A Five-Bedroom Retreat in the Hills of St. Croix
This five-bedroom property claims nearly five hilltop acres on the mountainous northwest end of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 5,545-square-foot house is built in and around an 18th-century sugar mill, though most of it was constructed of concrete and stone in the early 1990s, after Hurricane Hugo demolished a more modest wood home on the site.
The towering stone mill is a sturdy remnant from one of the many sugar cane plantations that covered the island when it was governed by Denmark. “The kitchen is in the base of the mill, and there are mahogany stairs that curve with the shape of the mill,” said Amy Land-de Wilde, an agent with Coldwell Banker St. Croix Realty, which has the listing. “There are two bedrooms inside as well as a great little aerie bedroom on top. This is a very iconic property for St. Croix.”
Facing north to the Caribbean Sea, with St. John and St. Thomas visible in the distance on clear days, the house has many traditional Danish West Indian design elements, including large archways that open to the outdoors, plantation shutters, soaring ceilings, and decorative floor and wall tiling.
The great room, built off the 18th-century sugar mill that anchors the house, has a vaulted wood ceiling and three doorways that allow easy passage to and from the large covered dining terrace and swimming pool.Credit…Coldwell Banker St.Croix Realty
A stone driveway winds its way to a large parking area in front of the house. The main entrance opens into a tiled entry hall, which winds around the curved wall of the mill to the great room. This room, built off the mill, has a vaulted wood ceiling and three doorways that allow easy passage to and from the large covered dining terrace and the swimming pool and patio beyond that.
At the mill end of the room, a massive archway opens into the kitchen, which has exposed stone walls, teak flooring, mahogany cabinets, granite counters and a pantry.
One of two primary suites is on the main floor, in the rear of the house. It has a private lanai and a bathroom with bright yellow tiling. The second primary suite is upstairs in the mill, and has a sitting nook and an outdoor shower. The bedroom suite below it has an office nook and a door to the outdoor spaces.
Perched atop the mill is a loft-style bedroom with two windows facing the sea and a bathroom. The fifth bedroom and bath are below the kitchen.
A detached cottage adjacent to the house, facing the pool, has an art studio, a wet bar and a half bath. A long wood staircase winds from the stone patio down to a covered sitting area, and further down to a sloping lawn dotted with stone ruins dating to the heyday of the sugar mill.
The property is about eight miles west of Christiansted, St. Croix’s largest town, which offers hotels, restaurants and scuba shops. Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is a couple miles away, and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport is about 20 minutes south. “St. Croix is only 84 square miles and 27 miles long, so nothing’s that far away,” Ms. Land-de Wilde said.
St. Croix, with about 50,000 residents, is the largest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, followed by St. Thomas and St. John. In addition to its many white-sand beaches, it is known for its diving sites, including the Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of three underwater national monuments in the U.S. It is also the most affordable of the three islands: The average home price on St. Croix was $359,863 in 2019, according to a November 2020 report by the U.S. Virgin Islands Office of Management and Budget (OMB), while the average on both St. Thomas and St. John was about $633,000.
Prices had been rising for several years amid an economic recovery following two major hurricanes that damaged the islands in 2017. But the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted that progress. The region is heavily dependent on tourism, and travel restrictions beginning in March 2020 led to a 36 percent drop in tourist arrivals during the fiscal year ending in September, according to the report. The unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, up from 6.3 percent the previous year, leading the OMB to warn that “the Territory will have to develop a diversification of industries since the local leisure and hospitality sector has been adversely impacted due to ‘Stay at Home’ orders.”
But there is still plenty of life in the housing market on St. Croix. The second-home market had largely recovered from the impact of the hurricanes, said Ava Gail Bourdon, the broker/owner of RE/MAX St. Croix. After the pandemic shutdown was lifted, both the second-home and local housing markets slowed considerably, but never fully stopped.
“We’ve had a lot of sales sight unseen, especially in the last quarter,” Ms. Bourdon said. “We’re doing a lot more video showings, spending more time on the phone with clients. Technology has worked really well with this respect, and people are buying this way.”
Sales on St. Croix were down 14 percent last year compared with 2019, but the median sale price of $412,500 was up 17 percent, according to MLS data. That increase reflects a shortage of inventory in the $250,000 to $400,000 range, Ms. Bourdon said, noting that the median price now buys a small three-bedroom home with a half-acre yard and pastoral views, but probably not ocean views.
The luxury market was up slightly in 2020, Ms. Lande-de Wilde said. Of the roughly 150 homes currently listed on St. Croix, about 50 are priced over $1 million. “We have so many properties under contract right now that things are taking a longer time to close,” she said. “It’s taking longer to get the surveys done, the title searches and the financing.”
As of Feb. 1, the U.S. Virgin Islands had reported 2,421 cases of Covid-19 and 24 deaths, according to the Department of Health. Foreign travelers to the islands must provide proof of a negative Covid test before their arrival, though the rule does not apply to U.S. citizens arriving from the mainland.
Who Buys on St. Croix
Not surprisingly, most nonresident buyers are from the U.S. mainland. While there are also some Danes and Canadians, “this is primarily a U.S. market,” Ms. Land-de Wilde said. “The money is the same, the language, Medicare. It’s just easy.”
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers, and the process is similar to that on the U.S. mainland.
The buyer and seller typically hire their own attorneys. While buyers who are financing a purchase sometimes rely on the lender’s attorney, that can be risky, said Felice M. Quigley, a real estate lawyer on St. Croix. “We have challenging survey issues down here, and most times they’re very easily resolved, but it’s always best to hire an experienced attorney who does a lot of real estate closings,”she said.
Buyers can usually close within a month if they’re paying cash. But right now, lenders are so backed up due to the busy market and Covid-related delays that purchases involving financing are taking closer to 60 to 90 days, she said.
The agent’s commission can be anywhere between 6 and 10 percent, and is negotiable, Ms. Bourdon said.
U.S. Virgin Islands tourism: visitusvi.com
U.S. Virgin Islands government: vi.gov
Buck Island Reef National Monument: nps.gov
Languages and Currency
English; American dollar
Taxes and Fees
The transfer tax ranges from 2 to 3.5 percent of the purchase price or, if it’s higher, the assessed value, Ms. Quigley said. The seller normally pays this tax. Legal fees average around $1,850.
Property taxes on this home are $3,465 a year.
Amy Land-de Wilde, Coldwell Banker St. Croix Realty, 1-340-690-1213; https://coldwellbankervi.com
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