The most important thing is to determine the community’s financial stability. Begin at the source: the developer.
“Start with a direct question, hoping for an honest answer,” said David Lott, publisher and founder of Golfcoursehome.net. “Ask, ‘Given the current market, what safeguards are there, for people who buy into this community, that it’s going to remain financially stable?’ ”
Mr. Lott continued: “If the developer is gone, then you ask about how the community maintains its financial stability now. A lot of communities have an HOA, a homeowners’ association, and you should find out how secure that is.”
If you can’t address the developer directly (or even if you can), continue your investigation online. Research the developer’s name, suggested Cindy Brown, the production manager of Golfrealestateonline.com. Then look at local newspapers’ Web sites and see if anything has been written about the developer or the community.
“Some of these papers have blogs,” she said. “Are they finding that the people in the community are unhappy in some way, shape or form?”
Also, be sure to examine the region’s projected growth, Ms. Brown said. If you enjoy being isolated, ask the local chamber of commerce whether any shopping or residential developments are on the way.
“When those big-box stores come in, you know they’ve done their homework,” Ms. Brown said. “Look into where those shoppers are coming from and how close they’re going to be.”
But if access to shopping is a priority, then find out what stores – and, perhaps more important, services – are nearby. Is there a hospital? A supermarket? A university? A dry cleaner?
Ms. Brown said, “You need to assess your lifestyle and how important those things are to you, and then ask yourself, do you have the time to go the extra way if you are in an outlying area?”
That goes for health, too. If you have a heart problem, choosing an island community accessible only by boat might not be the best move.
In addition to off-site amenities, consider the on-site perks. Golf is a given, but, Mr. Lott said, more and more people who move into golf communities don’t play. Find out what else the development offers.
“You assume it’s going to have a swimming pool, tennis courts,” he said. “What other things? Is there hiking and biking and walking trails? Yoga classes, Pilates classes? What kind of restaurant do they have? Is it fine dining or a snack bar? Do they have both?”
In addition, are there activities to do with children, grandchildren and friends?
“A lot of people move into a community because it’s near their children,” Mr. Lott said. “So wouldn’t it be great to be in a place and have your children and your children’s children say, ‘Let’s go visit Gramps; they’ve got a great lake there!’ ”
Also, meet the neighbors. They can provide insider information about what it’s like to live and play there, as well as tip you off to the vibe of the place.
“Some communities have what is called an ambassador program,” Mr. Lott said. “It’s an actual list of people who have volunteered to be ambassadors at the club or even at their hometown.”
If you walk around and don’t see many people, take note, he said. This might be a seasonal community; make sure it matches your travel patterns and social life. Also, first impressions count. Pay attention to the cleanliness and quality of the grounds.
“These clubs spend a lot of money on their appearance, so it should be something you’re proud of,” he said. “If it doesn’t look like it’s in great shape, then that makes me think the financials aren’t that great.”
And, finally, is the staff friendly? “It’s amazing what kind of an impact a warm, welcoming, friendly attitude is among the people who are going to be servicing you at the community,” Mr. Lott said.
And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Because when you move into a golf community, face it, you want to feel like Tiger Woods – both on and off the course.
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