My own private Fiji is better than your Malibu

Private islands are the latest escape

Private islands are the last resort in resorts.

Mere mortals have Malibu beach access; day trippers clog Hamptons sidewalks. But owning an island is like living inside the velvet rope.

“You can run around naked if you wish, without worrying about photographers or other guests,” says Rick Moeser, southeast region VP for Christie’s Great Estates, who has spent the last 12 years in Palm Beach selling private islands in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America.

As with any real estate, price is determined by location, square footage and amenities. However, an island “amenity” is more likely to be a sewage system rather than a granite countertop. For 100 uninhabited acres, expect to pay $10 million and up; you can find a tiny island of less than acre for less than $1 million. The tightest island marketplace belongs to areas such as the Caribbean and the Florida Keys, which don’t require trans-Atlantic flights.

However, when it comes to secondary costs, Moeser doesn’t mince words. “It’s twice as expensive and twice as difficult as building anywhere else,” he says.

Setting up shop on an undeveloped island means bringing in your own electrical generator, water and building materials by boat. (Or, in Mel Gibson’s case, an eight-lane bowling alley, which he recently shipped to his 5,411-acre Fiji escape.)

Even so, there are parts of the world in which an island home can cost less than a house in Beverly Hills.

“You can buy an undeveloped island for $500,000 to $1 million and spend $1 million to put a nice villa on it,” says Cheyenne Morrison, broker for Coldwell Banker Morrison’s Private Islands in Port Douglas, Australia.

Another choice is syndication, in which friends pool their funds for the purchase and share the overhead.

Moeser suggests would-be buyers try out the island experience before they make a commitment. Sir Richard Branson’s 74-acre Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands can be “hired” for the private use of up to 28 guests, with all-inclusive, off-season rates that start at around $30,000 per night.

“The ideal (island) buyer is on the younger side,” he says, noting that medical facilities are a helicopter or boat ride away. “If someone doesn’t love a bit of a hassle, they’re probably not an island person.”

Private Island in Tahiti Guanaja, Bay Islands
Ballast Key
Private Island in Tahiti Guanaja Rock
Guanaja, Bay Islands,
Ballast Key
Key West, Florida
250-acre undeveloped volcanic island situated to the east of Tahiti awaiting development as a corporate retreat or luxurious private compound. Small Resort Island (5,000 sq. feet) in the Western Caribbean, Guanaja, Bay Islands (next to Roatan). Three-story villa with four furnished guest suites with private balconies and baths. Built in 1999, the structure has been coated with specially treated cement to withstand the salt air. Full kitchen, living and dining area. 24-hour electricity and water provided from one mile of underwater cable and pipe. The island is a two-hour plane ride from Houston and the beach is accessible via a two-minute boat ride. 26-acre private island estate with two homes offering spectacular views of the ocean and access to world-class fishing waters. One of the only privately owned islands in the Key West Wildlife Refuge, Ballast Key is on the market for the first time in 50 years
Price: $3.8 million
Contact: Josh Flagg, John Bruce Nelson & Associates
(310) 720-3524
Price: $1.7 million
Contact: Cheyenne Morrison
Coldwell Banker Morrison’s Private Islands, Australia
Price: Upon request
Contact: Bob Elkins
Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc.
(800) 462-5937 x101 or
(305) 304-3146.