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    “If hordes of inexperienced [real estate] agents are scrapping for business…that can only lead to a ‘race to the bottom in fees.’”
    -- Christopher Galler, SVP of Minnesota Assn. of Realtors, Wall Street Journal, Page B6, 2/7/07.
    No surprise:  Mr. Galler adds that competitive commissions are not good for consumers and that they will result in poor service.  More productive agents, he argues, are better at “solving problems.” 
    The article indicates the total number of agents nationwide reached a peak last year at 1.4 million but their ranks will drop between 6% and 8% this year.  A former golf pro who gave up the links to sell houses is featured.  He recently left the real estate business to take up a new profession, training dogs.

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    Business 2.0, one of the few magazines dedicated to the internet that stuck after the dot com bust, has published a list of cities where they think bargains can be had in real estate.  As longtime fans of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers all the way back to the team's Brooklyn days, we found our interest piqued by the magazine's second choice.  It's Vero Beach, FL, where for more than half a century the Boys of Summer have honed their skills in the pre-season.
    Alas, sadly, soon no more.  The Dodgers are pulling up stakes after 2008 and moving their spring training facilities west to join every other west coast team in the springtime.  Dodgertown, long known as one of the best, if not the best, training facilities in baseball, is for sale.  The complex includes a modest nine-hole course, but across the street is an 18-holer, Dodger Pines, that includes a major league 600+ yard par 5.  Former Dodger great Maury Wills learned to play golf at Dodgertown; it was the only course in the area that permitted access to African-Americans.
    It will be a sad day in 2008 when spring training ends in Vero Beach.
    For a list of Business 2.0's top cities for real estate now, see http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/

Sunday, 04 February 2007 18:00

Love grows: Most romantic towns for retirees

    According to Dr. Warren Bland, one of the most-quoted authorities on retirement destinations, some cities have more “romantic” qualities than others.  In an article in the Feb. 2 issue of “Retirement Weekly,” an online publication from MarketWatch.com, Bland includes two of our favorite areas on hist list, Savannah and Charleston, numbers 8 and 9, respectively.  The only other southeastern city to make the top 10 is Naples, FL, giving rise to the notion that couples in that vastly overheated real estate market are not arguing about whether they should have cashed in a year ago.  Las Vegas, with much the same real estate problem as Naples, rates a #4 ranking on the romantic cities list.  It must be all those Wayne Newton concerts.
    Bland rates Ashland, OR, as the most romantic city in the nation for retirees.  Home to Oregon’s respected Shakespeare Festival, the remote Ashland certainly provides a nice setting for Romeo and Juliet, although we recall that story didn't end so well.  Ashland's climate is terrific, and perhaps Midsummer's Night Dream is more appropriate.
    "We're seeing people who have worked their whole lives in Connecticut and earned a lot of money taking their pension plans and their savings [to the South]."
    -- Ron van Winkle, Economist for the City of West Hartford, CT commenting on the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates for population migration (Source:  Hartford Courant, 2/4/07, page B1)
    Of those who left the state between 2005 and 2006, most left for the southern states.  Connecticut lost a net 17,000 people in that period.
Saturday, 03 February 2007 18:00

Golf weather or not

Here's where they are playing golf today, and where they are not:


You are playing today if you live in…

Panama City, FL       Partly sunny, Hi 64 degrees

Savannah, GA           Partly cloudy, 60

Aiken, SC                   Mostly sunny, 58

Jacksonville, FL        Partly cloudy, 62

Myrtle Beach, SC      Partly cloudy, 55

Rocky Mount, NC      Partly cloudy, 53

Wilmington, NC         Partly cloudy, 55

Scottsdale, AZ           Sunny, 75

Austin, TX                  Sunny, 64

Las Vegas, NV          Sunny, 67


Where you should not be playing today…

Wintergreen, VA       Partly cloudy, 38, winds to 20 mph

Rehoboth, DE           Partly cloudy, 33, winds to 25 mph

Nashville, TN            Possible snow, 33

Charlottesville, VA   Partly cloudy, 38, winds to 25 mph


If you really must…

Santa Fe, NM            Mostly sunny, 40

Jonesboro, GA          Mostly sunny, 49, winds to 20 mph


Traps at Tennessee National

    As a competitor, Greg Norman went for broke on every shot, the advice of his caddie or cooler heads be damned.  The results were sometimes glorious, and sometimes painful to watch.  But there was never a doubt that he was trying his hardest every time he swung.  At the recently opened $500 million Tennessee National community near Knoxville, golf course designer Norman is firmly in control of his game. 
    The golf course will be noticed for its bold design as well as its bold designer.  A shark can’t live without water, and on the Tennessee National club’s 240-acre canvas, this Shark has painted in a lot of blue.  Manmade and natural lakes come into play on 11 holes, and the Tennessee River is a factor on five of them.  Yet the course’s sand traps may generate the most conversation.  They reflect an obvious soft spot Norman has for the only major golf championship he ever won, The Open (what jingo Americans refer to as The British Open).  At Tennessee National, he has designed more than 75 stacked sod bunkers (of the total 105 bunkers) echoing those at Turnberry, where he first secured the claret jug. (His other Open victory was at Royal St. Georges.)  The bunkers give the design an extra jolt of eye candy and ensure that the steep faces of the mostly deep traps neither cave in nor embed Titleists (they are held together with a special epoxy compound).  At 7,400 yards from the tips, the course provides a stiff challenge for the accomplished golfer, its four other tees providing less exhausting routings.
    Visually, the course puts most emphasis around the greens, which are framed by some fierce looking deep traps with those sod walls. The par 3 12th (below) is a signature hole in the making, combining both the traps and river into a beautifully intimidating tableau.  At 209 yards from the back tees, you face a downhill shot with six deep sod bunkers built into a hill in front, another one left and another at left rear, and the river immediately on the right.  There is little room for a bail out, and if you come up short and land between the traps, the slope will take you down to wetlands.  It is the kind of hole that makes you sigh deeply on the tee box for its beauty and difficulty.  12th at Tennessee National
    The initial few “spec” houses at Tennessee National are of the “mountain craftsman” style that we’ve seen elsewhere in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, which is to say lots of stacked stone and indigenous timber, very rustic.  Prices begin around $375,000 for amply sized “cottages,” and villas will range from $500,000 and up. Tennessee National includes all the customary amenities expected of a high-end community, plus a planned marina and adjacent village that will accommodate residents bearing boats, as well as golf clubs.  Golf memberships are $30,000 with dues pegged at $385 per month.  Tennessee National’s web site is www.tennesseenational.com.

    Like virtually eveyone else, I'll watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night, if for no other reason than to be sure it will truly be over (in the way the Transylvanian townspeople needed to be absolutely sure Dracula was dead).  As of today, the hype machine was really scraping the bottom of the barrel, with a TV feature on Super Bowl rings of the last 40 years among other irrelevancies.
    I want my sports section back.  It will be good to be reminded sometime next week that pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks, and that the Master's is just two months away.
    I am praying for the Colts to win and for Peyton to have the game of his life.  How much more psychoanalysis of choking can we stand?
    The Big Game is an excuse to bet once a year and eat food that is bad for you.  Not that you asked, but the Bears will cover the point spread.  Why?  Because the guys who set the line -- as of today still seven points -- are smarter than the rest of us.  If you had asked the armchair quarterbacks to set the line, they would have probably come in at 10 points or more.  The betting line means the smart money thinks Peyton isn't as good as he seems, and much-maligned Bears quarterback Rex Grossman isn't as bad.  This is a classic sucker bet.  Colts 23, Bears 17.
    But what do I know?  I care more about the commercials.  Enjoy.
    More than 150 golf clubs across the land, including my own Hop Meadow Country Club in Simsbury, CT, have signed on to the Private Club Network, making these otherwise private clubs accessible to each other's members.  The Network is the invention of Creative Golf Marketing, a Manhattan, Kansas firm that helps private clubs increase membership.  If I am traveling to, say, Nashville, as I will soon, I can arrange for a round of golf at the private Brentwood Country Club; all I pay is the mandatory $25 cart fee.
    The web site for the Private Club Network is www.privateclubnetwork.com.  Unless you belong to a private club, it may be a little tricky to register to see the Network's list of private clubs.  But they do have an 800 number and offer email contact as well. 
    If you live in the area of one of the Network's clubs and do a lot of traveling, you might want to consider membership in the local club.
    Just as I was checking out of a bed and breakfast in Wilmington, NC, recently after a research trip that included enjoyable rounds of golf at Porter's Neck and the Nicklaus course at Landfall, the proprietor asked me if I had visited Eagle Pointe.  I hadn't, nor had I even heard of it.  He indicated it was "super private" and built five years ago by a few equities traders from "up north" who wanted a course where they knew they could always get a tee time, even at the last minute.  So they built Eagle Pointe.
    Internet searches have turned up only cursory information -- the course was designed by Tom Fazio and plays up to 7,170 yards -- but the club remains shrouded in a little mystery.  Anyone played it?  Anyone know anything more about it?  Please post any comments below, and thanks.
    The housing market is no great shakes anywhere at the moment, and those who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for prices to moderate in retirement friendly places like Florida and the rest of the southeast may feel their time is coming...unless they live, say, in the northeast.
    We are quite familar with a number of golfing communities in the southeast, and annual price appreciations in some locations in the Carolinas and Georgia, for example, remain in the mid-to-high single digits.  Those near-retirees in the northeast who see a future life in the south may want to consider fast-forwarding their plans.  According to the New England Economic Partnership, a forecast organization, housing prices are essentially going nowhere fast in the northeast over the next four to five years. 
    Prices in Massachusetts, which had fallen for six straight months as of the end of November, will continue to fall into 2008 before leveling off into the end of the decade, according to the NEEP.  No other state in New England is expected so see home appreciations of more than 2.7% annually between now and 2010.   If you consider that your house provides a roof over your head, then a 1% or 2% annual appreciation is not so bad.  But consider that prices in retirement magnets like Charleston, SC, and Albuquerque, NM, appreciated 4% and 5% respectively in just the 2nd quarter of 2006, buoyed not only by boomers moving south but also by some Floridians who were tired of traffic and longing for a short but palpable winter. 
    In short, every year a northerner defers selling her home and buying one in the south means an erosion of buying power and eventually settling for less house.  Stated another way, today the waterfront view, next year the golf course, the year after that the woods.
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