Owning an island is likely to be something that few people would ever seriously consider. While it is exciting to imagine what living on an island would be like - palm trees, sunsets, gentle breezes - most people could never afford to own a piece of paradise. Or could they? With an increase in the number of island properties on the market today, coupled with the many motivated sellers (even island owners have to cover their losses from the stock market freefall), purchasing this exclusive property type may be more affordable than many of us think. For those looking for a different lifestyle and a little adventure, maybe it's time to forget a house - and buy an island.

How To Shop For An Island

The internet is a convenient place to look for island properties. Websites such as www.privateislandsonline.com and www.vladi-private-islands.de maintain current real estate listings of islands that are searchable by location, price and type. The type of island is an important factor, since it will determine if the island is virgin (with no development), what type of access it has (bridge, landing strip or boat only) or if any improvements have been made. It is also critical to determine what type of development, if any, will be permitted on the island.

Because of differing laws between countries regarding ownership and type of leasehold, it will be especially important to perform due diligence when considering an island purchase - with the assistance of a qualified lawyer. Island shopping is not as convenient as driving around a neighborhood with a real estate agent; it pays to thoroughly research and ask all the questions you can think of prior to making the trip to check out the property. (To dig deeper into this topic, read 5 Things Every Real Estate Pro Knows.)

Location, Location, Location

Where an island is located has a significant effect on its value. Islands that are private, yet still close to civilization and amenities like shopping, airports and hospitals, are more convenient, and therefore, tend to be more expensive. A beautiful island in the middle of the ocean, far from any facilities and services, will probably be less expensive. People do put a price on convenience, and while island dwellers typically enjoy the privacy and remoteness that an island offers, they also want to be able to buy food and go to the doctor if necessary.

An island's climate is an important consideration when looking for real estate, and it is a factor in the property's value. Islands located in more desirable climactic regions, such as the tropics, may be more expensive to purchase and are generally more costly to maintain due to excessive heat, rainfall and the potential for damaging storms.

While many of us visualize palm trees and white sandy beaches when we think of an island paradise, it should be noted that many of the properties are located on lakes – rather than the ocean. Again, depending on location, these lake islands can be quite exclusive and expensive, or lesser known and more affordable.

Challenges Of Development

Islands that have no improvements will require additional time and money before they become habitable. Finding well water, generating power, creating telephone access and building roads will have to be addressed. So will finding the manpower to undertake all of these projects. Local contractors can assist with determining the feasibility of these projects, and they can provide a time/cost estimate for the work. Generally, the more remote an island, the more creative the process will be in terms of both infrastructure development and home building.

Islands On The Market

A quick look at one of the island property websites reveals that a buyer could spend as little as $30,000 (U.S. dollars) or as much as several hundred million dollars. Usually the properties with immense price tags are for island resorts - places that will be used as a commercial investment rather than as a personal getaway. The smaller islands intended for personal use, however, are often priced similarly to inland properties in desirable locations.

Hog Island, for example, is a 20-acre undeveloped island in Nova Scotia that is on the market for $165,000 - not the millions of dollars many would expect for a sizable island. The most lavish properties are multi-thousand acre paradises slated for golf courses, exotic spas and upscale vacation resorts. (Investing in real estate has become increasingly popular over the last 50 years and has become a common investment vehicle. For more on this topic, see Simple Ways To Invest In Real Estate.)

Come Sail Away

While most of us would assume island ownership to be something completely unattainable, a little research reveals that it may not be as impossible as we think. Inland property values often exceed $10,000-$20,000 per acre, and many of the islands are priced well below that. Certainly, additional costs must be anticipated for infrastructure and building development, but even when all expenses are accounted for, an island nirvana might be more realistic than we imagine. If you have ever thought about island life, it might be worth your while to at least take a look at what is available. You might decide to forget a house, and buy an island.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: The Unrelenting Claw Of Bernie Madoff.

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