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

Once only within the realms of those with a few million dollars to spare, spending time in a bespoke piece of paradise is becoming more affordable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 6:00am

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 per cent, 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, Canada. Or for a measly US$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, says Chris Krolow, the CEO of Private Islands Inc, an island listing service. 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 says. His company closed 59 private island sales in 2015, a record year for the company.

But who buys an island? 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, Krolow says.

“The one thing they all have in common is they have that entrepreneurial personality. ”

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,frustrate yacht owners, who, unsurprisingly, largely overlap with the segment of society that might want to own a private island.

Krolow insists, however, that the market for islands is not restricted to the uber rich.

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

But of course, there are plenty of options for the 1 per cent like a US$200 million island off the coast of Greece. Krolow estimates that 20 per cent of available islands are the “blackbook islands”, which are kept offline but known to realtors.

But for people hoping to get away from it all, 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,” he says. 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 catalogue for US$2.5 million.

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

As its name suggests, the show 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 turn into a resort.

The Guardian