Inside the richest zip code in America, a private island off of Miami Beach

  • A seven-minute ferry ride from Miami Beach is the richest zip code in the US, with residents earning an average income of $2.2 million a year.
  • On Fisher Island, millionaires drive around on golf carts, lounge on beaches with sand imported from the Bahamas, and vacation in condos worth over $40 million.
  • The island paid $30,000 for every resident and staff member to get a COVID-19 antibody test, while the rest of Miami struggled to obtain tests.
  • Business Insider tours the exclusive, members-only island, where residents pay a $250,000 equity membership.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcription of the video.

– Abby Narishkin: So, we're about to check out one of the country's most expensive neighborhoods. This is Fisher Island. Mel Brooks, Julia Roberts, and Oprah have all owned homes here. With an average income of $2.2 million, it's the richest zip code in the United States. And we got a chance to tour it. You may have heard of Fisher from reports that all the residents and staff got COVID-19 antibody tests, just three miles from Miami, where testing was rare. Yep, that's where we're headed. You actually have to take a ferry there. It's one of the only ways to get on the island. The other way to get on the island? Private yacht. Only the island's 800 families and their guests are allowed on Fisher. So security is pretty tight at the ferry terminal, but we got special access back in November 2019 thanks to Dora Puig, one of the island's real-estate agents.

Dora Puig: Fisher Island is a private island enclave with 216 acres.

Abby: Dora invited us to tour Fisher's newest developments, Palazzo del Sol and Palazzo della Luna, opened in 2019, which is how we ended up on the island's newest ferry, taking the seven-minute journey from Miami Beach. So, right now I'm on the ferry over to Fisher Island, and, as you can see, I'm the only one here in the passenger lounge. Most everyone is in their cars. We've got a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a Porsche, Ferrari, I think. You won't see these zooming around the island, though. To enforce strict speed limits, most people drive around in golf carts.

Dora: When you go to the beach club, you'll have a mini Rolls-Royce golf cart or you'll have a Range Rover golf cart, or I've seen even vintage old American cars in baby blue.

Abby: The median waterfront home here costs $2.9 million, but residents are not only splurging on million-dollar apartments. They're also paying a hefty membership fee. That covers unlimited use of the community pools, the 17 tennis courts, and the private beaches with sand imported from the Bahamas. But it doesn't include the golf course or the two marinas.

Dora: The original idea of Fisher Island was for everyone to live in the community and use the community amenities.

Abby: But even on a private island, some residents want even more exclusive perks. The newest condos, Palazzo del Sol and della Luna, don't have beachfront locations, but they do have a private gym, salon, theater, and pool and water transport that only condo residents can use.

Dora: Come step in with me.

Abby: Dora first showed us a $14.5 million unit in Palazzo della Luna. She says many of the island's current residents have been looking to trade up for a home like this one so they don't have to share amenities with the whole community. This unit has four bedrooms and five baths.

Dora: You walk in, you're at ground level, just like in a single-family home. You have your private pool, you're on the bay, and look at the size of the outdoor entertaining terraces. It wraps around the whole corner of the residence. You could have a dinner for 200 to 300 people here.

Abby: The selling point: the disappearing master suite.

Dora: You walk into a dressing room that looks like an Hermès shop. Walk-in dressing room for the lady and white-lacquered Italian closets. The custom bathroom by Boffi for us, with the floating island in white lacquer. The tub is custom made for us, and it's called the Fisher Island. And then enter into the master suite, with your 12-foot ceilings.

Abby: Because we were curious, we went to check out a second apartment, a supposedly more affordable unit up a couple floors. At $9 million, it's got three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms.

Dora: Here you're walking into the wooded parlor with our little mini-library, all in blond oak. You have the main living room, dining room, kitchen areas to the bay, and the master suite is also to the bay. And then you have the two guest suites on the golf-course side.

Abby: You can keep all the furniture for an extra $2 million.

Dora: Look at how beautiful it is.

Abby: These two new developments have only made Fisher more untouchable, pushing home values across the island up by 20%. Today, you'll find price tags of over $40 million for a condo. That's only $10 million short of the most expensive home ever sold in Miami. And that was an entire mansion. The Palazzos were the first developments on Fisher in nearly a decade and are targeting a new generation of buyers.

Dora: Traditionally, we had a little bit older demographic because the island is so beautiful and it's expensive. We've really seen it switch to a much younger crowd. So we've seen a nice migration towards younger families. Some come from generations of family wealth; others come from selling oil companies, selling financial instruments, technology, hedge funds.

Abby: Even still, half of the residents are over 60, making them particularly vulnerable for COVID-19. The island has always been a place for the 1% to get away, ever since it was formed in 1906, when a canal was dredged so boats could go from the Port of Miami straight to the ocean.

Dora: The interesting part about this is that Fisher Island today would have been south of Fifth Street in Miami Beach, because it was actually connected to the tip of Miami Beach peninsula.

Abby: Miami's first Black billionaire, real-estate mogul Dana Dorsey, was one of the first owners of the new island. He wanted to build a Black resort here, but he had trouble getting workers out to the island to build it. So he sold it to billionaire developer Carl Fisher, who named it after himself. Next up, the Vanderbilt family.

Dora: Carl Fisher and William Vanderbilt were known to party and have a lot of fun here. And one very late night, I'm sure there were drinks involved, they traded the island. Carl Fisher traded his island with his winter home, which is today the club, to William Vanderbilt for his over-200-foot yacht. So, they did the trade, and then the Alva later on sunk and William Vanderbilt kept the island. So I think he was the better businessman.

Abby: After Vanderbilt's death, the island passed hands between millionaires. And then it was left vacant for 15 years. In the 1980s, Fisher's current developers started work on the community you see today. And now Fisher is a full-blown town. The old Vanderbilt mansion is a hotel with suites running for almost $1,500 a night. Vanderbilt's old airplane hangar is now a spa, and you can even rent a property here on Airbnb for about $700 a night. But this doesn't happen in a vacuum. It takes about 600 workers to run this island. They live off-island and have three separate ferries. During the day, they staff a school, post office, fire station, a security force, and a medical center. It was from that private health clinic that residents and workers got those infamous antibody tests. We're back on the ferry. We just finished our tour of Fisher Island. It's really hard to wrap your brain around just the amount of wealth squished into one place. How that exists so close to reality across the bay. As visitors pre-COVID, we got the sense that even with all its normal town functions, Fisher Island is anything but normal. It's like a live-in resort community. Manicured, eerily perfect, and as secluded as ever.

Hey, guys, my name's Abby. I'm the producer on this video. Obviously, things have changed a lot for Fisher since we visited back in November 2019. But I honestly wasn't that surprised when I heard that they were able to get antibody tests for everyone on the island. Not only did they have one of the first cases of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County, they also have the means, the wealth to get them. But I wanna know what else you wanna see from us. What other luxury apartments, private enclaves do you want us to explore? Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe.

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