Lifestyle

Island Life

Island LifeActor Marlon Brando set the bar for a lot of things during his career. He set the modern standard for naturalistic performance — often called mumbling — and was one of Hollywood’s earliest big-ticket salaries, earning millions for a few minutes’ screen time in Superman — as well as kicking off the points system for stars. And he bought an island in Tahiti in1966. People called him eccentric.

When someone says they own a private island now, the instinct is to drop the jaw. Way down. But what sounds like the ultimate in decadence can often be had for the price of 1,000 luxury square feet in Mid-Levels, much less a detached house on the Peak. A quick scan of any reputable property agency that deals in islands will turn up property ranging from 24 acres (10 hectares) in Ireland for €400,000 (HK$4 million) all the way up to US$110 million for a self-sufficient 222 acres (90 hectares) in The Bahamas.

“Historically owning a private island enhanced one’s status, however in recent years private islands have become more popular as more people want complete privacy,” theorises George Damianos, president of Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty in Nassau, Bahamas, a prime location for private islands. The Bahamas is popular with the glitterati, many of who indeed own islands there. “Because we are an archipelago we have a number of private islands here. The most popular location is the Exuma Cays in the Central Bahamas. Because of the pressures of daily life people are wanting more privacy and more seclusion than ever, and private islands offer just that.” €400,000 (HK$4 million) all the way up to US$110 million for a self-sufficient 222 acres (90 hectares) in The Bahamas. “Historically owning a private island enhanced one’s status, however in recent years private islands have become more popular as more people want complete privacy,” theorises George Damianos, president of Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty in Nassau, Bahamas, a prime location for private islands. The Bahamas is popular with the glitterati, many of who indeed own islands there. “Because we are an archipelago we have a number of private islands here. The most popular location is the Exuma Cays in the Central Bahamas. Because of the pressures of daily life people are wanting more privacy and more seclusion than ever, and private islands offer just that.”

The Bahamas comprises around 700 islands and only 30 are inhabited. But the Caribbean country, and the Caribbean in general, isn’t alone as far as demand is concerned. The Mediterranean, Central America and the South Pacific are among the more popular tropical choices, but Europe, North America and Australia and New Zealand have islands for sale. Demand for private islands is on the rise and there’s an island for every taste. No matter where it is, “It’s more difficult to access an island than a private estate, for example, especially if you don’t want paparazzi around or you just want quality time away with your family and friends, uninterrupted and surrounded by crystal clear waters and natural beauty,” Damianos finishes.

“The answer is simple: Islands can’t be built,” responds Manuel Brinkschulte, China Representative for Germany-based island specialists Vladi Private Islands, when asked what makes islands so appealing. “While the number of islands is limited, the number of people who can afford an island is increasing every year. If, for example, you purchase the nicest and most expensive apartment on the Peak today, nobody can guarantee that there won’t be a nicer and more expensive building right next to it in five years time,” he theorises, quite correctly. When an island is described as singular, there’s no disputing that fact.

Private islands conjure images of swaying palms and long stretches of white sand beach — and no one else on them. But the first step in buying an island is choosing where. Property agencies like Sotheby’s, Knight Frank and Vladi can all guide a potential buyer through the process, which will vary — like any property purchase — from country to country. The first question potential purchasers are faced with is “where,” but after that the concerns come fast and furious. As wonderful as the level of privacy, lifestyle and status afforded by a private island is, they can have several drawbacks. Private islands are often just a piece of land in the middle of the ocean. Many are accessible only by boat, have no roads and a decided lack of infrastructure — like plumbing and electricity. Unless you’re into roughing it, a raw island needs a lot of (sometimes pricey) work. Renovating a village house on Lantau can be agony. An island would be the ultimate fixer-upper.

If you’re considering an island, “The more infrastructure already in place the better,” begins Damianos, adding good anchorage for boats and deep-water access are ideal. “Islands with a good point of access, such as a helipad, runway or dock, are more favourable as well as islands with an electricity supply such as generators, and a water supply, such as rainwater storage tanks or desalination plants, are also more desirable. Reasonably close proximity to supplies and a work force is a plus. Also decide on how ‘private’ you want to be.” In other words, do you really want to be that far away from your Facebook account?

“There are several questions that need to be asked before buying an island, for example: Does the island belong to a politically stable country? Are foreigners allowed to hold a freehold title? Is the island populated by dangerous animals?” begins Brinkschulte, adding to the laundry list of possible hurdles. Obtainable construction permits and how far away the nearest international hospital is are two more. But, “From a legal point of view, there is no difference between owning a property on the mainland or owning an island.”

As Brinkschulte noted, more people can afford islands and demand is indeed rising and Asia is a burgeoning market. “Vladi Private Islands entered the Chinese market by opening a representative Office in Shanghai in 2011. The first island sold to … a businessman from Hangzhou was an island off the Canadian Atlantic coast.” So it’s not all tropical splendour. And it’s not even all movie stars.