a private island isn’t just for billionaires like Richard Branson, who
actually only paid $180,000 for Necker Island. Price tags for islands
range from $80,000 to $600 million. Shouldering the upfront cost is only
the first of many hurdles.
buy an island in the first place? For some people, it’s a level of
prestige. For others, it’s about new business opportunities — developing
and running boutique resorts or exclusive guest houses, for instance.
Still others acquire the land as investment property, to build a second
home, or for corporate development.
than a thousand properties can be found on the market worldwide each
year, according to the Private Islands Buyer’s Guide. For prospective
buyers, the majority of islands for sale can be found through websites
like Private Islands Online and Vladi, though a few properties can even
be found on Craigslist or real estate agents.
is one of the most expensive regions to buy in, since there is fierce
competition for few properties in that region. Some of the most
reasonably priced islands can be found in Central American countries
Make it work
There are several common ways islands are sold, or, in some cases, leased.
them, freehold leases grant 100% ownership of the land and any
buildings on it. Such leases are common in Europe, the Americas, and the
Caribbean. That’s how Tynan (who goes by a single name), American
cofounder of blogging platform SETT, partially-purchased a five-acre
island one hour by boat from Halifax, Canada. After finding the land on
Craigslist, he and nine friends split the $100,000 cost. The group set
up a corporation in the United States and combined their assets in order
to pay in cash. As one of the mandates of the acquisition, a Canadian
lawyer was required to register the deed.
other main option, a leasehold, is less ownership and more traditional
lease. With this method, buyers sign a long-term lease typically between
30 to 99 years, which grants them temporary possession through the
government entity, corporation, or individual that legally owns the
Krolow, chief executive officer of Private Islands Online, said buying
or selling island property is a precarious business. Short selling
seasons, lack of precedents for price setting and other complications
such as obtaining building permits can hinder deals. It can take two to
three years to sell a property on the international market and six
months to a year on the local market, he said.
can’t just put up a for-sale sign on an island and have an open house,”
Krolow said. “There’s a lot more play in this business than a lot of
Fiji, the Johnstons have a 99-year lease under a local family clan
called the Mataqali. Upon arrival to the island, the Johnstons had to
present a whale’s tooth with a portion of ropes to the local chief as a
token of respect. This was followed by a similar presentation to the
regional chief Ratu Seva.
accepted into the community, they took out loans to complete $1 million
in renovations, which included installing a sewage treatment plant.
first, Tracey had difficulty even ordering supplies and setting up
accounts simply because she was a woman. Men in Fiji typically execute
“They didn’t want to deal with me, they wanted the boss,”
Tracey Johnston said. “Sometimes I had to put my 21 year-old son on the
phone and say, ‘please tell these people I am the boss’. But they got
used to it.”
for the Johnstons, Wadigi’s proximity to the mainland provides easy
transport, fast shipping, and readily available evacuation if need be
during storms. Regular barges, ferries, and water taxis pass by, a
valuable convenience since many other island owners must charter private
barges and seaplanes to their properties.
is a major factor for many prospective island buyers, Tynan said.
Often, the most affordable islands are in remote locations that require
long travel hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach.
challenges of island ownership include tropical storms, stringent
environmental regulations, beaches that must remain open for public use,
and vermin infestation like sand flies and poisonous water snakes.
Despite the occasional cyclone, the Johnstons said relocation to an island is the life-changing experience they had hoped for.
regional chief Ratu Seva inherited prominence, the Johnstons were
invited to his initiation ceremony. They escorted the new leader and
his warriors by motorboat to take a customary swim at natural pools
around the main reef. As each person of the chiefdom hierarchy took a
turn diving in, they pointed to Tracey Johnston and invited her to
swim—a ritual typically only for men.
“It communicated that I was accepted, I was part of their family,” she said.