House Hunting on St. Croix: A Converted Sugar Mill With Sea Views

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.

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