While the world faces a seemingly unending parade of self-inflicted crises that have upended any sense of global stability in modern times, there will always be a dime to be made from the fear economy. Last August, long before the tragic unfolding of the novel coronavirus that would cost thousands of lives around the world, there were already reminders that those with means will seek shelter in any storm, and preferably one with five stars or more.
A CNN report noted at the time that many hedge fund managers, sports stars and tech execs had already designed their own secret shelters to house their families in the event of catastrophe. “Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers at all his properties,” or so said the most trusted name in news. Who wouldn’t?
It’s a little bit horrifying, but also a little bit fascinating, that former community shelters have been transformed into private bunkers for the ultra-rich, where the privilege of a good night’s sleep—or any night’s sleep for that matter—will cost tens of thousands of dollars. A munitions storage facility in Germany has been transformed into hideouts carved from solid bedrock with options to add one or two floors, while in Kansas an abandoned missile silo offers a US$4.5 million cement condo that’s underground. One only imagines what Robin Leach would have made of that.
To that end, our editors have sought out the most outrageous examples of contemporary apocalyptic luxury not merely to inform and frighten (or possibly disgust) you, but also to amuse you with what absurd lengths people will go to attain any sense of comfort amid the chaos, if only they have the money to do so. If things really get bad, think of this like a treatment for an episode of Afterlives of the Rich and Famous.
1. Isolate Yourself On An Island
Only a medieval monarch would buffer themselves from the chaos of the outside world with a moat of water. Think bigger. Why not acquire your own private island and trade that muddy ditch for sparkling azure waves stretching as far as the eye can see? There’s suddenly a seller’s market for such retreats.
The future isn’t all plain sailing, though, as there’s an entire archipelago of considerations to take onboard (not to mention the ethics and optics of following in some rather villainous footsteps these days) before buying an island. As in all real-estate transactions, location is everything. The tropics might seem to have the best year-round weather, but they’re also especially susceptible to natural disasters, including hurricanes, mosquito-borne diseases and rising seas that threaten to submerge your new investment even before you actually need it. Logistics may be tedious, but proper planning will dictate whether, come doomsday, your hideout remains a fortress or crumbles in the mêlée.
Chris Krolow, of Private Islands Inc, has an enviable job as CEO of one of the largest marketplaces for islands of all shapes and sizes across the globe—from wild, remote atolls in Palau to fully developed dream homes afloat in the Maldives. Recent listings have included Rangyai Island, a kidney-shaped 44-hectare property off the coast of Thailand, offered for US$160 million; or if you’re not ready to put down roots just yet, a floating Amillarah glass duplex that’s currently somewhere in the Maldives, but can be relocated “anywhere on a body of water”. (The price is listed as “upon request”, but, really, if you have to ask...) Although most of Krolow’s clients are looking for an undisturbed holiday investment, some buyers have their minds on security.
“We get enquiries from people who want to start their own country,” he says. “We have sold some islands that were set up like a bunker: one guy in the Bahamas developed a small island with a bunker and a full hardware store—there were batteries, gas tanks, blankets, canned food and everything you could imagine for Armageddon all set up.”
Even for buyers who do not want to go to such extremes, Krolow advises finding somewhere with natural elevation or looking in places like Belize for undeveloped mangroves, which can be built up into artificial islands. For a safer, long-term investment, look for freehold purchases, as islands in most of Asia and the South Pacific are leasehold only. Think of the practicalities, too: is there a mainland nearby with access to supplies, fuel and medical care? Is the island fortified for climate change? What would Gilligan do?
Krolow asks: “Are you going to be able to get to the island when there are more hurricanes? Your insurance premiums might be US$30,000 a year for hurricanes.”
Among the most future-proof investments in Krolow’s current roster is the “completely self-sufficient” Victor Island Escape in the Whitsundays, Australia, boasting a four-bedroom villa with solar power and water-harvesting technology just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland. The tiny Funk Caye in Belize is also a good shout, kitted out with a reverse osmosis unit and rainwater collection system for fresh water on tap, as well as space for a helipad and large dock.