A fly-in community is a dream for many private pilots for the ease of access and like-minded community that they offer. But when considering these properties from an investment standpoint, the numbers are what really matter. When considering the cost of these homes and the trends over the past several decades, it's not such a clear-cut opportunity. Take a look at the pros and cons of investing in a fly-in community before starting your next real estate investment.
A fly-in community, also known as a residential airpark or aviation community, is like many other private or gated communities around the country, but instead of a main street as the main thoroughfare, you have a runway -- yes, a runway. This private runway allows the pilot to taxi their plane directly into their private hangar, which is attached to their house much like a garage. You can of course access the homes by car, but the main draw or distinction is this addition of the private airport scenario. These communities obviously cater to a niche market, but there are still 617 airparks in the United States. Home features and size vary greatly within each community, but one thing is consistent: There is a place to park your plane without ever having to set foot in an airport or even your car.
Pros and cons of a fly-in community
For a private pilot, or those actively engaged in that type of community, the positives of living at an airpark will easily outweigh any negatives. But from an investment standpoint, you must decide whether the numbers are supported before investing in an aviation community.
Fly-in markets are typically located in more rural areas or smaller suburban markets outside of city centers, meaning the opportunity to purchase land or unused real estate at affordable prices is more likely, particularly if it's a less desirable market. This can lead to savings when purchasing land or vacant real estate to rehab or develop as a fly-in community.
With that being said, the cost to develop a fly-in community is more expensive than a standard residential community. In addition to the normal zoning and building regulations and codes, you have the added cost of adding a runway for the community and hangar for each residence. Roadways, which double as runways, will require more space to develop, and the market you are serving is niche. Demand exists for these communities but not on a broad scale, limiting who you can sell the properties to in the long run.
Is it a worthwhile investment?
The number of private pilots in this country has been slowly declining since the 1980s, which would lead one to believe that this is a real estate investment to steer clear of. But when you consider that the number of pilots aged 20-35 is about the same as the 50-64-year-old category, with the 36-49-year-olds being significantly less, timing could be ideal. The old timers will be selling when there are considerably fewer buyers since the majority of these younger pilots are not financially able to purchase these exclusive homes yet. If you're looking for long-term holdings, you could scoop up properties for pennies on the dollar to hold until the next wave of pilots starts to reach the necessary lifestyle and income levels an airpark usually dictates.
But invest with caution. As discussed above, investing in niche markets can potentially be lucrative, but they can also create situations where you're forced to sell properties at a loss if you ever need to exit your position sooner than intended. As with any type of real estate investing, the best potential opportunities will come to the investor who thoroughly researches the property and associated market trends. Waiting to find an undervalued property is almost always going to offer a much more secure investment than jumping on the first property that presents itself.