The First Two Steps To Finding Your Home On The Course
By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
Editor's Note: Our golfing lifestyle correspondent, Larry Gavrich, is working on a book that will guide couples on how best to search for a home that provides plenty of golfing options, either inside or outside the gates of the communities they identify. In this issue, Larry shares suggestions for getting started on the journey to finding your golf home, including considerations of topography and climate.
Decide on Topography & Climate
Assuming you are a couple, my advice is not to start a search for a golf home, or any home for that matter, unless you decide mutually on whether your destination is to be near the ocean, beside a lake or in the mountains. (By the way, North and South Carolina are two of the few states that offer all those features.) If you are "open" to mountains and ocean, for example, and intend to explore both, forget about finding a home within a year (or, perhaps, ever).
The choices are distinct and may take years of visits for one half of the couple to be persuaded to the other half’s point of view. My advice to couples in that position is simple: If only one of the two is a golfer, the golfer should relent on the choice of location. (If both play golf, the more serious of the two should let the other decide.) There are great golf courses everywhere in the Southeast but only great beaches along the coast (and only nice mountains five hours inland). This, above all, is true: Happy spouse, happy house.
Although winters tend to be mild once you get south of the Virginia/North Carolina border, there are significant differences between the climate in Chapel Hill, NC and, say, Sarasota, FL. For many northerners, January in Sarasota or any place in Florida is perfect, with golf playable at virtually any time of a day when it is not raining.
But July and August are an entirely different matter. If you can't stand the heat, and you don't plan to have a second home up north for the summer, be wary of Florida. On a similar note, if your plan is to play golf every week of the year, then the mountains may not be for you. A foot of snow spread a few inches at a time over the winter months is not uncommon, for example, in the Asheville, NC, area; and although lingering snow cover there is unusual, intermittent temperatures typical of a Pennsylvania winter are not uncommon. In short, you won’t play as much winter golf in the higher altitudes of the Carolinas as you will near the Carolina beaches.
Once you have decided what areas of the South will float your boat, wet your swimsuit, or fill your lungs with clean mountain air, it is time to get serious about which activities will be most important to you in your future community.
Create a Checklist
Once you have decided on a general location for your search, you need to have a checklist for two major reasons: 1) It will make your Internet search for appropriate golf communities more relevant and more focused; and 2) It will keep to a minimum any disagreements about which golf communities you should visit.
Your checklist should include such items as the amenities you must have (e.g. walking trails, fitness center, boating nearby) and a few that, in the case of a tie between communities, could tilt one of them in your direction. It is important that you reconcile in advance how far you need to be from such services as a hospital, commercial airport, supermarket, beach, quality restaurants, shopping center, cinema and other services. Using such online mapping programs such as Mapquest and Google Maps, it is a pretty simple chore to figure out those distances before making plans to visit.
Of course, your checklist must include a price range for the home (or property) you intend to purchase and a general idea of its size (number of rooms and square footage). Although I don't recommend it as a make or break feature, it will be good to agree on the type of view you would like to enjoy from your golf community home. (In general, there is a premium (over a standard wooded view) of up to 20% in some communities for a golf course view, and 30% and more for a lake or river view. (Forget about commanding views of the ocean unless you have a few million dollars to spend).
Note: I offer a Golf Home Questionnaire that is essentially a checklist of the major items you will want to consider; click here for the questionnaire. Once you fill it out, we can arrange for a free, no-obligation discussion about which areas and specific communities match your requirements.
The Internet is a Blessing and Curse
The Internet has made it both easier and harder to search for a golf home. The easy part is the tremendous amount of information about communities, their golf courses and news from local newspapers about events that certainly would never show up in a golf community’s marketing program (e.g. sewer issues, lawsuits between residents and developers, flooding). The challenge, though, is to separate straight information from hype.
Face it: A golf community is like every other business. It will always put its best foot forward in communications with customers, both potential and active. If you believe the hype at these communities’ web sites, every golf community is paradise, with the best golf, the happiest residents and the widest range and most modern of amenities.
The guidance here is to assume nothing about a golf community until you visit. And above all, do not get wrapped up in looking at real estate listings on line. Homes come on and off the market in Southern golf communities on an almost daily basis, and what you might see today could be gone tomorrow, replaced by a home that might look even better to you. Yes, it is good to understand what your budget will buy in a golf community you are looking at; if you have $500,000 to spend and homes for sale in Community X start at $600,000, you can save yourself a lot of time by ignoring that community.
Stick to Your Budget, But Be Flexible about How You Spend It
One final word about budgets as they relate to golf communities: They are fungible, meaning that a couple expecting to join a private community’s golf course will budget separately for the golf initiation fees and the cost of the house. If they find a community they like with a country club whose initiation fees are, say, $15,000 lower than they budgeted, that excess could be applied to the purchase of a home. Conversely, if the homes they like are priced, say, $15,000 lower than their budget, that surplus could be applied to country club costs, if they are higher than expected.
As with most of life’s activities, the best plans are laid out ahead of time.
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