If you're thinking of buying property in a golf-centered development, make sure you understand the rules of club membership. Don't assume, for instance, that homeownership automatically entitles you to play the course. In many cases, you must also apply for a golf membership, so make your closing contingent upon club acceptance.
Here are some other questions to ask:
How much is membership?
The price varies widely, even at the same club over a period of years. At Addison Reserve in Delray Beach, Fla., a membership that cost $35,000 up front in 1995 would cost you $100,000 today. Your initial payment may be in the form of a nonrefundable initiation fee, or a bond that is repaid to you without interest when you leave the club. But practices vary: Addison Reserve buys back memberships for 80% of the going rate.
In addition to your lump-sum payment, you'll have to fork over annual dues of $5,000 or more. The charges depend on the amenities, the club's overhead, and the number of people sharing the costs. Plus, you may have to ante up for dues increases or one-time assessments to fund improvements, expansion, or significant repairs.
Is there a dining-room minimum?
Many clubs charge $100 to $300 a month, even if you never eat there. Bar bills rarely count toward the minimum.
Can I tee off whenever I want?
Ease of access depends on the number of members, the guest restrictions, and whether outsiders can play without a member. Some developments are built around a single course, with a finite number of home sites and memberships. Others are planned in stages, with new courses added as the population grows. Check your offering plan carefully for specifics.
Also, look into policies governing preferential tee times for members and guest restrictions. Clubs that don't have strict limits on guests may seem appealing if you plan to entertain often, but you might have trouble getting tee times if your fellow members do the same.
Can I use my own golf cart?
Many developments allow homeowners to ride on the golf course in personal carts. In addition to buying the cart for about $5,000, you might have to pay an annual trail fee of as much as $1,500. But it may be worth it if you can save the usual $18 per person cart fee, and you use the cart to scoot around the community.
If the development isn't completed, how can I be sure the golf club will be built?
Read the offering plan and any documents relating to club membership closely. Make sure the club has not failed previously under different ownership. If it has, find out why. In any case, verify that the developer has a record of fulfilling promises and maintaining properties. By Lisa Furlong