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March 2014

    March 2014

Golf homes under $120 per square foot, land included

    When I tour golf communities with my real estate professional hosts, I always ask the following question:  “How much does it cost, per square foot, to build a new home in this community?”  The responses are wide ranging, but rarely is the bottom of the range lower than $125 for a home with standard fit and finish.  And that, of course, does not include the cost of the lot on which to build the home.
    By that standard, it is less expensive –- in most cases, much less expensive -– to buy an existing (resale) home.  I recently scanned the listings at our own web site, GolfHomesListed.com, for bargain priced resales and found many listings under $120 per square foot –- land included.  Here is a representative sample of those (there are many more); please contact me if you would like more information on the homes and their communities, and I will get right back to you.  (Note: It is possible that one or more of these homes went to contract in the last few days, but we can identify other similar bargains.)

The Landings at Skidaway Island
Savannah, GA
2,651 sq. ft.
4 BR, 3 BA
$105 per sq. ft.

This home is 35 years old and may need some cosmetic updates, but its cedar siding exterior, carpeted hardwood floors and 4 bedroom, 3 bath split-floor plan give it loads of potential.  With six golf courses and just a 20-minute drive to downtown Savannah, there is more to living in The Landings than just this bargain price.

Cobblestone Park
Blythewood, SC
3,950 sq. ft.
5 BR, 4 BA
$104 per sq. ft.

Located just 20 minutes from the campus of the University of South Carolina, the 27-hole course at Cobblestone Park is so good that the university’s two top-flight golf teams have used it for practice over the years.  After a false start under the Ginn organization, Cobblestone is now on solid footing with national builder D.R. Horton putting up dozens of new homes.  This home has some elegant touches, including coffered ceilings, a sitting room attached to the huge master bedroom, a gas line for the outdoor grill and a screened porch.

Grand Harbor Golf & Yacht Club
Ninety Six, SC
3,700 sq. ft.
3 BR, 3.5 BA
$97 per sq. ft.

It is easy to get all historical over your first visit to Grand Harbor.  That’s because a Revolutionary War battlefield is just down the road, inspiring golf course designer Davis Love III to sprinkle his rolling layout with replicas of Revolution era ruins, making a round of golf at Grand Harbor something of an educational experience.  (It is also a challenging layout, as most Love III courses are.)  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognize the value in this home, which features hardwood floors, custom cabinets, a view of the 11th green and free membership dues for a year.

Keowee Key
Seneca, SC
5,500 sq. ft.
5 BR, 3 BA + ½ BA x 2
$109 per sq. ft.

Keowee Key is the latest golf community to sign up to list properties at GolfHomesListed, and many of its listings are grand bargains.  This huge two-level home on a cul-de-sac combines both lake and mountain views from virtually every room in the house.  The suite above the garage, with a half bath, is just one of many practical and luxury touches in a home that could very well be priced over $1 million in other lake communities.

Wintergreen Resort
Nellyford, VA
1,250 sq. ft.
3 BR, 3 BA
$102 per sq. ft.

For active adults who want to stay entertained and in shape year round, Wintergreen has it all -- skiing in winter, golf virtually all year and loads of other activities.  This condo sits above the 18th hole of the Devil’s Knob course, 18 of Wintergreen’s 45 celebrated holes.  From your front door, it is just a few minutes walk to the clubhouse and the chair lifts.  The layout is open and the unit comes completely furnished, making it an extraordinary buy.  This year will be Devil’s Knob’s first as a private club, adding a little upscale cache to a home with such a downscale price.

Dare to Compare:
Finding the Value in Your
Golf Home Search 

    With the wide number of choices of homes in golf communities, the distinctions between them can appear small.  If you spend a week looking at, say, 10 golf communities, you may return home more confused than before the trip.  Individual communities do not reveal themselves easily, but behind the veneer of nicely tended fairways and landscaped roadways, there are enough hints to make a case for one community or one home over the next.  Some of the evidence may seem obvious, but some may require a little research.


One Comparative Measure: $ per square foot
    The only way to compare the values of two homes you like is to pull out your calculator and do a little simple math.  Take the total price of the homes you are interested in, divide by their square footage, and you come up with the cost on a dollar per square foot basis.  Although modest differences in cost may result from differences in the perceived quality of the surrounding community, major differences can be revealing and point the way to a bargain purchase.  
   South of Myrtle Beach, for example, the private gated and guarded Wachesaw Plantation boasts a classic Tom Fazio golf course, a sleepy river (The Waccamaw), hundreds of beautiful huge live oak trees, extremely reasonable golf costs, proximity to all necessary services as well as a wide, clean beach...and the lowest dollar per square foot prices of most high-quality private clubs anywhere.  
   Wachesaw appears to have everything…except a clean history.  The original developer, now long gone, virtually banned local real estate agencies from selling inside the gates when the community first opened almost three decades ago.  The blowback from that unhelpful bit of anti-marketing has lingered, local agents say, and still keeps some of the area’s agents from aggressively showing properties in Wachesaw.
    But the original developer is long gone, and savvy buyers can take advantage of the lingering hangover.  For example, one current 4-bedroom, 2½-bath ranch at Wachesaw, sized at 3,100 square feet, is on the market for $399,000, or $129 per square foot.  A comparably sized home at the equally private Reserve at Litchfield (Greg Norman golf course), a few miles down Highway 17, is listed at $680,000 (although it has 5 bedrooms and 3 baths).  That works out to about $219 per square foot.  At DeBordieu, another eight miles south, a 3,200 square foot, 3-bedroom, 2½-bath home with a peek at the Pete Dye golf course off the back deck is listed for $599,000, or $187 per square foot.  I can recommend all three communities, which are gated and guarded and well-tended, with easy access to a beach -- DeBordieu’s is inside the gates -- and feature designer golf courses.
    I am familiar with each of these communities and rate them highly; the differences in their amenities account for the differences in prices. But for couples considering gated/guarded communities with private golf, the differences in cost-per-square-foot, and Wachesaw’s advantage in that regard, are worth noting.  (For a rundown of current golf homes for sale at under $120 per square foot, please see the accompanying sidebar.)


Whose Club is it, Anyway?
    Those who create things are often lousy at implementing them -- and few of them have the discipline to step aside and let others execute their vision.  Sure, there are exceptions -- Steve Jobs of Apple Computer comes to mind –- but in many cases, the stereotype holds up.  This has been true in the golf community development business as well.  Like tragic Greek characters refusing to admit their flaws, developers like Bobby Ginn and Jim Anthony (Cliffs Communities) were as bad at managing their empires as they were good at conjuring a vision for their communities.  We trust some developers explicitly, especially those with the deepest pockets (their own, not the bank’s) and even more so those dedicated enough to live in their own communities -– Ken Kirkman of Carolina Colours comes to mind.  But, in most cases, we trust more those with their own money in the game –- homeowners, such as those at The Landings near Savannah, Champion Hills in Hendersonville, NC, and Wachesaw Plantation in Murrells Inlet, SC.  (Yes, we know, individuals borrow money from banks too, but personal bankruptcy is, well, more personal, than commercial bankruptcy.)  
   Over the last decade of looking closely at golf communities, it appears to me that those communities fully in the hands of their homeowners –- the real estate and the golf club –- have the least risk and, therefore, the most inherent value. (For important exceptions, see below.)  Residents have a natural inclination to make decisions that protect the value of their properties; sure, we have seen some such communities engage in contentious debate over decisions –- most involving expenses, and often spending on the golf course -– but in the end, cooler heads prevail when someone reels everyone back in with some words about protecting home values.


And Yet, Deep Pockets Are Good Too
    Value is a bet on the future as much as it is about today.  And some golf communities firmly in the hands of outside agencies may be even stronger than those guided solely by homeowners (see above).  Two golf communities we have watched closely –- Reynolds Plantation and Brunswick Forest -– could not be more different in terms of property costs, size and number of golf courses, and geography.  However, the deep pockets funding of Reynolds and Brunswick Forest make them contenders for risk-averse value purchasers.  Brunswick Forest is in the hands of the 100-year-old firm Lord Baltimore Capital, which provided the backing that made it possible for the community’s excellent amenities, which include one of the best new golf courses on the coast in the last decade and a 18,000 square foot “wellness” center, to be up and running shortly after land sales began.  Brunswick Forest, just 10 minutes from Wilmington, NC, has been arguably the most successful development on the east coast since the recession began.  Reynolds Plantation, though located in a remote part of northern Georgia, is nevertheless large enough to provide enough in the way of activities to overcome its almost one-hour distance from Athens and 90 minutes from Atlanta.  After original developers Mercer and Jamie Reynolds hit the skids financially, Metropolitan Life Insurance stepped in to save the day and put the Plantation on a more solid, if conservative, footing.  There are no deeper pockets than Met Life’s, but we are still waiting for the folks behind Snoopy to spend to promote their community. In the meantime, while the world waits to hear more about Met Life’s vision for Reynolds, home prices are a bargain, making Reynolds also a value play in our estimation.


Marketing Spend Can Be A Signal of Value
    Speaking of advertising, the recession shut down marketing budgets in all but the most aggressive golf communities.  The most conspicuously shy have been former big spenders like The Cliffs Communities and Reynolds Plantation.  But advertising experts will tell you that being top of mind is important when emerging from a depressed market, and those golf communities that continued to be a presence in a few select magazines and on the Internet have done particularly well emerging from the recession, none more so than Daniel Island, the enclave just 15 minutes from Charleston, SC.  In 2013, sales on the island increased a healthy 27%; we note as well that median sale prices for homes on Daniel Island rose above the $603,000 mark, although condos on the island start only in the $100s and single-family homes from the mid $400s.
    Given the number of golf communities in the southeast and the pent-up demand among baby boomers looking for warmer climates, expect all but the most conservative communities to start advertising soon, with resulting traffic to their real estate offices, increased sales and higher prices inside the gates.  Those folks considering a home in one of these communities may find the best values may begin to evaporate shortly after the advertising begins.


Low Inventories and Low Prices Can Imply Value
    I had an interesting recent conversation with a real estate agent in the Pawleys Island, SC, area who indicated that the inventory of homes for sale in the area was down to around 10%.  And yet, I noted, prices have not risen much in the entire Myrtle Beach Grand Strand area since the recession ended.  She and I agreed that relatively few homes for sale and continuing low prices could very well set the stage for the area’s prices to finally rise in proportion to prices elsewhere in golf rich parts of the southeast.  I have owned a vacation condo in Pawleys Plantation for 14 years and have seen price fluctuations over that time (including our own home); prices for some homes in our community remain pretty much at recession levels, including nicely sized condos on the golf course for less than $200,000 (good rental-income potential).  Seekers of value should consider those markets where prices remain low, for now, even in the face of a short supply of properties for sale.


If you are considering a search for a golf home in the southern U.S., please fill out our free Golf Home Questionnaire online.  Once I understand your requirements, I will be pleased to suggest a few communities you might consider.  I will never share your personal information without your permission, and my services are free and without obligation.  Click here for the Golf Home Questionnaire.

   Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor





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