Twenty-two-year-old Fritz Sy couldn’t believe it when he spotted a private island for sale in an online buy-and-sell group. What makes the listing unusual is not so much what was for sale, but where it was being sold—a Facebook group for university students.
These private trade groups, where members come from the same university, are popular in the Philippines and cropped up as a means for students and alumni to trade items with each other in a familiar environment. In most of these communities, you’d find your run-of-the-mill second-hand textbooks, lab coats, and clothes. But in groups formed for more upscale institutions, you’ll also find some pretty ridiculous listings, like the island Sy spotted.
“Some people would be selling actual corporate buildings for hundreds of millions of pesos. I remember [seeing a] second-hand helicopter for 30 million pesos ($573,300),” Andrea Atienza, 25, told VICE about the types of posts she sees in her university trade group.
“I think my friend [listed] an abandoned mansion, also beachfront, and with [a] helipad for eight to nine digits,” said Kio Llovares, 22, a member of another university trade group.
Real estate listings are commonly found in these Facebook communities. Krista, a member of Llovares’ trade group who requested the use of a pseudonym to protect her privacy, said she once saw someone selling access to a luxury resort.
“I’ve once seen a 200 million-peso ($3.8 million) listing for a property and also an unused membership (or voucher) for a few nights’ stay in Amanpulo,” Krista said.
A quick search of “island” in one group brings up at least three private island beach property listings.
Private islands, sports cars, and even heavy-duty factory machinery are common listings in these student trade groups. There are also Rolex watches, heirloom jewelry, and designer items up for grabs. Atienza recalled someone selling an anchor—yes, the one for docking ships—to buy Paramore concert tickets.
The ridiculous listings aren’t limited to the usual luxuries. Christine Saavedra, 28, said the weirdest thing she’s seen sold in her student trade group was a space rock.
“Someone was selling a meteorite—a literal meteorite,” she said, adding that the listing was later deleted after they found out that the poster isn’t actually from their university.
Most of these groups were created by students and are not officially affiliated with any university. Usually, they’re made to create a community for students to easily decide what professors to take or find second-hand books. But entrepreneurs eventually capitalized on the idea of selling to a very specific market—one they’d like to think has more buying power.
“I’m assuming they… have more budget and are more likely to buy my products,” said entrepreneur Albert Sarabia.
“You’re just really aware of the network of the community,” said Atienza, adding that a lot of people post “just in case” a member might know “someone who’s in the market for it.”
But Sy questions how effective this marketing tactic actually is.
“I just find it odd,” Sy said. “The audience they’re catering to are students who probably don’t have that money anyway, unless, I suppose, they refer it to their parents.”
Meanwhile, others see these posts as yet another way people show off their wealth.
“[In my opinion], the posters are just trying to flex and not actually sell an island. I highly doubt a college student or even alumni can be a market for these things,” said Jadrin Edison Jetha, 24.
Both Atienza and Saavedra are administrators of the same trade group for students of a top Philippine university. Saavedra is under financial aid and said it can be jarring to see this kind of wealth, but added: “I’m just desensitized to seeing beachfront properties [in this group].”
She recalled one group member who posted a listing for a Chanel bag worth 100,000 Philippine pesos ($1,910) whose reason for selling was “impulse buy.” Another similar post said they “accidentally bought two.”
“How did you accidentally buy two designer bags?” Saavedra wondered.
For many, these posts are at once comical and disturbing.
“I have been equal parts amused, flabbergasted, and appalled to see them,” said Murphy Ryan Pe, 31. “The group itself microcosmically mirrors the extreme polarity of the Philippines and its social realities.”
Follow Nikki Natividad on Instagram.