“If you play golf, you may have considered buying golf course real estate, for either vacation use, relocation, or your retirement. If so, there is a good chance you are eyeing a top warm weather market like Florida or Arizona. With literally thousands of options, there is a very good chance your dream home is out there waiting for you, but also a good chance you could run into a nightmare. Often times even well educated, successful people do not understand the many intricacies involved in the search process, and can benefit from expert assistance – especially if it’s free. These highly saturated, highly desirable markets are a social, financial and quality of life minefield you might want help to navigate.
“I’d see all these people come in all the time who were really unhappy with their golf clubs.
“Working as a club professional in Naples, I’d see all these people come in all the time who were really unhappy with their golf clubs. I’d wonder, ‘How could you spend forty or fifty or seventy grand to join a club and not pick something that was right for you and end up miserable?’ And picking the wrong place to buy a house can be a much more costly mistake,” said Jason Becker, a Florida-based PGA pro.
Naples is one of the most desirable golf real estate and club destinations in the country, especially for the wealthy, and in many ways it is a microcosm of Florida in general, with too many options for the average out of state buyer to easily wrap their head around. “There are more than 1,200 golf clubs in Florida, more than any other state. I was getting my Masters in Adult Education and when I saw how unhappy so many buyers were, I started to wonder how these people who are retiring to Florida picked their community, and to my surprise, there was no real logic to it,” said Becker.
Based on his experiences, Becker and a partner, also a PGA teaching pro, founded Golf Life Navigators, to do just what the name implies: help potential buyers find the perfect community for their needs and style. Beyond much needed expertise, their operation has one very particular appeal: it’s free. “People like it because it doesn’t cost them anything. Golf Magazine did a story on us and we got more than 400 calls.” The company has grown fast, thanks to this kind of coverage, positive reviews, and word of mouth from past clients, and what started as a Naples specific service now covers all of Florida and increasingly Arizona, which has a similarly daunting and confusing market. They plan to continue on to similar destinations such as Palm Springs. In all regions, they utilize the expertise of local PGA professionals who know the ins and outs of the various clubs and communities. “Most of our clients are private club members already, so they understand what the PGA membership means and the ethics behind it.”
To date, they have helped about 500 people find new homes. Their clients have been on average 56 years old, and the average home price for 2015 was $550,000. That is starting to skew downwards, because it typically takes one to two years after initial contact until their clients close, and they started primarily through word of mouth in the higher priced Naples and Palm Beach markets. Since the Golf Magazine story and other publicity broadened interest from other demographics, they have doing a lot more in Orlando, Sarasota and Tampa, and are now seeing people buy a lot more $250,000 homes.
“There are 165 golf clubs in the Naples and Fort Meyers area, and I know them all, and they are very different, but most people have never heard of many of them,”
“There are 165 golf clubs in the Naples and Fort Meyers area, and I know them all, and they are very different, but most people have never heard of many of them,” said Becker. “So I started asking clients questions like ‘How many days a week do you plan to play golf? Does your wife play? What other activities are important to you, like tennis? How social are you? And most importantly, what’s your budget?”
“The number one thing is how often you play. Bundled communities are very popular in Florida, which people don’t understand. This means your golf membership comes with your house. That’s fine if you want to golf once a week and play a lot of tennis, but if you are an avid golfer and want to play four times a week, I immediately rule those out. These places are seasonal, and if there are 500 homes, and every door comes with a membership, that’s 1,000 potential golfers at peak times for one course and that just does not work. I’ve seen this so many times where buyers are told ‘you can play as much golf as you want, it’s included,’ but you can’t even get a tee time, and you just spent 40 years working towards it. I’ve had people crying in my office, especially once they find out what it takes to get out of the membership and sell and buy again someplace else. I ask everyone if they understand the club resignation process, and they rarely do, but this is very important. You need to know these things in advance.”
There are three parts to the Golf Life Navigators equation. It starts with an introductory questionnaire on their website and a 25-minute follow up call with a PGA pro to find out what you really want – even if you don’t know yourself. Then they select three communities or clubs in the region you are interested in that they think are a perfect fit for you, explain why, and help arrange a visit where you can play the courses and see the facilities at all three, no strings attached. The third part, helping you look at real estate, is optional. Becker and his partner started a brokerage, Golf Life Properties, to tie their recommendations to the purchase process, which is where they make most of their money, but customers do not have to use them to use Golf Life Navigators – though most do, especially since they are going to use a broker anyway.
“Once we find your three communities, if you want, we can turn you over to our sister company and they can look at available real estate, set it up, and help you look at homes at the same time you check out the club and golf course. It’s very efficient and nine out of ten people who use our consulting decide to parlay their time and use the real estate services. But we aren’t vested in whether you buy into a particular community, and we teach you to ask the right questions, like ‘When was the last time you had an assessment? I’ll be here mostly in March, can you show me the tee sheet from last March?’ These are questions that are important that most people don’t know to ask.”
In 2014 Florida passed New York to become the nation’s third most populous state. According to Becker, about 1,200 people per day – more than 400,000 a year – move to Florida (from 2013-14 including people who moved out or died, the state had a net population gain of 293,000). As America’s population ages, that’s likely to continue to increase. Originally most of his customers were second home owners, but now many are looking for a primary residence, especially with Florida’s lack of personal income taxes. According to USAToday, among several states without income tax, Florida has the lowest overall per capita tax burden including other forms such as sales and property taxes.
“We have clients who have saved enough on income taxes by buying here to pay for their entire golf membership,” said Becker. But whether you pay for it or not, the most important thing is to find the right golf membership and right community for you.”