The Bahamian Archipelago Where The Rich And Famous Are Buying Private Islands

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There is a common tagline across various travel guides and tourism brochures for Exuma or the string of islands and cays at the center of the Bahamas—”the only footprints you’ll find on the beach are your own.”

Unlike many other brochures and advertisements for comparable destinations, hyperbole is not at play here. Many beaches across the 365 islands that make up Exuma are free of footprints. The sand is as soft, the water as blue and the scenery as stunning as they say. And yes, there are swimming pigs.

With the hype around Exuma being well-deserved, it was only a matter of time before the area saw an increase in visitors and, according to Ryan Knowles, CEO of boutique brokerage MAISON Bahamas, more footprints” are likely to be seen on the beach in the near future.

“It’s always been a high-demand area, but COVID-19 totally accelerated people’s desires to be here. So, the velocity of development has picked up dramatically in the last five years.”

Much of the new development, says Knowles, is taking place on Great Exuma, the largest of the chain of islands which covers 61 square miles. (For reference, that’s roughly the same total area as the city of Topeka, Kansas.)

Luxury residential construction makes up a significant portion of this recent development, showcasing a continued demand in the archipelago’s extended-stay and second-home markets.

Fueled by the recent wave of wealthy buyers, investment in luxury properties has extended to resorts where turnkey residences are now being added as housing options. These properties attract buyers who are looking for move-in-ready vacation homes with ease of living thanks to resort amenities offered like spas, swimming pools and dining.

While Exuma may be known by visitors for its exceptional resorts, Knowles says the area has also quickly gained a reputation with the world’s elite as the locale for a rich supply of private islands. “There’s been an incredible demand for islands. The uberwealthy are now viewing private islands as the ultimate trophy asset, or the crowning piece of their real estate collection. A lot of them want to be able to say I own an island in the Bahamas.”

In search of ultimate privacy and allured by the prestige of owning one’s own island, many notable names have headed to Exuma, including celebrities such as Nicolas Cage, Eddie Murphy and Shakira.

With a competitive market consisting exclusively of high net-worth buyers, pricing for private islands has “moved into the tens-of-millions range.” One particular sale that highlights the sometimes extreme value of these sea-surrounded properties is the 2009 purchase of Bell Island by Aga Khan for $100 million.

That being said, there are still the occasional personal island properties that arrive on the market for less than $5 million. Like more traditional markets, island property pricing in Exuma is largely dictated by size and location. The most desirable listings include those over 200 acres and in proximity to Nassau. The capital of the Bahamas and its most populous city, Nassau is located 150 miles north of Great Exuma and 50 miles north of Norman’s Cay, the northernmost island of the Exumas.

In the majority of cases, islands up for sale in Exuma do not come with any established homestead or infrastructure, says Knowles. “On private islands, you typically don’t find anything turnkey. You’re buying the land.”

Despite the difficulties posed by constructing on an isolated island, Knowles added that many owners prefer a custom-built property. “Often, these are the types of buyers who have the means to build their dream home exactly how they want it and so they do.”

But perhaps the most significant change to Exuma infrastructure is the upcoming new development of the Exuma International Airport. With a $65 million contract, the expansion will include the construction of a new 60,000-square-foot air terminal and an upgrade of the runway and aprons.

“There are already direct flights from a few locations in the United States, but the new airport is going to accommodate more flights from more locations and is going to have a private airport component for an easier arrival,” says Knowles.

The luxury specialist continued, “I think it’s going to be a game changer for our market. Everyone who comes to Exuma creates a bond with it and there’s going to be easier access than ever. A lot of people are going to be showing the Bahamas a lot of love in the next few years.”

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