Searching for a golf community on the Internet is both an art and a science. The science, of course, is to identify only the relevant keywords for your search. The art is to strip away all the irrelevant results.
Beware the Online Commitment
Let us say you are looking for a golf home in a community near the coast in the Carolinas. Logically, you might include the search terms “Carolinas golf community coastal.” Such a search yields three top entries from privatecommunities.com, an online service that promotes communities in exchange for a fee. This is not a bad place to start in that Private Communities provides data, such as prices, amenities, and location information for some of the more popular golf and non-golf communities, 33 of them in coastal South Carolina alone. However, when you take them up on their offer to “Send Me Information,” understand that your name and contact info will go directly to the real estate agency at the community and you could begin receiving unwanted material and phone calls. You will also be assigned a real estate agent of the agency’s choice.
One Search Term, Three Different Results
Also on the first page of the search results are a few communities in Brunswick County, NC. Brunswick Plantation, Ocean Ridge Plantation and St. James Plantation are all within 10 minutes of the beach (Ocean Ridge and St. James maintain beach clubs for their residents). They could not be more different from one another. Brunswick offers lots of condos and some single-family homes at inexpensive prices, and its golf courses are public. Ocean Ridge offers five well-regarded golf courses that are also open to local and visiting golfers, and its home prices start around $400K. And St. James Plantation, a sprawling community near the coastal town of Southport, includes a wide range of real estate offerings, starting in the $200s, and a country club lifestyle that includes three golf courses that are for members only.
Some folks will enjoy digging into the community web sites that show up in their searches and spending time determining whether one community is better suited to them than another. Count on an hour or two of digging through communities that show up in your search; multiply that by additional searches, different locations and more communities, and the investment in time can become substantial.
Stuff They Don't Tell You
More importantly, you will learn nothing from these communities’ web sites or the online sites that promote them about the financial resources of the Homeowner’s Associations or the country clubs inside the gates. Ditto if there are any lawsuits between residents and the developer or between members of a country club and their board. (We know of at least one of those currently ongoing.) Remember that most web sites dedicated to golf communities receive a fee for promoting them. What do you think are the chances that they would offer anything critical about their clients?
Save Time and Find the Best Agent for You
For those who value their time and would like to tap into the experience of someone who has visited nearly 200 golf communities over the last 10 years, conducted research on dozens of others and established a network of golf real estate experts across the Southeast, there is an alternative source: Me. And for you, a subscriber to Home On The Course, I am happy to provide a free, no-obligation one-hour discussion about your requirements for a golf home. And, if I hear from you between now and the end of April, I will waive my fee to conduct a search (which I always return in full just after closing).
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-675-1491 and let’s get the golf ball rolling.
If you would like more information about any of the communities listed above, or dozens of others we can recommend, please send me a note at email@example.com
The Short Journey Home: How to Find Your Golf Community Within a Year
You are not getting any younger and properties in the top golf communities in the Southeast are not getting any cheaper. Prices in most of the dozens of golf communities we follow were up between 5% and 10% on average in 2016. And with savings accounts and other conservative investments still yielding less than 2% annually, an investment in a top quality home in arguably the most popular region in the country could be especially timely.
Therefore, if you have been pointing toward relocating to a warm weather area featuring plenty of golf to go with the extra days of sunshine, especially during much of the winter, then what are you waiting for? Importantly, you will "pay" for your move with a lower cost of living, in some cases much lower. For example, couples used to spending, say, $100,000 annually on all their expenses -- real estate, food, transportation, entertainment, medical, everything -- could save as much as $40,000 and more every year just by moving to the lower cost states in the South. (If you spend less than $100K per year, just apply that 40% factor to your own annual budget.) Chances are you won't be buying a home that approaches in size the one in which you raised your children; you should be able to bank the difference between the price you fetch for your loaded-with-equity home up North and what you pay for your next home in the South.
If your personal situation and the current market conditions convince you that the time is nigh to make the move you have been planning casually for years, here is a general timeline that will get you to your new home, and country club, in a year from now or less.
Decide on Topography & Climate
Assuming you are a couple, my advice is not to start a search unless you decide together on whether your destination is near the ocean, by a lake (interior location) or in the mountains. If you are "open" to both mountains and ocean, for example, forget finding a home within a year (or, for that matter, ever). If one of you wants to live near the beach and one as far away from the beach as possible, you have a problem. The advice here, especially if only one of the two is a golfer, is for the golfer to relent on location. There are great golf courses everywhere in the Southeast but only great beaches along the coast (and only nice mountains five hours inland). Happy spouse, happy house.
Although winters tend to be mild once you get south of the Virginia/North Carolina border, there are significant differences between the climate in Chapel Hill, NC and, say, Sarasota, FL. For many northerners, January in Sarasota or any place in Florida is perfect, with golf playable at virtually any time of the day it is not raining. But July and August are an entirely different matter. If you can’t stand the heat, and you don’t plan to have a second home up north for the summer, stay out of Florida. On a similar note, if your plan is to play golf every week of the year, then the Carolina mountains may not be for you. A foot of snow spread over the winter months is not uncommon, for example, in the Asheville, NC, area, and although lingering snow cover there is unusual, temperatures typical of a Pennsylvania winter are not uncommon.
Time to decide on an area to live: Over a nice dinner, about two hours.
Create a Checklist
Once you have decided on a general location for your search, you need to have a checklist for two major reasons: 1) It will make your Internet search for appropriate golf communities more relevant and more focused; and 2) It will keep any disagreements about which golf communities you should visit to a minimum.
Your checklist should include such items as the amenities you must have (e.g. walking trails, fitness center, boating nearby) and a few that, in the case of a tie between communities, could tilt one of them in your direction. It is important that you reconcile in advance how far you need to be from such services as a hospital, commercial airport, supermarket, beach, quality restaurants, shopping center and other services. Of course, that checklist must include a price range for the home (or property) you intend to purchase, and a general idea of its size (number of rooms and square footage). Although I don’t recommend it as a make or break feature, it will be good to agree on the type of view you would like to enjoy from your golf community home. (In general, there is a premium of up to 20% in some communities for a golf course view, and 30% and more for a lake or river view; forget about commanding views of the ocean unless you have a couple of million dollars to spend).
Note: I offer a Golf Home Questionnaire that is essentially a checklist of the major items you will want to consider; click here for the questionnaire. Once you fill it out, we can arrange for a free, no-obligation discussion about which areas and specific communities match your requirements.
Your next activity is to conduct some research on the Internet – but not too much. If you visit the web sites of, say, 10 golf communities, each and every one will appear to be paradise, with the best golf courses, the friendliest neighbors, and the most comprehensive roster of amenities. And their homes will seem like a bargain too.
Better to ignore the hype and look for all the must have items on your checklist. If your requirements match what a particular community has to offer, keep it on the list of potentials for a visit. If it doesn’t, move on. Of course, this begs the question how best to search for those specific communities that match your parameters.
Since by this time you will have decided on some areas of the Southeast to focus on – mountains, lakes, coastal, one or two specific states – your search terms should reflect those choices. Say, for example, you are looking for a golf community within 15 minutes or so of an ocean beach but also near a city because you want access to a lot of services, access a map of the coast from Virginia Beach south through Florida and another for the Gulf Coast of Florida (assuming a home in Florida is in contention; if not, your search will be more straightforward). Below the Virginia/North Carolina border, there really aren’t that many cities on the coast until you get to Florida. They are Wilmington, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, which I include because it is just below the Georgia state line. Time to decide on search terms: A minute or two if you have given thought to where to live.
Identifying the Right Real Estate Agent
When you find a golf community online that seems to match your criteria, you face perhaps one of the most important decisions of the entire process: Whom do you ask for additional information? You have three choices if the golf community has an on-site real estate office (many of the newer ones do, many of the older ones that have been turned over by the developer to the residents do not): 1) Contact the on-site real estate office for more information. If you do, you will be assigned to an agent in the office. Keep in mind that, in most cases, the on-site agency can only sell you a home in their community. If you decide to leverage your visit and tour other golf communities in the area, you will have to identify a local real estate brokerage. 2) Contact a reputable local real estate brokerage directly. This gives you the maximum flexibility in looking at golf communities in a particular market; and the agent you work with will not care where you purchase a home. But you will be “flying blind” in terms of the quality of the agency, unless you know someone locally who can recommend the brokerage. 3) Contact me. I have established a professional network of real estate professionals throughout the Southeast; some work in offices inside golf communities and others are golf real estate experts who work for local real estate agencies. In areas where I have not established a relationship yet, I would be pleased to interview local agents to find the best one for you. Time to identify a real estate agent: Either a few hours of research online or a few minutes to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next Time: Setting Up The Visits, and Asking the Right Questions
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC