Larry Hall, owner and developer of Survival Condo Projects, blames the increase in inquiries on anxiety related to COVID-19 and the lockdowns that followed.
"We had one person who bought...sight-unseen in four days. We sent them a video, they wired money, and four days later, we closed," Hall told FOX Business.
Survival Condo Projects converts decommissioned, underground missile silos into nuclear-hardened luxury condos ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 square feet. The silos feature amenities from underground pools to an aquaponics lab for food to classrooms.
"These are not something you'd see in someone's backyard. ... If [the silo] were above ground, it would be a 15-story building," Hall said of Survival Condo's Kansas silo. "This would be the second-tallest building in Wichita if it were above ground."
Despite some mortgage-lending "casualties" and travel issues related to COVID-19, Survival Condo is experiencing such a large increase in interest that it has shifted its operations to an entirely "first-come-first-serve basis" and "cash buys."
"We're not holding units for anybody," he said.
Hall added that a lot of interested buyers have "had an epiphany" during quarantine because they've realized "just how quickly the world can change, and their worlds have virtually been turned upside-down."
He used to have conversations with clients who would ask if buying a bunker condo is "overkill" or "too much," but since COVID-19, those conversations have dissipated and replaced with conversations about how difficult it is to live and raise a family in close quarters.
The credibility of the bunker industry has "skyrocketed," he said. Gone is the stereotype of camo-wearing Doomsday preppers. Now, professional doctors, lawyers and businesspeople—some of whom are billionaires—are looking at bunkers "in a much more sobered light."
Dante Vicino, executive director of The Vivos Group—which owns underground shelter company Vivos—similarly said the stereotype surrounding bunkers and people who own them has changed.
Vivos differs from Survival Condo and Rising S Company, a Texas-based luxury bunker firm, in that it offers neither luxury condos nor underground single-family unit bunkers. Vivos' shelters are multi-family complexes starting at $35,000 that are outfitted for one year's worth of autonomous survival—including food, medical supplies, and heating—in the case of a catastrophe.
Vivos' sales are up 400 percent year-over-year, and applications are up nearly 1000 percent year-over-year, "especially since COVID-19" and with heightened political tensions throughout the country.
Vivos touts its XPoint location in the Black Hills of South Dakota as "the largest survival community on Earth." The community is made up of 535 nuclear-hardened shelters built to withstand a 20-megaton nuclear blast within miles.
The shelters—decommissioned government magazine depots—come as big as 3,800 square feet, though they are all built with the same rectangular open-floor plan with basic necessities like electricity, plumbing and food supplies that Vivos can transform into more unique living spaces upon clients' requests.
About 90 percent of Vivos' clientele is middle- to upper-middle class, though "higher-net-worth individuals" are showing more interest over time," Vicino said.
"I think as it's becoming more public knowledge that the elite own shelters. ... I think Bill Gates has one in each home," he said. "As this [industry] is becoming much more in-vogue because of the pandemic, and current national and global events, if you will, I think more and more people are accepting that."
Gary Lynch, general manager of Rising S Company, expressed a similar sentiment that stereotypes associated with bunkers have changed. Rising S has "absolutely" seen an increase in interest and purchases during COVID-19, he said.
Rising S Company builds custom-made bunkers, which range from economy to luxury models, on private property that clients can customize with features ranging from wheelchair lifts to fitness centers and movie theaters.
"It's not that people want to be protected from the virus itself, but people are worried about what it's bringing forth and hardships on our economy," he said. "A lot of people feel like they're being lied to by the federal government."
He added that a "shelter is nothing more than an insurance policy."
Vicino made the point that bunker owners can pass on their bunker properties to stay within the family, "and that's a peace-of-mind thing for...that older generation, in particular."
Hall, Lynch and Vicino all expressed the same concern with isolated cabins and farmhouses during a catastrophe compared with bunkers: they won't hold up in the event of a war, and they won't keep you safe from intruders.
On top of those concerns, isolated settings don't offer the same sense of community that bunker communities at Vivos's Xpoint or Survival Condo's Kansas silo give their customers, which Hall and Vicino said make their living spaces more reliable for extended periods of time.
In a more isolated setting, "your chances of survival during [a catastrophic event] are as good as your shelter and your supplies during some...event," Vicino said. "Your chances of survival after are, regrettably, pretty damn low because it's just you."
He added that the community aspect is what draws people to Vivos "apart from the quality of the product." A community of bunker-dwellers with different skills, he explained, can support one another during times of chaos.
"Nobody is this jack-of-all-trades mastermind that can figure everything out, you know? They're few and far between," he said.