The Dreams and Nightmares of Owning a Private Island

It’s tough out there this summer, even for the market in private islands, the ultimate status symbol. Time to buy? Not so fast.

From the rocky shoals of Maine to the beaches of California, residential home prices have fallen hard during the great recession. Commercial property values have followed. New home construction has all but collapsed.

As goes the mainland, so goes the market in private island real estate? Not exactly. Prices have dropped for developed island properties near populated areas, reflecting a shrinking market in second homes overall, say realtors. But sales of remote and high-end private islands in exotic locales have held fairly steady throughout the downturn, says international island realtor Farhad Vladi, as governments, non profits, and nature conservatories have moved in to buy always-limited inventory in the absence of private buyers seeking their ultimate fantasy getaway.

“Islands are like diamonds,” says Chris Krorlow, CEO of Private Islands Inc. “Beauty is essential, but rarity makes any commodity infinitely more desirable.”

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See the Slide Show: 11 Private Islands for Sale

No clear-eyed investor should ever mistake owning an island as a safe haven for money. “I wouldn’t describe it as an investment, really,” cautions Mark Goldman, professor of real estate finance at San Diego State University. “It’s more a consumption item,” like buying a yacht. “And, boy, it’s got to be one of the ultimate status symbols. You get privacy, status, your own domain, a kingdom where, to a great extent, you can create your own rules.”

Mind you, there are inconveniences galore with owning an island: Getting there, for one. Dangerous weather that can wreak havoc on buildings and power and water supply, for another. Many undeveloped islands don’t have the permits to become developed, and the red tape can slowly strangle the Robinson Crusoe fantasies out of even the most romantic of buyers.

But as Krolow notes, island owners are a fiercely independent, entrepreneurial lot for whom the cache of private island ownership outweighs the cost. Who in the summer hasn’t gazed across the water to a secluded island with a boat moored to a private dock, and wondered what it would be like?

As Korlow puts it, “It’s the rare opportunity to create your own reality. And at least temporarily, live your life exactly as you choose.”

So in this summer of discontent, here are 11 islands for sale, ranging in price from $595,000 to $3.5 million. Nothing but privacy, seclusion, and 360 degrees of waterfront views. For August, the ultimate fantasy, indeed.