Vero Beach’s Sea Oaks looks to rebound with new marketing plan

With its year-round warm weather and selection of private clubs, Vero Beach is a virtual tennis haven.

And Sea Oaks Community Marketing Co-Chairman Ed Cheney believes that among the many beach-friendly developments, Sea Oaks stands undeniably tall for those looking to buy or rent in a tennis-centric property.

But is the promise of great tennis enough of an incentive for consumers to buy a property in today’s competitive barrier island real estate market?

In a recent presentation given by Cheney, he in fact rolled out to several local real estate agents and brokers what he called an “aggressive” new magazine and Internet ad plan in Sea Oak’s marketing to the northeast region of the United States (and part of Canada).

He welcomed comments from the real estate-savvy crowd – seeking a consumer perception of Sea Oaks – and that’s what he got.

“Compared to other home owner associations, the fees (at Sea Oaks) are high,” said Susie Wilson of North Beach Realty. “The people who don’t like playing tennis don’t like paying $2,400 per year (for it).”

Sea Oaks residents must pay $5,600 in combined home owners, beach and annual tennis fees.

The fees cover unlimited tennis on its 16 Hard Tru courts, access to gourmet dining at the community’s beach and tennis clubs, beach and marina access, oceanfront and neighborhood pool access, landscaping, use of the fitness room, a fulltime administrative staff and four staff tennis pros.

Half of the residents at Sea Oaks play tennis, according to Cheney.

“We feel we have one of the best tennis programs in the area, so we like to talk it up,” said Cheney. “Many of us think of this place as Camp Sea Oaks; it’s more of a summer camp to us than it is a retirement community.”

According to one Sea Oaks resident, Peters and Cook & Company real estate agent Dick Martin, the marketing presentation was an attempt to educate outside real estate brokers.

The community’s governing body, led by Cheney and marketing co-chair Jeff Mullins, approached some outside consultants, and with some help from community volunteers, crafted the new marketing approach.

What the group learned from the consultants was that “we as a home owners’ association need to get into the process and help get the message out about Sea Oaks so they can be competitive,” said Martin, adding, “Real estate is a key industry here in Vero Beach. Over the past two years prices have dropped dramatically, and we have to do something about that. The informative video and advertising they’ve done, I think, is an example of a community association trying to get exposure out there in what is a competitive market.”

“We wanted to introduce a marketing plan, which would increase awareness of Sea Oaks,” said Mullins. “We’re not in the real estate business; we just want to help our community find new blood. We’re a busy, active community and we want those who are in the real estate community to see that.”

Sea Oaks was established in 1984, and has since grown to 594 units.

Beachside condos are on the eastern part of the property, and villas and single-family homes are to the west.

Over 92 percent of its residents are from outside the state of Florida (compared to 67 percent for Vero Beach as a whole), and about 20 percent of the residents are here year-around.

Martin said sales from 2000 to 2005 were steady with the community averaging around 70 units sold per year.

Those numbers have plummeted in the years since, dropping from 73 units sold in 2005 down to a low of 20 units sold in 2009.

Last year’s 29 units sold were the most since 2007, when the number was 38.

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