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The Thousand Islands in upstate New York: pick one
The Thousand Islands in upstate New York: pick one
Daniel Vittar

The first well-known person who dared buy an island was the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, with his famous Skorpios, in the emerald waters of the Ionian Sea off the Greek coast. Then there was Marlon Brando, who made a new life on Te’tiarao after being captivated by French Polynesia.

Until recently, only the bulging bank accounts of famous multi-millionaires could secure access to the privacy of an island. But that is changing, and now there is an international market that allows regular people to buy and rent private islands around the world.

Today you can buy a a piece of island property for no more than an average used car, or rent a paradise island in the Bahamas for $2,000 per week.

“Due to recent technological changes like the Internet, it is much easier to search for and see pictures of the islands," explains Andrew Welsh, the director of Operations at Private Island, Inc. "Because celebrities like to own islands, in the past couple of years there has been an increased interest from regular people who want to try a different lifestyle.”

Welsh's agency is one of the leaders in the new market, currently with some 500 islands for sale and 250 destinations for rent in locations all around the world -- with the exception of Antarctica. The catalogue ranges from a small island, barely 3 hectares in area, in New Brunswick, Canada for sale for $30,000 to the island of Patroklos, 260 hectares off the coast of Athens, with land suitable for agriculture, with asking price of 150 million euros.

“We have clients from all walks of life, members of royal families and celebrities as well as regular people who have decided to make their dreams an island reality,” Welsh explained.

A teacher and an heiress

Cut yourself off from the world, enjoy nature, spend time with your family, have an adventure. All of those reasons are enough to try out the strange world of islands. Artists, business people and multimillionaires do it, but so do middle-class professionals who are fed up with with the noise and stress of cities.

Chris Krolow, the agency’s executive president, says Private Island Inc. recently sold a Canadian teacher an island in Ontario with a small house for $250,000. On the other extreme is Lilliane Bettencourt: The richest women in France and heir to the L’Oréal fortune sold her private island in the Seychelles for $74 million last summer.

The market is large, but it is also concentrated in places with good access and infrastructure. “The most popular islands are in the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas. They are beautiful, people speak English and they have a currency that is equal to the dollar," Welsh said. "It's also just a short plane ride from the United States.”

The other big market in the region is rentals. They go from from $2,000 per week for a 4 hectare island in the Gulf of Mexico to $30,000 per week for an island three times as large and with much more infrastructure in the Florida Keys. “

A high-quality island, specialists say, has to meet three criteria: A warm climate, a nice natural environment with easy transportation and a suitable residence. Of course, there can also be unpleasant surprises. Some of the cheap islands near Honduras and Belize are extremely humid, overrun with insects and are vulnerable to tropical diseases like dengue fever.

In addition, for many years islands in that area were frequently attacked by pirates. But that is also part of living on an island. “If you are worried about the dangers you might face, maybe a private island is not for you," Welsh explained. "Private islands are for people who are very independent and have an adventurous personality.”

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