January 2023

We start the new year with a newsletter stacked with good information for those contemplating a relocation.  First, we provide a dozen of the most important considerations when starting a search for a golf community home.  We also share the results of an annual survey that indicates where people are moving to – and from.  And then we share one reader’s insight into how to save money on real estate without compromising access to amenities – in this case a roster of amenities unrivalled among golf communities.  All this in the January issue of Home On The Course.


New Year Actions
for Golf Community Homebuyers

As we begin another year, home prices have leveled off in many of the Southeast Region’s top golf communities, although inventories are still a bit tight. Millions of Baby Boomers continue to eye relocation south, joined by even more millions freed to work from home and live where they want to live.

If you are among those in search of a golf community home, here are your top considerations.

Identify topography first

There is only one thing you need to know when you start a search for a golf home:  Do you want to live near the ocean, in the mountains or somewhere in between (e.g. river or lake). If you (and your significant other) cannot answer this question, you are doomed to a long and potentially fruitless search. There are just too many fine golf communities to consider.

Choose a place close to the things you need

When raising a family, being close to ample goods and services is fundamentally important.  But in retirement, many of us would prefer to be far from the maddening crowds and inconveniences of traffic, air pollution and noise.  Be careful what you wish for.  I will never forget asking a local resident in the middle of a fairway on an island off the coast of North Carolina how long it might take for medical help to reach us if one of us suffered a heart attack. “They could get a helicopter out here in 20 minutes,” he said, “and have you at the hospital in, say, 15 minutes more.”  No thanks. That may be the most extreme example, but the point is that as we age, we should have easy access to quality medical care.  At remote locations, you won’t get that; nor will you get the kind of shopping, restaurants and services you are used to.  Think carefully about proximity. 

There is no best state in which to live

I hammered this point in last month’s newsletter when I demonstrated that online “best of” lists mislead at best and lie at worst. In addition, a place like Miami is far different than Naples, and Daytona Beach is far different than Orlando. Yet all are in Florida.  There is no such thing as a “best state” when you are looking for a home.

Look at total cost of living, not taxes alone

All politics is local, and so too are taxes. Property taxes are likely to have almost as much impact on you as will state income taxes, especially if your income is relatively fixed.  Mississippi and Kansas are the two lowest cost of living states, according to the online World Population Review; yet each has a state income tax.  Florida and Texas, with zero state income taxes, do not crack the top 10 in terms of affordability.

For more information see this link (click here).

Curl Up with Master Deeds and Covenants

Nothing makes for more tedious reading than do community associations’ master deeds and covenants.  Nothing makes for more important reading as well.  I found this out all too well when it was too late.  Without diving into the weeds, my condo association in South Carolina assessed the 28 members of the association a whopping $14,000 each to replace damaged second-story porches on 20 of the 28 condos.  No such damage occurred to the other eight – including ours – but because the original master deed defined the porches as “limited common elements,” all members of the association were required to pay for the replacements.  If I had read the fine print back in 2000 when we purchased the condo, it might not have changed our minds, but I wouldn’t feel as foolish – or lighter in the wallet – as I do today.  Lesson learned.

Buy a home just big enough for you

This may seem as if it goes without saying, but I have worked with couples who bought a multiple-bedroom home on the assumption that children, grandchildren and friends would visit often.  They won’t, at least not frequently enough to justify the expense of a too-big house. Larger communities have an ample inventory of homes for rent; and where they don’t, plenty of hotels, VRBOs, AirbNbs and other rentals will be available.  Over a decade, renting your family and friends rooms will turn out a lot cheaper than an extra couple hundred thou for a bigger home. 

Figure out your true cost per round

Have an honest talk with yourself about how much golf you will play at your golf community course. If it is once or even twice a week, run the numbers after adding together the dues and other fees associated with your membership.  Check out semi-private or public alternatives in the area; the relative cost of public play may make it sensible to consider a hybrid approach – a social membership in your golf community’s club, which is offered in most communities, and play at the local publicly accessible course. And if you are buying a vacation home in a golf community, don’t forget to multiply by two since you will likely be paying for golf in two locations.

Will the golf course still be playable when you can drive a ball only 175 yards?

This is another question I have covered recently. There will come a time, although we shudder at the thought, that our distance off the tee may require a dramatic move up a couple or three tee boxes. Make sure the golf course you plan to play has enough tee boxes to accommodate the older you.  Look closely at par 4s; any par 4 beyond, say, 340 yards, will be out of reach with an iron or hybrid shot for those who can’t drive the ball 200 yards anymore. Yet most golf courses recommend that you play tees based on your handicap, not your driving distance. Check out the scorecard for the course you are considering, and you will see that the regular men’s tees, and maybe even the senior’s tees, feature par 4s well beyond our reach. In my 75th year, I have moved up to the tee boxes just behind the women’s tees.  The game is more fun from there.

Your perfect home exists – on paper

Given a choice, we would all live in our idea of a perfect home – not too big, not too small, rooms all in the right places, etc.  You won’t find it, but you may find something close that you can revise into a version close to perfect.  If that doesn’t work, there is a way; buy a lot and build your home to your perfect specifications. But building a home is not for the faint of heart. The home may turn out perfect, but the process will likely not be.

No matter where you go, there you are

If you have done your homework without making perfect the enemy of good, then your decision on where to live will be the right one – for you. Relax and enjoy.

Movers Survey Hints
at Changing Retiree Landscape

I look forward to the annual United Van Lines Migration Study, published just a few days into the start of every new year.  The moving company does not exactly have the gravitas of the U.S. Census, but its numbers tell us succinctly where people are moving from one state to another, and why.  Some of the results are surprising, if not shocking.

I wrote a couple of months ago that Florida’s dramatic growth in population could very well slow in the coming years.  According to the United Van Lines study, the Sunshine State continues as a magnet for migrants from other states, but the reasons why people come and go from Florida are a bit nuanced.  UVL lists six “reasons” why people move to or from a state.  Those who moved to Florida said they did so for retirement, lifestyle and cost of living, but they moved out of the state for reasons of health, family and jobs. Those first two categories are not surprising for the overwhelmingly senior citizens in the state; but bleeding population because you don’t have enough jobs available — or enough people to fill them — implies a longer term problem.  Overall, inward migration to Florida was 57.6%, outbound 42.4%.  More senior citizens (65 and older) are leaving the state than are coming into it, at least via United Van Lines.

Contrast Florida with the tiny state of Vermont, where I hope to live out my retirement years. (Note:  My daughter, her husband and child, plus two dogs, live in northern Vermont.). According to United Van Lines, Vermont had the highest ratio in the nation of inbound residents in 2022, 77% (obviously based on smaller total numbers).  More than 16% said their move to Vermont was for “retirement,” 40% said it was for a job, and 38% for family reasons.  (Note:  Outbound percentage for “retirement” was not available.)

All Southeast Region states except for Georgia and Mississippi remained magnets for relocation in 2022.  Perhaps surprisingly, Rhode Island, Delaware and South Dakota, not exactly warm weather havens in winter, showed dominant inward migration.  In Rhode Island, slightly more new residents than former residents indicated that retirement and family drove their decisions to relocate.  In Delaware, retirement, lifestyle and cost were the dominating factors. (Delaware does not have state or local sales taxes, does not tax social security benefits, and its state income tax is relatively modest.)  Coat manufacturers take note: There is the hint in these numbers that some seniors are looking northward for their retirement years. 

New Jersey continued its six-year streak of the largest net loss of residents – at least among those who use United Van Lines.  The biggest reasons were retirement, lifestyle and cost.  Other big losers of population via United Van Lines were New York, Illinois and Michigan.

You will find the United Van Lines article and a handy map here (click this link).  

Workaround at The Villages

The Villages, the sprawling “city” of 140,000 senior citizens (50+) in a remote part of Florida, inspires cheer and loathing in pretty much equal measure.  But one thing is inarguable:  The Villages cannot be beat when it comes to activities.  With 50 golf courses (a mix of executive and regulation layouts), more than 230 pickleball courts, 2,500 social clubs (including 130 of them specific to single persons), dozens of restaurants, a 307-bed hospital, multiple health centers, and virtually all other services of a medium-sized city, The Villages’ roster of “adult activities” is on steroids.

But what if you like The Villages’ vast number of amenities but the place is just too crowded for you, or you have other issues with the community?  There is a workaround, as one reader of this newsletter found and executed.  About 10 years ago, Alan, one of my most faithful newsletter readers, wrote me from his Colorado home that he and his wife Gail were looking seriously at a move to The Villages.  Alan is one of those who approaches any large purchase with bulldog tenacity and lots of research.  He was disappointed in what he found about The Villages.

“My heart was initially set on moving into The Villages,” Alan wrote me recently. But his research raised issues that sent him in another direction.

“Most new development in The Villages,” Alan said, “was within eyesight and/or earshot of the Florida Turnpike, a major highway with an existing truck stop facility right where the new [real estate] construction was.  Some houses are less than 100 feet away.  I did not want to see, hear, breathe, feel or taste the traffic.”

Alan explained that the “premium” (my word) for homes not near the highway was $80,000, and that house lots away from the highway were priced considerably higher –- a minimum of $160,000 and as much as $350,000, “just for sand the size of a postage stamp,” Alan said.

In addition, the CDD bond would have cost $40,000 for the house Alan wanted.  A Community Development District (CDD) is a governmental unit created to serve the long-term specific needs of its community. It is a way for developer owners to maintain stricter control of their communities.  Reinforcing that notion at The Villages, the community has no homeowners association; “the developer owns it all,” according to Alan, “except the house and lot that you purchase.”   That may seem like a good thing to those used to paying a couple hundred dollars a month for HOA fees, but in a developer owned community like The Villages, the owner can set the amenity fees at whatever level he wants. 

“I wanted the amenities The Villages offers”, says Alan, “but did not want to pay for the over-inflated lots, houses and CDD bond.”  

Alan and Gail purchased a home in a Del Webb community at Spruce Creek, just 3.5 miles outside of The Villages boundary. If Del Webb communities didn’t start the whole 55+ community trend a few decades ago, they certainly perfected it.  The first Del Webb community was built in Sun City, AZ, near Phoenix, in 1960.  Today, the organization’s communities span California, South Carolina, Arizona and Florida, with 55 communities in the Sunshine State alone.

Most of the amenities and services inside the gates of The Villages are open to all whether they are Villages residents or not.  Alan, who does not play golf, says he and Gail often drive the six minutes to take advantage of the huge community’s amenities, including:   Sam’s Club Warehouse; Publix, Wynn Dixie and Aldi supermarkets; Super Walmart, Home Depot, Loews and Target stores, a wide range of restaurants (the couple dines out a time or two a week), a bowling alley, theaters for movies, plays and concerts, and the community’s many town squares for live music.

As for health services, Alan says his Del Webb Spruce Creek community benefits from doctors’ offices, physical therapists and chiropractors located literally at the community’s front gate entrance. And a University of Florida medical emergency facility staffed with specialty trauma doctors is also located in Spruce Creek.

“The proximity of our medical facility provides me with a huge piece of mind and a Godsend if, and when, I ever need it,” says Alan.  He adds, “I suspect there is more medical staffing here than any part of the nation on a per capita basis.” 

The couple is also comforted by the fact that the University of Florida Health System, which has a good reputation, has taken over operations of the hospital at The Villages.

Although Alan does not play golf, the hybrid retirement he created – living in a place with some important services and close to an almost endless list of additional amenities – is a guide for others looking to relocate in retirement.  With a little bit of creativity, you can save some money on real estate AND enjoy nearly all the benefits of someone else’s investment nearby. 


Vermont National Country Club,  Burlington, VT
Vermont National Country Club, Burlington, VT

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