One of the typical mistakes a couple makes when looking for a home in a golf community is to permit perfect to be the enemy of perfectly suitable. In trying to get every last detail right, such a couple is like Sisyphus, pushing a heavy stone up a steep hill only to fall back time after time. Their search for a golf home that checks every last box can take years longer than for those who focus only on the must haves.
The fact is that no golf community is paradise. No matter how well organized or established they are, even the best golf communities possess a characteristic that causes them to fall short of perfection. The trick for couples searching for their golf community home is to focus on, say, their top 5 wants, and if they find a community that strongly matches those, don’t sweat the fact that the seventh most important item doesn’t precisely match.
The following is a sample of a few of our favorite golf communities that lack one key amenity or quality some couples would consider a deal breaker, or include something that some couples might find equally disqualifying.
The Landings, Savannah, GA
Although some might see The Landings’ sheer size as a flaw -– 4,800 acres, 8,000 residents, although they don’t all live there at one time –- it seems to me it is an advantage, spawning more than 100 social clubs and making the six golf clubs well used and well financed. The community does not feel crowded, divided as it is into discrete neighborhoods with the six golf courses serving as buffers. Just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, The Landings is the appropriate place for those couples who like their gated community living served with a dollop of urban sophistication.
So what is The Landings missing? The answer is a beach. Tybee Island, the nearest beach of any consequence, is a good 45 minutes away. But if sand and surf is, say, on your list of nice to haves, meaning an occasional visit will satisfy, make friends with one of the boat owners in the community. They can run you out to a sandy island just a 10-minute float across the channel. However, if the beach is not for you, then The Landings definitely could be.
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
For those who believe true island living -– that is, sans automobiles –- is pretty much paradise, Haig Point is a find. Its 29-hole golf course by Rees Jones –- two holes play from entirely different tee boxes -- is one of the best in the state and favored for practicing by professionals who compete in the annual Sea Pines Plantation tournament across the Calibogue Sound. (You can see the famed Lighthouse behind Harbour Town Golf Links’ 18th green from the Haig Point course.) With its own small but ultra-private beach club, frequent ferry service to and from Hilton Head Island, and real estate prices that are significant bargains compared with similar mainland dwellings, Haig Point checks all the boxes for paradise. (A few $1 lots remain.)
But despite the frequent ferry trips back and forth across the sound, a night out for dinner or a show, a grocery run, or a trip to the Hilton Head or Savannah airports is only for the most intrepid souls. And that ferry is expensive to run, making club dues and POA fees at Haig Point toward the higher end of all golf communities.
Daniel Island, Charleston, SC
Located just 20 minutes from Charleston, arguably the most interesting mid-sized city on the east coast with, inarguably, about the best collection of restaurants, Daniel Island is one of those “new urbanism” communities that combine living, working and playing in one location. Real estate runs the gamut from townhomes in tightly defined neighborhoods, to Charleston style (i.e. vertical design) homes on small lots to estate homes across the island and near the two outstanding golf courses (Tom Fazio and Rees Jones). In between is a shopping and entertainment district where most of a family’s weekly and daily needs can be satisfied, and doctors’ offices as well. Schools on the island are a magnet for young families but retirees feel just as comfortable in the eclectic and young-at-heart atmosphere of Daniel Island.
If there is one small chink in the armor, it is the cost of $85,000 per couple to join the Daniel Island Club as full golf members. (Dues per couple are $740 per month.)
Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, SC
There are few better buys in real estate or lower cost-of-living golf communities than Savannah Lakes, which sits beside Lake Thurmond and just across the road from the Savannah River, the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia. Savannah Lakes’ two golf courses, Tara and Monticello, are of totally different character but in equally fine condition. (Tara features dramatic elevation changes, whereas Monticello is a classic layout of doglegs and imaginative bunkering.) Most impressive, however, is that access to the long list of amenities at Savannah Lakes is without initiation fee (and a la carte prices are almost laughably low for what is on offer).
Alas, there is always a compromise, and the compromise here is that Savannah Lakes is virtually in the middle of nowhere and located in the poorest county in the state. The nearest supermarket –- check that, the only supermarket –- is eight miles from the community, and for a night out on the town, Greenwood is a good 30+ minute drive away along a barely lit roadway, making a designated driver almost mandatory for the ride back home.
Keowee Key, Salem, SC
Almost everything we said about Savannah Lakes (above) could be said of Keowee Key, a long-established (40 years) community on Lake Keowee within 20 minutes of the college town of Clemson, home of the currently #1 ranked Clemson Tigers football team. Keowee Key features only one golf course which will appeal to those who plan to play into their 70s. (The challenge on the course can easily be varied from tee box to tee box.) We have never seen real estate prices as low as at Keowee Key and have been stunned over time to find a few waterfront homes priced at less than $100 per square foot. (We note a current 2,000 square foot 2 BR, 2 BA condo townhome on the lake listed at $140,000, or $70 per square foot.)
Prices that low betray a background story, and in this case it is one of intimidation for a segment of the market. Just three miles down the lake, Duke Power built a nuclear power plant that, of course, furnishes pretty cheap utilities for customers in the region but, on the other hand, can scare the bejesus out of some old enough to recall Three Mile Island. We have talked with engineers who tell us they wouldn’t hesitate to live in a community that close to a nuclear power plant. But not every potential resident is an engineer, and anxiety for some couples that look at Keowee Key is what tamps down prices there.
Dataw Island, St. Helena, SC
The three-mile ride along a live-oak-lined roadway over beautiful marshland into the community of Dataw Island is one of the prettiest anywhere and is a fine introduction to this solid community. The two golf courses –- one by Tom Fazio, the other by one of my favorite designers, Arthur Hills –- do nothing to mar that first impression as it is clear the original developers of the community, which is now 30 years old, were generous in terms of the prime land along the marsh that they gave over to the golf course designers. Located about 20 minutes from the charming southern town of Beaufort (pronounced byoo-fort, as opposed to North Carolina’s Beaufort, which is pronounced bow-fort), as well as 20 minutes from the beaches of Hunting Island, Dataw only gives the impression that it is remotely located.
Its distance from Beaufort keeps Dataw Island from being a magnet for young families in the area; therefore, its population of residents skews heavily toward the retiree end of the demographic spectrum. This has caused some of my customers to tell me, “We love Dataw but don’t want to live among people quite that old” (always amusing coming from folks who are almost “that old). If you believe people are only as old as they feel and act, Dataw Island can be an excellent fit, and at uncommonly good prices.
If you would like more information on these or any golf communities in the Southeast U.S., please contact me.
A Few Blindingly (and Not So) Obvious Ways to Search for a Golf Home
When Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he was headed for Asia. He missed his mark by almost half a world largely because there was no reliable map for him to follow.
Couples searching for a new world of leisure living have a lot more information at their disposal today, relatively speaking, than Columbus did, but that doesn't make the route to find the perfect golf home straightforward. In fact, much of the information on everyone's favorite source, the Internet, is confusing and conflicting.
After working with scores of couples searching for a golf home, I've discovered many of them make the same mistakes when trying to find the best golf community for them. Here are some traps to avoid.
Many couples -- no, make that most couples -- spend way more time than is necessary figuring out where they want to live. The most common mistake they make is to assume that there are significant differences in the human aspects of golf communities. One question I get a lot: "How do we know the people will be nice?" I always resist the temptation to answer the question with a question: "How do they know you will be nice?"
The fact is that most people in golf communities in the southern U.S. are from somewhere else, and they are sympathetic to newcomers because they once were newcomers too. Without exception, the dozens of couples I have helped find a home in a golf community rave about the friendliness of their neighbors and about how easy the integration into the community turned out to be. Call me Pollyanna, but you can believe with confidence that, generally, people are nice everywhere, especially in golf communities.
Lesson Learned: Don't obsess about the friendliness of your potential fellow residents. When you identify a community that, in all regards, matches your key criteria, buy the home or property you like.
Waiting May Be a Losing Proposition
The 2008 recession really messed with people's minds. Totally understandable. Many people lost 50% of their portfolio values in the course of a few weeks, much of that savings earmarked for retirement. Some compounded those losses by panicking and selling all their equities and putting their money into the safest "investments" -- bank accounts, bonds and CDs yielding even less than the paltry rate of inflation. Such knee jerk reactions have cost them significant buying power for a retirement home. Whereas they might have been able to afford a $300,000 home before 2008, today they may have to settle for a $150,000 condo (not that you can't be fabulously happy in the condo).
The stories of people who purchased a golf community home just prior to the crash are rife, and have caused those looking for a golf home today to be cautious to a fault. That could be a big mistake. First, most of those people who bought a home just before the recession did so after selling their primary home at the top of the market, your classic "wash." Second, and more important, all but the most depressed markets have rebounded almost to pre-recession price levels. (Even Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas have substantially recovered, and Naples, which had dropped about 50%, is all the way back.) I am seeing that up close and personally in Pawleys Island, SC, a market I tend to watch carefully because my wife and I own a condo there. (We also own a lot down the road from the condo that we purchased early in, gulp, 2008.) The nearby Myrtle Beach market, the last to rebound because of its tourist orientation, is gaining momentum as well.
Lesson Learned: Some couples are delaying their search for a golf community home to give the economy more time to heal, or to give their portfolios more time to heal, or to give their primary home more time to regain its pre-recession value (if it hasn't already). But consider that some markets in the South are among the fastest appreciating in the nation, and some in the North among the slowest, and you don't have to be a mathmetician to figure out what happens to your relative buying power if you wait a few more years. And chances are you are spending up to 40% more annually in expenses by not moving to a lower cost area (see below). Not everyone is in a position to move soon, but if you are, do it.
How to Give Yourself a Big Raise in One Move
The maximum annual Social Security payment is $42,000. Through the simple act of relocating to a Southern golf community, some couples can almost double that income.
You do the math. Add up all your annual expenses, including all taxes, food costs, transportation costs, house related costs like utilities bills, restaurants and other entertainment expenses, and clothing (keep in mind you won't need to buy heavy clothing in the South). Then imagine you save 30% to 40% annually. That is the cost of living savings between some markets in the north and west and those in areas of the southeast.
This may be why I am signing up more customers from California in the last few months. California is one of the highest cost states in the nation, and a couple from Yorba Linda who built a home last year in Chapel Hill, NC, are now saving 39% on their annual expenses in North Carolina compared with what they were spending in California (according to the cost of living calculator at BestPlaces.net).
Lesson Learned: If you are planning to move but are waiting for some economic thunderbolt to make your current home leap in value, do you really think it will increase by 39% -- or even 20%? As the boss of you, you can give yourself a big raise when you move.
In Golf Communities on the Coast, Everyone is "Old"
Some couples tell me they visited a golf community that was perfect for them, but during a day or two's stay, they didn't see a school bus or children, and most people on the golf course or in the clubhouse looked to be in their 60s and older. One couple informed me after a visit to a community with mostly retirees that they did not want to live in an "assisted living facility."
The brutal truth is that couples looking to live among young families in coastal golf communities are in for a bitter disappointment. With rare exception, young families do not live in coastal golf communities. The reasons are pretty straightforward and strictly economic. Most coastal towns are not exactly hotbeds for the kinds of jobs young people might find in, say, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and other major urban areas. The jobs that attract young people along the coast tend to be related to the tourist industry and small manufacturers, neither of which are known for high pay scales.
"How much do you think the average young couple with a child or two makes in Brunswick County (NC)?" Doug Terhune asked me recently. Doug is my go-to agent for Brunswick County golf communities such as Brunswick Forest and Ocean Ridge Plantation. He answered his own question. "Maybe $50,000 combined. That is not going to pay a mortgage or homeowner association and golf dues in a golf community."
Lesson Learned: If you are targeting a coastal golf community, give up the notion that you will be living among more than a few young families, unless Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville are on your list. Age is a state of mind anyway. You will be surprised how "young" many of your neighbors will act, even if they don't put a child on a school bus in the morning.
How to Use Your Golf Home for Free International Lodging
Last weekend, a couple, perfect strangers, offered my wife and me their home in Fairfax, VA for a couple of weeks over the coming holiday season, free of charge. Today, another couple offered us their home adjacent to a golf course in Cornwall, England near Penzance, again totally free of charge. (They indicated they would include use of their automobile without charge as well.)
It isn’t my magnetic personality, my decent credit rating, my immaculate criminal record or the fact that I have sworn never to run for public office that has generated such largesse. Rather, it is simply because I own a condominium in a golf community near the ocean in South Carolina that, I too, am willing to offer to others through an organization called Homelink International.
Homelink is a service that facilitates a match of people looking to spend their vacations in digs that cost nothing. I first learned about it from my brother in San Francisco who swapped his home there 15 years ago for a villa in Italy. (My bro’s home was quite nice but, by no means, a villa.) The swap was so successful that he followed it up with other swaps in Paris and London.
I joined Homelink in 2006, and in 2008 had my first, and to this date only, swap with a couple in Crail, Scotland where they own a cottage by the seacoast just down the street from the Crail Golfing Society and its two golf courses, one modern and the other the 7th oldest layout in the world. My son and I spent a glorious golfing week in and around Crail, including the Old Course at St. Andrews, a couple of months after our new friends stayed at our condo in Pawleys Island, SC. (Long story short, we have become such good friends with George and Dorothy that they have stayed in our Connecticut home with us and this past August, my wife Connie and I spent a week with them in Crail.)
Homelink charges a modest annual fee, but don’t rush out to join just yet. The principal owners of Homelink have promised a discount to all my readers after I publish an extended article on the service, probably after the first of the year. Once you join, you build a profile of your home that includes a description and photos, and you indicate where in the world you would like to visit; many home exchangers choose “Open Ended” as their choice. (The term “swapper” is avoided for its salacious connotation, I suppose.) Dozens of countries are represented. I tried to nail down an exchange in the London area for our family’s trip there in August, but it seems one has to inquire about the choicest spots up to a year in advance.
The obvious question is about trust. I admit to a bit of anxiety about our 2008 Scotland/Pawleys Island swap beforehand, but after an exchange of two or three emails with George, and after our Pawleys Island condo survived their two-week stay in better shape than when they had arrived, there was no stress in the process. In fact, George and Dorothy drove across Scotland from their home in Glasgow –- a 1½ hour trip -- to make sure my son and I were settled in comfortably and to guide us around the Crail Links. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Homelink permits non-members to noodle around their web site. They are still working out a few kinks with their totally revised site, but you will get the gist of it. One of the nicest new features of the site is the ability to search by "affinities"; an interest in golf is one of the affinities, and a search for a home to exchange will yield all listings that include "golf." If you have any questions about the exchange process, contact me and I will be happy to answer them.