Purchasing an island is a dream come true, for everybody. Besides and beyond the financial investment, there is your personal modus operandi to be put to a test. After buying it, you have to make sure it will remain yours: you’ll have to thwart a whole lot of pitfalls, and find the best partners in this (long) journey. So, please, reconsider your shopping list.
The indispensable agenda
How much do I have to travel to get to my island?
Will my health lessen my opportunities?
Are my future real estate projects achievable there?
Will I adapt to the local conditions (weather, law, culture)?
Is my investment a smart-money experiment?
Choose a place – which one?
If sky is the limit, where should one go? The idea of planning something is always like a castle in the air: accessible, effortless. Imagination is free of charge, therefore purchasing a deserted island doesn’t seem such a knotty business in the first phase. But when you do a bit of research, you’ll see how much do the geographical areas weigh in your decision (for example, The Gulf of Morbihan in the south of Brittany, or the Caribbean islands). European isles will shape your budget more significantly than any other island in the Pacific.
However, the market is complex, and nice touristic photography doesn’t always resemble with the comfort and price you’re looking for. Now, it’s not just about finding a cosy place, but a perfect private resort that encloses the maximum of assets possible. Let’s go places then.
Narrow down your choices by keeping in view 3 basic elements listed below:
I. Climate and natural disasters
Rainy days or torrid mornings shouldn’t be your only benchmarks. Different issues are to be raised regardless if you choose a Brittany-based island, a Canadian or a Swedish one. The island will not be your main residence, so if you hate rain, perhaps you ought to reconsider buying a land in areas where humidity and equatorial heat aren’t the leading stars.
Given the fact that an island is an independent geological kingdom, try to find answers to some important questions such as:
- is there any earthquake risks (including tsunamis) or volcanic tokens (examine the map)?
- what about climate risks (typhoons, for example)?
- is landing on the island insecure and dangerous, maybe impossible at times (like the winter in various places from the North Atlantic)?
It’s true that some natural constraints are more unexpected than others: the concentration of mosquitoes, for instance, at a specific latitude (in the Pacific) or in certain seasons (like summer in the northern regions: Canada, Finland). The perils they can provoke are to be considered, in earnest. An issue like this, insignificant in our day-by-day life, has the power to ruin your holidays. If ignored, of course. Don’t turn a blind eye on this plausible situation, and read about the mosquito dangers.
Well, generally speaking, the local wildlife is not a subject one should overlook. If you think about The Queimada island case (located offshore Brazil), the concentration of snakes is approximately 1 per 1 square meter. That doesn’t seem a jump for joy at all. Other enclaves are home, sweet home to colonies of birds whose presence can be more or less harmful. Your luck is at stake, then. Such places are often nature reserves, not always presented on the market, but even so, reptiles and spiders can establish their tent on your island. Wouldn’t that be a delight?
II. Isolation and insecurity
A hectic city life can drive you to break off from the noise and the perpetual urban hysteria (or should we say “passion”?). A hectic city life can drive you crazy, yes. You have to take the bad with the good. So purchasing an island can be a good solution for buyers fishing for a certain stillness. Your research may also be influenced by the amount of discretion you’re looking for: spying tourist boats? Journalistic ambushes? Lurking, but curious neighbours? Do yourself a favour: ask around. Ask about your future nearby residents, landowners of their own island.
Isolation, discretion – we all get it. But hang on to your hat for a bit. Few precautions should be explored:
Travel: having to take a 10-hour flight and a 3-hour boat trip to get to your Pacific island from Los Angeles is somehow upsetting. Especially if you have to go back to work, you’ll hardly enjoy 10 free days, consecutively. Experienced agencies know that 12 hours of flight will definitively ruin your adventure, unless you plan to spend several weeks or months per year in a place. How much time are you willing to waste in order to have fun and relax and, under what circumstances exactly? For a quick estimate, before hand, use websites like rome2rio.
Logistics: the supply and ways of transporting your goods can easily make you reevaluate any spontaneous decision. It can become a major headache if the nearest city is at 200 km distance from your island. Add a couple of unfavorable conditions, and these difficulties can seriously jeopardise your family’s safety, and yours as well – especially if drinking water requires regular replenishment. Take for example The Clipperton island (the most isolated atoll in the world that belongs to France) which is 945 km away from any land. You never know where you might end up just by not paying attention to every detail. You never know.
Health: Local diseases and sickness are common when travelling or moving to foreign territories. That’s why a relatively close health centre will always be reassuring to have. Even for the young and healthy ones, let alone for people who suffer from heart or chronic disorders. Safe and sound, that should be your motto. Preventing any disturbing aches by seeing a professional is a good idea to write down next to “check the health risks specific to the country” via WHO’s official website, right before you depart.
In spite of all, isolation on an island seems difficult to handle, with or without your family. The sight of land at the horizon, a safe boat anchored to the shore, a mild climate will take your mind off the loneliness. Also, getting comfortable with the culture of the inhabitants, travelling and leisure activities (shopping, sightseeing) will save the day.
III. Legal and political details
Owning an island is a dream come true, we said, yes. But we don’t recall any legal restraints in that dream. Nonetheless, there are quite a few to point out.
Real estate: Property (when possible, though is not the case for the entire island) does not rhyme with “building permit”, on the grounds that you may face yourself with a historical or cultural heritage. In some situations, the law forbids you to rent out your island (idea that would very well compensate the necessary maintenance and accommodation costs). There are countries that seldom grant property rights to non-residents, or if they do, it’s about a 10 to 99-year attestation. Be smart and talk to people who have already bought an island in the same area.
Ecology: Ecosystems are very fragile and under strict legislation. Due to the fact that private islands are situated close to protected areas, try to acquire a fully furnished property. However, if you opt for a virgin island and you have big plans (to build a home or a resort), make sure it is possible: after analyzing what consequences will your project bring upon the environment, you will get further approvals from the authorities. Maybe. Your ecological footprints will be limited including the daily waste management. Oh, and don’t ignore the importance of the sea/ocean level in the coming decades. It might not be obvious straightaway, but it’s better not to walk on thin ice just yet.
Politics: Insecurity and corruption are leaders in some parts of the world, much more prevalent than elsewhere. Political instability works as a source of anxiety (at best) and has a negative and practical effect on your goods and on your well being (at worst). Without hanging on to the drama too long, try not to overlook this aspect if your favourite place is known for such risks. Find it on the maps realized by GEOS, the European leader in risk management.
Make improvements – how many?
Move on an island and you’ll be over the moon. No doubt. But you must take care: if you prefer to develop your own project, you should know that if the equipment is incomplete or something (bad) happens, here are the main facilities to take into consideration for your comfort:
The most important idea is to have water and electricity (probably, running water will be the most expensive development you must carry out). In most cases, electricity depends on a robust generator, which will naturally fuel itself, but don’t downsize the solar or wind energy value.
Food autonomy will also be a key point: you will either depend on nautical suppliers, or on your own. Owing or renting a boat or a helicopter will be of a great help, all the more so if your island is inaccessible otherwise.
Anyhow, prudence will be your ally that will help you avoid the inconvenience of a power failure for lack of fuel (store it for emergency), or the necessity to refuel during a time when reserves are running low.
Another crucial thing to think over is the availability of places you can reach by sea (usually) or air (when the sea is impossible). Depending on the size of your boat, and the nature of your funds, maybe you will need to land and anchor, or use a light boat. Build yourself a private dock or pontoon, in case you have the money and the legislation allows you. As for the helicopter, it will need to land respecting the natural habitat.
Invest in a private island – cleverly
In 90% of the cases, an island is not a good investment unless it tends to develop in an upscale resort (rarely the situation among the nowadays buyers).
Re-sale with extra-fee: possible, yet rare
Market experts are clear-cut: Alexander Kraft, CEO of Sotheby’s Realty France-Monaco, told the Le Figaro that one should not count on an outstanding commission. The same scheme applies to yachts: the annual maintenance takes up to 10% of its purchase price, or even more. This budget depends mainly on:
- refueling difficulties (more or less important);
- general costs of living in that specific geographical area;
- natural disasters and risks;
- the scale of improvements and maintenance (30-40% extra cost compared to the mainland).
To all of these, include the insurance and various taxes (possible preservation of a historical monument), transportation fees and what not. A re-sale can take up to a year, as the market is limited. It is very probable to get a greater amount than the purchase price, but it won’t cover all the costs needed to use the island.
Resorts: to build or not to build?
Plotting to enjoy a few weeks per year on your own island sounds even better if the annual expenses are not up the roof. Renting it out is certainly a good option, but don’t set your hopes too high: the costs will be reduced, not covered. Once again, the market has its limits, so check the local legislation if you can proceed with the rental strategy.
The concept of developing a touristic hideaway is a touch-and-go idea. Leaving aside the gigantic legal dossier you have to prepare, the real outcome of the project is hard to be foreseen. Without great determination, trusted and reliable partners, generous funds and a strong and potent business plan, the dream will stand still.
Listen to the experts – be all ears
Buying an island – not a dead-easy decision. You need an expert to advise you. Therefore, here are two online references to help you take the plunge:
- privateislandsonline.com – this is the online version of the Private Islands magazine, from Toronto. No, it’s more than that: it’s also a comprehensive buying guide that offers many services, focusing mainly on the buyers and sellers located in the Bahamas. The experts can provide wealth and property management (location and whereabouts);
- vladi-private-islands.de – this website is managed by Farhad Vladi, a specialist in selling islands for over 40 years now. He will be the consultant you need when developing your projects, and the adviser you turn to for a wide choice of ads. Before the big shopping day. You can download The World of Private Islands mobile application for your iPhone any time you want.
Contact the above mentioned websites to get in touch with specialised real estate agents, because at least 25% of salespeople do not broadcast island advertisements on the internet or in magazines.
You can always go to Sotheby’s Realty, even though the menu of choices is very limited, but exceptional: for more than $30 million, he’ll be a great counsel. He’s domain of competence is wider if you want to do more than just buy an island.