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The Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach Sharing Room

Charity Begins at Your New Home


Real-estate agents and developers are attracting buyers who want communities involved in philanthropy.

Donna Bailey was looking with her husband, David, for a place to retire that had a golf course, a club and a wellness center. Also on the list: a way to get involved in local philanthropy.

“What else would you do with your life if you didn’t become involved?” asked Ms. Bailey, 67, a retired software marketer.

In 2012, the couple completed construction on a home for just over $2 million in the Cliffs at Walnut Cove, about 25 minutes from Asheville, N.C. The community is one of seven Cliffs Clubs luxury developments in the Carolinas. The developer has set up an umbrella organization that encourages each of the seven sites to steer its own philanthropy. It helps by donating meeting spaces, discounted food and drink, and even auction items.

The program began when the company realized “there were a lot of successful businesspeople and Type-A personalities who had moved to the Cliffs and found they had extra time on their hands,” said David Sawyer, president of the Cliffs Clubs.

The real-estate industry has long used charity as a calling card, with agents often listing the groups they support on their websites. Developers also have tied transactions to philanthropy, pledging a percentage of sales to a charity.

Now, some developments, including golf communities, resorts and condo buildings, are taking the concept a step further by facilitating residents’ active participation in local charitable efforts.

Some approaches are relatively simple: At the Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach, set to open early 2017, Ricardo Dunin, founding partner of Lionheart Capital, a real-estate development and investment firm, plans a “sharing room.” Residents will be able to drop off unwanted items at a location. There, other residents can view them in person or on an app before picking them up. Or the items can be sent to local charities by the staff concierge. Condos at the development cost between $2 million and $40 million.

Other efforts are elaborately structured to give each resident the kind of charitable experience they desire. Peninsula Papagayo, a gated resort community in Costa Rica, has an on-site office of Creciendo Juntos (Growing Together), a nonprofit that helps homeowners and hotel guests connect to charitable projects in the area.

Tim Braheem, a 50-year-old business and life coach in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is an active home buyer and philanthropist at the resort. He built a house in the resort, sold it and bought a townhouse, and now is building another home there, after which he plans to sell the townhouse. Condominiums start at $1.8 million, home sites at $800,000, and resale single-family homes at $3.4 million, said Manuel Ardon, chief operating officer of Peninsula Papagayo.

“I also have a home in Malibu, where I’m surrounded by nothing but elites,” Mr. Braheem said. “It’s a gift to be so close to people who need my help” in Costa Rica.

This year, Mr. Braheem and 19 clients who attended a retreat he hosted as a coach raised $23,000 for Creciendo. Of that sum, $15,000 went to the construction of a kindergarten classroom, which Mr. Braheem’s group helped finish and paint. In past years, he has organized a group to finance a program to feed schoolchildren with scarce access to food on weekends and holidays. The charity helps coordinate efforts.

Mr. Braheem said the chance to get to know local Costa Ricans and give to their community is one reason he continues to buy and build homes in the resort.

At Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., its umbrella nonprofit, called Bighorn Golf Club Charities, encompasses a scholarship program, a grant-giving organization and a cancer charity. The latter group, Behind a Miracle, was launched by resident Selby Dunham in 2007 after she recovered from breast-cancer treatment. In the past 10 years, BAM has raised $7.5 million, all donated to local cancer organizations.

Initially Ms. Dunham, a 61-year-old retired office manager for a construction company, organized a group of volunteers who lived in the community, where homes have resold for between $1.5 million and $12 million. They helped promote a golf tournament, gathered sponsorships from local businesses and held a dinner and auction.

Today, club management helps with much of the work, offering a full-time charity manager, plus the efforts of nine other members of its staff, said Theresa Maggio, marketing director for Bighorn.

Developers can benefit from the marketing and community goodwill such efforts bring, as well as the loyalty of residents who feel deeply engaged with charitable programs.

One risk of orienting a community around philanthropy is that residents can grow tired of pleas for donations. Residents also should do their own due diligence, as with all such efforts, as to how their money is being spent by the charities. Their personal accountant or tax adviser can navigate IRS rules on deductions for charitable giving.

In 2008, while the Baileys were living in a townhouse they bought before building their home at the Cliffs, “all the time, the more people you got to know, it was, ‘I’m having a dinner party to raise money for cancer, for MS,’ ” she said. “We decided, ‘Let’s not drive each other crazy or get to the point where you’re avoiding your neighbor.’ ”

In an overhaul, Ms. Bailey became president of a group that collects a $300 donation annually from residents and stages one big Weekend of Giving, with a clothing drive, gala dinner, golf and tennis tournaments, auctions and barbecue. The developer contributes auction items such as golf packages, the facilities where the events are hosted, and discounted food and drink. This year the group raised more than $200,000.