The Pros and Cons of Planned Communities

A planned community can offer an idyllic lifestyle or a living nightmare to the people that buy into it. And during the building phase it can be difficult to tell which it will be. It all depends on the motivation, abilities and resources of the company planning and building it.

Unlike a subdivision that is typically residential premises only, a planned community should be intended to meet all or most of its inhabitants needs locally. This should include employment opportunities and the infrastructure to enable people to work from home. There should be shopping areas, either malls or more picturesque pedestrian only shopping streets. Offices for doctors and dental surgeries, as well as banks, business offices and a market area for farmers’ markets, bric-a-brac and such like. Small corner playgrounds and the occasional larger park, as well as sporting venues for local clubs and a swimming baths, heated where geographically needed.

All of those should be clearly located on the plans and will be visible and obvious once constructed. The infrastructure for the community should be all underground, which makes it far more difficult to judge. The plans should lay out the capacities being provided, but will the reality match up? Infrastructure is vital to a community and the capacities for a community meant to persist into the distant future should be at least fifty percent more than that estimated as required by the initial project. These include water supply and waste-water disposal, electricity and communications cabling. Communications cabling capacity should be much higher to met the future needs of advancing technology, both for home computers and entertainment purposes. People working from home are likely to need video conferencing capability on their computers, which requires considerable bandwidth to provide effectively.

As long as the developers have done their market research to ensure there is sufficient demand, have offered inducements to companies to open local offices and work premises and have the financial resources and motivation to have the project work to produce a successful long term community, it is likely to work our well. If they fall down in any of those areas, it probably won’t.

Anyone considering buying into a planned community therefore, needs to do their homework as well. This is relatively easy if we are looking at an already established community. We can ask the sellers of the house we are interested in why they are leaving. We can travel around the community to see if it appears to meet our needs and we can talk to other people living and working there for their opinions. We can also ‘spy’. Sitting at a table in a cafe or bar, we can eavesdrop on locals’ conversation to see if there is any conformity of complaint. Perhaps a little dodgy ethically, but this is a major decision with significant financial and lifestyle implications for our and our families future.

It is rather harder if we are looking at buying a house in a planned community currently being constructed. If the developers have previously built communities we can visit those and investigate them as discussed above. It is promising if the developers intend to build other planned communities in the future. We should carefully study the plans for not only our house but the whole community and take them to an independent professional for evaluation.

We should also check with the local government department that deals with building permits and regulations to see what checks and bounds are placed on developers in that area. Checking back in regional newspapers for any corruption scandals or stories to determine the likelihood of corruption allowing sub-standard work get through is also a good idea.

If all seems above board and promising, we need to insist on suitable penalties in our contract and preferably have any funds we put forward held in escrow so we can actually get them back if it all falls through. Whether that is through deliberate malfeasance on the part of the developers, poor or insufficient planning and research, or simply bad luck.

If we fail to be careful we may end up living in a very nice house in the middle of a permanent building site, with a long way to travel to work and every other necessity of modern life. Do our homework and pay attention to the legal aspects and we should get the idyllic lifestyle we have been dreaming of.