Calls and emails come in at any time of the day or night. They are no longer about fun or prestige. Instead, they focus on fresh water and solar panels. These weren't the requests they'd got used to.
The island brokers are overwhelmed.
As the coronavirus pandemic devastated countries around the world, it has changed almost every aspect of life for everyone, including those most isolated from money. Even the ultra-rich niche world of island trade has been turned upside down.
"This has been the busiest two months I've sold islands in 22 years," said Chris Krolow, managing director of Private Islands Inc., in July. The pace has not slowed since then, he said. The only time he ever had nearly as many inquiries was shortly after the disastrous Fyre Festival on Great Exuma, Bahamas in 2017. Mr. Krolow said he was inundated with questions from "children who hope" for some reason been starting their own country. "
Before the pandemic, an island was typically a vanity purchase made by a wealthy customer – usually a man – sometime after he retired, brokers said. The island bug usually appeared a few years after the novelty of other luxury purchases ended.
"You have your yacht, your jet – now you want your island," said John Christie, president of Christies International Real Estate, a Bahamas-based company.
The island brokers knew how to serve these customers. They were looking for a place where they could feel like a "sea to sea boss," said Mr. Christie, a small kingdom with no authority other than their own. Offers could be sweetened by allusions to billionaire or celebrity neighbors.
But this new wave of island buyers is less ego-driven than the desire to escape the virus, and realtors, like their clients, are newer at thinking about survival. Even after a few difficult months, brokers are struggling to meet their clients' new demands, such as the agriculture that comes with the helipad.
Despite the high level of interest due to the coronavirus crisis, Mr. Krolow's Canada-based company has made few sales. Like other realtors, he says much of his time was spent setting expectations about what it actually takes to build a self-sufficient island – the logistics of paradise are complicated – and figuring out how to show potential buyers property while traveling Restrictions.
However, for some wealthy people, renting is not enough. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way they long-term think about being with other people.
"An island used to be a toy," said Marcus Gondolo-Gordon, managing director of Incognito Property, based in England. Now customers are describing dreams of a "bloody long boat trip" to make sure no one comes up to them and breaches their isolation, he said. They also want access to fresh water, solar panels, and a house to sleep in tomorrow.
It will be difficult to set up a self-sufficient island quickly, Mr. Gondolo-Gordon tells them. Construction on private islands takes much longer than on mainland or even typical non-private islands. And brokers cannot guarantee that islands are safe havens from civil unrest. For example, he just checked out a beautiful island in the eastern Mediterranean this week – a steal of $ 7.4 million. But there is some tension in these waters that Turkey and Greece are contesting.
"You have to read the news," he tells customers. And they also need to take into account that their coastline will most likely be affected by climate change. If they can't handle it, he advises them to rent a superyacht.
Several buyers declined to be asked questions through their agents about their experience buying islands.
Prior to the pandemic, most brokers were selling islands as a boutique part of their wider real estate business.
After many sellers reported an increase in island interest, several brokers said they would take over more of their business. Even so, Mr. Krolow is the rare broker who only consists of islands all the time.
He almost accidentally helped sell his first island in the late 1990s after accepting a seller's offer to run an island he had created on the small website.
Two decades later there are hundreds of islands on Mr. Krolow's property. Some cost less than $ 100,000, like the small, stone-strewn strips of land in Canadian lakes. Others reach eight- and nine-digit amounts, offering runways and pre-built resorts in turquoise waters in the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
One of the biggest perks of selling islands in the middle of a pandemic, according to brokers, is that customers are more flexible about location. British shoppers who were once fixated on Greek islands now enjoy isolation in the Seychelles or the Irish Sea. The enthusiasm of Americans and Canadians for the South Pacific has recently been replaced by an interest in closer shores in the Bahamas, Belize and Panama.
However, transporting customers to show them islands is more difficult than ever. At one point, Mr Krolow had a dozen potential buyers ready to see islands in Belize, but the airports were closed. There have only been a few weeks of easy flying in and out of the Caribbean in the past six months, said Edward de Mallet Morgan, a partner at Knight Frank, a real estate company in London.
It's one thing to buy a home without visiting it first, he said, but "buying an island is another thing, especially if you can't even send your professional advisors to pre-check it for you."
The British Virgin Islands have closed tourists until at least December. And even if flights to the Bahamas resume, visitors will have to pledge to install a phone app and quarantine it for two weeks. These measures are too much, some clients tell their brokers.
Some potential buyers have found workarounds. One of Mr. Christie's American customers had his boat captain sail his yacht from Florida to the Bahamas. The customer took a private flight and then got into his yacht, where he was "quarantined".
His captain then took him on his two possible pandemic escapes. One of them was Bonefish Cay, a 13-acre island valued at $ 8.2 million that was already built with five buildings and the ability to generate its own electricity. But that wasn't quite right, the customer said to Mr. Christie.
The other option was Foot's Cay, a 20-acre island valued at $ 8.7 million with a four bedroom main house and a weatherproof concrete bunker with a generator. That was more fascinating – but by the time the customer stepped on his bank, he had already gone to another buyer.