Heaven on Earth

Close your eyes. Now, let your imagination wander:  what do you think Paradise on earth would look like?  Chances are, what you see with your eyes closed is what I saw over the last two weeks with my eyes open… a tiny island smack in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Even its name sounds like a dream: Bora Bora. It means “first born” in Polynesian, as it was the first island to rise when Taaora, the “supreme god”, fished it out of the water. Bora Bora is home to somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 lucky people. The numbers differ greatly because, in Bora Bora, nobody cares! There are plenty more important things to do rather than count heads. For example, you can spend hours every day cooling down from a near constant 85 degree temperature in the milky turquoise waters of the lagoon or fill your eyes with a myriad of colors and scents from the gorgeous hibiscus to vanilla and coconuts….

Civilization has a different meaning in Bora Bora. Less is better. Nature is good and generous. All creatures, whether humans, dogs, cats, birds or fish live in harmony and mutual respect. Even the fearsome lemon and tiger sharks show a great deal of consideration for the tourists playing safely in the lagoon, as they stay nicely in their territory, on the other side of the coral reef! The only sharks that get confused about what side to be on are rather small and not much more dangerous than sardines.

In spite of the many temptations to be lazy, 24/7, in paradise, I was brave enough to wake up to duty for a few hours and go hunting for local real estate. Not easy to do as few realtors are present on the island and are not exactly consumed by the work bug. I did, however, find a very pleasant and informative young lady, Hiona Reymond (from JCM Conseil), who was able to provide some info on the local inventory of listings. She even took my wife & I on a tour in her old Twingo, the smallest of the smallest cars ever produced and not the most comfortable, if you want my opinion!

I got plenty of education on the real estate “activity”, if one might call it that. Indeed, there is not much happening on the island. Not that would- be buyers are not many, they are… not that would-be sellers are not many, they are… not that prices are too high, they aren’t... but because it is a heck of a challenge to find a property which is truly available to be sold and capable of transferring clear title.

Let me explain. Bear with me. We all know that one cannot purchase a home unless & until the owners sign on the dotted line. Simple enough on our shores since we rarely have to deal with more than two owners. Well, it’s another ball game in Bora Bora. There, we are commonly dealing with a host of owners:  5? 10? 20? Whatever! Maybe that’s what you get when you mix liberal ancestral customs with French law!

At the beginning of times, I suppose one guy had ownership of a piece of property. The problem is that the guy got married and had kids. All of them were given an ownership interest. Pretty soon the kids got married and had kids of their own, thereby multiplying the number of people who have a say in the sale of the family home––can be messy. Family members are known to fight between themselves, sometimes buy each other’s interest, or are stuck in a frozen position if some refuse to sell. You can find listings but it does not mean you can buy them. That’s probably why the local “notaries” (kind of closing attorneys) charge 10% of the sales price to untangle all the knots.

Keep faith, however, it is still possible to buy over there, given patience and a little bit of luck. Frankly, you might not want to waste your time looking at most houses. They are pretty shabby. Nature is beautiful but what man built is questionable (to be nice). Appearances don’t matter to the locals.

I know of a two-bedroom hillside condo available steps away from the lagoon at slightly above $300,000. I guess you can call it a good deal since the view itself is worth twice as much. There is plenty of space and you can easily add another bedroom and a bath.

But I have another suggestion for you: buy your own island!

Several tiny islands (“motus”) are today on the market, whether officially or not. They are unbelievably beautiful and, as far as I know, there is no ownership issue. I know of 3 such jewels:

  • One is offered at $46M but you better figure a price of $53M with all the fees. For that, you get over seven acres of heaven, a luxurious home of about 7,000 sq. ft., nine bungalows of 300 sq. ft. each for family & friends (you will have many), a 2,500 sq. ft. house for the staff and all the white sand, palm trees and lagoon water you can dream of.
  • Another one is available at roughly $7M, including fees. It represents 2.5 acres of dream lagoon location, with two charming houses. From my point of view, it’s a steal.
  • My last pick is a pearl of hardly more than one acre… but what an acre! Imagine a small circle of green surrounded by another full circle of a white sand beach, surrounded by a circle of turquoise lagoon and crowned by a circle of coral reef where the dark blue ocean is breaking waves… In addition to the main house with two bedrooms, you also have three bungalows of 400 sq. ft. each. All that for under $1.5M!

Very tempting, right?  Well, what are you waiting for?  Seriously!