Amid a global pandemic, the minds behind elite vacation developments and seven-figure buy-in communities were forced to embrace a course of nimble business planning to protect their income streams.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, domestic properties across the U.S. have had to predict shifting consumer preferences. Would buyers want turnkey properties for immediate move-in to flee cities? Would they prefer homes on larger lots to enjoy more open space? What on-site Covid-19 precautions would potential residents demand?
Different regions required their own course changes as many venues not only fended off disaster, but instead had healthy financial years.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Ga.: About 90 minutes from Atlanta,
Reynolds Lake Oconee
sits on 12,000 acres and includes multiple housing communities, six golf courses, shooting grounds, and the TaylorMade Kingdom of Golf training and fitting facility. Surrounding a Ritz-Carlton resort, the region plays host to luxury-minded tourists and residents of means looking for second homes or retirement properties.
In the three years leading up to the pandemic, Reynolds saw eight to nine home starts per month, says
Short, senior vice president of marketing and sales. That pace accelerated when Covid-19 hit.
“We found buyers moved their plans ahead due to the pandemic, so we had to be certain we maintained the resources to keep up with that construction demand,” Short says. “We did find that golf play picked up dramatically with our members, even with less egress from the public. We saw 140,000 rounds in 2020, up 10% over the previous year.”
While home starts and golf surged, Short and company realized the virus would force changes to how Reynolds delivers the services and living experiences its residents bought with their lakeside homes.
“We upgraded our Reynolds TV virtual community to keep neighbors connected and to keep bringing them the classes and events they’d otherwise attend—including exercise classes, cooking classes, and live shows,” Short says. “We began that in late spring of 2020, and we plan to maintain that programming beyond the pandemic because of its success.”
Kingsmill Resort – Williamsburg, Va.: Home to three golf courses, tennis courts, multiple restaurants, a spa, and three levels of guest accommodations, the Kingsmill Resort shut down entirely in the early, uncertain days of the pandemic. Since beginning a staggered reopening process, administration and staff focused on downsizing the resort temporarily and servicing its 3,000 golf club members.
vice president of sales and revenue, says the Kingsmill crew assembled for a two-day meeting early in the pandemic and laid out a plan for navigating the crisis.
“We decided to focus on a 300-mile radius from Kingsmill to attract visitors,” he says. “We also cut back on room usage and started booking 200 of the possible 402 guest spaces. That meant money was a little tight, but we’re operating.”
By the summer, Kingsmill was running at 50% capacity. According to Gelfland, the resort’s hundreds of acres came in handy as staff was able to move member events, fitness classes and significant dining services outdoors.
Regular meetings continue at the resort in an effort to generate a flow of ideas on how to best function in the pandemic’s, hopefully, waning stages. Gelfland cited a new extended-stay package by way of example, as Kingsmill set aside accommodations for visitors looking for a fun environment from which to work remotely.
Haig Point – Daufuskie Island, S.C.: This community’s island location made social distancing protocols easier to implement—while lot and home sales accelerated for buyers wanting to put the equivalent of a moat between them and the public.
vice president of sales and marketing, confirms that
Point’s real estate business is running at a record pace. That uptick has the residential team hustling to maintain construction crews and resources, while considering what sort of properties Covid-minded buyers will seek in future.
“At the start of the pandemic, we had as many as 40 homes still for sale,” Martin says. “That’s down to five.”
Martin credits that activity to the Covid-related shift in buyer mentality as they prioritize health and safety, and adapt to the work-from-home craze.
“We’re finding more interest in ‘lock-and-leave,’ second-home properties,” he says. “But, those second homes might become first homes during the pandemic.”
To accelerate new housing construction, Haig Point staff is now working with higher-end modular construction designs to reduce build times. The end result will be more turnkey properties available.
Sand Valley – Nekoosa, Wis.: A sprawling, three-golf course development in the middle of the Dairy State, Sand Valley opened in 2017, and always closed during golf’s off season. That changed with the onset of Covid-19.
“Sand Valley is now welcoming guests to the resort during the fall and winter seasons when the golf courses are closed,” spokeswoman
says. “The owners of Sand Valley have always envisioned that the resort would grow into a compelling and enjoyable getaway for fall and winter, when the golf season ends. When it became clear that the impact of the pandemic would last longer than expected, they saw an opportunity to promote a safe refuge for working professionals, families and couples to escape the monotony of isolation.”
Sand Valley staff began developing fall- and winter-season programming at Sand Valley in mid-2020 and continued their development into 2021.
Primland – Blue Ridge Mountains, Va.: This Reynolds Lake Oconee, while adding to the selection of outdoor options, encouraging guests to make Primland workable during social distancing.
Midden, director of sales and marketing, reports those outdoor options included everything from new picnic dining offerings to new, improvised BBQ and pizza restaurants.
“We also built the Bootlegger’s Outdoor Gym and Fitness Trail specifically in response to the pandemic,” Midden says. “People could work out while all of the indoor fitness gyms were closed—or if they were uncomfortable working out indoors.”
Willowbend – Cape Cod, Mass.: Created by national management firm
Development, Willowbend turned to wide-ranging changes in programming and dining to make viral restrictions as pain free to its residents as possible. President and COO
says maintaining a sense of community was at the heart of all pandemic efforts.
“We have a major focus on bringing together family and friends for differentiated experiences” Southworth explains. “However, social distancing doesn’t lend itself to community events, so we had to adapt.”
“During the initial lockdowns, we launched daily virtual experiences—open to members at all our communities. These events spanned golf and tennis, fitness, cooking, and mixology classes and children’s activities. Our most popular programs were trivia nights, ‘Meet The Author’ nights with New York Times best sellers and wine tastings.”
Bay Creek – Cape Charles, Va.: Jennifer
vice president of marketing for Preserve Communities, says their communities inBay Creek and the Chesapeake Bay witnessed the Covid-19 phenomena of residents making their second home their primary option to escape larger cities.
“We saw demand skyrocket with people looking for more space and fewer neighbors,” Buntin says. “We saw increased demand in turnkey housing in a planned community away from an urban space. Our sales increased more than 350% and profits climbed more than 500% from the previous year.”
As residents’ interest in outdoor activities increased during the virus panic, Preserve Communities decided to bring forward planning on Bay Creek’s nature preserve. Temporarily pushing back the renovation of some amenities, developers moved finances and resources to complete the reserve by taking nine holes from one of the community’s two golf courses.