Real Estate News, National

Best Community of the Year - 2013 Bliss Awards

Best Places to Retire
Published on January 15, 2013

After visiting 197 master planned communities, here is this year's selection of the 12 best master planned communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Our awards are given the old fashioned way, because they earned it. We wish them continued success and applaud their accomplishments!


After reading more than 50 property owner scorecards from Coosaw Point residents, the euphoria developer Robert & Ann Gallant have created at this southern style plantation is impressive. When a property owner tells you they lived in many places in the U.S. and in Europe and they’ve finally found nirvana at Coosaw Point, this speaks volumes. Another property owner shared with us how much living at this Beaufort South Carolina waterfront neighborhood is like living on vacation at “St. Somewhere” while another property owner says “we’ve won the lottery finding Coosaw Point”, and another “thanks their lucky stars we ended up here”. The most common denominator between all the scorecards is the heartfelt friendships neighbors have molded amongst themselves. The sense of genuine extended families who care about each other, people of all ages, young families and retirees alike.

We’ve visited Coosaw Point a number of times over the years. To us, this charming best master planned community is a benchmark of Lowcountry living and is debt free. Coosaw borders the Intracoastal Waterway and Beaufort River and has no expensive golf course to maintain. Amenities include a sophisticated River Club, resort-style swimming pool and delightful cottage homes framing out spacious common lawns. Tennis courts, a dog park, boat ramp, and authentic Crab Shack are more Coosaw Point amenities. HOA fees at this meticulously maintained neighborhood are low, less than $165 per month. There are still lots available to build your dream home and the developer offers private financing. Coosaw Point is an excellent example of a blissful neighborhood and we congratulate them on their significant achievement as our Happiest Community of the Year. Let us know if you’d like to be introduced to the developer at one of the best places to retire in South Carolina.


The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most beautiful wide bodies of water in Florida near the Vero Beach beaches. The Intracoastal Waterway passes through it, to the north and south. This boater’s paradise is home to one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in North America. Pelicans, turtles, porpoises and manatees are commonly seen along the Indian River and the Sebastian Inlet is just 20 miles to the north. Our family has lived in the area for more than 25 years giving us the chance to richly experience the river from a boat, on jet skis and kayaks.

The Moorings is located the barrier island with river and oceanfront properties. There are 7.5 miles of deepwater homes and affordable low maintenance condominiums at this marina community. The location is great. On the mainland is one of the Best Art Towns in Florida, Vero Beach. Folks desiring a small town feel with great restaurants, shopping, cultural arts and an unspoiled beach will find Vero Beach has it all.

In 2004, Hurricane Francis delivered a blow to The Moorings severally damaging the community’s clubhouse. Club members banded together building a new West Indies style clubhouse a resort-style swimming pool and state of the art fitness center with views overlooking the Indian River. No special assessments were imposed upon property owners for these enhancements. The Moorings is home to an easy Pete Dye executive style golf course, excellent tennis amenities and community boat docks. The Moorings Club is a traditional style Yacht & Country Club, where boating enthusiasts meet and have fun together. Starting home prices at The Moorings range from the high $100ks for re-sale condos, the high $300k’s for single family homes to well over a $1 million for riverfront deepwater homes or homes on the Vero Beach beaches.


This comeback kid is a best master planned communities in Georgia. Reynolds Plantation is the epitome of an all inclusive resort and is a golfer’s dream come true. Home to six championship golf courses, a Reynolds Golf Academy, five clubhouses, six resort-style swimming pools, 16 tennis courts with stadium seating, a massive health and wellness center, four full service marinas and this does not include the first class Ritz-Carlton Lodge overlooking Lake Oconee. There are only a handful a master planned communities in the Southeast who have this level of amenities. This large Georgia lake community quickly got smaller as we mingled with the friendly property owners. We were also impressed with the convenience of Lake Oconee Village, a modern shopping complex with a Publix, excellent restaurants, everyday retailers, and a movie theater, just beyond the gated entrance.

Property owners and employees panicked in early 2011 when Reynolds’ lenders demanded repayment of its debt during one of the worst credit crunches of the century. Coming up with $44 million dollars in private financing on short notice was no easy task. It didn’t take long for a financially sound hedge fund, to come to the rescue. MetLife acquired Reynolds Plantation amenities in August 2012 and both property owners and employees couldn’t be happier. During this time, things never skipped a beat. Manicured lawns add to the neighborhood’s exquisite curb appeal. Savvy buyers scooped up the deals, just like Metlife. Now home prices at Reynolds Plantation are back on the rise and we know why. When we kayaked Lake Oconee at sunrise, we clearly understood what makes Reynolds Plantation so special. Reynolds offers a variety of home choices: golf course homes, lakefront homes, small footprint cottages, large lakefront low rise condominiums or a lot to build your dream home. Ask us how to try out the Reynolds lifestyle, before you decide where to retire in Georgia.


Albemarle Plantation is located 60 minutes west of the northern Outer Banks. This 2,800 acre gated community was thrown a curve ball in late 2011 when the real estate developer no longer wanted to be involved in sales or management. Thanks to a savvy board of directors and 779 committed property owners, the Albemarle Plantation POA successfully acquired all the common areas and amenities which includes a championship golf course, elegant clubhouse, full service deepwater marina, tennis facilities and resort style swimming pool overlooking the Albemarle Sound. This peace of mind special assessment cost property owners $3,600 and added $1 million dollars to reserves.

Simply said, the majority of folks couldn’t be happier at Albemarle Plantation. Property owners describe Albemarle Plantation like this “we can count on our neighbors, we love the lifestyle, it’s a place where most folks wave hello just because, on a clear day you can see the Outer Banks, we feel safe, relaxed and fortunate.”

We honor Albemarle Plantation as the Best North Carolina Community of the Year for their achievement in hard times and for the natural beauty found here. There are no city lights or skyscrapers to block the night stars. Just open blue water and warm Atlantic breezes relaxing boaters playing in the protected Albemarle Sound. If you desire to live towards the northern end of North Carolina on the coast, you might regret not experiencing Albemarle Plantation before you chose where to live. Ask us for their new home floor plans one of North Carolina well known coastal retirement communities.


This fascinating 3,000 acre private island is a place to escape it all and live in a timeless setting on the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Located in the Lowcountry, Spring Island carefully preserved its southern roots dating back to the 1800’s, once a working plantation. Tabby Ruins on the island, is where we found an unforgettable 10 foot tall statue (St. Francis of Assisi) canopied by massive trees shading this outdoor sanctuary from the summer sun. Spring Island is located about half way between Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, on the coast of South Carolina.

Spring Island is both a luxury golf and equestrian community. This low density neighborhood is planned to have only 410 homes at project completion. As we drove through the community, homes bordering the Colleton River were hidden from the main road, homes positioned at the end of long winding driveways. We sensed living on the island is like living in an authentic nature preserve.

The 18 hole championship golf course designed by Palmer Group recently underwent complete renovation. Spring Island amenities include two riverfront clubhouses that reflect American Country decor, a modern state of the art fitness center with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a full service Equestrian Center. There are more than 35 miles of sand horse trails to explore at Spring Island. This best master planned community offers larger home parcels while being in close proximity to the Hilton Head Island. Home prices average over $1 million. If this fits within your budget, you must see Spring Island in before you buy a home in the Lowcountry. Ask us for details about how to access this private island.


The first time I saw the Great Smoky Mountains from Tellico Lake, I was speechless at the beauty. It was late in the fall and snow covered the mountain tops, just above the fall foliage. Tellico Village is an established master planned community in Eastern Tennessee bordering 16,000 acre Tellico Lake. Tellico Lake is a navigable lake to downtown Knoxville or south, to the Gulf of Mexico. Boating Life Magazine named Tellico Lake as one of the Best Places to Boat in the U.S.

Baby Boomers are drawn to Eastern Tennessee for its low cost of living and mild four season weather. After they realize Tellico Village offers both, the question remains will this spread out neighborhood be easy to make new friends? The proof is in the pudding. Property owner scorecards tell us they are happy here and that “its a great place to live”. Tellico Village amenities include three championship golf courses, a yacht club, new 26,000 square foot wellness center, tennis facilities and more. What makes Tellico Village unique to us is that monthly membership dues are paid a la carte. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay for it. HOA fees have gone up slightly in the past two years causing a little scuttle butt from long time residents, however HOA fees are still less than $102 a month. If you’re searching for where to retire, we consider Tellico Village to be one of the best master planned communities in Tennessee with homes beginning in the high $200K price range. Our trusted colleague lives at Tellico Village and is happy to share more with you about life at the village. Just ask us to introduce you.


With 1,400 miles of coastline in Florida, you’d think it would be easy to find best master planned communities with homes on the beach. Not so. Beachfront property was gobbled up decades ago by individuals and condominium buildings long before the concept of master planned communities hit the scene. So this year, our search began on the east coast and we quickly found a winner. Orchid Island is located on the barrier island, just north of Vero Beach. Our walk on the beach brought us to the Sebastian Inlet State Park. Half of the two mile beach walk borders unpopulated nature preserves and gentle beach dunes.

This friendly beach and golf community is considered by many Vero Beach’s most prestigious address. Half of the neighborhood is set along the Indian River and the other half borders the Atlantic Ocean. Their 25,000 square foot West Indies style clubhouse on the beach side overlooks the blue green Atlantic Ocean and mirrors a Ritz-Carlton Caribbean resort. On the river side, pastel colored homes with white roofs contrast the lush tropical foliage. Many of the Orchid Island deepwater homes have private boat houses and docks reaching out into the Indian River.

Orchid Island’s 18 hole championship golf course was designed by Arnold Palmer back in the late 1980’s. The golf course is meticulously maintained. Orchid Island has a new Wellness and Fitness Center offering classes, weight training equipment and spa services. Eight tennis courts are adjacent to the wellness center. You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful beachfront Vero Beach neighborhood. You can find homes for sale here under $1 million. If you’re interested, ask us to introduce you to our trusted colleague who lives at Orchid Island near the Vero Beach beaches.


Boat captains, property owners and charities can't say enough about this caring high quality North Carolina boating community in the sailing capital of North America, where boats outnumber people 3 to 1. River Dunes is located due west of the Outer Banks, on the southern end of Pamilco Sound. Boaters can quickly access the Atlantic Ocean between Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island. River Dunes is a bona fide marina community complimented by a New England flare. Amenities include a protected harbor with community boat docks, an 11,500 square foot clubhouse overlooking the marina, resort-style swimming pool with cabanas, fireside hot tubs, fitness center and pool bar. They’ve created a charming waterside village you’d expect to find on Martha’s Vineyard. Each time I visit, I want to ditch my car and grab a bike to ride around the neighborhoods.

River Dunes received numerous awards from boating magazines and boating related resources. In 2011, Active Captain which tracks over 30,000 marinas, ranked River Dunes as #3 in the world based on the website’s reviews. Property owners love their neighborhood. The most common comment on our property owner scorecards is “River Dunes has the nicest people.” This intimate North Carolina boating community flexes big muscles, when it comes to property owner satisfaction.

We’re also impressed with how River Dunes engages with the local community. These folks take an active role in Bike MS and the Leukemia Cup. When Hurricane Sandy hit last year, River Dunes quickly opened up their private marina to the public, providing safe harbor during the storm. River Dunes is a newer community which is great for folks who want to build and customize their dream home. Ask us to send you the latest floor plans. 


Up to this point, we had not reviewed 55+ master planned communities. During our site visit, we discovered this best master planned community in northern Georgia is age restrictive. Kolter Homes is the real estate developer of Cresswind and clearly built this affordable lakefront community with active Baby Boomers in mind. Cresswind on Lake Lanier has one of the finest three story clubhouses we’ve seen. Amenities include tennis, the Cresswind Marina, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a state of the art fitness center. In addition to the curb appeal, we like the low home prices and low cost maintenance free lifestyle. New homes start under $200k and no two homes back up to each other. The HOA fees are less than $250 a month and include lawn maintenance, trash removal and basic cable. This is great for folks living here at retirement.

Cresswind on Lake Lanier is located on one of Georgia’s most visited and largest lakes. 38,000 acre emerald green Lake Lanier has 692 miles of shoreline and dozens of remote islands to explore in the center of the lake. Cresswind’s Marina provides covered boat slips which can be purchased by property owners. Adjacent to the floating boat docks is the community’s bathhouse, where residents have access to showers and bathrooms. There are 10 full service marinas on Lake Lanier and the closest is Gainesville Marina. Gainesville is a city with excellent medical care, the Brenau University Lifelong Learning Campus and North Georgia Premium Outlets for designer label shopping. The downtown Gainesville square is adorable and has tasty restaurants, old fashioned stores and bistros. Baby Boomers who desire lakefront living should not miss seeing Cresswind on Lake Lanier. 


It was never our intention to honor a community two years in a row, however after visiting Balsam Mountain Preserve again, we must. Last year, Balsam won our 2012 Bliss Award for Best Equestrian Community of the Year. Before we chose Balsam again, I asked for a second opinion from a friend who writes golf course reviews. Without telling him why I asked, he described parts of the course as unnecessarily penalizing golfers by blind shots, although he would love to play it again. Not to discount his expert opinion, but the vision that came to my mind was being blinded by mountain beauty. Balsam Mountain Preserve is one of the most beautiful mountain golf courses I’ve ever seen and my feelings are not alone. During our stay at a competing golf community, I overheard property owners speaking in awe about Balsam’s course designed by Arnold Palmer.

When I asked my husband who has played Balsam for his opinion about the course, he said “I want to be impressed and challenged by the golf course in my neighborhood”. Balsam Mountain Preserve’s golf course offers huge elevation variances from the tee-box to the greens. If look hard enough, you may see a home rooftop nestled in the woods. The close range mountain views from every direction would make a gorgeous postcard. This best master planned community in Western North Carolina is set in a nature preserve where only 400 families share 4,400 acres behind a gated entrance. Amenities include Balsam’s award winning Equestrian Center, 30 miles of walking and riding trails, Ruby Valley Sports Center and The Boarding House Restaurant. We dined several times at The Boarding House and I’m impressed with the continual friendliness of the staff, residents and first class food. As one of the property owners expressed on our scorecards, “When I’m not there, all I do is wish I was there. I’ve never enjoyed being somewhere more in my life”. If you’re searching for the best mountain golf course community in North Carolina, you must experience Balsam before you buy or build a home.


The first time I visited The Ford Plantation, I was mesmerized by the scenic beauty remains vivid in my mind. The Ford Mansion, a colonial style home overlooking Lake Clara, was Henry Ford’s winter escape and is as beautiful as ever. The Ford Plantation is a luxury Savannah neighborhood which combines golf, boating, equestrian, fitness and a full service spa into the lifestyle options available for property owners to enjoy. Its private championship golf course was designed by the legendary Pete Dye with two distinct nine-hole challenges. The front nine is designed around 250 acres of freshwater lakes, and the back nine is a Low Country links style course, with holes placed among the Plantation’s original rice fields. From the marina, the winding Ogeechee River leads boaters out to the Atlantic Ocean via the Ossabaw Sound.

With all the grandeur, it was the equestrian amenities that kept my attention because there are only a handful of best master planned communities on the east coast who cater to horse lovers. Ford’s first class equestrian center is splendid. The 22 stall barn has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a full service boarding facility. As we drove through The Ford Plantation, crisp white fences lined the spacious riding arena, grassy paddocks and turf jump field. There are 10 miles of waterfront horse trails that meander throughout the property, including around Lake Clara and the Ogeechee River. Equestrian programs at The Ford Plantation include riding lessons for all ages, disciplines, off property trail rides, Equestrian Excursions, educational clinics, participation in local competitions, fun events such an Equine Art Show, the Equine Connection program, Horses 101 and the ever-popular  Pony Play Days for kids.

The Ford Plantation is one of the finest Lowcountry equestrian gated communities. The Savannah neighborhood features southern style architecture and offers a variety of home style choices starting at $1 million, from golf course homes to homes adjacent to the marina, or large equestrian home parcels. In 2012, the Ford Plantation sold 15 properties and 7 of those were to equestrians. All of the families have expressed that Ford’s beauty, the quality of care, professional instruction, and personal attention provided by the outstanding equestrian staff and facilities were a determining factor in joining The Ford Plantation community. 

If your best friend includes a horse, don’t miss considering The Ford Plantation as your new home address.


Property owners began sharing with us their unhappiness years ago. In one property owner’s words “Cummings Cove is a "split" community: those that belong to the club and those who dont, and the two groups have never mixed during the 10 yrs we have lived here. The divide is about 50/50.”

The cat jumped out of the bag even further when fifty-five Cummings Cove property owners filed a group lawsuit against the developer in September 2012. This led us to believe there may be many more who decided to stay out of it, those whose feelings may be the same. Cummings Cove is an award winning master planned community in Western North Carolina. Development began in the 1990’s. We do not have the original Covenants in our possession. According to what we’ve read from emails sent to us and comments on our blog, property owners were originally required to become club members. When the real estate market softened, the real estate developer relaxed membership requirements. In 2012, membership requirements were restated by the developer demanding all property owners become club members. Some property owners feel the developer is in financial trouble and is looking to property owners for financial relief. Only time will tell where the truth lies and how the courts will see it.

The bottom line, Cummings Cove Golf and Country Club has shared the highest level of unhappiness with us. By no means does this negate the beauty and quality of its neighborhood in Hendersonville North Carolina. We hope for a quick solution and will keep you posted on Cummings Cove’s status.

If you'd like to talk about these best master planned communities or any of the other the best places to retire we've found, write or call us toll free at 866.384.1799.