Owning a Rental Property on St. John: Part 2

casa view

Yesterday we introduced you to Christine and Mark Fano, the owners of a beautiful new home over near Klein Bay. The Fanos recently completed a 21-month build of their home. Seeing how so many of you have dreamt about building your own home in paradise, we thought we’d share their story. Today we’re talking about what it’s actually like to build on St. John.

“It was difficult and exciting at the same time,” Christine said about the construction process. “The amount of time, money and stress that affects the owner is overwhelming to be honest. People did warn us about it, but unless you’re experiencing it, you don’t completely understand. And being thousands of miles away, did not help!

casa front
Casa La Famiglia


“The last six months of our build was completely overwhelming mentally. Thank goodness our kids were understanding. At the end of the construction process, things were going at a fast pace. Having to order every little item for the villa from pasta strainer to a lemon press, then King sized everything for the beds to outdoor cushions … then organizing furniture delivery to Miami, and then to St. John with customs was a full-time job in itself. We had four-20 foot containers full of literally everything in and outside of our home.

casa living room

“Receiving emails on a daily basis of problems and issues that needed to be addressed ‘immediately’ was very taxing on us. Everything needed to be choreographed in perfect order because if one thing isn’t done, other things cannot be done. What we found out later was that our experience is the typical experience of those that build on island. Did it make us feel better? Not really!”

So what was the biggest surprise they encountered during their build?

“The biggest surprise was how nice of an experience things were during the build until the last six months,” Christine said. “I could write a book, but much of it was a blur and would be impossible for me to recollect. That is why I am happy I wrote my blog.”

(You can check out Chrsitine’s building blog here.)

While coordinating the build, the Fanos chose to incorporate many of the same personal touches guests at their home in New Jersey would expect.

“Our family is all about hospitality,” Christine said. “If you came to our home on the mainland for a visit, I wouldn’t let you leave unless you had coffee or tea with something to eat. We designed Casa La Famiglia for guests that absolutely want luxury with a warm personal experience.

“After our villa manager picks guests up from the ferry, we have a delicious dinner waiting for them at the house and we also have cocktails and drinks with appetizers in the refrigerator for them. I then phone the house to welcome them to St. John and Casa La Famiglia and to check on them to see if they need anything. Before they leave, we always touch base with them wishing them a safe trip home. Lastly, when we send our guest’s back their deposit, we always send a personal thank you note and a small bag of Cruz Bay Grill Rub from St. John Spice. Guests really like that, a piece of St. John they can enjoy.”

Casa night

Knowing what they now know, would the Fanos build again?

“Yes, we would absolutely build again but we had done our due diligence prior and knew pretty much what we were getting ourselves into financially. But when someone asks me if they should build … that is a loaded question! It depends on the person asking and their personal situation. I would never want to stop someone for doing something they were dreaming of, but there are big risks when building on island,” Christine said.

“I would suggest strongly that potential homeowners have 30-40% more waiting in the bank than what their budget actually calls for. To add much, much more for interior and exterior furnishings as well as linens, kitchen equipment and the rest. Basically be able to furnish the whole house inside and out. To make sure they have a good solid marriage, good health and are not stretching themselves financially in order to build. Remember that you’re signing a contract with your builder…he won’t care if you get sick, lose your job, your business is slow or anything else. Be financially prepared for the worst case scenario.

“There are plenty of half-way built villas or vacant parcels that were bought years ago that are still vacant. What we found is that some land purchasers got scared once they hire an architect and see the estimated costs involved even before the bidding process begins. If someone can’t find what they want in a villa and do not want to build, another recommendation would be to buy a home in the location you love, gut it and do what you want. I have seen that done a few times and it absolutely makes more sense financially for many people, and usually work can be completed within a year. That is a project that homeowners can absolutely control in terms of budget.”

And lastly, in addition to creating a warm and welcoming home for guests to enjoy while on St. John, Christine also has a cause near and dear to her heart.

“My son Christopher has autism and we hope to work with the autism community and the USVI government to bring autism awareness, education, recreation, services and training to the Special Needs Virgin Islands community.”

The Fano Family
The Fano Family

For more information on Casa La Famiglia, please visit CasaLaFamiglia.com