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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Safe Landing: Wallace, NC golf community positioned to thrive in market rebound

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        Most everything about the North Carolina golf community of River Landing seems reasonable.  Its attractive array of single-family homes starts in the $400s.  My dinner in the large but warm clubhouse was reasonably priced and artfully prepared.  At 45 minutes on the Interstate, River Landing is a more-than-reasonably-short distance from Wilmington’s beaches and other attractions, and a little over an hour from the international airport in Raleigh.  Although the $28,000 Initiation fee may seem less than reasonable to some, it does include full access to two beautifully conditioned and challenging golf courses; and dues for a full-family membership are under $400 per month, quite modest given the two courses and wide range of other amenities included.  (Non-golfers may sign-up for a sports membership that provides access to the 12,000 square foot fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools and tennis facilities.)  Property Owner Association dues, especially given the manned gate, are also reasonable at $100 per month.

        Finally, the Murphy family, local hog farmers by background but now successfully diversified multi-business owners, provide the financial backing for their beloved River Landing.  Dell Murphy, son of founder Wendell Murphy, runs the community with help from a brother and sister.  Because of their strong ties to the area and their investment in the golf community, the family is a more than reasonable bet to stay the course and see River Landing through to completion.

RiverLandingClubhouse

River Landing's clubhouse is impressive both inside and out.

 

        Deep pockets and a low debt ratio have been the ingredients for survival in the leisure residential market of the last five years.  With other golf communities teetering on the brink because they were overleveraged, River Landing has taken a more conservative approach, protecting its price structure for real estate and golf membership and taking on no debt.  They have not discounted their inventory of properties, preferring to offer incentives, such as free golf membership, to interested buyers.  This approach has kept early investors at River Landing happy since their property values have not depreciated unnaturally.  When confidence returns to the market, those lot owners should feel especially encouraged to follow through and build their retirement homes at River Landing.

        Incentives like free golf joining fees also encourage new members and the extra dues payments that follow; this, of course, helps sustain maintenance of the golf course and keeps traffic flowing into the clubhouse for meals. (The monthly food minimum is comparatively high at $100, but it does include alcohol consumption and, considering the quality of my dinner, River Landing couples won’t have trouble justifying two meals or more per month in their clubhouse.)

        The 2,000-acre, 13-year old River Landing has been a little slow to develop, with just 350 homes built so far.  A total of 1,000

With reasonable construction costs and lots available on the river, a new home with a killer view could cost less than $700,000.

home sites are spoken for, with 600 more to be sold by the developers.  The sweet spot of home values in the community seems to be around the $550,000 mark.  Construction costs are running at $130 to $150 per square foot compared with as much as $175 just a couple of years ago.  Lot sizes run from 1/5 acre (to accommodate a patio home) to ½ acre, which will easily contain a nicely appointed 2,500 square foot home, at a cost of around $350,000 (figuring $140 per square foot).  At $300,000 for a lot on the northeast branch of the Cape Fear River, which runs along the edge of the property, future owners could build a home with a killer view for well under $700,000, land included.  More modest aspirations can be accommodated in the community’s “Vineyards” section, across the road from the gatehouse, where $350,000 is the entry price.

        River Landing’s greatest following is from the Washington, D.C. area, not only because of its proximity -– 330 miles from Alexandria, VA, all on interstate highways -– but also because North Carolina state law does not tax federal government pensions.  The bulk of other residents at River Landing are from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, with a sprinkling of others from New England and the Midwest.

        River Landing is somewhat eclectic in its makeup, comprising about one-third fully retired residents, one-third who work part-time in the area or from their homes, and one-third with full-time jobs in the area.  The latter group includes some families with small children, but despite the splashing pools planned for the Vineyard area, the ethos of River Landing tilts more toward the mature, but lively.  I noted two groups of 20-something young ladies conversing animatedly in the bar area when I had dinner in the clubhouse.  Older couples seemed equally happy in the warm and comfortable space.

 

Tomorrow:  River Landing offers some unusual extras

RiverLandingfromfairway

The approach to the par 4 2nd hole on the River Course at River Landing.

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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