If you’re looking for a laid-back lifestyle with plenty of solitude, there are private islands for sale all over the world. Remember to factor in access, planning and ability to build. Island property is one real estate sector where a picture tells a thousand words. Images of white sand beaches, turquoise waters and a hammock slung lazily between palm trees certainly beckon the kind of lifestyle that many seek for a holiday, and could only dream about owning.
But there are private islands for sale all over the world, and while the mega-rich have the greatest choice, you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy one. For example, the Queensland islands on Australian broker Richard Vanhoff’s books range from A$120 million (HK$647 million) at the top end, to just A$385,000 at the lowest.
What is it like to live on one? Paul and Megan Sullivan own Victor Island off Mackay, one of 74 islands making up the picturesque Whitsundays. They bought it in 2015 after returning to Australia from Indonesia, where they had developed a resort. “We were looking for somewhere pretty cool, and the island popped up”, said Megan.
The couple enjoy living off the grid, generating their own solar power, collecting rain water, growing fruits and vegetables, and catching fish off the beach. “We love the peace and privacy; being able to walk to the beach (our own beach); and not having to dress up for work”, Megan said.
Their 7.7-acre island paradise has mobile phone and internet coverage, and is just 2km off the mainland, so easily accessed by speedboat. Since moving in, the couple have renovated the island’s four-bedroom house, shipping the building materials across by barge. It also has a caretaker’s cottage. Despite being “ridiculously happy” with their island life, the couple have Victor Island up for sale (for A$3.5 million walk-in, walk out), the arrival of a grandchild luring them back to Sydney. Megan concedes that it’s not for everyone. This couple relish the remoteness but “if you are a social butterfly, I wouldn’t recommend it”, she says.
The Sullivans are in a minority: according to several brokers, most owners don’t live on an island permanently.
Farhad Vladi, founder of Vladi Private Islands, says the main motivation for purchases is to have a beautiful place for holidays where you can be “away from it all, don’t have any neighbours, and are subordinated to nature”. He agrees that you don’t have to be a billionaire to own one. “You can buy islands from €50,000 (HK$437,790)”, Vladi said, adding that the most popular price is between €500,000 and €2 million.
Most private islands don’t change hands often. “It might be that a next generation inherits the island and does not want to live like their parents have, so they choose to sell. Or as an owner becomes older, getting in and out of seaplanes or having long travel time may not make using an island practical any more”, said Edward de Mallet Morgan, partner, global super prime residential at Knight Frank in London. Working only with “best in class assets”, de Mallet Morgan finds that most owners buy an island exclusively for family use and entertaining, or as a second office base. Some see it as an opportunity to cultivate and protect the natural environment and local ecosystem, “which is becoming more and more relevant”, he says.
“For instance, the owner of Little Pipe Cay (an island in the Bahamas, listed for sale with a guide price of US$85 million) bought the island instead of a super yacht. But so far, all prospective buyers I have shown the property to also have a superyacht, or indeed super yachts, and fly privately.”
There are celebrities who own islands, de Mallet Morgan says. “Johnny Depp has one in the Bahamas, along with David Copperfield, plus Leonardo DiCaprio. Richard Branson owns Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, and Mel Gibson bought an island in Fiji.”
Several factors can limit the appeal, and therefore the price, of a private island, as de Mallet Morgan says: “Islands that are smaller, or more remote, or with no natural fresh water or with no buildings; or where they are only available to buy leasehold, or are in a jurisdiction that is legally unstable – all these things can contribute to the realizable value. The reality is you can pick up a nice island, in a good area, for a few million. Then factor in the ease of access, planning ability to build, and then the build itself and access of materials. If the draft is very shallow and you can only get a small boat through the reef or over the sands, then accessibility of materials will make life a real challenge and much more expensive.”
Most islands don’t have picture-postcard beaches, but as Richard Vanhoff, co-founder of Australianislands.com.au, points out, there are those who value solitude over sand. The islands I have listed are all different,” he says. “Some have sand and palm trees; others have gum trees and mangroves.” One is a working cattle station surrounded by water; another a windswept island in Bass Strait off Tasmania which Vanhoff hopes “will suit somebody”.
Vanhoff says that now is the time to buy. Wild Duck Island off Gladstone, Queensland, a 300-acre leasehold property with 20 unfinished buildings has been reduced from A$4.5 million to A$2.5 million. Fifty-acre Goat Island, near Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, has been reduced to below US$1 million and is “the cheapest freehold island I have ever listed”, while his “best price” listing at A$365,000 is Worthington Island off Gladstone, a 69-acre former orchard leasehold property with “somewhat simple” accommodation.
How do private islands stack up as an investment? Based on his 50 years in the business, Farhad Vladi says most islands gain about 10 per cent in value per year; de Mallet Morgan believes it is harder to quantify, because there are so many variables. You do not buy an island as a moneymaking exercise – this is a passion purchase, done more with the heart than the head,” he said. “Many owners do not need to sell and justification of price is blurry because there are few direct comparisons. So, it is for an experienced broker to find a middle ground where the seller and buyer feel that the price makes sense.”
This article originally appeared on and has been republished with permission from South China Morning Post
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