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Private Kingdoms

An Island Paradise May Sound Romantic, But Be Real About Your Dreams Before You Buy
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

Nervously eyeing the tin-plated, twin-engine prop that's scheduled to wing him two-and-a-half hours across the Pacific Ocean, Farhan Vladi paces the tarmac at the Valparaíso, Chile, airport. A cocksure veteran of searching for paradise, rarely worried about an untimely end, he threatens to cancel his latest adventure--a trek to the Juan Fernández Islands off Chile to see the reputed cave of Robinson Crusoe.

"I don't know if I like this trip," sighs the swarthy, German-accented Vladi. "I'd much rather take a look at islands from a boat or low-flying helicopter so I'd know I could take an easy swim."

His Gucci bags in tow, Vladi, 49, reluctantly boards the rickety plane. As the world's foremost broker of private islands, trafficking in fantasies of returning to Eden, he's compelled to discover remote, attractive properties, all in the quest to pad his portfolio of $150,000-to-$10 million getaways.

"Loving islands and all they represent--escape, freedom, control over one's environment--I'm often forced to go exploring," laughs Vladi, who has amassed maps, serial photos and a database of more than 4,000 islands. His clients range from supermodels to Japanese millionaires and the late shah of Iran's family. Yet sounding boyishly innocent and thrilled at the prospect of visiting Crusoe's shrine, he blushes. "Ever since my father took me to Capri and we toured the grottoes, I've been an island fanatic."

Having sold 500 isles and being frequent-ly called on as an expert witness in island-related lawsuits, Vladi insists islands are a terrific investment because of their finite supply. He excitedly quotes numerous examples of investments tripling, even quadrupling, in value. Yet judging by his visit to Crusoe's Más a Tierra Island, a property not for sale, it's clear he's driven by more than just commissions (8.5 percent, normally paid by the seller).

"Regrettably, Más a Tierra isn't available, but then an island is not just another piece of real estate, a mere transaction," says Vladi, who earned a master's degree in macroeconomics from Hamburg University and later focused on tax and property laws. "Whether it's Crusoe's island, the $235,000 Hatchet Cay in Belize or the $9 million Kaimbu Atoll in Fiji, every island has a magnetic pull. Each one has unique soul, magic, mystery."

Rhapsodizing about "white sandy beaches, idyllic azure coves" and his own "perfect paradise" on Sleepy Cove Island in Nova Scotia, Vladi is more a romantic than a hard-sell land dealer. In business 23 years as Vladi Private Islands (based in Nova Scotia and Hamburg, Germany), this Canadian citizen of Iranian and German descent says, "I lose all stress on my island, and that's what I want for my clients. I want to find them those special retreats that work best for their personalities."

But brokering private islands is still a highly competitive business. Vladi has rivals in every Caribbean port of call because most conventional realtors have an island or two to sell. These salespeople will bombard potential buyers with catalogues and phone calls. Yet when it comes to producing solid information about the tropics' political stability and costs, only Nick Bailey and Jeremy Hurst, both with Sotheby's real-estate affiliates in the Caribbean, candidly discuss all the ramifications of island ownership. Sotheby's International Realty maintains such affiliates for prime properties in many parts of the world, so you may be able to use them to find islands outside of the Caribbean, through local broker affiliates.

Internationally, Vladi only has one "competitor," his friend Bob Douglas. The two men share listings and often work as partners for certain transactions. A fellow Nova Scotian, Douglas left conventional real-estate sales to broker islands 25 years ago and says, "there are only two of us in the business because most guys are afraid to take the risk. We just sell luxury. Let's face it, everyone needs a house, but no one really needs an island."

Despite his romantic bent, Vladi is also the realist. He realizes an island escape is no panacea for clients. While dreams of a tropical, Gauguinesque existence die hard in his Halifax office, he must usually set people straight: there are no voluptuous, barely clad island girls fanning settlers these days.

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