KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
OK, how does this sound? Two hundred and seventy acres in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, old growth fir trees, a spring with pure water, even a modified bunker with a secure iron locking door and a root cellar that could be turned into a living space of sorts. It could all be yours for $2 million. As NPR's Kirk Siegler found out, there's a growing market for this kind of property in the rural Northwest.
THERESA MONDALE: You've got water in your door.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: When realtor Theresa Mondale goes out to show a property, there are two things she never leaves home without.
THERESA MONDALE: Always carry your gun and bear spray. Always carry bear spray.
SIEGLER: Spring sprang early in these mountains, after all, and groggy bears could be hungry. Now, when Mondale says she sells off-grid, she means it. To show me one of her listings, she talks a neighbor into driving down the mountain in this small snow cat to pick us up. It's then a four-mile slog up a forest road packed down by snowmobile tracks.
THERESA MONDALE: Now, I've had three stuck-in-the-snow incidents this winter trying to show properties.
SIEGLER: About 20 minutes later, we're cresting the top of a fir tree-dotted slope. There's a clearing and a wooden tower. It's an old skeet shooting range.
THERESA MONDALE: That's a great lookout. See how it looks out down the...
SIEGLER: It's a great lookout for the stunning views of the Western Montana wilderness, or in Mondale's eyes, a great lookout to keep watch and defend your place if you ever needed to.
THERESA MONDALE: And it seems like over the past few years, there's just this need or almost like - I don't want to say panic or frantic - but people feeling the need to be able to have someplace to go.
SIEGLER: This is the world of survivalist real estate. Over the past 6 to 8 years, Mondale says business has been picking up. And a lot of her clients are worried about some pretty heavy things, and they're looking for places like this that are advertised as defendable.
THERESA MONDALE: Whether it's the fiat money system finally coming down, societal collapse, global warming causing flooding - that's a big thing that people look for is high altitude, by the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right where we are, yeah.
THERESA MONDALE: Yeah.
SIEGLER: We're now close to 6,000 feet, the highest point around.
THERESA MONDALE: This is going to be deep snow here.
SIEGLER: From here, we ditch the snow cat and start crossing the 10-acre property in our snow boots and gators, Mondale leading the way.
THERESA MONDALE: Oh, the elk were right here. Look at that.
SIEGLER: Now, despite the remoteness, it's quickly becoming clear this is not some backwoods shack with a sagging metal roof. Here is a spiffy two-story log home with a wraparound porch. As advertised, the yard has space for a helicopter to land if the need is there. Mondale points out another spot where an underground bunker could go.
THERESA MONDALE: You can see your solar panels.
SIEGLER: Inside, there's a backup generator. There are also luxury bathrooms and a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
THERESA MONDALE: Just because you're off-grid or being sustainable, doesn't mean you have to be, you know, looking like the old hick miner, you know, with grass on your roof or whatever. You can do anything.
SIEGLER: A lot of Mondale's listings aren't cheap. Some go for more than a million if there's a lot of land and water rights included. And they're geared toward higher-end clients like Kathryn, who I reached in New York City. Now, she wouldn't tell me her last name because if something really bad were to happen, she doesn't want anyone to know where her family is.
KATHRYN: With all of the things with ISIS - if that were to get out of control, we are far more interested in being in a lower populated part of the country than we are today.
SIEGLER: Kathryn said she narrowed her search to the rural Northwest because you can still buy big pieces of beautiful land, and there's water. She went on to say that it's not as if she's just walking around anxious or nervous all the time. But on the other hand, she said, she has a plan.
KATHRYN: Some of the social unrest that we've seen with various cultural clashes in the United States and other types of things have all - it's just one of those you hope you never have to but better to be prepared than not.
SIEGLER: In the 1990s, the remote Montana mountains developed a reputation as an enclave for Y2K worriers, doomsday cults, the Unabomber. The state got made fun of a lot. Theresa Mondale is sensitive to this. Driving back to her office, she mentioned that one of her current listings was previously owned by one of those doomsday cults. But what's going on today, she says, is different. People want to be more self-sustaining, less dependent on the outside world, grow their own food - that kind of thing.
THERESA MONDALE: I guess one thing that it I want to - I don't know if it's even out there - but dispel is these are not crazy people.
SIEGLER: Thing is, Mondale and her husband - he's a general contractor who builds bunkers and secret rooms for these types of properties - they don't just sell this lifestyle, they live it, too.
THERESA MONDALE: And this is mostly pork in this freezer.
SIEGLER: Theresa and Tim Mondale consider themselves preppers.
THERESA MONDALE: And this is - actually, that's one of our...
SIEGLER: Inside one of their garages, there's 1,200 pounds of meat they either raised or hunted. There are also canned beets from their garden, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic. They even make their own garlic powder.
TIM MONDALE: We still work. We have normal jobs, and we save our money. But we just protect ourselves differently than a lot of people that live in the big cities.
SIEGLER: They have gun safes and you can bet some hidden rooms, too. But when I asked to see one, Tim isn't about to show me. Like a lot of their clients, the Mondales are pretty private when it comes to certain things.
TIM MONDALE: Looking at somebody's secret cash room, their bunker, their hideaway places throughout their house, you - people will not show you that. I mean, close family doesn't see that stuff until it's time.
SIEGLER: The Mondales just bought an 80-acre spread of their own in the mountains northwest of Missoula. There's a stream, plenty of space for a garden. Most importantly, they say, the neighbors won't even know they live there. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.
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