Monday, May 28, 2007

Underwater real estate with a catch

HONOLULU - Real estate is often a long-term investment. But 10,000 years?

Lo'ihi Development Co. will soon start offering oceanview lots speculators won't even be able to stand on for many millennia. That's because they're currently submerged more than 900 metres below sea level - on an underwater volcano called Lo'ihi, located about 32 kilometres southeast of the Big Island.

The website will be renovated in the next couple of weeks to officially begin selling parcels for an introductory price of US$39.95. Buyers will receive a brochure and a "deed," but much like Internet groups that claim to sell stars, they probably can't call themselves owners.

"What's the scam?" said Norm Nichols, co-developer of the online venture. "If you really think there's something here that you can't live with, nobody's forcing you to buy it. It's meant to be fun."

The website advertises, "Lo'ihi Seaview Estates: Real Estate for the Future. Grand Water View Front Lots." A photo of the sales office is a raft in the middle of the ocean.

Nichols and his business partner, Linda Kramer, both Honolulu entrepreneurs, envision online chat rooms and newsletters to discuss everything from street names to what kind of government to install. They want to hold a "homeowners association" meeting - a boat ride over the volcano - every April Fool's Day.

Scientists don't really know when, or if, Lo'ihi will break the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Many guess about 10,000 years, but it could be much longer than that.

Stephen Levins, head of the state consumer affairs office, said the offer could be a problem if it were serious. "However, if the website is clear it's a parody and you're not going to be receiving an actual interest in real estate, that's something else," he said.

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