Super-Rich land-grab for remote real estate

Comfortable, discreet and good security

In times of crisis wealthy buyers look for luxury bunkers, isolated compounds, hotel takeovers and other high-end features for doomsday scenarios.

People like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sell billions of their shares and place it into cash and highly collectible items like rare artefacts – but mostly its real estate that fits the bill in these pandemic times. And if they are not buying then they will rent.

Survivalist prepping is not a new for many high-net-worth individuals. Wealthy homeowners have long been outfitting their apartments and houses with panic rooms, complete with bars, TVs, and upscale furnishings to have an opulent retreat in the event of a break-in or other crisis.

But now there is a new urgency, and upscale hotels which were thinking to shutter for the crisis, are being approached with offers they cannot refuse.

The buyout

Loungueville House, set in picturesque countryside a three-hour drive from Dublin, Ireland, will be occupied by a single party in May. Francis Lynch, his wife and their two young adult sons will have the nine-bedroom house to themselves, reports CNN.

Lynch and his family, who live in Dublin, almost always travel internationally for holiday, including to Italy, the United States and India. They’ve altered their plans this year, thanks to coronavirus.
“We want to stay in the country and feel safe by being secluded,” he says. The 10-day Loungueville House buyout (for over 25,000 euros) to the rescue.
“When you stay in a hotel with other people, it’s hard not to have social interaction,” says Lynch. “The best way to get close to total privacy and to control your environment is to have the whole place to yourself.”
Siobhan Byrne Learat, the owner of the Dublin-based travel company Adams & Butler, says she has had numerous requests for hotels buyouts in Ireland from her Irish clientele since coronavirus intensified in the country during the second week of March. Several of these requests have led to confirmed bookings (Lynch rented Loungueville House through her).
“The interest in exclusive-use properties has suddenly shot up,” she says. “But people don’t want a full staff and daily housekeeping like they typically would if it weren’t for the virus. They want to keep services to a minimum to avoid interaction with others.”
In the United States, several hotels have started to offer takeovers in the wake of the virus.
Cape Arundel Inn, in Kennebunkport, Maine, is one example.
“This is a new offering we’re implementing for the month of April. We have seen so many of the seasonal summer homes in the area become a respite for folks who live in highly populated urban areas since the virus hit,” says the hotel’s managing director, Justin Grimes.
“We wanted to help offer additional accommodation options for those trying to distance themselves from dense, multifamily urban settings.”
The ocean view upscale hotel has 14 bedrooms, and the weekly rental rate of $19,500 includes weekly housekeeping, bicycles, access to the clubhouse lounge that has a billiards table and all meals.
Grimes has created numerous protocols to keep his guests and staff safe during a buyout. For one, check-ins are now all virtual through email and phone, and welcome packets are being left for guests upon arrival.
When it comes to dining, meals can be prepped in advance and left for designated dining times as family-style. They’ll be cleaned up after the guests are finished and have left the space.
Food can also be delivered to rooms in single-use packaging and will be left outside of guests’ door for them to retrieve themselves.

New Zealand

Even before the outbreak of coronavirus, many Silicon Valley billionaires had been setting their sights on New Zealand, which they value for its stability and remote location. Paypal founder and Trump supporterPeter Thiel, for instance, who is known for his interest in survivalism, has a $4.8 million home in Queenstown, complete with a panic room; he has said New Zealand is “the future” and has citizenship in that country.

And now, amid panic over the spread of Covid-19, as millions quarantine out of precaution or government mandate, investing with preparations for disaster in mind seems smarter than ever.

Two weeks ago, “it was like escape from New York—people were fleeing the city,” said Matthew Breitenbach, a broker with Compass in the Hamptons on Long Island. “It was intense. I’m surprised about the way people react within a crisis.

Now the rental market in the Hamptons is also booming, several months in advance of the usual summer high season, with a 33% increase in searches for short-term rentals this month, says Compass.  Even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are searching for a beachfront retreat – in the Malibu area.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a larger cohort of wealthy buyers will become interested in homes geared toward safety and security in the face of crises, experts predict.

“The super rich may look to extend their options where they could have a safe house away from dense cities like New York,” said Emil Hartoonian, a managing partner with The Agency in Calabasas, California.

In the United Kingdom, while Covid-19 Puts London’s property market recovery on hold, wealthy buyers are scouring for farmland and remote farm houses.

Isolated Compounds

Some investors are showing an increased interest in purchasing large, isolated properties to use as primary or vacation homes.

“There’s a large demand for bigger properties that are more isolated, more like compounds,” Mr. Breitenbach said. “People want homes that are gated and private.”

He cited one client who relocated to their Hamptons compound with their own staff and locked down the property in early March when warnings about the pandemic grew more serious.

This trend, however, is not entirely pegged to the current coronavirus outbreak.

“Over the last two to three years, there have been more year-round people moving out here. The Hamptons is becoming more about privacy and hanging out at home,” Mr. Breitenbach said. “Young people who make a lot of money are coming here seeking a different lifestyle.”

Developers are taking note of the rising demand for privacy and isolation. In Malibu, a 24-acre gated development called The Case will house five mansions and include 24/7 security for its residents. The compound is also equipped to fend off another kind of disaster: each mansion has its own water cannon to fight fires, and private firefighters will be on call. The first Case mansion sold for $40 million last spring; a second is on the market for $100 million.

And in Virginia, a 350-acre “self-sustaining survivalist escape” with three residential cabins, dubbed High Mountain Camp, just went on the market this month for $17 million. The owners have noted an “uptick of interest” in this kind of off-the-grid property.

The Covid-19 crisis could ultimately transform the luxury real estate landscape, as wealthy buyers increasingly move from dense urban centers to more remote locations, seeking larger properties in gated communities with extensive security.

“People want some space if they’re going to be hanging out at home for a few months,” Mr. Breitenbach said.

There may be also be an increase in investment in private jets, as the wealthy consider how they can reach their homes with minimal contact with others.

“Nowadays, notwithstanding a disaster like what we’re going through, people use planes or helicopters even for short distances to avoid traffic,” Mr. Hartoonian said. “Chartered businesses may profit from this as the uber-rich may consider investing in their own [private jets]. Those options are on the table.”

Self-Sufficient Homes

Many homeowners may respond to the coronavirus pandemic by transforming their currently owned properties into more self-sufficient spaces.

“It’s like being in a situation where you live in a fire-prone neighborhood and you go through a bad experience,” said Mr. Hartoonian. “It prepares you for what you need to look out for the next time it comes, cutting your shrubs, doing better weed abatement, getting a more fire-resistant roof.”

The takeaway from this current crisis, he said, may be that homeowners upgrade their homes to be more comfortable and sustainable if they do need to bunker down again in the future. He cited one client in the Los Angeles area who has already taken steps to make their property self-sufficient, surrounding it with fruit and herb gardens, installing a safe room in his house, and even building his pool in such a way that its water could be turned into filtered drinking water.

High-end homes built for autonomous living—like one off-the-grid cottage in the Scottish Highlands which gets electricity from solar panels and water from its own borehole—offer not only a minimal impact on the environment, but also a self-sufficient space to hole up in the event of a crisis.

Some developers are even creating entire communities in this autonomous, sustainable model, like the ReGen Villages in the Netherlands.

“Hopefully people will make the right decisions [in light of this crisis],” Mr. Hartoonian said. “And in the future, be better able to prepare.”

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