Thinking about the Sun Belt for a winter residence? Before making a million-dollar decision, consider these factors

A PGA Professional and golf real estate expert weighs in.
Thinking about golf course living? Consider these factors.

Is moving south a million-dollar decision, even if you're not buying a million-dollar house? Yes. Let me explain…

Using Florida as an example, each day, more than 1,000 consumers from the north relocate to the Sunshine State. Approximately, 34% of those folks are Baby-Boomers seeking a club community to reside in during the frigid winter months. These communities could involve golf, tennis, yachting or some combination, all in one convenient setting.

The options are endless; there are 600-plus golf communities alone in Florida to choose from. In Palm Beach County, for example, you will have 177 golf communities to filter through. In addition to the different membership options each club offers, you then have to begin to understand the real estate markets within those communities, or outside the gates if you so desire.

Back to the million-dollar question, the decision must not be taken lightly and you will need a lot of facts to make a confident one. Consider the numbers:

- The average buyer has a $420,000 budget for real estate
- Buyers have an average initiation budget of $32,000 into a club community
- Dues at most Florida clubs average $7,100 per year
- HOA fees and other ancillary expenses could add up to $15,000+ annually.

Using some back-of-the-scorecard math, project 15 years ahead and you can see why this is a million-dollar decision. This is why it is so important to gather all facts and have resources available to use for the search.

My job is to educate you ahead of the journey to find that perfect club and community.

In 2018, we saw a number of interesting trends in the marketplace for clubs who are preparing for new members in 2019. In Florida alone, over $1 billion was invested into clubs and amenities by existing members and management staff.

A few major trends we saw were:

- An increase in female-friendly health and wellness programming
- Healthier menus and casual dining initiatives
- Social programming such as wine tasting and travel clubs
- Enhanced security programs for member safety
- Concentration on landscaping to increase home values within the club

These trends show a concerted effort by clubs to offer you, the consumer, a great experience and to make a confident investment. Be sure to keep these factors in the back of your mind during the search.

Let's consider the Top-5 factors that you need to consider ahead of making the million-dollar decision. Thousands of your predecessors have made the transition and noted where mistakes were made. We have compiled the findings and extend to you as a road map to avoid a wrong decision:

1.) Determine your geographical region of choice.

This can be a bit difficult if you don’t know the lay of the land from Arizona to Florida, but there is plenty of information and sound advice online and through trusted individuals like a local PGA Professional. Consider these factors before determining a marketplace:

- Do you want to be near water (ocean or lake)?
- What are your nightlife/social expectations?
- Is living near a major airport important? Healthcare?
- Do you still want to experience seasonality?
- Are you a flatland or foothills person?

Answering these questions and thinking through the possibilities will help you overcome the geographical dilemma and get a bit of clarity.

2.) Do you want to be in a club or golf community?

If so, this is where the fun begins for you as a prospective member.

There are 48 different geographical marketplaces across the southern U.S. with 25+ club communities within those markets to filter - about 1,200 private club community options in total. I agree, that’s a lot to search online. My company, Golf Life Navigators, can filter those communities in a matter of minutes based upon your specific wants/needs and amenity desires. Once you arrive at a list of about four to six communities that meet all of your budgetary expectations, you can plan your visits accordingly and take advantage of being a prospective member. Enjoy this process; it is what you have been working for!

3.) What to look for and ask when you visit the club.

You’ve arrived at the club community for a visit and maybe an opportunity to play the golf course. Upon arrival, notice if the club has a security guard at the front gate (this is common in states like Arizona and Florida). Did the guard seem professional and thorough with their conversation with you? If so, this is a positive aspect of the community. A great club will always invest in a top-notch security program so their residents feel safe and secure.

During your drive to the clubhouse, notice if there is a sales center or real estate office and stop in. Inquire how many properties are currently for sale within the community. If there seems to be a large percentage of homes for sale, this could be an indicator that residents are eager to leave, which is a red flag. Is something going on with community governance? Is there a financial struggle with the club. It may behoove you to pull over and talk to one of the homeowners about why they are selling.

When you meet with the membership director, it is imperative to ask questions, such as:

- Is there a possible assessment to the membership being discussed by the Board?
- If so, can you provide me with the details on the discussion?
- How many members do you currently have on the club’s resignation list?

If there is a significant number of members on the resignation list be sure to ask what the “exit strategy” is to leave the club. It's not exactly an exciting conversation to have but you don't want to be caught in an expensive misunderstanding.

4.) Find a real estate agent you can trust.

This is easier said than done but here are a few questions you can ask to determine if the realtor you are speaking with has a good idea of all club communities and not just the ones they are farming or have a listing in:

- Can you tell me about the HOA fees in 'XYZ' club?
- Is there a relationship between the home values in 'XYZ' club and the clubhouse and amenities?
- Have the market prices within 'XYZ' club increased or decreased in the past 5 years?
- What is the average price-per-square-foot differences between these 3-4 club communities?

If the agent seems educated, data-centric and “neutral,” then you may have a good one on your hands. Keep in mind, there are 55,000 licensed realtors in Florida alone; be sure to interview and choose someone you feel comfortable with in order to avoid a million-dollar mistake.

5.) Rent.

This may be an unpopular suggestion to consumers by club communities and real estate agents, but I implore you to rent in a few different marketplaces and/or club communities before purchasing. This strategy can be a bit tricky for clubs that do not have transfer-of-membership programs, but you can certainly find homes to rent in and around those communities to experience the overall culture of the club. Some questions to ask yourself as you try before you buy:

- Do the members seem happy?
- Did I feel comfortable around the leadership team of the club?
- Will my future neighbors have the similar economic status that I do?

Along with renting, you may find your original thoughts of wanting a single-family home could change after a month-long stay in a townhome or condominium. You may decide that a “turn-key” condo is a better fit for you while finishing up your career ahead of retirement. That said, having a 60-day rental obligation that you can walk away from is certainly better than having a mortgage and being unhappy in the community you purchased in without experiencing it first.

There is a portion of the brain called the “limbic” brain, which is tied to emotional expression or overall “gut feeling.” I encourage you to listen to your limbic brain throughout the decision process. Keep asking yourself questions:

- Do I feel good about this real estate agent?
- Are there uneasy feelings about this club that I cannot put my finger on?
- Is this region of the country really the best place for me and my family?

These questions should not be creeping into your head when the time is right to make the million-dollar decision. Gather your facts, complete your due-diligence and seek trusted advisors but most importantly, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t invest.

Discover your dream golf course lifestyle!
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Jason is the Co-Founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators. A Florida Gulf Coast University alum and a PGA of America Golf Professional, Jason is on a mission to tell the GLN story and help as many people as he can find that perfect golf lifestyle.
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Thinking about the Sun Belt for a winter residence? Before making a million-dollar decision, consider these factors