The Island Brokers Are Overwhelmed


Calls and emails come in at all times of day and night. They no longer concern fun or prestige. Instead they focus on fresh water and solar panels. These were not the inquiries they had grown used to.

The island brokers are overwhelmed.

As the coronavirus pandemic has devastated countries around the world, it has upended nearly every aspect of life for everyone, including for those most insulated by money. Even the niche, ultrarich world of island commerce has been turned on its head.

“This has been the busiest two months I’ve had in 22 years of selling islands,” Chris Krolow, the chief executive of Private Islands Inc., said in July. The pace has not slowed since then, he said. The only time he has ever had anywhere near this quantity of inquiries was shortly after the disastrous Fyre Festival on Great Exuma, in the Bahamas, in 2017. Mr. Krolow said he was swamped, for some reason, with questions from “kids hoping to start their own country.”

Before the pandemic, an island was typically a vanity purchase that a wealthy client — usually male — would pursue sometime after retirement, brokers said. The island bug would usually strike a few years after the novelty of other luxury purchases had worn thin.

Several buyers declined, through their brokers, to be interviewed about their experiences shopping for islands.

Before the pandemic, most agents would sell islands as a boutique fraction of their broader real estate business.

Now that many sellers report seeing a surge in island interest, several brokers said it was taking over more of their business. Still, Mr. Krolow is the rare broker who is all islands, all of the time.

He helped sell his first island in the late ’90s, almost accidentally, after accepting a seller’s offer to put an ad for it on the small website about islands that he had created.

Two decades later, Mr. Krolow’s site features hundreds of islands. Some cost less than $100,000, like the small, rock-strewn strips of land in Canadian lakes. Others reach eight- and nine-digit sums and offer airstrips and prebuilt resorts in turquoise waters in the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

One of the biggest advantages of selling islands amid a pandemic, brokers say, is that clients are more flexible about location. British buyers who were once fixated on Greek islands are now excited about isolating in the Seychelles or the Irish Sea. Americans’ and Canadians’ enthusiasm for the South Pacific has recently been superseded by interest in closer shores in the Bahamas, Belize and Panama.



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