Golfing Special: Buy on a fairway to heaven

As the dollar weakens, a golfing property in Florida has never looked more enticing for British buyers, says Tom Rowland
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The Independent Online

No one is expecting interest rate rises in the US before November and in the meantime the dollar is likely to remain weak against both the euro and sterling. With five months to go before the presidential election in America, the rush by British buyers with a keen eye for a bargain to buy a second home in Florida - preferably somewhere on a golf course - shows few signs of slackening.

No one is expecting interest rate rises in the US before November and in the meantime the dollar is likely to remain weak against both the euro and sterling. With five months to go before the presidential election in America, the rush by British buyers with a keen eye for a bargain to buy a second home in Florida - preferably somewhere on a golf course - shows few signs of slackening.

The weak dollar has had a significant impact on house prices in the US. Three years ago in May/June 2001 the pound was worth $1.40. Last summer it was $1.60 and today it is at $1.80 and still rising. Which means, of course, that a $250,000 house bought three years ago would have cost you £175,000 - and today the same property could be picked up for a price nearer £138,000. Certainly a very different price variation to those we have been experiencing in Britain during the same period.

"Always buy a house on a golf course in Florida, even if you hate golf," advises Bernard Drew, a retired real estate agent in Naples, one of the smartest areas on Florida's Gulf Coast.

"The resale value will be higher and you have as good a guarantee as you are going to get that the maniacs will not be allowed to build over the view," says Drew who sold houses to British buyers for 20 years.

Drew now campaigns to preserve Florida's precious wetlands from over-development. "The building boom here has put tremendous pressure on land, so you need to choose with care. Building lots are being forced further inland. It is bad for the environment and bad for buyers. Who wants a home stuck out on a swamp?" he says.

Wherever you do look for a Florida property, the price tag for your new home will include all of the white goods, carpets and curtains too, but, as with buying new cars in Europe, the extras can send your final bill soaring. Beware such enticing baubles as stone work surfaces in the kitchen instead of melamine ones, smart tiled floors instead of neutral carpets, and sleek "Shaker"-style kitchens in place of a more conventional version.

No matter where the property is, but especially if it is near a waterway, you should opt for one of those sturdy screen structures which protect terraces and swimming pools from wildlife. And remember that air conditioning and a huge garage are standard.

The choice of not only property, but also location, can be bewildering with just one housebuilder offering an array of different locations in the same area. One of the largest, WCI, has no fewer than seven golf developments in the Naples area, all sporting 18-hole golf courses and with prices that range from $250,000 (£138,000) to over $10m (£5.5m).

Tiburon is the jewel in the WCI golfing crown. The development features 36 holes of Greg Norman-designed championship golf, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort and a spectacular 27,000 sq ft golf club where membership can cost you $145,000 (£80,000), says company spokesman Ken Plonski. It is set on the beachfront in, reputedly, the most luxurious part of the Naples strip.

At the other end of the WCI scale is Pelican Preserve, set on land up towards Fort Myers. Here the golf club is designed by the less well-known Chip Powell and membership costs $6,500 (£3,600), says Plonski. But you can buy a nice house for $250,000 (£138,000). Just as in any property purchase anywhere, homes on the two developments are priced to match the different facilities.

One main difference when buying in the US rather than Europe are the distances between cities, regions - or even your golf-course home and the "downtown" area. Driving times between these places in Florida seem enormous to somebody used to European geography; you can often drive for a full half-hour or more along deserted roads from the first sign announcing Naples until you are in the city centre.

Stray away from the offerings of an up-market builder and you can find 18-hole golf courses many miles from the seafront on highly marginal land. Emerald-green courses shimmering in the heat, surrounded by prestigious-looking villas and a uniformed security man at the gated entrance should not be your only criteria, even in a swanky town like Naples.

Always check with the local planning office before buying, says Bernard Drew; they will be able to tell you what the zoning is for both the development that has caught your eye and the surrounding area. These days, even smart resorts to the north of Fort Myers claim to be "minutes from Naples".

"A community for those whose love of the game of golf is second to their love of living well," says the publicity blurb about Twin Eagles, which boasts a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole course, with a second course planned, a vast clubhouse and fitness centre and tennis courts. "Just minutes from Naples, you can enjoy the finest dining, Broadway performers, quaint boutiques and the best-known stores for shopping," it continues. The boutiques and Broadway performers are, of course, in Naples, not 50 miles away in Twin Eagles which is north of Fort Myers up the Caloosahatchee River. Sites here cost $290,000 (£160,000), finished houses from $1.2m (£666,000).

Cypress Woods Country Club claims to be the "best golf value in Naples". It features a Gordon Lewis-designed championship par 72 course with 110 acres of lakes, marshes and preserves.

It is, however, in north Naples, close to the state park, which makes it eight miles from downtown, and a half-hour drive from the beach. Condominiums here are priced from $180,000 (£100,000). Coach homes (semis) from $245,000 (£136,000); they have already sold out of detached villas which were priced at $280,000 (£155,000).

www.wcicommunities.com

www.twineagles.com

www.raysnow.com/cypress_woods.htm

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