British property investors looking ‘offshore’ for attractive real estate investment opportunities is nothing new. The next up and coming property market beyond the confines of the United Kingdom has always been a draw for the more adventurous. But ‘offshore property investments’, might be set to become even more adventurous than a fixer-upper on a nice stretch of Croatia’s Adriatic coastline, or a rental apartment in the next Berlin neighbourhood to be gentrified by hipster tech sector workers.
An up-and-coming niche in property investment is ‘seasteads’ – properties that float out on the open waters of the world’s seas and oceans. These alternative bits of real estate are gaining a cult following among Silicon Valley’s elite.
According to a special report in The Times, there is a growing trend of technology entrepreneurs and software developers taking the idea of ‘remote work’ to a whole new level. Floating homes out at sea certainly remove their occupants from the distractions of urban life. As an added bonus, they are also a tricky address for tax authorities to pin a bill to.
The Seasteading Institute in San Francisco has been leading the novel movement of residential life at sea since 2008, when it was founded by billionaire U.S. tech investor Peter Thiel as a think tank, alongside Patri Friedman, the grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also given the seasteading movement a new lease of life. Joe Quirk, the Institute’s president, explains the new surge of interest in seasteads in relation to the current global crisis:
“The safest place to be in a pandemic is a seastead. The pandemic has definitely accelerated interest.”
Of course, no Silicon Valley trend comes without a collection of well-funded start-ups ploughing a furrow and seasteading is now exception. Ocean Builders offers fibreglass ‘Sea Pods’, that start at $195,000 (£155,000) and are powered by solar energy, natural gas and come with rain-catchers for fresh water and hydroponic gardens.
“Smart” glass combines the functionality of a window with that of a touchscreen computer. Underwater rooms will be coated on the outside with a material that helps to restore coral reefs. When there are enough Sea Pods floating out at sea for the economics to stack up, drone technology could deliver provisions from the mainland.
The company is run from Panama’s Linton Bay, where a manufacturing facility is being built and a waterfront home offers accommodation to the entrepreneurs and engineers developing Ocean Builders’ seastead technology.
The Seasteading Institute’s motto of “E Mare Libertas” (From the Sea, Freedom) and eight ‘moral imperatives’ including curing the sick, feeding the hungry and powering the world sustainably suggests a philosophy of libertarian utopianism. Some critics see the movement slightly differently.
Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, says:
“It’s not helping poor people. If you’re able to have sustainable living on a floating island then you should be able to do it in every slum in the world. We need people to invest in that, [not] eco-villages in the middle of nowhere.”
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