If real estate was a sport of one-upmanship, owning a private island would be the game winner. But for high net worth individuals, owning an island often has less to do with bragging rights and everything to do with an investment that combines a need for privacy, a yearning for fantasy and a taste for adventure.
“It can sound prestigious to have a private island in one’s real estate portfolio. However, the reality is many of the wealthy are seeking more privacy and seclusion than anything else,” says George Damianos, president of Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty in the Bahamas.
The Bahamas is an archipelago of more than 700 islands, cays and islets, many privately owned by bold-faced names. The destination offers solitude and, at the same time, accessibility. “The need to ‘get away from it all’ is of paramount importance in today’s technological world, but when choosing an island, utilities and accessibility should be top of the list,” Damianos says. One island for sale, the eight-acre Gumelemi Cay in the Abaco Island chain, for instance, is only a short boat ride away from the exclusive Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club.
Making a Splash
Belize is another country that offers inviting tropical island options. It is especially attractive to those who want to “to embrace the Belize lifestyle,” says Brittany McCann, partner at Belize Sotheby’s International Realty. Like many islands of the Bahamas, Belize, too, offers accessibility. One undeveloped island for sale, Moho Caye, is a quick hop to the second largest barrier reef in the world. It is also close to the mainland, which “offers a plethora of landscapes with their own unique beauty,” McCann says. Placencia Village, one of the Belize’s most popular tourist destinations, is a 35-minute boat ride away.
Islands like Moho Caye are in high demand for those interested in a “great investment and development opportunity,” McCann says. Others view such islands as one-of-a-kind legacy properties for future generations, serving as a home-away-from-home for extended families to connect and as assets to be passed on.
Islands are up for grabs around the globe. Those in warm-weather climates fetch the highest prices. Infrastructure, proximity and topography also are determining factors. Nearly a thousands islands are available every year at all price points.
Some islands are freehold, meaning it is possible to buy them outright. Freehold purchases are common in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. In Asia and the South Pacific, however, islands are typically “purchased” on a long-term leasehold basis for a set amount of time that can range from 30 to 99 years depending on the destination.
It takes more than just deep pockets to BYOB–buy your own beach. It takes a certain kind of intrepidness. Island owners are independent folks who aren’t afraid of a challenge.
That describes Alex Sheshunoff of Ojai, Calif and author of A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise,” (Random House 2015) a humorous memoir about his adventures building a home with his wife and friends on an island in the western Pacific that required him to negotiate with the island’s chiefs to lease his remote spit of land. Sheshunoff was running a small Internet company in New York when he traded it for a lifestyle of Robinson Crusoe-type exploits. Getting away from it all was “a pretty easy choice,” after years of 60-hour workweeks, he says. “I sometimes wonder if giving it all up to move to a Pacific island is the sign of a lot of ambition or a total lack of ambition.” Sheshunoff’s green island of white-sand beaches fronted by banyan, banana, papaya and mango trees is where he learned the things you do yourself have the most meaning–like generating hot water for a shower. “For that to happen, we had to have a roof to catch the water in, a catchment tank to store it, and solar panels to power the pump the water through a propane heater and through a pipe hidden under a walkway to the outdoor shower, and, ultimately, down the rocks to the sea.” That moment, he says, was “truly magical.”
Article provided exclusively to Sotheby’s International Realty by Iyna Bort Caruso