Building a House in the Virgin Islands

I hope to have many posts on this topic in the future, but for now, I just wanted to post about some of the plans that we have for our future home on St. Croix. Now that we have finally closed on the property, the next step is building our home, but like everything else on the islands, it’s not that easy. I read on the Relocation Forum that the permit process just to start building can take 6-7 months. Of course, since we are building on the water, our site will require another permit from the Coastal Zone Management department. Finally, our home is located in a gated community so our building plans must be approved by the Homeowners’ Association.

I’ve also been told that once the permits are issued, you have 12 months to complete the building of your property. That sounds like a lot of time, but you have to remember “island time” can add both days and dollars to any estimate so we are planning on being totally ready to build before we ever start the permit process. Our preliminary plans (or maybe I should say my plans) have included making a list of things that we need (and want) to have in our home. This is the first home that H and I have ever built from the ground up. It is extremely exciting and nerve-wracking.

I’ve broken down the list for the house by rooms. My list includes things like: solar/wind power (separate post to follow); workout room; built-in bookshelves; an outdoor shower; and, gray water irrigation. I have also included very specific items that come from preferences that I/we have developed in living in our current home for 7 years – things like: separate electrical switches for the ceiling fans and lights; cushions for the furniture with slipcovers that I can remove; a spice rack pull-out; a walk-in pantry; and, a dog shower.

We’ve also begun looking at various island homes on the Internet for floor plan ideas. Caribbean homes are often laid out very differently from stateside homes. We toured a home when we were on St. Croix last year. It was priced in the $800,000 range so for that price we were expecting something really nice. Instead we saw something that was really strange. The main room was a kitchen/living area that opened up to a balcony/deck. Then you continued walking on the deck to the adjacent room which was a bedroom with attached bathroom – that’s right: you had to walk outside to get to the bedroom. The realtor explained that this home was West Indian style. I’m not sure what the benefit was to not being able to access the bedrooms by hallways, but all I could think of was having to walk outside at midnight in my pajamas to get a drink of water. First item on our floor plan list: hallways.

Last night, we were watching House Hunters International (we love this show, by the way). If you haven’t seen it, it’s a show on HGTV where they follow homebuyers who are looking for a home in another country. They always show three different options, and at the end of the show, you find out which option the buyers pick. Then they usually follow up a few months later to see how much they are loving their new home. Well, last night the show followed a family buying a home in Turks and Caicos (one of our previous vacation spots). The first option was a $1.25 million dollar home. It was on the water in a beautiful location, but get this, it was a “pod” home. It sounds like something from a science fiction movie. (It actually reminded me of the pods in a county jail nearby – remember, I’m an attorney. I was just visiting, not residing, there.)

Anyway, there were four “pods” all surrounding a central courtyard. The first pod was the kitchen and living area, the second was the master suite, the third was another bedroom, and the fourth was an office. Again, I kept thinking of crossing the courtyard in the middle of the night for a drink. I realize that in the islands, a lot of your time is spent outside. That’s one of the benefits of living in a tropical environment, and H and I plan on having a very large patio and outdoor area, but I think that we can enjoy the outdoors and have hallways!

I know that once we start the real planning process, I may have to give up some of my “wants” because of budgetary or feasibility issues, but a girl’s got to dream.

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