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Buying a golf home where you will spend most of the rest of your life is intimidating enough without adding unnecessary worries. This month we take five of those worries off your plate.
Treyburn Country Club, Durham, NC
Multi-course country clubs charge more, provide more
Most golfers would prefer not to play the same 18 holes day after day. But variety inside the gates of a golf community comes with a price. Of the last 20 or so golf communities I have visited, initiation fees and monthly dues have averaged about $5,000 and $500, respectively, for clubs with 18-hole courses. For those golfers with a penchant for variety, the multi-course communities I visited ranged in initiation fees from around $10,000 to $30,000, with dues roughly set at $800 per month.
If you can swing the extra initiation fee and dues, or better yet, build the initiation fee into the budget for your home purchase, the multi-course solution can be a better deal. Take The Landings in Savannah, GA, a sprawling community of 4,800 acres that can easily accommodate its six manicured and diverse golf courses. Cost to join was just a hair under $30,000 when I looked a couple of years ago. Divide that initiation fee by the 108 holes of golf available to all members, and you come up with a cost per hole of $278. Take one of those $5,000 country clubs and divide by its 18 holes and the cost per hole is exactly the same at $278. Find a multi-layout club that suits you and charges less than $30,000 and you will do even better, cost-wise. And you will play more golf courses as often as you like.
One way to get way ahead of the game in terms of cost per hole is to become a member of one of the McConnell Golf Group’s courses in the Carolinas and Tennessee. Most McConnell country clubs are located inside the gates of some of the Southeast’s best communities. Depending on which McConnell club you join, you pay anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 and have access to all the group’s 13 private courses. Dues at one of the McConnell courses, The Reserve at Litchfield in coastal South Carolina, are around $400 per month, extremely competitive for any private club and unheard of for a club that makes a dozen other top courses available. The per hole cost is just $43 per hole, and you won’t do better than that virtually anywhere.
McConnell courses are not connected organizationally to the many communities in which they are located, but many of those communities’ residents are club members. The communities include Treyburn in Durham, NC (a Tom Fazio course); the aforementioned Reserve Club near Pawleys Island, SC (Greg Norman); Sedgefield Country Club outside Greensboro, NC, with two courses designed individually by Donald Ross and Pete Dye; Brook Valley in Greenville, NC (Ellis Maples); and Holston Hills near Knoxville, TN, a classic design by Donald Ross.
Of course, there is some drive time between McConnell courses, but even if you stay and play your home club course almost all the time, you won’t be paying much more than at most other 18-hole private clubs.
Saving money won’t make you happy in South Carolina or Tennessee
As mentioned in this month’s main feature, taxes are only one component of overall cost of living and should be treated as such. Yet rankings of states by total affordability tend to heavily weight that taxation component (see chart below). But even Wallethub.com, which publishes many rankings each year, indicates that the financial aspects of retirement do not necessarily make for a happy retirement. The “overall rank” below from Wallethub’s “Best & Worst States to Retire” list adds such ratings as “quality of life” and “healthcare.”
Tax Rank from Wallethub.com 2018 Tax Rates by State: click here
Affordability Rank from Wallethub.com 2018 Best and Worst States to Retire: click here
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
Five worries to ignore when searching for a golf home
Searching for the perfect golf community home is tough enough without polluting your research with unnecessary concerns. Over the last dozen years working with hundreds of clients, I have found that some couples entering retirement worry needlessly about things they should basically ignore. Here are five worries that should not be a significant part of any search for a golf home.
State and local taxes
Every one of the 50 States in the Union must raise taxes to pay for the things its citizens count on, such as roadways, emergency relief, schools and all the other services most of us take for granted. States like Florida, Alabama and New Hampshire may look reasonable, at first blush, as low cost-of-living havens because they do not assess a state income tax. Yet, these states must make financial collections of some sort in order to pay for state services. So whereas Florida’s state income tax is zero and its property tax rates are generally lower than the national average, free-spending retirees may find the Sunshine State’s sales tax average of 6.8% (combined state and local taxes) annoying. And many Floridians find it appropriate to have a strategy for buying a car elsewhere, as Florida assesses a 6% sales tax on the entire purchase price; and county sales tax (based on where the buyer lives) adds an additional tax on the first $5,000 of the car’s purchase price (or on each lease payment).
It is smart to have a budget plan for retirement, but it is silly to over-obsess about taxes. Overall cost of living, of which taxes are a component, should guide you in your considerations about where you can afford to live. And if affordability is your most important consideration for your retirement location, look at retirement in a Midwest state. On US New & World Report’s list of most affordable states, Ohio is overall the cheapest, followed in order by Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska. Florida does not make the Top 10.
Country club initiation fees
You have made the decision to live in a golf community for one main reason, to play golf where you live. If it weren’t for the golf, you could choose one of many wonderful homes in communities or old-fashioned neighborhoods with no golf inside the gates. If you are a golfer, it makes little sense to torture yourself by living adjacent to a golf course you won’t play because it is too expensive.
But is it? Some might feel that a $30,000 joining fee, for example, is just too much to pay, no matter how much you plan to use the club’s facilities and golf courses. If you have, say, a $400,000 budget for a home and a $10,000 budget for golf membership (before dues), it should not be too difficult to find a house you like for $380,000; just include the $30,000 membership in your overall $410,000 budget and you will have the best of both worlds.
Consider that when you join a club in the community you move to, it will help you integrate into the social life of the community that much quicker. (Note: I have purposely used the high-end of initiation fees for the sake of the example above; most country clubs inside golf communities have lowered their fees post-recession to attract a steady stream of members. Many fine private clubs are now charging between $5,000 and $10,000 to join, some less.)
Distance to airport
I have visited roughly 150 golf communities in the 12+ years I have worked with people to find their dream golf homes, and I don’t believe I have ever visited one that was more than two hours from a decent regional or major-hub airport. Indeed, most of them are inside one hour. Although I include “distance to airport” as one of the criteria on my Golf Homes Questionnaire, I counsel clients not to consider it as a requirement. Unless you are an air traffic controller, it isn’t as if you are going to endure a daily commute of 90 minutes or so to the airport; chances are your travel schedule during your retirement years will include no more than four trips per year to see family or friends or to visit far-flung vacation destinations. Those airport round-trips add up to just a few hours extra on an annual basis. Are you really going to choose one golf community over another based on the slightly shorter distance to an airport? You shouldn’t.
If you are a frequent reader of this newsletter, you know I have harped on this issue consistently, the question in some couples’ minds about whether a particular golf community comprises friendly residents. The quick answer is that all golf communities are substantially friendly, just like all neighborhoods where you lived your lives and raised your kids were friendly; if they weren’t, you would have moved, right? But whereas few couples would have asked their real estate agent if a neighborhood was friendly before they bought a house there (and raised their children), somehow the question comes up often among retirees searching for a golf community.
The simple response is that if you are friendly, you will make friends. And you will make them faster if you jump willingly into the organized activities of the community (see club initiation fee item above), whether that means joining the men’s and women’s golf leagues, social clubs, getting involved with governance of the golf club and all the other myriad activities you will find in most medium- to large-sized golf communities. As with anything in life, you typically get out what you put in, including new friends.
Many of us with our eyes on the Southeast as a permanent or half-year destination obsess about the heat in the summer. We envision strategies where we play golf either first thing in the morning or very late in the day to avoid the consequences of heat and humidity, and we make sure cold drinks and towels are easily at hand. (Country clubs in the Southeast are good about helping their members and guests avoid heat prostration.)
More to the point, the perception that some states are hotter and more humid than others in the Southeast drives our choice of where to live. Florida, of course, has the reputation of being the hottest of them all, one reason why some of the state’s private courses permit public play in July and August in an attempt to keep some revenue stream going. (Their members typically head north for the summer.) But are temperatures in Florida so much higher in summer that they justify some retirees ignoring the Sunshine State altogether, and passing up clearly the best weather in the South during the winter months?
The answer is, “Not really.” The travel website Thrillist.com studied weather in all 50 states and ranked each from best to worst. You want the best weather in the nation? Move to Washington State. You want to avoid the worst weather in the country? Stay away from Mississippi. The rest of the rankings at Thrillist are interesting, if not all that descriptive. Our favorite Southeast states don’t fare very well, with Georgia named the 6th worst for weather, Florida the 8th worst, South Carolina 10th from the bottom and Virginia the 15th worst. If you put stock in Thrillist’s ratings, North Carolina is the place to be, ranking 31st worst or, put more positively, 19th best.
But is there really that much difference, say, between Sarasota, FL, in August and Raleigh, NC? I took a snapshot of temperatures and heat indices on August 9 at 3 PM EDT in half a dozen southern cities, and I didn’t see much difference from Florida to North Carolina (heat index in parentheses):
Vero Beach, FL
Myrtle Beach, SC
Those are all uncomfortably high readings but note that Sarasota was one degree cooler than Myrtle Beach and that Vero Beach and Wilmington, NC, posted the same temperatures; Wilmington is 620 miles north of Vero. In other words, parts of Florida are less hot than some parts of the Carolinas in the summer (on certain days). The difference is a matter of degrees—but only a few of them.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC