For years, Jeff and Laura Beraznik of Phoenix rented a house in lake-studded Muskoka, long known as the summer playground of Ontario, Canada. “Once you are up there, it’s not hard to fall in love with it,” said Mr. Beraznik, who like his wife, grew up in Montreal and spent summers in Muskoka.
The couple, both 50, often talked of buying a vacation home on a lake there — not just a home, but a private island, or a piece of one, anyway.
The pandemic, along with their new status as empty nesters this fall, accelerated their decision. “Especially these days, we are all looking for experiences that are good for the soul,” Ms. Beraznik said.
That sort of desire for a remote place from which to escape the pandemic and other worries of modern life has made private islands more enticing.
Realizing they could run their sporting goods businesses remotely, in September they went to contract for $1.46 million (about 1.9 million Canadian dollars) on a two-bedroom, two-bath cottage on 3.5 acres of tree-covered Keewaydin Island, which has multiple docks, 30 houses and a walking path (but no paved roads).
The two-bedroom 1970s house, which replaced an original 1800s cottage, has a polygon-shaped great room with large wraparound windows, separate guest quarters, a two-slip boathouse with upper level accommodations and 855 feet of shoreline facing southwest, assuring panoramic views of lake sunsets.
Being on the water surrounded by nature evokes the good feeling of childhood summers spent at a nearby sleepaway camp, Ms. Beraznik said. “We can spend more time away and still be very engaged with our work.”
The market for “traditionally challenging island properties has increased dramatically this past year,” said Ross Halloran, senior vice president of sales for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Possibly, people have come to believe that owning an island property is the ultimate venue to safely socially distance with family.”
In the last year, 39 island properties, “more than double the normal for island homes,” sold in Muskoka, which has about 150 islands and 900 island properties on its three largest lakes, Mr. Halloran said. The market also soared for lake cottages with road access. The lack of available waterfront property on the land side made “island properties more desirable because there was so much demand,” he added, with some houses selling the day they were listed.
Prices for island homes in Canada and Europe are “shooting up,” said Farhad Vladi, owner of Germany-based Vladi Private Islands, which lists island homes worldwide. “Normally, Canadians are looking more for holiday properties in Florida,” he said, but since the pandemic hit they are seeking waterfront closer to home. “It’s the same in Europe,” he added. Instead of sunshine and comfort, “now they are looking for security.”
Some, though, are willing to pay for both. In the Exumas chain of the Bahamas, Little Pipe Cay, a nine-bedroom private retreat with a colonial-style mansion on 38 lush acres, including sandy beaches, is listed at $85 million, said Edward de Mallet Morgan, a partner at Knight Frank, the London-based real estate firm that has the listing. It also has expansive verandas, swimming pools and cozy cottages for family and friends. Access is by yacht or by seaplane.
Small islands that are not developed or do not have services “tend to be cheaper,” said Walter Zephirin, managing director of London-based 7th Heaven Properties. “Belize has hundreds if not thousands of little islands and cays.” Some are private; others belong to the government, which occasionally releases them.
Among 7th Heaven’s listings, for $1.2 million, is a 2.63-acre island with two semi-furnished cabanas, a staff house and a kitchen in a palapa on stilts, a 20-minute boat ride from the mainland.
On the western coast of Norway, Gronholmane, a 2.3-acre island listed by Mr. Vladi, has rock formations, sheltered areas and unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean. The island, listed for $898,000, has a main cabin, a guest cabin, a boathouse, a heated pool, terraces and a pier. Land with a boat and parking area is available for sale or rent on the mainland in Manger, half a mile from the island.
Quality islands “go very fast now — the decision is done within a month,” Mr. Vladi said, though “inspection can be an issue if the island is far away — that’s why the local market is doing very well,” he said. And an undeveloped island “should have a building permit in place.”
Prefab homes are a popular option for new construction. “You put them on the pallet and the helicopter drops it on the island. It goes very fast. If you want a marble palace, it takes longer,” Mr. Vladi added.
Though there are numerous Greek islands, few are for sale, said Savvas Savvaidis, president and chief executive of Greece Sotheby’s International Realty. One of those is Ethereal, an island with a particularly colorful past.
Known historically as Trinity Island, the private 12.3-acre isle is ringed by beaches and teeming with ancient olive, nut and fruit trees. Visitors have included Winston Churchill, the Greek royal family and the Beatles, who wanted to buy the island. (The owner, a private secretary of the king of Greece, refused to sell, Mr. Savvaidis said.)
Still in the family today, the property, which includes a four-bedroom main house in need of a renovation, a guest bungalow close to the Aegean Sea, a chapel and a boathouse, is on the market for $12.5 million.
For some, fantasy islands with picture-perfect beaches, coral-fringed lagoons and lush landscapes conjure up images of the South Pacific. Jacques Menahem, the Swiss-born, Israel-raised owner of French Polynesia Sotheby’s International Realty, might squash those reveries.
“A lot of people are dreaming about islands, but when they understand what living on an island means, the dream comes down,” said Mr. Menahem, who first visited French Polynesia 30 years ago and never left.
“It is like living on a boat that doesn’t move,” he said. “It looks nice when you are coming for a vacation and everything is being taken care of for you, but the logistic is very complicated. You don’t go from your home and walk 200 meters to the boulangerie and come back with a baguette. The village is seven miles away by boat.”
If you’re still eager, Mr. Menahem has seven private islands to sell, among them Motu Moie, a nearly 20-acre sliver of Tahitian paradise on the edge of a reef in a lagoon, listed at $6.5 million. Rather than a main house, there are two one-bedroom cottages with the living room, dining room and kitchen in need of refurbishment in a separate pandanus leaf-roofed building, a guesthouse, caretaker’s house and staff quarters.
“There is plenty of space there for a 10,000 square foot home,” Mr. Menahem said.
True bargains do exist, though you’ll get less for your money. Half Island, a six-acre wooded getaway on the eastern end of Nova Scotia is $65,000, including the shell of an airstream trailer left by a prior owner, as listed on privateislandsonline.com.
It may not be the South Pacific, but it could be home.