Today the golf course view.  Tomorrow the woods.  That could be the fate for some in the U.S. northeast, midwest and elsewhere who want to move south in the next few years but are determined to ride out the current real estate slalom and hang onto their primary homes.   
    PMI, the Private Mortgage Insurance Company, knows something about risk, and every year the company publishes a “risk index” which sizes up the potential for decline in major housing markets.  The latest index was released in late January.  Not surprisingly, the riskiest markets are on the west coast, with Sacramento leading the way with a 60.4% risk of declining home values.  The riskiest non-California market is the Nassau-Suffolk Counties area of Long Island, with a 60% risk factor.  Contrast that with the Charlotte, NC, area with a 9% decline potential, or San Antonio with a 7.5% risk.  That’s quite a spread for those considering moving south in a few years, and maybe it argues for taking your lumps now rather than later.
    Financial advisors are always preaching about conservative portfolios of investments as you approach or enter retirement.  The mantra is to reduce your risk, and being of a certain age ourselves, we can’t argue with that.  But it seems the same advice might apply to housing, no?
    Consider this.  Your home on Long Island (or wherever) is not appreciating and isn’t likely to for the next few years, according to many sources.  That gated golf community you’ve had your eye on in the Charleston area is appreciating at close to 10% annually and seems likely to continue to do so as more and more baby boomers head south.  How much risk do you want to take that next year your primary home may appreciate enough to keep up with the appreciation of the house you want to buy in a few years down south?  And if you are still waiting five years from now, will you have to settle for, say, a wooded view rather than a lake view?
    For the adventuresome, housing futures, which trade pretty much like stock market futures, may be an intermediate strategy, especially if you live in one of the 10 markets you can bet on (or against).  For more information, a simple Google search by the term "housing futures" will provide some information.
    In the spirit of full disclosure, we own shelter in Connecticut and, with one child three years from college, we have a convenient excuse not to take our own advice.  Out of impetuous dumb luck, we bought a condo near the coast in South Carolina seven years ago.  So we have some yang to go with the yin of a soft market in the Hartford area.  But three years from now, as empty nesters, the view from here will be very different.

Photos by L. Gavrich
    You win some and lose some.  Castle Bay developer Randy Blanton apparently convinced the state transportation authority in North Carolina to build the Highway 17 bypass just on the other side of his property near Wilmington, rather than directly through it.  He had no such luck with the utility company whose high- tension poles and wires ruin the landscape on an otherwise visually interesting and playable links style layout.
     Blanton, we learned, had hired an architect from Raleigh to build the owner’s dream course, based on the Scottish links he had come to love on visits across the pond.  Not Scottish enough, it turned out, and Blanton decided to build it himself.  He included dramatic mounding on and around the fairways, mindful that the just-outside Wilmington location wasn’t exactly the old sod.  Not too many pot bunkers, but the greens are large, fast and quite undulating and we found them in fine condition.  Fortunate not to wind up above any pin positions, we nevertheless dropped a few at the back of the greens and couldn’t hold them within 10 feet of the cup.  Like a true links course, trees are few, although they do frame the backdrops (unfortunately houses do as well, but thankfully not on every hole).
    We had a true links experience on a cold November day.  The wind blew hard, gusting to 30 mph at times; we gave up on keeping the cigar lit by the second tee.  On one of the par 3s, which looked pretty routine to us, we left three straight shots short of the green; unfortunately there was a pond in front.  Castle Bay looks gentle, but when the wind blows, it is anything but.  There is also enough well placed water on the course that, even when gentle zephyrs blow, a hook or slice can blow your round.  100_1119.JPG
    Okay, now for the bad stuff.  The course is overrun with high-tension wires that are everywhere, marring every view it seems and turning every opportunity to fantasize your way across the pond into disappointment.  If ever we wished for underground utilities, this was it.  And on a few holes, closely packed houses were lined up along the edge of the fairway, but at a safe enough distance across a stream.  The ridiculously reasonable greens fees –- less than $50 when we played –- offered slight compensation.  We left Castle Bay thinking more about what could have been than what was.  Still, if you are in the area of Hampstead, NC, stop by.  If you keep your head down –- before, during and after your swing – you’ll have a great round.
    Note about the housing:  Randy Blanton and his fellow developers originally offered seven basic models of houses between 2,400 and 2,600 square feet.  When early purchasers  opted for just two of them, they reduced the portfolio to just the two, one four bedrooms and one five, both with three baths.  The master suites are good sized, but the other bedrooms are smallish.  Both models have room for an office.  They don’t have formal dining rooms, but there is the capacity to redo the walls to build a formal dining area.  Every home has a view of the golf course.  Prices run from just below $400,000 and up depending on whether you order transom windows and other flourishes. Lots, which are not sold without a house on them, are no larger than 1/3 acre, and that gives the community a somewhat high-density feel.
    Castle Bay is located in Hampstead, NC.  For information about Castle Bay real estate, contact Susan Jarman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (910) 313-0004.  For the golf course, contact (910) 270-1247.