ROSELYN AND BOB GRIBBLE REALIZED JUST HOW much control The Villages developer has over this Central Florida community when they went shopping at the local furniture store a year ago.
A sales rep at Southern Lifestyles Fine Furnishings typed the address of their under-construction home into a computer and the floor plan popped up. The couple bought furniture for the house. On the day they closed on their home, the furniture had been delivered and put in place. “This developer has got it all covered,” says Bob Gribble. “They own the bank and the furniture store.”
Not to mention the community's local water utility, real estate, insurance, and mortgage companies, assisted living facility, The Villages' Daily Sun newspaper, WVLG-AM 640 radio station, and VNN cable TV station. Representatives of the developer also operate the community's dozens of amenities, from golf courses and tennis courts to polo fields and recreational facilities.
Buyers are typically so dazzled after touring the 20-square-mile development between Ocala and Orlando that they spend little time dwelling on the developer's local monopoly before they ante up for a lot.
The Villages sold 3,955 homes for better than $800 million in revenue last year—one home every two hours and 13 minutes—making it the fastest growing master planned community in the U.S. in 2004, according to Robert Charles Lesser & Co. It eclipsed the No. 2 player, Avatar's nearby Poinciana, by 1,176 homes.
Ryan Mathews, a futurist and CEO of Black Monk Consulting, says a development like The Villages is attractive to those on the cusp of the baby boom generation because they like to be around other people like themselves, who are writing new rules about what retirement is about. “These are not people getting ready to die. They are getting ready to go to a party,” says Mathews.
Visitors, as in the case of the Gribbles, often decide to buy within hours of touring the community. Even if they are a little uneasy with the developer's control, they are entranced with his product and a little in awe of his business acumen. “It's pure capitalism and it works,” says Bob Gribble. “We bought into the whole thing.”
“We even put our money in their bank,” says Roselyn Gribble. The Gribbles company. At last year's rate of sales, 145 new people moved in each week. Amenities and “lifestyle,” rather than the houses themselves, lead buyers to hand over their cash at first sight, residents say.
It is difficult for buyers not to be impressed with a community that's an adult Disney World. There are two quaint “Main Streets” with stores and restaurants, and two “transportation centers” where buses leave for airports and other excursions. Landscaping is so pristine that a weed hardly gets a chance to root before it is plucked out and replaced with a flowering annual.