For Sale: A House In The (Connecticut) Islands

September 05, 2012|By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN,, The Hartford Courant

Owning an island has its charms — the peace and quiet, the independence, and, of course, the water views.

Then again, there's the boat ride necessary to borrow a cup of sugar.

Still, if that balance appeals to you, there are at least half a dozen islands up for sale in Connecticut, including two just listed last week in the fabled Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford. Some are pricey, running well into the millions. Others have had price reductions reflecting the real estate downturn, including one that's now affordable to someone other than a millionaire.

If an entire island is too much, there are undeveloped lots and houses for sale on islands that have multiple owners.

Jon King has owned Underwood Island on Coventry Lake for 20 years and has been trying to sell it — on and off — for two years. Most of the people he brings out to the 2-acre island, which lists for a modest $245,000, are curiosity-seekers.

"A lot of people just want to see it," King said. "They are curious about what it would be like to live on an island."

In addition to Coventry and Branford, there are islands for sale off Westport, Guilford and Stamford, with prices ranging from $1.5 million to $15.4 million.

Heiress Christine Svenningsen spent tens of millions since the late 1990s buying nine islands in the Thimbles — a chain of small islands rumored to be buccaneer Captain Kidd's secret hiding place for buried treasure. Svenningsen is now selling Jepson Island for just under $2 million and the larger Belden Island for $3.8 million, both above what she paid.

Typically, islands take longer to sell than other properties because they appeal to a specific clientele, one willing to trade inconvenience for solitude or exclusivity, agents and island owners say.

Celebrities including Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage highlight the ranks of island owners. But even stars avoiding paparazzi can understand the desire for seclusion these days, said clinical psychologist Stephen Goldbart, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Money, Meaning & Choices Institute.

"We are all living in a world where there isn't much privacy," Goldbart said. One of his clients has bought an island, and several others are interested. "The need for feeling safe and secure has increased radically since the economic downturn."

Private Islands Inc., a Toronto-based island marketing firm, lists about 500 islands worldwide from less than $50,000 to more than $100 million, Chief Executive Chris Krolow said.

U.S., Canadian and British buyers make up about 80 percent of the market; far-flung locales such as the Caribbean have a more international buyer base, he said. The Bahamas and Belize are hot, as is Panama. In the Mediterranean, Greek islands are popular.

"These types of people are looking to create something for themselves, to put up a flag and say, 'This is my own little country,'" Krolow said. "They all tend to be very entrepreneurial. Not just the wealthy, but those who are determined to do something different."

Tony Nuzzo, one of the listing agents for the islands off Branford, said he hopes to tap into New York's second-home market, offering the Thimbles as an attractive alternative to Long Island and the Hamptons.

The listings are the first time that an entire island in the Thimbles has been for sale in at least five years, according to listing agents at William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in Madison. Despite recent "substantial" renovations at some properties, none of the houses are occupied year-round, Nuzzo said, most of them from just from April to November.

"It's definitely not starter waterfront property," Nuzzo said. "It's trade-up waterfront property. Most owners here have several homes already."

The value of islands in the Thimbles has soared in recent decades. For generations, they had been passed down in families.

For example, Michael Alexander's great-grandfather traded a stamp collection for Bear Island in 1934. Today, two lots on the island are for sale, including a 720-square-foot bungalow on 1.2 acres for $999,000. There also is a 1.7-acre lot approved for a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house, priced at $1.7 million. Together, the 2.9 acres — or half the island — is priced at $2.75 million. (No word on what the stamp collection was ultimately worth.)

Another in the Thimble chain, Pot Island, has a 6,300-square-foot house with 11 bedrooms, 5 full baths and 5 half-baths on 1.7 acres for sale. It comes with an asking price of $2.5 million, according to listing agent Joe Piscitelli.

"The people that come on are unique, going to have to be wealthy and they tend to be good neighbors," said Alexander, president of the Thimble Islands Association, formed in the 1970s to advocate for islanders. "They join the association. Everyone looks out for everyone else."

Joe Piscitelli
Joe Piscitelli
171 Broad Street Milford CT 06460