by Jimmy Lee King
Have you ever dreamed about renting or living on your own island? Canadian Chris Krolow, owner of Private Islands Inc., took this idea to the next level and in 1999 developed a unique company to sell and rent islands at a time when no such service existed. Prior to Private Islands Inc., Chris ran a company that took people on tours of different islands in Canada. Paying attention to his patrons, he learned that what people liked the most about a tour to Niagra Falls or some other attraction was the experience of staying on an island by themselves, and this is what flipped on the proverbial light switch for Krolow.
Krolow began to meet with owners of many islands that were for sale in Canada and upstate New York. He put 12 of these Canadian islands on a web site and that’s how Private Islands Inc was born — with little more than some nice photos on a web site. A few months later, the web site was starting to gain some media traction and even attracted the attention of an eventual client in Panama who had an island for sale in Belize. This client, not wanting to pay an up-front fee to put his island on the web site, offered a commission to Krolow if the island were to sell. Krolow took the chance, not seeing any real negatives with this type of deal. By this time, Krolow was up to 20 Canadian islands and 1 island in Belize for sale on the web site. Six weeks later, Krolow’s company received a check for $60,000; for the island in Belize had indeed sold through his web site. This is when Krolow really started digging in, realizing the potential of this new idea for selling islands. Today, Krolow’s company has over 700 islands for sale worldwide. It also publishes a magazine and has a show on HGTV called Island Hunters.
Krolow explains that logistics are key in offering island properties: “A lot of planning and organizing goes into getting people to and from islands. A lot of leg work goes into showing islands ahead of time to make sure a buyer is legitimate and not just wanting a free island hopping tour. When an island goes on the market not everything is usually in order. Some of the issues that have to be dealt with first like, can you build on the island if there isn’t already development. If there is development, can you build additional structures. What’s the dock like, what’s the elevation of the property in case there is an issue with rising water levels; what about deep water access. Most of our clients have big boats (and) it doesn’t help if they can’t get to the island or if they can’t get permits to dredge. How close are they to the mainland. There are lots of factors that come into play. Many people who are mesmerized by the island bug don’t care about all these details at first.” Krolow suggests that anyone serious about buying an island should rent an island for a short period of time so they can gain the experience of living without a grocery store nearby; for some, this could be a deal breaker. Things like paperwork, deposit, closing, etc. are pretty much the same as when buying any other type of property. Some deals can close in days, while others can sometimes take several months.
Krolow remarks proudly that every island-selling experience is spectacular for his company in its own way. “We’re dealing with someone who is selling, and many times the island has been in the family for over 100 years or multiple generations, so it can be a very emotional sale. On the other side, the purchaser is looking for something very specific. When a sale comes through from our hard work or clever marketing, I get a kick out of that, and that makes me feel proud of having built this business. When someone has a half million or million dollars in the bank, many times they have spent this money many times over in their mind, and my job is to keep that spark or island bug alive and our magazine Private Islands Inc. is a great way to do that. Every six months there is a reminder for the dreamers that hey, there are beautiful islands on the market and maybe the one you are interested in is still available, look at these gorgeous islands, lots of people have figured out a way to own an island and so can you.”
“A common misconception of buying an island is that you can’t,” continues Krolow. “Many people think somehow it belongs to the government or it’s only in the realm of the rich and famous. We’ve sold islands to teachers, doctors and people you may not think have the funds or the know how of owning an island. Life is like a book of chapters and owning an island can be its very own chapter. Islands can make you want to spend all your time planning things for the island.” Krolow suggests with a laugh that one should not put anything on their own island that can’t be burned. “When you stop liking something you can literally burn it,” he states. It takes so much energy and money to get things on your island that one won’t want to take it back off the island — make sure it’s solid wood so you can burn it!