The process of buying a private island is similar to that of buying a house, only the cost is much greater. When considering a house, you check for the general condition, the foundations, if it has rising dampness, and if there are termites present. Buying an island is similar, but there are far more things to consider, and in most cases, the buyer of an island has no experience on which to base his or her judgment apart from an emotional attachment. Considering the amount of money that you have to spend to buy a private island, it’s critical that you are aware of the following issues.
Set your price. It’s stating the obvious to say that the bigger your budget, the better an island you can afford, but some people have very unrealistic expectations of what they can afford. It’s better to spend as much as possible to buy the island, even to the extent of waiting until you have funds for development. Saving money in the short term will generally get you a poorer quality island and once you have bought the island and developed, there is no changing your mind. It’s better to have a more attractive island than purchasing a poorer quality island just to save money.
- Choose your location. The location of an island is one of the most crucial factors in most people’s decision to purchase. It’s very important that you strongly consider this when purchasing. You’re not just buying an island, you’re buying its surroundings. There should be a village nearby where one can get supplies and an airport close at hand, for instance. In other words, what makes an island feasible is the infrastructure that is available to it. Some islands are close to villages which is good because you can obtain staff and supplies, but on the other hand, it then lacks privacy. Again, islands that are remote offer complete privacy, yet at the expense of accessibility. An island that is in the middle of the ocean usually has no view, and islands that are located in bays have both shelter and nice views. Also, remote islands that are less sheltered are more prone to bad weather and rough seas.
Make sure there’s a reliable water supply. You’ll find water is the most important element of living on an island, and the second largest factor affecting the choice of an island. In general, the smaller the island, the less water. This applies in reverse, except if the island is rocky (even large rocky islands have problems producing water). Every island has some variety of options to obtaining fresh water. Look for a ground water table high enough to dig a well. If a well already exists, have it inspected to ensure it’s dependable. This can be done by pumping the well dry and seeing how many minutes it takes to fill again. The amount of water that you’ll be able to get from a well determined by using this method will give you a figure called cubic meters or cubic feet of water. However, poor water supply isn’t as big a factor in the tropics, because a good rain water cistern can supply enough water over the dry season saved up from the monsoon season and the occasional shower.
The tank can be topped up from the well, thus stopping the well from running dry and damaging the water table of the island. Check the annual rainfalls. The estimated amount of water needed annually for part-time island living is 30,000 to 100,000 gallons, which for full-time living will require about forty inches of annual rainfall. Technology has also come to the rescue and state-of-the-day desalination plants suitable for a normal house are now as cheap as $20,000. It should be noted the fresh water creates what is called the “Lens Effect”. This means that a low sandy island just a few feet above sea level can have a water table which can be 3-4 times the height of the island because the fresh water forces the salt water out and creates a lens-shaped aquifer under the island. Another factor to consider is that if your island is close enough to a water source on the mainland or another larger island, you can run a PVC several kilometers as long as the water between is not too deep.
Choose one with a desirable climate. Islands can be divided into three climactic types: Temperate, Mediterranean and Tropical. In general, tropical islands are located between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer – this encompasses what is termed the tropics. Mediterranean islands can be deemed to be those that may fall in areas where there are high temperatures but low rainfall, this is typified by islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary islands, Bermuda, Bahamas etc. Temperate islands are basically those that are in an area where it is generally cold such as northern Europe, Canada and northern USA. You should consider carefully what type of climate you prefer. Each has its pros and cons and while many people love the tropics, some find the heat and humidity oppressive. One person may find temperate islands to be his or her idea of hell, but some people love the change of seasons and the variety that produces. Obviously, Mediterranean climate produces the best balance of heat without the high rainfall and humidity of the tropics. Always be aware that the first day you visit an island may not be the typical weather that the island experiences on a day-to-day basis. The weather could be particularly uncommon in regards to the fact that it may be exceptionally beautiful, or exceptionally bad. You should ask local people, especially fishermen are very knowledgeable about the weather, the typical seasons and weather patterns for the island and surrounding area. Islands in the ocean are prone to flooding, storms, drought, seasonal tidal variations and strong currents. Islands located in lakes are the least prone to problems because they have no tides or large storms, but can be prone to seasonal variations in water level if the lakes are dammed. Islands that are located in rivers are obviously prone to flooding and droughts. Talk to the local authorities and ask them for the highest and lowest recorded levels for the river. Good anecdotal evidence can be gathered by talking to local people as well. Islands are located in bays and estuaries with shallow bottoms are prone to tidal variations, and access to these islands may be very difficult at low tide. Offshore islands also experience the usual tidal patterns, and are the most prone to dangerous weather.
Check its accessibility.
Accessibility is a prime factor in your choice of an island and directly depends on how much discomfort and traveling time you are willing to put up with. It also depends on how much experience you have with boats, and how comfortable you are with the ocean because the only way to get to an island is by boat. Travel time by boat is also affected by many factors such as what type of boat, its engine, and of course the seasonal weather conditions. You must take into account that no matter how sheltered an island may be, you must still put up with rough seas. If you are the kind of person who wants less traveling, you will find that the closer an island is to an established town, the more expensive it generally is.
Determine how you will develop the island. The style of development you plan for the island is very important when choosing what type of island to buy.
Small Islands. For instance, if you only want a small holiday house, then an island between 1-5 hectares (2.5 – 12 acres) should be sufficient.
Medium Islands: If you want a larger house and maybe some additional cottages for friends to visit, an island 5-10 hectares (12 – 24 acres) is best.
Large Islands:If you are planning a small scale resort, then an island of at least 10-15 hectares (24 – 37 acres) should be the minimum. If you are planning a large scale resort, then an island of 15-20 hectares (37 – to 48 acres) should be considered the minimum, and you will need a minimum of at least 6-10 hectares (14-24 acres) of flat land for building. The type of construction and how remote the island is will also affect the price that it costs to develop. In general you can expect to pay 30% more for development on an island than for a similar development on the mainland. The cost of building is higher because all materials and workers must be transported to the island.
Note its anchorage.
Anchorage is the island’s firmness and stability to the ground. Select an island with good anchorage, because without this, it may be almost impossible to land on the island. Or, even worse, you may be stuck on the island and not be able to get off. A good anchorage should be sheltered from the prevailing winds, have a sandy bottom for good holding, and have a deep water access to the beach, without rocks or coral. If you aren’t experienced with boats, ask the captain that takes you to the island if he considers the island to have a good anchorage. Nearly all islands have some form of anchorage, but the quality varies dramatically. A good island should have a good gently sloping sandy beach with good access through the coral, and shelter from the prevailing winds. However, a mooring buoy and a tender can solve this problem. The ideal island should have both shelter and good spot to land a boat. So it’s important to see the island at high and low tides.
Note its topography.
Islands vary from the perfectly flat Caribbean style island to the rocky cliffs and mountainous types. If you have a preference, it’s important that you tell brokers you contact of the type of island you want. Most islands aren’t flat, and on what are called continental islands (the drowned tops of hills) there is only a small area of flat land. In general, the area of flat land on a continental island is approximately 10-12% of the island and this must be taken into consideration when planning your development.
Find out about its beaches:
Find out where the beaches are. In most islands the beach comprises only a portion of the island. It very rare to get islands with 360 degree sand. This means that where the beach is located is important. Firstly, the beach is generally on the opposite side of the prevailing winds, offering a sheltered anchorage. Most people prefer that island also have a western facing beach so that they can watch the sunset. But if this isn’t available, there may be hill or headland which offers a nice place to watch the sunset. While a western facing beach is ideal, sunsets only last for 30 minutes a day, and this should not be a deterrent when considering an island. The quality of the sand is another major consideration that most people dream of. Sand quality depends on two things, the degree of fineness and whiteness. The fineness of the sand is more important than color. Fine brown sand may be preferable to coarse white sand – it’s not as nice to look at, but is nicer underfoot, and it’s one of the joys of living on an island to walk barefoot along the beach at sunset and sunrise looking for shells. Another important factor you must consider is whether the beach is shallow or steeply dropping off and if it is rocky or sandy. Obviously the ideal beach is fine sand which drops off into deeper water ideal for swimming and snorkeling. If you have a preference that’s important you should inform your broker so they can take that into consideration.
Analyze the existing infrastructure. An island with buildings on it will usually need an on-site caretaker, who will water the plants and keep the houses clean. Building infrastructure on an island can also be more costly than on the mainland as all supplies and workmen must be transported by boat. Many islands are virgin islands – they are completely natural, untouched and without infrastructure whatsoever. In that case, there’s nothing to consider apart from the potential of the island. But if the island has existing infrastructure such as a resort or residence, then a detailed survey of the quality of those infrastructures should be undertaken before purchase. If you are buying an island with existing infrastructure, make sure that the buildings have all necessary government permits, and possibly take along an architect or building surveyor to give an independent assessment of the value and quality of the buildings, and any damage or repairs that may be necessary.
A good caretaker is the single most important thing you can do to protect such a large investment. Since an island is isolated, it is hard to protect while you are not there, and whether it is a short visit away, or you only visit the island seasonally, a caretaker provides much need protection. Most high-end island owners employ full-time caretakers (there’s even a newsletter called Caretaker Gazette), while others pay local fishermen to keep an eye on things. Islands in the highly trafficked Caribbean are more susceptible to crime than those in entirely out-of-the-way locations, especially if they have a trespasser-friendly airstrip. Apart from securing the property against unwanted visitors and squatters, the caretaker can look after buildings and equipment, making sure they’re all in good order and condition. This is especially important in the tropics where the monsoon can cause severe damage to buildings in a very short period if maintenance is not kept up regularly. While you are there, the caretaker can also act as gardener, handyman and obtain deliveries for you from town. Generally it’s wise to employ a couple.
Observe its utilities:
A prime consideration when purchasing an island is communications. An island is separated from the mainland, and thus communication is highly important; both for safety, and emergency situations, as well as just ordinary day-to-day living. It’s extremely rare for an individual island to have regular utilities such as town water, electricity, telephone lines or even television reception. In the majority of instances, you’ll have to be self-sufficient as far as water and electricity go, so that should be factored into your development costs. However, the island may have television reception, or access to a cellular telephone signal. Having access to a cellular network means that communication is cheap and readily available. In some instances, the cellular network can be used to access the Internet. It’s a good idea when examining potential islands to take a cellphone, small radio, and hand-held TV set to see what signal is available. But even poor signal from a cellular network can be boosted by the use of an extension antenna. Telephone, Television, internet and radio are all relatively cheaply available nowadays using satellite technology. So don’t worry if services are not available from the mainland.
Never ignore the land tenure:
Determine your rights of ownership. In many countries ownership of an island only extends as far as the high tide mark, with the beaches below that belonging to the government. In general, this means that you own the island, but cannot develop below the high tide mark and the beaches may therefore not be yours. When buying islands in foreign countries, you should engage an attorney to do a full check of the island’s documentation. At the time of inspection, find out who is living in the island, and if they have a legal right to be there. Squatters can be a problem, and great care should be exercised that they are not present before the deal is concluded.