May 21, 2006 – Cruz Bay Realty occupies a prime piece of real estate in the heart of Cruz Bay. It sits on the corner across from First Bank, just one block up the street from the ferry dock.
The company opened in 1985 when the late Jim Labrenz made the move from Holiday Homes. After he died in 2000, his daughter, Gretchen Labrenz, took over the company ownership.
With three sales people – Susanne Kirk, Tammy Pollock and Harley Smith – as well as Labrenz, it's a busy agency. Her mother, Margie Labrenz, keeps tabs on office affairs.
"The minute we walk in and sit down, the phone starts ringing," Labrenz said.
Although she said St. John's real estate market is leveling off a bit from the huge price increases felt during the past five years, business is still brisk. However, she said sellers are reducing prices.
"The bubble is not going to burst, but I'm definitely seeing a slowdown. We're seeing more realistic prices," she said.
She said that far fewer people are flipping their properties than did so in the last five to seven years.
However, she said the island now has about double the number of homes for sale than it did the same time last year. She said there are currently 106 houses on the market.
Labrenz said St. John's building boom has added to the number of houses available, and some people are selling because high cost of living and health issues make it impracticable for them to spend their retirement years on St. John.
She said baby boomers are buying houses to put in the vacation villa market. She said many plan to spend winters on St. John when they retire, but won't move full time. Instead, they'll rent out their villas during the summer months since the island is busy nearly year round.
She said that St. John's pricey real estate makes doing business difficult.
"Many of the buyers are unable to afford what they would like," she said.
The Labrenz family moved to St. John full time in 1982 from Columbus, Ohio, with Gretchen Labrenz and her sister, Amy, spending school vacations on St. John with their parents. Jim Labrenz built the first house in Fish Bay, appropriately called Goodbye Columbus. Labrenz said it blew away with Hurricane Hugo's winds in 1989 after her family had sold it.
When she was done with school at Ohio State University, Labrenz moved permanently to St. John.
"I came for the summer and never left," she said.
During her 10 years in the food and beverage department at Caneel Bay Resort, she wrote a cookbook, "St. John Style," which is in its sixth printing and for sale at St. John stores. Labrenz said that since she was costing out recipes for Caneel Bay and she liked to cook, the cookbook was a logical extension.
After her stint at Caneel Bay, 15 years ago she joined her parents at Cruz Bay Realty.
Single, she's often headed off on a trip somewhere. In fact, she recently bought a condo in Fort Lauderdale, mainly because the Spirit Airlines nonstop flight from St. Thomas to Fort Lauderdale made it convenient.
"I'm about five minutes from the airport," she said.
Call 693-8808 or visit www.cruzbayrealty.com.
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