The Greek government is being urged to sell its uninhabited islands to bail itself out of bankruptcy, and the UK is likely to find itself in the same position in the near future. What better time to explore the possibility of buying an island together with a group of friends, and setting up an off-grid community there with your own laws, government and even currency?
Island buying is sensitive to world events. After 9/11, reports TheTimes of London, there was a rush of Hollywood A-listers snapping up remote islands globally as bug-out locations. Johnny Depp bought the 45-acre Little Hall’s Pond Cay in the Bahamas, Leonardo DiCaprio became owner of a 104-acre island with an airstrip in Belize and Mel Gibson took over Mago in the Fijis.
They are not alone — the lure of a private island has held a powerful sway over our imaginations in the 150 years since Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. Sharon Stone, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood all own islands.
And for anybody wanting to be among those who need a rowing boat to get to the nearest shop, there are plenty of islands to choose from along Scotland’s coastline.
Sanda, off the tip of the Mull of Kintyre, is once again on the market (for offers over £2.75m). And Little Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde, could be yours for offers over £2.5m.
Islands off New Zealand were highly prized because, in the worst terror scenario — bombing of nuclear power stations — the winds come from the South Pole.
And until now the idea of buying an island has been the preserve of the wealthy – after all once you have bought it, you still have to get there and bring in supplies.
Private Greek islands such as St Athanasios are already on the market from £1 million, with no mod cons. There are 3,054 Greek islands and only 87 are inhabited. And the betting is that the vast majority of the deserted ones belong to the State.
“I’d say now is a good time to start looking at this market,” said Leonidas Babanis, a tourism promoter. “Dig out the ownership details and put in an offer” seems to be the motto. Brokers describe Greek islands as “reasonably affordable”, by which they mean $1.5 million (£0.975 million) for a 30-acre speck, and up to $300 million, which is what Athina Onassis, the granddaughter of Aristotle Onassis, wants for Skorpios. The two potential buyers, Bill Gates and Madonna, seem still to be mulling it over, but if a group of say, 1000 families moved on it first, they would only be paying an average of $300,000 each.
Handle with Caution
Private Islands Inc., a Toronto firm specializing in the marketing and sale of islands says: “If you want to buy a private island you have to deal with us. We have those secret islands everyone wants to know about,” Chris Krolow, chief executive officer adds: “Recent technological advances in solar and wind power have made many previously uninhabitable islands “viable places to live,” and that means more islands than ever are coming on to the marketplace, he said.
“Salt water can be turned into drinking water and modular, prefab homes have made building more accessible,” Krolow says.
Still, building on an island in the middle of nowhere comes with its own challenges.
“Something always pops up,” he says. “Like squatters or government crackdowns or issues with foreign ownership or various regulators. Even modern day pirates.
“But if you can get through all this – you have to be determined and self-sufficient – you typically have something special.”
The company currently has about 500 islands for sale, starting at $27,900 for the 0.32 hectare Davis Island in Nova Scotia. Davis Island sits about 100 metres offshore and provides good boat anchorage off its shores.
At the other end of the price scale is Lisbon Island, about 300 metres offshore from the city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. It’s available for 245 million euros ($391.8 million) and comes with plans for a golf resort with a luxury hotel and spa.
Or $100 million (U.S.) could buy the 809 hectare Ronde Island in Grenada. The parcel is described on Private Islands website as “isolated and untouched,” with miles of pristine beach and several large, protected anchorages. The website says Ronde Island has “superb visibility (that) typically exceeds 100 feet, and turtles, large pelagics and green moray eels are common.”
About 70 per cent of the islands on offer are undeveloped, though others come equipped with mansions or resorts. “These islands are owned by celebrities and CEOs and they value their privacy,” Krolow says.
Farhad Vladi, the Hamburg-based broker who has sold close to 2,000 islands since 1975, has at least five Greek properties on his books. The cheapest costs €1.2 million (£1 million), which does not buy many bedrooms in Chelsea. It is in the Gulf of Corinth, 1½ miles from the city of Itea, and is about 2.6 acres. There is a sandy beach, pine and olive trees and, well, that’s about it.
Trinity Island is significantly more expensive — €18 million — but for that you get a four-bedroom house, beach house, staff house, private church and 17th-century Venetian watchtower. More importantly, fresh water is pumped in from a nearby island.
Water supply is one of the first hurdles facing Greek island buyers. Building offshore is costly too. Renting a barge to transport materials to your island could set you back €30,000 a month — less if you know the barge owner and marry his daughter.
“Islands without building permits are literally worthless,” said Mr Vladi. The key factor is location — proximity to doctors and food suppliers. “Solar panels, satellite dishes, cheap desalination and the internet have transformed island living,” said Mr Vladi. But the costs should not be underestimated. Some 10 per cent of the investment value of an island is likely to go on staff and maintenance, and transport to the mainland can be expensive. Many islands are deserted because they are barren, dusty outcrops of rock.
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