Wilmington, NC, area’s Brunswick Forest plows through economy’s headwinds

        Leland, NC’s, Brunswick Forest, which I first visited in 2008 just after its initial houses had gone up, is defying the gravity of a plummeting housing market.  I hardly recognized the golf community

Brunswick Forest is the fastest growing coastal community.

when I visited in mid March, a year after my last drive through.  What happened to the recession?  New houses seemed to have sprouted by a factor of three or four times in just a year.  Granted, many of Brunswick Forest’s houses are on small (1/4 acre) lots and give the impression of high density, but the growth is not only implied; it is a fact.

        “We are the fastest growing community in the coastal south,” said Brandy Marshall, Brunswick Forest’s marketing coordinator.  “And we had our best January [in sales] since we opened [in 2007].”

        In the teeth of an awful market, especially for leisure residential sales, how has Brunswick Forest managed to buck all the negative trends?  The answer is simple -- deep pockets.  Brunswick’s owner/developers, Lord Baltimore, a Maryland private investment organization, has paid “out of pocket” for all the amenities in Brunswick, incurring zero debt.  Lord Baltimore, newbies at the golf community development business but well experienced in commercial development, understood that, in a brutal economy, buyers care first about the financial security of the developer.

CapeFearhomebehind5th

Many houses in Brunswick Forest are on small patio lots, but one home behind the 5th green gives a hint of what is possible in the community's "custom home" neighborhoods.

 

        To signal their financial might, Lord Baltimore built the community’s wellness/fitness center and Community Commons during Brunswick Forest’s first few months, and followed by putting the earth movers to work on the golf course.  The Commons includes gardens, a glass-enclosed meeting room with fireplace and kitchen, and a fishing pond with dock, a quiet place for residents to contemplate their smart purchase decisions.  The developers also made it clear early on that they had secured tenants for The Villages, a 160-acre commercial and retail district at the Brunswick Forest entrance, where recently a new medical center joined a supermarket, drug chain store, bank, coffee shop and motel.  For those who need a wider array of services, the city of Wilmington is just 10 minutes away.

        Brunswick Forest also managed to find the sweet spot of recessionary residential leisure pricing, which is to say below the mid-six-figure mark.  The average home price in the community is about $350,000, although you can go as high as $600,000 for a house adjacent to the golf course, or as low as $240,000 for an “entry-level” town home in one of the three (of nine total)

At full buildout, Brunswick Forest will comprise 8,000 homes; 525 are built already.

neighborhoods that feature attached housing.  Lots range from about ¼ acre for “patio” homes to 3/4 acre for custom homes.  Those who purchase a lot for a custom home have up to 10 years to start construction and can use any builder they choose, as long as the architecture review board approves the design.  Local builders purchased multiple lots in the other Brunswick Forest neighborhoods to build and sell their own spec homes.  In all, 525 homes are up and occupied in the community, but there was plenty of evidence of further construction during my visit.

        At 4,500 acres, Brunswick Forest is large, and it took me almost 10 minutes to drive from the front entrance, which is not gated, to Cape Fear National, the golf course at the back of the property.  At full build out, 180 homes will adjoin the current 18-hole golf course; plans are to build a third nine that will have the “character of a Pinehurst course,” according to Brad Walker, director of sales and marketing for the golf course.  All told, according to Brandy Marshall, Brunswick Forest expects to have “around 8,000 roofs” at completion.

        Although some of the smaller homes seem close together, Brunswick Forest is not an especially densely populated community.  About a third of the community will remain natural.  Already, 100 miles of walking and biking trails, including wooden bridges, snake through Brunswick Forest.

        “About 90% of our residents say they are into walking regularly,” said Marshall.  Baby boomers, who indicate consistently in surveys that walking is their number one activity, have gotten the message about Brunswick Forest; the average age of residents in the community is 52 years, according to Marshall.  Still, plenty of families have moved from elsewhere in the Wilmington area, and those who have an issue with school buses and squeals at the community pools might find Brunswick less than paradise.

        Do financial stability and low prices combine to make Brunswick Forest the rare perfect community?   Obviously, the community strikes a chord for many buyers, but those looking for a

As the dogwoods and other plantings grow, the flat land and individual properties will take on more character.

typical Low Country landscape might be slightly disappointed.  First, the land is rather undistinguished, flat and sandy with little evidence of the Low Country marshland that characterizes properties along much of the coast (Brunswick Forest is about a 25 minute drive to Wrightsville Beach).  Ironically, this feature of the land worked to golf architect Tim Cate’s advantage on the golf course, where he was able to push dirt around at will, shape the layout to his own visionary whims and improve dramatically on nature’s rather modest handiwork.

        The second issue for this observer was the absence of hardwood trees, especially the live oaks so prevalent and characteristic of true Low Country settings.  The lack of trees in most yards emphasizes the proximity of homes in the patio-lot neighborhoods, although many front yards had been planted with attractive dogwoods.  Small though they still are, the dogwoods were in full blossom in mid-March and, given a few years, should provide the neighborhoods of Brunswick Forest with ample cover.  For now, however, there is not much separation neighbor to neighbor.

        That said, Brunswick Forest gets our vote for hitting just about every high note for stable, organized, fairly priced and well-located golf community.  And the new Cape Fear National Golf Course, which we will review in this space in the next few days, does nothing to diminish those qualities.

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        Brunswick Forest offers a generous “discovery tour” package at a great price of just $179 for 3 days and 2 nights for two.  Included are accommodations in downtown Wilmington, a round of golf at Cape Fear National (a $200+ value alone), a dining certificate for a restaurant on the waterfront in Wilmington, and access to all of Brunswick Forest’s amenities.  Of course, a tour of the property is required.

         If you would like us to arrange an introduction to the sales staff at Brunswick Forest, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.