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September 2011

 
    September 2011

Prices go south: Should you go south soon as well?

Since 2008, home values have dropped in virtually every market in the nation, typically from around 20% in stable markets to as much as 50% in the markets that attracted the wildest speculation (Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, and so on). A baby boomer couple contemplating the sale of their home in the northern U.S. and then the purchase of one in the warmer southern part of the country can assume the property they will buy has lost value too over the last three years. Yes, they will sell their primary homes at prices lower than they might have fetched before 2008, but they will also buy at lower prices in the south (and benefit, generally, from a much lower cost of living). The trick, of course, for those with a plan to move to a warmer climate is to consider what is most likely to happen to home prices north and south in the next few years, rather than obsess about the last few years.
Since our crystal ball is no more polished than anyone else’s, we are left to make educated guesses about future price movements market by market. Logic, however, tells us that real estate prices, which are based on supply and demand, will rise faster in the southern U.S. as the huge baby boomer cohort that is poised to retire picks up its migration patterns to warmer weather; and that as those boomers sell their homes up north, prices there will continue to be under downward pressure (more supply and potentially less demand unless businesses start adding large numbers of jobs).
Past performance may not be a predictor of the future, but for comparison’s sake, we’ve scanned the median list price trends for homes in selected towns both north and south over the last three years. The data, courtesy of Zillow.com, shows generally, but not in all cases, a greater erosion in the north than in the south. Dollar figures below reflect the median list prices per market between October 2008 and July 2011. Golf communities listed are within the zip codes surveyed by Zillow.

Stamford, CT
$599K to $455K -24%
Pawleys Island, SC
$350K to $315 -10%
Golf Community: Pawleys Plantation

 

Merrick, NY
$599K to $525K -12%
Skidaway Island (Savannah, GA)
$559K to $499K -11%
Golf Community: The Landings

 

Bryn Mawr, PA
$599K to $265K -38%
Chapel Hill, NC
$570K to $440K -23%
Golf Community: Governor’s Club

 

Livingston, NJ
$599K to $569K -05%
New Bern, NC
$235K to $200K -15%
Golf Community: Carolina Colours

 

Portland, ME
$255K to $229K -10%
Landrum, SC
$325K to $280K -14%
Golf Community: The Cliffs at Glassy

 

Downington, PA
$240K to $197K -18%
Spotsylvania, VA
$260K to $165K -37%
Golf Community: Fawn Lake

 

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-- Larry Gavrich, Editor

The Best Golf Community For You:
Will You Know It When You See It?

I’m asked often to name the best golf community I have visited. I can’t do it, although I always try to fumble an answer that typically starts with, “It depends.” First, I’ve inspected and played the golf courses in about 150 golf communities, and the qualities of the best ones tend to run together (the relatively few bad ones are quickly forgotten, I am happy to say). Second, it is impossible to reconcile the qualitative differences between a 900-acre community that includes a private golf course and single-family homes that sell for $1 million with a 3,000-acre community whose multi-family and single-family homes start in the $300s and whose two golf courses are semi-private (read “open to the public”)? I have encountered wonderful examples of each kind of community, and many in between, and can enthusiastically recommend them to couples I work with, depending on their requirements and pocket books.
In choosing a golf community home, buyers will use both objective and subjective criteria. The subjective criteria –- the “touchy feely” stuff, some might call it -– will be a function of personal taste and intuition and include how the golf course suits your game, the style of housing in the community, how hot in summer and cool in winter…that sort of thing. The absolute criteria involve more of the financial considerations that help you assess whether you will be making a sound investment or not.
The following are three important categories of objective criteria you should always consider when searching for a golf community home, and some tough related questions to ask before you buy.

 

Financial Stability
Does the community you are looking at have the resources to weather an economic downturn? And how did it weather the recent downturn? Who owns the community -- its residents or a developer? Will the homeowners associations (or developers) share their books with you as a prospective buyer, or at least indicate how much money they keep in reserve to handle unplanned contingencies (storms, investment losses, lawsuits)? On a personal note, are you willing to accept a little risk in terms of the community’s future in exchange for a lower price for a property now? How much debt has the community taken on? What, if anything, does the community spend to market itself to prospective new buyers? After all, a steady flow of new purchasers helps stabilize home values.

 

Safety of Your Investment
How many homes in the community are currently in foreclosure, or listed as a “short sale” (more owed on the house than it is selling for)? A high rate of foreclosures, of course, will have a negative effect on overall prices. That may be good for you now, as a buyer, but if the inventory of properties owned by “investors” is large, it could depress prices for some time. How far have median home prices sunk since their peak? A relatively small drop since 2007 should be a sign of stability. Is the developer reputable and deep-pocketed? What is the median age of residents in the community? A relatively high average age, say 60, could mean a narrow market for re-sales (just retirees). Communities with ages that average in the low 50s, for example, imply younger, working families as well as retirees and an appeal to a wider market when it comes time for you to sell.
(Note: Although it is important to purchase a home in a stable community, I advise buyers searching for a primary home not to chase price appreciation in the form of a so-called "bargain" -– unless they are, say, under 40 and have plenty of time to wait for prices to rise. We may never again see the kinds of price increases of the first half of the last decade, and putting investment potential at the top of your list of search criteria may divert you from buying in a community best suited to your lifestyle.)

 

The Golf Club Operation

You buy a home in a golf community either because you play golf or because you have faith that such an amenity will help maintain your home’s value (50% of people who live in golf communities do not play golf). Has the golf club in the community you are targeting been able to maintain a fairly steady level of membership? What is the history of special assessments to pay for repairs or improvements? Is some kind of golf membership mandatory for residents? Such a policy may seem intrusive and onerous but, in fact, it has helped some clubs survive the downturn in the economy (but typically at an incremental increase in costs to its members). On the other hand, residents who overextended themselves before the downturn are now offering their properties almost for free in order to get out from under the club dues obligation; their giveaway prices for their properties, of course, have a negative effect on all nearby property values. Does the club you are interested in offer refundable equity and non-refundable non-equity membership plans? If only equity, almost always more expensive, consider that your refund when you resign club membership may be years in coming, if it ever comes. (Your editor recommends non-equity in most cases.) What is the relationship between the golf club and its surrounding community? News of hard feelings between the entities can always leak out into the public and affect the perception of the community. A harmonious relationship between the two almost always signifies a well-managed and organized club and community.

As for the subjective criteria important to each of us, a visit of at least a couple of days in a community will tell you a lot about its appeal to you personally. Take advantage of the “discovery packages” offered by many communities. (See below for some important news about our own first “Home On The Course Discovery Weekend.”) Ask a lot of questions, including if you can be matched up to play golf with a resident or two, and then pepper them with questions about what it is like to live in the community. Chances are they will be strongly positive about their own experiences –- we all tend to validate our choices -– but with some sharp preparation and tough questioning, you will find out a lot more than you could from any marketing brochure or real estate salesperson. (I always like to ask a resident about the least attractive aspect of living in the community. If he or she says "Nothing," ask someone else.)
In the end, the communities you investigate will either feel right to you or they won’t. But some strong words of caution: Never judge a golf community by its amenities alone. We know now that The Cliffs Communities and Reynolds Plantation, two wonderfully appointed high-end developments, over-extended themselves financially, creating uncertainty for their residents and club members and anxiety in the market. The book will always tell a much different story than its cover.

 

Home On The Course Discovery Weekend at The Landings in December

As I indicated above and have written many times before, I encourage anyone considering a golf community home to take advantage of the many reasonably priced “discovery packages” offered by developments across the southern U.S. I am pleased to announce that I will co-host a discovery weekend of our own at The Landings at Skidaway Island, a large and stable gated community that features six outstanding golf courses just 15 minutes from downtown Savannah. The event runs from Thursday December 1 to Sunday December 4 and will include lodging in one of The Landings’ villas, a couple of days of golf, two dinners, a boat cruise through the surrounding marsh, a guided tour of the community and other extras.
The cost for the four-day, three-night weekend is $599 per couple; however, because all lodging units include multiple bedrooms, we are encouraging couples to invite other couples they know who might be considering a search for a golf community home. Those who share one of the villas will pay just $449 per couple. Couples who would like to investigate specific properties at The Landings -- lots and/or homes -- will be assigned to a member of the real estate office sales staff; however, an appointment to look at individual properties is entirely optional.
The Landings, whose community, golf courses and real estate office is owned by its residents, is one of the most stable communities I have visited over the last five years. Its six finely conditioned golf courses bear the names of Fazio, Palmer, Hills and Byrd on their designs, and one of the nation’s most interesting cities, Savannah, is just 15 minutes from The Landings’ front gate. The 4,800-acre community also offers a wide range of properties, with prices for resale homes that begin in the $300s and move up into the millions. The adjacent marsh offers some particularly beautiful views, as well as boating opportunities. All in all, The Landings offers the perfect combination of amenities, activities and proximity to urban convenience in a secluded setting.
Space for our Discovery Weekend is limited to just 15 couples plus any guests they bring. We are announcing the event to our newsletter subscribers first before opening it up in a few weeks to the thousands of people who visit GolfCommunityReviews.com, our blog site. If you are interested in participating in the weekend at The Landings, please send me a note at editor@homeonthecourse.com and I will reserve a space for you and send you more information about the event. (We will be asking for deposits in October.)
This will be an entertaining and instructive event. I look forward to seeing you at The Landings the first weekend in December.

Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC

 

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