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Castaway

13.11.19

Private islands have hit the headlines in recent times with all the buzz around the Fyre Festival scandal that saw rich festival fans hoodwinked into spending thousands of dollars on a sham music festival expected to be held on a Bahamian private island known locally as Saddleback Cay.

Of course, the festival was revealed in a full-fanfare media shaming as the con it was, with not one, but two documentaries since airing all the gory details. But it seems many are still being bitten by the island bug.

“People are dreamers. They love the idea of buying an island and they see some of the less expensive locations where we have listings as almost ‘doable’ for them,” explains Chris Krolow CEO of Private Islands Inc, and producer and presenter of HGTV’s Island Hunters.

“When we remove a listing under half a million dollars, we invariably receive a choice selection of feedback from disappointed individuals bemoaning the fact that they missed the chance to buy it. When the island is sold and removed from the site, it’s as if the dream has died for them.”

Chris has a valid viewpoint. For many, an island is a never, never land aspiration. But for the elite few with the capital to make a purchase this large, just how easy is it to buy and run a private island?

Farhad Vladi of Vladi Private Islands has been honing his expertise in this rarefied market since the 1970s. In his opinion, for a good many investors, the challenges posed by the upkeep and maintenance of the island itself can make ownership a palm-fringed purchase too far.

Explains Farhad: “Dependence on nature becomes nowhere more apparent than living on a private island. Storms can cause considerable damage, not to mention the upkeep of the property and supporting infrastructure which can prove cripplingly expensive as everything has to be shipped in.”

That said, there’s room for optimism in the modern day. He adds: “Advances in technology, with everything from desalination to communication systems have made living on a private island considerably easier than a decade ago.”

For Chris Krowlow, choosing the right location can also mean securing a better deal, but potential buyers still need to consider the costs of running an island.

“Islands are cheap in Belize at the moment and we’re seeing a lot of interest in that part of the world, but people don’t often consider the running costs of owning and operating an island and when they do, they can quickly be put off. We receive 60-70 valid enquiries per week, but only a handful of them turn into actual showings, because by the time they do their due diligence – the reality can be quite a wake-up call.

“For example, a half million dollar island in Belize might very well end up costing the buyer nearer $2.5 million by the time they’ve filled the island, found contractors that can actually build on it, had environmental assessments and looked into essentials such as sourcing bona-fide sources for importing construction materials and organising a specialist broker to manage the purchase process – the list goes on and on.”

The discreet nature of the private island trade makes the market hard to keep track of. Even high-end estate agents don’t keep data. Krowlow’s website lists more than 500 islands for sale.

He explains: “The private island market is a difficult one to quantify. There are so few listings as they’re high ticket purchases – the whole market can be affected just by one person buying a particularly expensive location.

“Last year we sold 34 islands, which was significantly more than the previous year. This wasn’t due to an uptake in island buyers however. This was entirely down to one of our clients who was keen to maintain absolute privacy that he purchased five of the neighbouring islands to his own.”

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