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Russ Filman's Buying/Building in the Grenadines

Dear Russ:

We would like to buy a winter condo or home somewhere in the Grenadines, Mustique possibly, when we could afford it. What can you tell me about house prices and the difficulties, if any, with building in the Grenadines.

Thanks. Surfer

Dear Surfer:

If you are aiming for Mustique, I understand pricing starts somewhere at the US$4 million mark, for the paupers, and climbs radically from there, if you can buy at all. You either have big money, or a high celebrity profile (or both preferably) to leverage ownership access to the "Isle of the Rich and Famous". Now that's only my opinion. There are apparently no more new lots being made available on Mustique. I have no hard facts to support the idea just third party information.

Palm Island sells and builds for owners but I don't know the pricing there. The flat sandbar asthetics don't appeal to me, I'm a mountain man by heart, but what are dreams for? Canouan's Raffles Resort & Golf Club has several developed properties for sale but again, dig deep into your pocket for them. The advantage is the only 18 hole golf course in St. Vincent and the Grenadines right there.

Our own builder, Bert Davis, is ready and willing to take on projects on Bequia or Union Island where he has been quite busy for the last few years doing several projects, including residences and roads, and building his own home on the island.

In Bequia, we have a wide range of price potential for existing properties, with several built that would cost over US$1,600,000, but many in the range from US$900,000 to that level. Most of these couldn't be duplicated at current land and building costs. All costs have climbed in the last ten years in particular. Anything liveable under those prices is a steal unless it is obviously only being bought for the land. Land runs from US$7 to US$20 per SQUARE FOOT (x 44,000=1 acre)[2011]. On steeply sloping land, a lot minimum, for us, means a half acre, and a bunch more if you can afford it. Current building costs are about US$200 per square foot if you stick with normal building materials (count everything including verandahs and patios when figuring your costs). Then you might be coming close to what it will actually cost.

Remember, you have to make room to accommodate road access, plenty of room for trees to cool the property with shade and gardens and to seperate you from your neighbours (West Indians just don't hear noise, believe me, but they can interpret a conversation from 100 feet), then most of all room for septic systems and soak-aways.

In the Grenadines, your building costs have to include adequate water storage capacity for extended dry seasons. There is no ground water for drinking water wells. It all comes from the sky. Build lots of roof. You will appreciate the shade as well as the water gathering capacity. Building a tank use to often represent half your building costs. Building on the major islands such as St. Vincent, Grenada and St. Lucia, you don't have the large tank building costs.

Building in the Grenadines means importing virtually everything that goes into the project, sand, lumber, cement, steel, fasteners, tools, even water on some islands such as Palm, Mustique, Union or Cannouan and sometimes Bequia. (You can't use beach sand, the salt will destroy a building in a few years and it's illegal too.)

The skilled tradesmen are heavily in demand and any others are here today gone tomorrow claiming tradesmanship that they don't have a clue about. WITHOUT an experienced local controlling the site, you are into feeding a bottomless pit, but then with a dedicated local site supervisor you still may feel like that anyway as time wears on. Take all building estimates and add half. That is likely where you will finally end the project, unless you r-e-a-l-l-y just have to finish it as originally planned (which never actually happens).

Everything changes in process. The reasons are endless. That just happens. You will want a lot of the changes, which will cost money of course, more than you expected usually. Getting materials is a nightmare and not a soul can help change the situation. You will just have to live with it. Everything has to be transported and transported again, from overseas, retransported from the customs entry point, "drogged" from the dock, "drogged" from the storage pile, and every time it's money, and even worse "big" frustration.

Everything attracts BIG duty and consumption taxes on the LANDED cost. Customs warehouse charges can just blow your mind if a critical item gets shuffled off into a corner by some careless handling.

If there is a sure way to earn a fool's gold star, a non-Caribbean trying to build in the Caribbean is right up there contending for first place. Everyone who has gone through the process imagined that they couldn't possibly experience the inanities catalogued by those who built before them. V-e-r-y few escape unscathed.

If you're going to own in the Caribbean, buy it finished, or give up your rights to claim sanity. I didn't and was extremely lucky to have an exceptionally dedicated, intelligent and honest local general contractor. In February 1990, he bulldozed the hilltop site, we staked out where to position the house, we left him with the first $50,000 and left. We spent horrendous phone costs trying to help source supplies he was needing and couldn't get and a minor number of "change conferences" on more substantial items. Of course, every few weeks another call for "MONEY", again and again and again, etc....

In December, we came back and moved into the project in its final stages. Bert swore he would NEVER give a time commitment like that again. At that time, ours was the fastest built structure in Bequia and everyone just couldn't believe the speed, and marvelled at the quality wrung from the ragtag crews Bert had to work. Just about every tradesman on the island must have worked and been fired by or argued himself blue with Bert before it was over. He was hell on fire with his red hair and rattling landrover flying up and down the Mount Pleasant road for the duration. Even with Bert's terrorizing presence, there were major teardowns and rebuilds to correct gross stupidity or carelessness as the building went up. Bert builds things like they have to withstand a battleship barrage. Anything less is embarassing. I kept trying to emphasize that I did not have the resources of an independent country to plow into the project.

I don't think anyone could have been more proud, and deservedly so, than Bert when it was completed. We just basked in his achievements as the "official" owners, thankful that he spared us the daily horrors of facing the job, on site, ourselves.

Back in the late 90's, we agreed that we should keep our "Pleasant Top" in the sun, described at this link - house.html until we are no longer physically capable of making the annual trips between Canada and Bequia but we do recognize that our determination to retain it could be tempted by a serious substantial offer just as almost any property owner might. There is one thing for sure we will be coming to Bequia, even if not to Pleasant Top, as long as we physically can. Bequia really is our principal heartfelt home.

We've enjoyed our very "Pleasant" home at the "Top" of the Belmont Hill on Bequia for almost 20 years. The garden and landscape development is a labour of love and almost drove us crazy, what with stubbornly holding out that we wouldn't fence (we did after 3 years) while trying hopelessly to chase goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, etc.... at all hours of the day and night. They just had a ball when we were gone for 6 months of each year. We love our place, Bequia and Bequians and we didn't go crazy in the process but we sure ran out of steam, for a while. It needs someone with a full head of dreams to coddle and shape it for their own. We've slowed down but the dreams still wave in the mind's eye for fulfilment.

Are you ready for the experience? If so , although we have not listed the property with any realty agent, we've come to the point where we will consider any reasonable offer to buy Pleasant Top. Let us know if you are seriously interested.

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Regards,

Russ Filman - Bequia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, West Indies

E-mail Comments to Russ Filman

P.S. 2001 - Yahoo! We finally have a pool in place, a lower level apartment for guests and the gardens are becoming a full-time pursuit with so many plants but we still love it. Now.... Can I get the stone pathways and walls I want finished this year or do they have to wait? Lois...Lois... don't throw your hands up in frustration. You know the job never ends!

P.S. 2006 Got some stone pathways in but more to do yet, of course. By the way, supply sourcing has been dramatically improved since we built and the local tradesmen have become dramatically more professional. There is a lot of excellent work being done now on our little island in the sun. Even here on Mount Pleasant we have eight new houses under construction this year alone (2007). All over the island there is a construction boom. Stand in line for any new house construction.

P.S. 2010 Now (2010) is the time to make that move to build on Bequia. There has been a dramatic pull back in construction activity and there are plenty of local tradesmen and excellent contractors available. All those speculators operating on other people's money (borrowed) have pulled in their horns and flown for cover. Lots of places for sale on Bequia now. Building cost quotes have been in the area of US$210 - 250 per square foot this year for normal quality requirements, higher for special treatment of course. It is still costly to get imported building materials but at least they are fairly readily available.

P.S. 2012 Now (2012) Building cost quotes have been running in th US$180 - $220 per square foot range so much more practical to consider that dream home in paradise.

P.S. 2013 We have come to the conclusion that it is time for us to seriously consider any offers for purchase of Pleasant Top. We will be asking for professional evaluations to set an asking price for the property in October. We anticipate the valuations to be in the area of the US$1,100,000 quoted by the valuators.

P.S. 2015 We no longer rent out the property during the summer months (too much work for us now that we are in our 70s) and have finally officially listed the Pleasant Top property for sale at US$990,000 with Barnard's Realty. We will still spend our winters on Bequia but for us renting would be a more pragmatic answer. So we shall see what comes.

We can be reached by email at filman@295.ca

telephone: (784) 458-3988 after October 1st

A Bequia real estate website of interest:

return to Russ' "Pleasant Top" on Bequia or go to Russ' Bequia page.

1995-2015 Russell A. Filman (updated June 21/15)