When we realized we could actually afford to look for a retirement home it didn't take long to come up with a long list of warm places to consider. Florida was the first obvious choice, however it actually snowed in Miami that year. Scratch Florida. As with most dreamers, we still had to work. Most of our dreaming was done online and watching house hunter international.
We are fortunate to have friends who actually lived this dream for decades. They build a home in Catherineberg, on the north shore of St. John. I had been to Island Stones many years ago and remembered it as incredibly beautiful, but a bit remote. They said their time on St. John was their golden years. Each and every member of their family was equally taken with the little island. We also heard stories of how difficult it was to live and get things done on the island. We spent a great deal of time talking to both of them about the pros and cons of St. John as a retirement home. In the end my wife and I decided to take a trip to St. John and see what our family thought.
The flight in was fine. For those of you who have taken a taxi from the St Thomas airport to Red Hook, you can remember your first time going up and down the windy hills, on the "wrong" side of the road, at breakneck speeds.....At this point my children were ready to have me committed. Once we arrived at the Westin, i was forgiven. Beautiful tropical climate, 80 degree temperature, blue water which was also 80 degrees, and it was January!
We did the tourist thing, took a number of day trips, visited a few beaches, rode the jet ski's.....and came to a consensus, yes this is the place. Now we just need to find our little piece of paradise.
Enter Gretchen Labrenz of Cruz Bay Realty, a true saint. Her patience with me was incredible. If you ever need a realtor on St. John, i can't recommend her enough.
Gretchen picked my wife and I up from the Westin and took us around the island, to give us a feel for what each part of the island felt and lived like. We came to the conclusion that although the east end of St. John has stunning and pristine views, it might not work for us. I wanted the ability to work when i was on island, cell service in Coral Bay was sporadic at best at the time. This left us with the north and south shore.
We went home more determined than ever to find our piece of the rock. After two years, a few hundred thousand clicks on Gretchen's web site, a few hundred emails pestering her about all kinds of craziness my wife and I returned, determined to bag our prey! We rented a villa on the north shore, one we had an interest in. That house looked much better online than in real life. The pool leaked a few inches of water every day, a ceiling fan fell next to the chairs we were sitting in, ants were throughout the kitchen.....it pays to live in a house for a bit.
Gretchen had lined up a number of homes that we were interested in from looking at them online. Again, she is a saint, she told us that we would hate some of them, yet took us anyway. She was right every time. A few days and nearly 20 homes later we found one that was close. Beautiful, well built, situated near where we wanted to be. It even had cell service and high speed internet...we were almost there!
We asked to go through the house again the next day. I also asked if we could look at Tesori, I had looked at it online and thought it also might fit. We started at Tesori. At this point I should mention a few of the things that were a priority for us. 3 to 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, pool, deck for lounge chairs, a shaded area and no more than 15 minutes to cruz bay for my wife. For me, I required cell service and high speed internet and a beautiful view to look at while working.
Many of the homes we looked at were of the "pod" configuration. That is to say there were separate units, this did not appeal to my wife as she wanted as many bedrooms as possible under one roof. She had grandchildren in mind and having them in another unit did not sit well with her. Also, she wanted to be able to see what was going on in the pool from a shaded deck.
Tesori has 4 bedrooms under roof, all with en suite bathrooms, walk in closets, heck it even has a half bath near the family room. The rotunda has nice shade and can see the pool and outside gazebo. All around it was a perfect fit for my wife's desire. The view is AWESOME. As we were wandering through, Gretchen lost her poker face and started giggling, she knew we had found our house.
After i pried my wife's fingers off the stone pillar and pressed her into the car to leave Tesori, I remembered to check for cell service. I ran back to the house and checked how many bars i could see. NONE, none anywhere. none in the house, none on the deck, none at the gazebo. My wife watching my frantic phone antics finally figured something was wrong...no phone service meant no Tesori.
We left Tesori with heavy hearts, knowing that this could have been our house but for a cell tower. As soon as we rounded the bend of the road, ATT showed up with 3 bars. It was our last day of house hunting and we needed a mental break. We did some more tourist things, ate well but were disappointed we still had not found our house. The walk of woe from the dock to catch the boat back to St Thomas was never sadder than that trip.
Over the next year, I spent time looking into alternate methods of getting cell service. I looked into microcells and cell boosters. Something had to work. We either needed enough bandwidth to support a microcell...roughly 1mb of data speed or a cell signal somewhere on the property we could capture, boost and send to a part of the house i could work from. Or alternatively, we could find another internet provider with true high speed....the innovative company DSL was 512k. It could support my work efforts, but not a microcell. Armed with this knowledge, we returned 18 months later, renting Tesori.
I spent 2 days walking every inch of Tesori waving my phone around to find the elusive ATT bar of happiness. Finally the 3rd morning i found it! Not only did i find it, ATT data was over 5mb! The promised land was 3 feet this side of the gazebo and 4 feet toward the pool. I quickly placed a bar stool in the spot. My wife and friends laughed at me and pointed out we now had a phone booth.
We went for one last house hunting trip, as there was a home in Calabash Boom with views to die for. It turned out that Gretchen's Car agreed and refused to go the last few hundred feet. It was WAY out there. Beautiful, but remote. We stopped for lunch and much to Gretchen's surprise, we made an offer for Tesori about an hour after she dropped us back at the house. After a bit of negotiating we had our house!