SherpaReport traveled down to St John in the US Virgin Islands with team members from Equity Residences, to see the steps they go through in preparing and launching a new home. The Equity Platinum Fund had closed on the home just days before we arrived, and the first guests were due a few days later, so there wasn’t a lot of time to make sure the home was in perfect shape.
The two Equity Residences personnel on the trip were Managing Director Greg Salley and Guest and Partner Relations Manager Natalie Veselica. We all met up at the airport in St Thomas and took the ferry over to St John.
As we disembarked from the ferry in Cruz Bay we were greeted by a local on- island host and concierge. We had a rental car booked and the host escorted us to the office located right across the road from the harbor gates. We then followed the host to the house where he provided us with an orientation.
It was a very busy few days and a fascinating view on the number of things that go into getting a house ready for the first guests. As background, Equity Residences rents out vacant weeks in the homes to help offset the running costs and to keep the dues down for their investors.
As with any new home, there are multiple service providers to initially find, select and meet. A good local property manager can provide some of the introductions, and former owners can provide introductions to people that already are familiar with the house, especially when you’re buying in a small community like St John.
Natalie notes “It is beneficial as the Guest Relations Manager to personally meet and select the vendors we will be working with moving forward. Developing a relationship with them will make working remotely with them much easier.”
Some of the people that came by and talked through their services were:
- Landscapers, for looking after the extensive gardens
- Pool person, to maintain and look after the swimming pool
- Housekeeper, to do the cleaning between guests
- AC person, to look after the air-conditioning units
After meeting each of these service providers, Greg and Natalie must decide who they were going to work with and then put an agreement and plan in place for each of them. All of this is time consuming with advance preparation required, but a necessary part of running a smooth operation.
This particular house had been rented out, as well as used by the prior owners. It meant that the house came fully furnished. However, it also meant there were various items around house – an old PC, an old TV, and an old video game machine that owners accumulated – stuff that just needed to be cleared out.
Greg and Natalie did extensive walk-throughs over several days, closely examining all aspects of the house, features and garden. They checked all the electrical systems, all appliances, every light and electrical switch and fan switches, the AC, all the plumbing, pool and hot tub units, all the furniture and structure and other fittings. Natalie even labeled the light switches for ease of use for the guests.
And as they did these walk-throughs, they noted the condition of all elements of the house and developed a punchlist of items to fix or improve. This list included items for each of the service providers.
The checks also included going through all the closets and cupboards, to make sure the crockery and silverware, kitchen utensils, kitchen appliances – including coffee mugs, can openers, glasses, plates, wine glasses, water glasses, kitchen tools - are all up to standard and ready for the first visitors. Natalie bought or placed orders for spares or anything that needed replacing.
Natalie also made sure that all the supplies were in place – trash bags, cleaning materials, etc – and spent time with the housekeeping crew to set expectations and communications.
“Getting a new home up to Equity standards involves a lot of detail. Each home is different when we acquire it and will require more attention in different areas. We want to ensure that when the guest walks through the door, they don’t have to worry about anything but enjoying their vacation," explains Natalie.
One other thing that needed to be done on island was to changeover the utilities into Equity Residences' name. This sounds straightforward, but on St John you need a notary to do the transfers, and like many small tasks that suddenly expand, this one took on a bit of a life of its own when the first two notaries Greg went to were closed. He eventually found one that was open and could notarize the transfer.
What to Do. Where to Go.
Each home in the portfolio has a residence guide which is a guide for visitors and guests. The Equity Residences team also develops Dream Trips for each residence in the portfolio. The Dream Trips serve as inspirations for guests, and any activities mentioned can be booked through the Equity Residences concierge team or the local concierge. Fund investors can reach out to Natalie for her personal thoughts and recommendations on things to do and where to go during their vacation, even if the activities are not mentioned in the Dream Trips or the local guides.
At the time of my visit, Natalie had already started to assemble the guide for the St John home, and being on the island provided her with an opportunity to check a range of other details. This includes everything from simple notes on where are the local supermarkets and food stores (groceries can also be pre-stocked in the home prior to arrival), to which are the best restaurants - with visits to Morgan’s Mango, Longboard and Ocean 362 -, which beaches are the best to visit (two-thirds of the island is a national park making it easy to find your own beach), who to work with for boat trips or snorkeling or diving and a range of other fun activities.
For Natalie, this is her favorite part of property launches, as she notes, “I love the concierge side of my job, and to prepare myself for the launch I researched various activities, beaches, restaurants etc. before arriving at the house. Getting to experience and see the places that I have researched helps me to elevate our guest and partner experiences. I can more confidently give them recommendations or advice for their stay.”
The St John home is right on the water, so some of the things Equity Residences purchased include a set of SUPs, and kayaks. The location in St John adds an extra logistical piece, since these water toys need to be ordered and they have to be delivered to the island.
The spacious 4 bedroom house was custom built with stone, imported mahogany and other hardwoods and faced with light brown coral stone that was quarried in the Dominican Republic. This adds a little to ongoing logistics for maintenance, all of which is handled between Natalie and the local property manager.
A feature Equity Residences likes to do in all their homes is to have two washers and dryers. This makes it easier for cleaners to do a fast turnaround between guests and provides an additional option for the guests. An extra fridge freezer also makes sure guests are never without something they need. Putting all these pieces in place also falls to Natalie.
When you put all this together, it means investors can just turn up and relax and enjoy their vacations. If they need any help or advice, Natalie or the local concierge are available to help out.