THE INTERVIEW: Cheyenne Morrison, International Private Islands Specialist
I’ve always wanted to own an island, but I’m surely not alone in that desire. Islands exert a powerful pull, and the idea of having your own little fiefdom in the Caribbean, the South Pacific or in colder climes,
(Magic Island, Bora Bora)
say Maine or the Hebrides, is fodder for fantasy. That’s why I was intrigued by Cheyenne Morrison, an Australian who has the enviable title of International Private Islands Specialist for Coldwell Banker.
Perusing Morrison’s listings is a thrill for anyone who’s ever envisioned island ownership. He currently has a $25 million island in the Potomac that John Lennon once considered buying, perfect for anyone who needs an island pied-a- terre near the nation’s capital. A pair of islands in the US Virgin Islands for $45 million. And a 23-acre island on the Pacific coast of El Salvador for a mere $3.9 million. Who better than Morrison to discuss the incurable condition known as "islomania," an obsession with islands.
There is nothing more exclusive and sought after in the world than having your own private island. It effectively becomes your own little kingdom. From Ricardo Montalban’s "Fantasy Island" to Dr. No’s "Crab Key," private islands are exactly that – private. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman loved the Italian island of Stromboli. Princess Margaret found peace and quiet on the island of Mustique. Richard Branson, Marlon Brando and Malcolm Forbes (whose Laucala Island in Fiji was sold for $10 million) all created their own private island kingdoms for peace, privacy and tranquility.
How many islands do you currently have for sale?
I have 185 public islands, and many more that are confidential listings. My islands catalog has a total value of over $1.3B USD.
How did you get into this rarefied profession?
After many years of dreaming of living on a private island I made an agreement with a friend, a famous English writer, that he would buy a private island and I would manage a resort we would build on it. Over the course of three years I researched the purchase of islands all over the world. After inspecting islands in Fiji, the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands (South Pacific), Bay Islands Honduras, and The Cayes of Belize (the Caribbean) we finally agreed to look in the Philippines. I was offered by the Filipino broker I worked with to look for islands for my friend to help him market islands for sale. We sold three beaches, and then I decided to stay in the Philippines full time, and started a corporation to market private islands. I sold 16 islands in two years, and finally decided to expand the business to a world-wide island market. Luckily for me, I was approached by Coldwell Banker Australia, and so I started my own franchise and returned to Australia in June 2005.
And who’s buying them?
(Penobscot Bay, Maine)
My clientele obviously includes A-list Hollywood actors to Fortune 500 CEO’s, but I also deal with ordinary people who just share that same passion for islands that I have. I sold three islands to an American who works as a restaurant critic; he doesn’t have much money left now, but he has three islands and feels as rich as any of the others.
The most expensive island you currently have on offer – and a description?
My most expensive island, is also the most expensive island in the world at $75M USD, and was recently listed in Forbes and Newsweek. The magnificent island of Vatu Vara is often referred to as " Hat Island " because of its unusual shape.
The island is reputed by many to be the most beautiful in the world. It’s unique topography with limestone cliffs covered in dense tropical jungle and the flat summit is like a cross between Bora Bora and "The Lost World" of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From the top of its jungle-clad 1,030 foot peak, to the bottom of its aquamarine lagoon, this is 100% pure tropical paradise. All the cinematic cliches about tropical islands are here for real. And to continue the theme you even get Mel Gibson as a neighbor. He owns Mago island just 32 kilometers to the east.
The least expensive island you currently have on offer – and a description?
I have a great little island in Brazil for just 50,000 Euro. Maria Island is in northeastern Brazil, off the Atlantic Coast. It’s five hectares (approximately two acres).
What, in your opinion, are some of the choicest islands available on the market right now, in any price range?
I think Belize has the best value-for-money islands in the world at the moment. Ten years ago you could buy cayes in Belize for $200,000 to $300,000. Those same cayes are now back on the market for $2 to $3 million. Yes, unbelievable, but I predict that in another 10 years they will be at least five to 10 times what you might pay now. There are only two Great Barrier Reefs in the world, and there are virtually no islands for sale on Australia’s version. I have 23 islands in Belize from $150,000 up to $25M USD.
(Two islands in Belize)
In terms of the United States, where should one look for private islands?
The greatest concentration of islands for sale in the USA is in Florida, and there are also many islands for sale in the Thousand Islands area of upstate New York. I have two in New York, and 18 in Florida.
(Summerland Key, Florida)
Any areas of the world that are especially desirable in terms of islands?
I think that French Polynesia and Fiji have the most desirable islands in the world, but that desire also equates to large prices. The Maldives and Seychelles are also stunning, but there are no islands left for private sale there.
What are some of the issues that one has to contend with as the owner of a private island?
Can you live comfortably in isolation with no stores or restaurants within walking (or swimming) distance? Are you able to handle boats, and do you love the sea – even when it’s at its worst? Are you prepared to travel by boat just to get supplies? Or prepared to be stuck on your island for days in a time if the weather turns bad? You must be prepared for all of these things, and a host of others, if you really wish to live on your own island. Although many people dream of their own little island paradise, few are actually capable of doing so. Island ownership is best suited to those with a particular set of traits. It is good for people who are active and want to organize things themselves. You must take care of your own meals, for example. You must be able to handle boats, love the sea and water, and you must like nature very much. Then there’s maintenance of facilities. Accessibility to necessities becomes pricey and complicated. For many years, I have recommended those considering buying and developing a private island to read "Don’t Stop the Carnival" by Herman Wouk. And now there is a new book out that easily compares to that but ends with success after all the dramas, and I recommend buying it to get an idea of what island life holds. It’s "Making Waves," by Libby Brown. But if you have the right temperament, really love islands, and have enough cash, you can fulfill all your childhood fantasies.
For more information, visit Coldwell Banker Morrison’s Private Islands