December 2021

December is when we look back at the year past and ahead to the coming one. The pandemic has had a profound effect on real estate, especially in high-quality golf communities. Demand is up, supplies are down and even non-economists among us know what that means for prices. That reality could be with us for years to come. We explain. Also, if you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, there are locations for each of you. But we found a few where everyone, regardless of political persuasion, can be happy. It is all in this month’s Home On The Course.

Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach, SC
Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach, SC

Big Changes for Retirement 
Real Estate; Bigger Ones Ahead

Since Baby Boomers began retiring in 2012, they have had a dizzying array of choices in golf communities in warm weather climates and at prices that had not yet recovered from the recession that started in 2008.  Bargains and inventories of homes for sale in the South have mostly evaporated since the pandemic began; city dwellers who sought refuge in less populated areas are still, for the most part, occuping those remote homes. To further stress inventories, Baby Boomers pushed up their timeframes to buy.  Therefore, in places like Arizona and the Carolinas, it is hard to find a home for sale in a high-quality golf community.

It is only going to get harder. And the culprit, once again, is the hangover effects of the pandemic.

What many companies hoped would be temporary – employees working from home – now appears to be permanent.  Dozens and dozens of major employers have already announced that working from home for their employees will be a feature, not a bug, and dozens more have signaled that many of their workers will eventually be given the choice to work from home.  Some companies run by traditional managers have been shocked to see just how productive their legions of workers have been from home during the pandemic.  Sure, spontaneous collaboration may have taken a hit in some cases, but with an email announcing a meeting and a quick link to Zoom, employee teams are able to kick around ideas and come to consensus just as easily from their homes (or local cafes) as they can without breathing the same air.

No company, private or public, has ever turned down an easy way to save money, and what easier way to save than cancelling leases and utility payments.  Companies save on expenses related to hosting their workers, and their workers save on commuting costs, wardrobe costs (except for that extra-flashy jogging suit) and, in many cases, child-care costs. (Imagine mom and dad both working from home with a toddler who, if they were both in an office every day, would require expensive daycare; now, with the flexibility of work from home, they can spend quality time with the young’n and save a lot of money.) 

Last weekend, I spoke with a mid-level manager for an insurance company in Hartford, CT, who has been working from his home office for most of the pandemic.  He told me his day starts around 8 and he typically heads upstairs for dinner around 6:30. He eats lunch at his basement office desk.

“I probably spend up to two hours more working at home than in the office,” he told me, emphasizing that the occasional interruption, time off for lunch and water cooler talk sometimes derailed his momentum in the office.

So, you might be asking after that long-winded intro, what this has to do with a Baby Boomer couple looking for a golf home in the Southeast.  Think about a younger you, maybe mid-30s, and your company announced you had an option to work from home, or that you must work from home because the office was closing. (For the sake of this discussion, I will consider you live north of the Mason Dixon line, in the snow belts of New England or the upper Midwest.)  You are a golfer, maybe your spouse as well, and your children are young enough to handle a relocation.  A voice in your ear reminds you that, in the South, you could play golf virtually every day of the year, and you start to think that if you got up in the morning an hour or two earlier to start your day, you could easily tee off by 3 or 4 p.m.  If you are homeowner, a house similar in size to your current one, say, in the Carolinas, would cost you 20% less and your property taxes will drop by an easy 50% to 75%.  And, overall, your cost of living will be about 30% less, on average.

That, my fellow current and future Baby Boomers, is where your competition for a home in the South will come from.  And that is why many Boomers and Millennials will have to start thinking more broadly about retirement lifestyles, perhaps considering a much more modest (lower cost) home in the Sunbelt or a home in a higher-cost but otherwise attractive state in the North. (There are some nice golf communities in New England if you can amuse yourself with skiing or some other activities from November to April.)

About a par-5 distance from our home in Connecticut is a golf community called Farmington Woods.  It comprises mostly reasonably valued condominiums; the private golf course, designed by the well-regarded architect Desmond Muirhead, is a bit quirky with significant changes in elevation – not an easy walk – but always in good condition. When I last checked, initiation fee for Farmington Woods was in the $5,000 category.  Most condos for sale in the community are priced in the mid to high $200s (mostly two bedrooms, two baths). That, in my experience, is a good $100,000 less than many similar golf communities in the Southeast.

 

If Your Criteria Includes Politics, 
Color Myrtle Beach Purple

From 2005, when I first started working with couples looking for their golf retirement homes, until five or six years ago, none ever listed politics as one of their chief criteria for a destination.  But that has changed; and while climate, amenities (especially golf) and issues such as distance to airports are still the main criteria for retirees, politics does come up, typically in the form of questions like “Will we be comfortable there?” or “Are there many people there who think like us?”

The online service Marketwatch features a “calculator” to determine the best place for you to retire.  It asks your political leaning, among other queries, to help you determine where you might be most comfortable.  The choices are straightforward: “Solidly Democrat,” “Solidly Republican” and “Mixed.” I decided to take the Marketwatch calculator for a spin in terms of which towns in the states that most of my clients target would satisfy their range of political leanings.  I encourage you to try it out and plug in your top criteria across a wide range of preferences.  It is fun, if not totally determinative of where your best place might be.

The calculator permits you to choose up to three states, and I chose the grouping of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia for the test. You can also select up to five categories of “must haves” and five categories of “nice to haves.” In each category, there is one sub-category that you select.  In addition to politics/party affiliation, I chose “home prices/Below $600K,” “health/Medicare 5-star hospital,” “outdoor activities/5+ golf courses,” and “climate/flooding.”  Yes, I was mindful that the flooding sub-category would be biased against popular coastal locations; I was surprised it was not. (see below)

In the “nice to have” categories and sub-categories, I chose “culture/museums and historical sites,” “transportation/metro airport,” “January high temperatures/50s,” “July high temperatures/80s,” and “money/below average cost of living.”

The results were interesting and somewhat surprising.  Democrats would be most happy living in Greensboro, NC.  Republicans would be most happy living in Myrtle Beach, SC, which, of course, is right on the Atlantic coast and subject to flooding after intense storms. But those targeting a mixed political environment would find Greensboro the top choice and Myrtle Beach second.  (Democrats too will find Myrtle Beach a reasonably comfortable place to retire as it ranked #6 among those indicating they were “solidly Democrat.”) For Republicans who do not want to live on the coast, the second choice on their list was Greenville, SC. (Greenville also ranked #8 on the Democrats’ list and #4 on the Mixed list.)

Charleston was the only other city that made all three lists, at #2, #7 and #3, respectively, on the Dem, Rep and mixed lists.  Asheville, NC, often described as “San Francisco East,” made the Democrat list at #3 and the mixed list at #5 but was nowhere to be found in the top 10 on the Republican list.  Durham, home to Duke University, made the Dem rankings at #5 and the mixed at #10.  Conversely, New Bern, NC, made the Republican list at #3 and the mixed list at #7; and Statesville, NC, #4 for Republicans and #8 for those who prefer a mixed political environment.

Since Georgia contributed only two cities to any of my lists – Marietta and Atlanta at #9 and #10, respectively, on the Democrat list – I dropped Georgia and added Florida to assess how Sunshine State cities would be ranked against North and South Carolina cities based on my criteria.

With Florida replacing Georgia, the Democrat list top 5 were exactly the same: Greensboro, Charleston, Asheville, Charlotte and Durham ranked in that order.  Tampa (#6) and West Palm Beach (#7) pushed Myrtle Beach, Raleigh and Greenville down to the 8th through 10th positions.  On the Republican list, the top 4 – Myrtle Beach, Greenville, New Bern and Statesville – clung to their positions, but Florida towns asserted themselves in the next four rankings, with Titusville, Pensacola, Miramar Beach and Panama City pushing Greensboro and Salisbury to the 9th and 10th positions.  On the mixed politics list, the rankings remained the same as they were with Georgia instead of Florida; in other words, the top 10 cities for those either disinterested in politics or happy to live among those of both persuasions are in the Carolinas, not in Florida or Georgia.

Golf Communities 
Across the Political Divide

According to the Marketwatch best places to live calculator, Democrats, Republicans and Independents can live in relative harmony in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Here are some of the most interesting golf communities on the Grand Strand, from the NC/SC border down to Georgetown, SC.

The Dunes Club, Myrtle Beach

One of the venerable “old” golf courses on the Grand Strand, The Dunes was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1947…Less a golf community than an outstanding course inside a neighborhood and just a short cart drive to the beach…Its iconic hole is the 13th, a par 5 that makes a right hand turn around a lake and forces a decision on the lay-up second shot; aim over the water for a short-iron third shot to the green, or avoid a shot near the water and look at a long-iron approach…Homes from $525K to $2.8M…Golf initiation fee $25K to $50K. (Private, with some access for local hotel guests.)

The Surf Club, North Myrtle Beach

An older neighborhood and a classic golf course, designed originally by George Cobb and opened in 1960.  It was later renovated by John LaFoy in 1992…Some homes in the 10-block-long community have views of water, others views of the golf course. Current prices range from around $250,000 to $1 million plus…Initiation fees are $10,000 to $25,000 with dues anywhere from $0 to $5,000 per year (depending on type of membership). (Private)

Wachesaw Plantation, Murrells Inlet, SC

Virtually since its beginning 40 years ago, Wachesaw has been undervalued by many because of its location two miles west of US Highway 17. In actuality, it is in one of the best positions of any golf community on the Grand Strand, just two minutes to the area’s hospital and five minutes to shopping, the beaches and a string of popular seafood restaurants on the marsh…The golf course is a fairly early Tom Fazio design and a lot of fun to play, especially with the active group of members…The inventory of homes for sale has shrunk to nearly zero, but when available, prices range from $300,000 to $1.2 million…Wachesaw’s club pricing a few years ago was reasonable, in the $5,000 category for initiation fees, but I am confident that has probably doubled by now.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you need a precise figure and I will get it. (Private)

The Reserve Club, Litchfield Beach, SC

At just two decades old, The Reserve is one of the younger communities on the Grand Strand…Its Greg Norman golf course provides a good walk and some interesting shot values. But its most important feature is that it is owned by the McConnell Golf Group which grants its members privileges at a dozen other McConnell courses in the Carolinas.  They are all worth the couple of hours drive from the beach…The Reserve has its own marina on the Waccamaw River and is just minutes from restaurants, shopping and the Atlantic Ocean beach (a club there is designated for residents). Homes for sale from $560,000 to over $1 million…Initiation fees fluctuate in price from season to season, typically between $5,000 and $10,000. Annual dues are more than reasonable. (Private)

Pawleys Plantation, Pawleys Island, SC

The community and Jack Nicklaus course opened a few months before a visit from someone named Hugo – as in Hurricane Hugo – but Pawleys Plantation survived with only a few downed trees.  Since then, the community has been built out to near completion, with a visually harmonious balance among condominiums and homes enhanced by the mature landscaping throughout…The golf course is challenging, but if you play the right tees, you will enjoy the experience. The second nine is visually arresting as it plays through and around the marsh that separates the community from the island and Atlantic Ocean…Condos are priced from the high $200s and homes from the high $300s…Initiation fee for the semi-private club is just $2,500 which permits its members advanced tee times, important especially during peak seasons. Dues are in the $300 per month category. (Semi-private)

DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown, SC

French for The Borderland of God, most locals call it “Debby Doo.”  I call it a near perfect compromise for golfers who are married to beach lovers.  DeBordieu is one of the rare golf communities on the east coast north of Florida with its own beach on the Atlantic, about a two-mile stretch…Homes from $825,000, lots from $165,000…The golf course is by Pete Dye which implies, accurately, challenges and signature visuals – think pot bunkers, moguls and bulkheads – in equal measure…Initiation fee around $50,000. (Private)