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Paradise Found: These 5 Tips for Buying a Home on an Island Will Take You There

July 25, 2019


Quick question: How many times a day do you dream about quitting your job and moving to some idyllic island with turquoise blue water and a delicious umbrella drink in your hand? If you’re anything like us, it’s in the double digits (sorry, boss!).

It might seem out of reach as you sit, eyes glazed, in front of your computer. But here’s the truth: People move to islands all the time! Whether it’s Maui, the Bahamas, or Bora Bora, you, too, can buy a home on an island.

Before you sell your home and all of your stuff to afford your island venture, there are just a few details to consider. Here’s what you should think about before buying a home on an island, according to real estate experts who deal with island markets every day.

1. Consider all areas of the island—even the ones you don’t know about

Sure, everyone wants to live right on the water. But on many islands that can be very expensive. That’s why you might want to target the entire island, versus limiting yourself to a single area you know or have in mind, says Keith Gillispie, a real estate professional who buys and sells homes on Oahu, HI.

“Here, real estate is generally more expensive, lesser quality, smaller, more densely populated, and very competitive,” he says. “Even one island valley over from where you want to live could mean the difference of $200,000 in the price of your house.”

2. Be prepared for a whole new world of pests

You aren’t in Kansas anymore—literally. When moving to an island, think about the environment there and whether you’re willing to hack it with all of the native flora and fauna.

“Most islands have their own ecosystem that is different from city living in larger countries and areas,” says Tamika Todd, a real estate broker at Platinum Realty in Bermuda. “Within that ecosystem, you may find certain small or large creatures that reside near dwellings.”

And unless you want those critters to become your island roommates, you might have to shell out additional cash to seal your home. Think: screens, shutters, and regular pest control services, Todd says.

3. Visit—and stay a while

We know—twist your arm, right? But the only way you’ll really know if island living is for you is if you spend an extended amount of time there.

What’s more, your island might not have all of the amenities you’re used to at home. Some of you might think it’s worth it, but others could get fed up with the lack of available products—and the premium you’ll pay for what is available.

“Are you able to live without access to Starbucks, McDonald’s, and the local Ikea?” asks Odest T. Riley Jr., president of WLM Financial, who works with real estate on the island of Santa Catalina, CA. “Plus, things that we take for granted may cost 10 times as much to have shipped in to an isolated Island.”

4. Stay smart about your insurance policy

You’ll want to make sure your little piece of paradise is covered in the event of extreme weather, which is, unfortunately, often a reality of island life.

Depending on where you live, you might need to purchase homeowners insurance with supplemental hurricane coverage. And don’t forget about separate windstorm and flood policies. We know—all of that insurance can be costly. But you’ll consider it money well-spent when disaster strikes.

5. Factor in cost of living—and be prepared to downsize

Even if you can afford your dream island home, don’t forget to factor in all of the other costs of island living. It can vary widely, depending on where you’re buying your home. But a general rule of thumb: “The cost of living is much more expensive on an island as compared to the mainland,” Gillispie says.

That means property taxes, utilities, HOA fees, insurance, and even a gallon of milk could be more than what you’re used to.

“Because of the high cost of living and the huge expense of buying a house, families usually have to downsize significantly in order to save money on expenses,” Gillispie warns.

“Getting bunk beds or a bed that folds up along the wall during the day are pretty normal here. You may even need to be prepared to give up the den or the office you used to have, and plan to not have a garage or huge yard—both significantly drive up the cost of the home and are hard to find.”

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