Geography Lesson: Topography First Choice in Golf Home Search
There are really only two reasons why most retirees move south -- the weather, especially in winter, and the cost of living. I have done enough research across the Southeast region to know that when you move from the industrial North to the more rural South, you will save from 15% to 50% in annual expenses virtually everywhere except in parts of Florida. (See eye-opening data below.) Move from Philadelphia, for example, to Myrtle Beach or Greenville, SC, or Greenville, NC, or Asheville, NC, and you will save 43%, 41%, 45% or 32%, respectively, on an annual basis. (Data from BestPlaces.net). Because your cost of living savings are likely to be large, no matter whether you choose the mountains or the seacoast for a home, your initial focus should be on the topography. In the South, elevation pretty much determines climate. Everywhere on the flat and exposed Florida coast, for example, is hot and humid in the summer, and everywhere in North Carolina’s mountains is cool-to-cold and occasionally snowy in the winter (but oh those beautiful summers).
Expect a Hug from Your New Neighbors
Some of my clients enlist my help without having resolved the topography issue. I tell these folks that their search is likely to be a long one. When I hear the words, "We are looking for a community that is a good fit for us," I silently cringe. With literally hundreds of golf communities in each of the three major geographies of the Southeast -- mountains, coastal and inland/lake -- there are places to fit every type of couple. In most golf communities of the Southeast, everyone is from somewhere else, and residents of all golf communities recall their own angst about moving to a new place populated with strangers. They are sympathetic, and even if they weren't, the smart ones will see new residents as important to enhancing property values in the communities (unsold homes and lots being a drag on property values).
Active or Laid-back, Urban or Rural
A successful search always starts with topography. Once that decision is done, the next step is whether you want to live near a city of consequence (airport, lots of quality restaurants, the best medical care) or in a rural location (more house for the money, quiet lifestyle, no noise or air pollution). Resist the temptation to worry too much about finding a home within your budget; from $200,000 and up, there are plenty of choices in golf communities in all geographies; and, by all means, never ever conduct the early part of a search by focusing on houses for sale on line – unless you know for sure where you want to live. The house itself should never be the initial driver; you will absolutely find a home to suit your taste in virtually every corner of the Southeast. The first step is the find the right general area, then the community, then the house or lot.
Can Your Golf Community Course Be Converted to Housing?
I subscribe to a Google feed with “golf” and “communities” as the key search terms. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see some mention of the impending demise of one or more golf courses. Some of those reports indicate that developers are acquiring golf courses and their facilities at fire-sale prices, as low as $2 million. The land is what they want in order to build houses on former fairways and greens.
This trend might scare some people from investing in a golf community home, but it shouldn’t. Courts of law often find that a developer who has marketed a golf course and golfing lifestyle to prospective property owners has created an “implied restrictive covenant” that protects the golf course itself from being converted to any other use.
Documents filed before developers can sell lots and homes spell out what they can and cannot do with the land. In golf communities, these “covenants” typically indicate expectations for the golf course and its facilities. They may not offer specifics, such as “the golf course will always remain open,” but there are typically words to the effect that, should the golf course go up for sale, the members or property holders will have the right of first refusal to purchase it. In some planned development documents, the developer pledges to turn over the golf club to residents for a pre-stipulated price.
Even when the future disposition of the golf course is not specifically delineated, courts have determined that clubs in golf communities have “implied” covenants that restrict their conversion to residential lots. For example, in a 2014 case in Birmingham, AL, a Federal Court of Appeals found that marketing materials for a golf community played a large role in creating an “implied restrictive covenant.” In the Birmingham case, homeowners were required to become members of the club; the Court found that the developer’s pitch to future residents through the marketing materials implied the golf course would always be a golf course. (Read law firm Ballard Spahr’s excellent rundown of the case here.)
Any couple considering the purchase of property in a planned community – with or without golf inside its boundaries – should ask to see all relevant documents…and specifically those related to the country club in a golf community. If the documents indicate that the golf course will forever be a golf course, no worries. If they are unclear, but the community is being pitched as a place where golf is central to the experience, be comforted but still proceed with caution. (You might consider engaging a local lawyer for an hour to read and comment on the documents.) If, however, the covenants are clear that the golf course’s future is subject to financial and other considerations, caveat emptor.
Golf’s Future: Everyone has a Story
Media outlets continue to preach the demise of golf. They use essentially anecdotal evidence to “prove” their case. Take, for example, a recent article in something called Business Insider, an online service, that touts the emergence of dozens of “agrihoods” – a combination of agriculture and neighborhoods – as evidence that golf’s future is unsure, especially among “rich millennials.” Local media also love to trot out the closure of a golf course to signal the game’s demise.
A case can certainly be made that the golf industry is retrenching. Plenty of golf courses have closed in recent years. More golf courses were built during the roaring 1980s and ‘90s than could be sustained. But there are still something like 25 million people in the U.S. who play the game at least once every year, and as the baby boomer population retires, the extra time on their hands is encouraging more of them to rediscover the game and a few to take it up for the first time. Golf’s immediate future is fine.
I’ll share my own anecdote. A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday, I tried to secure a tee time at the fabulous Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, CT, 25 minutes from my home. Three days before, I tried to use the municipal course’s online reservation system only to find no times available. Thinking it was some technical glitch – the course is terrific but typically lightly attended on a weekday morning in October – I called the pro shop to ask if I could book a time in the three-hour timeframe. “Sorry, sir, nothing available,” was the response. “Do you guys have an outing or tournament this morning?” I responded. “No,” the young man said, “just a lot of people who want to play golf.”
About Hurricanes: Play the Odds
This awful and tragic hurricane season is blessedly coming to an end. In its wake, many retirees considering a home near the beach are reevaluating their preference. We have all seen the devastation done to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as well as Key West, and think "there but for fortune." And then many of us think maybe the mountains don't look so bad. Or neither does staying put up North, even if it means putting up with awful winters.
The fact is that the odds are in our favor when we choose a home near the beach on the Southeast coast. You can read my rundown of expert meteorologists' predictions of hurricanes in various cities along the east and Gulf coasts in the September 2013 issue of HOTC. A 7.1% chance of any hurricane and a 1.3% chance of a major storm (100 mph+ winds) hitting Savannah, GA, for example, may cause some of us to sigh with relief and others to think "bad odds." But every day we play the odds, balancing the risks vs the rewards, whether it is choosing one medical procedure over another, or driving a half hour to a restaurant that doesn't take reservations. If the reward for raising children and building a great career is a home near the beach, the odds are with you. Go for it.
He Says, She Says: the Non-Golfer Decides Where to Live
Golf in the 21st Century is essentially genderless; that is, in many households, it is the wife who plays more golf than the husband. Don't get me wrong, most of the couples I work with both play golf, and where one does not, it is typically the lady. But the number of wives who are the only golfer in the family is increasing.
In looking for a golf home, what do you do when he or she plays golf, and the other spouse doesn't? The answer is simple: Let the person who does not play golf have the greater say in the decision on where to live. It's only fair.
Property Taxes: How Low You Can Go
The following is a sampling of current golf community homes for sale near selected towns in South Carolina. Asking price, cost per square foot and most recent property taxes are included. Note that in most cases, either the home is a bargain, on a per-square-foot basis, or the taxes are; and, in some cases, both are low.
Per sq. Ft
Cedar Creek Plantation
Wildewood Country Club
Cobblestone Park (Blythewood)
Pebble Creek (Taylors)
Cliffs Valley (Travelers Rest)
Cherokee Valley (Travelers Rest) Lot is .31 acre, on 14th fairway
Greenville Country Club (Chanticleer Course)
Pawleys Island, SC
Pawleys Plantation Country Club
Wachesaw Plantation (Murrells Inlet)
North Myrtle Beach
Tidwater Plantation (Little River)
If you are considering a search for a permanent or vacation home in a golf-oriented area, please contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation at email@example.com
Carolina Living Data Show Financial Advantages to Moving South
Carolina Living, the online service for the tens of thousands of folks considering a move to the Tar Heel and Palmetto States, shared with Home On The Course its latest group of helpful charts. Those planning to move to a warmer climate where golf is not only possible, but likely, every month of the year will be comforted by the data.
For example, Carolina Living, using Tax Policy Center research, shows how the Carolinas rank against other states in terms of tax burden. Those familiar with Home On The Course and GolfCommunityReviews.com, our blog site, know that I don’t care much for comparisons of state income taxes since they often give a misleading view of state-by-state total tax burdens. But by comparing state and local (municipal) taxes, a couple considering a move will have a truer picture of the comparative numbers. In the chart below, you see that although taxes in both Carolinas are slightly above the national average for all 50 states, they are well below many of the heavily populated (and industrialized) states in the North; your current state of residence is likely on the list of high-tax states. Note that overall tax burden in South Carolina, for example, is roughly $5,000 and $4,000 per year less than in New York and Connecticut, respectively.
Taxes, of course, are a key component of overall cost of living. The respected Council for Community and Economic Research does not include taxes in its calculation of cost of living data for hundreds of cities across the U.S. (see chart below) but, coupled with the tax chart above, you can easily figure out which cities in the Carolinas might be the least expensive on an annual expense basis. For example, in the chart below, note that there is a 42 point difference between cost of living in the Bergen/Passaic New Jersey counties just west of New York City and the Aiken, SC, area, home to some nice golf communities including Woodside Plantation, Cedar Creek and the resurgent Mount Vintage Plantation. To confirm that significant difference between Bergen/Passaic, I compared the cost of living in a town in Bergen County, Harrington Park, with that in Aiken using the useful site BestPlaces.net. The result was a 52-point advantage for Aiken, meaning that a couple from most towns in those two New Jersey counties who spend, say, $50,000 per year, will save $26,000 after they move to Aiken.
Note that Carolina Living included Savannah, GA, less than a half hour’s drive from the South Carolina border, in the tax comparisons. That city, home to the six-golf-course Landings community, falls just below the national average in terms of overall taxes, making it 49 percentage points less expensive than living in Boston, for example.
Of course, some areas of the Carolinas are more expensive than others and, indeed, can be as, or more, expensive than some cities in the North. But these are farther and fewer between, as the chart below indicates. Hilton Head Island and the Outer Banks of North Carolina are magnets for vacationers, many of whom maintain high-priced vacation homes in both locations. Chapel Hill is a college town near two large and prestigious universities -– Duke in Durham and University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill –- with plenty of cultural and sports activities to attract people willing to pay for such an active lifestyle. I daresay that other college towns like Columbia (University of South Carolina) and Winston-Salem (Wake Forest) have many of the same attributes as Chapel Hill, including interesting golf communities, at a much lower cost of living rate. Oddly, Summerville, a suburb of many people’s favorite southern city, Charleston, is more expensive than the nearby city.
Charleston is indeed the most popular destination for a relocation to South Carolina, according to the 2,000 couples Carolina Living surveyed between 2016 and 2017. (See charts below). Note that the aforementioned fairly expensive Summerville ranks 10th on the list. Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Beaufort and Hilton Head round out the top five, with four of those top five located on the coast. Of course, most of the data was collected before the current hurricane season, and the headlines might scare off a few people even if the odds of a hurricane should not (see article in sidebar).
Carolina Living ran the same popularity numbers for North Carolina (see also below), and interest showed a bias toward inland cities, with Wilmington (ranked 4th) as the only coastal town in the top five. Charlotte, the South’s major corporate city, ranked at the top; the city is surrounded by many golf communities, chief among them those that abut Lake Norman to the north and Quail Hollow, site of a recent PGA Championship, to the south. Charlotte International Airport is a major hub, making the city especially attractive to folks who want to travel long distances as conveniently as possible.
The differences in cost of living, as well as the lifestyle changes that include warmer weather, are naturally driving the migration from North to South. The map below, which shows where newer Carolinas residents have migrated from, says it all: The areas of darkest color represent, generally, the highest cost cities and states. Even residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco are getting into the act; I’ve assisted a few couples from the west coast in finding homes in the Southeast, including a couple from Yorba Linda, CA, who bought a lot in Chapel Hill’s Governors Club and have since built their dream home overlooking the Jack Nicklaus golf course.
Should you like to join those who are finding a new, less expensive lifestyle in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Florida, please contact me and I will be happy to assist you. Our thanks to Pat Mason at CarolinaLiving.com for sharing the charts.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC