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June 2011

    June 2011

Discovery Channels:
Golf Communities

Make It Easy, Cheap to Kick the Tires

     We’ve scanned a list of golf communities that are offering special packages this summer to potential real estate customers.  We have visited previously all the communities below and can recommend them as having a solid roster of amenities.  The low prices come with only one catch, and it is a modest one; you are expected to take a tour of the community with one of the agents from the on-site real estate office.  These typically last no longer than the time it takes to play nine holes of golf, and the agents are savvy enough not to apply any pressure tactics.  It is a good time to actually visit a few homes in your price range and ask some tough questions about the community, the developer and the club activities. 

     Some of these communities will make sure that, at sometime during your two- or three-day stay, you have the opportunity to speak with a resident about what it is like to live there.  We recommend you take advantage of the opportunity.  (Note:  Prices and other details were taken directly from the communities’ web sites and were effective on June 10).
    If you have any questions about any of these or any other golf communities, please contact me at editor@homeonthecourse.com.

St. James Plantation,
Southport, NC

3 days, 2 nights, lodging on site, 1 round of golf for two…$149 per person

Brunswick Forest, Leland, NC
3 days, 2 nights, lodging in nearby Wilmington, golf for 2…$179 per couple

Ocean Ridge Plantation,
Ocean Isle Beach, NC

3 days, 2 nights lodging in cottage on golf course, dining certificate, round of golf for 2….$199 per couple

Dataw Island Plantation,
St. Helena, NC

3 days, 2 nights, lodging on site, golf for two, $100 dining certificate…  $299 per couple

Hampton Hall, Bluffton, SC
Member for a Day includes golf for 2, couples massage, lunch and access to all other amenities…$130 per couple (no lodging)

Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
Golf for 2, breakfast, lodging in on-site “mansion” house…$100 per night plus tax

Bay Creek Resort,
Cape Charles, VA

3 days, 2 nights, lodging on site, 2 rounds of golf, $100 gift certificate to use in shops, Aqua restaurant or pro shop…$499 per couple

The Landings, Skidaway Island (Savannah), GA
3 days, 2 nights, one round of golf per person or a boat ride for two, access to fitness facility, pools, tennis center and dining at any of four clubhouses…$325 (shorter and longer stays available).


Reader Feedback

     We want to make this newsletter as useful as possible for you. If you have comments, suggestions or observations about the newsletter, please email them to: editor@homeonthecourse.com.
      I promise to respond quickly. Thanks.
-- Larry Gavrich, Editor

The Twain Meets:  America’s Sharpest Observer Might Have Something To Say About The Pursuit Of A Golf Home

     Mark Twain never had much use for golf, except as a foil for his wit.  Twain, born Samuel Clemens, of course famously wrote that, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  (Less known, but perhaps even more skewering of golfers, was his line that, “It’s good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling.”)
     Although Twain died just over 100 years ago, many of his acerbic observations apply perfectly to our current social and political conditions.  (“Suppose you were an idiot,” Twain once wrote in a letter. “And suppose you were a member of Congress.  But I repeat myself.”)
     This month, we reach back to some of Twain’s bon mots to help us resolve the murky situation many baby boomers find themselves in -– to sell or not to sell their primary homes, and to buy or not to buy a golf home in the south that they’ve been pointing toward for decades.


“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

     Many people (my grandparents included) migrated in retirement from places like the Bronx, NY, to the warm “climate” of Florida to escape the harsh winters of the north.  That was fine for about eight months a year, but the relentless heat of Florida summers drove them to hibernate indoors from June to September.  After a while the summer heat, the relentless traffic jams and hurricane threats caused many to redefine their notions of retirement destination.  
     For the last few summers, the streets of Asheville, NC, have been filled with what seems like as many cars bearing Florida license plates as North Carolina plates.  The “halfbacks” (those moving halfway back to where they started) know exactly what Twain meant.  Asheville may offer the best balance of year-round temperatures in the southern U.S., if you are comfortable wearing a sweater in the winter months (a small price to pay for summer highs that average just 83 degrees).  If you absolutely must live in Florida for its zero income tax rate or some other good reason, try Gainesville, a university town in the north central part of the state where wintertime temperatures average in the low 70s and summertime highs of 92 are at least tolerable.  If neither of those work for you, there is always San Diego.  Just wave to all those Californians you pass as they head for a new life in the southeast.


“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore…”

     …and, in many golf communities, that land may never be as cheap as it is now.  If you have the vision (and patience) to work with an architect and contractor to build your perfect home, there may never be a better time to do so.  Not only are lot prices at decade lows, but builders who are still in business are cutting their prices to keep their work crews engaged in anticipation of a revitalized market for new homes in the next year or two.  Construction costs in many areas of the south are down a good 20% since 2006.  Libby Zorbas, a realtor with Justin Winter & Associates in the Lake Keowee area of South Carolina, reports that she just sold an “incredible lot with great views in two directions” at one of the local Cliffs Communities, for $100,000.  The site is a walk to the clubhouse.  A local builder with a reputation for high quality work and materials will build a 3,000 square foot home on the lot for $650,000, including all grading and landscaping.  At $750,000, the new buyers will have a home to their exact specifications that would have sold, according to Ms. Zorbas, for as much as $1.5 million at the peak of the market.  Similar reductions from market highs abound in the southeast.


“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

    The mainstream media was all atwitter in the wake of the recent disappointing data on housing and unemployment.  Case-Shiller, which tracks 20 metro-markets, found only one market with positive housing price trends, and that was Washington, D.C., which, as the seat of government, is not exactly a reliable weathervane for nationwide job creation (and, therefore, home prices).  How relevant is such data to those looking to sell their current homes and move to a new location?  The answer is that overall metro-market data is essentially meaningless for any of us trying to calculate if this is the best time to relocate.  Like politics, all real estate is local.  
    In Pawleys Island, SC, where my wife and I own a vacation condo in Pawleys Plantation, the average price of a home has dropped 34% since October 2008, according to Zillow.com.  Pawleys Island is home to outstanding golf courses like Caledonia, True Blue, Heritage and Founders Club.  A few miles up the road, prices in Murrells Inlet, home to TPC Myrtle Beach and the private Wachesaw Plantation as well as other excellent courses, have dropped 26% in that same ’08 to current time period.  In Pawleys and Murrells Inlet, the price reductions from May ’10 to May ’11 were 14.6% and 7.5%, respectively.  The fact is that overall Myrtle Beach metro-market data (down 32% since ’08), which comprises both towns and a number of others, is not a reliable indicator of the more local prices.  Make sure that when you engage a realtor to help you find a home, he or she is on top of the facts, if not the statistics.  (Or ask me; I’d be happy to find someone who does know the details.)

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”
    This is Twain’s footnote to the previous notion of facts and statistics.  Once you have a clear picture of the market you might be looking to buy into –- or the market in which you will sell your home, for that matter -– you can interpret the facts to comport with your own reality.  The comparison above between Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet might cause some of us to think that Murrells Inlet is host to more stable communities than is Pawleys Island since the price drops in Murrells have been less steep.  On the other hand, others among us might think, yikes, if Pawleys Island has dropped that much, then they may have hit bottom, but prices could have further to drop in Murrells Inlet.  The fact is, we cannot know whether either scenario, or another, will emerge.  (See the “Ignorance” section below.)  
    Ultimately, we distort the facts to fit our requirements.  Two attractive and similar homes with golf course views are currently listed in both Pawleys Plantation (Jack Nicklaus course) and Wachesaw Plantation (Tom Fazio) in Murrells Inlet.  Lot sizes and square footage are comparable, and both are about the same age (2000 and 1997, respectively).  The Pawleys home is listed at $675,000 and the Wachesaw home at $639,000. The most distinguishing difference between the two is that Wachesaw is a private golf club, for members only, whereas Pawleys Plantation accepts resort and other outside play.  Those looking for the private club experience may very well ignore, if not distort, any other comparisons.

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
    Most golf communities stopped advertising as their property sales dried up, but those developments with a little cash squirreled away are reentering print magazines and online venues before their competitors do.  Governors Club in Chapel Hill, for example, recently placed an ad in the Delta Sky magazine.  The Landings outside Savannah has also been aggressive in its marketing strategies.  Both communities and their golf clubs share one common attribute:  They are owned by their residents and members.  Such member-run communities have a major advantage over newer developments in that many of them can (and do) advertise that they are “debt free,” a direct appeal to potential buyers who are skittish after the much-publicized financial difficulties at such notables as Reynolds Plantation and The Cliffs Communities.
     As more and more communities begin to advertise again, take every lofty pronouncements with a grain of salt.  As in most forms of communication, if a community seems too good to be true, it almost assuredly is.  Personally, I am a bit jaded about ads that put residents out front to tell you what a wonderful choice they made by buying at Paradise Plantation (and how you can be just as smart as they were).  These testaments all sound the same, one community to the next, so how meaningful can they be?  Just give me the facts, and let me distort them as I see fit.

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
     Frequent readers of my blog site have heard me harp on this before; if you have equity in your home and a plan to relocate to a warmer climate, why put it off any longer?  Many of us are under the false assumption that we have lost so much in the market value of our homes that we need to wait until the price comes back to pre-crash levels in order to afford our next home.  But for those who are above-water in the values of their homes, there are a few reasons why this is a more narrow view than we should take.  First, most retirees, now that their nest is empty of children, will buy a smaller, easier-to-manage home.  It will cost less -– in some cases much less -- than the price we fetch for our primary homes.  
    Second, those moving to a warmer climate (the Carolinas, Florida, elsewhere in the south) will realize shortly after the move that they have given themselves a significant raise. The cost of living in most areas of the south is significantly lower than most areas of the north, in some cases as much as 35% lower.  Consider what you spend on an annual basis, and the savings should certainly soothe your hard feelings over getting less for your house than you think it is worth.  And, third, waiting for your current home to re-appreciate in price is a fool’s errand since the next one you buy, especially if it is in the south, where baby boomers and younger people seeking employment opportunities are moving, will appreciate as much or more over the same time.  
    On this issue of decision-making, I would defer to Ben Franklin instead of Twain, and advise that you not put off till tomorrow what you can today.

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”
     Sometimes there is a limit to the amount of information we can process effectively.  The Internet, with its torrent of insights and conflicting opinions, is never as helpful as our own eyes and ears.  In counseling those clients who may be open-minded about where they might move -– they just know they want a nice climate -– I ask questions about proximity; that is, how close they need to be to entertainment options, an airport, sports teams, a city, a good selection of restaurants, as well as what their price range is for a home and what they expect to spend to join a club, if that is their choice.  Some people get into trouble when they start looking at communities on the Internet without first having a clear idea of their requirements.  
    A few folks I’ve worked with discovered during our conversations that they weren’t looking for the same things as their spouses were, and then both had to readjust their expectations.  My best advice is to approach the search for a golf community home knowing what you want –- private or public golf, remote from or close to a city, people your age or a mix in the community, etc. -– not where you want (unless you are aiming to move closer to specific family or friends or for a job).  Right now, there is a wide range of opportunities across the entire south at prices we might not see again (at least not after the next year or two).  You can be confident that you will be successful in finding something nice in your price range, as long as you remain ignorant of too many details.  (Note:  I use a convenient survey form that my customers say helps focus them on their requirements; it also helps me consider which areas and, eventually, specific communities best match those requirements.  If you would like a copy, please contact me.)

“If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.”
     I liked Cincinnati when I visited many years ago; I had a memorable bowl of the city’s signature dish, “four way” spaghetti and chili (the four “ways” being spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions).   Believe me, it tastes way better than it sounds.  The Great American Ballpark and the Cincinnati Redlegs (I still prefer that to "the Reds) are also high on my bucket list.  But if the world comes to an end, even if it is 10 years earlier than in Cincinnati, I’d rather have just holed out for a par (or birdie) on #18 at Pawleys Plantation on the marsh in South Carolina, the egret-filled pond to the left of me and the sweeping lawn up to the clubhouse in front of me.  That sure beats a final moment staring at a bowl of spaghetti, no matter how tasty.


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