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October 2011

    October 2011

Southeast not long on short sales

    According to RealtyTrac, a firm that reports on foreclosures and short sales, the Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, FL, metro market registered the third highest number of short sales in the nation during the second quarter of 2011.  A short sale is one in which the sale price is lower than the amount owed on the property; such a listing typically requires the permission of the mortgage holder (mortgagee).  In the second quarter alone, Cape Coral registered more than 1,350 short sales at an average price of $111,029, 33 percent less than the average market price for properties not in foreclosure.
     Atlanta, at #9 on the list, was the only other southeast market in the top 10.  Los Angeles and Phoenix were #1 and #2, respectively.  For more, go to RealtyTrac.com.

     Our Florida friend, Toby Tobin ((GoToby.com)), recently released a stunning blog post on former Bobby Ginn-developed properties at The Conservatory and Yacht Harbor Village, two neighborhoods in the Hammock Beach Club development.  Eight foreclosed properties in the two neighborhoods were recently purchased for a total of $96,000, or an average of $12,000 per lot.  That’s a nice discount compared with the current assessed value of the properties that Toby computed at $167,000.  But consider what the owners who walked away from the properties paid -– a total of $3,334,300 -– and the word “discount” does not do justice.  (Note:  According to Toby, the mortgages on the eight properties totaled almost $3 million, proving that P.T. Barnum’s “sucker born every minute” could be a reference to commercial loan officers.

Cliffs loses a bit of exclusivity

    Once upon a time, a full-golf membership in The Cliffs Communities cost $150,000.  The seven courses, from the Asheville, NC, area to the shores of Lake Keowee about an hour away, offer well-regarded layouts by name designers, peak conditions and exclusivity.  Those who paid 150 Gs had every reason to expect the ultimate in the private club experience, and that meant only guests of members could penetrate the sanctum sanctorum.
     But with The Cliffs facing some vexing financial issues, its membership rolls lagging and the real possibility that developer Jim Anthony could soon be forced to turn over his vaunted amenities to a group of owners, The Cliffs has found a way to inject some additional revenue.  The Tour Club, a network of private and resort golf clubs that charges its corporate customers a minimum $50,000 joining fee, recently announced that it has added The Cliffs to the lsit of courses its members can play.
    Anyone considering the purchase of a Cliffs property still is required to decide, at time of property purchase, whether to join the club.  If you don ‘t purchase the membership with the lot, you may not be able to join later (although we understand there are certain levels of membership that now can be bought after the fact, but without full-golf privileges).  The restrictions were to protect the image of exclusivity and to promote club memberships, which reached as high as $150,000 before the market tanked.  Today, a Cliffs non-equity membership is $50,000 and an equity membership $75,000, numbers not as exclusive as they once were. 

Economic Outlook as of October

    The following is a short economic report for October from Ingo Winzer, president of Local Market Monitor, which specializes in real estate market forecasting and reporting.  LocalMarketMonitor.com offers readers of Home On The Course and GolfCommunityReviews.com a discount on its market-by-market reports.  For more information, click here (boldfaced words below are the author’s)

   With elections just 12 months away, we can be sure of two things: the economic rhetoric will heat up, and no new economic programs will actually be approved. It's just as well that Washington will do nothing because proposed "fixes" for the real estate markets -- large-scale mortgage relief, for example -- would have bad effects for years to come by distorting perceptions of risk. If banks and borrowers think the government will always bail them out, they'll do riskier things than they should, and give us another boom within the decade.
    Although the unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.1 percent, the number of jobs grew 1 percent in the past year. Slow progress, but steady. Absorbing the 4 million workers it will take to get unemployment to 6 percent will require job growth of 2 percent for three years. My guess is that unemployment will be down to 8.5 percent by election time.
    Encouraging news in the recent employment report includes a 2 percent increase in manufacturing jobs, a 4 percent increase in jobs at clothing stores, and an 8 percent increase in temp jobs, a bell-weather for business activity. Discouraging, for long term productivity, is that local budget cuts eliminated 150,000 teachers. Excluding higher gas prices, retail sales in August were up 6 percent from last year.

 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

Sites for Sore Eyes

    Some golf community web sites  

                       communicate less than you need to know

    Most businesses in America that sell something have a presence on the Internet.  They really have no choice in today’s environment.  These businesses have two objectives for their Internet strategies -– to get you to visit their web sites and to cause you to take some sort of action, whether to buy their product or at least think more positively about their brand.  

"A well-organized and frequently updated web site implies that a golf community takes itself and its customers seriously."

    A handful of the best-resourced golf communities, plus a smattering of those who are in the desperate “try-anything” mode, are still using such traditional forms of marketing as print and billboard.  But the vast numbers of golf communities rely on their web sites to attract eyeballs and eventually drive more traffic to their front gates.  They love the web because it is cheaper per impression than those more traditional forms of communication, and with marketing budgets having dried up more than fairways in Texas, the Internet has become a cheap alternative.  But golf clubs that think the mere presence  of a web site is enough to compete don’t understand the vagaries of “search engine optimization” (SEO), user-friendly navigation and the need to keep their sites fresh with content.  Precious few do the latter very well; I have returned to web sites months after an initial visit and found that nothing has changed.  That could give customers the impression that things inside the gates may be pretty static as well.
    To encourage ongoing traffic to their sites, some golf communities hire consolidation portals like privategolfcommunities.net.  Such sites promote communities willing to pony up annual fees that range into the thousands of dollars annually.  However, as with the Yellow Pages, all the golf communities flacked by such web sites receive more or less equal treatment, making it hard for the web-searching prospect to distinguish between the qualities of one golf community compared with another.
    We have visited enough golf community web sites and the properties they reflect to have formed an impression of just how much someone searching for a golf home can learn (or intuit) from a visit to a web site, and where some of the traps lie.  To the extent that, like a well-dressed person, a well-organized web site implies that a golf community takes itself and its customers seriously, some golf community web sites can offer telltale clues of what lies inside the gates.  
    What follows are a few lessons we’ve learned from a tour of golf community web sites.


“We’re Number One!”
      The first hurdle for any golf community web site is to attract visits.  There are a few keys to what those in the Internet business call SEO, or “search engine optimization.”  In short, if someone searching for golf community information in, say, Chapel Hill, NC, plugs in the terms “Chapel Hill golf community,” the area’s top contenders -- Governors Club, Chapel Ridge and The Preserve at Jordan Lake –- should be listed toward the top of the first page of results.  We entered into Google those same search terms and found that Governors Club indeed tops the search results page, with Chapel Ridge just below it.  (Note:  These are “organic” search results; any golf communities can pay to place even higher on the results page.  Thus The Landings, a Savannah, GA, community 370 miles from Chapel Hill, shows up above Governor’s Club on the list of search results for Chapel Hill.)  Having visited Governors Club a few times, we know that the community itself reflects its well organized, easy to navigate web site (although we wish they’d kill the black backgrounds and white text for something a little less funereal and a little easier to read).
thumb_search-engine-logo3     Those considering the purchase of a golf home, either for vacation purposes or retirement, should exercise a little care in what search terms they use.  For example, it seems logical that the terms “best golf communities North Carolina” might yield a list, naturally, of the best golf communities in North Carolina.  But such a search yields a #1 entry from the site PrivateCommunities.com, which promotes only those communities that pay them for the privilege of being listed.  (Note:  The six listings that follow PrivateCommunities are also from consolidators of golf course communities that pay a promotional fee.)  It isn’t until the seventh entry that an actual golf development is listed, in this case The Cliffs Communities; as we have reported at GolfCommunityReviews.com in recent days, The Cliffs is going through some financial difficulties but you, of course, would not know that unless you drilled down a page or two and found our own blog posting about the current situation there.  Those promotional sites, of course, are still pumping out sunshine about The Cliffs, as long as The Cliffs keeps paying its marketing bills.
     In short, the relevance of web search results is, well, relative.  If you are looking for a list of individual golf communities or information on specific communities that best match your criteria, steer away from using qualitative search terms such as “best” and stick to geography.  Narrow down your search to cities -– that is, “Jacksonville FL golf communities” rather than “Florida golf communities,” as the latter will return a mesmerizingly broad list of locations in a state with thousands of golf courses.  And even if a golf community ranks high on the search list, and its own web site is beautiful and organized, trouble could lurk.  Add the term “financial problems” or “bankruptcy” to the name of a specific golf community in the Google search box, and if you come up empty, consider that good news.


Graphic Avoidance of Specifics
     Golf community web sites run the gamut from good to ugly, with an occasional stop at bad.  Most of us, when we search for a golf community that matches our requirements and will cause us to visit in person, want to get a good feel for a few basic things.  We may each have a different emphasis on these but, essentially, the web sites we visit should offer easy navigation, information about costs, a well conceived and detailed “discovery package,” and an emphasis more on content than on glitz.
     At the lazy -– some might say manipulative -- end are those sites that invite you to call one of their sales agents for a price list of properties.  Without samples of properties for sale or mention of the cost of club fees and dues, you are forced to call the sales office or enter your address information in an email to receive more information.  Then, of course, you go on the golf community’s mailing list forever and who knows how many other lists.  With so much information available online, this is a turnoff to most people who would prefer to pre-qualify themselves rather than to have some professional salesperson do that for them.  If a community withholds such basic information online, don’t expect a much more forthcoming experience in person.

"Golf communities are especially stingy with details about the costs to join their private and semi-private golf clubs and their HOA dues."

    On some golf community sites, the photos and other images are beautiful and designed to appeal to your emotional side.  The water is almost unnaturally blue, the mountains are unnaturally high, the smiles on the residents are unnaturally wide –- you get the picture that things may be a bit unnatural on the web site.
    Golf communities are especially stingy with details about the costs to join their private and semi-private golf clubs.  The same is true of homeowner association dues; these are in short supply on most web sites.  Earth to Myopic Golf Communities:  The questions I receive most often about specific golf communities are about costs.  By not sharing your fees and dues up front, at your web sites, you are communicating that you may be too expensive.  That scares some prospects away.  These are not state secrets; I have never met a developer’s agent who did not know precisely what his competitor’s prices were.  The only secrets being kept are from the customer.


Discover Us, but Jump through Hoops First

      The best-organized golf communities maintain statistics on customer visits, and they know that chances a visit will turn into a sale are pretty good.  (In the current environment, most golf communities are happy to convert 1 in 15 prospects that visit, but in the glory days, the conversion rate at some sales offices was as high as 30%.)  Virtually all golf communities offer what are typically referred to as “Discovery Packages,” a visitation program that includes lodging on or off site, a round or two of golf, perhaps a meal or two and, of course, a tour of the community with a real estate agent (mandatory).  At some web sites, such as The Reserve at Lake Keowee, the visitation program and its costs are well spelled out.  The Reserve delineates the particulars, including Guest House accommodations, continental breakfast, golf cart for exploring the community, “chef-selected” wine and cheese each evening, and up to $200 in club credits to use for golf, boat rental, pro shop merchandise and lunch and/or dinner.   With an indication that packages start at $145, you have enough information to decide to book the visit (you have the option of calling The Reserve to book the package or to fill out a form online).  
    Other communities are a bit more parsimonious with the details.  For example, at Osprey Cove, near St. Marys, GA, a perfectly nice Landmar community we have visited, the details of what they call their “Experience Package” are spelled out at their web site -– accommodations in a Club Suite, access to club amenities and dining, and one round of golf on the Mark McCumber course “at a special preview rate.”  If you want to know what that special preview rate is, or what the entire package costs as well as a taste of what the prices for meals are in the clubhouses, you will have to call an on-site agent.   
    Our advice to Osprey Cove and the many other golf communities that share their reluctance to post prices for their discovery packages:  If the goal is to get people to visit your community, post the price.  Either the price is fair or it is not, but withholding such a simple piece of information does not seem fair…or smart.



A Few Spots Remain for Our First

Home On The Course Discovery Weekend

at The Landings, Savannah, GA,

December 1 to 4.  

For more details click here or contact me at editor@homeonthecourse.com.


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