Virgin Records mogul Richard Branson has one. So does CNN creator Ted Turner. Microsoft founder Bill Gates reportedly has two. We speak not of billions in the bank, but of private islands. At once rugged and sophisticated; primal and prestigious, private islands have come to represent the highest incarnation of independent spirit, a symbol of both capitalist success and a precious escape from its demands.
However, in practical terms, island mythology resides light years away from our more accessible reality. But your own piece of paradise is closer than you think. “Some islands are cheaper than mainland properties,” says Farhad Vladi of Germany-based Vladi Private Islands. “For less than a condominium in New York City, you can get your own kingdom.” When the specialty brokerage firm opened shop in 1975, the island market was virtually untapped. However, as real estate prices in cities like New York, London, Berlin and Paris soared, islands became more viable — and popular — alternatives. Contrary to popular belief, most island owners aren’t jet-setters, but privacy- seekers. “Island owners are not interested in showing off,” says Vladi, who himself owns an island in New Zealand. “They can do that with a car, or a Rolex watch, or whatever. These are people who are close to nature, who are adventurous. There’s also the stress factor; today people just want their rest and tranquility.” Estimating that between 120 and 150 “quality islands” are on the market at any given time, he says the current climate also sees more stock market-wary buyers holding on to their islands as investments.
A glance at the company’s website reveals properties ranging in cost from $80,000 for Hawbolt Island West located in Halifax County off Canada’s Atlantic coast, to $25,000,000 for Great St. James Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands region of the Caribbean. So, what do you get for your 25 million? Over 157 acres of lush vegetation and sandy beaches, complete with a “rustic residence” equipped with tennis courts and a new boat dock, not to mention the ruins of a 1777 cotton plantation and two bona •de shipwrecks to call your own. Not too shabby.
While celebrities may shell out tens of millions for these opulent tropical hideaways, just $100,000 can buy a lovely — if more modest — island, such as one of those situated off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. “They are beautiful, climate-wise and good for summertime,” says Vladi. “This region isn’t ideal for year-round living like the Bahamas, but is very attractive to people who want the convenience of telephones, pre-fab homes and drinking water.” According to Vladi, other criteria that makes an island desirable to potential buyers include its vegetation and beach, proximity to mainland, and “good anchorage for a boat.”
Of course, the price of your island will largely depend on where it happens to be located. “Purchasing trends are not so much driven by clients as by supply,” Vladi explains. “For example, there is a strong demand in the Mediterranean, particularly in Côte d’Azur in the South of France. But they have just two islands, so it’s impossible to buy there.” Other hard-to-gets are islands off the East Coast of the United States, and the Spanish and French Coasts in Europe. To further complicate a purchase, many countries simply don’t sell to outsiders. “In the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, it’s illegal for foreigners to buy islands.”
Finally, would-be Robinson Crusoe types should remember that not all islands come equipped with city-slicker amenities like electricity and plumbing. More often than not, the process of (and permits for) building a home on your newly-acquired island must be factored into your plans. While construction costs are comparable to those of urban properties, transporting materials and workers to your island paradise can get expensive. “You can easily spend about $1,500 per square meter,” says Vladi. Yes, buying an island can be an involved process, but ask any one of Vladi’s more than 1,000 clients and they’ll tell you it’s well worth it.