King Of All You Survey

Is a private island the perfect antidote to the pressures of modern life?

The world is crowded. No matter where one turns you are surrounded by people, and with the global population nudging towards 7.5 billion, and increasing year-on-year, things are unlikely to change anytime soon. It is no small wonder then, that we might want a property to give us a sense of isolation from society. Whether a refurbished farmhouse, a renovated castle or a lodge in the woods, we are all seeking that place where nobody knows our name and we can escape the crowds.

However, in modern times these havens of isolation are slowly dwindling as the land upon which they sit becomes ripe for development. Woods get chopped down, remote farmhouses gain neighbours and, as ever throughout history, castles become focal points for new settlements.

Where is left for those of us who yearn for peace-and-quiet? Well, there is one last bastion of seclusion for those of us who can afford it – the private island.

YOUR OWN PARADISE

There is a psychological veil that surrounds private islands. Perhaps it is why they are so often cast as the location for the villain’s secret base in Bond movies (or perhaps that is a chicken and egg situation), whichever way round you believe it to be, the reality is far less fantastical, in that private islands are more likely to be owned by people just like you and I. The real question comes in knowing how to go about purchasing one.

Chris Krolow is founder of Private Islands Inc., and specialises in finding high net worth (HNW) clients their dream private island. What began as a small business 20 years ago, selling a handful of small north-Canadian islands, has become the largest marketplace for private islands in the world, brokering deals across the globe. They even produce their own high-end magazine and have their own television show, Island Hunters, which airs on the Lifestyle Channel.

“There is a psychological veil that surrounds private islands”

Clearly then, there is a market for this, but what is it about island ownership that so appeals?

“As mainlands across the world become increasingly saturated and there is less space for people, islands grow in popularity,” says Mr Krolow. “They are always going to be more private, and it’s not like they are making any more of them!

As the world becomes more populated and the prices for waterfront properties continue to rise, islands will continue to get more desirable.”

One of the problems any potential island owner is going to face are the logistics of establishing yourself on one. There are a few key things to keep in mind before you begin the process of buying an island, as Mr Krolow explains: “The first thing to do is find the region you want to buy in and narrow it down to one or two different countries – otherwise you will go in circles.

“Also, bear in mind that half the islands, or more, for sale will be leasehold islands. Asian islands are leasehold, most of the South Pacific islands are leasehold. Many people wanting to buy an island are looking for a long-term investment and something they can pass on to their kids, so a leasehold may not be a very attractive option to them,” he explains.

Other factors that must be considered include travel time to the island – and how often you will be able to get out there – so if you are looking to purchase an island in Central America you need to consider if it is worth the investment.

You must also research the local area and see how welcoming locals are to any potential newcomers, if they have a bad reputation you leave yourself open to struggling to find a caretaker to look after your island, and thus risk potential theft and damage to the property.

Many island owners plan to renovate their island and turn it into a luxury resort to produce income while they are not using it, but this comes with its own set of problems.

“Is it going to be a boutique resort as well as somewhere that you will stay yourself? Then you will need to consider the staff and where they are going to be accommodated. Then there is the water conundrum, if you are on a freshwater lake then you will be fine, but if you are on an ocean then you will need a desalination system, which will use a lot of power,” explains Mr Krolow. “Usually off-grid solutions like solar do not generate enough power for a desalination system, so you will need to use a fossil fuel system, and depending on the country you are in, that fuel could be rather costly.”

In line with any other major investment, it is imperative you do sufficient research to ensure you are not frittering money away on a lifestyle that is not suited to you.

“If you are buying an island for personal use or as a vacation getaway, then we suggest renting one in the area you are interested in, or better yet, rent the island you are interested in buying, just to make sure it is something that you want to do,” says Mr Krolow. “A lot of islands get purchased and then go straight back on the market because the owners realise it was much more work than they had bargained for!”

A DINNER TO REMEMBER

There is something inherently romantic about owning an island and, for Karen Emanuel, the managing director of a London-based music production company, there was even something romantic about the way she came to purchase her island.

“In 2007, I went on holiday to Nicaragua. I visited there because one of my great passions is travel, so with my spare time from work I like to go travelling far-and-wide,” she explains. “I would usually take a month at summer and a month at Christmas and just go to far away destinations, normally travelling to places that have really amazing wildlife, beautiful scenery and are a little bit off the beaten path.”

While in Nicaragua, Ms Emanuel stayed in a sustainable five-star luxury lodge – a level of service the rest of Nicaragua was simply not offering. Cue the lightbulb moment: why has no one else thought of doing this? She parked the idea for the time, but fate was to intervene and what happened next was straight out of a fairy tale.

“I had been recommended this restaurant to go to called the Mediterraneo and I was waiting to be called to my table when I noticed the A-board in the restaurant, and it simply said ‘Island for Sale’. It had a picture of one of the islands from the Isleta’s – the little islands in Lake Nicaragua – and it was absolutely beautiful,” she explains. “The price was so cheap – cheaper than a garage in London. I just thought this is so unusual and if I don’t do this someone else will – and if someone else does it I’ll get really pissed-off because it was my idea!”

Thus she set the wheels in motion and it was not long before Ms Emanuel found herself travelling across the lake to see the island for herself: “I arranged to go and see the island, I didn’t have much time to do it but I made the effort. You just fall in love, when you travel on that bit of the lake it is just stunning, beautiful, and so peaceful that you can’t help it. When I was shown around the island it was like my own little piece of paradise and I fell for it – I got suckered,” she adds with a smile.

“I was shown around the island it was like my own little piece of paradise and I fell for it”

An offer was made and soon work began in earnest on developing her very own sustainable lodge, similar to the one she stayed in during her holiday. But, naturally, there were some complications: the economic crash of 2008 meant her bank reneged on the promise of a bank loan, there were all manner of permits to acquire, and she did not speak a lick of Spanish. However, most of these problems were overcome, something Ms Emanuel credits to surrounding herself with a good team and putting in the hours of research.

Like all builds, she has stories of when things nearly turned to disaster: “When the furniture was delivered to the island, it arrived on this small boat, which was tugging a rickety platform behind it, balanced on old barrels, on top of which was all my really expensive furniture – it was terrifying!

“We could apply for tourist tax relief, but the red-tape is such that you literally have to tell them how many nails you are going to use in a building! Safe to say, I left that to someone else,” she recalls.

“One time we had a load of bedding coming in by sea, which was stopped by customs because they decided the towels could have tax relief on them but the bath mats couldn’t. So, the hotel was due to open and we didn’t have any towels! And the manager – bless him – he had to go and ‘talk nicely’ to the customs people. Take that how you will!”

Trials and tribulations overcome, it has now been six years since Jicaro Lodge opened. From a small advert in a tiny restaurant to a thriving luxury hotel destination – it has been some journey.

While at the time Ms Emanuel intended to build-up and then sell-up, the magical pull of the island means it has not been quite as simple as she expected. “I thought I probably would build it up to sell it on,” she explains. “But I’ve become extraordinarily fond of the place and have no intention of doing so! It is very peaceful and whenever I go over there – even though I am working – I can’t help but simmer down a notch.”

FREEDOM

If you are a dreamer in the mould of Chris Krolow, who spends his summer holidays on a lake in Canada, camping out, gazing up at the stars and happy to have this private place to call his own, it seems the reality of island life generally lives up to the fantasy.

“I have an island in Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada, that I have had for a few years now and it is just heaven. I like nice things, so we took this really rustic island and we renovated the cottage on it: stainless steel appliances, high ceilings and it has electricity coming in under the water – it really is a wonderful spot,” explains Mr Krolow.

“I can leave my office on a Friday evening at 4pm and two and a half hours later, by car and boat, be in isolation. I put the barbeque on and an hour later I’m having a glass of wine with a good steak – on my own private island.