House Hunting on St. John: A Mountain Perch for $1.65 Million

This three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house sits on Bordeaux Mountain, just outside the boundaries of Virgin Islands National Park, on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The house, known as Esprit Villa, was built in 1995 on a half-acre plot about 1,000 feet above sea level, with terraces on three levels offering views of Coral Bay to the east.

“From each room in Esprit, the breezy view from Bordeaux Mountain to the islands in Sir Francis Drake Channel is what makes this villa so special,” said Jan Courlas, a senior broker associate with USVI Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing.

Built of concrete, with a galvanized roof, the 1,766-square-foot house withstood Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017; damaged railings and gutters were replaced or repaired, Ms. Courlas said.

Gingerbread fretwork gives it a quaint charm, as does the rustic wall of native stone, speckled with seashells, that surrounds the property. From a six-car parking area, a 20-foot wood bridge leads to the front porch, which has a seating area.

The foyer has a half bathroom and a laundry area, and leads to an open-plan great room, with slate floor tiles and double-height cypress ceilings. To the left are an open kitchen, with a travertine backsplash and countertop, and the dining area. To the right are the living room and an open nook used as a study.

Double doors from the great room open to the covered upper terrace, which has dining and sitting areas. The total living space, inside and out, is more than 3,000 square feet.

From the great room, a mahogany staircase leads down to a foyer connecting two bedrooms with en suite baths, both of which have access to the lower deck. One bathroom has a large window with views of the garden; the other has an outdoor shower.

“You can step out of doors and see the moon and stars at night — in the shower,” Ms. Courlas said.

The third bedroom, which also has en suite bath, is somewhat smaller and has an outdoor shower. It can be reached from the garden and from the upper stories by exterior stairs.

Tropical plants, including Christmas palms, ixora, bougainvillea and oleander, shade the yard. A solar-heated pool anchors the rear deck. Amenities include solar-heated water, two cisterns, air-conditioning in the bedrooms, a generator, a water-filtration system, a hurricane-proof basement room, hurricane-grade windows and a shutter system that protects the house during storms.

In winter, St. John’s high season, Esprit Villa has been rented for $3,900 to $4,400 a week for up to six people, Ms. Courlas said. It is being sold furnished.

Hiking along Bordeaux Mountain Trail is a popular activity in the area, as are water sports. Maho Bay Beach is less than 10 minutes away by car, Ms. Courlas said, and the nearest town, Coral Bay, is about five minutes. The island’s largest town, Cruz Bay, is 20 minutes west. St. John does not have an airport; Cyril E. King Airport, on neighboring St. Thomas, is about 90 minutes away by ferry and car.

St. John, with around 5,000 residents, is the smallest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, after St. Thomas and St. Croix. With a national park spread over much of the island, land and properties are scarce. “As a result, home prices are generally much higher than elsewhere in the territory, but fluctuate significantly from year to year, given the low number of sales,” according to a 2019 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“St. John has always been the most expensive island of all three,” said Belton E. Jennings III, the chief executive officer of the Virgin Islands Territorial Association of Realtors. “It holds its value because it is preferred by well-heeled buyers.”

The island is still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused extensive property damage in September 2017. Afterward, homeowners at all price points “really wanted to get out of the market,” said Nick Van Assche, an owner of Sea Glass Properties, a luxury agency in the U.S. Virgin Islands with offices on St. John.

Corby Parfitt, a broker and owner of USVI Sotheby’s International Realty, said that newer homes tend to suffer less damage in hurricanes because of “improved construction methodologies and tighter building codes.”

He added: “There were a number of distressed properties sold by owners who had settled their insurance claims and were ready to move on. But by and large, normal market pricing was restored within first six months after the storms,” with single-family homes starting at around $500,000 and luxury properties starting at about $2 million and “going up to the eight-figure range.”

From 2013 to 2016, an average of 50 homes on St. John sold every year, for an average price of about $1.05 million, according to data from the St. John MLS system. In 2018, the year after the storms, 65 homes sold. That slowed a bit in 2019, with 55 homes selling for an average of $1.09 million.

The post-hurricane spike in sales, Mr. Parfitt said, was “attributable to the inevitable turnover that always follows such an event.”

The island’s most expensive properties have been slower to move. According to MLS data, more than 100 homes are currently available for more than $1 million, while only seven are priced from $250,000 to $500,000.

“You’ve got investors thinking they’re going to get the greatest deal of a lifetime because there’s all these damaged properties, but that’s not necessarily so,” Mr. Jennings said. “The prices have really held up.”

Mr. Van Assche said that for homes at $1.5 million and below, prices have returned to or even exceeded their pre-hurricane levels. Some priced at more than $3 million, though, have “very steep” discounts because of the abundant supply.

He and Mr. Parfitt both mentioned the closure of Caneel Bay Resort, a four-star haven for presidents and movie stars that was destroyed by the hurricanes, as a bellwether of the state of the luxury market. “It was a consistent source of qualified purchasers,” Mr. Parfitt said.

These days, Mr. Van Assche said, prospective luxury buyers are asking more practical questions: “What are the operating expenses and what kind of rental income can I get?”

At the affordable end of the market, Coral Bay, on the island’s eastern side, has long been a buyer’s market, even before the storms. It is more remote and less dense with amenities, but that is starting to change, Mr. Van Assche said, with the opening of new businesses, like a floating taco bar.

“Coral Bay is full of opportunity right now. You’re going to find some really good deals,” he said. “It’s on the quieter side of the island, and it’s less discovered.”

Most buyers on St. John are from the United States, Mr. Parfitt said, and are looking for vacation homes.

But there has been a recent generational shift, Mr. Van Assche noted, with younger people — in their late 30s through early 50s — buying properties from baby boomers who invested in the 1990s and 2000s.

Foreigners and American citizens can own property on St. John without restrictions, said Rafael F. Muilenburg, the managing partner of Morrisette & Muilenburg, a St. John law firm.

The buyer’s closing costs are usually less than 5 percent of the sale price, including a transfer tax that can be negotiated with the seller, he said. Buyers should do proper due diligence, get title insurance and do a survey if there isn’t a current one.

“All of this has a lot to do with the uniqueness of the land and neighborhoods and properties here,” Mr. Muilenburg said.

Because of the topography, differences in views and wind, neighborhood variations and other nuances, very few properties are the same, making comparable appraisals a challenge. And with some properties passed down through generations, title research is essential, he said.

Obtaining a loan “is very much like doing it in the continental U.S.,” Mr. Parfitt said. “Methods of risk assessment, appraisal and underwriting are generally the same even though our typical interest rates are slightly higher than those found elsewhere in the U.S.”

English; American dollar

The annual taxes on this property were $2,730 in 2019, Ms. Courlas said.

Jan Courlas, USVI Sotheby’s International Realty, 340-643-5102;

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