Want to get away — really, really away?
You could consider buying your own island, where privacy goes with the territory. There’s a surprisingly ample supply of privately owned islands, with prices that range from stratospheric to — well, we won’t use the word "affordable," but some are cheaper than you might think. And in this economy, you could get a real deal.
Five things to know about private islands:
1. They’re more or less on sale these days, said Chris Krolow, president of PrivateIslandsOnline.com, a marketing firm in Toronto that specializes in such properties.
"The last couple of years have been difficult," he said. "More have been on the market because the prices were quite bloated, and now prices have come down. There are more reasonable market values than three years ago, though there’s still room to go down. Inquiries seem to be picking up, though."
What you get for the money ranges from small, undeveloped patches on a North Woods lake to spare-no-expense South Pacific retreats, Krolow said.
"We have one for $110 million," said Krolow, whose site lists more than 500 islands. "That one, in the Bahamas, is like a small country," where the current owners have made extensive, detailed plans for commercial and residential development that will be available to the buyer.
Not all islands are breathtakingly pricey, he said. Little Island, in the province of Ontario, for instance, is listed on Krolow’s site for $103,000 in Canadian dollars (about $102,100 in U.S. dollars); the island currently is home to what remains of cottages that were fishermen’s homes in the 19th century.
Want something a little less primitive? Dokis Marina Island, in Ontario, is on the market for about $223,000 in U.S. dollars, and comes with its own pine-paneled cottage and motorboat.
2. Island purchasers tend to fit a certain profile, Krolow said.
"It depends on the region, but a typical island buyer says, ‘I don’t want mainland waterfront property,’ " he said. "They tend to like undeveloped property. They’re independent — they want to make their own mark.
"Our clients look for a small island that’s completely private — something they can walk around in half an hour, something romantic," he said.
3. Ownership, in some exotic locales, can be tricky, not to mention pricey, he said.
On a developed island, the owner will need caretakers, he said.
"If the island is large enough and it has a home and a boathouse, a fulltime caretaker in the Bahamas will run you $50,000 a year," he said.
"If you’re going to develop the property, it could cost 30 to 50 percent more (than building on mainland), maybe double," Krolow said. "Sometimes barges can’t dock (on islands), and they have to fly in materials with helicopters."
Outside the U.S., buyers might be well advised to glean whether the locals are friendly, he said.
"We had problems in Nicaragua where Americans bought islands and developed them, but they couldn’t find any staff," Krolow said. "The locals didn’t like the fact that Americans were buying up their lands.
"And when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, even the Bahamas, there are issues of piracy," he said.
4. Some people find they’re just not cut out for island life, Krolow said.
Sometimes it’s the aforementioned unfriendly locals or pirates, but other times island-owners find out that "alone-ness" can be too much of a good thing.
"The idea of owning an island is fantastic, but the reality is not what some people expect," he said. "We have had some islands that were purchased and went back on the market again very quickly."
The problems, he said, sometimes occur when husbands and wives find they’re not quite cut out for spending so much time alone together. Or they begin to yearn for entertainment or amenities that aren’t close at hand, he said.
5. In such cases — or for anybody who wants to test-drive an island — he recommends rentals, of which there are many. They can be very basic, he said. Republic Island in Michigan, for instance, has a log home and rents for $500 a week.
Or, you can have the sandy, sybaritic retreat that lurks in many imaginations. For example, Isla Kiniw, Curacao — three acres with one villa and beach — rents for $4,950 a week.
"The best thing to do, from a buyer’s perspective, is to talk to the (listing) agent, talk to the owner, visit the area, and rent it if you can," Krolow said. "If not, rent something nearby so you can get a feel for it.
"I think it’s important that people educate themselves," he said. "For the right person it’s heaven, for the wrong person, it’s hell."