The secret to successful property development is spotting opportunities before others do, seeing potential in a place where others don’t. It’s about taking the gap, thinking out of the box, and a whole lot of other clichés. And that’s just what Dennis Hope did more than three decades ago.
Of course, successful development is also about buying at a low price, adding value, and selling at a high(er) price. Those terms are all relative, of course. Developers may buy land at what seems like a high price but, by carefully adding value without too much expenditure, they can still sell at an even higher price. But Dennis Hope did even better. He ‘bought’ for nothing, paid almost nothing to ‘add value’ and sold – well – at not that high a cost, but his mark-up was 100%. It was the classic low-cost, high-volume business model.
Right place, right time
Property development is about cashing in on opportunities – and truly great ones only come around rarely. Take, for instance, Africa. Well, you can’t just take Africa – at least not now – and, in theory, not after the Berlin Conference of 1885. This august gathering of European leaders got together specifically to thrash out how best to ‘manage’ Africa. Of course, no Africans were invited and, in hindsight, that is acknowledged to have been an oversight. But all agreements are open to interpretation, and cunning developers can find loopholes in anything, so – Berlin Conference or not – Cecil John Rhodes, with the blessing of good Queen Vicky, took one look at the land north of the Limpopo and exclaimed “mine, mine, mine!”, and it promptly (okay, not that promptly) became Rhodesia (North and South). Keeping it in the family, as it were, Queen Vicky’s uncle, Leopold II of Belgium, exercised an impressive sleight of hand and, with the – uhm – tacit acceptance (rather than blessing) of the Berlin Conference delegates, took a million square miles of Africa, and named it the Congo Free State. This was not a colony; it was his private property, and the only one of the three words in the name that was close to true is â€˜Congoâ€™. But, by the turn of the 20th century, all those opportunities had been used up, chewed up and spat out. Or had they?
Shoot for the moon
That’s what made Dennis Hope so great – and so rich. He saw an opportunity, and grabbed it with both hands. In 1965, the United Nations invited signatories to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (more manageably known as the Outer Space Treaty). This distinguished gathering of Earth leaders got together specifically to thrash out how best to ‘manage’ the moon, all other celestial bodies and – generally – ‘outer space’. Of course, no inhabitants of outer space were invited – which may, in the future, be acknowledged to have been an oversight. But, much like the European leaders at the Berlin Conference considered Africans of no importance in the affairs of Africa, the UN pretty much laid out how the nations of Earth could and should – and perhaps would – ‘manage’ the rest of the universe.
The wormhole loophole
In the same way that Cecil, Leopold and a range of Victorian-era ‘adventurers’ exploited cunning loopholes to seize, hold and ‘develop’ vast tracts of land, the cunning Dennis Hope spotted a sneaky loophole in the Outer Space Treaty, which states: ‘Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.’ Note the word ‘national’. He did!
There is nothing in the treaty that says an individual can’t claim the moon – and, because it never considered the possibility, it doesn’t set out what sort of criteria would have to be met for someone to do so. So, much like Cecil and Leo before him with Rhodesia and the Congo, Hope said: ‘The moon is mine.’ And so it was.
He sent the UN a letter to that effect, and also a notification of intent to develop, making it clear that he intended subdividing and selling plots. This was in the early 1980s, when just about anything was up for grabs. He wasn’t the first to claim the moon, and he almost certainly won’t be the last, but he has – so far – been the most persistent, the most creative, and the most successful.
Like any development, getting those sales and closing those deals is all about marketing and market segmentation. Hope has divided the moon up into 15 sub-developments, each with its own appeal. What follows is just a sample, so you’d best check the prospectus in more detail before making a purchase.
The romantic Bay of Rainbows is perfect as a Valentine’s gift, the Sea of Serenity and the Sea of Tranquillity both offer great earthrise views, and the Sea of Vapours is ‘breathtaking’. Adventurous investors may be keen on the Sea of Muscovy, which is described as ‘one of the most unusual locations in the Universe!’ with ‘an exclusive setting unmatched anywhere!’.
But the true lunar property connoisseur, or a truly savvy investor, would not consider buying anywhere other than The Lunar Alps, which ‘feature views more exotic than their earth-bound Swiss equivalents’. Yes, more exotic than Switzerland. Eat your heart out, George Clooney with your pathetic little mansion on Lake Como!
But it’s not all plain sailing
A problem common to pioneers in most fields is that, having taken advantage of somewhat dodgy legislation in order to gain a foothold, there is little recourse to legal protection of their assets. So there’s not much Hope can do about Johnny-come-lately pretenders trying to muscle in on his ‘territory’. Other than appeal to the Lunar Embassy (Corp), which he owns, or refuse to recognise purchases that are not registered on the official Lunar Registry, which he owns.
Do a web search, and you will find more than one ‘development’ selling land on the moon – and also on a host of other planets and heavenly bodies. What none of them has done, though, is the spadework. No civils, no roads, no water reticulation, no power grid and no 5G network. So, really, what kind of idiot would buy from a developer who hasn’t even got a demo house up? Quite a few, as it seems.
According to an article on USNews.com, by 2013, Hope had sold 611 million acres at $36.50 an acre – the price includes tax and shipping (of the title deed, obviously!). Do the maths – that makes him possibly one of the most successful developers on earth considering that his initial investment was the cost of printing out and mailing one letter. He claims that his customers include the late Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and former US presidents Jimmy Carter, George W Bush and Ronald Reagan. Hmm, I wonder how many plots The Donald has bought.
So, yeah. Laugh if you like, but Hope is laughing all the way to the bank.
Before you get any bright ideas
If this has inspired you, don’t get any bright ideas. Hope has already claimed (and is selling plots on) Pluto, Mars and a whole lot of other planets you’ve probably never heard of. Although … his ownership of Mars is being contested by three Yemeni men, who tried to sue NASA in 1997 for trespassing, claiming that the red planet had been in their family for thousands of years.
And before you get an even brighter idea, the Sun belongs to Maria Angeles Duran, a Spanish woman who had the foresight to claim ownership in 2010, but then spoiled it all by mawkishly copying Hope and selling pieces of it on eBay. Silly woman. If I’d had the foresight (or – like the Yemenis – the luck) to own the sun, I’d be claiming royalties on solar energy.