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Tuesday, 30 January 2007 18:00

Boomer love blooms, but so does divorce

    From time to time we can't help ourselves and must comment on a subject at least tangentially related to the core mission of this site.  This is the first.  We invite and encourage your own musings on the subject.

    The Wall Street Journal a few days ago ran a right-column front page feature article about match.com, the dating web site.  The theme of the article was that the boomer crowd is using online dating services in increasing numbers.
    After more than a year of visits to golf course communities in the southeast and hundreds of discussions with residents and real estate people, we can understand the phenomenon.  We've heard numerous stories about couples who have moved to their dream home and community and one of the partners, within a few years, rekindles his or her passion.  Unfortunately, that passion is for a neighbor or someone else they meet in the community. 
    As a generation, boomers have always wanted what they wanted when they wanted it; okay, it's a sweeping generalization, so we invite refutation.  But as Woody Allen said after Mia Farrow found salacious photos of Soon Yi in the Woodman's dresser drawer, "The heart wants what the heart wants."  And as the clock ticks, the heart's needs beat more urgently.
    We detect the potential for a business model for psychologists or marriage counselors.  Many boomers are emotionally unprepared to retire.  We're not talking about the impacts of going from a job to no job; there are plenty of interesting part-time jobs in retirement areas, the possibility of consulting gigs and certainly volunteer organizations that can use talented, experienced people.  The issue is more about communication.  So many boomer couples have spent their years together focused on their jobs and their children that they haven't focused on the communication aspects of their marriages.  As a "reward" for their hard work and income generation, they buy that dream house in a retirement area and head south, perhaps too quickly, without taking a breath to explore what they both want.  The relationship may head south as well because the kids are gone, the routine of job responsibilities (including child raising) is gone and the two people really, truly have not been alone together for 20 years.
    We haven't seen figures yet on divorce rates among retirees, but anecdotal evidence we've heard over the last year and a half and the increased numbers of boomers using online dating services may be hinting at a problem.  I didn't even take a psych course in college, so the thoughts of professionals (or the experiences of others) would be appreciated.

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    Mark Zilbert (rhymes with Dilbert, we suppose) is one casualty of the condo collapse in Miami, according to today's Wall Street Journal.  But rather than taking a swan dive off one of the city's near-empty buildings, the downtown residential real estate broker is changing his web site's name from CondoFlip.com to CondoSupercenter.com to more resemble a discount retail operation.  Says Zilbert, explaining why he has flipped his business model:  "We clearly don't have one buyer for every apartment being built."  Clearly.
Monday, 29 January 2007 18:00

Where's Lereah?

It has been a month since National Association of Realtor's flack cum economist David Lereah has pronounced the bottom of the housing market.  We miss him.  So here is his most recent prediction, from late in December, almost identical to the "we've hit bottom" pronouncements he made in September and May last year:

"It appears we have hit bottom.  The price drops are necessary to stir sales.  It is working."

For more words of wisdom from the mouthpiece of the real estate industry, go to the seriously amusing (or is it amusingly serious?) site at davidlereahwatch.blogsport.com.
        Golf Tips magazine agrees with us.  In the slick magazine’s Golf Travel Annual edition, published in December, the editors feature “Live the Dream!  Best Golf Communities.”  Four of the 15 communities they anoint have been reviewed in HomeOnTheCourse’s first four issues, four others are on our list to visit and review, and one we played years ago (and didn’t realize it was part of a community).  The only difference between the magazine’s reviews and our own is the depth of explanation – theirs is a paragraph long – and the uniformly gushing nature of their comments (some of the communities’ golf courses are advertisers).
Cuscowilla     Cuscowilla, The Cliffs Communities, Haig Point and Pawleys Plantation come in for star treatment in Golf Travel Annual.  The magazine calls the Cuscowilla layout (bunker on hole #1 at right), by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw “one of the most breathtaking golf experiences in the Southeast.”  It is a terrific golf course because it doesn’t take your breath away with dramatic, view-over-everything vistas.  You, the fairway and the green before you are often all you see or care about on Cuscowilla’s natural landscape.  
    Some of the Cliffs Communities golf courses, on the other hand, do take your breath away, especially the one a half-mile up Glassy Mountain, a top-of-the-world Tom Jackson design.  Golf Travel Annual misleads a little when it implies the Cliffs at Mountain Park, with a design by Gary Player, is one of the five current communities in the Cliffs portfolio; it was only recently announced, and the course won’t be ready until at least 2008.  Also, when touting the feature that membership in one of the Cliffs clubs provides access to all, the magazine should alert its less-than-Forbes 400 readers that initiation fees run more than $100,000.
    We can’t quibble with the magazine’s brief description of a place we loved for its splendid isolation, Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, GA.  More livable year round than the also agreeable Bald Head Island in North Carolina, Haig Point’s Rees Jones layout captures all the local elements –- marsh, live oak forests, the Atlantic Ocean and views to Hilton Head Island and the lighthouse behind the 18th green at Harbour Town.  Haig Point members who want to experience other good golf courses don’t have to leave the island – The Melrose Club (Nicklaus) and Bloody Point (Moorish/Weiskopf) are but a short golf cart ride away at the Daufuskie Island Resort.  Haig Point’s year-round residents are a hardy, organized breed who manage their lives around the community’s thankfully frequent ferry schedule.   And home prices are surprisingly reasonable, and most include the club’s initiation fee of $65,000.  However, $10,000 annual club dues and other fees more than make up for the “free” initiation.
    We were pleased, and surprised, to see our own summer community on the list.  Pawley’s Plantation’s golf course in Pawleys Island, SC, is not private, with non-member play rather liberally applied to those staying on property and in a select number of hotels in the area.  The Jack Nicklaus designed layout, circa 1989, winds its way on the front nine through stands of pine and oak trees, as well as lagoons, and then emerges into the marsh for holes 12 through 18 (only the par 4 15th returns briefly to the woods). 
    The signature par 3 13th is a hole members and visitors alike love to hate; it is a mere 130 yards or so from the men’s tees to the island green (with just a thin spit of land to the right, enough to contain the dreaded drop area).  The wind is almost always blowing in from the left, forcing an aiming line out over the marsh in order to have a go at the tiny green.  Pray hard if the wind is behind you; the green is quite firm, and your lob or sand wedge had better land on the front third, an area just 20 feet or so deep, or you’ll find the marsh behind the bulk-headed green.  When the tide is out, dozens of golf balls dot the mud in front of the green, just adding to your anxiety from the tee.  We look forward to playing #17 at Sawgrass so we will be able to testify to what we know intuitively is true – the 13th at Pawley’s is tougher.
    We haven’t played all the courses Golf Travel Annual cites, although we are planning on hitting most of them.  But of all the courses they mention, Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, ME, would be hard to beat.  It is in the middle of nowhere, four hours from any city of consequence (Boston and Montreal), and better known for its skiing than its golf.  ‘Tis a pity.  We played Sugarloaf a half dozen years ago, and the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design was a revelation for its views from the elevated tees, dramatically tilted fairways and roller coaster rides from tee to green that never seem to induce anything approaching vertigo.  Sugarloaf is one of the toughest courses we have ever played, with comparisons to Pine Valley not overstated, certainly in terms of how much you have to think and how hard you have to bear down on virtually every tee shot.  Even good drives to the elbow of the many doglegs skittered in the direction of the woods.  And the shot from the five story high 11th tee to the slim, front to back green with the Carrabassett River lapping at its left side was just one of many Kodak moments at Sugarloaf seared into our memory.  If there are any homes abutting the golf course today, they have been built since our visit.
    The Golf Travel Annual article features courses north of Myrtle Beach that are on our list to visit and review.  Virtually all the 15 courses highlighted are in the southeast, with just one in Arizona (Whisper Rock in Scottsdale) and one in Los Cabos, Mexico (El Dorado).  Web site for the magazine is www.golftipsmag.com; however, articles from the annual publication are not posted at the site.

   
Taberna finishing hole
Taberna's 18th is the most dramatic hole on the course.

 

One of the first golf communities I visited back when I started this service in 2007 was Taberna, outside the historic city of New Bern, NC.  I was struck by how orderly and neat the community was and not surprised to learn that it was favored by retired and active military personnel from nearby bases.  It seems fitting on Memorial Day to reprint that review.

 

    During a visit last November, the small city of New Bern, NC, appeared to be insulated from real estate woes.  Construction cranes dotted the downtown historic area, adjacent to one of the city's two rivers.  A new golfing community, Carolina Colours, had just opened outside of town and begun its advertising campaign, and the area's original golf community, Taberna, had only a few for sale signs dotting the front lawns of its tidy homes.  Given its proximity to water and reasonably priced golf and real estate, New Bern's property owners do not appear to have too much to worry about in terms of valuations (barring an out and out collapse)..
    Taberna, which opened in 1998, won't attract investment banker types looking to show off, but for those interested in a true neighborhood environment with an enjoyable golf course, it fills the bill.  It is hard to find a house with a pricetag north of $600,000; Taberna has more than a fair share of condos and patio homes, which tamps down the price of the higher end homes.  Small “patio” homes dominate the community in two large neighborhoods. 
    Taberna's original developer, the giant paper company Weyerhauser, must have studied the Levittown (Long Island) game plan because the houses are the same size, on identical lots and the same distance from the streets.  Little attempt was made to create cul de sacs in which the houses could at least be set at more visually pleasing angles.  The mostly brick exteriors do give a neat overall appearance to parts of the community.  
    With military bases within an hour, including Camp Lajeune,Taberna's residents include a number of former servicemen, and discipline and neatness have carried over to the community's lawns and houses.  Pride of place extends to the golf course where, during a convivial round with three sextagenarian residents, I was amazed at how often they picked up broken tees and cigarette butts and deposited them into containers they carried on their carts.  New club owners Gretchen and Fred Leonard appear to have a disciplined approach to fixing some nagging issues they inherited from the previous owners, and they are earning high praise from their patient and supportive members.  Taberna par 3
    The course, which will not win awards for dramatic routing, nevertheless is a pleasure to play, and we understood the positive feelings toward it of our three new friends.  The Jim Lipe design -- he was trained in the Jack Nicklaus stable -- saves much of the drama for its finishing holes on both nines, the only time you see water all day.  The finisher, at 400 yards from the men’s tees (427 from the back), forces a well-placed drive down the left side of the fairway, where two strategically placed bunkers await overcooked draws.  That is still a safer bet than shaving distance down the right, where the lake is close.  An approach shot must not be greedy when the pin is at right because the lake extends to greenside there.  Traps at left front and right rear make placement even more precise. 
    At the tips, the course plays to 6,900 yards, with a few par 4s weighing in at 425 yards or more.  Greens were not huge, but they were quite fast with subtle contours.  They are big enough that different pin positions will provide a wide variety of approach options.  Although it rained the prior few days and carts were relegated to cart paths only, the fairways were not at all sloshy and the greens had been closely cropped.
    For those who might feel too cramped in Taberna, real estate in the city of New Bern beckons.  Taberna Golf Club welcomes members from outside the community, and nice, historic properties on or near the river start around $400,000.  Initiation fees for full golf are just $8,500 for a family, $5,500 for an individual.  Monthly dues are $220 and $173, respectively. The club offers social memberships (no golf) at less than half the full initiation for golf and offers corporate memberships that range from $8,500 for one player up to $17,000 for four.  Dining minimums are just $60 per quarter, the equivalent of one meal for a couple.
   For club information, contact Gretchen Leonard at (252) 634-1600 or gretchenleonard@tabernacc.com.  For real estate information for Taberna and the New Bern area, contact Coldwell Banker Broker Connie Sithens at (800) 334-0792, or connie@coldwellbankerhomes.com.

A FEW TASTY NOTES ABOUT NEW BERN


    I have eaten at New Bern's Chelsea Restaurant twice in a span of six years, and it was terrific both times.  On a November visit to the downtown location, the restaurant's “famous” cream of crab soup did not over-promise, and the “Southern osso buco” ($19.95), a humongous shank of pork braised in an intense reduction of wine, olive oil, roasted tomatoes and capers, was meltingly soft and irresistible, leaving us no room for any of the attractive desserts.  Other specialties on the menu include the “Combination Plates,” which offer a filet mignon, New York Strip or 16-ounce rib-eye in combination with grilled shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops or a large crab cake.  The latter combo, at $29.95, was the second most expensive entrée on the menu, beaten only by the Chelsea Filet Oscar, which featured tenderloin, jumbo lump crabmeat and tempura-fried asparagus at $32.  Next time, perhaps…
    The two-level Chelsea, at the corner of Broad and Middle Streets, is an anchor in New Bern’s historic downtown district, a few blocks from the Trent River and the site of the pharmacy where Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi Cola.  New Bern has a population of just over 25,000 and wears the official distinction as an “All America City”; there is little we saw to dispute that label, except for an impending traffic problem that may result from rapid population growth and the basic geography of the area. 
    The Trent and Neuse Rivers bracket New Bern and provide great opportunities for recreational boating, fishing and water skiing, but they make egress possible only driving west; therefore, a visit to the beach requires a two-hour roundtrip commitment.  Golf is available at seven area courses, which is plenty for now in a town of just 50,000.  Two of them are private; the Taberna Golf Club (see above) and the par 70 New Bern Country Club course, a Donald Ross layout built in 1921 which we did not have the opportunity to play.
    New Bern is an historic city, and the beautiful Tryon Palace, which served as the British capitol before the town’s founding in 1710, is a popular tourist destination.  Recognizing what they have, many property owners in New Bern have restored their old homes, some dating to the 18th Century.  Recently, we noted that a beautiful house in the historic district was listed at $745,000.  It featured 4 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths and nice views of the Neuse River.  Contact Connie Sithens at connie@coldwellbankerhomes.com if interested in this or any other home in the New Bern area.

Sunday, 28 January 2007 18:00

On fleeing Florida

The following was posted on the discussion board at CarolinaLiving.com:  "I too am thinking about relocating to the Beaufort (SC) area.  Where I live in the northeastern part of Florida is very crowded and getting worse.  I  am not looking for the backcountry woods, I just would like a place that is not growing quite so fast and a place where the people don't seem to want to run over you in the grocery store or on the road."
Saturday, 27 January 2007 18:00

Exclusive, and proud of it

    Quick, what's the first course that comes to mind when you hear the word "Pinehurst?"  Pinehurst #2?  One of the other numbered courses? Maybe Pine Needles or Mid-Pines, the Ross classics?  Most of us plebes wouldn't think of Forest Creek.  And, apparently, the club and its members like it that way, tossing around the notion of "exclusive" the way Paris Hilton tosses down...well, we won't go there. 
    All this is to say that we were stunned and excited recently when we noticed one of those little Google ads for Forest Creek on a Wilmington, NC, real estate company's site.  We thought maybe the club that counts Michael Jordan as a member was going a little more prole.  We clicked on the ad and were taken to the forest green colored (clever) Forest Creek web site.  We hit the "Enter" button and didn't hit the "Skip Intro" button because the two shots of the golf course were as gorgeous as a 2-iron to 10 feet.  We hungered for more shots of the renowned Fazio design but, alas, our hopes were dashed. 
    Country club web sites tend to pour it on thick, with paeans to their golf pros, clubhouses, members, amenities and on and on.  But Forest Creek is not like any other golf club, and its web site is not like any other web site.  We had but two options to proceed:  Either sign in with our membership password (we don't have one) or call a phone number in Pinehurst to speak with a membership representative.  It was not a toll-free number either. 
    If you have to ask how much, you probably can't afford it.  Oh yes, the web site is www.forestcreekgolfclub.com.  Please send photos.
Friday, 26 January 2007 23:00

Hey Buddy! Wanna buy a B&B?

    During a research trip to Wilmington, NC earlier this month, I stayed in a warm and inviting bed and breakfast inn, The Taylor House.  Located in the city’s historic district, Taylor House is about a 10-minute walk to the gas lit Front Street and some of the city’s best restaurants and shops.  As I pulled up to the house at sundown, I could not help but notice the for-sale sign out front.
    After about a dozen years, proprietors Scott and Karen Clark have decided to “move on,” in Scott’s words.  But they aren’t moving away, content to continue to raise their 13-year old daughter in a town they have come to love after domiciles in New York City, upstate New York and the west coast.  The Victorian was built in 1905 and features six bedrooms, a full bath in each one.  A dramatic wooden staircase, stained glass windows, original tile are just a few of the house’s architectural details.  The Clarks have accessorized nicely, especially with the early-20th Century table lamps that are attractive beacons in the windows at night.
    My two-night stay at the inn was everything the promoters of bed and breakfast places say it should be – warm, friendly, personal, comfortable and relaxing.  All the rooms at Taylor House have cute names.  I stayed in the one at the back of the house, Serenity, the smallest of them all but plenty for me.  Its two windows each looked out on a garden.  The bed was comfortable and fit for a queen, both in terms of its size and the style of its headboard, which would have made Queen Victoria feel at home.  The gas fireplace on the cold nights I stayed came in handy; the rush of gas provided quick warmth to the room, although Scott was right to warn me to be careful not to singe my eyebrows when I lit the thing.  The only picky little criticism I have is that the shower was too small, maneuverability affected by a faucet handle that protruded from the wall.  I kept bumping into it, sending a burst of ice cold water my way (at least I didn’t push it in the direction of scalding hot).
    Breakfast was a hoot, especially the second morning.  At my first breakfast, which included a soothing plate of scrambled eggs and cheese, fruit and a muffin, Scott leaned against the antique sideboard as he filled me in on local history, the specifics of the house and his take on the local restaurants.  He warned me that a honeymoon couple would be arriving that evening.  The next morning I sat down with the happy couple, both well into their 70s.  I think the proud groom had practiced his line when he smiled at me and said, “I hope we didn’t keep you up last night.”  His wife, way past the blushing stage, laughed contentedly at the joke.  I was all too happy to be the butt of it, and resisted the temptation to ask if they stayed in the Joy or Love room.
    The house is on the market for $795,000 and does seem most suited to a B&B business (unless you need four mothers in law suites!)..  Rates at Taylor House begin at $125 a night, breakfast included, but discounts are available.  My initial email was greeted with a quick response and the offer of a rate of $90.  The inn’s web site is www.TaylorHouseBB.com.  I’ll post some comments in the coming weeks about the golf communities in the area, as well as some notes on the two restaurants I sampled for dinner.

  Haig Point
Marsh grass, live oaks and sand give Haig Point's layout a strong links feel. Wind and views of the Calibogue Sound only add to the effect.

Golf Community Review 

    If you have a bit of the Garbo in you, Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, SC, may float your boat.  Isolated and reached only by an hourly ferry from Hilton Head Island across the Calibogue Sound, the small community offers upscale leisure living and one of the best golf courses we've played in the last year, a 27+ hole Rees Jones layout that winds through live oaks and marsh and eventually along the Calibogue.  Why 27+ holes?  Jones was so smitten with the terrain he just couldn't help routing two holes in two different ways.
    Only 100 families live full time in Haig Point, but residents never feel alone.  They are a tightknit group, both because they have to be and, it seems, want to be.  We were greeted warmly when we met some of them for drinks on a Friday night in November in the community's "mansion," and later the clubhouse dining room was filled with chatty members who bellied up to the piano and belted out a few songs after dinner. 
    The mansion, which includes a few guest rooms for those visiting friends or looking at property, had been relocated by boat in the 1980s from somewhere in Georgia and reconstructed at Haig Point, just west of the ruins of the former slave quarters.  The slave homes' tabby material was made from a mix of oyster shells and a kind of concrete, and it was a little eerie to see the contrast of modern and 18th Century, of luxe and servitude, side by side.  The original developers of Haig Point, International Paper, left the ruins in place as one reminder that Daufuskie had a sobering history before it gave way to mostly leisure living.  Another such reminder is the Mary Field School, where author Pat Conroy taught Gullah children in the 1960s (Jon Voight had the starring role in the 1970s film of Conroy's island experience).  The school is still in use although the Gullahs, for the most part, are gone. 
    Real estate prices in Haig Point are almost too good to be true, with cottages and single family homes nestled in the live oaks going for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than comparably scaled homes on the mainland, and with $65,000 club membership fees thrown in for good measure on most sales.  But you know that when things seem too good to be true, there is usually a catch or two; at Haig Point, there are a couple of catches.  One is that carrying costs are high, with club dues running more than $10,000 a year.  And if your fellow members decide they want to rehab the clubhouse or beach club, you will share in the potentially steep assessment.  After all, on an island where virtually everything is shipped in, including labor, prices are much higher than on the mainland (Note:  If you buy a piece of property at Haig and elect to build a house, your construction costs could reach as high as $500 a square foot, compared with around $200 on Hilton Head).  Chairs at Haig Point
    And then there is the most obvious "catch" of all, Daufuskie Island's isolation, a half hour boat ride from the mainland, and if you need provisions or just want to get away, there is only one way in and one way out.  That said, those who have chosen Haig Point love it and speak of their community as an oasis of calm.  They are a hardy and upbeat group, an engaging mix of former captains of industry, a few architects, real estate people and consultants who can work via satellite from the island, with the occasional flight from Savannah to meet with clients.  Those clients should hold out for meetings occasionally at Haig Point.  It's a wonderful, soothing and friendly place, and for its residents, half the fun is getting there.
    We spent two days at Haig Point and also played the nearby Melrose Club at the Daufuskie Island Resort (we'll comment on Melrose and its fine Jack Nicklaus course at a later time).  In a later post, we'll also discuss our visit to Bald Head Island, site of the only other "true" island golf community off the east coast.

�lbemarle Plantation season shot  
North Carolina communities like Albemarle Plantation in Hertford are a magnet for Florida residents who miss a little change of seasons. 

   
    Wherever we go in the southeast, we hear the same thing from real estate agents:  Floridians are "bouncing back" to the Carolinas.  In the early years of this decade, the reasons seemed to be storm related; those with expensive homes on the Florida coasts were intimidated by the threat and, in some cases, reality of hurricanes.  They were already leaving before Katrina.  Others were fed up with New York metro-area-type traffic as local road infrastructures could not keep up with the population explosions in places like Dade County and Naples.  What’s the point of trying to save money by eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. at the local Smorgie Board if you are going to sit in traffic and waste gas?  Lately, though, Florida residents are moving to Wilmington, Charlottesville, Asheville and other cities in the southeast for another reason:  They miss winter.
    Ironic, isn't it.  The reasons our parents and grandparents left New York and other northern cities decades ago was that they were sick and tired of cold and snow, and that on a fixed income, they felt a wardrobe of a few tee and golf shirts and three pairs of shorts would save money.  They never imagined they would miss winter, or a reasonable facsimile of it (winters in the Carolinas are wussy winters).  Today, many are trading in their lanais for fireplaces.  
    Of course, it is never just about the weather as much as it is about economics, loathe as some of us are to admit it.  Just as they did decades ago when they cashed in the wild appreciations on their homes in Skokie and Scarsdale for brand new houses in Boca and Boynton Beach, the new refugees, also known as “halfbacks” for how far they’ve come since leaving north for Florida, are doing the same thing, playing the real estate game for all it is worth, pocketing the difference between their wildly appreciated houses in Florida for plenty enough house in the Carolinas.  (Of course, if they waited until now in places like Miami and Naples, they won't get the prices they could have gotten a year ago, if they can sell at all.)
    Call it creative financing on a fixed income.  They no longer need worry quite as much about income tax rates – Florida has none – because their taxable income is no longer a huge factor as they've spent some of their net worth over time.  What they make on the sell and buy transaction pays for a lot of firewood and all the sweaters they need for the Carolinas’ mild winters.  And North Carolina has no estate tax, so what they don’t spend in their lifetimes the halfbacks can leave substantially to their heirs.  
    From the macro economic view, this new phenomenon is good news for real estate price stability in the Carolinas; on the other side of the coin, we have to wonder if Floridians who wait too long to follow suit may suffer more winters of discontent.
Page 122 of 122

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