Survivalists drive housing market in Idaho

A bunker-looking building at Will Rogers Park in Oklahoma City. Homebuyers preparing for a disaster -- natural, economic or otherwise -- have helped the housing market in remote north Idaho weather the downturn.

Jeremy Hobson: Different parts of the country have experienced the housing collapse in different ways. But some places have a housing market that seems totally disconnected from the rest of the nation. Just ask the real estate agents in North Idaho. They're in an area where these are boom times for the housing market.

Jessica Robinson of the Northwest News Network has the story.


Jessica Robinson: Realtor Michael White takes me around a spacious three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home.

Michael White: Nice wood floors, you know, it’s got nice counter area everywhere.

White points to the airy family room, to the extensive storage space, and then he points up to the wooden hatch in ceiling that serves as the front door. Because, oh yeah, I forgot to mention: This house was built entirely underground.

White: Imagine to yourself a cement pyramid underground with the flat top of the pyramid at ground level.

Shortly after the housing crash, real estate agents here started seeing an unusual type of buyer. They wanted land off the beaten path, preferably “defendable.” An on-site source of water is a must -- plus the potential to go off-grid. Underground bunkers are merely a bonus.

Richard Mitchell: They are well to-do, they are urban, they are educated, they are professionals. They are not down and out country bumpkins.

This is Richard Mitchell, a sociologist who studies survivalist culture. He says the recession, combined with a dash of 2012 apocalyptic predictions, have renewed survivalist sentiment.

Mitchell: Institutions have failed us, therefore what? Therefore we should be in a position to take care of ourselves.

And Chris Walsh of Revolutionary Realty says remote and sparsely populated north Idaho is the perfect place for that. After all, real estate is all about “location, location, location.”

Walsh: North Idaho has become America’s redoubt -- its place of refuge.

Walsh says most of his clients are worried about an economic disaster. In fact, he’s become a survivalist himself – or as he prefers, “prepper.”

Walsh: There are some folks out there that think the whole thing could go down in the next couple of months. I think it could too. On the other hand, it could be another three years. But the bottom line is, we got a problem.

As for his business, Walsh expects another bump in sales after November. He thinks the presidential election -- whichever way it goes -- will keep the calls coming in. 

In Coeur d’Alene, I’m Jessica Robinson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jessica Robinson is a reporter for the Northwest News Network in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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