Can you spare a dollar? If so, you could buy land in several of greater Bluffton's premier golf communities.
There's a catch: Property owners in some of these developments must pay association fees and club membership dues that can range from $12,760 to $18,950 a year.
At least 33 lots in golf communities are listed for sale in greater Bluffton for less than $10,000, and a dozen listed for $1 are spread among Belfair Plantation, Colleton River Plantation and Berkeley Hall, according to local real estate databases. In addition, some owners are offering sweeteners such as a year of dues or $15,000 toward initiation fees.
Duke Delcher, a Realtor with Gateway Realty, said high club dues are a leading cause for the giveaway and low-priced lots.
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"There is no question people are reacting to the yearly fees," he said. "... If people are not seeing themselves building a home here in the next year or two or three, basically they are looking to stop paying annual fees."
Why not just walk away rather than pay someone to buy your property?
Realtor Dick Datz of Carolina Realty Group said such a move could be doubly damaging.
On the one hand, those with mortgages on the lots would lose the property to foreclosure.
Failure to pay annual club dues could give the clubs grounds for legal action, he said.
"The bank is in the first position to take property back," Datz said. "The club, in a lot of cases, can get a lien on the property you own or assets you have. A lot of these places are doing that."
John Reed of Reed Development has built five communities in greater Bluffton, including Hampton Hall, Berkeley Hall, Belfair, Hampton Lakes and Colleton River. He acknowledges fees are a factor but says too many developments in this market are built around golf.
Reed sees other contributing factors, including the housing crash, the persistent economic downturn and a generational shift away from golf communities. The "Greatest Generation" flocked to golf communities in retirement; baby boomers aren't as interested, Reed said.
"They still like golf and country clubs but like a lot of other things, too," added Reed, who isn't planning any new golf communities.
Not only are there fewer buyers for homes in local golf developments, there are fewer golfers.
According to the National Golf Association, there were about 30 million golfers in 2005. That number dropped to 28.6 million four years later. The foundation also reports that in 2011, the number of rounds played dropped by 2.5 percent nationwide.
John Brown of Brown Golf Management, which owns Island West and Pinecrest golf courses, says the sport is still growing locally, but that growth has slowed considerably. His courses, he said, are semi-private and are separate from the surrounding real estate.
"I can sympathize with a lot of the communities," he said. "I know (some) are really struggling."
TAKING A PENALTY
Colleton River, Belfair and other nearby golf communities feature manicured golf courses and numerous other amenities intended to attract high-end buyers. Homes sell for $500,000 or more in these neighborhoods, and some homes are currently on the market for nearly $2 million.
But a few streets over, undeveloped lots are selling for pocket change. For instance, a .48-acre lot in Colleton River that sold for $139,500 in 1993 is now selling for $1, with the seller offering $15,000 toward the new buyer's club-initiation fee. In Berkeley Hall, a .26-acre lot purchased in 2005 for $210,000 also is selling for $1.
Owners of these parcels, who were identified through property records, either did not return phone calls or declined to comment when reached by a reporter.
While Reed and others acknowledge the market is oversaturated, they point to signs that it is turning around. Home prices have started rising again, and local home sales are ticking up.
And, according to Datz and Delcher, the dollar lots are selling, often to buyers who can't find exactly what they are looking in existing home inventories.
"People are starting to buy these lots now because they are such good deals. We are getting to a point where people are starting to take a look and see there is some value there," Datz said.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.