Home prices may be double-dipping and dripping downward across the U.S., but there's one real estate market that's looking up, way up: luxury underground bunkers and bomb shelters.
Frustrated by a crazy world, sales of high tech survival shelters have surged from 20 to 1,000 percent. Much of the anxiety, says veteran bunker builder Walton McCarthy, stems from what he calls the "Pearl Harbor blues": This January, he says, a 161-page Homeland Security report slipped out of Washington depicting a national planning and prep scenario and listing the top 15 weapons of mass destruction and scenarios on how they could affect all major cities in the country.
Outlook: grim. A few months later we are at war with Libya, who has a leader who could very well take retribution. Japan has had an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
Can it get worse?
Well, yes. When Iran launched a test Scud missile from a platform in the Caspian Sea in July 2008, it was the defining moment, says McCarthy. But it took the Homeland Security report, the Japan crisis and the war in Libya to attract attention. Now McCarthy, a Defense Department contractor and national expert on designing high-tech WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) shelters, says he is getting more than 1,000 emails a day at Radius Engineering, his 52,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Terrell, Tex., 30 miles east of Dallas. In fact, his business has been doubling each year for the last five years.
"The safest place to be when all hell breaks loose," says McCarthy, "Is 35 feet underground."
The paranoia is running across the country, and surpassing the boom at the end of 1999, in anticipation of Y2K. Whatever the reasons, bomb shelter makers are making hay while the sun shines and the above-ground housing market sinks.
Northwest Shelter Systems, which offers shelters ranging in price from $200,000 to $20 million, has seen sales surge 70 percent since the uprisings in the Middle East. The Japanese earthquake and nuclear reactor meltdown spurred further interest. For a company that normally sells four shelters per year, 12 shelters are booked for production.
Inquiries are way up over at UndergroundBombShelter.com, a company that sells portable shelters, bomb shelters and underground bunkers, including a bargain-basement nuclear biological chemical shelter tent number for $9,500 that are flying off the shelves -- four sold in California last week, compared to about one a month normally.
Of course, some Californians are so worried about radiation from Japan across the Pacific they've also been making a run on iodine tablets.
And Hardened Structures said inquiries for its apocalyptic 2012 shelters, radiation-protection tents, and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) air filters have shot up about 20% since the earthquake.
OK, now I am starting to get worried. Maybe its time to invest in an underground bomb shelter in my backyard. Turns out, many of my neighbors already have.
"It's a great investment," says McCarthy. "And they are portable."
McCarthy, whose company has been building bomb shelters for 32 years, tells me his company has a bomb shelter in every city capital in in every state.
"Half my business is in the D.C. area," he says.
His biggest consumers -- not your typical gun-crazed militia-type. They are professionals like physicians and corporations, medical groups, churches, municipalities, also politicians of course, and CEOs.
Whereas he used to build a few a month, he's now building a shelter a day -- 1,300 this year at a price tag of around $100,000 each. The cheapest model is $108,000.
"We come in on a Saturday and dig the hole, it's installed by Monday morning so your neighbors
I wondered why McCarthy made a point of telling me that when he installs the shelters in that 35 foot deep hole in your backyard, he's so secretive --- uses only his crew, leaves no paper trail, even drives by the house a few times before stopping in discreet trucks. Is the guy paranoid? Not at all: The 1978 War Powers Act, he says, gives governments a right to commandeer shelters for the benefit of the public. That's why he thinks secrecy of the location is paramount.
"When Hurricane Katrina hit, government officials tried to break in with limited force to commandeer supplies at two of our shelters," says McCarthy, "unsuccessfully.
No address or paper trail means no one knows you even HAVE a shelter. Without concrete, the shelters are not considered permanent and a city permit does not have to be pulled.
McCarthy's bomb shelters are composite and fiberglass, and stealth -- they will not collect or attract an electromagnetic pulse.
"When you detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude, " he says, "it knocks out electricity and overcharges electrical systems and computer chips."
Which could really do us in.
The shelter goes underground with 8.5 feet of earth shielding the top, internal generators, and a composite structure with no corrosion factor so the things last 300 years.
And I had to ask -- do they need to be vacuumed?
Not really, just maintained once a year. McCarthy says his shelters are designed to resist 7 basic assaults from people trying to break in and cannot be detected by planes overhead.
And don't think you are out of luck if you live in an urban apartment or condo: McCarthy sells
units to make your master bedroom and bath totally nuke safe. With freeze-dried food and water, he tells me you could live in there for 30 days without electrical power -- $30,000 delivered anywhere in the US.
Not everyone needs a shelter, says McCarthy, but they also need disaster education. He warns consumers against buying from an unemployed home contractor who is "suddenly" in the bomb shelter business to ride the wave. Because sooner or later, he thinks we'll need one. When people cannot find food or water or electricity for themselves or family, they will loot the homes of the wealthy.
"There have been at least 18,000 wars since the beginning of time, "he says. "the government is aware and planning, but people are complacent. It's human nature, and I don't think human nature ever changes.
Candy is an award-winning, Dallas-based real estate reporter, blogger, and consultant. She's the gal who brought House Porn to the Bible Belt! Read more at SecondShelters.com. and send story ideas and tips to CandyEvans@secondshelters.com.
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