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Sunday, 02 April 2017 10:39

These Seniors Are REALLY Super

        While doing some online research recently, I came across this notice for a men’s golf group in the Myrtle Beach area.

** FLASH ** EFFECTIVE for the event 1/23/17 at ARROWHEAD, the Super Senior criteria has been DROPPED from 95 to 90. **
If you qualify, talk to some of the others who have moved up, and find out if they are enjoying their golf more than they used to!!!!!
-- Grand Strand Senior Men’s Golf Association

        Editor’s Note: Although the numbers may have to do with scoring averages, it sure reads as if it is about age. If any of us are still on the golf course at 90, let alone 95, we should be "enjoying" a lot more than golf.

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Thursday, 30 March 2017 15:03

Vacation golf homes hot again?

        Just today, two clients contacted me about pursuing the purchase of vacation homes. One was targeting the Myrtle Beach area and the other Reynolds Lake Oconee. It could be confidence in the economy or simply the bubble of baby boomers coming into retirement age, but vacation homes appear to be on many couples’ radars these days.
        I have owned a vacation home south of Myrtle Beach for nearly 17 years, and it has been a wonderful experience in all regards except, perhaps, the financial ones. During a career and the raising of children, with all the activities that anchor you to your primary home location, you will not get full use out of a vacation home. As a strictly financial investment, it is not a great deal. In our case, because of a special incentive offered by the developer who sold us our condo, we joined the golf club at Pawleys Plantation; that has had its compensations, but I would have been much better off paying green fees for each round rather than regular dues (see below).
        If you are contemplating the purchase of a golf vacation home, here are a few key things to consider on the one hand, and on the other:

The Good

        Owning a vacation home is good for the ego. If you have been successful in your career, enough so that you can afford to purchase a condo or patio home in a warm weather location, you’ll feel even better about yourself and your accomplishments. Vacations add to family bonding and if, as was the case in our family, husband and one child love golf and wife and one child love the beach, you can target the vacation home to check both boxes and make everyone happy.
        The freedom to decide on a Wednesday to fly or drive down to your vacation home for a long weekend is almost priceless...especially if you don’t rent out your home to other vacationers. My wife and I made the decision not to rent out our condo, opting to furnish it to our own tastes and to protect it from short-stay vacationers who might not treat it as their own. But based on annual rental records in Pawleys Plantation, and our condo’s location at the 15th tee and a short walk to the clubhouse, we probably could have generated $15,000 in revenue annually to offset the club dues and homeowner association fees. This is a decision that should be weighed carefully by any couple considering a vacation home: Freedom to travel to your home whenever you decide and to furnish it for yourselves compared against the extra income rentals can generate. (One word of caution: Research carefully the particular rules on renting and the management fees to market and maintain your home in your absence. Of particular interest should be whether guests in your home have club privileges through your membership.)
        Although signing up for a full-time membership connected to a part-time home rarely works out financially, being treated like a member whenever you are in residence has its compensations. Although Pawleys Plantation generates many outside rounds of golf, I love being greeted by name at the bag drop, of getting prompt and serious service when I call the pro shop and the discounts on golf balls and other equipment aren’t bad either. Plus membership conveys some reciprocal arrangements at other clubs, some of them more private than my own (just have your pro make a call).

The Bad

        A vacation home, as a financial exercise, is almost always a loser. If you have a mortgage on the home, there is that expense. There are the property taxes which, admittedly, in much of the South are extremely low compared with what many of us are used to up North. And if you join the adjacent golf club, there are the initiation fees and monthly dues. In most years, over the course of our ownership and golf membership at Pawleys Plantation, I probably averaged nearly $200 per round; the public paid an average under $100 per round. But because the developer in 2000 paid half our initiation fee, and because I fully -– and foolishly -– expected to play a couple dozen rounds of golf each year, I joined. Think carefully before you accept such a deal. I would the second time around.

The Bottom Line

        Some folks will argue that a vacation home compels you to use it as frequently as possible and denies you, somewhat, the pleasures of seeing the rest of the world. It is true that if you desire to wring every last dollar of investment out of your vacation home, assuming you don't offer it on a rental program, you may very well feel guilty about traveling elsewhere. Don’t. Give the keys to your vacation home to friends and family when you aren’t using it and it will be a priceless source of relaxation, whether you are there or elsewhere, content in the knowledge that at least someone else is getting their moneys worth.
        There is one other way to get the most value from your vacation home, and that is by joining a "home exchange" program that essentially facilitates a swap of your vacation home for another couple's home for a week or two.  I will be writing in the next few weeks about an organization that manages such exchanges, Homelink International.  We used our Pawleys Island condo in exchange for a cottage in the seaside golf village of Crail, Scotland, and it was a wonderful and cost-free experience.
        If you would like to discuss your own pursuit of a golf vacation home, I’d be happy to talk with you. Contact me and we will get the ball rolling.

        I noticed a link in a tweet yesterday about golf real estate and followed it to an article sponsored by some outfit called VTS (View the Space), a real estate leasing consulting firm. As I read the piece by a “commercial real estate journalist” –- talk about specialization –- I thought the gloom it covered the golf industry with -- courses being plowed over for housing developments or repurposed for other uses -- was all too familiar. Cover some new ground, I thought –- until I looked back at the byline that indicated it was written last summer. It was old ground.
        But is it? If you subscribe to Google’s Daily Alerts, as I do, and use search terms that include golf, golf community, golf real estate and the like, you will be treated to a daily diet of articles detailing fights between homeowners who live adjacent to golf courses and the club operators who want to close the course and sell to a developer; or resorts that are closing down a golf course to make way for an orchard or amusement area.
SavannahLakeshome behind greenHome with view of green at Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick, SC
        However, like most news today, the bad stuff tends to throw shade over any good news. And the media, once it chomps down on a tasty chew toy -– in this case, golf –- does not let go easily, even in the face of facts. After spending a dozen paragraphs on why the golf industry is in trouble, the author of the article finally got to the good news in the penultimate paragraph; that “recreational open space” like golf courses “boosts the property value of nearby homes by as much as 20%.” The reference point is a National Association of Realtors study in Portland, OR, which showed that close proximity to a golf course was responsible for an extra $8,849 in home values, second only to “natural areas” and well ahead of “specialty parks” and “urban parks.” (The poorly articulated article doesn’t indicate how nearby homes are valued; if the $8,849 represents an extra 20%, that would imply average home values barely more than $44,000. Surely that is not the case.)
        Of more relevance and accuracy is a study conducted by Florida Atlantic University that evaluated 10,000 home sales in three south Florida counties in 2015. Its results were announced this past January. The study found that homes adjacent to a golf course are worth an additional 8% to 12% compared with other comparable homes. This was a scientific endeavor, not the kind of anecdotal (i.e. lazy) efforts by many in the business press that result in an unfair depiction of golf and real estate. Facts do matter, and those considering a golf home who might be intimidated by what they read about golf communities in the press should avert their eyes from alternative facts.
        You can read the press release on the Florida Atlantic study here.

        I was one of more than 120 members of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel asked late last year to identify the best par 3s, 4s and 5s among the 100 golf courses open to play for all golfers along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, an area that stretches roughly 90 miles from just below Wilmington, NC, to Georgetown, SC, and through the heart of Myrtle Beach.
        It was a daunting task for a number of reasons: First, of course, it is tough to remember with any precision even the best of a total 1,800 golf holes. Frankly, I haven’t managed to quite play all of them since my first trip to Myrtle Beach in the late 1960s; in the years since, a couple dozen of the original courses on the Strand have closed. But still, when you have almost a couple thousand holes to choose among, at least 18 are going to be terrific.
Pawleys16approachAlthough my fellow SC Golf Rating Panel members anointed the 18th hole at Pawleys Plantation Country Club as one of the top 18 in all of Myrtle Beach, my choice would be the 16th at Pawleys (shown here), where even an excellent drive on the dogleg left par 4 leaves a daunting approach shot.
        And they are, at least the ones I am familiar with, although one par 4 choice I know well is what I consider the third best choice on its golf course. That would be the finishing hole at Pawleys Plantation Country Club in Pawleys Island, a difficult and scenic Jack Nicklaus layout less than a mile, as the eagle flies, from the ocean. My fellow raters deemed the 18th one of the top courses on the Grand Strand; it is a fine finishing hole that demands a shaped drive on the slight dogleg left, with menacing marsh and bunkers at the crook of the dogleg and a forest to the right of the fairway for drives overcooked in that direction. A lake and bunkers along the left side protect the long, narrow, back-to-front green, and an overhanging tree about 30 yards in front on the right side makes it tempting to hit a faded approach toward the lake side. On any other golf course, #18 might be the best par 4, but strong contenders at Pawleys include #8, with a 160-yard long bunker that runs from mid-fairway to cover the entire right two-thirds of the green; and the 16th, a long hard-dogleg left with a huge live oak guarding the turn, marsh across the fairway beyond it, and a green surrounded by bunkers.
        For a rundown of the other 17 best holes in Myrtle Beach, see the article at CrossRoadsToday.com. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017 15:46

Mother Nature Fools Again

        As I write this, our deck is covered in about 16 inches of snow where it hasn’t drifted, thanks to high winds, to over 2 ½ feet. Just one week ago, some of the Hartford, CT, area golf courses announced they would be opening in a few days. The day before opening, it snowed about two inches, certainly enough to dash the plans of even the most serious and sturdy of golfers (the latter is not me anymore). Yesterday, the snow had melted almost to the point of playability. But today, blizzard conditions not only put a blanket of deep snow over the area, but it also put a damper on any possibility of the golf season in southern New England starting before April 1.
        This is why so many of us long for a vacation home or permanent home in a warm weather area. (A friend told me on the phone that it was 85 today outside her home in Las Vegas.) It is also why I have seen an uptick in the number of questionnaires readers of my web site and newsletter have filled out in the last two weeks, about three times the typical rate this time of year. Snow is good for the guy who plows my driveway, for supermarkets and for me.
        But that doesn’t mean I like it. We golfers have an internal clock, and when Daylight Savings Time kicks in, it is natural to think the golf season should as well. For all you fellow New Englanders -– and this applies to everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line -– here is tomorrow’s weather forecast in selected cities of the Southeast.  According to weather.com, there is a 0% chance of rain in every one of these locations tomorrow. Perfect sweater weather golf.

Amelia Island, FL               59 degrees and sunny

Sarasota, FL                      63 degrees and sunny

Pawleys Island, SC           47 degrees and windy;

Hilton Head Island, SC      52 degrees and sunny

Lake Oconee, GA              49 degrees and sunny

Aiken, SC                           48 degrees and sunny

Greenville, SC                    45 degrees and sunny

BAckDeckSnowThe scene on the back deck of our home, and it is still snowing (and blowing). It will be a while before we can use the grill.

Monday, 06 March 2017 19:56

How to Find a Golf Home This Year

        All sorts of conditions are conspiring to make this a good year for those considering purchase of a golf home to get it done. Interest rates are still low, if you plan to borrow money; home prices have firmed up in many markets in the North, making it easier to sell a home and move on; home prices in many good golf communities were up even more last year, and as the baby boomer wave continues to move South, they should remain strong for the foreseeable future; and the cost of living differences between North and South means many couples will almost pay for their moves within a year or two with a much lower expense level.
TidewatergolferWith a disciplined approach to a search, you could be playing on your new golf course within a year, in a community like Tidewater, just north of Myrtle Beach, SC
        We are dedicating the March issue of our Home On The Course newsletter to finding a home within a year. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss this informative discussion of how to conduct the most effective search, one that will result not only in a new golf community home but one that matches all your requirements. The newsletter is free of charge. Subscribe here.

        Those inveterate golfers who love links golf in Scotland probably understand that many of the best golf courses on the Old Sod offer overseas memberships that are inexpensively priced. But for many of us who do not live near major city airports in the US, getting to Scotland (or Ireland) have made such memberships impractical, not to mention “expensive” given the cost of international air fares.
        But now, those cheap airfares characterized by Ryan Air and Easy Jet in Europe have crossed the Atlantic in the form of Norwegian and WOW Airlines and made membership in a Scottish or Irish club much more practical, even if you make just one golfing pilgrimage there each year.
CrailBalcomiedoglegaroundwaterOld Tom Morris used all the elements at his disposal -- the sea, the beach and the natural links land -- to fashion a long par four on the front nine of Balcomie Links at Crail.
        In fact, I just applied for membership at the 7th oldest golf club in the world, Crail Golfing Society on the North Sea in the Kingdom of Fife, just 80 minutes north of Edinburgh and a mere eight miles from St. Andrews. By American standards, even for a semi-private club, membership at Crail is a steal and includes eight rounds of golf annually, four on each of Crail’s two courses (see below); free golf at Blairgowrie Golf Club’s three courses; deeply discounted rounds at Scottscraig, Ladybank and Lundin Links courses; and access to the Royal Overseas League club in Edinburgh, whose accommodations are reasonably priced (starting around $80 per night).
CrailBalcomieGreenbySeaThe North Sea is in view from most holes on Balcomie Links.
        The initiation fee for an Overseas Membership at Crail, at today’s exchange rate, is about $209 and annual dues just $161, or about $20 per round if you were to play all your eight rounds on an annual trip over to Crail. For those who like to plan ahead, tee times for members can be made up to a year in advance.
        The two golf courses, Balcomie Links and Craigshead, make the most of the links land beside the sea. Balcomie, the old one designed by Old Tom Morris and opened in 1895, is buffeted almost constantly by winds off the water, and perfecting the knockdown shot is essential to a good score. As on most links courses, the fairways are only faintly more hairy than the greens, and putting from as far as 20 yards off the green often seems a better option than trying a sharp strike off the closely mown and hard turf. Craigshead, which was designed by Gil Hanse in 1998, is the perfect companion to Balcomie because there is no mistaking its links orientation yet some greens are receptive to more traditional approaches, especially if the pin placement is toward the back of the green. Hanse certainly bowed to a kind of quirky traditionalism by building a par 4 with a native stone wall sitting just beyond the range of a three wood, and creating a green that is bordered at its back edge by another wall.
Crail Craigshead WallGil Hanse's Craigshead Links might be 100 years more modern than Balcomie, but it still shows flourishes of tradition, including a wall behind a par 3 green.
        For those seeking a more permanent vacation in Crail, cottages in the postcard perfect seacoast fishing village start around $250,000 US.
LundinLinksapproachBesides a "free" eight rounds per year on the Crail courses, Overseas members receive deeply discounted green fees at other local courses, including the fine Lundin Links.

        Baby boomers in search of reducing their expenses across the board may want to look beyond North Carolina to its neighbor immediately to the South. A recent Wall Street Journal article, citing The Tax Foundation, indicates that state taxes on gasoline at the pump are twice as high in North Carolina as they are in South Carolina. North Carolina charges motorists 34.6 cents for every gallon of gas, second only to Florida among Southern states; the Sunshine State pumps 36.8 cents from every gallon of gas. South Carolina, on the other hand, assesses motorists just 16.8 cents per gallon, the second lowest in the nation after Alaska (12.3 cents).
        The differences in gas tax assessments certainly are not reflected in the differences in the prices of a gallon of gas. But there is a correlation between states with the highest taxes and the overall prices per gallon. The gas companies, after all, must have their profits.
        Put in real terms, if you burn through a tank of gas each week and fill up with 15 gallons 52 times annually, here is what you are paying in taxes to the three Southern states, respectively:

        South Carolina -- $ 873.60

        North Carolina -- $1,799.20

        Florida -- $1,913.60

        According to AAA, the current prices of a gallon of gas in the three states is $2.03 in South Carolina, $2.19 in North Carolina and $2.28 in Florida. The differences certainly aren’t enough to swing a decision one way or another on which state is the best for relocation. But one thing is for sure; moving from a high gas tax state like Pennsylvania, where the gas tax will amount to $3,026.40 annually on the same basis as above, will help save serious dollars for those who burn a lot of gas. The cost of a gallon of gas today in Pennsylvania averages $2.53. Moving to South Carolina from Pennsylvania will save 50 cents per gallon, or roughly $390 a year in gasoline (based on one fill-up per week), enough to pay for golf club dues for a month, a few great meals in Charleston, or a brand new Titleist driver.

        The full article in the WSJ can be accessed here.  If that doesn't work, just send me an email and I will forward it to you.

        I have been reading lately about many golf courses that are being threatened with development. This is personal to me in that the golf course where I learned to play the game in New Jersey was plowed over to make way for the corporate headquarters of a cookie company. Many of the troubled golf courses today are inside the boundaries of planned golf communities, and the new owners of the clubs want to add more houses where fairways and greens now stand.
        If you are looking for a home in a golf community, you are right to wonder about the viability of golf clubs inside the gates. To ease some of your anxieties, there are a number of questions you should ask the Realtor you are working with, the real estate agency on the golf community’s site, or me if you would like some unbiased assistance.  [Click here to contact me.]

History of Assessments
        Assessments are those annoying, and sometimes large, payments club members are asked to make when an unforeseen event occurs that cannot be fully covered, or covered at all, by insurance. Clubhouses sometimes burn down. An exotic fungus chews away at greens and fairways. A guest of a member goes off a cart path into a ditch because of an alleged faulty golf cart and sues the club. A hurricane blasts into the community head on, or a mudslide wipes out a few holes of the golf course. Ask about the history of assessments at the golf community club you are looking at. If there have been none or just the odd one or two, you may learn that the club had more than adequate reserves.

The Club’s Reserves
        Call it a rainy day fund if you’d like. This is a pool of money that is built up over time by directing a small amount of members’ dues payments to the fund. If the reserves are high enough to cover virtually any contingency, you shouldn’t have to worry about future assessments.
CypressLandinghomeatteeThe reserve fund for Cypress Landing's golf club in Chocowinity, NC, amounts to more than 10% of the club's annual budget.

Who Owns the Golf Course?
        There is a direct correlation between the quality and health of the golf community’s course and its real estate values. A developer who has sold out all or most of the properties in his community, but retains ownership of the golf course, may not care who is the next owner of the country club. All things equal, the most stable owners of the golf club are residents of the community because of their vested interest in keeping the club at the highest quality to protect their real estate investments. To encourage sales of properties in a new development, many developers promised property owners the right of first refusal to purchase the country club at a pre-ordained price when the community was mostly sold out. In other cases, the developer takes over the club and either runs it, hires a management company to run it, or sells it to another party. In any of those cases, a prospective member should ask some tough questions about plans for the golf course and about the management track record of the owners.

Interview the Board of Directors
        A golf community country club run by its members is no guarantee it is run well, although we are hard pressed to find examples in which members mucked it up badly. However, members of a board may argue about investments for the golf course and clubhouse, and those disagreements can spill over into operations. Some board members, used to telling people what to do during their business careers, instinctively think they can run a golf club. That is a mistake. If you are serious about buying into a golf community and want to know how the country club is run, ask to speak with a member of the Board of Directors or, better yet, ask to sit in on a meeting. Most Boards invite their members to all their meetings, and they should be totally fine with inviting a prospective member.
The Landings SavannahMembers of the six golf courses at The Landings outside Savannah, GA, not only own the golf clubs but also the on-site real estate agency and every other aspect of the community.

Check the percentages of residents who are members
        It is true that roughly 50 percent of people who live inside the gates of golf communities do not play golf; and not all of them sign up for social memberships. But it stands to reason that the higher the percentage of residents who are members, the more support there will be for the club’s operations. (Note: Some communities insist that anyone who purchases property must join the country club, an obligation that is too binding for many people but which does, in theory, produce the most stable club financially speaking.) In terms of marketing the community to the outside world, an activity that helps prop up real estate values, the perceived quality of the golf course is key. But if the property owners association (POA) comprises mostly non-club-members, it could be tough to develop a coordinated marketing strategy; and that could fray relationships between the parties. When you visit a golf community, ask about how the club and community work together on marketing; if you find that each entity contributes financial and human resources to the effort, you can be confident that relations between club and community are productive.

        All in all, the safest golf community club is one owned by its members, with no history of assessments, a deep well of contingency funding, and an understanding among members and non-members alike that the perceived health of the golf club reflects well on the community’s real estate and stabilizes property values.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 09:27

Business Insider: Best cities for Bargain Homes

        It is a brutal reality of real estate pricing that the desirability of a particular area generally determines price. It makes sense; if many people want to live in a certain place, demand goes up. If supply doesn’t keep pace, prices rise. There are still urban areas in non-temperate climates that are magnets for jobs and, therefore, families. Given the steady demand, many baby boomers who have lived in such places for decades are looking to unload their homes and move to lower cost areas of the South.
        But where are the bargains? The South isn’t quite as settled as other regions of the country and, therefore, it is possible to find great towns where the average price of a home for sale is less than $250,000, according to Business Insider, an online service. We don’t know much about Fayetteville, AR, the #1 city on Business Insider’s list for reasonably priced real estate, but we intend to visit there in the coming year and find out what is so special (besides low-priced homes). We are much more familiar with the seven other Southeast cities that made the top 25 list, including: Raleigh/Durham at #2, Charlotte at #8, Sarasota (#14), Richmond, VA (#16), Charleston, SC (#19), Greenville, SC (#20) and Tampa (#24).
        Raleigh/Durham pops up on virtually every best-place-to-live list for its abundance of employment opportunities, top-flight services and entertainment options, a major airport hub from which you can fly to many international locations, and multiple major universities. Oh, yes, the Raleigh area also offers plenty of golf communities to choose as well. A couple of our favorites are Governors Club in Chapel Hill, with 27 holes by Jack Nicklaus; and Treyburn in Durham, a sleek Tom Fazio layout embedded in a beautifully treed neighborhood and part of the McConnell Group of golf courses (one membership yields access to a dozen great golf courses). But those choices only scratch the surface in this megalopolis of opportunities.
TreyburnovercreekTreyburn Country Club was designed by Tom Fazio and is at the heart of a Durham, NC, golf community of the same name. When you join Treyburn, you gain access to the dozen golf courses owned and managed by the McConnell Golf Group.
        Charlotte may have been a tad later in developing than was Raleigh/Durham but it has just about caught up in terms of what it offers relocating couples with an interest in golf. North of the city, sprawling Lake Norman was a natural for golf community development. Popular with those who work in banking and other key industries that have evolved in Charlotte, Interstate 77 helps folks get into and out of town efficiently so they have extra time to enjoy the amenities of lake living after work. Plenty of other golf community opportunities especially attractive to retirees ring the metropolitan area.
        If I had to choose a Florida city in which to live, it would be Sarasota for its location adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, its sophisticated downtown vibe, and its emphasis on culture (e.g. the Ringling Museum). The huge Lakewood Ranch is almost a city unto itself with multiple golf courses, plenty of shopping and an intimacy that lives up to the promise of the “new urbanism” concept. As for Richmond, VA, we are perennially surprised that some magazine or rating agency hasn’t declared it a top 10 city for retirees. It has just about everything in the way of culture, great food, minor leagues sports franchises, universities that provide continuing education, and some friendly, reasonably priced country clubs, many at the core of golf communities. And although its location less than two hours south of Washington, D.C. is a mixed blessing -– proximity to the nation’s capital but occasionally dicey winter weather -– the pros outweigh the cons in this under-appreciated city.
        For a rundown on all of Business Insider’s top 25 cities with real estate averages under $250,000, click here

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