An Island of One’s own

    22 September 2012

    Every August, my family and I leave the city and head for our private island. There we spend much of the month walking, fishing, barbecuing and generally lounging around. We do all this with no one watching us — we are surrounded by our own beaches and our remote personal paradise is reachable only by boat.
    It sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? But actually having your own island isn’t just for the super rich. Ours is off the coast of Shetland. Our beaches are more pebbly than sandy; we fish for mackerel not marlin; and our lounging about only very rarely takes in any sunbathing. Oh, and if we want to sleep on the island we have to camp. It has no utilities and no house — unless you count a small pile of rocks that was once a crofting cottage. Still, while it isn’t exactly five star, it still comes with all the privacy and romance that people associate with owning an island. So what do you do if you want that feel to your holidays, too?

    First, buying an island really isn’t much different from buying a house. You can call an international estate agent or visit a dedicated website (try,, or for starters), take your pick and instruct a solicitor in the relevant country just as you would if you were buying a house in London or a villa in Bermuda.

    However, while the process is not necessarily more complicated in legal terms, there are a few extra things to consider. Do you want one with or without a house? Most uninhabited islands end up staying that way: it can cost twice as much to build on an island than on the mainland. Does it have a fresh water supply? If not, you might find you don’t spend much time there. Does it have power? How are you going to get to it? If you aren’t in helicopter/airstrip league you’ll need a boat. We get by with a battered aluminium farm boat. But that’s just not going to strike the right note in the Caribbean. There you’ll need a yacht. And don’t forget to ask how easy the waters around the island are to navigate: you might need crew.

    You’ll also need to think about how your island gets looked after. Scrappy bits of grassy rock in the Atlantic don’t need much TLC. Sandy islands with docks and houses located in hurricane areas sometimes do. Then there’s the cost of all this. Can you rent it out to cover the caretaker and the yacht? Our island isn’t much of a cash cow (to put it mildly), but Richard Branson rents out his Necker Island for a reported $50,000 plus a night.

    Finally, there is tax. Buy in the likes of Greece (which is by all accounts a tryingly bureaucratic process anyway) and you can be almost certain that you will soon find yourself hit with some kind of special tax on well-off second home owners. Most brokers suggest anyone who needs to think about all this rents an island for a few seasons before buying one.

    However, if and when you make up your mind, you will find there is no shortage. If you want an uninhabited Scottish island a bit like ours you can pick up the Out Skerries (two main islands totalling 600 acres) in Shetland. They are on for £400,000 with Knight Frank, although I suspect that at that rate they are around £350,000 overpriced.      Otherwise, if you must have a house, there is Shuna Island in the middle of Scotland’s Loch Linnhe. This comes with one main house, a variety of outbuildings and 388 acres of land. On the downside, it costs £1.85 million. For that, you could instead head for Canada, which with its lakes and coastline has more islands than any other nation, and get the rather lovely Goffatt Island (CAD $2.25 million).
    If I were to trade in our island, I’d consider the summer refuge islands off the coast of Sweden (there’s a fabulous one called Hastholmen for sale for €250,000 — cottage included). But I suspect that in the end I’d be won over by the idea of sunshine all year round and head for the Florida Keys. Top pick? Broad Key, a 63-acre island just off Key Largo (Sothebys International Realty, $20 million).

    Otherwise, were my ship to really come in, it would be an island in the Exuma Cays 35 minutes from Nassau, complete with a gorgeous-looking plantation-style house. It costs $85 million (Sothebys International Realty) — and that’s before you go helicopter shopping.