Luxury Real Estate

By Carol Tisch June 1, 2011

Time to Score

If you’ve always longed to live in a golf community but thought you couldn’t quite swing it financially, now’s the time to make your move. Whether you aspire to a vacation home or year-round residence, realtors report that bargains can be found in the most coveted communities, all boasting topnotch golf courses and comfortably close to Sarasota’s award-winning beaches and cultural riches.

But inventories of country club homes are tightening since their peak levels in early 2009. Prices of resales have been adjusted to market conditions, and communities have modified amenities and membership fees to appeal to a growing number of homebuyers more interested in social and fitness programs than golf. New homes are also more attractively priced now that builders have responded to consumer demand for smaller dwellings.

Those adjustments now bring nationally recognized golf communities like The Founders Club into the realm of budget possibility for golfers who could only dream of playing its 18-hole course (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) before the housing market tanked. Though The Founders Club was listed in 2007, 2008, and 2009 by Travel + Leisure Magazine as one of America’s Top 100 Golf Communities, sales of multimillion-dollar homes had been waning when prestige builder London Bay Homes bought the remaining 86 home sites and took over management of the community in July 2010. Within weeks, the company adjusted lot pricing and designed new homes priced from the $500,000s including home site.  

“Builders today need to respond to the market. We can’t dictate it,” explains Mark Wilson, president of London Bay, noting that the economic downturn has caused homebuyers at every price point to reassess their needs. “The size of higher-end country club homes is diminishing as are the fee structures at just about every club.”

The Founders Golf and Social Club has expanded membership programs and significantly reduced fees to

entice non-golfing families as well as golf enthusiasts.

The strategy seems to be working. London Bay introduced three new models in March 2011 and sold two homes within weeks. One, the 2,879-square-foot Isabella Fairway home (which starts in the $600,000s), was purchased fully furnished at $1,084,214. The 2,438-square-foot Laurel (priced from the $500,000s) in the maintenance-free Cottage neighborhood would be considered a value even in a non-golf community.

Sales have also picked up at The Concession Golf Club, where the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course was named “Best New Private Course of 2006” by Golf Digest magazine and distinguished in the January 2011 “Lists Issue” of LINKS magazine as one of its top 10 choices to hold a future U.S. Open Championship. Undisputedly the most challenging course in the Sarasota area, the Concession was designed by Nicklaus in association with Tony Jacklin, both U.S. Open champions.

“Inventory has been diminishing quickly within the last six months, and we’ve seen membership increasing for the past nine months,” says Linda Harrington, director of sales at the Concession. Harrington has noticed other changes in buying patterns as well. “People are involving the whole family in the buying process, and they are looking for new homes that have already been built,” she explains.

Among the best values in that category is the 5,647-square-foot Grand Cypress model by high-end Anchor Builders. Originally offered at $3,967,500, the four-bedroom, 4 ½-bath luxury home is now an incredible buy at $1,995,000—and in fact could not be reproduced at that price today, according to Anchor president Roy Dupuis.

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club offers 54 holes of championship golf on three courses, two designed by Arnold Palmer and the third by Rick Robbins.“Demand is high and supply is low: Everyone loves living in Lakewood Ranch,” says Pat Warren of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty. “Inventory is half what it was during the peak of the recession, maybe even less.” Nonetheless, Warren’s listing for a 4,203-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bath home on Ashland Glen in the Country Club section is priced at $880,000, a deal compared with market rates typically 40 percent higher in 2005.

Beth Barnett, sales agent with Coldwell Banker’s Lakewood Ranch office, recalls a sale last year on Ashland Glen. “It was a 4,960-square-foot house, built in 2006. The owner paid $1,761,000 in August 2006, listed it for $1,350,000, and sold it fully loaded for $727,000 in September 2010,” she says.

Though the market seems to be stabilizing, Betty Mullinnix of Michael Saunders & Company astutely assesses why Sarasota homes are back to 2001 pricing in some cases. “The seller is setting the market. What the seller is willing to take for their property becomes a new comp [in an area],” she explains. A specialist in The Oaks Club in Osprey, Mullinnix rattles off a list of great buys, including a McEwen Drive home listed at $1,620,000 that she closed at $800,000. A current listing for a 3,020-square-foot home in The Oaks, valued at $820,000 in 2006, is now priced at $595,000.

“The Oaks is a true country club, open six days a week year-round with dining available in three restaurants—you won’t find that elsewhere,” Mullinnix says. Golf members have the option of playing two championship courses, the Eagle (renovated in 2007 by course architect Arthur Hills) and the Heron (originally designed by Willard Byrd). The Oaks is also one of the few golf and country clubs in the area that still requires homeowners to purchase either a social or equity golf membership. 

“We’re the last of the truly private clubs with mandatory membership, and that’s what has sustained us in the last 25 years while other clubs suffered economic issues,” says Maureen LaTessa, membership director. “It’s part of our unique charm that everyone is tied to the club; it’s a close-knit community.”

In contrast, University Park went from private club to semi-private in 2007, and residents are required to purchase only social memberships ($260 single; $450 family per year) plus a food and beverage minimum. The award-winning Ron Garl-designed golf course is ranked among Florida’s best, and still the major draw for prospective residents. University Park membership director Ann Backus says half of all residents were golf members before closing on their homes.

Linda Driggs, a realtor with Michael Saunders who specializes in University Park, says her typical buyer previously lived on Longboat Key. “They were turned off by the mega-mansions and traffic on Longboat but still want a name community, grand but understated, and securely gated because they want to be out of the home three or four months of the year,” Driggs explains. 

These serious golfers know every nuance of local golf communities, from membership demographics to fees and buyback structures. But newcomers to Sarasota and first-time buyers need to do their homework. A club’s location and personality are as important as the design of its golf course. Landscaping preferences (impeccably manicured or virgin preserve) also factor into the decision. 

If you want “more house” and are willing to sacrifice proximity to downtown Sarasota’s arts and entertainment, you might want to look at golf communities in Venice, where home prices are typically 25 percent lower than in Sarasota. Still, no amount of research trumps actually playing a course and dining at the club. Nearly every community offers prospective buyers temporary or VIP passes. House shopping in Sarasota does indeed have its privileges these days.


What Your Money Can Buy

$349,685: Lakewood Ranch Short Sale

Beth Barnett at Coldwell Banker’s Lakewood Ranch office says this spacious five-bedroom, 2,822-square-foot home was just reduced from $360,000 but sold for $594,000 in 2005. The short sale overlooks a lake in the Greenbrook Village community at the Ranch, which boasts three championship golf courses and new athletic center. Contact: (941) 730-0130

$800,000: Luxury at The Meadows

Considered the best golf community in terms of value, The Meadows has homes that range from $120,000-condos to a new nine-lot development by local interior designers William Tidmore and Robert Henry with upscale homes starting at $800,000. Their Divonne model won a best overall design award in its price category at the 2011 Parade of Homes. Contact: (941) 780-4343

$1,995,000: Dream Estate at The Concession

Originally listed at $3,967,500, the stunning Grand Cypress model by Anchor Builders comes with all the bells and whistles: 7,845 square feet of elegant living space (5,647 under air), four bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, two studies, bonus media room and impeccable finishes. Offered completely furnished with interiors by local designer Deeia Topp. Contact: (941) 379-4405

A spacious great room and lanai overlooking the fairway in the Founders Club Cottage neighborhood distinguish the maintenance-free 2,438-square-foot Laurel model by London Bay Homes.

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