• Nick Burgess

How To Buy A Private Island

Updated: Mar 18

The Best Way To Buy An Island?

With the hopeful end to the COVID pandemic on the horizon, more and more travel companies have begun to announce that they are ramping back up. Most notably, the cruise ship industry has started to announce that they are coming back in full swing. Just the other day, I received an email from Virgin Voyages, which is a company I completely forgot existed. Set to launch in early 2020, they might win the all-time award for "Worst Time To Start A Business" and have since been grounded. Anyway, the email promotes a few different features of the ship, from no kids to drink vouchers to stock photography that looks suspiciously like some of the couples on this ship are having a little too much fun. One thing that stuck out to me, apart from the stock photography key party, was the chance to voyage to Necker Island, the private getaway of one Sir Richard Branson. For the uninitiated, Branson is the founder of Virgin Group.

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He's also worth $4.4 billion, and is essentially what you get when you ask a child locked in a room with a box of Coco Puffs to draw his idea of a "very rich man." But this got me thinking: who else owns a private island? And why? And how do you even purchase one in the first place? Today, we're going to set out to answer that question in case you're looking to sell your Bitcoin at some recent highs and reinvest in the tobacco and rum smuggling business.


The Benefits of a Private Island

There are pretty much any number of reasons someone would want to purchase their own private island. The first is what Private Island Magazine calls "Tropical Distancing" in some bizarrely twisted version of pandemic parlance. It's for solitude! It's somewhere to get away from it all and be with yourself, your private chef, pilot and service staff. It's the private getaway factor that would entice you to purchase a plot of land that just so happens to not be connected to anything else, where you can escape the rush and relax on your own private beach.

necker island owned by billionaire richard branson
Necker Island (via Virgin Group)

The next reason might be to stunt on your friends. Let's face it: this is a flex. It's the same reason you'd own the American Express Centurion credit card or why you'd want to book a flight on one of three exorbitant private space flights that occurred this year: because you can! You have the means when no one else does, and you're ready to throw those means in someone's face because fuck 'em, what are they gonna do about it?

The third reason is that you see it as a business opportunity. Just like an investment property you'd purchase for rental income or capital appreciation, an island can function much the same way. They aren't building any more real estate, so grab all of it you can, which includes minor outlying islands.


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Who Owns Private Islands?

As covered above, you have to have some serious cash to consider owning a private island, which makes this the perfect purchase for two categories: celebrities and business magnates. Basically, anyone with pockets deep enough to recreate Mary Poppins' magic suitcase. Let's take a look at a few of the bigger island owners:


Faith Hill and Tim McGraw - Goat Cay, Bahamas

This country music powerhouse couple combined their considerable wealth and purchased Goat Cay in the late 2000's as a private hideaway. After purchasing the island, they built their own mooring facilities to be able to sail into the island, as well as a 15,000 square foot dream home with a lookout tower. Interested in visiting? Well it's back on the market, with the couple listing the island for $35 million, so it can be yours if you have a considerable hole in your pocket.

Larry Ellison - Lanai, Hawaii

I love when billionaires interact, and this is the perfect example. Ellison, the co-founder of software giant Oracle, purchased his now-famous island from fellow billionaire David Murdock for $500 million. The difference with this island? It has inhabitants! Over 3,000 people actually live on the island, and there's even two Four Seasons hotels for visitors. Ellison, famous for his views on improving humanity and using his billions for good, has committed to continual improvements to the island's infrastructure for its residents.

Johnny Depp - Little Halls Pond Cay, Bahamas

little halls pond cay, owned by johnny depp and amber heard in the bahamas
via Page Six

The story behind this one is amazing, as Depp stumbled upon this island while filming Pirates of the Caribbean in the early 2000's. The island has six distinct beaches, which are all named after Depp's family members, apart from two. He named one "Gonzo" and one "Brando" reportedly after Hunter S. Thompson and Marlon Brando, two of his mentors. He used the island to host his high-profile marriage to Amber Heard in 2015 (oops).

Nicolas Cage - Various in the Bahamas

We now get to talk about the most objectively hilarious instance of private island ownership possibly in human history. Nicolas Cage was once the top of the heap in Hollywood, worth an estimated $150 million. Hot off of "National Treasure" and his Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas," he was the most sought after star on the silver screen. Fast forward a few years and the IRS was after Cage, repossessing most of his stuff and hitting him with a $6.5 million tax lien. Why? Because he blew his money on the dumbest shit I have ever seen. In addition to multiple European castles, a haunted house in Louisiana, 14 other residences in the U.S and even a stolen dinosaur skull that had to be returned to the Mongolian government, Cage had a penchant for private islands. He spent $7 million on two island south of Nassau in the Bahamas, then went back for more as he dropped another $3 million on a completely deserted sand patch in another area of the Bahamas. The other stuff he bought you have to see to believe.


How To Buy An Island

So you've seen the above, you feel ready and you want to join the elite ranks of the rich and irresponsible. You're ready to buy the island. How do you do it? Presumably you don't just call up a real estate agent and ask them to find you one, right? Actually, yes. Turns out, there are companies that specialize in this type of industry. vladi-private-islands.de is a resource to help you on your way.

The islands themselves vary wildly in price, from just under $50,000 to over $10 million. Wait...under $50,000? That's right! Islands are now for sale at "entry level" prices, but be prepared to be cold. The ones on the cheaper end of the spectrum are also closer to the poles, with some islands located off the coast of New York state or Canada and really aren't that usable. They're also quite small. One $58,000 island plot off the coast of Nova Scotia is only 2.7 total acres, so not a ton of space to build your hopefully-insulated dream home.


Looking for more bang for your buck? According to Official eTA, who conducted a study on this very topic, the cheapest per-acre island purchase you can make tends to be in South America, where you'll pay a little over $1,100 per acre. Chile clocks in at the region's cheapest, being a mere $405 per acre. What a steal! Want to really flex on your neighbors, though? Head to Asia, where an island can cost upwards of $313,000 per acre. Ouch.


Alright, so you have your cash, your agent and and your island all picked out. Now you have to purchase it. The last item on your checklist: make sure you aren't controversial. Despite people like billionaires owning islands, they can throw enough money at potential issues to make them go away. Assuming you aren't a billionaire, you'd better be squeaky clean so there's no litigation around the purchasing of your island from the government that owns it or the water around it. The perfect example here are the people behind the popular adult card game "Cards Against Humanity." Let me explain:

hawaii two off the coast of maine owned by cards against humanity
"Hawaii 2" via Old Salt Blog

Back in 2012, Cards Against Humanity LLC (CAH) ran a fundraiser for the Wikimedia Foundation in which they raised $70,000. In their announcement of the funds raised, they joked that they "could have bought an island instead." So when they did the fundraiser again in 2014, that's actually exactly what they did. In a good-faith effort at nature conservation and one of the most hilarious jokes I've ever heard of, they partnered with CBRE Group and purchased an island off the coast of Maine. They renamed it "Hawaii 2," and included a fun little addition: a sample of people that donated to their fundraiser, named "Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa" were given a small flag. The recipients were then entitled to their own little plot of land on Hawaii 2. Fucking amazing.


There was a problem, however, This island had been used by Maine residents since the 1980's for vacation and recreation. As such, they were pretty pissed when their vacation spot was repurposed as a marketing gimmick for an adult-themed card game. They also weren't so thrilled when those that were awarded plots of land trespassed on residential property to reach their plot, causing the local sheriffs to get involved. This resulted in a local official issuing a statement concluding that, if CAH did not revoke all 250,000 licenses handed out to participants, then they could face up to $625 million in fines per day. This resulted in CAH conceding and posting hours of operation for the island, as well as strict rules around taking or leaving items. To this day, those new rules seemed to work as there are no inhabitants on the island.

The Bottom Line

Owning a private island, despite maybe no longer being an object solely for the rich and famous, seems amazing. Supposing that you are squeaky clean, or have enough money to pretend to be, it seems like a different form of real estate that most don't consider when they're diversifying the ol' portfolio. I would love to own a private island, but right now I can only afford like half a Chilean acre, so I'll keep dreaming.

 

Would you own a private island? What's your ideal island to own? Let me know in the comments below! And don't forget to sign up for my email list so you get these in your inbox as soon as they post!


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