What to do with the private island you just bought

The owner of this 80,000 sq m island on Lake of Bays in Muskoka, Central Ontario, offered by Sotheby's for US$4 million (S$5.5 million) will have to think how he is going to stay alive at the place.
The owner of this 80,000 sq m island on Lake of Bays in Muskoka, Central Ontario, offered by Sotheby's for US$4 million (S$5.5 million) will have to think how he is going to stay alive at the place.PHOTO: WWW.SOTHEBYS REALTY.COM

NEW YORK • You see it listed online: a 30,000 sq m island off the coast of Belize, surrounded by clear blue water and striking distance from an untouched barrier reef. Price: £492,000 ( S$1 million).

After a few clicks and a phone call, you are the proud owner of a tropical haven 20km from the resort town of San Pedro (immortalised by Madonna's La Isla Bonita).

So what's next? There is probably no plumbing on your new island. There may not even be a house. Or structures at all. You need help.

This is when you call someone like Mr Doug Kulig, chief executive officer of Miami-based architect and developer OBMI.

He has designed and built a 23,500-sq-foot estate on a secluded tip of the British Virgin Islands, a hillside aerie on the south-west coast of Antigua and other houses and resorts throughout the Caribbean.

He has years of experience building on remote islands and he helpfully laid out your next moves (in chronological order, no less).

1. Figure out the regulations

"The island can have environmental concerns, usage concerns, you have to understand if you're getting a clear title to the land," he says. "Only then do you figure out what the development rights are."

Hopefully you will have done this before your purchase, but even so, the myriad approvals for regulations, restrictions, and processes, he says, can easily take three to six months.

2. Figure out what you want to do with the island

This part is more fun because it involves the least tough choices: Will you want a main house and a few guest houses? Staff quarters? Do you want the house designed as an informal bungalow, with indoor/outdoor spaces or do you want something more formal?

If you are considering a wooden, beach-house type of structure, "you want to consider storm impacts in the area", says Mr Kulig.

"Do you want to design for a 25-year storm, a 50-year storm or even a 100-year storm?" (The latter would involve a house made from concrete.)

You will also need to figure out how you want to get to the island. If you are planning to fly into a nearby airport and take a shallow boat to the island, great.

If you are planning to glide in on your 60m mega-yacht, you are going to have to build a different kind of infrastructure entirely.

3. Figure out how you are going to stay alive on the island

Once you have a rough idea of how often you will use the island and with how many people, you will have to determine how to get water and electricity.

Most of the time, Mr Kulig says, maintaining a water supply entails a combination of water collection and reverse-osmosis facilities.

"Let's say you've got a small osmosis plant that's slowly producing water all the time - let's say it makes 20,000 litres a month and you visit only three times a year; you'll have all the water you'd ever need."

4. Figure out how you are going to get everything out there

Luckily, this is not really up to you - it is up to whichever local contractor you have hired to help organise the construction.

But try to get a general sense whether or not materials will get to the island via barge or plane (if there is no extant dock or a channel needs to be dredged before boats can reach the island).

5. Do a budget

Mr Kulig cannot give an estimate for how much it would cost to get an island up and running. Could you build a reasonably comfortable, self-sustainable house for less than US$1 million (S$1.4 million)?

"Absolutely not," he says.

6. Figure out how to make it pleasant

In the city, a decorator is a luxury, but for a remote island, where you will have to determine which furniture weathers best, which fabrics are more prone to rot and which finishes deal better with humidity, an interior architect or decorator is closer to a necessity.

7. Wait (and wait)

Because this is, after all, a remote island, everything takes longer.

"Figure two to three years," Mr Kulig says.

8. Move in

It is that simple. (After the years of logistics and millions of dollars, that is.)


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'What to do with the private island you just bought'. Subscribe