Paradise regained: Your own private island - MoneySense

Paradise regained: Your own private island

C’mon in… The water is fine around your own island.


Introduction | Your own private island | Your own country estate | Your foreign fling

If you think owning your own private island is only for billionaires or Hollywood celebrities, it’s time to reconsider. While waterfront properties in popular areas such as Ontario’s Muskoka region or Nova Scotia’s Chester district can easily fetch $1 million or more, you can still buy a nice-sized island — one to 10 acres or more — in areas close to those glamor locations for as little as $50,000. Adding a three-bedroom cottage boosts the price to $250,000 or more, but that’s still a bargain for being able to truly get away from it all and luxuriate in your own private island kingdom.

If you’re willing to spend a little more, the possibilities are next to endless. Just ask David and Valerie Webb of Cleveland who fell in love with the rocky beauty of Ontario’s Georgian Bay on a visit two years ago. They found that they could buy an island in the area with a rustic cottage on it for no more than they would pay for an older cottage on a waterfront lot — except that for $530,000 they got four acres to themselves and complete privacy. Their purchase included a quaint three-bedroom wooden cottage built in the 1930s, complete with a stone fireplace and screened porch. “We love the view,” says David, a retired 47-year-old investment banker. “Smaller islands surround us, which makes the vista a lot more interesting than simply looking out at miles of water. My wife’s an artist and paints when we come up during our summer vacation. My 12-year-old daughter explores the small forest and writes endless entries in her journal while I take charge of the cooking and the tool shed. I’ve discovered that I’m actually quite handy.”

If you think you might want to follow in the Webbs’ footsteps, the best way to sample island living is by renting an island for a week or two. Prices range from $500 to $5,000 a week, depending on the location. If you enjoy the experience, visit websites such as Private Islands Online or to see the selection of islands for sale.

Always visit an island before buying: you may be surprised to discover it’s surrounded by acres of mud flats at low tide, or that it’s so far away from grocery stores and parking that it’s next to impossible to live on. A realtor who specializes in island real estate can help guide you through the practicalities of island living. (The websites above offer numerous links to island specialists.) A good real estate agent should be able to estimate how big a structure you will be able to build on your island and how much it will cost you to do so. Expect construction costs to be double what you pay on the mainland because of the cost of transporting materials, warns Michael Gerhardt, a real estate broker with Gerhardt Realty, in Parry Sound, Ont. But those high building costs tend to be offset by low land prices. You can find listings in Nova Scotia starting as low as $30,000. Other bargains can be found off British Columbia and in Lake Huron. Wherever you buy, you’ll find that setting up your island refuge is much easier than in the past, thanks to solar energy and prefabricated homes. Install a satellite dish and you can even enjoy high-speed Internet access.

Of course, many island owners buy their islands precisely to escape from the modern world. Ken Storm, Jr., a 55-year-old wholesale distributor, purchased his 600-acre island in Lake Superior four years ago. He says the island, five km from the mainland, offers a welcome sanctuary from his hectic travel schedule. He prefers to spend his island time in solitude, studying birds, botany and geology. “It takes me an hour and a half to kayak in — and that’s if the weather’s good,” says Storm. “I view the island as my personal, private refuge, my home away from home.”

Do the wave

You, too, can have an island kingdom:

1. Clamshell Island, British Columbia; $195,000; 1.1 acres
Clamshell Island is among the famous Gulf Islands of B.C. It lies directly opposite Saltspring Island’s ferry terminal, about half a kilometre from the mainland.

2. Peter Island, Nova Scotia; $298,000; 2.5 acres
An hour from Halifax, Peter Island is covered in pine and fir trees. It comes with a two-bedroom, one-bathroom log cabin, a working solar-energy system, and a small motorboat.

3. Isle A La Croix (Lake Matapedia); $250,000 (U.S.); 57.4 acres
Isle á la Croix includes a two bedroom chalet with living room, dining room and bathroom. The island boasts great moose and bear hunting; also excellent trout fishing.