Cliff’s Sells $40 Million in Real Estate at Tiger Woods Course Venue

Resort Management Associates, the group that handled sales of 13 Ginn communities, has a new name, same tactics.

Palm Coast, Florida – December 15, 2008ESI Living reported a successful November launch of home sites at Cliffs at High Carolina, a private golf course community near Asheville anchored by the first golf course designed by Tiger Woods in the U.S. Sales reportedly totaled $40 million for lots ranging from $500 thousand to $3 million. This product launch was a reservation –based sales event, complete with a cocktail party for 1,000 at the historic Grove Park Inn in Asheville. The similarities between the launch at the Cliffs and those of Bobby Ginn’s private communities are no coincidence. All were orchestrated by the same group.

This document has been modified to reflect the following:
  • Barry McDermott is employed by The Cliffs at High Carolina, not ESI Living.
  • That contracts, rather than reservations, were being confused with sales. apologizes for any confusion this error has caused.

Palm Coast Flagler Ginn BlimpAccording to their marketing material, ESI Living provides "Turn-key sales and marketing for luxury resort and private club communities."ESI Living, also known for a short period as Echelon Sales, was once Resort Management Associates. As RMA, they managed marketing and sales of 13 Ginn communities, claiming to have sold more than 10,000 properties for $5.5 billion over a seven-year period.
The names of the Echelon executive team would be familiar to many Ginn property owners; Wilson Greene, Jim Matoska, Craig Wheeler, John Pinter, Jennifer Kelly, and Sean Barrett. Cliffs at High Carolina sales team member, Barry McDermott also spent several years with the ESI principals at Ginn properties.
ESI’s website (click here) is as filled with hyperbole as the Ginn product launch material they designed. It cites several case studies, mostly Ginn properties. It states "If you can’t replicate it, then it was just luck." The site goes on to claim a nearly endless sequence of phenomenal successes such as:
  • Hammock Beach Club – a one-day event that produced 118 condominium-hotel sales for a total of $65 million
  • Yacht Harbor Village – sold $23 million in land in the first six hours of the inaugural event.
  • Yacht Harbor Village – The Admirals Cove Condominiums were snapped up in another one-day event. All 88 condominiums were purchased at an average sales price of $566,000.
  • Hammock Beach – 82 one-bedroom hotel suites in the main building of the Hammock Beach Club with an average price per square foot of close to $1,000……recorded another one-day sellout with 82 units being sold for $24 million in the summer of 2003.
  • Hammock Beach Towers – 92 luxury penthouse condominium-hotel units located in the main building of the Hammock Beach Club – in another one-day event. All 92 units, averaging $1.65 million, were put under contract for a total of $151 million in sales revenue.
  • The Conservatory – after a six-month marketing campaign, sold all 420 home sites in a one-weekend priority selection event. The average price for the home sites being offered was $400,000.
  • In December 2001, the Echelon team helped the Ginn Company get Reunion Resort off the ground in grand fashion, doubling the original projection of 125 sales…..249 properties were sold in one weekend.
  • Reunion Heritage Crossings – 67 units sold in three hours at an average price of $386,000.
  • Reunion Nicklaus Course properties – 790 properties in one weekend for a total of $170 million.
  • Reunion Grande and Centre Court Ridge – released and sold in one day……all 82 two-bedroom condo-hotel units, averaging $715,000 apiece , and all 154 three-bedroom units in Centre Court Ridge, averaging $585,000 were selected in a one-day event.
  • Reunion Square – sold 504 villas for an average of $635,000 in a one-day event that brought in more than $300 million in revenue.
  • Gin sur Mer – selling $150 million during the inaugural release.
  • Cobblestone Park – More than 600 properties were sold in a one-day event.
  • Other Ginn communities cited include, Tesoro, Tesoro Preserve, Quail West, Bella Collina, Laurelmor, and Rivertowne Country Club.
Beyond a few of the early successes at Reunion, most of ESI’s claims appear to be greatly exaggerated, with reservations being confused with sales. While the Hammock Beach Towers may have been reserved at the launch or even put under contract, they did not close. They sat empty until Ginn reduced the price by about 50% in 2008, successfully selling about 25 units. The Conservatory has only 340 lots (not 420). 337 sales were recorded over a several month period, hinting that the "event" was not really a sellout.
With the exception of most of Hammock Beach and some sections of Reunion, Ginn property owners have fared poorly. Values have dropped precipitously. Current sales are comprised mostly of short sales and foreclosed properties. One Tesoro Preserve lot recently sold at an absolute auction for 10% of its original acquisition price. Bella Collina has only two residents, as does the Conservatory.
It may be premature to call Ginn’s developments failures. His Hilton Head failures of the 1980s became successes later on under different owners. In the end, someone will get the credit or the blame. Were the excessively high prices and subsequent market collapse the fault of the developer or of the group he hired to handle sales and marketing? Was there too much chicanery as some claim? If so, by whom?  Where should the line be drawn between puffery (which is allowed) and smoke and mirrors deception?

When writing this article, relied heavily on content which appeared at one time on the website of Echelon Sales, Inc. (later ESI Living LLC) including the following statements:

Regarding RMA: "…. decided to outsource sales and marketing to ESI Living (known as RMA) in June 1998."

Regarding ESI Living’s participation in Ginn sales activities: "While acting as the in-house sales and marketing arm of the Ginn Clubs and Resorts, Echelon directly managed 13 Ginn communities and over 300 sales, marketing and administrative personnel…."


"The company served as the in-house marketing arm of Orlando-based Ginn Clubs & Resorts for the last seven years, generating over 10,000 sales and $5.5 billion in sales revenues."

Upon recent inspection, most statements referencing involvement with Ginn sales successes had been removed from the ESI Living LLC website.

Attorneys representing ESI Living LLC in the class action lawsuit known as Lawrie, et al., V. Ginn, Case No. 3:09-CV-446, have since provided information from public records which support their contention that ESI Living LLC, the company named as a defendant in the lawsuit, could not have been involved in any Ginn sales activity prior to ESI’s incorporation May 29, 2007. Further, the ESI Living LLC incorporation is independent of RMA. RMA’s authorization to do business in Florida was revoked for failing to file its annual report. This revocation occurred on Sept. 15, 2006.

7 replies
  1. George Meegan
    George Meegan says:

    They’re selling like hot cakes!

    The 1973 sales at Sleepy Hollow Lake (a subdivision in New York State near Catskill) was done in the same agressive nature. They had hay rides and boat rides, cook outs and a blue grass band. They had already put out sold signs on a few lots to give the impression that they were being bought up fast. The same lots were for sale a week later and signs were on the lots sold for real. They were financed on sight with a discount for cash. Areas were pointed to that were sights of the clubhouse, and swimming pool. I happened to be just starting in Real Estate sales and thaught what a deceptive way of selling. But then the money was good and until reality set in and the place went bust, everyone was happy. It was not my way of doing business, as knowing the compaines were in for the quick buck, didn’t sit well with my upbringing. The public, ate it up though, as everyone loves a party atmosphere and thaughts of making money by getting in on the ground oportunity. Those hot cakes get like hockey pucks after a while and are hard to swallow, and then you cant give them away.

  2. Jim
    Jim says:


    You really can’t compare the Cliffs projects with Ginn projects. The community of Cliffs developments (7 or 8 of them)are all within an hours drive of each other in the Eastern North Carolina mountains. They all have golf courses, clubs, pools, restaurants..the works. These are mature projects that have done pretty well as they are centrally located and easily accessible. The membership is similar to the new and very popular Ginn One Club as if you are a member of one of the Cliffs then you are a member of all. Their system actually works, the properties are well kept, the amenities are awesome and people actually love living there…imagine that. I have two friends that are members and have homes there. I have played golf there many times over the last 7 years. The Tiger course is all the rage. The masses are there to support it and their track record for success is proven. It’s not the marketing tactics that are important, it’s what is the end product and how will it be supported.
    If there is a down turn now in real estate in that area, it is surly due to general market conditions that are nation wide. No comparison to the nightmares that Ginn is dealing with and the subsequent property owners in several of the Ginn developments. George, if you went up there today, you would trade in a minute if you could find any takers.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Off the mark

    It’s a shame that you have to post comments like those above. Not only is the Cliffs a first class collection of thriving communities with satisfied property owners, but the sales and marketing group to which you referred are as upstanding and professional as you will find in the real estate industry. I have been in this business for 25 years and can say that with complete certainty. I was at the event and it was nothing like a Ginn launch. I didn’t see you there, yet you write about it from an expert position. Your gossip column is off the mark on this one. I would suggest sticking with what you know–the demise of the Ginn company, to which you seem to get in inordinate amount of satisfaction over. Happy Holidays.

  4. michael
    michael says:

    A dose of perspective, perhaps?

    Again, no disrespect to you, but your comment again shows that you are speculating on areas that you are really not familiar with. The prices at the Cliffs release were actually lower than the prices at their other communities, just a few miles away. They are selling dozens of properties each month to people that not only want to live in those communities, but see the value in the prices being charged. To have the first and only Tiger Woods golf course and prices less than the other communities that have an 18 year track record of success seems to be a pretty prudent real estate purchase–not to flip, resell or make money off of, but to enhance the lives of the families that will build and use the amenities. You’re letting the fact that you are jaded from years of speculative buying (not just at Ginn, but across Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona, particularly) taint your common sense view of what the resort and retirement real estate industry is all about. You blame Ginn tatics and decision making on everyone but the real culprit–the over-inflated housing market whipped up by customer greed (I am not finger pointing–I am one of those buyers), the mortgage crisis that is now just revealing itself and, most importantly, an economy that has been in recession for over a year. Do you think, being an intelligent man, that those factors have more to do with the collapse of real estate values in certain communities rather than the conspiracy theories that you continue to offer up? Just something to think about before continuing to create this hyperbole that is rooted in some facts, but is essentially more fluff.

  5. Sky Bennett
    Sky Bennett says:

    Response to George Meegan


    The only thing you failed to mention when discussing "developer’s promises unfulfilled" is that in the majority of those places Bobby Ginn placed those signs that promised future amenities, he actually built them. Take a closer look at Hammock Beach and you’ll see that the man delivered in some cases he over delivered.


  6. Toby
    Toby says:

    Reply to Michael

    I agree with you in one respect – the Cliffs is a fine operation. I question whether or not the new release will be able to justify the prices. Only time will tell.

  7. Toby
    Toby says:

    Reply to Michael

    Some of the Ginn properties are selling at 20 percent of their original launch prices. Ginn used the same sales group that is now at The Cliffs, using the same methods they found so effective at Ginn. But post launch, when this group was unable to sustain property values through an effective resale program, they moved on. The mortgage crisis and economic recession are common between NC and Florida. Yes, there was speculation at Ginn developments, but it was encouraged by the sales staff. (How could they have sold multiple lots and not have been aware of the speculative environment they had created?) However, many bought into the dream painted by their sales agent and now feel abandoned.

    The launch strategy is designed to build a sense of urgency, a sense of exclusivity, a belief that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, for many, it was a once in a lifetime event, just not in the way they expected or deserved. The system was stacked against them, from the exuberant sales staff to the appraisers, lenders and those who handled closings.

    Do I think the selling tactics were over the top? Yes. Will The Cliffs values hold up post launch? Only time will tell.

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