Sarasota Herald-Tribune Founder's Club Poised to Rebound

Many of the 262 homes sites that were listed at more than $1 million are large lots that fringe the fairways of the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course or are nestled among 700-acres of nature preserve.

There is a "magnificent" country club with fine dining, a fitness center and golf shop. No tee times are required at the golf course. Just walk up and play.

And the community had other features common to boom-time developments: speculators and people who bought above their pay grades.

"This community was not immune to investors buying at the height of the market," said Cheryl Loeffler, an agent with Sky Sotheby's International Realty in Sarasota. "And then some of those investor properties had to be discounted to sell."

Loeffler leads a team of four Signature Sotheby's sales agents that in August replaced an internal sales team and are the exclusive site representatives today. Loeffler and her team are now dealing with 29 existing homes listed for sale, which equates to roughly a 2.4-year inventory.

But Loeffler has sold seven homes since she and her team took over, with a median sales price of $755,000. That is down slightly from the median sales price of $761,700 for the 13 homes that sold in 2009 and considerably reduced from the median of $900,000 for the seven homes sold in 2008.

"What happened is prices fell substantially in the neighborhood from 2007 to 2009, and prospective owners picked up on the discounted prices quickly," Loeffler said. "We would like to quickly sell the existing resales and begin a really active level of new home building."

Some 124 homes have been built in The Founder's Club since it opened in 2004. The remaining vacant lots are owned by a collection of builders, lenders, individuals and the developers of The Founder's Club.
"This is really a challenge, because there are so many moving parts out there," Loeffler said. "They had a financial restructuring. They provided incentives for new memberships, and they've got 30 new golf and social members at the Founder's Club in the last two months."

Country club dues, which include golf course privileges and access to the dining room and fitness center and a resellable share in ownership of the club, are down 50 percent to a $47,500 one-time intiation fee and $9,860 annual dues. Another type of membership, with limited golf privileges but all of the social, dining and fitness center benefits and a resellable interest in the club, is an $18,000 initiation fee and $2,680 dues.

One of Loeffler's recent sales was the Magnolia Golf Cottage, which was a model home built by Sarasota's U.S. Assets Group -- developers of the Founder's Club -- that sold for $1.55 million in October.
The 4,000-square-foot home with a guesthouse features African, wide-plank flooring, extensive woodwork and French doors overlooking a pool and courtyard. It has a combined three bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths and may be the last of its kind for some time as builders in the community plan to downscale when they decide to start rebuilding.

John Cannon of the Lakewood Ranch-based home building company that bears his name is sitting on his five lots in The Founders Club.

Cannon said he plans to put up a model home worth roughly $1 million on one of his lots when the existing inventory level drops to about half of what it is today. But homes ordered from that fully-loaded model will range in the $800,000s, a price point that will be the new reality at The Founder's Club for the foreseeable future.

"The deals are getting snapped up in there," Cannon said. "It is not going to take a huge turn in the market for people to start building out there again."

Cannon said the comparable communities in the region are mostly built out or are in a holding pattern and a half-dozen years or more away from the point at which building can resume.

"Those kind of lots will be in demand in a certain amount of time because there are no other developments like that in Sarasota County," Cannon said of the Founder's Club. "We are going to sit on our inventory because there is nothing out there like it."

Loeffler said there are a handful of existing homes at the club in the $1 million-plus range but, like Cannon, she expects the new price point for the luxury builders chosen for The Founder's Club to begin in the $800,000s.

"My cup is always half full," Loeffler said. "I have to believe in what I do and I try to align myself with the people who will deliver the best products."

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