Private islands: reality TV and the internet help drive a booming market


Once the preserve of the super-rich, owning a personal patch of secluded real estate surrounded by water is now within reach of the merely wealthy

If you want a place to go to get away from it all – bodies in the sand, tropical drink melting in your hand – you may be in luck. Private islands are now for more than just the 1%, thanks in part to the magic of reality TV and the internet.

For a few hundred dollars a night, you could stay the night on your own island in Ontario. Or for a measly $480,000, you could own a private Panamanian getaway.

Just make sure the water around the island is deep enough for your yacht.

Water depth is in fact a serious concern for many hoping to own a private island, Chris Krolow, the CEO of Private Islands Inc, an island listing service, told the Guardian. But the market is no longer exclusive to the wealthiest of the wealthy, he said.

“It’s exciting, for a very long time, this market was in a bubble, it was a very niche market,” Krolow said. His company closed 59 private island sales in 2015, a record year for the company.

But who buys an island? Wall Street tycoons and out-of-touch celebrities? Eccentric inventors and reclusive magicians?

Krolow said the typical island buyer falls into one of two types.

There are the people looking for a vacation home, the industry’s “bread and butter”, and the people who are looking to develop the island into something like a boutique resort. “The one thing they all have in common is they have that entrepreneurial personality,” he said.

This is because the dream island getaway typically requires endless maintenance and development work.

Potential island buyers must consider plumbing, transportation to, from and around their paradise, logistics for acquiring and storing supplies, environmental laws that prevent construction, whether existing structures need work, and, of course, whether or not the water is deep enough for the owner to dock a yacht.

The shallow waters of the Florida Keys, for instance, defy and frustrate yacht owners, who, unsurprisingly, largely overlap with the segment of society that might want to own a private island.

Despite this decidedly 1% challenge, Krolow insists that the market for islands is not restricted to the über rich.

The adventurous customer can acquire an undeveloped Canadian island for $30,000 or spend a week living in a lighthouse on a desolate Croatian islet for $620 per night. An island with a hot water and electricity-equipped house can go for $500,000 in the US.

But of course, there are plenty of options for the 1%, like a $200m island off the coast of Greece.

Krolow estimates that 20% of available islands aren’t listed. These are the “blackbook islands”, which are kept offline but known to realtors.

But for people hoping to get away from it all and to isolate themselves from civilization, Krolow is not going to be able to help.

“If people ask for something as isolated as possible it usually means that they are experiencing some emotional problems at the time – and it’s not uncommon,” Krolow said.

He said people email daily asking about isolated islands where they can be alone or start their own country.

Denizens of the internet have also tried to band together to claim islands. Reddit users have been discussing plans for their own island for years, and the game company Cards Against Humanity purchased an island off the coast of Maine that about 250,000 customers were given one foot of “exclusive” access to.

Then there are the individual efforts by people like Geraldo Rivera, who guest-edited a 2015 issue of Private Islands magazine. His island, Cayo Geraldo, in Puerto Rico, is on sale in the catalog for $2,500,000.

“It has wonderful beaches and pristine water – which you can find almost everywhere – but this island is in US territory and has that stability; the island, just like the citizens of Puerto Rico, is protected by the United States, its Constitution, its Bill of Rights, American law, American jurisdictions, citizenship,” Rivera writes of his island.

“To own a place of America that is this pristine, this gorgeous, this fabulous, is, I think, a rare, rare opportunity.”

Krolow believes the show Island Hunters, which he hosts and is shooting its third season, has helped his business by showing people that their island fantasies could come true.

The show, as its name suggests, follows wannabe island owners as they search for the perfect island property. In one episode, a married couple of former pilots, already Bahamas residents, want their own island to make into a resort with a $8m to $10m budget.

Krolow became interested in the private island market while leading tours in his native Canada. Visits to small, government-owned islands, where people could camp with a $20 permit, were crowd favorites. Krolow realized the idea could be turned into something for greater profit.

So he continued to boat around Canadian islands, developing relationships with island owners. In 1999, he posted advertisements for 12 Canadian islands on a website, which the Toronto Star wrote a story about. Someone in Panama saw the article and wanted his help to sell an island in Belize.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, or even if there was a market, and basically six weeks later we got a check for $60,000, so that was it: this is my new business.”

Powered by article was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for on Sunday 10th January 2016 13.00 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010