Want to own your very own private island? Sun, sand and solitude, it’s easier than you might think.
While they say “no man is an island”, you can at least own one, much more easily than you may have thought. Vladi Private Islands have sold over 2,400 islands in the past 40 years, but they only recently entered the Asian market, where they sold their first island to a Chinese buyer early in 2013. Mr Li opted for an island in Nova Scotia, rather than the tropical, white sand and palm tree-lined beaches that might have first come to mind. While owning an island is still somewhat an exclusive club, there are many in the Vladi portfolio that cost far less than your average Shanghai apartment. We spoke to Vladi’s representative in China, Manuel Brinkschulte, to find out more about who is buying islands and why.
What have been the main barriers to entering the market in China, and how does China differ to your more established customer bases?
Brinkschulte: Many people in the Western hemisphere buy an island for self-gratification and personal use, not as an investment. The average island buyer in Germany is a school-teacher close to retirement who spends a couple of hundred-thousand Euros on an island in Canada, just to stay there for a few months every summer and to enjoy it with his family. In the top price range, when dealing with Forbes 500 clients or movie stars for example, return of investment is also usually no object. But in China, it is different. One of the most common questions we hear is: “How can I make money with the island?” Therefore islands which are marketable in the west might not be marketable in China – and vice versa.
What sorts of people are buying islands and how do you find them?
Brinkschulte: Our client’s range from academics to movie stars and fashion brand leaders. Island owners want a place away from their everyday routine. Many are nature-lovers and wish to catch the spirit of a quiet and untouched piece of land, surrounded by water. And they are usually intellectuals, because they may need to improvise or think on their feet to get the most out of their island.
Living on an island must be very secluded. Why do you think people want that?
Brinkschulte: Island owners generally look for solitude, tranquility, and privacy. Increasing environmental problems, stress in daily life, and overpopulated cities, make the seclusion of island-life very attractive. The island takes away stress. Tranquility can recharge one’s batteries, as it were, helping one face the rest of the year in civilisation.
How much are you concerned by the conservation of an island’s ecosystem, resources, and in some cases the welfare of its inhabitants?
Brinkschulte: Most island owners are nature-lovers, and they respect nature. On some islands, for example North Island in the Seychelles, where the UK’s Prince William and his bride Kate spent their honeymoon, all profits generated by the resort go towards the conversation of the nearby islands.
What should be the main things people consider if they want to buy an island? Will they still need to acquire the relevant visa from the host country?
Brinkschulte: Most island owners buy for emotional rather than economic reasons. And most buy islands for their personal retreat and vacation. From a legal point of view, there is no difference between buying land on the mainland and buying a private island. In many countries, a significant investment may qualify an island-buyer for a second passport programme or an investor’s immigration programme, for example in the UK, Canada or some of the Caribbean states.
What does it take to maintain an island? How much does it cost?
Brinkschulte: The costs depend on the location and size of the island. A small 10-acre (40,000 sqms) island off the Canadian east coast for example, near the border with New York State, can be purchased for less than one million yuan. The annual tax for a small island like this with a blockhouse would be below US$1000 (6,000RMB) per annum.
If you are running a luxury resort on your island, like Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island, the maintenance cost is counted in the millions with many full-time staff, similar to running a hotel of this size. In many cases, we help island owners to achieve a return of investment by letting resort islands to holiday-makers. Many movie stars or entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates for example, like to spend their holidays on a private island rather than in a hotel on the mainland for privacy. The world’s best islands can yield a rental income of up to US$500,000 (3million RMB) per week.
What have been the cheapest and most expensive islands you’ve sold? Is price mostly influenced by their size and how much they’re developed or by other factors too?
Brinkschulte: The price of an island is defined by its location, size and grade of development. We’ve sold 2400 islands since 1971 – an average of more than 1 per week – ranging in price between US$30,000 (180,000RMB) and US$80 million (490million RMB). The cheapest island we are offering at the moment costs less than US$60,000 (370,000RMB), and is a small island in Canada with a simple log cabin. The previous owner, a Harvard professor, used the island as a fishing retreat for a few nights every now and then.
The most expensive island on our books is a very large island located on the pacific coast of Panama. At more than 43 sqkms it is larger than Macau, and its location near the Panama Canal, close to cruise ship routes, makes this island very valuable to investors in the tourism sector. For US$150 million (920million RMB), the buyer will obtain the huge development potential of 57 private beaches, three rivers, and tens of thousands of wild boar and deer.
What is your favourite island in your portfolio at the moment?
Brinkschulte: This would have to be Buck Island in the British Virgin Islands. It has all the features of a picture-postcard island, such as a beautiful beach and a luxurious home on a mountain top, from where you have a spectacular view over the Caribbean Sea. Buck Island is also very close to Tortola, one of the main islands in the BVI with its bustling nightlife, airport and recreational facilities.