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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Inside the Hard-to-Leave Bay Island

If you’re from Orange County, you’ve likely heard a story about, or know someone, or know someone who knows someone, with ties to Bay Island.

Though only 23 owners are able to call the 5.5-acre private isle home, the community off the Balboa Peninsula is as ubiquitous as it is mysterious.

The quiet island recently welcomed a new owner, and shareholder, records indicate. It’s one of only three new buyers on the island in the past two years.

$9M Sale

The most recent sale in the community was for the 5 Bay Island property. The deal closed last month for $8.8 million.

The new owners of the 3,542-square-foot home have ties to the area, which is typical for buyers of Bay Island, said area expert Steve High.

“The couple lives in Seattle, but they own another piece of real estate in Newport Beach, and the wife grew up in Orange County,” said High, president of Villa Real Estate in Newport Beach.

The property sold after just two weeks on the market.

The home saw a major renovation in the mid-1990s, and was last sold in 2006. Prior to that, the home was owned by a single family for north of five decades.

At the time of the 2006 sale, the sellers didn’t move far, choosing to relocate to another home in the Island.

Two other sales—$8.7 million for 8 Bay Island in June, and $6.9 million for 9 Bay Island in 2017—wraps up any recent sales activity on the island, according to Zillow and Redfin data.

“Sales are often precipitated by a death in the family, rather than someone wishing to relocate,” said High.

Small-Town Vibe

In addition to stock in the land itself, the owners share a botanical garden, tennis court, and a private beach.

High estimates about half of the island’s residents live there full time, with about a third of the homes multi-generational.

This is partly why the area sees little activity, with homes viewed more as family heirlooms than assets, passed throughout the generations.

The only current listing there is 12 Bay Island, which counts a $20 million price tag—higher from others on the island due in part to its location on the island’s point, “with arguably one of the best views in all of Newport Beach,” High said.

Tara Shapiro of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty has that listing.

Still a Club

Touted as Newport Beach’s only natural island, the area was originally home to a gun club, started in 1903 by R.J. Waters and Rufus Sanborn, who, along with Sam Tustin, were the area’s first homeowners.

Though the island has seen many changes in the past century, its tax structure never did; organized as a stock cooperative, buyers invest in the island itself, the ownership split 23 ways.

With the structure complicating the financing process, a bulk of the investment comes from all-cash deals.

It also makes the area more exclusive—still a club in its own way.

Extensive background checks are required for each buyer, said High, whose team at Villa has represented 16 sales—for 12 homes—on Bay Island throughout his 30-year career.

“It’s a very special type of ownership, with each member truly having a stake in the island, and [they] want to keep it in immaculate condition,” High told the Business Journal.

Perhaps its most notable attribute welcomes some and pushes away other prospective buyers: it prohibits car traffic, accepting only golf carts.

“The people who live here find that to be one of the great things about the island,” High said.

Another unique challenge from living on an island: construction.

Not only is the process exacerbated by the lack of vehicle access, construction activity is prohibited from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Royal Claims

For the owners, the majority of which have ties to Newport Beach, the pros outweigh any cons.

Bay Island also has ties to royalty.

Renowned actress Madame Helena Modjeska lived there for a short time, and the island has long played host to the royal court.

Of the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Parade, that is.

“One of the families of Bay Island has hosted the finalists for the Tournament of Roses Royal Court, and several other owners have been princesses themselves,” said High.

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