Literally, the name of DeBordieu, a golf community about 50 minutes south of Myrtle Beach International Airport, translates as "near to God," the components being "dieu," meaning God, and "bord," meaning "edge." Coming up the 18th fairway on the community's Pete Dye golf course or standing at the sea's edge of DeBordieu's nominally private beach as the sun is setting, it is perfectly normal to feel an extra tug of spirituality.
In terms of golf communities, DeBordieu Colony, located just four miles from the old town of Georgetown, SC, has it all, unless you absolutely must have an elaborate fitness center inside the gates. (A large, fully equipped fitness center is less than 20 minutes away and includes indoor track and lap pool, steam rooms, and aerobics studio.) Of course, a morning run or brisk walk on the beach may be all the exercise many of us want. Some mornings, you may have the beach at DeBordieu virtually to yourself although, technically speaking, the three-mile stretch of sand is accessible to the public because all beaches in South Carolina are open to the public. But since DeBordieu is gated and guarded 24x7, the only way for a non-resident of the community to get to the beach is by boat, or to be dropped by helicopter (or the simplest way, to be invited by a DeBordieu homeowner). Since the stretch of sand from North Myrtle Beach to Georgetown, about 50 miles, is beautiful and almost entirely accessible by less exotic means –- car, bicycle, golf cart where permitted –- visits from non-residents to DeBordieu's beach are infrequent and "no big deal" even when they do arrive by boat, according to DeBordieu real estate sales executive Troi Kaz.
When I first bought a second home just north of DeBordieu nearly 15 years ago, some people I met in area golf communities referred DeBordieu residents as somewhat snobbish. My experience on the golf course at DeBordieu and in meeting a few of its residents has been the opposite; the folks I played golf with over the years, the pro shop employees, and the guys at the bag drop could not have been nicer or more outgoing.
"Debby Doo people meet on the golf course," says Ms. Kaz, "and it doesn't matter where they are from or what they did in their careers. No one cares about that." Everyone in the area, including DeBordieu residents, refer to the community as Debby Doo because it is easier to pronounce than the French name; and the stretch of land on which the golf community rests was formerly known as Debidue.
Indeed, some of those who might have looked at Debby Doo as "uppity" have since moved inside the gates themselves in the aftermath of the recession, when prices in the community dropped significantly. A few $800,000 houses quickly became $500,000 houses when the economy tanked, and some who had thought Debby Doo was beyond their reach quickly jumped on the bargains. Since the end of the recession, however, prices have begun a steady march back. Last week, I scanned DeBordieu's single-family homes for sale and only three were priced under $500,000; in total, 28 homes in the golf community were listed at less than $1 million. (Realtor Kaz took me past one that sold recently for $450,000, a cute Craftsman-style home about a four-minute cart ride from the ocean.)
In the 30+ years since I made my first visit to DeBordieu, things have matured nicely. During our first drive through the community in the '80s, when my wife and I both remarked at how "open" the homes were to the elements, it seemed as if the dense oak and scrub pine forests that characterize this part of the coast had been aggressively cleared to make way for home construction -– or, perhaps, had never been there in the first place. But since then, DeBordieu has grown, literally, and today very few homes are exposed except, as it should be, for those directly on DeBordieu's clean and attractive beach. Homes on the ocean sold for as much as $5 million pre-recession, but today the most expensive home on the beach, with 5 bedrooms and 5 1/2 baths, is listed at "just" $3.3 million. (Troi Kaz would be pleased to give any interested party a tour of this magnificent house.)
Of course, those with slightly more modest budgets can still live a beach experience if they purchase a home or villa an easy golf cart or bicycle ride from the ocean. Five villas, all with 3 bedrooms and all but one with 3 baths, are currently listed at under $500,000; the exception, a 2-bathroom unit, shares a 500 foot "private" beach with owners of surrounding units, as well as a private pool and tennis courts. For those who might be thinking about purchasing a home they can rent out much of the year, I noted that a 3 bedroom, 3 bath unit with ocean views and a golf membership was available for a week's rental at $2,400 next May. Count on up to 25% or so in management fees to handle the rentals (a reasonable rate, in our experience).
There is a lot to like about the Pete & P.B. Dye golf course at DeBordieu, unless you are a big fan of Dye trickery (e.g. fairway moguls and greens hidden behind mounds). DeBordieu is more straightforward than that, although many of the typical Dye touches, like railroad ties around some bunkers and wooden bulkheads separating lakes from greens are in strong evidence. But overall, DeBordieu is generous with the size of its fairways, and its greens are largely approachable, except for a few par 3s that are almost entirely water tee to green. Indeed, as one comes down the home stretch, the dominant feeling about the round is likely to be, "Well, this has been fun." That would be a big mistake before stepping to the 18th tee that juts out into a lake. The hole is a gargantuan par 5 made even longer by prevailing ocean winds that are almost always in the player's face. Water runs all along the right side, and its presence and the wind give pause as to how far down the fairway to aim. Try to cut off too much and you are in the water; play too conservatively to avoid the water, and the long par 5 can turn quickly into a par 6. At long last, when you approach the hole, a messy thatch of bunkers guard the front left of the green and the lake intrudes right up to greenside on the right. With justification, many Myrtle Beach veterans believe it is the toughest finishing hole of the 100 or so on the Grand Strand. I certainly do.
DeBordieu is a golf and beach community where you can kick back and not worry about much. Located behind a gate guarded around the clock and in one of the lowest density areas between Wilmington and Georgetown, the community presents a "quiet" lifestyle in all the best senses of the world. As I returned to my car after a taking a few photos on Debby Doo's long and immaculate beach, a small dog eyed me from the open window by the driver's seat of a car parked next to mine. He didn't make a sound as I approached. Nothing disturbs the peace at DeBordieu.
The Essentials at DeBordieu
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In a recent issue of the AARP Bulletin, personal finance pundit Jane Bryant Quinn joins the debate about whether retirees should rent or buy a home (although she does not come down on one side of the argument or the other). It appears that those of us 65 and over still prefer to buy, but in ever increasing numbers, those up to a decade younger are deciding to rent. (Click here for the AARP article.)
The choice of whether to rent or buy is essentially one of whether you want your money tied up or not. If you have owned your primary home for 15 years or more, chances are the sale will generate a nice pot of cash (assuming no second mortgages need be paid off). That should provide enough to pay in full for a less expensive, smaller golf community home. (The kids are out of the nest, and you no longer need the extra space.) Alternately, you could stash the windfall in any variety of interest-bearing accounts and rent, mindful that the returns on your money may not be very high but that the interest rate is guaranteed, whereas your real estate investment is not.
Rents go up about 3% every year, according to Ms. Quinn, but so too do taxes and other expenses in an owned home. But for those who choose a stable market in which to buy a house, an increase in the home's value should more than cover the increase in expenses. An average increase of more than 3% in many retiree-friendly markets in the southeast is more than reasonable to expect in the coming years (barring any general economic catastrophe).
Renting should be the preferred path, at least initially, for those couples that cannot make up their minds where they want to live in retirement but sense one place may be better than others. In that case, rent until you are convinced you will be comfortable with your choice. Also, if you have to invest much of your net worth in a home, and that will put a damper on your lifestyle expenses, you may be a good candidate for renting.
But if you want control over your living environment, with the freedom to change your living conditions (new kitchen or bath, for example), and you have enough money in reserve to live the way you want to both inside and outside your new golf home, then seriously consider buying.
In the end, the financial argument for buying versus renting may come down to whether the bought home appreciates more than 3% annually. But the overarching argument is not strictly financial, but rather whether you want the freedom to make changes to your living space and the security that a landlord won't sell out from under you the home in which you have become comfortable. Freedom does have its price.
Below are a few current comparable houses for sale and rent in golf communities we can recommend. If you would like information specific to your requirements for a golf home, please fill out our Golf Home Survey and we will be pleased to offer you a few initial recommendations.
The Landings, Savannah, GA
For Rent: 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,400 sq. ft., $2,100 per month
For Sale: 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 ½ baths, 2,600 sq. ft., $299,999*
• $60,000 down, 30-yr. fixed loan, $1,095 per month
Governors Club, Chapel Hill, NC
For Rent: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,184 sq. ft., $3,200 per month
For Sale: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,280 sq. ft., $495,000
Landfall, Wilmington, NC
For Rent: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,175 sq. ft., $4,000 per month
For Sale: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,104 sq. ft., $739,900
Cliffs Valley, Travelers Rest, SC
For Rent: 5 bedroom, 4 ½ bath, sq. ft. unknown, $3,600 per month
For Sale: Home above, $750,000
Thumb through any magazine aimed at retirees, including golfers, and you are apt to see a dozen or more ads for golf communities. And for those who have ever asked for information about golf communities from one of the web sites that promotes them, your inbox probably fills up day after day with updates about real estate, the golf course and the latest community event. Some golf communities have the budgets to bombard their potential customers with messages, but most others –- many of them perfectly fine places to retire -- lie in the weeds (metaphorically speaking).
I stumbled across one of these recently in Huntersville, NC, in a location that should be attractive to retirees looking for proximity to a major city without feeling they live in a densely populated area. The community of Skybrook is not huge, at 1,100 acres and 1,300 homes when fully built out; it is just about a half hour from Charlotte, NC, one of the major cities of the exploding southeastern U.S., and about the same distance to Lake Norman, also located north of the city. I stopped at Skybrook on my way to Greenville, SC, because of the community's John LaFoy designed golf course, which I hoped would be as much fun to play as two of the architect's layouts I had played previously -- Glenmore, just west of Charlottesville, VA, and The Neuse, in Clayton, NC. I wasn't disappointed (more below).
The most impressive aspects of Skybrook are the price points on the mostly large and well-designed homes, many of those for sale listed at around $100 per square foot, land included, and some below that level. Every once in a while in a golf community you may run into the odd house –- and sometimes they are "odd" in terms of their details –- priced below $100 per square foot, but you don't typically have a decent selection of those inside the boundaries of a well-landscaped, well-organized golf community. At Skybrook, you do.
"Skybrook is only 14 years old," says local Realtor Kevin Martin, "and it grew fast."
Many couples looking forward to a warm-weather retirement continue to wait for a few more years before considering seriously the purchase of a golf home in the South, and with good reasons. One or both partners, for example, may still be working, with only a couple of weeks for vacation annually. In that case, a golf community home at this time would be an unnecessary and expensive luxury. Another reason to wait is that children are not yet out of college, let alone high school, and until education and related expenses are paid, another home –- mortgage or not –- is out of the question.
But for tens of thousands of couples, the waiting game may be nothing more than an uneducated guess about the real estate markets and the economy. "The value of my primary home," one argument goes, "is not back to where it was in 2006." They are waiting for prices to rebound fully. Or the follow-on reason, "," Prices in the South aren't rising that fast." This second assessment is comparatively wrong; in dozens of golf communities we follow, almost all are showing incremental to strong price increases, led by some markets, like Naples, FL, that crashed the hardest during the recession. These markets are roaring back, with many homes appreciating in double-digit percentages annually over the last couple of years, multiple times more than price increases in most areas of the North. As we wrote recently, property sales in The Cliffs Communities, one of the hardest hit of all luxury golf communities, increased by an average $200,000 each compared with 2013 figures.
We are seeing more modest, but still strong, price increases in golf communities that did not suffer as much during the recession, especially those in the Carolinas that are perceived as medium-priced ($300,000 to $500,000). Suffice to say, real estate in these golf communities is appreciating faster than in most northern U.S. areas. Put another way, couples that want to move South and are waiting for the value of their primary home to increase may ultimately cost themselves money. Yes, their current home may increase in value by, say, 3% per year, but the home they might target in the South is likely to appreciate 6% or more. Over time, they will lose buying power and have to settle for a smaller home or one located in a golf community of somewhat lesser quality.
There are other costs to waiting, and those have to do with the costs of living. In general, and looking at the full range of living costs, a move South can save more than 25% in overall living expenses compared with life in most suburban areas of the North. According to BestPlaces.net, where an easy-to-use calculator compares the living costs in any two different cities, we note that it would be 33% cheaper for my wife and I to live in Pawleys Island, SC, where we have a vacation condo, than in our Connecticut town, where we maintain our current home. (The bulk of the savings is from the difference in housing costs, but in all other categories, it is still cheaper to live in Pawleys Island.) If our expenses, say, are $50,000 a year, our savings will be more than $15,000 annually after we move. (We are planning that move a few years from now.) If we spent $100,000 a year on food, entertainment, taxes, real estate related costs and all the other expenses of life, the savings would be a robust $33,000 a year. If our home in Connecticut has a current value of, say, $500,000, it would have to appreciate almost 7% annually to keep up with the cost of living savings of a move to Pawleys Island. Those kinds of savings is like getting a second social security check every month.
If you are ready and able to relocate to a warmer climate and just need a willing partner to help you figure out which golf communities best match your requirements, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire. Once we understand your criteria, we will provide you with a few initial thoughts on which golf communities match up the best. Our services are free, and you are never under any obligation whatsoever. Click here for the Golf Home Questionnaire. We are also happy to provide references from satisfied customers on request. If you have any other questions, please contact me.
You can never communicate too much with your key constituents, especially when you are trying to engage them as adjunct salespeople. The current owners of The Cliffs Communities, Arendale Holdings Corp, are sharing a refreshing amount of data with their property owners and club members.
A recent community-wide letter from managing partners Robert Wright and David Sawyer represents positive news for Cliffs property owners and club members who have been waiting for visible signs of stability at the formerly troubled luxury development. Potential buyers waiting for signs of progress since ownership issues at The Cliffs were settled a couple of years ago should also take note. Here are just a few of the highlights of the letter:
• 62 transactions through August at an average $572,000 each, compared with 75 transactions in the same time period in 2013, at an average of $373,000 per sale. (Note that although the numbers of transactions are off slightly, the significant jump in average price may imply the time is right to consider property at The Cliffs.) Cliffs Communities officials expect the fall season sales figures to be solid as well.
• The total of initiation fees collected by The Cliffs golf clubs doubled compared with the same period last year, from $1.4 million to $2.8 million. The Cliffs is now charging a $50,000 fee for full golf membership, down from charges as high as $125,000 previously. Club owners expect to generate nearly $18 million in dues revenue in fiscal 2014.
• Arendale has spent more than $4.5 million on a number of projects, including the clubhouse known as "The Cabin" at the new Mountain Park golf course in Travelers Rest, outside Greenville; nearly $500,000 to renovate the golf course and practice greens in the Keowee Falls community; and $870,000 in building repairs and maintenance across the multiple golf communities.
The positive sales numbers and uptick in club memberships may signal that The Cliffs real estate prices are be poised for modest to strong improvement. For those who follow the "smart" money and invest accordingly, the financial backing behind Arendale has luxury and success written all over it. Reinet Investments, whose former parent maintains a portfolio of luxury brands that include Cartier, Montblanc, Val Cleef & Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Peter Millar and Alfred Dunhill, has added high-end American golf communities to their holdings, including north Georgia's Currahee Club.
This may be the appropriate time for those who have been waiting for signs of progress at The Cliffs to take a closer look. I recently played the new Gary Player Mountain Park golf course near Greenville and was impressed with the layout and the services, even though the attractive "cabin" clubhouse is more rustic than the typical lavishness of a Cliffs facility. (Look for photos and a few words in this space in coming days regarding my Mountain Park round of golf.) Contact me for a personal introduction to our Greenville, SC area real estate agent, a former sales executive at The Cliffs, who will be pleased to share her observations on the progress being made at The Cliffs.
If you are a right-handed golfer, a slice can cost you dearly on the scorecard. Errant shots from members of the famed Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, NY, are costing their club hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, a number that could go way higher if appellate courts continue to agree with a homeowner who lives beside the club's second hole.
The homeowner is suing the club for golf ball invasion of his property; the club claims fewer than two balls leave the golf course each day, but the homeowner claims considerably more land in his yard or against his house. Recently, four Westchester County appellate court judges agreed with the homeowner.
After offering to sell his $3.7 million home to the club and after the club planted trees and erected a net, the homeowner says balls are still getting through and he fears for the safety of his family. He is also suing the developer of his small upscale community for not having warned him that he would be at ground zero for golf balls. He, his wife and children have lived in the home since 2007.
Other golf clubs in Westchester County are nervous that, in the end, the homeowner might win, causing additional club expenses wherever real estate and golf courses encroach on each other.
I've been following the story at a LinkedIn discussion group, Club Advisory Council Internationale. One participant added this piquant observation: "The golf course was there for a hundred years and now that a greedy developer squeezes in a lot where it probably should not have been, the club is going to have to pay a price. What a country!!! Makes perfect sense to me."
You can read the full article about the controversy by clicking here.
Readers of our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, know a bargain golf home when they see one. Within a few minutes of reading our latest issue, which we distributed yesterday, two of our faithful asked for more details about a $74,900 villa at Mountain Air, the elevated community –- both in altitude and price points – about a half hour northwest of Asheville, NC. Mountain Air is unique in terms of its golf course, which is nearly 4,000 feet up there, but also because an airstrip bisects the top of the mountain – and the Scott Poole designed golf course. (You wait between green and tee box for any planes to land or takeoff before proceeding across the runway.)
The home is just one bedroom and one bath, 830 square feet in total, and best suited as a vacation home getaway. But for a couple living at sea level in the Carolinas, Georgia or Tennessee and looking for some cool relief in the summer, the small size and small price are a nice fit. As a bonus, you will find your tee shots fly a bit farther in the thinner air.
I am happy to put you in touch with our agent at Mountain Air for more details on this home and the community's other properties. Also, if you are looking for unique information and observations about golf community real estate in the southeast, please sign up for our free monthly newsletter. (Use the "Subscribe" tab on this page.) When you do, I will also send you this latest edition, which includes a list of the least expensive homes in some of the South's top golf communities. The price is right, for these bargain homes and for our newsletter.
In less than two weeks, I join up with the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel for a weekend of golf, first at Gary Player's well-reviewed new layout for The Cliffs Communities at Mountain Park -– it opened last October -- followed by the Riverside Course at Greenville Country Club in the city of the same name. Mountain Park received a stellar review from Brad Klein, Golfweek magazine's golf architecture critic; and during a cart ride around the layout shortly after it opened, I found much to be impressed by. Greenville Country Club comprises two 18-hole layouts about three miles from each other; the Chanticleer Course, surrounded by houses kept at a safe distance, is perennially a top 10 course in South Carolina. You could say the Riverside Course, circa 1923 and originally designed by Donald Ross, is also of recent vintage courtesy of a redo by Brian Silva in 2007. But Silva redesigned the course in the manner of Seth Raynor, a contemporary of Tillinghast and Ross and much lauded by golf architecture geeks. The few Raynor courses I have played are stern tests, most notably Fisher's Island Golf Club in Long Island Sound, just off the Connecticut Coast; it is typically ranked among the Top 50 golf courses in the nation. I am looking forward to a go at Riverside.
My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a weekend in Charleston a few days ago. We have been to the city dozens of time since buying our vacation condo in Pawleys Island, SC, 15 years ago. The trip, about 70 minutes, never gets old, and this time was no different.
Charleston is foodie heaven. With just minimal research on the Internet, visitors to The Holy City can assure themselves of a great meal, and sometimes an extraordinary one. We've had dishes at the local restaurants that made our mouths water just from the menu description. This past weekend, we ordered doughnut holes drizzled with a peach and bacon sauce that could not have paired better with the rich, New Orleans style coffee at High Cotton on East Bay Street. The rest of the brunch was almost as good. The night before, at a place called Blossom,
The Mattaponi Springs golf course is located in the small town of Ruther Glen, just 34 miles from Richmond and 25 miles from Fredericksburg, VA. Serious golfers in the Washington, D.C., area are barely more than an hour's drive from one of the best public golf courses in America, rated in the top 50 of accessible layouts according to Golf Digest's 2013 rankings. Bob Lohmann, a former president of the Golf Course Architects Association, produced the design.
Mattaponi Springs' web site helpfully describes its dress code for visiting golfers and, as written, it shows an excellent sense of taste, literally: "Men: Slacks or golf shorts must be worn, with a collard [sic] shirt."
Presumably, Hush Puppies (the golf shoes) are optional.