It Doesn't Take Millions to Buy a Private Island

The words "private island" often conjure visions of sun-streaked beaches, palm trees and warm water. But getting away from it all doesn't always require flying halfway across the globe or spending millions of dollars. There are thousands of private islands for sale all over the world, at every price point. And they're getting cheaper, mirroring the housing market at large. "In recent months, we've started to see many dramatic price reductions," says Alexis Pappas, director of operations at Private Islands Inc. "Some island owners have definitely had their portfolios hit by the credit crisis and are looking for quick sales."

Not surprisingly, location is everything. The lowest-priced islands are typically found in Nova Scotia, Canada; areas of Maine and Michigan; and certain parts of Central America, while the more expensive are found in Europe, the Bahamas and the Oceanic countries like French Polynesia. Current offerings include the untouched Long Island (West) off the east coast of Nova Scotia, which is on the market for $106,000. North of Stockholm, a wooded private island with a cozy three-bedroom house and guesthouse is on sale for $754,000. And $2 million will buy St. Athanasios Island in the Gulf of Corinth, Greece, replete with pine and olive trees.

Island shoppers don't always get what they imagined. Farhad Vladi of Vladi Private Islands, a specialist agency based in Hamburg, Germany, says clients often come to his office to buy an island with palm trees and white sandy beaches but end up buying one with spruces and rocky shores in Canada, Scandinavia, northern Europe or the Atlantic. "The majority of people take their holidays in June, July and August, and in those areas, the climate is very pleasant then," he says. "In many tropical areas, it's too hot and humid."

Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to turn any island into paradise. State-of-the-art systems can generate electricity or purify water, and innovative prefabricated houses make construction a breeze. However, owning an island is not for everyone. "You should find out whether you're really an island person before you buy," says Vladi. "That means someone who can stand the quietness of island life, who respects and lives with nature and who can manage unforeseeable situations like the electricity not working." A fondness for the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway" helps, too.