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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

(continued from page 1)

Island life is a major, often traumatic adjustment. As Vladi warns the uninitiated island-goer, living on an isle, no matter how short the visit, means a daily sameness. Travel, maintenance of facilities and accessibility to necessities become pricey and complicated. Plus there's the separation factor, that all-too-common sense of isolation, which prompts premature returns to the mainland.

How can fateful mistakes be avoided? Before writing a seven- or eight-figure check, can prospective buyers determine whether their personalities and lifestyles are suited for island ownership?

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer recently asked Vladi these questions, and he gave her the same advice given to other "island virgins." Postpone buying. First test island life by renting.

Other real-estate brokers are far less scrupulous than Vladi, intent only on quick sales. To brokers, a potential island buyer is a marked man, a cross between a sucker and Fort Knox. Numerous Caribbean salespeople never mention renting as an option or even talk about the pitfalls of island life, its particular rhythms and demands. They instead inundate the customer with spiels about pristine islands with lovely coves--that just happen to lie in the middle of popular drug-smuggling routes.

Vladi, though, emphasizes renting as a first step in the buying process. Hoping this will "strip away false illusions about islands," especially as "paradise," he encourages clients to sample island living in several diverse locales--arranged, of course, through his own rental service, which has more than 40 destinations, from Scotland to the Fijis and the Bahamas, for $75 to $7,500 a day. Sounding particularly enchanting is Kudahithi in the Maldives, which, at $255 a day, offers bungalows on glistening white beaches. Sororoka Island, one-and-a-half hours from Rio de Janeiro, was developed by an Italian architect; it showcases thick tropical vegetation and dramatic views of the sea, at $1,500 a day. Cistern Cay in the Bahamas is a picture postcard of beaches and greenish-blue lagoons, at $15,000 per week.

"Renting will show if a client is emotionally ready for island ownership," says Vladi, who, unlike agents with only local properties, constantly updates a catalogue that lists islands from 10 diverse regions. "Renting helps buyers see what's real and important about island life. It gets them away from the escapist fairy tale."

One fantasy that most potential American buyers are hooked on is easily summarized: living in the Caribbean amid sun-drenched palms and lagoons. The beachcomber life.

But the Caribbean isn't magical to Vladi. While offering numerous beach properties for rent in the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and off Panama, he has serious reservations about buying in the tropics, mainly because he views much of the Caribbean as "shark-infested banana republics" where political payoffs are mandatory for development and land prices are way out of line.

As he bitterly describes, on many Caribbean islands he's either struggling with local brokers who typically jack up prices or wrestling with governments empowered to approve all land sales and housing plans. This often means that well-connected operatives can delay or even sabotage his transactions. It took nearly two years to finalize a Grenadine island sale for a member of the Ferragamo family because of interference and stalling by government authorities. Even when threatened with the loss of his commission, Vladi often stops dealing with bureaucrats.

"Governments demand all kinds of documents. Then you wait and wait...nothing happens," he bristles. "Once you start handing bribes out, you'll pay for a telephone permit, permission to build a wharf, an airstrip--everything."


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