Real estate may be a risky investment these days, but 2012 is a particularly ripe period for apocalyptic scenarios: Rogue nuclear missile attacks, meteors or space junk crashing down from the heavens, the End Times rapture, or even sketchy Mayan prophesies. So Denver-based developer Larry Hall is making a big bet on a condominium complex in the middle of Kansas, notable for being entirely underground — and able to withstand a direct nuclear strike. Indeed, Hall's seven-unit luxury Survival Condo is built inside an old Atlas "F" nuclear missile silo. (Watch a CBS News report below.) Here's a guide to the unusual form of underground living:
Why a missile silo?
Survival, mostly. When it's finished, Hall's complex will be "the only condominium in the world capable of withstanding a direct nuclear attack," says Steve Hartman at CBS News. It will also aim to be self-sustaining, with dozens of kinds of edible fish and plant life, a sizable water reservoir, filtered air, and a general store — "so you can continue experiencing the thrill of shopping once the rest of humanity has melted away," says Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel. Each unit, priced at about $2 million, will also have a five-year reserve supply of food for each resident.
What are the condos going to be like?
"Ultra Modern," according to Hall's website. The whole Survival Condo concept may be "pretty dark," but the units themselves do "look kind of cool," says Jezebel's Murdoch. The marquee feature is futuristic "windows" that give you a panoramic view of pretty much anywhere — San Francisco, outer space, an aquarium — shifting the view as you move. "That should come in handy in terms of keeping you sane once the planet is a vast wasteland of glowing mud."
How many units has Hall sold?
He bought one of them for himself, and has sold two of the remaining six. "So the gettin' is still good," says Jezebel's Murdoch, at least "if you're one of those people who lives in constant fear of the outside world." Hall has modified his sales pitch a little bit, hawking his condos as a great place to retire if "you don't want your electricity bill to go up and you don't want your food bill to go up and you don't want to worry about insurance." And he says he has "a warm fuzzy feeling that things are going to work out well" — for the project, not the world.
Hall's site specifically states it isn't looking for "stereotypical 'survival nuts' portrayed in movies," but well-heeled families interested in the daunting work of surviving disaster. Generally, people who buy into other missile silo condo projects "want the seclusion, privacy, and security," says Ed Peden, who has sold more than 50 decommissioned silos. "Military or former military personnel like the structures since they are familiar with them and know the benefits."
So this isn't a new idea?
Not exactly. Peden is regarded as the pioneer of converting silos to living structures, and he and his wife, Dianna, have lived in their converted Atlas "E" nuke silo outside of Topeka since 1982. They bought the run-down, flooded silo for $40,000; it cost Uncle Sam $4 million to build it in the 1960s. The Pedens market the silos as "20th century castles," but while they play up the security-suvival angle to clients, Peden says he's "really kind of a peacenik from the sixties," and his favorite room in their underground "castle" is a former diesel generator area they've turned into a giant drum circle room.
What's a fair price for a survivalist condo?
The going rate is $2 million, according to the Pedens. But real estate experts also say its hard to judge the value of unfinished missile silos because there are so few comparable properties that can be used to assess value. Survivalist bunkers "were never a bargain," says Alana Semuels in the Los Angeles Times, but where a backyard fallout shelter might have cost half a family's annual income in the early 1960s, the $2 million price tag puts "post-apocalyptic digs out of reach for most Americans."