The December issue of Home On The Course, our free monthly newsletter, is on the launch pad and ready to be emailed to our 1,000 subscribers. This month’s feature story is all wet. We compare the price ratios of water view home sites in golf communities with golf course and interior lots. (Spoiler Alert: They are much more expensive.) And we suggest a few golf communities where prices are low enough that “taking the plunge” on a waterfront lot or home won’t drown you in debt.
Our special sidebar feature this month looks at the fastest growing counties in the Southeast, and we identify condominium oriented golf communities in those rapidly improving. Those of you looking for a vacation home in a warm weather area –- many of the fast-growing communities are in Florida –- should find the information especially timely and helpful.
It happens every year. As cold weather (and snow) start to burden those of us who live in the northern U.S., our thoughts turn South and the urge to consider looking for a vacation or permanent home in a warmer climate becomes stronger. If you are contemplating a move in the next year or two, we have a few spots open for couples who have targeted the Southeast. Our services are free and without obligation. To get things rolling, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire. We will get back to you with some initial ideas within a few days.
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Assuming you are not retired yet, do you expect to reduce your spending in retirement? Not so quick. Chances are almost 50/50 that you will increase your spending. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute in a November 2015 report, 46% of retirees spent more in their post-retirement years than they spent just before retirement.
Overall, for all couples, household spending dropped by 5.5% in the first two years of retirement, and by 12.5% in the third and fourth years. But after the fourth year, the reductions slowed down.
For those 46% of couples whose spending increased after retirement, the number fell to 33% by the sixth year of retirement. Yet those who spent more in retirement were not just the most well-off; the increases were spread across all income levels.
Those who have purchased a golf community home in the last few years won’t be surprised that median spending on transportation fell -– by 25% -- in the first two years of retirement but that, in subsequent years, the reduction was much smaller. The couples we work with spend their first few years getting to know their neighbors in a golf community, playing a lot of golf, and finding their social lives are centered in the
(#s are Cost of Living % compared to U.S. average)
A few nice golf communities dot Lake Norman, a half hour north of the city. Two upscale communities, The Peninsula and The Point, feature Rees Jones and Greg Norman layouts, respectively. The Point’s golf club was purchased out of near-bankruptcy by the Trump organization five years ago. River Run is a middle-price-point community also beside the lake whose Robert Walker/Ray Floyd course was refurbished a few years ago.
Asheville seems to be on the target lists for baby boomers looking for a southern mountain location. The city is hip, the surrounding mountains are beautiful and the local golf communities run the gamut, from the classic and expensive Biltmore Forest to the modern and expensive Cliffs at Walnut Cove to the sharply priced Reems Creek, whose British-designed golf course is a semi-private bargain. In the Hendersonville area just a half mile away, Champion Hills and Kenmure are both excellent choices.
If you have the least bit of concern about access to medical facilities, you can hardly do better than the “other” Greenville (not the one in SC), whose medical campus and adjoining facilities would be more in place in a city five times the size. The three private golf clubs in the area provide the widest range of styles: Ironwood Country Club’s course was designed by Lee Trevino and is as fun to play as Mex was to listen to; Cypress Landing lies beside the Pamlico River and its properties are bargain priced; and Brook Valley, a shot maker’s delight designed by Ellis Maples, is part of the McConnell Group, which means membership provides access to nine other outstanding clubs in the Carolinas.
This is the more famous Greenville, and for good reason. Greenville is economically sound, thanks to the BMW North America plant in nearby Spartanburg; sophisticated yet artsy; and home to the beautifully landscaped Furman University. The golf communities are diverse and excellent, including the in-town Greenville Country Club (two courses, one of them a perennial top 5 in the state), Thornblade (Tom Fazio) and a few Cliffs Communities (for example, Gary Player’s Cliffs at Mountain Park course which opened in 2013 and debuted at #36 on Golfweek’s list of best residential golf courses).
It pains me to list Hartford, where I worked for 10 productive years, but Connecticut’s cost of living is causing many of its baby boomers and young people to head for the hills (and coast). Aiken is pretty much the opposite, laid back, inexpensive and with some solid options for golf community living. Top choices include Woodside Plantation, home to three golf courses and plenty of other amenities, and Cedar Creek, a more mundane but smartly laid out community with a fine Arthur Hills layout (semi-private) and bargain-priced real estate.
This is a bit of a ringer, since Chapel Hill, one of our favorite college towns, is located smack in the Southeast region. But real estate is pretty pricey in the area, and so too are other costs. (Of course, if you are moving from, say, San Francisco -- +173% of U.S. average cost -- to Chapel Hill, it is a relative proposition.) For those considering a more coastal location, the areas around Myrtle Beach –- rather than in the heart of the town, which is a bit tourist tacky -– provide a wide range of low-cost options. Our favorite combinations of beach and golf are in the Pawleys Island area (Pawleys Plantation, Reserve at Litchfield Beach, Wachesaw Plantation) and north of the SC/NC border (Ocean Ridge Plantation, River’s Edge and many low-price options).
We could go on, but if you would like us to run a cost of living comparison between your current home and anywhere in the South that you might be considering for your golf home in retirement, please contact us.
...and it's for an unlimited time only
Those are not misprints. Our services are free to those searching for a golf community home; and you can call on us anytime for assistance, not just on some made-up retail holiday. And you don’t have to risk getting trampled. All you need is a computer, a few minutes and a phone (if you would like to speak with us directly).
Here’s what you get from our Home On The Course service:
• Our free Golf Home questionnaire that helps you -– and us -– focus on your requirements for a golf home or property in the Southern U.S. The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes at most to fill out.
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• Follow-up consultation after our initial recommendations -- via phone or, if you prefer, an exchange of emails.
• Our assistance in building an itinerary (or more than one) for you to visit those golf communities that you decide best match your requirements.
• Our recommendations of the most professional and experienced real estate brokers in the areas you identify who provide in-depth information about the area and specific communities you target, and arrange for personalized tours of the communities and visits to specific homes currently for sale.
• We follow-up with you after every group of visits and refine the search if necessary until you find your dream home on the course.
There is never an obligation for you to purchase a property. And our services are on sale for the best price of all, free* –- 365 days a year. Click here to get things started with our free Golf Home Questionnaire.
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We are monitoring the progress of a home for sale in the popular Venice, FL, community of Waterford. Waterford features three golf courses, a location near the Gulf of Mexico beaches and, needless to say, is a wonderful place to spend the winter months. Owners of the Waterford home have just dropped the price to $367,000 from $395,000. It isn’t too late to step in, make an acceptable offer and wind up enjoying most of the winter in a fine Florida golf community.
At 3,700 square feet, 2,700 of it heated and air-conditioned, the home prices out at under $100 per square foot. Dennis Boyle, who has the listing for Atchley International Realty in Bradenton, tells us that similar homes in Waterford rent for about $1.50 per square foot in season, which would put the potential rental income for the Waterford home at around $4,000 per month for the four prime months of winter for any buyer looking to get a foot in the door in the Venice market with an eye to moving there later.
For more information, please contact Dennis Boyle at Dennis_Boyle@Topproducer.com. Please mention Golf Community Reviews if you contact him. Thanks. (Full disclosure: The home for sale is owned by an acquaintance of the editor.)
I have mixed feelings about Hilton Head Island, especially after my first round of golf at the recently renovated Wexford Plantation. It almost made me forget about traffic there, a major headache for those who live on and just off the island, as well as those who vacation there. On the one hand, the golf on the island is superb, what with Harbour Town Links, the ultra-private and regaled Long Cove, and 22 other layouts, including one of my new favorites in all of the South, the aforementioned Wexford Plantation. At just 42 square miles and with 24 golf courses and a heritage going back to the late 1960s, Hilton Head is both the granddaddy of golf communities and one of the most dense golf areas in the nation.
But it is also one of the most densely populated, especially at peak seasons when its 39,000 residents tend to crowd onto the modestly sized island, joined by thousands of golfers and beach goers. That makes even the most basic transportation, but especially on the one bridge to and from the mainland, seem downright Manhattanesque. (I once waited eight full minutes to make a left hand turn onto Fording Island Road, Route 228, the only road between Bluffton and Hilton Head.) As I left Wexford late on a November Saturday afternoon, I turned into a long line of cars on the road just outside the gates. Since there was no football stadium within a hundred miles, I wondered where they were going on a Saturday. (Hilton Head did not strike me as a haven for early bird buffets.)
The best remedy for traffic for Hilton Head residents is to stay put inside their golf communities, of which there are many to choose. If I could afford to live in Wexford –- home prices average into the millions -- I don’t know that I would have much reason to wander anyway. I’ll get to the golf in a minute, but although I am somewhat allergic to water, I found myself lusting over the parade of boats parked in the marina beside the clubhouse, some as big as a small house. The community’s system of locks, one of only three such systems on the east coast, maintains water inside the 37-acre marina at a consistent level, no matter what is happening in the Broad Creek and Intracoastal Waterway, which flow from Wexford out past the famed Harbour Town Lighthouse, across the Calibogue Sound and into the Atlantic. Half of the 280 boat slips are located behind homes along the marina’s canal. The snack bar just before the 10th tee does double duty as the dock master’s station.
In addition to the boating, Wexford puts a heavy emphasis on tennis, with six Har-Tru courts, four of them lighted. The tennis center includes two decks of seating for viewing the matches between Wexford’s players and those from other communities in the Carolinas. The club employs a director of tennis and head tennis professional. For those interested in more cerebral pursuits, the community sponsors discussion groups and a “sunrise salutation yoga” session (an interesting way to greet the new day).
Most residents of Wexford Plantation greet the new day, when they are in residence there, in beautiful 6,000 square foot and larger homes, many of which you would feel comfortable categorizing as “mansions.” Adjacent to the marina and just across the narrow canal from the 9th fairway, a sprawling home stretched across what looked like at least three fair-sized lots. “Nice looking Marriott,” one of my playing partners blurted. I’d guess that Marriott included at least 15,000 square feet of living space. Other homes around the golf course were larger and more elaborately landscaped than any I had encountered in 10 years of golf community visits. And, yet, there were few signs of life inside and outside those homes on an early November day; apparently Wexford’s part-timers start arriving a few weeks later for the winter.
The Tax Foundation, which promotes pro-growth tax policies, is out with its ranking of the 50 states by how friendly they are to businesses (in terms of taxes). There are few surprises in terms of the highest tax states –- New York and New Jersey are #49 and #50, respectively –- but states in the Southeast aren’t exactly open armed for business, according to the Tax Foundation. Florida ranks 4th overall, but none of the other states in the region crack the top 10. North Carolina does best at #15, followed by Tennessee at #16 and Mississippi at #20.
Most surprising is that South Carolina ranks 36th overall; in recent years, the state has welcomed some big companies, such as Boeing and the Singapore-based tire manufacturer Giti. BMW’s 20-year old North American plant in Spartanburg is credited with having helped the Greenville area get through the 2008 recession. Since South Carolina is a right to work state –- that is, union membership is not compulsory in order to hold any jobs in the state -– the corporate in-flows likely have more to do with work regulations (and lower employment costs) than tax regulations.
Other Southeast states ranked as follows on the Tax Foundation’s list: Alabama #29, Virginia #30 and Georgia #39.
I consider myself fortunate that, last weekend, I was able to play two outstanding golf courses in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia that had been dramatically -– and at substantial expense -– renovated in recent years. Both golf courses –- Ford Plantation and Wexford Plantation –- are at the centers of communities of homes valued at $1 million and more, and the conditions and layouts of both are what you would expect from clubs populated by people who are used to the best things in life that aren’t free.
Ford Plantation, which surrounds the golf course, has a rich history. Located in Richmond Hill, less than a half hour south of Savannah, it occupies grounds that served as the winter home of Henry and Clara Ford. At one point, the famous car manufacturer had amassed 70,000 acres in the Richmond Hill area to serve as his family’s winter playground. With Lake Clara at its heart and the Ogeechee River alongside the property, it is a congenial host for fishing, boating, as well as top-flight golf for its property owners, all of whom are required to be club members in some fashion or other. Ford even maintains a position for Director of Outdoor Pursuits, in other words a naturalist available to help members chase birdies and other fauna of a different type than on the golf course.
Water is central to the community but water has always been a problem for the golf course since the original developer, from the Mideast who didn’t play golf, bought the land, was convinced by confidantes that he needed a golf course, and hired Pete Dye –- he had heard he was the best -– to lay it out. Dye, reportedly, told his patron that there was not enough dry land to accommodate a full 18-hole golf course, to which he was instructed to fill in some of the marshland to accommodate the extra holes. “Too expensive,” Dye allegedly responded. “Spend whatever it takes,” replied his not-to-be-denied patron.
It took $11 million, one of the most expensive golf course jobs of its era when it opened for play in 1985. That was pretty much before any dwellings had been built on the site. When I played the Ogeechee Golf Club in 2007, before its name change and long after the original developer had fled to the Mideast to avoid some unpleasantness with American law enforcement officials, I thought layout of the course was among the best I had encountered in recent years. On the back nine especially along the river, the course felt links like, festooned with hillocks and pot bunkers indigenous to most Dye designs. I was blessed by good weather back in 2007, and what I did not know was that rains of any duration could render the course unplayable; the original sin of having built some holes on the marsh came back to haunt club members decades later.
Only a small handful of the club’s members –- 15, I was told -– walked away when the majority voted to assess themselves the equivalent of an initiation fee at a high-end club in order to get the renovation going. Last year, after spending a whopping $7 million, most of it on the drainage issue and a total redo of the layout by Mr. Dye himself, the club re-opened to critical praise and, more important, the plaudits of its club members. I can understand the positive fuss after playing 18 holes there with Paul Wickes, a former New York based attorney with a top international law firm and in his second year as Ford Plantation Club’s President; and two enthusiastic fellow members, one a doctor and one a former specialist on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
The layout is sleek and challenging and fun to play, and the turf on fairways and greens is beautifully conditioned. (And after a few days of on-and-off rain, I saw no obvious wet spots on the course.) But this is not, to the casual eye, a golf course that fits the standard Pete Dye oeuvre, even though the back nine retains its feel of a links course (thank goodness). As Paul Wickes pointed out, the Dye signature railroad ties that buttressed lakes and lagoons and the occasional bunker are gone, except for one par 3 where it would have been a crime against art to remove them (see accompanying photo).
“I think Mr. Dye has become more member-friendly in his advancing years,” Paul noted. Dye turns 90 next month.
There were other touches that illustrated Paul’s assessment was spot on. The bunkering was emphatic without being aggressive, which is to say pot bunkers were at a minimum; happily, fairway moguls were also almost non-existent, maintaining the sweeping views across the landscape. The green complexes were challenging and thoughtfully molded, providing a number of opportunities to putt the ball from five yards or more from the surface.
Ford Plantation is solidly in the category of “upscale” golf community, and the price of admission is for high worth individuals only. The least expensive home currently for sale at Ford Plantation is priced a bit deceptively and out of character with its neighboring homes, given that it sits on a 2.9-acre lot that looks out onto the Dye golf course and yet is listed for only $475,000. But a closer reading yields a description of a 1-bedroom, 2-bath carriage house of just over 1,100 square feet, certainly habitable for a couple that likes their surroundings ultra-cozy, at least for a relatively short period of time. Alas, the broker with the listing sees it only as temporary housing. "Live on site," the description reads, "as you build your main home." The cottage is a bargain in another way; if the next owners purchase it by the end of the year, they will save $50,000 because Ford Plantation Club will raise its mandatory membership initiation by that much, to $100,000, at the end of December.
For more information about Ford Plantation, please contact me. I will have some thoughts about Hilton Head Island’s Wexford Plantation in the coming days.
I am approaching my 200th golf community visit, but the most recent ones, just last weekend, were eye openers. From the golf course at Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island, I saw a collection of the largest homes I have ever seen in any golf community; in fact, they are probably the largest homes I have seen in any one neighborhood. (Most of the homes were unoccupied, waiting for their owners to arrive for the winter season in a few weeks.) Across the river from the marina, which is adjacent to the clubhouse area at Wexford, one home appeared to span at least 20,000 square feet. One of my playing partners dubbed it "a nice Marriott."
The median value of homes in Wexford, whose golf course was redesigned a couple of years ago by Brandon Johnson of the Arnold Palmer design team and is one of the best I've played in the last five years, is well into seven figures. The most expensive home currently on the market in the Hilton Head Island MLS (multiple listing service) is listed for $5.5 million and includes 6 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms and nearly 10,000 square feet. It looks much bigger from the golf course.
The least expensive home in Wexford Plantation is listed for $409,900 and includes three bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms and 2 half baths. It encompasses just over 2,000 square feet but is on a lot of 0 square feet, which implies it might be a free-standing condo, although the listing does not indicate that. On a per-square-foot basis, its $205 compares with the huge home's $550 per square foot.
I played the golf course at Ford Plantation the day before Wexford. Although not as well established as the Hilton Head community, the Richmond Hill, GA, Ford Plantation is every bit as upscale. Like Wexford, its golf course was totally redone in the last couple of years by its original designer, Pete Dye, for a budget busting $7 million, for which all but 15 of Ford's members apparently kicked in serious dollars in added assessments. The precipitant for the redesign was a severe drainage problem that made play all but impossible the day after a heavy rain -- and it does rain heavy in the Savannah area. Although all but the most astute designers probably can't tell the difference between, say, a $4 million and a $7 million rehab, the layout and condition at Ford were superb, and the fact that the course was without damp spots after a few days of on and off rain offered positive testimony to the investment.
While the homes surrounding the golf course were not as relentlessly large as those at Wexford, many communicated lofty price tags. Compared to the most expensive house for sale in Wexford, Ford's premier home, listed for "just" $3.2 million, seemed a relative bargain, but at $615 per square foot from its 5,191 square feet, its fit and finish may be beyond even the expensvie Wexford home. (The carriage house guest suite, the Lake Clara views, the Tennessee fieldstone and art studio give hint at the grandeur of the home.)
The least expensive home at Ford Plantation seems like an extreme bargain given that it sits on a 2.9 acre lot that looks out onto the Dye golf course and is priced at just $475,000. But a closer reading yields a description of a 1 bedroom, 2 bath carriage house of just over 1,100 square feet, certainly habitable for a couple that likes cozy. Alas, the broker with the listing sees it only as temporary housing. "Live on site," the description reads, "as you build your main home." Your friends or family will be perfectly content in the carriage house, and you will save $50,000 if you contract to purchase the property by the end of the year. That is because The Ford Plantation Club will raise mandatory dues by $50k, to $100,000, at the end of December.
For those with the resources and desire to call either of these great golf courses their own, contact me and I will be happy to make introductions to Ford or Wexford...or both.
I'll publish in this space a few notes and photographs in coming days about my rounds at Ford Plantation and Wexford.
Whenever I arrive in Pawleys Island, SC, as I do a few times a year, I grab from the rack at the local supermarket one of those brochures that include listings of current homes for sale. When you do that enough times over the years -- and this has been a habit of mine for the last 15 years -- you get a strong sense of what is happening with prices locally.
I landed in Pawleys Island yesterday, made a grocery store run and grabbed the latest free copy of the Pawleys Island Rag, a 20-page list of current condos, townhomes and single-family homes for sale in one of the most well known and popular towns on the Carolinas coast. My wife and I have owned a condo in Pawleys Plantation for 15 years beside the 15th tee of the Jack Nicklaus course which opened in 1989. We also purchased a lot on the 16th hole just before the recession -- yuck -- on which we intended to build a single-family home. That idea is in limbo for now.
The long and short of my latest reading of the Pawleys Island Rag is that prices, finally, in Pawleys Plantation and surrounding golf communities like Heritage Plantation, The Reserve at Litchfield and the others, have risen and firmed up. The obvious bargains, including vacation condos at Pawleys Plantation that generate about 20 weeks of rental revenue for their owners each year, have vanished from the brochure's pages. Some of those units had been selling as recently as last winter for $125,000, or less than $100 per square foot. I noticed another condo currently listed for $300,000; its type had previously been listed $50,000 lower last winter.
At the other end of the spectrum, one of our favorite homes in Pawleys Plantation, with a floating and fixed dock and a view out over a wide expanse of marsh toward the island and ocean beyond, is on the market for $1.1 million, only the third or fourth such home in the community to ever top the $1 million asking-price mark.
The lack of available properties at the lower end signals that those searching for a vacation home have descended on Pawleys Island for its laid-back
News from some of the golf communities we follow has crossed our desks in recent days. Here are the highlights:
We can’t pass up a bargain, and you know you can’t either. Two special bargain homes came to our attention in the last week. The first is a 3 bedroom, 3 bath 18-year-old home in Savannah Lakes Village, a winner community when it comes to inexpensive real estate on a dollar per square foot basis and with some of the most reasonably priced amenities we have encountered. The home looks out to the 8th green of the Tara Course, one of two well-maintained and interesting 18-hole layouts at Savannah Lakes. At 2,038 square feet, the house is priced just a skooch under $100 per square foot even if you don’t factor in the value of the ½ acre lot on which it rests. Combine the low cost of the home with Savannah Lakes’ incredibly reasonable dues for golf and its other amenities, and this home would be perfect as a primary or vacation home in a lake community.
Photo courtesy of Michael Sherard, Savannah River Realty
A second home that struck us as an extreme bargain, and had us dreaming of sipping cocktails while looking out upon beautiful mountains, is a small cabin in Sylva, NC, which we know for the upscale golf community of Balsam Mountain Preserve. The cabin is outside that community but there is ample golf in the area, and the views from fairways, greens and clubhouses can't be beat. One good choice would be a membership at Balsam Mountain’s breathtaking Arnold Palmer design stretched across the top of Balsam Mountain. A good semi-private alternative is Sequoyah National Golf Club, just 23 minutes up into the Smoky Mountains where a $300 annual pass entitles the holder to golf at $39 per round, cart included. (Regular green fees are $59.) At 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and only 1,104 square feet, things could get awfully cozy in this cabin but the huge windows and cathedral ceilings give the place a much larger feel. And at an offering price of just $188,500, the home will take only a tidy little bite out of a budget.
Photo courtesy of Cecelia Coker, Balsam Team
A groundbreaking for the long-awaited Wellness Center at Southport, NC’s St. James Plantation is slated for next week. Completion of the facility is expected before the end of 2016. The Wellness Center is the last amenity promised to the residents by the St. James’ developers. The St. James golf courses, which comprise 81 holes, also broke new ground of a sort recently when they announced play on their sometimes well-used layouts would be on a walk-up basis; no longer is there a need to call for a tee time ahead of play. The golf courses are popular with members who, so far this year, have accounted for 84% of the rounds played; the other rounds included guests of members, a couple of First Tee Foundation events, other charity events and college golf tournaments. Golf dues at St. James, which is managed by Troon Golf, remain comparably low, under $500 per month per couple, less for a single, and including access to many of Troon’s other clubs around the country for a small monthly charge.
Columbia, SC, is recovering from the recent relentless rains and flooding. The Tom Fazio designed course at Woodcreek Farms took a pretty good hit but members and work crews have restored everything pretty much to normal. (Sister course Wildewood suffered less damage; Woodcreek and Wildewood are available for play by members of each for one monthly dues payment.) A little bit of sunshine poked through when New Style Communities, an offshoot of national builder Epcon, announced recently that ClubRidge at Woodcreek, a neighborhood of single-family, low maintenance homes, is under construction. The homes will all be one-story, which should appeal to baby boomers in the area looking to downsize, as well as northerners considering a balmier climate for their retirements. Best of all, outside maintenance is included in monthly homeowner dues.
Columbia is one of those sleeper locations for baby boomers retiring in the Southeast. The town is located at the nexus of a couple of Interstates, making travel in all directions quick and relatively easy. (Our neighbor in Pawleys Island makes it back and forth from Columbia every weekend in about two hours each way.) Columbia, the state capital, is also home to the giant University of South Carolina and all that a major institution of higher learning can add to the vitality of a region. Our agent in Columbia, Mike Wyka, lives in Woodcreek Farms but is also quite knowledgeable about all the golf communities in the area, which include a diverse sampling.
Lakewood Ranch in Bradenton, FL, is about as big as a golf community gets. It started out as a 48 square mile timber ranch owned by the family that founded Schlitz beer in Milwaukee. Over time it has grown into a residential and mixed-use community big enough to have its own zip code. Now a new 235-acre section of reasonably priced villas, townhomes and single-family homes has been announced, with prices starting in the $180s. Called Harmony at Lakewood Ranch, developer Mattamy Homes will construct houses up to 2,700 square feet near a large community pool, fitness center and children’s playground and clubhouse. Although the community of Lakewood Ranch is self-sustaining, with every conceivable service and plenty of shopping, the towns of Sarasota and Bradenton are a short drive away, and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico less than a half hour.