big as dinner plates and full of complexities.
5. Boat trip to unknown cays – Sure, you have read about taking a boat to the BVI. Going to Jost Van Dyke and Foxy’s Tamarind Bar and the Willy T and Soggy Dollar. You should go. It will be the best day of drinking you ever had. But you should also take a boat trip that is just for snorkeling to some little uninhabited Cay you have never heard of. The 100 foot visibility and large animal crossings through pristine ancient reefs will give you a story to talk about on the booze cruise, but it will burn in your memory what the power of untouched nature really can be.
6. Movie night at the ruins – Some Fridays, not all, but some, they show a movie up in Susannaberg. The stunning setting among quiet locals is not advertised except on a spray painted board, or sheet or barrel on the day of. Cult classics like Ghostbusters, and Jaws. Sitting outside among these recently uncovered ruins and drinking from your own cooler is as easy as it gets.
7. Contribute to our community – St John has 4000 residents, we are hardy, talented, overworked and hungry for fresh food. We all contribute to our community. Lately, I have noticed more and more visitors contributing too. We need your help. With 100’s of thousands of visitors each year (600K just in the Virgin Islands National Park estimate annually) we residents simply can not keep up with all that is needed to serve our population if you include visitors. Some ideas that help us a lot. Volunteer at the park – trail cleaning clubs and the Friends of the VI NATIONAL PARK are always looking for help. Teach a class at School of the Arts – Our kids (and kids at heart) are screaming for more immersion in the arts. If you have a talent, contact the SJSA to share it with us. Attend a benefit – There are so many benefits on St John throughout the year. These events are fun, usually with live music and other performances, raffles, games, competitions and more. Not only will you have tons of fun and meet some locals, you’ll be helping out a cause or a person who is truly in need.
Contact us today to book your trip and get the skinny on any unknown goings on on St John. The good news is, you can also just do nothing on St John and love it.
See you soon
As I lugged 5 gallon buckets of water around the property to wet down my thirsty plants, I passed under the big coconut tree and realized that we have these Coconuts hanging over our pineapple plants, and thought "this is the pina colada section of the yard".
How clear the impetus for this drink became and I wondered if some pineapple farmer like myself came up with it. I then walked around the corner, and realized we have the sugar cane growing right nearby. So I got to get a rum still going, and start making our own rum because we are literally growing our own Pina Coladas here on St John at Starlit Escape. It reminded me of this story an old salt told me a long time ago about Foxy, on Jost Van Dyke. Foxy is this idyllic islander; barefoot, dreadlocked, smiling and way laid back. He is famous now for lots of reasons, but to me it was for singing these reggae/blues/Jost Van Dyke swing songs at his tamarind bar on the beach. Gripping the guitar with work worn hands and making tourists laugh with innuendo and anecdotal songs about politics. He has this knack for knowing a song about anywhere in the world that someone is from. Well this old sailor was telling us the other night beneath the shade tree about how when Foxy first opened his bar, he stocked whiskey, rum, and beer. Confiding in the old sailor shortly after he opened he says "I don get it, I got de whisky, i got de beer, you knows i got de rum, but dese tourists come and all deh wan is de peeeNya colAAAda" he drags through the words pina colada with specific tone of being unfamiliar with a word "what i ask IS a peeeNya colAAAda?" I am sure he knows now, but I am going to have to start working on my yard-ladas. Maybe I can bring one over to Foxy and remember that time that a tourist introduced him to the drink.
SeaRock is a stunning artist built villa on St John where the big blue ocean views pour into every room. Being artist built, the home has tons of delicate and detailed features. The solid Mahogony french doors are finished with a multi layered faux finish with blues and yellows. All of the paint on the home has a intended washed look that creates a peaceful feel. The tile is inlaid with handpicked stone and shells. The walls are painted with stress lines and fractures to look like they are made of solid marble.
One of the features of the home is these huge hand carved teak panels which are used for doors and walls. The original builder and artist Kat Sowa had cleaned and painted these panels. After about 7 years in the sun they started to look a little worn. Our property management team restored them to their original color. At times, to repeat the detail, we were using brushes as small as 1 cm wide. The paint had to be mixed on site for color. It was then applied and rubbed into the wood with a damp rag. The process was tedious and fun and we caught a few photos which you can see in the slideshow below.
Property management can mean a lot of things. For us, it means taking care of your home like it was our own, no matter the level of detail it requires. It means keeping the value of your investment intact. It means creating the guests experiences that make people want to book your home year after year. It means offering homeowners the comfort that any task can be completed on your property with detail and perfection. We take a lot of pride in caring for these special villas on St John. Come see what that feels like by booking one of these homes today.
Swimming With Sea Turtles
I have to say that as of recent turtles have become a hot topic around our household. Not only sea turtles but also local indigineous red footed tortoises. Our 3 year old daughter, has had the blessed experience of interacting with both types of these creatures and it has made a huge impact on our daily lives. It seems every children’s book we open or children’s film we watch has turtles and tortoises in it ironically which delights our daughter with never ending amusement to connect her experiences with turtles. We have two red footed tortoises, Lilac and Tulip, that live on our property that she cares for, walks, sings to and feeds every day. She has learned all about their physical bodies, scientific facts, biology terms, and habitats all from a little tortoise that walked down our country road and wandered in front of our white picket fence. The tortoise found a loving home with our kid and will one day be set free back into the wild. A magical pet for a child. That is our turtle story on land.
This is our turtle story from the sea.
On a beautiful warm sunny summer afternoon when the sun just lingers for hours as it slowly sets in the west Jared and little A went on a father daughter adventure. The best kind of bonding experiences. They went for an early evening swim in Maho Bay and with little A riding on Dad’s back they swam out to the deep water of the Bay where the sea grass beds lie and there before them awaited an unsurpassed magical experience with nature. 6 giant sea turtles were feeding on their dinner of sea grass diving down and coming back up for air inches away from our daughter’s face. She was elated and giggling with joy as turtles popped up all around her. She truly felt like a mermaid, one of her favorite mythical creatures. They were the only two humans around in the pristine warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and shared that unforgettable experience together.
They came home and told me all about it and I was so happy for them. This experience happened all by chance and that is what makes it magical. They even wrote a sea chant about it!
There is no better way
to finish the day
then to swim with turtles
in Maho Bay!
Island Hopping - 10 islands in one week and why St John is still the Best.
This week, I was fortunate enough to get a little time off and get in some Island Hopping and had a chance to compare islands and research Caribbean service styles. I could title this article “Why you love to hate Caribbean Service Style”, but I am not grabbing headlines with click bait. I will tell you why that when you arrive, you think the service is lazy and when you leave, you think it was amazing and why you can not wait to come back and get some more.
An amazing week is easy to have with St John as a home base. Wednesday, we went boating in the British Virgin Islands. Leaving St John on a calm sunny morning, and heading out to sea is breathtaking. The cool breeze coupled with the warm sun as the clear blue water slips beneath you under the boat. It’s transcendental. That day I took us to Tortola, Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke and a quick stop at Flanagan Island to finish the day. The dark green steep hills of Tortola, the Rugged outpost and mind boggling clear waters of Norman Island, the beach life of Jost Van Dyke and the lonely majestic reefs of Flanagan Island all offered in one day what some people are not lucky enough to experience in a lifetime. Still, at the end of the day, we wanted to come home, to St John.
Friday, we literally hopped our way to Nevis, another tiny island 158 miles South East of my home in Coral Bay. That trip took us by Car to Cruz Bay, by Boat to St Thomas, by Taxi to the Cyril King Airport, by Plane to St Maarten, By Plane to Antigua, By Plane to St Kitts and by Boat to Nevis. What a day! St Thomas, a necessary evil for St John was hectic and practical. St Maarten was brief on this trip, with it’s looming over development and multi national culture clash all ready to bring luxury to the beach. Antigua proudly embracing it’s European roots and preparing for cricket matches with cheese on baguettes whilst a regatta begins just off shore. St Kitts with its fiercely proud history and independence (independent since just 1983 – a moment in history too large and so recent that men reminisce about it with a twinkle in their eye…because they lived that midnight moment.) And Nevis, with it’s small island feel and it’s single peak, a symbol of natural pride and self reliance.
So what did I learn about in such brief glimpses? Besides that we are lucky to have the opportunity to travel and experience such beautiful places. Besides that you can find diversity and kindness everywhere? Besides that each place can be so close and so far from each other; geographically, culturally, practically and most important that ever subtle VIBE? What I learned is that although Caribbean Service style may sound like an oxymoron, in fact, I believe service in the Caribbean to be some of the best in the world. To be fully served without pretentiousness and with casual style takes a talent unknown to the modern fast paced world. It is this key combination of casual attitude and full attention to detail that creates a world class experience. Day after day, travelers arrive carrying stress and quick judgment. It takes unbelievable talent to turn that around, a talent found throughout the Caribbean, but mostly on St John.
Even with my visit to the 10 very different islands this week, St John remains the best. I can say this with the confidence of experiencing hundreds of islands and destinations across the globe. St John has the unique quality of being the best of everything. The best beaches, the best food, the best service, the best accommodation options, the best access, the best infrastructure and the nicest people.
I will continue to travel with an open mind, and hope that one day, I may find a better place, but for now, St John remains on top.
The Enduring Strength of the St John Rental Market
Even as the economic roller coaster permeates real estate and financial markets globally, here on St John, the real estate rental market refuses to burst. Both long and short term rentals on island continue to command high prices in what seems to be a reflection of the steady stream of demand and extreme shortage of supply.
Short term rental villas have solidified their position in vacation accommodations on St John. Even with as many as 900 properties available for weekly vacation rentals on island, occupancy for this season was strong and projections for next season are strong from a poll of booking agents and owners, with most properties already booking up or nearly sold out for the 2017 high season. With short term vacation rentals, owners who have good property management can expect nearly 100% occupancy for Nov 1 - May 1. And it does not turn off like a switch. The summer months can see as high as 80% occupancy on average for June and July. August and November average at about 50% occupancy. It is no wonder that investing in real estate on St John has it's advantages. The short term market provides a viable stream of income to the owners who also want occasional use of their homes and can be the best option for owners who want their home professionally maintained and cleaned weekly.
Long term rentals are difficult to come by. The extremely high demand, coupled with the limited inventory have set monthly lease rates (on year long leases) to an average of $1800 for a one bedroom apartment plus utilities. Furnished apartments go for even more. With rates this high, many owners have built small apartments below their homes or on their properties to capitalize on the additional income stream. Some have developed small apartment buildings or condos on vacant lots to target this lucrative market.
All in all, owners and buyers can take comfort in the fact that properties on St John can and will continue to provide real income from rent, be it year leases or weekly guests. Get in touch with me if you would like to further discuss the rental possibilities of properties here on St John.
The Virgin Islands, especially on the island of St John, has always been a gathering place for big families, weddings and groups of friends. It is a place to celebrate, to re-connect, to relax and to experience. But, finding a rental home on St John that can hold groups of 12 or more can be a challenge. There are only a handful of homes capable of holding more then 12 guests and many of those are really expensive - up to $30,000 per week! Villa St John is an exception. This 6 master bedroom, 6 bath (plus 2 half bath) beach front home on St John's Chocolate Hole Bay can sleep up to 18 guests, and for almost 1/2 the price of some of the other homes of this size. Close to Cruz Bay for easy access, the home boasts a large pool and 2 hot tubs.
With 6 equal Master bedrooms, each with tons of space, a giant bathroom with his and her sinks, jetted tubs, showers, separate water closets and walk in closets, views from everywhere and covered balconies, the home easily sleeps 12 guests. Use the 2 pull out couches with memory foam mattresses or add additional air beds to sleep up to 18 guests. With each room equal, you dont have to worry about your cousin Hal complaining about being stuck in the basement or grandma Celia needing to be close to the kitchen. Situated as a guest house and a main house, each with their own full kitchen, you can book this home knowing that even relative strangers will have enough privacy, but you can still be all together.
Planning a wedding or family reunion on St John? Be sure to reserve Villa St John early. Now offering wedding parties of up to 65 guests, the home easily can be a home base or easy solution to your planning hurdles. Put the whole bridal party in there, or book this house for your whole side of family. Super kid friendly, this home is the perfect place for your grand kids, nieces, and nephews.
Contact us today to ask more about your big group or family getting into this amazing 6 bedroom villa on St John.
The Real Estate Market on St John is ACTIVE. I have been out showing quite often lately. Buyers are from across the spectrum; People looking for retirement homes, people looking for investment vacation rental property who might do a 1031 exchange, locals looking for a homestead, buyers looking to re-locate to the Virgin Islands, land speculators. This among a mini boom in construction meant it was time to get some statistics to quantify the feel of the market.
There are 156 homes currently on the market. Average listing price is $2.011 Million
In the last 12 months, 42 homes on St John sold at an average of $1.023 Million.
Compare this with when the market was slowest; the same period May 2, 2010 - May 2, 2011 when 21 homes sold for an average price of $1.4 Million
What we are seeing is two main important factors.
- The average sales price is near its low point over the last 12 years
- The number of sales transactions is on the rise, in fact has doubled since the low point on the market if looking at volume.
What does this mean for the market? What I see on the ground is playing out on paper. There are deals to be had, and buyers to take them. Ultimately, there is currently 3 years of inventory of homes for sale on St John. What we can expect is that, if buyers keep taking advantage of deals, as we are seeing with near bottom end average sales prices, inventory will dwindle, which will drive up prices and demand. You can not build the homes people are buying for their sales price! So when people ask me if there are any deals, I affirmatively can say YES. There are deals and they wont last if the market continues this trend.
Now, a lot of buyers are not in the $1 Million range. To be clear, 20 of the 42 homes sold in the last year were under $750K, and 12 of those were under $500K.
Serious buyers should be prepared with financing and allow a licensed realtor such as myself answer all of their questions. Reach out today to let me set you up with a MLS portal so that you can scan St John Real Estate Listings on your own
Re/Max Island Paradise Realty, Inc.
PO Box 646
St John, VI 00830-0646
Cell Phone - (340) 626-8229
Office Phone - (340) 775-0949
Treasurer - St John Board of Realtors
Voted "BEST REAL ESTATE AGENCY ON ST. JOHN 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015"
For 17 years, we have been "working" on St John collecting experiences and getting to know the island. We have been "working" on getting to know all of the beaches and hiking trails. We have been "working" on learning the best places to anchor for snorkeling, the best bays to sail to, the best remote islands to visit. We have been "working" on trying all of the restaurants. We have been "working" enjoying the views from all of the best homes on the island. We have been "working" on creating the best vacations for our friends, families and guests.
After all of this work, we want to take the time to share what we have learned with you. Let us help you find your perfect piece of real estate on St John. Or we can help you find the perfect St John villa for your Virgin Islands vacation. Let us help you care for your property with our expert property management. Let us help you get all that you need on St John.
Most importantly, come back to this blog often to get all of the best info on St John Real Estate, St John Villa Rentals and St John Property Management.