The Mythical Group Retreat: Survival Preparations are Not Like Car Detailing

The mainstream media has recently featured many articles about multi-millionaires buying opulent shelter spaces marketed by companies like The Survival Condo Project and Terra Vivos Reportedly, these swank leased shelter spaces are being gobbled up by the rich and famous. (Important Caveat: Those are just two well-publicized examples among many similar ventures, and I’m not criticizing them, per se. I have serious doubts about the efficacy of all such leased retreat space ventures, if and when things fall apart.)

Survival preparations are not like buying a service, such as car detailing or house painting. You can’t just “have it done” by someone else and expect to actually survive a major disaster to see full restoration of normal day-to-day life. You need to learn these skills for yourself. You need to construct things for yourself, tailor them to your own family’s particular needs, and then maintain them yourself. The most crucial skills can’t be learned by just reading a book or by watching a video. You need to truly learn these tasks by performing them and, in some cases, developing the muscle memory to match. Unless you are willing to get your hands dirty and honestly learn by doing, then you are just fooling yourself. In essence: True preparedness is a do-it yourself (DIY) proposition. Again, you can’t just “have it done”.

Furthermore, you need to be the one who is in control of your own family’s retreat. If you enter into a service contract, then you are trusting someone else to complete the construction and then someday actually allow you access to your leased millionaire bunker space. After the Rule of Law evaporates, that might never happen. I suspect that many of these big ventures are catering to folks who are overly trusting or downright naïve.

What happens if you arrive at the 11th hour to a prepared shelter that is not under your own control? Just consider the hypotheticals of a true TEOTWAWKI event. Unless you arrive at that “secure bunker” quite early, then there is a distinct possibility that human nature will kick in and your “guaranteed pre-paid space” will be occupied by someone else. By whom? What if it’s occupied by someone more aggressive who shoves his way in or by someone who bribes their way in for their unexpectedly large entourage, or what if it’s even occupied by someone who is simply allowed in by a paid gatekeeper who caves in to the strong emotions of his familial bonds. If you end up as the proverbial “third guy in line”, then you might find the gate locked and the door firmly barred when you arrive. For a fictional example, see the plight of Yuri Karpov– the Russian trillionaire in the movie 2012. Those much-touted “layers of security” might work against anyone who arrives after the facility reaches its capacity (even a “full vested shareholder”). Never underestimate the corrupting influence of human nature, especially in times of utter chaos. To back up a bit, it is crucial that you understand the difference between sole ownership of a piece of property versus just renting or leasing it.

Understanding the essentials of genuine ownership of any property, whether it is something as small as a car or something as large as a ten section Texas cattle ranch, all comes down to four factors:

  1. Title
  2. Control
  3. Use
  4. The Ability and Right to Dispose or Convey

Without controlling all four of those factors, you don’t fully own anything. This was eloquently described in an old John Birch Society documentary film titled Overview of America, written and narrated by John F. McManus.

Let’s go through those factors as described by McManus, point by point:


First, is the factor of title. If you don’t hold title to something, then you don’t fully own it. This is like leasing an automobile but not holding the “Pink Slip” in your own name. Sure, you may be allowed to drive it, but you don’t really own it. It belongs to someone else.


Second is control. This factor harkens back to the old saying: “Possession is nine tenths of the law.” Let’s continue with the analogy of an automobile. Let’s say that you hold title to a car. But you lent it out, and it is currently being driven and garaged by your nephew, Freddie, who took it with him when he enrolled in college out of state, and he has both sets of keys to the car. So is that car yours? Legally, perhaps, but not unless you retain or regain control of it. Often, people have to resort to lengthy and expensive court battles to regain control of property.


Thirdly is use, which is closely associated with control, but the two terms are not completely synonymous. In the analogy of the car that you loaned to Freddie, as long as that car is garaged out of state, then you have neither the control nor the use of it. Control is represented by the garage. Use is represented by the car keys.

The Ability and Rights to Dispose or Convey

The last factor is “the ability and right to dispose or convey”. Again, let’s use the analogy of a car. If you are making payments to a bank on a car, then it isn’t truly yours until after it is paid off. The right to sell or give away any piece of property is often tangled or “clouded” by debt obligations.

Think through those factors. Now consider the incongruity of the phrase: “Time Share Condo Ownership.” Ha! Parenthetically, I should mention that I once had a consulting client who mentioned his time share in Hot Springs, Arkansas and how he considered it his “back-up retreat location”. Talk about wishful thinking!

Without all four factors of ownership, you are not the true owner of anything. If, with those four factors in mind, you then evaluate a leased or shared shelter or retreat space and compare that to a privately-owned retreat property that you occupy year-round, there is a vast difference! Please give serious, prayerful, well-reasoned consideration before entering into any agreement with anyone for a “safe place” venture that your family’s safety depends on!

In my many years of retreat consulting to preppers and survivalists of all income levels, I’ve witnessed several group retreat ventures fall apart. My advice on this is: Beware of any retreat venture where there is “shared” or “common” property. At the very least, this can lead to the classic Tragedy of the Commons. At worst, it can end with ruined family fortunes and a lot of expensive lawyers involved. In my experience, it is best that each nuclear family hold separate title to contiguous parcels where each family builds their own residence on each parcel. This arrangement maximizes the advantages of mutual security but minimizes the risk of false expectations, failed promises to put in a share of work, and unfulfilled promises to pitch in on shared expenses.

If a retreat truly belongs to you, then you only have to worry about human nature in the confines of your own family. Beyond that, you have a situation with far too many variables and factors that can quickly get beyond your control when the Schumer Hits the Fan. – JWR


  1. Exactly what happened in the original EOTW thriller “Lucifers Hammer.” In it, the main character was “in cahoots” with his bestie! After the fall, human nature reared it’s ugly head and the friends were “not no more!” Best reason in the world or what’s left of it, to make your preps on your own, train alone preferably or with a group if necessary, but don’t trust everything to someone else, and keep your training and preps as low key as possible!

  2. Fees and taxes associated with ownership are also something to consider. Covenants and HOA’s can put the kabash on your plans to use your property the way you would like. so take that into consideration in your search. There isnt much any of us can do about property taxes, except maybe have a couple of yrs worth put away.

    1. @L.O., All good observations. Remember that things change too. I have a friend who purchased property in a semi-rural area. He had some nice amenities but no covenants/restrictions other than what the county does. However, after living there for 8 years, the community decided to incorporate. Everything he currently has is grandfathered in, but now he has “code enforcement” telling him what kind of fence he can put in, how high his grass can be and what sort of roofing he can re-roof his house with among other things. The lesson he says he learned? Property, lots of property where you can’t see your neighbors.

  3. JWR,
    I am a law student preparing for an upcoming property law final exam, so your property themed article was of particular interest to me. To add to your points, those who believe they can purchase a retreat property and then forget about it until the need arises may find themselves having lost their ownership rights to the property through various legal doctrines, adverse possession in particular. Do you think Survivalblog readers would be interested in an article explaining how to avoid loss of land ownership to an adverse possessor? If so, I would have happy to write on the subject.
    Please let me know.

  4. One cannot buy loyalty and they will need not only others to prep for them but security. How long do you suppose that security will wait until they kick the rich nerds out to replace them with their own families in a full on disaster?

    1. Just thinking the same thing. I don’t see the staff calmly flipping pancakes for the well-heeled residents while outside their own families are fighting for survival.

  5. You can’t own loyalty but you can rent it for a little while. As MAS and Dean pointed out the buy a bunker folks are likely to be simply shot in the head by their own security or the locals in a serious situation. Alternatively as JWR’s novels show “community” earned and invested in over time can provide security and a way to survive in extreme circumstances. Know your neighbors now and engage with them over time. Do they garden, do they hunt, do they feel strongly about self sufficiency, rights of the individual and do you have a church in common?

    1. These same folks buying their bug out condos build big walls around their mansions to keep the riff raff (like us) out. There will be no community (they would condescend to join) that are capable or willing to band together in a self sustaining group. Loyalty (like true friendship) is earned and the very folk they need to help them survive they disdain as they exploit (and spy on…Google/Facebook anyone?) to afford their artificial lifestyle.

  6. There will be big business in this underground bunker business. We are told that in the future the rich will hide themselves in just this manner. Could it be that we’re getting ready for what Revelation 6:15-17 describes for us? —

    Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

    1. I would agree that it will be big business if the people are worried enough that something horrible is about to happen, and the majority of those that would spend that kind of money are used to paying others to take care of them. We at SurvivalBlog question whether that money is well spent. If, as you suspect, it is a fulfillment of Revelation 6, then it doesn’t matter. If it’s really needed to ensure survival of some great calamity, we question whether it would be available when you really needed it and your money would probably have been better spent learning and preparing yourself. If it’s never needed, you just kept someone in a job (and perhaps lined their pockets, depending on the arrangement.)

      All in all, we feel it’s better to be involved in your own survival preparations and relationships.

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