The Pride of Ownership

My husband and I have now been living in our newly-purchased house for 6 months. Of course, we have an overwhelming list of things we want and need to do. I’ll admit that of all the things on our list, I have been most anxious to start renovating the inside. Thanks to Pinterest and Houzz, I have a variety of grandiose ideas for “beach cottage style” cabinetry, tile work, paint colors, lighting fixtures, etc. Naturally, I immediately started calling contractors to get estimates on the price to take on these projects. My goal was to get estimates from contractors by September and begin work in October. Ha! Yeah… that’s not happening.

By the end of July, I had reached out to 5 contractors. Spoiler alert! None of them have worked out. The first contractor came right over, looked at the place, and shot out a very quick, arbitrary, and unreliable number for pricing. Disqualified. The second contractor was too busy to take on another job. The third contractor came over, spent a good deal of time looking at the place, emailed me back and forth a couple of times, then went radio silent. The fourth contractor came over, appeared to really want to work with us, took the blue prints of our house for measurements and never came back (with, or without our blueprints). We are still trying to track him down. The fifth contractor was also too busy, but said he wanted to help by referring some really good workers to us. I’ve still not received any of his “referrals”. Needless to say, we have reached a standstill and have put this project on hold.

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Meanwhile, we have been working with a couple of solar companies to get pricing to install solar power. If you’re a VI local, or if you’re a regular follower of this blog, you probably know by now how expensive power is here, so we thought that if we could supplement the cost with solar, we would be doing ourselves a favor. Talk about a roller coaster of very unclear and mixed information with regards to setting this system up! Without getting into too many details, the local power company, which is government run for the most part, has been less and less willing to work with new solar customers. Luckily, we received our permit to install panels prior to their cut-off date. So, we are moving forward with this. In fact, we have some guys doing work on the roof right now, and soon the solar panels will go on. Progress. Yay!

Next up is the yard. Our lot is probably ¾ of an acre and the prior owner was using the house as a rental property, so he did the minimum with regards to landscaping. The entire lawn was pretty overgrown and needed some serious manicuring. My husband, along with 2 different teams of landscapers, and our brand new chainsaw, have worked countless, back-breaking hours in the Caribbean sun to clear off our lot and plant new trees, flowers, and bushes. We have gotten to know the entire staff at our local nursery, as we go there weekly. However, things thrive down here, and as soon as everything is in order… it rains. A few days later, everything needs to be trimmed back, and, again, there’s Kevin out there sunburnt and sweating as he trims everything down. So, the lawn is a work in progress, but it’s coming along nicely.

Of course, we’ve run into a variety of other chores and issues that have proven to take a bit more time to fix than if we lived in the states. I’ve had to call the gate guy, the pool guy, the generator guy, and the refrigerator guy countless times. Islanders, please enlighten me: why is it that you can’t simply make an appointment with repairmen and have them show up at the scheduled time? Why do I always feel like I’m inconveniencing them, or that they are doing me a favor by doing work for me? They do know that I will pay them, right?! Every single time I call a repairman, I get the same reply…. Call me tomorrow, or Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow (doesn’t happen), or I’ll be in that area the day after tomorrow, so call me then. Even if you do make an appointment, that doesn’t mean that they will show up.

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Last week, I called a pool guy to come out to take a look at a chip in the diamond bright of our pool. When he answered (bonus!), he told me that he’d be in my area the next day, and asked me to text message him my name, number, and location. I told him I would be around in the afternoon, and I promptly texted him all of my information. I never heard from him. So I called him again first thing in the morning, two days later. He apologized and said he would re-work his schedule for me that day to come out and take a look. I didn’t hear from him until after 2:30, at which point I wasn’t home. This is a normal course of events, so it winds up taking longer than necessary for anyone to simply come out and look at the issue at hand, let alone fix it. I’m starting to realize why most of my friends that have lived here for any significant amount of time have become quite handy on their own.

Maybe it’s good that we didn’t start renovating this house right away because there are so many other things that we need to do to get the house in order that I can see the budget for cabinetry and tile getting lower and lower. The other day, I was showing our friend, who is currently staying with us, around our downstairs apartment. I kept catching myself saying, in as much a surprised tone as it was prideful, “…and, everything works!” I proceeded by turning on all the lights, the fan, and the air conditioning units by way of proof of our accomplishments.

I once read that when you’re feeling challenged or frustrated, you should ask yourself what this situation is teaching you. What are you learning from this experience? Well, it’s abundantly clear to me that I’m learning patience, but I wouldn’t simply apply this lesson to my house. I’d apply it to the entire experience of living on an island!

Now, I must go call the exterminator. The landscapers just knocked down a termite nest…

termite nest_WWLOR

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Christine O'Neil

About Christine O'Neil

Christine moved to St. Thomas in May of 2011 after years of being encouraged to give up her corporate life in the city of Chicago by her then boyfriend, now husband. Upon experiencing this whirlwind of change, she discovered that the sunny life of an island girl was healthier, happier, and simpler than the old hustle and bustle of the stateside world she once knew. Although the islands prove to be an often backwards and sometimes puzzling place to live, Christine has learned to laugh about how silly life can truly be down here. She now appreciates the islands for what they are and tries to balance the nonsensical aspects of rock life by enjoying the many outdoor activities the islands have to offer such as golfing, running, paddleboarding, boating, and windsurfing. You can read more about Christine’s experiences on her personal blog, www.christine-takingtheplunge.blogspot.com/.

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8 thoughts on “The Pride of Ownership

  1. The book ‘Don’t Stop The Carnival’ really wasn’t fiction as we all discover when attempting to build here. I would hear “I go to come back..” when ever I met with a prospective worker, and when they didn’t, had to hunt them down on the road to remind them. No one wants to say to you, “No, I can’t come”…so they don’t, they just don’t show. It helps to keep things simple when building-think easy maintenance, the more complicated the more chance it can’t be fixed. Some people here have invited a carpenter friend from ‘home’ to stay for a month and do whatever needs doing. If you do find a good craftsman, who does show up, doesn’t over charge, is true to his word, don’t let him go..tie him to your house.
    Word of advice- Don’t Pay Anyone in advance (unless it’s for materials) as you won’t see them again. Best of luck to you

    • Be cautious about paying too much upfront for materials. We had a corrupt company charge us for materials after Hugo (to replace the roof). My Mom found their foreman’s book accidentally left behind – noting to ‘remove supplies from X’s house to start work on Y’s house” the following week. They took the supplies purchased for OUR roof and used the material on another house. Never saw them again. They left island and nobody could find them. SeaGate Construction.

    • BTW, excellent book. My Dad used to say it was THE required reading material for all expats wanting to ‘move to Paradise”. Highly recommended!

  2. We are renters but the entire time I was reading your article I kept saying — that’s so true. Maybe this happens all over the world but we are renters who act like owners. Yes, we know we don’t own the place but we want the garden to look nice and everything [well, mostly] to work in the house.

    Your comments about getting someone to come to the house were so spot on I had to laugh. We were paying to get some light switches changed. The guy seemed nice but as you say — never showed up as promised. You might like this though because after sitting at home all afternoon w-a-i-t-i-n-g for him I gave up and went into town around 6PM. We got home at 7PM to an indignant note from him as he had driven up to the house and I wasn’t there. Part of me was glad he had to experience someone not being where they said they would be. Oh, and a month later I’m still waiting for him to find the time to change the incorrect cover plate.

    Aside – we need to learn how to do our own small jobs. I asked for a quote and was told $30 per switch as he waved his hand over a switch and I “thought” that meant per panel. When he gave us the bill it was $60 per panel as each had two switches. I need to remember to clarify — but that’s a whole other story — asking the right question.

    Thanks for another great read and good luck with your new home.

    PS – my husband says the only thing that grows well in the Caribbean is weeds.

  3. Love your article. Two years on St Croix same experience. What happens is that all of this becomes the “norm” and it doesn’t bother you. It is part of the ” allure” of the island. The weather, the beach, the friendly people, the lifestyle makes everything ok. Enjoy paradise!

  4. Patience is great to practice, but do we always have to learn it the hard way? YES. Stateside life has its own way of getting on one’s nerves. I’d be back in STT in a heartbeat if I could, in spite of the problems. Congratulations on your new abode! Hope you’ll post some pics of your progress at some point. God bless you in your continuing endeavors. Termites. Sounds like you’re in STJ.

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