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Boat Lake Michigan?

Boat Lake Michigan?

I often wonder what the connection is between the Chicago Tribune and the state of Michigan. Is it simply that the Tribune is a newspaper in Chicago and Michigan is nearby? If so, that’s nice, because it’s good to be neighborly. But what if it’s deeper than that? What if the state of Michigan is in cahoots with the Chicago Tribune, and they conspire to inflate the status of Michigan because the two states are wildly, overwhelmingly, insanely jealous of the greater state that lies to the north of Illinois? What if this whole thing is a ploy to somehow derail the popularity of Wisconsin? What if this whole orchestrated ruse goes to the highest office? What if Rahm meets quarterly with officials in Michigan and they sit around conspiring? This is likely what happens, because there’s no other way to explain the Tribune’s high level of affection for some place as terrible as Michigan.

Today let’s not worry about the conspiracy, let’s just deal with the latest advertisement disguised as a general interest article and consider what falsehoods we must rebut. The glowing piece by Andrea Guthmann graced the Travel section of the last Sunday Tribune. The article included phrases like, “In the heart of what savvy tourism strategists branded “Harbor Country”, New Buffalo lures city dwellers with its casual beach vibe and proximity. Roughly 40 nautical miles from Chicago, it’s reachable by motorboat in an hour or two”.    What I know is what you don’t, unless you’ve visited this obscure place.  All fawning aside, New Buffalo is so boring it’s almost unbearable. And those short 40 nautical miles are meaningless unless you’re the sort that jumps on a boat in Chicago and motors across the lake. Some people do that, but it’s far from a great idea.

Great Lake Escape. Visiting Michigan’s Harbor Towns? Don’t Miss The Boat.

This is the title of the article.  The concept  here is that if you’re a city bound Chicagoan and you’d like to find your way to some water, you should go to Michigan. It’s a state full of water, surrounded by water, lots and lots of water. But beyond that, the pitch here is that this is about boats. If you like boating, you’re going to love Michigan. If you like boating, come to Michigan. If you’re an author who was awarded a journalism fellowship from the University of Michigan, write about Michigan!  To read this as a boating novice, you’d think Michigan is the place to go. After all, this is a great lake, and who wouldn’t want to boat on a great lake?

But don’t you see? This is the scam. This article tells us to go to Lake Michigan to boat but then it tells us how we might go about actually boating. There are ferries, you can ride one of those.  There’s even one that’s hand cranked, which sounds like the worst possible boat ride ever.  Then there are the harbors. Lots of harbors! Some harbors have rental boats, and if you’re 21 and love danger you can rent a boat. There are also fishing charters, which are terrific fun if you like sitting in a boat texting your friends while you wait for the rod to bend. Once it bends you should stand up and reel the fish in. Congratulations you’re a fisherman! Or you can rent a pontoon boat and float down the Kalamazoo River.  It’s easy to float down the river, because the river is super slick.

Do you see what’s happening here, boating friends from Chicago? What’s really happening is that you’re being told to go somewhere to boat and then when you get there the boats are all rentals. The boats are charters. The boats are there, but they aren’t yours. Lake Michigan might be a great lake for boating your personal Edmund Fitzgerald, but why go to a place where you have to work so terribly hard to boat? Lake Geneva has boats, plenty of boats. We have big boats and small boats. Wood boats and and sailboats. We have all of the boats. And when you come to Lake Geneva we don’t make you drive some remarkable distance and then present your driver’s license and insurance information to go for a drive. We just let you have your boat down at your pier, and we put your pier down at the end of your lawn, and your lawn is the grass that stretches from your home to the water. This is how we boat.

Harbor Country is just that- it’s for harbors. If you want to go to boating country, you want to be at Lake Geneva. Lake Michigan is nice to look at, like when you’re driving north to Lake Geneva on Lakeshore Drive, but it’s a lake best left to the lookers. It’s a lake for the passive people who wish to watch the water and not engage it.  Lake Geneva is the lake for watersports, for fishing and sailing and swimming and skiing. It’s a lake that’s terrific to look at, and in that there are similarities to Lake Michigan. But beyond that it’s a lake that wants to be used. It’s a lake for a family that wants to wake up in the morning and walk down their dewy lawn and step onto their private pier where there boat rests in its cradle. It’s a lake for the active user, not for the passive viewer. And best of all, when you go for a boat ride in Lake Geneva it always ends back at your pier.

Pleasant View

Pleasant View

When you see a wolf, it’s best to tell someone. See something, say something, they always say. That’s why that little boy cried Wolf! Except that he didn’t actually see one. He did this several times, and at first there was great alarm. Run inside and save the children! But each time the boy was lying because he was a liar. And so it went, until after some length of time the people stopped listening to his warnings. Wolf! He’d cry. And no one would even listen. Then one day the boy cried, Wolf! And no one cared. Except this time there was a wolf and as I recall the little boy was eaten and no one was particularly sad.

If I told you every house was a gem, I would be as that boy. I would be as every Realtor since the invention of the gold jacket and the end of year watch giveaway (You’re all top producers! You get a watch, and you get a watch, and you- well, not you, Leroy). But I don’t tell you that every house is special, because not every house is. Most houses, as a matter of fact, are quite terrible. They all work for someone, and in that a raised ranch by the interstate can be content. Someone will buy you. Most houses are boring, honestly. They are plain and they are utilitarian and there’s a kitchen and some baths, also bedrooms. They function, but they lack sizzle and sex appeal and there’s little to them beyond their ability to keep you dry and warm on a rainy November night. Most houses are boring.

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With that in mind, you can imagine the delight I feel when I bring a house to market that is special. A house that not only will keep you dry on that rainy night, and warm on the cold January morning, but will also inspire you and deliver you to another place the moment you walk under the covered porch and in through the front door. I’m aware of how hyperbolic that sentence sounds, and in most cases, it would be simply that- Realtor fluff. But this house can receive the accolades and then hold up to the scrutiny. This house, my newest listing, is worthy of every bit of praise I can muster. This house, in a sea of boring houses that serve only the most basic of functions, is a standout.

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Pleasant View is in Glenwood Springs, just one home from the water, perched in the tall Oaks and Maples that rise high above the lakefront park.  If this home were in its original condition, we’d applaud it for being vintage, for being a survivor, for being cute and charming. But we’d also ridicule it for what it lacks, because old houses lack. That’s why the owner of this home undertook a significant and all encompassing renovation in the mid 2000s and finished in the year 2008. During this renovation there was no stone left unturned. Nothing was ignored. Every detail was completed. The foundation was old, and so the house was elevated and a new foundation poured. As we all know, new foundations allow for new radiant heat in the floor, and so that’s what was done.  What is unique here is not the renovation, what is unique is the attention to high end detail that was poured into every fit and finish. The end result is perhaps the most stunning Lake Geneva cottage I’ve ever seen.

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And I’ve seen a lot of them. Inside this four bedroom home you’ll find bath fixtures by Kallista, Shaw, and Hans Grohe. Waterworks tile abounds. Built ins and wood paneling and so many custom crafted bits of millwork and wall treatments, indeed there are too many to list. The kitchen is as fine as any lakefront kitchen on this lake- Shaw and Wolf and SubZero.  The upper level features two bedrooms- a guest room with an en suite and a master bedroom. This is no ordinary master bedroom. It’s complete with soaring ceilings, an en suite bath outfitted with the finest and most stylish fittings imaginable, and a lakeside sun porch with full view of Geneva Lake.

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Downstairs, two more bedrooms, another full bath (Waterworks, of course), a full wet bar (with SubZero refrigerator, of course), a wood burning fireplace and walk out to the patio. The house is controlled by a Lutron lighting system with remotes, a Crestron whole house audio system, and low voltage exterior landscape lighting that artfully illuminates the perennial gardens that surround the home. Speaking of outside, the lakeside outdoor shower is a hit with guests of all ages.  Lest you assume this is just a perfect house in Glenwood Springs, we have that lake view from several rooms, that ideal proximity to the water, and at the lakefront our own private pier. Access to the association swim piers are yours, but that white, wooden, private pier is yours exclusively.

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There you have it. The most idyllic lake cottage that Lake Geneva can offer, and it’s yours for $1.275MM. In this market, buyers have paid far more for far less. And that brings us to this whole idea of a lake house. What are we looking for? Why are we drawn to the lake? Why do white cottages with hydrangeas make us feel like things are going to be okay?   The answer to each question is the same. We’re looking for an escape. For a chance to live a few days each week in a manner and way that’s completely opposite from all of the other days. We’re looking to be transported to another time, to another emotion, to another way of living. At Pleasant View, the escape isn’t something you have to strive for. It’s unavoidable.

Lake Geneva Concerts

Lake Geneva Concerts

Last month, I went with my wife and two friends to see Zac Brown. The act is called The Zac Brown Band, but that would have been similar to Elvis Presley calling his act The Elvis Presley Band. We know it’s just about the star, sorry Commodores. We went to see the show at Alpine Valley on an intolerably hot evening, the sort of sultry evening we’ve grown accustomed to during this hot and sunny summer. I was not initially interested in going to this concert, and only brought it up in conversation as a way to brag about the incredible hotel demand during summer months around Lake Geneva.  But go I did, and on that evening when we filed into our seats at Alpine I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having lived all 38 of my years within 5 miles of Williams Bay I had never been to Alpine for a concert, ever.

When the show began it was obvious this was to be like few other shows. The sound was perfect. The stage close, the singer in tune and his band on point. The venue was beautiful, the evening sky casting pastels, the crowd up beat but not too boisterous.  When the show was over there was order as thousands of revelers made their way through the constricted thoroughfares and into their cars. The exit line was smooth, well orchestrated, and within 30 minutes of the last note dying out we had dropped our friends off at their lake house and headed home. It was an accidental concert for me, but one that I thoroughly and utterly enjoyed. Alpine Valley was all class, and as someone who prides himself of not being impressed by much, I was impressed. Alpine Valley the music venue had won a supporter for life.

Last night, on an evening that managed to be hotter and more humid than the Zac Brown evening in June, my wife and I picked up two friends and drove to another concert. Instead of turning north towards East Troy, we turned south towards Twin Lakes.  Eric Church was playing at Country Thunder, and we had tickets.  Just as I had never been to a concert at Alpine Valley, I had never attended Country Thunder. I had long heard of it, and marveled at the caliber of acts that the venue was able to attract, but I had never even considered going. Last night, as the sun faded and the lightening lit up the southern sky, we drove into the parking lot and nothing seemed amiss. The parking was orderly, and we were able to walk in a path that dodged the muddy ruts that were left after the Saturday rain.

Upon entering, it was obvious that at age 38 I was nearly the oldest person there. Sure, there were some other old people like me, but for ever person over the age of 35 there were 500 people under the age of 25. This was a scene that I had only seen in movies, and as I waded through it to buy some waters, I was pleased to find that I was the only person in the water line. The first encounter with spontaneous puking would not occur until later, as we stood nearish the stage and waited for Eric Church to play.

I was wearing shorts and a shirt. This shouldn’t be a big detail to mention, but I was one of few wearing a shirt. My wife wore a shirt and shorts, which made her one of the few women to be wearing a shirt. We were shirted adults in a sea of shirtless youth. When Eric Church strummed his first chord, it was exciting, but not really. The sound was terrible, not loud enough for a concert, not clear enough to hear the skill.  The mass of humanity that gyrated and vomited around us didn’t seem to notice that the songs had started, and they carried on whooping and hollering and vomiting and dancing and trying, desperately, to remain upright. Some people sat on the ground, the ground that on day four of this concert had been defiled by all sorts of horrible things. Girls sat in it as though they had no choice.

After some time, the show ended. We sat in the car for nearly an hour as the parking lot slowly shuffled towards the exit. I valiantly fought off a panic attack, as traffic is far from being my thing.  My three hundred dollars would have been better spent if I bought lottery tickets with the money, but we decided that at the end of the night there was some value in this evening. I will, from this time forward and for the remainder of my life, never go to Country Thunder again. Further, and more importantly, my children, and their children, will never go to Country Thunder as long as they live. Am I a square? Absolutely.  Do I ever want to stand next to someone while they spontaneously vomit? Don’t be silly.

Summer

Summer

I remember the days when I would travel to the country to our north and engage my distant relatives-in-law in debate. I argued once against their odd brand of socialism by using the example of a dozen eggs. I was Milton and the eggs were my pencil.  Without knowing the exact numbers, let’s say at the time a dozen eggs in the United States cost $1.69. At the same time, a dozen eggs in Canada cost $4.19. The US has 320MM people, give or take, while Canada has 35MM people, give or take. Canada, though it seems larger because of the precarious way it looms above us, is roughly the same size as the US. They have lots of chickens. Loads of chickens. The best chickens! But for all their land, all their chickens, and so few people, their eggs were 250% more expensive than ours. I explained to my young cousins-in-law that they were foolish socialists, and their government is the reason they are both taxed to death (single payer isn’t free, FYI) and also have to overpay for eggs. It’s the government in their way. But that night, no matter how hard I tried, I could not spark a revolution.

That’s because the in-laws were tired. They were weary. It had been a hot day around that backyard deck, and the sun baked and the mosquitos sucked and the teriyaki steak was overcooked. The lethargy from a summer day had dulled the conversation, and so the revolution could not take hold. Looking back, I can’t blame them. A sultry summer day spent without a backyard oasis of fresh, cool water, is a summer day that would leave me unwilling to overthrow my oppressive, sneakily socialist government that forces higher the prices of my eggs, too.

On Wednesday, I took my family to the Cubs game.  I’ve mentioned this before, but as a child I was able to attend a game or two, only if my dad had a chance to get tickets (free, likely) from a neighbor up the road. The tickets were treated as gold, but much more rare. We would load into the car, pick up my grandpa in Arlington Heights, and head to the game. I’m not sure, but I’ll bet we packed a brown bag lunch. Because money was tight, except that it wasn’t, and so we attended games perhaps twice, on the barest of budgets. When I now take my family to a game, I feel as though we are no less of a spectacle. We are most obviously a family from Wisconsin driving down to the big city to watch a game. We are tourists in that city. And when I took the waitress’s advice and ordered the macaroni and cheese pizza, I felt as though I had already been exposed. No local would ever consider such  ludicrous order. The waitress had obviously been told to up-sell that pizza because the macaroni and cheese had been sitting in the walk-in for a week or longer, and it needed to go. Oh look, a family from Wisconsin!

The game was delightful. Tom Ricketts was all class as he walked the aisles and handed baseballs to the kids, my daughter being one of the lucky ones. The stadium felt better, the grass just as green as it always is, my son curious how they make the lines so straight. Practice, I told him. But the game wore on and the heat suffocated. The breeze was blocked by the grandstands, the smell of spoiled, spilled beer filling the air, the vendors hawking hotdogs and lemon ice. We ordered two of the latter, only to find out we had inadvertently ordered the Extra Tart variety. It was refreshing, nonetheless. Sweat slowly soaked through our clothes. The women next to us drank all of the beer, and by the seventh inning we were ready to stretch. The singer was Some Guy From Espn That No One Watches Anymore, and so after that we left, secure in our 6-0 lead. When we took the photo below the marquee, it was obvious some of my father’s less annoying habits have seeped into my subconscious. I listened to the last two innings of the game I had tickets for on the radio.

The fishing truck, as I’m want to call it, doesn’t have air conditioning. It was built with it, but sometime between 2003 and 2016 the air ceased to blow cold.  In that north bound lane, with the sun lowering to the West, I baked in my driver’s seat. The sweat that found me when I left the house at 7:30 was still with me. The humidity unbearable. In traffic we were approached by a man who looked to be high on most of the drugs, and he asked for a ride in our canoe. I explained to him that we hadn’t a canoe, but we had a boat, if only he’d ride with us 80 or so miles and then we’d go for a ride. I joke, because I’m from Wisconsin and so I pulled out in front of a bus and strained all eight cylinders of our fishing canoe.

Even though no one said it, we were all thinking it. We were thinking it from the moment we jumped in the truck that morning. We thought it when we nibbled on the pizza. We thought it again when the snow cones melted into my children’s hands and stained their shorts. We thought it every time the women next to us had to leave the aisle, presumably to grab three more beers ($26.75) and use whatever the women’s version of the trough is. We thought it when we stood under the marquee when that stranger took our photo. We thought it when we were asked for a ride in our canoe. We thought it again on the interstate. We thought it in Skokie. We thought it in Kenosha. We thought it when first saw the lake. We thought it when we felt the temperature drop when that lake breeze blew through our open truck windows. We knew what what we had to do, and so we drove to the lake and we jumped in the water and we found our salvation. We washed the city sins off of us, and with it the stains from our melted snow cones and the stickiness on my arm from when the women sloshed her beer on me.

In the summer, in this intolerable heat, there’s just one thing to do. You must get to the lake. You must. A hot summer day that doesn’t end in a swim in crystal clear water might as well be a summer day that didn’t happen. If you don’t want to curl your toes over the edge of a sturdy white pier, you might as well live in Steinbach, Manitoba and pay $4.19 for a dozen eggs.

Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

The problem with market updates is that they require some movement in the market before they’ll really make sense. It’s like being a beat writer for a baseball team. If the team plays on a Monday and they lose, you write about the loss. The pitcher was terrible, the star outfielder always hits into double plays, and the fans were generally unhappy. You can say things like the crowd was unruly, or if they were so distraught that they were simply quiet and stunned, you can write that. Then, on a Tuesday the team wins. You can write about redemption, about the struggle of the star outfielder who finally found a gap, and about the pitcher who threw enough strikes, but not too many. The crowd roared and squealed, delighted by the victory. When the game was over and the players had left for the locker room, the crowd sang. It would be fun to be a beat writer for a baseball team.

But I’m not a beat writer for a baseball team, I’m just a beat writer for the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Sometimes, the market soars and we get to delight in that. I like writing about things that are happening, or will soon happen. For instance, my beautiful North Lakeshore estate property ($4.295MM) is selling this week. That’s terrific fun to write that statement. The South Shore Club home that I listed last week is under contract already, and that’s also nice.  But much of the time I’m expected to write about something that is happening, even when nothing is. Certain segments are active today- the lakefront especially so- but certain segments are absolutely terrible. And as long as we’re talking about terrible market segments, let’s spend a few minutes on the Lake Geneva lakefront condo segment.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how great the market used to be. I’m not going to slouch low in my chair and sigh just because I used to be the king of the lakefront condo, and now that title both doesn’t apply and wouldn’t mean anything even if it did.  No one would proclaim to be something that no other person would care about. If someone told me they were the king of lawn chair sitting near the basement entrance to their office, it wouldn’t bother me, but I would question their sanity. So I won’t be telling you about how great the market once was, nor will I be telling you that I was the king, nor will I tell you that I am the king. I’m just a kid who feels sorry for the lakefront condo market on Geneva Lake.

It isn’t that the market is terrible, because it isn’t. It’s just that the market isn’t as active as the similarly priced single family segments that surround it. The condo market has printed four lakefront sales this year. One at Vista Del Lago, one at Fontana Shores, one of a shore sale at Somerset, and one in Geneva Towers. Four sales isn’t horrible, but it certainly isn’t dynamic.  As the single family lake access market in the $300-$700k price range has thrived, the condo market has simply managed to tread water. Perhaps that’s as good as we can hope for, to maintain. Inventory is low, with just a handful of units available today. Some in the usual suspects- Bay Colony, Vista Del Lago, the Fontana Club, Geneva Towers, etc and etc. My fabulous unit at Stone Manor is still available, so if you’re in the market for unique and irreplaceable, I’m your guy. The king of Stone Manor maybe? Or certainly the king of Eastbank, but these are condominiums that play more like single family, and so the market senses that and responds with increased interest.

Perhaps the condo market is being mistreated. Perhaps all of this just isn’t fair. The lakefront condo does, after all, offer a buyer the best opportunity to be on the water, with a view and probably a boatslip, and from $400-$600k that’s something that a single family home cannot offer. Ease of ownership, ease of use, views and slips and no lawn to mow. It all seems quite perfect. But the market isn’t producing lakefront condo buyers like it used to, and until it does, we’ll lament the state of the market until the momentum changes and we can once again find cause to celebrate.

Sunday Shoppers

Sunday Shoppers

The grocery store on a Friday night is busy. It’s always busy then. The parking lot filled to capacity, the shopping carts all in use. The carts with the wobbly wheels, usually tucked into the abandoned corner of the foyer, in the space between the outside door and the inside door,  shoppers are filling those with bread and brats and beer and chips and those little cracked wheat crackers that are terrific with cheese but dreadful on their own. The aisles are busy, the stocking boys that want to impress the managers are busily stacking and arranging, refilling and reorganizing. The stocking boys who don’t care are texting their girlfriends, emojis and abbreviations mostly, or entirely. Cardboard boxes, so many of them, piling up in the warehouse space. And the carts are overflowing and the half and half needs replenishing. Chips? Good luck finding the crispy variety made from red beans now.

It’s like this on Saturday, too. The late arrivers, the ones who thought they might be able to make the weekend count if they could get to the lake before Saturday evening. The ones who shopped on Friday and by Saturday needed more.  Thursday, now that’s the day the store might be as busy as Friday, but only now. Only in the middle of this summer. The summer we dream about in the winter and we pine for in the spring, that’s the summer that makes us take a Friday off, or all of them off, and we shop on a Thursday night because we made it to the lake and we’re buying the provisions that must last through Sunday.

The morning was rainy on that Sunday. Stormy, even.  During a summer with few clouds and fewer rain drops, that morning was unexpected. The forecast called for it, but still, no one believed it. When the storm pushed through and dropped its payload before heading to the east and a ways to the south, the sun peaked out and the wind whipped. By mid-afternon it seemed as though everyone had left for home. The lake was busy with wind but absent the revelers. The roads were clear. The yacht club, nearly empty. The people had gone home to brace for another work week, leaving because they must, only to return when they can.

But by Sunday night the grocery store was busy. The wobbly wheeled carts were in use. The stocking boys were stocking.  The checkout girls, by this time this late into the weekend, were weary, smiling weak, forced smiles. The bean chips were running low, the carts burdened with the beer and brats and the buns and the steaks. It was a Sunday night, the Thursday and Friday and Saturday shoppers had gone home. This was the new round of shoppers, the group whose week was just starting at the grocery store and would last through the forecast sunshine. It’s summer after all, mid-summer to be exact, and if there ever was a time to take a break from the work week it’s right now.

It’s Time

It’s Time

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit this. I didn’t do it on purpose, nor did I expect such an incredible, showy display. I didn’t mean for this to get so public, so unavoidable. When my wife and I planted so many seeds from a mix that I bought online, this was never the intent. But no matter how hard I tried to keep this just between us, between our family and our lot lines, this just happened. Nature cannot be stopped. This is why I now have a front yard riddled with cone flowers. You say, But David, I also have cone flowers. You may, but if you drove by my house today it’s obvious that I have all of the coneflowers. Every last one of them. In my yard, just blooming and blooming, unaware of the attention they draw even while I hide in the house, embarrassed by this display that puts Holland and their scant tulips to shame.

But it isn’t just my house and my property, as much as I wish it were, it’s everywhere. Drive Wisconsin today. Do it. Just get in your car and drive here. If you’re looking for high quality water in an elite level vacation home market, then, of course, you must come to Lake Geneva. But if you’re just looking to take a drive, drive here, drive anywhere, just come to Wisconsin. In the summer, the margins of Florida roads look like they do in the winter. Alligators, terrible, terrible alligators. And some garbage blown from open car windows, and some swampy water. That’s Florida. Unless you’re inland Florida, which is more like a desert plagued by skinny cows, the sorts that look like we should take up an offering and send our Wisconsin missionaries to offer them some aid. These cows are ridiculous, so if you’re driving through Florida today you’ll see alligators and/or skinny, sickly cows. What’s the fun in that?

That’s why you should be driving here, down these country roads, past fields and forests and lakes and rivers. The flowers in my purposeful patch might be amazing, and you’re welcome to drive by, but the sides of every road in this state are now on display. There are white flowers, someone knows what they’re called. Some blue ones, too. Lots of blue ones. Some are pink and some are orange.  The clover is blooming, and it’s pink and sometimes red. Other times it might be mostly pink with some white, delicate little flowers that cows munch on because we love our cows so much that we let them eat our beautiful flowers. We have so many, we can spare a few.

We live here because we work here. We live here because this is our home. But if we live here and don’t appreciate just how beautiful this place is, then that’s sad. In the Midwest, we all possess some variety of shoulder chip. It’s there, sometimes large and sometimes small. The people in the mountains tell us it’s flat here. The people by the sea tell us the lakes are small. The people in New York don’t know where the Midwest is. And the people in Switzerland sometimes email me because they’ve confused my lake for theirs. The apology for bothering me, little insignificant me with my little insignificant lake, is remarkably humble and overwhelmingly condescending at once. But this place isn’t inferior to all of those places. It isn’t something less. It’s something more. It’s seasons and fields and forests and lakes, and in the middle of a Wisconsin summer, it’s the most beautiful flower display blooming profusely on the sides of our roads. We didn’t plan it that way, we’re just lucky like that.

 

New South Shore Club Listing

New South Shore Club Listing

Within the South Shore Club, there are several market segments. First, the homes up front. The homes on the water. Those are the kings of the SSC. There are four homes that play that way, and those homes have demonstrated that they sell at premium prices. Then, the second tier homes, those from the lake to the pool, but not behind the pool. Too close to the pool isn’t ideal, so you’d like to be close but not too close. The difference is subtle. Then, behind the pool. There are normal lots, and one special lot, but mostly the behind the pool properties fall into their own segment. Then, finally, the homes on Forest Hill Circle. Those homes lack lake views of any real variety, and so they generally sell in the $1.5-1.9MM range. I have the only vacant lot available in the SSC listed there, and I just dropped the price to $598k. If you’re interested in building in the SSC, that’s your chance. G6

But if you don’t want to build and you don’t want to have a limited lake view, and you don’t want to be right on top of the pool, you’re in luck. N1592 Lakeside Lane is on the market as of yesterday, and my newest vacation home listing offers a multitude of benefits for the $2.99MM asking price. First off, you’re in front of the pool so the view is rather divine. Secondly, you’re close to the pool, but you’re not too close. This matters. Thirdly, the house is pretty huge at 7700+ square feet. It’s wide and it’s deep and there are all of the rooms you’re expecting and then a few extras. It’s long been known that the South Shore Club offers superlative finishes, but there are several homes that do not stack up to the original, more ornate, more luxurious builds. This home is as ornate as it should be, as luxurious as you want it to be, and positioned in exactly the right spot to find some favor with the market.

If you’re unaware of the South Shore Club’s rich list of amenities, a recap for you. Boats, they’re included. There are lots of them and they’re nice and when you’re an owner here you just reserve one for the day and time you’d like it, and then you go for a boat ride. There are dock hands (the only context that calling a pier a dock is acceptable, by the way), so if you’re a novice boater you have plenty of help with the process. There is a swim pier, a dedicated, quiet pier, far away from the boats, so if you want to indulge Geneva Lake in the way that it prefers, you can jump right in and swim. If you’re less inclined and need the chlorinated comfort of a pool, the South Shore Club has you covered. There’s also a fire pit with grill area for parties, a tennis court and playground, and in the winter if the weather is right you can ice skate on their association rink.  Also included in the dues is your lawn and driveway maintenance, making ownership here an absolute breeze.

G5

The market has, over the past 24 months, eliminated any doubt about the future of the club, leaving behind a normalized market that lines up nicely with lakefront inventory. In the SSC you can buy a home for $2.99MM that would cost $4MM or more if set on even a 100′ lakefront lot. If you’re in search of a lakefront home and you’re disenchanted with the inventory in the $2-5MM price range, consider this new listing. High attention to detail, enough space for everyone, and a view that rivals that of most private lakefront homes. Pack this into the amenity blessed environment of the South Shore Club and you’re set.

Pursuits

Pursuits

I lived in Geneva National for a while. In a few different places, at a few different times, with a few different goals in mind. I lived in a house, a grand, tall house with three layers of gable fascia that I was rather proud of. I lived in a small condominium while I built that tall house, and the condo received some new countertops and a new fireplace surround and some new paint. I sold both of those, but returned to a condo some time later to rent, a different place. Before that, before the tall house and the small condo I had rented a different condo, this one with a split staircase so that some of the rooms were up and some were down, the only thing in the middle being the landing for the stair. Because I lived in all of these places, I think I know Geneva National better than you do. I think I know it better than most Realtors, because if they’ve never lived there how, then, can they tell you about the experience?

In the same way, I lived on the lake for a while. From the time I was a day or two old to the time I was 18, I lived on that lake. I know what it feels like, what it looks like, the way it is when you walk to the pier in the morning with a fishing pole in your hand and leave footsteps in the dew. I know how the carp swim in the shallows during those early mornings, two at a time, large and purple, menacing looking but not really. I know these things because I lived these things, and the experience helps me every day as I try my best to convince others what it is they’re missing out on.

Currently, I’m building a small cabin on the side of a hill quite a distance from here. The cabin is a few hundred feet from a trout stream, and the views are delightful to the north and to the south, also to the east and to the west. There’s nothing I don’t particularly like about what it is that I’m doing. I’m building this cabin to exercise some of my real estate ADHD, but mostly I’m building it so that I have a place to hang my hat when I’m out fly fishing with my family. It’ll be a nice thing, this little cabin, but I never really wanted to build it. When I started considering the concept of a small cabin from which to fish, I could picture it in my mind. It was small, sure. Basic, with a wood stove and a small kitchen, the pots and pans hanging from hooks. The bedrooms, small, maybe only two, maybe just one. I wasn’t clear on that part. The bathroom, ideally inside, but an outhouse was a possibility. After all, it was just a cabin to hang ones hat while on a 24 hour fishing trip. Luxuries were not necessary, only a dry, warm place to sleep.

After some time of considering this basic idea, I looked around for the cabin that might fit the vision. I’d spend less than $100k and I’d buy this place and it would be next to a trout stream and I’d sit on the porch and watch for trout to rise. Once they did, I’d grab my three weight and I’d walk over to the stream and I’d catch the rising trout. I’d hold them briefly and then release them, content in my skill and pleased with the process. I’d then walk balk to the cabin and sit on the porch, maybe to think about that trout or to watch for the next one, I wasn’t sure. That’s what I wanted to do. And so I kept looking for the cabin that would allow such an evening on that porch, near that stream with the rising trout. And I’d spend less than $100k to do it.

It was soon apparent that $100k wasn’t going to work. Small Amish built cabins on posts could be bought for that price, but if my wife and kids were along for the trip we couldn’t really function out of a space so small, so unstable. The outhouse would have been okay if it were just me in residence, with my son perhaps,  but Curry women and Curry girls don’t like outhouses, so that wouldn’t do, not at all. $150k might work. I could set up a gofundme.com on this website and ask for donations, the money would be well spent on my mental health, which would benefit everyone who knows me, personally or just through these pixels. $150k it would be. Local Realtors got to know me. I’d tell them what I wanted, and then I’d go see something that I described. The places were not right, too this or too that, too rustic or two boring, too far from the stream and to close to another house.  I didn’t like decorating out there. I didn’t like the bathroom fixtures. I didn’t like the landscaping, which generally consisted of a gravel driveway that was mostly dirt and grass.

My vision, this easy, wide open, simple goal, was proving elusive. The large area of several counties had been narrowed. I decided that I only really liked two different valleys, maybe three, but the one had a farm on the corner with too many cows and too many broken down implements scattered across the fields like some sort of scrappers obstacle course. If I spent $300k, surely that would solve this thing. I can’t really spend that much money, but I’ve done more for less.  LendingTree told me I could borrow lots of money, and if some anonymous algorithm confirmed I could spend more, then who am I to argue? Let’s spend more, I figured, and we could rent the house out most of the time. After all, this place is too far away to frequent, and if we had a garage and some other bedrooms I could store things in them that I cannot store here. The basement would be nice. Who ever said a cabin in the woods should be so basic? Hooks for hanging pots and pans seem nice until you realize that I’m of a certain height and I’d most definitely hit my head on them, which seems problematic and very un-relaxing.

The market yielded nothing. For a region settled by Norwegian Immigrants there were no relics of style that I had expected to uncover. The area seemed small to me. Little to buy, little to look at. If I upped my search to one million dollars and pretended that I had infinite funds, no house was appealing. Land, that’s what I needed. Just a couple of acres would do. Nothing big, just easy. Near a stream, so I can build that deck and sit on it and watch for rising trout. Valley land was soft, sandy and silty at once, and certainly there would be some available. And there was. That’s when I learned about hydraulic shadows and flood plains. I could buy land near the stream, but then I’d risk being swept away in the night, my wife and kids swept, after some time of floating, into the Mississippi, never to be seen again.  Valleys, perfect for watching trout rise, terrible for living through floods.

Hillsides, that’s where I needed to be. Not bluff tops, but hillsides. Something half way up the hill. All the way up would be too high, too hard to get to, too windy. Half way up, just out of the flood plain so that when the levies break I would have a solid view of the carnage below. 3 acres, that’s all I needed. Until it became apparent that 3 acre lots are next to other three acre lots and my plan here was to escape. To hide. To sit on that porch without asking the neighbor how he’s enjoying his porch. I’d need more land, 10 acres, 20, 30 even. 40! But the folly was that I couldn’t afford 30, not then and not now. And so finally 15 acres hit the market and on a snowy day that felt like a whim, I drove out and I bought it. I paid for the land and I thought that perhaps I had made a big mistake. I had buyer’s remorse last week when I bought the $29.98 package of fireworks instead of the $19.98 package. What was I, a Rockefeller? I had the larger package in my cart for a while before swapping it for the lesser package, and then I thought of my kids and how they’d be so disappointed with me and so I, after some time of staring at my options, grabbed the $29.98 package.

The land was bought for a price that was my original cabin budget. The cabin is being built now, and I’m so far over budget that I’m not quite sure what the total cost will be. I have a good idea. I won’t be able to sit on my deck and watch for rising trout. But I won’t get swept away in floods, and I’m not so high that I’ll be blasted by the unceasing wind. The bedrooms, there are a few. Baths, some of those as well. The space swelled when the plans were drawn, and even though it’s still small compared to what I sell and see here, it’s still bigger than I originally intended. It’s more money than I intended. It’s not exactly what I had intended. But it’s in the valley I like and the trout aren’t far away, and the kitchen will have shelves to put away the pots and pans.

This ongoing experiment has given me terrific insight into what it is you struggle with. I didn’t plan to do any of this, I just wanted something simple and easy, but it’s grown and turned and it’s become something very different. But it’s something that I want, and when I first sit on that deck and watch the stream in the distance dance and twist through the valley floor, none of the other things will matter because it’s the pursuit of a lifestyle that we’re after.  We’re all just Mr. Blandings, after all.

 

 

New Lakefront Estate

New Lakefront Estate

This lake is lined with $15MM houses. There are others at $20MM. Some, still at $12MM. Several at $17MM. There are estates that the owners likely value at $30MM. Some will say they are priceless, which we know is untrue even if it is a nice thing to say about something. Everything has a price. And on Geneva Lake, the trend has been cemented: Build for $20MM, but rarely buy for more than $8MM. Buy land for three or four or five or six, and then build without restraint and without pause. The while we’re at it numbers add up and the time wears on. Summers are lost. When the house is done, the grounds landscaped, the last hydrangea dropped into the last hole, the tally feels immeasurable. But it isn’t. It’s measurable, it’s quantifiable, and it’s a number that would make every personal accountant cringe. While it makes sense to buy vacant land and build with some measure of restraint, this has not been the trend. The trend is to fill a lake with $15MM homes even though the lake cannot, and likely, will not, ever support that value.

On Pebble Point, there is a home. It was build just a few years ago of slate and stone, the exposed timber and gas lanterns lending an architectural style rarely executed with this level of perfection. Inside, quarter sawn oak has been made into floors, trim, doors and so much custom cabinetry. Onyx and marble and quartz grace the counters and floors. Fireplaces, seemingly too many to count, each of limestone and formidable masonry. The house is a beautiful house, no one could argue this.  But this isn’t a big house built on some normal property- this is a beautiful custom home built on 3.3 wooded acres culminating with 224′ along the water’s edge.  This is the rare combination of estate land with an estate home, and it’s available today as my newest listing for $9.95MM.

There is little in this home that isn’t pleasing. The layout, it’s divine. The exterior spaces- those  bluestone patios and that lakeside screened porch- scaled exactly and as comfortably as they should be. The finishes are the new luxe, that mix of traditional and modern that lends a freshness to an otherwise traditional aesthetic. Think sleek finishes in natural materials, decorated simply but with high quality everything. The light fixtures are playful yet bold, fun and modern and appropriate at once. The house is the brain child of renowned Chicago architects- a group that has drawn this and two other marquee homes on Geneva Lake.  But I’m not going to go on and on, even though this is admittedly my tendency, I’m just going to leave this video here for your viewing pleasure. The home fits this lake, it fits the market, and it makes perfect sense for any buyer seeking to build new. Why build new and spend $15MM on something that won’t be as nice as what I can sell you for $9.95MM?

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Perception is an interesting thing.  For instance, when I’m in front of a mirror with no one around me, I think that things are looking pretty good. When I hang out with certain friends who are more un-fit than I am, I feel pretty good about this, too. But then when I spend time with friends who are extremely fit I think that I shouldn’t spend so much time out in public.  Depending on where I am and who I’m around, things just seem different. The market is like this, without all the shame. If you took a boat ride around the lake this weekend, as I suspect you’ll do, you might think you’re noticing lots of lakefront homes for sale. In fact, you’ll see many with my name on them and you’ll think to yourself that this cannot be good. You’ll think it’s good for me, but then you’ll think that it must also be bad for me, because of so much unsold inventory and so many sellers leaking patience like the back left tire in my fishing truck that has not one, but two screws stuck into it.

But just like my solo mirror perception, your perception of the lake would be wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, there are just 23 single family homes for sale on the lake, including one in the South Shore Club. There are others, homes that aren’t quite lakefront but feel like lakefront- the chief example being my listing for $1.295MM on South Lakeshore Drive. There’s a Congress Club listing playing like lakefront, and a new listing on Sybil that I didn’t think would be valued quite so high (no slip for $1.295MM). But the lakefront itself, it’s limited. There are two lakefront lots available, my listing in Loramoor that you’re only going to be able to resist for so long, and a big property on Black Point.

The activity on the lake has been spotty this year, but that should be expected given the low inventory. There are the three lakefronts that I sold in June, and now there are two more than I have fresh contracts on. The large lakefront property known as Pikewood on North Lakeshore Drive ($4.295MM) is under contract now, as is my beautiful listing at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive ($7.95MM). Of course fresh contracts are not sold properties, but it’s a pretty important step in the closing process. There’s another new contract on a large lakefront property in Fontana that isn’t currently on market. If you look at these sales, it proves there is liquidity in the upper reaches of our market, if only you’ll be patient enough for it to arrive.

There’s another new contract, that on a new listing in Geneva Bay Estates for $2.85MM. I showed this home last week, and while it was a nice home it wouldn’t have blown your mind.  It went under contract so quickly in part because of the market’s newfound desire to be close to town. Downtown Lake Geneva used to be a poison of sorts, and now it’s as a bowl of sweet honey set outside on a hot summer day and we, the bees.  New inventory should be coming to market in the coming weeks, not because I have any secret insider way of knowing this (I do), but because it’s bound to happen. Sellers will notice this lack of inventory and if they’re considering a move up or down in this market, they’ll look for opportunities. Speaking of moving up, there’s a new listing at $16.45MM on Snake Road. What a beautiful property this is, but beautiful alone doesn’t convince someone to part with $16MM (I’m assuming a slight discount off ask).  I’ll be very interested to see if the market can produce a buyer in this strata. I’m guessing it won’t happen.

For now, enjoy the weekend. Be safe. Don’t tow your kids on tubs during the middle of the day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Just don’t do it. If you go out for the fireworks, don’t boat drunk. If you light fireworks, don’t blow off part of your hand. That’s a terrible way to celebrate our Independence.

Lake Geneva Fourth of July Fireworks

Lake Geneva Fourth of July Fireworks

If you’ll cast your memory back to 2015, our summer didn’t really begin until Independence Day Weekend. Even then, the temperatures warmed but the sky was pale. It was pale because of those whipped up Canadian wild fires, which were likely deliberately set to cast that hazy high sky over our celebratory weekend. It wasn’t until after that Holiday weekend that the sun broke through and warmed our skin. This year, we’ve already had more nice days in June than we had during the entire summer of 2015, if we can even call it a summer. It was a terrible summer. We can say it now. Now we’re smug. Like when we had a 1992 Cadillac STS and we thought it was super cool at the time, and we worked so hard to convince our friends that it was cool, but now we can just look back and realize what a horrible, embarrassing thing that really was.

This coming weekend, it’s time to make the weekend last a week. July 4th is a Monday, which is ridiculous but necessary. This means Tuesday is a wash. If Tuesday is a wash, why bother start something on a Wednesday? And if we’ve now agreed that our Wednesday is far from an ideal time to start efforting then who could ever suggest Thursday matters? Thursday hardly matters during a normal week in February, let alone a week where we celebrate our delicious Independence in July.  Friday, if by now the other days are lost, well Friday is just a throw in for the weekend. This is why next week you are supposed to take the week off. If you have a lake house, I’ll see you at the lake. If you have a lake house on another, lesser, embarrassing lake, then I’ll see you at this lake and we’ll set about remedying your geographic mistake. If you’re thinking about brunch right now and how you hope to get in the line Sunday early, like super early, then just stop it and email me so we can make this, and every weekend that follows actually mean something.

Now that we’ve cleared next week’s schedule, you have some fireworks to watch. Fontana is having their explosive display on Monday night, at dusk. That’s the Fourth of July. The fireworks are launched from barges in front of the Fontana beach, so prime viewing is anywhere on the West end of the lake, ideally from shore. If you’re boating, be careful and drive slow. If you’re driving the boat, don’t be a messy drunk about it. Fontana, with it’s brazen timing of its fireworks, is encouraging you to let Tuesday slide, just as I’m then encouraging you to let the other weekdays that follow slide. Fontana fireworks will be the best display in the area, so it’s worth your attention. But there are others.

The Grand Geneva has their fireworks scheduled for July 3rd, as does Geneva National. This is nice, because they’re being conscientious and assuming you’d like to go to work on Tuesday morning, but we all know you don’t. The Lake Geneva Country Club has their display on Saturday, July 2nd, meaning if you love fireworks you have three days in a row of fireworks. The Geneva National display will be viewable from a boat parked in Williams Bay. The Lake Geneva Country Club fireworks will be visible from much of the North shore on the Eastern side of the lake, or from your boat parked on that end. It’ll be fun.

So that’s your schedule, and as always, if you’re up and you see some real estate you like, just let me know. Here’s a new video of my beautiful lakefront lot in Loramoor listed at $2.34MM. If you want a beautiful, easy lakefront property and you want to build a beautiful home, then what on earth could you be waiting for?

 

Fireworks photo credit Terry Mayer

The Summer Of Our Lives

When it rains now it only rains for some of the day. When the clouds come, they never stay. When the sun warms in the morning it stays warm in the afternoon, into the evening, the moon rises without much mystery. It’s just up there, and we can see it. We needn’t wonder where it is because we can see where it is, hung up there around those stars in that dark sky. The lake blows blue most days. The light pours through my morning windows bright, and it’s early, and when I wake up and I think about the day I don’t really wonder what it’s going to be like, I just know it’s sunny and if it isn’t then it will be soon. This is the summer of 2016, and it just might be the summer of our lives.

But then again it might not be. If you’re not here and you don’t see this and feel this then what is it about this summer that can make it any different from the summers that came before? What will make it different from the summers yet to come? When my son fly fishes for bass from the piers once the sun has dipped enough to leave the Western piers shaded, how could this matter to you? Do your kids know about this sort of thing? Do they know that later in the day the sun settles somewhere to the west and once it does the bass decide that they might like something to eat? Do your kids know that when you throw the fly line with your five weight it’s best to double haul with your left hand to speed the line up and soften the delivery? Do they know that a mouse fly is effective even though mice rarely, if ever, fall from piers and into the water? Do they care? Do you care? Does anyone care?

My son cares, and so he fishes and he double hauls and when he doesn’t think I’m around he grabs a spinning rod because he blames the fly rod when the fish won’t bite. He’s officially the worst fisherman in the world, or so he told me last Friday night. He fishes all day and then some of the night, and when I join him I try so very hard to catch a bass or a northern pike for him, so that he can see how it all works. He missed a fish off the municipal pier on that last Friday night, the fish rose to his fly and then missed his fly and he was both angered and invigorated at once, but recharged in his purpose nonetheless. He hurried his line back in and up into the air, false forward and false back, enough to feed the line into the cast, enough to let the momentum push that line and carry that fly away from the pier to the spot where the fish had tried, and failed, to eat. That cast sent his fly into the air, his line unattached. He scoured in disgust, he was the most unlucky fisherman in the world. Tears filled his eyes.

There are certain days when I must leave this town, travel to another town where another pursuit is slowly plodding forward. On those rare days my son rejoices, because without parents near he can fish all day. Last Friday was to be one of those days, but really just the afternoon, and he knew that with his mother and me out of this town that he could fish, uninterrupted, for the entirety of the afternoon. When we turned around a mere 45 minutes into our trip because of a traffic jam straight out of the most fiery hell, he wasn’t happy to see us. In fact, he walked from one pier to the next, putting distance between his pursuit and us, his pursuers.  That’s why I took him to the municipal pier later that evening, to make up for the inconvenience of returning home before I was scheduled to.

My son, today, will fish. He’ll go to the piers and he’ll fish. He’ll look for bass and pike, and when they won’t bite he’ll look for bluegills that will gladly and greedily sip a dry fly presented to the shallows. Later today, I’ll fish with him, if only for a bit, trying to catch something to show him that there’s more life under this surface than he could ever imagine. But imagine he does, and he dreams and he fishes and he spends his days under that sun and on those piers. He wouldn’t have it any other way, because he doesn’t know it any other way. It’s the summer of his life, and he wonders how someone could ever spend it doing anything else.

The Ash

The Ash

The oldest man with some knowledge of trees died 11 years ago. Other men lived longer, but those men didn’t know anything about trees when they were younger and for every year they aged they knew even less. This matters because the old man who knew of trees knew things that no one else knew, but his formal schooling in the land where he was from had ended before it began. He needed to work with his father, to work on those trees near that town where he was raised, to cut them and to saw them and to chop them and to stack them. He learned some things, like how to wedge the back cut when felling a giant Oak, but he didn’t learn other things, namely, how to write. He could write his name, he could make big Xs on trees that needed to be felled, but his written abilities were limited even while his knowledge of trees was not.

What he learned when he was a young man was that a variety of tree would go dormant, sometimes for up to 12 years, and then the tree would come to life, and he only learned this by chance. In his town there was no spring, no fall, only winter and summer, the latter lasting mere weeks, the former covering everything else in a heavy cloak of snow and ice. He knew of deciduous trees, how they lost their leaves one day, the day that was believed to be what fall would be like, and then the next day they looked dead. When it snowed the trees looked especially crooked, old and wrinkled, gnarled even. Then, on the day that most thought to be spring, the leaves popped back out and the tree was alive again. The leaves thrived for the short summer, and the cycle repeated. You needn’t know how to write to understand that this is how trees work.

But one spring, a certain tree didn’t leaf. The summer, no leaves. The winter, well it looked the same as the last winter and the same as the last summer. The next year, the same thing. No leaves. Some around town took to cutting down their trees, they’re dead!, they’d say. But the young man and his father were busy filling an exhaustive order for the largest lumber yard in the entire area, and that summer and the next they were only cutting down Eastern Red Walnuts. Nothing else. There were so many trees and such a larger order that nothing else was cut during those years.  The snow piled high in front of their small house, the only wood that burned was wood left over from the earlier year. While the man and his aging father hiked to find and cut these Eastern Red Walnuts, or ERW (pronounced, convincingly as errrrr), the other men in town set to chopping down the sort of tree that had withered and died.

After some time of this, the order was filled and the family bought a new goat and two new horses. The horses were big and strong, tall. They were fit with the finest of hardware, leather and brass, each the finest of its variety available. The horses would haul a wagon, this was also new, bought with the small windfall that had come their way as a result of years of back breaking, literally for one hired log chopper, dedicated work. The other men in town were jealous, and rightfully so. With the work done, the man and his dad looked about for the next round of work, for the new trees that might have recently died and would need to be cut, chopped, and stacked, or cut, sectioned, and milled.

While wrapped up in the focus for the Walnuts, the trees in town that had withered and died had all been chopped down by the other men in town. This meant every dead tree had already been removed from the community owned properties and from those large yards where the families who owned the distributorship lived, and this left very little work for the man and his son. The old trees that they could find were the dead and dying trees on their own property, those trees that were once tall and proud and full of life. One morning, the man and his elderly father decided to rid their property of these dead trees. They gathered their saws, one for felling and one for sectioning, and set about marking giant Xs on the offending, dead trees. When the last tree was marked and the first tree was to be harvested, the man and his father paused.

If they cut down these trees, there would be nothing but splitting and stacking and sectioning and cording. The work, after such a long and dedicated focus on the Walnuts, appeared to be a task so daunting that they were uncertain if they were up to it. The man had wanted to take a job in town, to clean the dust from his hair and the dirt from his nails and see if he might be a success selling paper and board feet for the local mill, but his father had needed his help and so the clean shirted jobs had to wait.  On that day, with a forest of dead trees awaiting them, they decided that it was time to quit. The father was old, his eyesight failing, his back long ago retired. The man and his father agreed that it was time for new things, a city job for the young man and retirement for the old man. The dead trees would stay upright for now.

And so the young man went to town and earned his living. He was a great success at the mill, earning not once, but three times, the salesman of the month. He returned home infrequently, but on that summer day when the word came that his dad was on his death bed he packed his things and hurried home.  When he arrived, his grief was set aside when he discovered the forest of his youth, alive again with green leaves bold and waxy. The trees, those trees that were believed to be dead, the trees that the town had unmercifully cut down and burned in their stoves, those trees were alive again. It turned out they were never dead,  only mostly dead.  The young man hurried inside to find his mother in quiet tears and his father dead. The  last words, scribbled on a bedside notepad, the ash tree. It lives. 

 

PS. I’m aware this post has caused lots of brain damage. The point is, these Ash trees are all dead and it makes me very upset. So I’m hoping they’re not really dead, and that they’ll all come back to life in the near future, but if I wrote it just like that you wouldn’t have had to endure such a difficult read. 

Another Lackey Lane Sale

Another Lackey Lane Sale

Sometimes, you just want what you want. You want to be on the lake, that’s smart. You want to see a weekend like the one just ended and you want to see it from the front row, up close and personal. You want to be on a road, something of pedigree, something that matters, not just any road.  You want the road to be easy. You want it to be on this shore or that shore, but you want it to be quiet and peaceful and you don’t want the rumble of a wayward motorcycle tour to interrupt your Sunday. You want a dead end, that’s what you really want, but you know it’s not easy to find a dead end. Bonnie Brae is a dead end, and if a car wanders down to your end of the lane home you can be sure it’ll be quickly followed by a many pointed Y turn, but Bonnie Brae is not on the shore you want. You end up looking and looking, content to be patient but wishing it wouldn’t take so long.

Then Lackey Lane comes to life with not one, nor two, but three properties available. On a street so small, an exodus so large. And so you see those 100 level feet and that wooded approach and you say that Lackey Lane is where you want to be. And then last Friday you close on that lakefront, the one with the small brick ranch that would be so much more at home in Niles. $1.91MM for 100′ of frontage, that Lackey Lane location, and a dream that someday soon you’ll have built a new home on Lackey Lane that will compliment but not mimic the newer homes that have already been built on that short little lane.

You’ll remember that last Wednesday I also sold the $4.275MM Pickell built home on Lackey. You’ll also understand now that $1.91MM makes thorough sense. It’s not that easy to find a location on the lake where a $1.91MM land buy can lead to solid, demonstrable value in the $4.5MM range, but on Lackey that’s possible. That’s why this post is about the two sales I just completed, sure, but it’s more about the one property that’s left on Lackey Lane. If you’re a buyer on Geneva right now, you should be letting me lead you to Lackey. The house that’s available is fine. You could fix it up and live in in for a long while. Or you could do the likely thing-  buy it, tear it down, and build at the same time the adjacent, new neighbor is building.  If there are few streets where $4.5MM all in costs are easy to justify (Loramoor is another one), then there are even fewer where you can build a new home next to another new build, at the same time.  The convenience of one singular disruption is difficult to fully appreciate until you’ve spent a summer next door a new build.  Just ask anyone in the 1030 area of South Lakeshore Drive, Fontana.

But I lied a bit, because this isn’t just about the available lot, and it’s not just about a fabulous client who let me help him into the new Lackey property, it’s a bit about me, because real estate requires shameless self promotion. That sale pushes me over $140MM in sales since the start of 2010, including $10MM worth of sales in just the past two weeks.  No single agent (operating without a multiple person team) has sold so much real estate in Walworth County since then, and that’s exceedingly humbling to me. Additionally, no other active top agent has, since that cold day in January of 2010, an average sales price in excess of $1MM. I think those things matter, and they should matter to any lakefront buyer or seller seeking to buy or sell some slice of Geneva Lake.  I’m well aware that these production numbers wouldn’t be possible except for the loyalty of my incredible and growing client base, and for that, I’m supremely grateful.

To the newest owner on Lackey, congratulations and thank you.  The market should be keen to watch a new home rise from that site over the coming months, and I’m certain we’ll all be the beneficiaries of what promises to be a most beautiful new home. If you’re a buyer and you want to have a beautiful new home and a lovely family as your next door neighbor, we need to start talking, like stat.

Lackey Lane Sells

Lackey Lane Sells

It should be no secret that the cool  people are buying at Lake Geneva. It’s not just the people, but the cool people. The kids who live in the city who know that city life is for weekdays. The young affluent set that realize brunch lines are best left for 24 year olds who have yet gained the financial ability to escape the clutches of that tall city for two days a week. This is the group that has learned of Lake Geneva, embraced Lake Geneva, and are benefiting from Lake Geneva. Our market is benefiting from them as well, as there’s a new generation coming to these shores to indulge in the things that make this place so darn special. But while this new generation of buyers is needed and wonderful, the last generation is still active in the market.  Each year there are new faces, new families, new kids jumping into their dad’s arms from white wooden piers for the first time, but each year there are also the others, those who have been here who just felt the need to do something different. Something bigger, something smaller, something on this shore instead of that shore.

This week, I sold W3818 Lackey Lane for $4,275,000. I negotiated that deal on behalf of a cherished client last November, and from that day in mid fall through this day in late spring, the property was under contract. The buyer waiting with nervous anticipation. The seller, presumably, hoping the deal would hold together and close. It did, and the buyer need only sit in a lakeside lounge chair on a day like today to realize the reward of the effort. The seller need only check his bank account balance to see his reward. The deal worked, and for that we can all be pleased.

The lake has a considerable absence of printed sales in the $4MM range. The reason for this is quite simple: There just aren’t that many high quality, newer homes on reasonably large but not huge lots. The trend on this lake has been clear: Buy a beautiful lot between $3-4MM, tear down whatever might have been built on the lot, and build new. The new build costs for these larger homes are safely between $3-6MM.  The lake has gone long on builds with all in costs between $7-10MM, and yet these newer properties, excepting the incredible home on Pebble Point, have not typically come to market. The cliff-top sale in Fontana in the low $5s last year was as close as we’ve come to touching on this particular segment. But what’s less common is a $2MM lot with a $2-3MM house on it. These are the types of properties that the market could more easily absorb, and this is where Lackey Lane fits in.

This sale, for as common as it might look in this market, is somewhat rare. It’s a newer Orren Pickell built home, so it’s of pedigree. And along those lines,  please don’t forget that builders matter here. If you wish to obtain some level of premium when you look to sell your newly built or dramatically renovated home, I do hope you’ve chosen a builder wisely. Pickell, Lowell, Engerman, these are the names that matter to this lake. Don’t think they don’t. And so this home was built properly, with the proper elevated finishes one would expect from a renowned high end builder. The landscaping was ideal. The lot level, 100′ worth. The home large but not too large. The sale making perfect, complete sense.

When this home first came to market last summer, the asking price was $5.275MM. I thought it had a chance to sell in the $5 range, but only because the inventory was low and this was a most beautiful home that the market wasn’t expecting. Alas, it did not sell, and when the price was adjusted a couple of times over the course of the fall, my buyer took notice. That’s why he’s sitting on the pier right now contemplating just how terrific life is on a Friday morning when the water is glassy and clear and the fish swim, dodging only the toothier fish and the plastic baits of the trolling fishermen. The seller of this property was wise to reduce until he found his market. The buyer was wise to wait.

With a decided absence of very recent comps in this range, how do we ascertain value? Well, we look at the land first. 100′ level frontage, $2MM all day. Two more comps on the street for tear downs bear that out. One of those I’m closing on today, the other is available. It should be noted that the other one on Lackey at $2.15MM, along with my Loramoor lot at $2.34MM are the best, easiest options for a buyer seeking a new home on Geneva Lake in the $3.5-4MM range. So if the land is worth $2MM, what’s a 6189 square foot Orren Pickell home going to cost us? Well, it’s probably going to cost between $2-2.5MM. And so there you have it, the cost approach for helping pin point value. In the case of this house, there’s a very real chance that the purchase price is  below replacement cost. If we’re considering a lakefront purchase, isn’t that a pretty nice data point?

For now, the new owner will be content in his new lakefront. I’ll be content to have helped. The market will be content to have printed another high value sale.  The question is, does a brunch line on Sunday morning really make you content? And yes, I know the hollandaise is amazing.

Swimming Pools

Swimming Pools

I’m old enough to remember when owning a swimming pool was a bad thing. It was a liability, that pool. If a seller had one, the Realtor would exclaim, what a fantastic pool! Then the Realtor would read the expression of the buyer, and if the expression soured and waxed puzzled, the Realtor would tell the buyer that the pool can easily be filled in stone and then what a fantastic patio you’d have!  This is how it all used to be. Pools looked cool in photographs but in person buyers tended to shy from them, worried about the insurance cost and the maintenance cost and the process of it all. This isn’t how it is today.

Today, buyers at Lake Geneva look for pools.  They crave pools. They love them dearly. In fact, I would have sold one of my large lakefront listing s several times over had it only possessed a pool. Pools are all the rage now, and if you have one, you’re in luck.  Not all pools are created equal, so if you have a liner pool with a wrinkled floor, people won’t love that. If you have a tiny kidney pool like you’re under a lanai in Naples, people won’t love that, either. But if that pool is large enough, without being too large, and the surrounding patio is high quality and your furniture is just so, then your pool is adding value to your home with every underwater sweep of the cleaning robot’s arm.

In this, there is danger. The real danger aside, there is danger in the way this pool can transform your weekend. Pools are great, but they can ruin you and your weekend. They can make your soft children softer, make your weekends less about a lake and more about a pool. They can change everything, and in that there is a warning to heed: Beware the pool, even the lakefront pool, for it can be an instrument for evil.

A dear friend of mine is building a pool at his lakefront home as we speak. This pool is nearly complete, nearly ready to be splashed through and cannonballed into. The anticipation is, at this point, nearly unbearable. The pool will be the focus of much love, of some frustration, of horror when the first dead chipmunk is found cramped into the filter. Nearby frogs will at first rejoice, then regret their decision to jump into that chemically bath. The children will frolic in the way that children can. All of this is fine, but vigilance is required if the pool is going to be merely an auxiliary feature and never take the place of the primary feature that is the 5400 acre pool in front of the new pool.

But how can we make sure this doesn’t happen, that we don’t soften up our soft children so much that they prefer the chlorinated comfort of a synthetic lake over the real thing? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first think we must do is initiate rules. Country clubs have rules, and if we’re making our lakeside lawn into a similar club then we must initiate and abide by our own set of parameters. First up, no swimming in the pool if the lake is reasonably calm, the sun reasonably high, and the water reasonably clear. I will allow pool swimming if the lake is turned up something fierce, like on a holiday weekend afternoon, but that’s it. Otherwise, if it’s sunny and the lake is ready, use the lake. The pool isn’t for those times.

The pool is for the month of May. For some of early June. The pool is for late September and October. The pool is for the time of year when the lake is not warm enough for comfortable swimming. This is why the pool exists. The pool is also for the aforementioned periods during the middle of summer when the lake is acting somewhat unruly. These are the only pool rules you need. Don’t use the pool when the lake is better. Don’t use the pool because it’s convenient. It’s also convenient to eat ice cream for lunch every day but even I don’t do that every day.   The pool will be easy, and it’ll be tempting, but why are we at the lake? Are we here to hide in the shade of a large umbrella while our kids tip toe around the shallow side of the pool with Spongebob floaties on? Or are we here to indulge in the lake, to dive from piers, to feel the rush and bask in the nature of it all? I’m not going to answer that question. I shouldn’t have to.

Geneva Lakefront Sale

Geneva Lakefront Sale

We tend to buy real estate based on emotion and sell it based upon fact. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever bought or sold real estate. We buy it because we love it, because we want it, because it makes sense in some ways, sure, but mostly because we just have to have it. We sell it because we still love it, we still want it, but we know there are better ideas or better options, and so we adopt a more pragmatic approach and we move on past the thing that we so dearly loved. The hang up in real estate is when we’re buying something that we don’t truly love, that we don’t really want. Then every hiccup is perceived to be a bad omen, every slight difficulty a catastrophic event. When we sell, if we don’t truly understand that selling is what’s best, we cling to this real estate like grim death, knowing we have to sell but badly wishing against it.  Then we poison the process with emotion, the side of the process that’s supposed to be more fact based. This is real estate.

On Friday, I sold 976 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. I represented one of my favorite clients in that transaction, and the deal came together in the way that we wish all deals might. We listed the house, we showed the house, we received an offer on the house, then another, and then we sold the house for $3,300,000. Just $95k off of our original April ask. That’s a scenario that most sellers dream of, and indeed it is a process of which I’d love to be a consistent participant. For now, we’ll leave aside the part of the deal wherein I represented a fantastic seller as that family pursues the ultimate lakefront arrangement, and we’ll instead focus on the truths of this deal and try our best to learn from them.

I sold this home to this seller in 2013 for $2.95MM. The seller did some improving of the home, but nothing too overwhelming. The property just sold for $3.3MM, representing a 12% increase over the 2013 price. This is Takeaway #1 from this sale: The lakefront market is up around 12% from 2013. Is this a uniform number, benefiting or cursing all lakefront homes? Of course not. Some have risen more, others less, but this is a solid benchmark, proven out not by my own interpretation of the market mood, but by cold hard statistics. Other properties have been bought and resold over recent years, but these properties often have had some form of dramatic renovation between the time they first sold and the time they most recently sold, so those statistics offer simply more proof of a market tendency to overpay for renovated kitchens.

This property, at the time that it hit the market, was the only lakefront home in Fontana listed for sale under $7MM. As a result of that market gap, the seller of this home could have taken a common seller approach of assuming that because he was the only game in town, the market would dramatically overpay for the rights to own his exclusivity. I hear this often from sellers, and when they explain just how rare their property is I tend to daydream about things that don’t make me lose all faith in humanity, like trout streams and the lake on a calm summer morning. The sellers explain, if a buyer wants this particular thing, in this particular location, they’ll have to pay. Unintelligent sellers call this the “price of admission”. It is true that there is a price of admission, but you know I like to compare real estate to cars, so to be a seller offering his rare property for a ridiculous number is akin to me listing my 5 year old BMW for $100,000 because that is indeed the only BMW in Williams Bay listed for sale. If you want that sweet BMW, you’ll have to pay up. Sellers of houses are just as ridiculous, and this seller didn’t succumb to that absurdity. Instead, we discussed the market, targeted a price range, and we listed the home at what the market indicated would be an acceptable price. One month later we had two buyers in line, proving our theory correct.

The lakefront market as a whole is relatively slow right now. There are two other lakefronts closing this week, both to buyers whom I’m pleased to represent, and another in Lake Geneva with a shared pier. Don’t ask how I feel about shared piers. Two weeks ago the older lakefront home on the hill in Cedar Point closed for $1.515MM, representing a reasonable ransom for a house with a tremendous view and approximately three trillion stairs to and from the water.  YTD there have been 9 lakefront sales. 2015 had ten lakefronts closed as of June 13th, with two of those sales being involved in a trade. The market today feels somewhat sluggish, but it’s actually right on track. Last year, from June 14th through December 31st, there were a whopping 20 lakefronts closed, meaning 2016 has some big shoes to fill. The market could very well turn on in a similar fashion to last year, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to do just that. The only difference between last year and this year is that our inventory is tighter, and without enough dry tinder there’s no way to get that fire quite as hot as last year.

 

Affordable Lake Geneva

Affordable Lake Geneva

Take to the highways and county roads this summer and you’ll notice plenty of things. You’ll notice that semi drivers often change lanes with relatively little warning, which is especially rude when I’m in the middle of writing a lengthy email. I’m beginning to think it’s not just texting and driving that’s dangerous, but also emailing and driving. Perhaps the public awareness campaigns will tweak their message. You’ll also notice motorcycles. I’m afraid of motorcycles, I admit it. My dad told me once that a motorcycle driver took a corner too fast near some house he lived in when he was a child. He said he had to go in the house to get towels and sheets to help his mom mop up the blood from the street. I find this to be implausible, completely and utterly so. There’s no way you’d worry about mopping up the street especially if rain was in the forecast. You’ll also notice campers and RVs and tow behind camping apparatuses. The world goes camping, even if we don’t.

There’s something else that’s common on these roads in this season and in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that are towing these camping things: The occupants of the car are generally in a fair mood. They’re going camping, with that pop up camper thing, and they’re happy about it. They’re driving someplace far, or someplace near, but they’re going to get there and then they’re going to set up their camper and they’re going to pop open their folding lawn chairs and they’re going to eat hotdogs around the fire. When night falls, they’re going to sleep in that camper, mom and dad in the bed part that sticks out over the bed of the truck, and the kids somewhere else. I’ve never been in one of these camper things, so I’m just imagining how it all works. But regardless of the cramped quarters, the lack of finesse, these people who do these things are content. They’re content because they’re getting away from their weekday lives and living differently, if only for awhile until the time comes to pay the park attendant the weekend rent and fold the camper back to its traveling form.

I’m never going to camp like this. Odds are, neither are you. But we can do things like this in a more comfortable way, and we can do them affordably. For every $7MM listing that Lake Geneva can offer you, there are 20 $189k vacation condos. For every $800k association home with a  boatstlip there are five $220k association homes with lake access. This is a market for the affluent, sure, but it’s a market for anyone who has a few extra dollars of disposable income and a feverish desire to get out of town on the weekends. Lake Geneva has always been the place, but it’s not just the place for business icons and those of affluence, it’s for everyone who wants to make a few sacrifices and spend their weekends living in a different place, in a different way, just like those happy campers who clog up in the interstate.

Along those lines, consider the economical Lake Geneva vacation condominium. I have some rules for this sort of purchase, and it includes avoiding condo-tels, because those are ridiculous.  You’re also not allowed to buy some condo in some absurd setting, like the condos that were created in the part of Williams Bay best left for lower value housing and commercial buildings. So let’s look at the condo market, and consider where you should be considering. Willabay Shores, this is an easy one. Priced from the painfully low $130s up through the $250s, these are simple two and three bedroom condominiums. They’re not new, so be ready to do some updating, but they’re walkable to the lake and the Williams Bay beach, and they have a pool and tennis courts and one car garages. You’ll feel part of the scene here, because you are part of the scene. Grab a fishing pole and walk across to the piers to fish. It’s terrific fun, and Willabay is still cheap.

Bayside Pointe is just up the road from Willabay, a bit farther from the water but still close. The units are newer, larger, so if you’re looking for newer and larger and you’re in the $200-300k price range, these are worth a look.  You won’t get any lake access with Willabay or Bayside Point, but you’ll be close. Can you tell that proximity matters? Walking distance to the lake is a good thing, and you should want it. Unless you’re considering Geneva National, in which case you’re not walking distance to any lake (Como doesn’t count in this context), but you’re tucked inside a beautiful enclave with what I deem to be the finest golf in the area. You needn’t be a golfer to vacation here, because who could hate beautifully manicured lawns, even if there are small holes with flags sticking out of them every so often?  If you’re a buyer in the $100-$300k range and you’re looking for a Lake Geneva vacation home, Geneva National should probably be the first place you consider. I have two condos in GN in this entry level range pending, and the buyers are making wise decisions. The values are still depressed, so there’s still value to be found. Yes, the market there is subject to some tumult, but you won’t mind so much when you’re living large in a very affordable vacation home.

In Fontana, affordability is nicely intertwined with the extremely unaffordable. In town, you can buy a condo for $700k. Or you can buy an Abbey Villa between $199-$299k. The villas are older, so they’re not huge and they’re not particularly high end (unless you find a renovated unit), but they will get you into the Fontana scene on the cheap. They’re sort of part of the hotel but mostly not part of the hotel, but you have pools to use and the beach a short walk away. You can’t bring your pets to the villas, so if you need to bring Fido each weekend, the villas won’t work. If you need to bring your dog, consider Abbey Hill. A bit farther from the lake, but still close to the scene. The units here are diverse, interesting, and I’ve always liked this place. In the $200-300k range, there’s no better option in Fontana.

Abbey Springs might take offense to that statement, and if they did they’d have a point. Want the whole scene in one development? The tennis, the golf, the pools, the beach, the restaurants, etc and etc? Then Abbey Springs is for you. Units between $140k and $350k offer a bit of everything, including some very odd floor plans.  The designs are a bit haphazard,  but they’re also fun and quite effective. I’d be considering Abbey Springs if I wanted an amenity packed association in the heart of the Lake Geneva scene.

If you’re looking for an affordable weekend retreat, skip the camper and the packing and the cramped sleeping arrangements, and just talk to me about a Lake Geneva vacation condominium in one of these terrific associations.

Rabbit

Rabbit

My dog eats rabbits. He hears them in the grass. He smells them on the air. He sleeps at night and dreams of rabbits and then he wakes up and he sees rabbits. He loves rabbits. But he doesn’t want to play with them, he wants to eat them. There are rabbits near my outbuilding, the one that I intended to finish beautifully to match the house, until I realized that beautiful is expensive. I should have known that, I am married, after all. And so I never finished the building, even though when asked I promise that it’s on my list of things to do. I don’t mean it, but I say it because what could I say? No, I don’t plan to do anything with that little mini-barn? I’m just going to leave it like that, to rot in place, that’s what I’m going to do. So of course I wouldn’t say that, but what my dog doesn’t yet know is that there’s a family of rabbits living near that small barn. A bunch of little, delicious, adorable rabbits.

There’s another rabbit that I’ve known for quite some time, and it’s in the front yard of my parents’ house. It’s a nice rabbit, friendly and calm, still. I don’t remember when I first saw that rabbit, or how it came to be. When I was young, I’d jump over the small pine tree that my dad planted when my twin brother died. It was a little tree then, always Christian’s tree. My brothers and I could take a running start and leap over the top of it. When we’d do that, the rabbit was nearby, under that tree, off to the side, watching then as it does now. But the tree is big now, so tall that no one could ever jump over it.  The rabbit has spent time under that tree, tipped on his side, buried in the leaves and pine needles.

Because no one uses that lakeside lawn in the winter, the rabbit is mostly a summer rabbit. In the fall we might see him, but rarely. In the spring, around Easter, when the eggs are hidden in the yard, we see him then, too. He’ll be under the large tree,  kicked on his side, or stuffed in the hedge of evergreen that separates my parents lawn from the association lawn to the north. In the spring, he’s often in the way. The pier boards must be moved to the water, the Laser sailboats carried from their winter saw horses to the summer ramp. The rabbit knows no fear, and so he sits there while the work is done, and he sits there when the work is done.

The other day he was there, looking as he does, bright eyed. He was facing the lawn, away from the lake, sitting high on the bricks that line a flower garden. The rabbit was put in a place where everyone, not just those who knew him, could see. He was prominent, favored, in a place of importance. It was nice to see. He’s just a rabbit, after all, but he’s been our rabbit for so long that no one knows what the lawn was like without him. He’s seen it all, at this point, and there’s no telling just how much more he’ll get to see.

Staycation Madness

Staycation Madness

In life, much of our time and energy is spent justifying our established positions. If I’m a Democrat, I spend some energy defending my positions, no matter whether or not they’re exactly correct or incorrect. If I’m a Republican, I do the same.  If I love tacos, I’ll explain to you that I love tacos, and I’ll encourage you to eat them, too. If I think the best band in the world is Oasis, I’ll explain that to you as best I can.  If you live in the Chicago area and you’re thinking about a lake house, and it hasn’t yet become obvious to you that Lake Geneva is the only place to consider, then I’ll spend most of my time trying to convince you of its merits. And if you write for the Wall Street Journal, you’ll waste a column on something as absurd as the notion of a staycation.

Last summer, Mr. Straus and Ms. Missett paid $1.988 million for a two-bedroom apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca, which they use as their weekend getaway. “What I love is that unlike the Hamptons, it’s a quick subway ride down there, and it totally feels like you’re on vacation,” Mr. Straus, 56, said. In comparison to the hustle and bustle of Midtown, their cobblestoned Tribeca street is “quiet—it feels like a country home.”

No it doesn’t.  It can’t. There’s no way a cobblestoned street makes an apartment feel like a country home. There’s nothing that can be argued here if we’re considering the falsity of that statement. An apartment is not a country home, period.   That would be like me saying that because I paved the gravel driveway that leads me to my country home, and I threw garbage all around the margins, that my country home feels like a city home. If an apartment feels like a country home to this nice couple, then it’s obvious that they’ve never owned a country home. The fact that the article doesn’t challenge the most absurd claim leaves me somewhat weak and feverish.

Real estate agents, according to the WSJ article, are pointing to proximity as the reason someone would buy a vacation home a handful of blocks from their primary home. In Miami, another silly couple bought a condo 13 miles from their primary home.  This is no less absurd than the Tribeca couple, but it does explain something about vacation home buyers: They don’t always understand the purpose of the vacation home.  Do we have two homes just so we can sleep in a different bed on the weekends? Do we have this other home so that we can pay twice the mortgage, twice the taxes, and have twice the headache? Do we have this second home just so we can say we do, or so we can put up those drapes we really like that just don’t work well with the color palate of our primary?

The answer to those question is don’t be silly. But the answer is obviously not well understood, otherwise people wouldn’t be buying a vacation home so near their full time home. The reason people do this is apparently born out of convenience, because a couple in Manhattan can jump on a subway and be in Tribeca in some short period of time, or so I presume. A couple in Miami can drive 13 miles to their “vacation” condo in a similarly short time. But what is accomplished by this? Proximity is important, yes, but a vacation home can be too close. If the scenery isn’t different and the activities aren’t different and there’s no time to decompress while driving with a dose of anticipation, then what is the purpose of this nearby home?

Yesterday, I went mountain biking. I should say that I hate mountain biking. It’s just a terrible, terrible thing. If there was a service that would drop me off at the top of a hill somewhere and then pick me up at the bottom, once I coasted my way down, I’d be interested in this. But the pedaling up and down is really quite redundant, and so I hate it. But I did it anyway and after that I went down to fish with my son, who had been fishing off the piers for no less than 7 hours when I picked him up. At home, I pulled some weeds and fired up my tractor to gather the piles of weeds that my wife had pulled earlier in the day. I did these things because I live in the country, at this lake, and those things I did are not the same things you can do in the city.  If a cobblestone road makes you feel like you’re living in the country, then you’ve never been to the country. If your son didn’t fly fish off a diving board as a summer storm rumbled in the distance, then you need a lake house.

 

Home Improvement

Home Improvement

The seller had a tree in her yard that had died many years ago. The tree first lost its leaves. Then it lost some branches, and then, some bark. The leaves were cleaned and hauled away and the branches, too. The bark was mowed over and made into mulch, and no one much cared. But the tree was there in the yard near the lake and it was dead. When I came along, the tree had been dead for some time. The owner was going to have that tree removed. And so after several months of discussion the tree was removed. The owner was pleased with her new view, and touted the tree removal as a feat of great success, one that would surely lead to a most immediate sale, now that the tree was gone and the view improved.

Another owner replaced his formica countertops with ones of granite. The granite was $3100, and what a lofty sum that was. The crew arrived on time and with little effort had removed the offending, 28 year old countertops. Soon after, the new tops were carried in and glued into place. They shone with the light of a thousand candles, the proud owner’s face reflecting the glow. The house had lagged on the market for some time, but now, with these countertops, who could resist the over-market price tag? That night, the counters were wiped clean with the wipes the granite company left. The owner turned off the kitchen lights and felt the deep satisfaction of a home improvement well done.

The problem with these scenarios is that neither represent an actual improvement to a house. This is going to come as a shock to some, but cutting down a dead tree does not enhance the value of ones home. The tree, you see, should have been cut down as a matter of course, not as a special capital improvement project. In the same way, a new furnace and hot water heater don’t matter when pricing a home for sale.  Will a new hot water heater and furnace help a buyer out and perhaps encourage them to make an offer if they are considering a similar home that doesn’t have these new mechanicals? Of course, but improvements they are not. This revelation runs contrary to everything every home seller has ever thought, or will ever think.

The tree example is a true story. The countertop story, true also. The hot water heater and furnace, I hear that all the time.  The roof was old and so it needed replacing, improving. The bill was $8500. That’s a lot of money, after all.  A new roof is nice, but it’s not an improvement. Neither is the furnace. Neither are the countertops. Neither is the dead tree that you removed. That’s all maintenance. Maintenance is not capital improvement, it’s just something that everyone who owns a home has to do. The tricky part is what exactly constitutes regular maintenance and what might veer off into the actual improvement category. But I joke, because that’s not tricky either.

New countertops on top of your existing cabinets, maintenance. New countertops, cabinets, appliances? Improvement.  New appliances? Maintenance. A new hot water heater? Maintenance.  Replacing an asphalt composition roof with an asphalt composition roof? Maintenance. Replacing a three tab composition roof with an architectural shingle, still maintenance.  Replacing that roof with a cedar shingle or slate? Improvement. Fixing your deck posts because they were rotted? Maintenance. Replacing your entire deck with Ipe, improvement.  You can see how this isn’t all that difficult, but it’s a concept completely lost on the modern day seller.

So when you tell me that you’ve painted your windows and fixed your leaky roof, please don’t expect me to be thrilled. It’s just maintenance. It’s no different than if you go to trade your car in. What a beautiful shiny car it is! But it’s old and it has 180,000 miles on it, and there’s a tear in the driver’s seat. When you bring it to the dealer and he offers you $3500 on trade, you should then interject that you recently had the oil changed and you ran it through the car wash. He’ll be thrilled and then he’ll give you $4000. Just kidding, he’ll give you $3500, because oil changes, like new roofs, are just part of life.

 

(Above, the front door on my house after I put a fresh coat of varnish on it. The process made the door look better, but it wasn’t an improvement. It was just maintenance.)
Manhattan

Manhattan

I generally agree with the concept that what happens on the coasts will someday find its way to Lake Geneva. This is the case with both good and bad. New York has fantastic pizza. Lake Geneva will someday also have fantastic pizza. Washington had a Starbucks, and then a couple of decades later, we have a Starbucks.  This is good. In the same way, when something trendy happens on a coast, it’ll also soon happen here. But there are limitations to this, and that’s why the current correction of sorts afflicting Manhattan doesn’t mean there’s a correction coming swiftly to the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Here’s why.

My knowledge of the Manhattan real estate market is limited, obviously. If it weren’t, you could question my dedication to the Lake Geneva market. See, when Ryan Serhant opens offices in Miami and LA,  he’s not doing so because he’s somehow a Miami expert. He’s doing so because he’s a businessman and he’s smart enough to know his name will mean something to people even when it likely means nothing. Anyway, I don’t know anything about Manhattan real estate aside from what I read and what I see on television. What I see on television is that new developments are coming online all the time, and those new developments are not loaded with $400k condos. They’re filled with $4MM condos and $7MM condos and $14MM condos.

Lake Geneva is filled with $200k cottages and $300k condos and $800k houses and $3MM lakefronts. It’s a mix of things, with no particular segment requiring a tremendous amount of liquidity annually. This is one of the problems with Geneva National, as you’ll recall. It’s simply too big to maneuver through years of low volume without causing a price adjustment in the process.  The lakefront market on Geneva functions differently, as low volume is generally a result of low inventory, which in turn creates a market where prices escalate. So if you’re a buyer on Geneva you’re wishing for inventory and if you’re an owner on Geneva you’re wishing against it. This isn’t very difficult to understand.

But it’s back to Manhattan and those buildings and the sheer volume required to keep that market moving forward, appreciating and rare. What’s the number? I don’t know, because I’m typing from Williams Bay this morning. But the simple reality is that markets in forward motion require more buyers than sellers. Turn the tide and the market will stall. Turn it for long enough and the market will decline. If Manhattan is experiencing a decline, that’s too bad, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Lake Geneva. There will be a decline coming to our markets within a few years, this you can be sure of. But until the sellers outpace the buyers, that won’t be the case. I’ll be sure to let you know when it is. For now, I need to run home to snap some aloe open and lather it on my bright red nose and cheeks. The Lake Geneva sun was benevolent yesterday, and my face carries the proof.

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend

The man in front of me wore a checked shirt of blue and white. I wore a similar shirt, mine more white than blue, and no fewer than six other men on the small plane wore the same pattern in the same colors. The older men in first class wore solid blue.

The checked shirt man bobbed his head long before the plane launched into the sky. He bobbed his head as we cleared the coastal state and then still he bobbed when we made it over Lake Erie. The bob was the same the whole time, shallow and quick, always the same beat. Whatever he was listening to was consistent, song after song, either that or he was stuck on repeat and he bobbed to the same song in that same shirt in the seat in front of me for the entirety of that westbound flight. I wished I hadn’t been so annoyed by the constant motion. I tried to video the bobbing, but the phone was on 9% and the passengers behind me would have been able to see what I was doing. I preferred to be simply one of the men in the checked shirts on that flight, and not the man who videotaped the other man because of his insistent, steady bob.

Once I flew home from the Cayman Islands, which island I cannot remember. Two days before the return flight that island sun had burned my face so badly that I spent those two days that followed slinking around the shady side of the pool and icing my face down with the bartender’s ice. I went for a walk at night and carried with me a neatly folded paper towel so that I might wipe the clear puss that was weeping from my burnt face. I never said this story was pleasant, but the pre-flight history is important because my mood was sour when I boarded that plane, and increasingly it worsened as the man in the seat in front of me spoke loudly in a heavy foreign tongue. I had no headphones, but had I it wouldn’t have been certain that I dared touch them to my crisped ears. I could do nothing but sit and listen to his heavy exaggerated dialect, and the farther into the flight the more he spoke, the louder, loud enough for everyone to hear, no matter their seat. My face wept, my ears buzzed, my patience was not traveling well.

And so yesterday I sat on that flight home, back to this place, to the place we take for granted. You take it for granted and I take it for granted because we’re told by the world that our place is nice, but it’s not that nice. It’s nice for Wisconsin, those people from other places say. I’m back after a short visit to a bigger city where bigger things exist, but I’m reminded today that these bigger things are not better, that far away city no more important than this small village. It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and while this is typically a warm up for summer, this year it appears as though it really is summer. Enjoy it, bask in it, solemnly remember those who made this safe life possible, and don’t take any of it for granted. Not this place, or this time, or these warm days and this clear water. It’s special, and sometimes you need only sit in coach behind a checked shirt man whose iTunes was stuck on repeat to realize it.

Bits and Pieces

Bits and Pieces

I’ve decided to change the major theme of my magazine. Instead of Summer Homes For City People being a Lake Geneva lifestyle magazine that features writing from yours truly and the finest real estate that this vacation home market has to offer, I’m going to make it more of a game. You see, no matter how hard I try, I make mistakes in the magazine. A period should be followed by a space, I know this, but sometimes in the magazine the errors of cut and paste leave things cramped, like this.And sometimes when a phrase is italicized, the first letter of the following sentence, the letter that isn’t italicized, is. This is terrible, but it happens. Sometimes, the errors are less subtle, sometimes, you miss one digit of a four digit address for one of your favorite listings. Sure, a buyer will find their way to the location and see the sign, but that’s not the point.

Did you know that it’s the year 2016? I know it, too, but there’s one spot in the new issue that would rather you believe it’s 2015.  This is the game, find the glaring error and win! What you’ll win I can’t say just yet, because I’ve just now thought of the game, but you’ll definitely win something. This way, when the 2017 magazine is printed, it’ll be exciting, because when you mail in your error submission with a SASE you stand the chance to win something seriously important. In this, the magazine errors won’t look so silly, they’ll just be part of the game, and the game will make the magazine even more important and even more special and then people will say WOW!, this magazine is not only tolerable to read but the game the author created is a hoot. This is what they’ll say.

For now, the magazine is out, and it’s decent. It’s not my best effort I fear, but I’m just one man and sometimes I should have more help. I was delivering magazines on Saturday morning, and then again on Sunday morning, when I noticed that Lake Geneva is in mid-summer form already. It’s May, not even the last of it, and we’re already acting like it’s July. This is important, because a Midwestern summer needs to be stretched to one side or the other, ideally both, otherwise we’re left feeling cheated when the cold October winds blow. If we can get some of May, which we’ve had, and we can get some of October, which we’ve had in prior years, then the summer feels long and it feels important  because it is both. Summer in May is a nice phenomenon, which leads us to Dennis Miller’s line on global warming: One man’s global warming is another mans, Hey, it’s nice out!

The market is performing exceptionally well, perhaps as a result of the weather or as a result of interest rates or just as a result of intelligence. The entry level market is on fire, with $250-$550k type homes in Country Club Estates selling with ease. New inventory, aged inventory, it doesn’t seem to matter, it’s selling. The lakefront remains busy, and a new deal on the lakefront at the tippy top of Cedar Point proves buyers don’t mind stairs if they have a view, especially when the price point is in the mid ones. There are other deals, and one that I’ve neglected to mention over recent weeks is a contract on the spec home being built in the Elgin Club. That’s a small lot spec home, but it’s selling for a very nice number, rumored to be in the mid $2s. New homes always sell well when they’re of the right style (paint your trim white, please).

I superjetted yesterday, and I really would like it if you’d wave at me when I’m jetting. I’m the only guy with the black Superjet who wears a hat and sunglasses when I jet. I do that because I don’t like my hair blowing in the wind, because I have so much of it and it looks ridiculous. I wear sunglasses because it’s bright on the water, and that’s that. I boated yesterday as well, and the lake looked to me as it would look during any summer weekend. But it’s May, so it was better than July, because in July we expect it and in May we’re thankful for it. The lakefront is buzzing with construction, and in coming weeks I’ll be outlining the new builds on the lake, with photos to show you what you’re missing.

The bridge in Fontana is open, so the painful 9 month project is finally, mercifully, finished. It was a terrible inconvenience, as you’re likely well aware, and so now it’s open and life is better and everyone is happier.  This week brings some big meetings for me, with some exciting new ideas on the horizon. We’ll see how it all plays out, but for now, I’m going to go back to pouring over my magazine to find the errors. There’s no telling what I might win if I find them all.

 

Boxed and Burlap

Boxed and Burlap

I was in Chicago Wednesday. It was a crisp spring day, the sky and water in a matching shade. The city, when viewed from the approaching interstate, no matter which one, is not a terrific thing. The city looks too congested, hazy, too city-like. But when viewed from Lakeshore Drive, the city comes alive. It would be hard to view the city from that direction and consider the city a mess. And so I spent time in the city and I visited a few coffee shops and restaurants and marveled at the variety in such tight quarters. In Lincoln Park we walked past three coffee shops to go to the fourth, because that one was better, or just different, it was hard to say. So many people can support so many shops, even when they’re all nearly the same. I enjoyed my visit and my meetings and returned home as I always do, happy to have been and happier to be back.

In Walworth County, we do not have the luxury of superfluous shops and stores, because we don’t have the population to support such variety. I’m happy for this small town setting with small town concerns, but businesses that rely on foot traffic can face an uphill battle because of the demographics. That’s why I root for local businesses that open, even as I know most of them will fail. A new ice cream shop in Williams Bay? Well, we already have two, maybe three, four if you count that one place, so you’ll be the fifth? And you’ll be serving Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the same kind the gas stations sell? I’d rather treat you as farmers treat farm animals, because you never get to know something you know is going to be dead in a few months.  But alas, I cheer on businesses that I think the community needs, and businesses that will benefit the community they serve.

I have had a dream for decades that I would someday buy the Geneva Lakes Bait and Tackle store and turn it into a high end outfitter. I’d run guides through the shop, and make it a high end sporting store. That dream is probably no longer viable, but that corner of Williams Bay where Highways 50 and 67 intersect has been the focus of much growth. Mercy Hospital is big and bold on that corner, important for the area and a nice thing to have nearby so many recreating daredevils.  The Belfry Theatre, as you read here last year, is being refitted and should be open soon for a summer concert series. Lakeland Church is helping the effort; their church being located just to the north of that intersection. The sore spot has been the site immediately across from the hospital, just north of the Belfry, north of my someday bait and tackle shop.

That corner property was a mix of run down old this and beaten up that, and you’ve likely noticed over recent months a revitalization of sorts occurring on those grounds. A new barn was built, the property cleaned, the old house remade. The style fits my eye, whites and grays and a bit of modern intermixed with a decidedly country vibe. The business is Boxed and Burlap. My friend Jon Neighbors and his lovely wife whom I’ve never met are the owners, and what they’re doing deserves your attention. The property is being turned into a destination with multiple purposes, most notably the tree and plant business that occupies much of the property. But that’s where the similarities to other greenhouses and nursery operations end. The old house is nearly complete in its transformation to coffee house. The tour I went on yesterday revealed a very cool space that will likely become a very popular coffee spot. In Williams Bay, we’re long ice cream but exceptionally light coffee.  Boxed and Burlap fixes that.

There will be additional goings on, with one building undergoing a conversion to an artists studio where you can take some art and pottery classes, should that be something you’re interested in. I love art, but I barely have the patience to draw a heart around my name when I sign my wife’s anniversary card, so you won’t find me working on my pastels anytime soon. But the space will be there, so that’s nice if you’re artsy. There will be live bands, seasonal festivals, a farmer’s market, and more. The vision of the owners has proven to me, before they’ve proven to anyone else, that this business will work.

But for it to work, and for the community to benefit from it for years to come, it needs your help. I’m not going to tell you to visit them this weekend, but I am asking that you visit them over Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee shop should be open, so stop for an espresso and take home a lilac bush while you’re at it.  Help this business succeed not for the sake of the owner, but for the sake of the community. Failed businesses aren’t a benefit to anyone, and important, high visibility corners are an especially important component to any thriving community.  Hopefully this summer I’ll see you at Boxed and Burlap.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I can feel it. It’s in the air. It’s in the way the grass looks and so many lilacs. Everywhere lilacs. The boats are here, they’re in the water and they’re on trailers and they’re everywhere. The streets are more alive than they were in April, more alive than March. Everything is more alive than February. It’s about that time when the people who know find their way to the lake. Not to any lake, but to this lake. To this place. To the place that’s better than all the other places combined. It’s nearly summer in Lake Geneva, and you’re either ready or you aren’t. There’s no real in between now. A week from Friday is Memorial Day Weekend, and if you’re not ready, you never will be.

The market shows signs that many people understand this coming inevitability. They see summer on the near horizon and they’re trying their best to be prepared. There are deals pending all over the board, with an especially strong showing in the $200-$600k price range. Buyers in this range are paying attention and they’re making their moves to be ready. There are 10 lake access homes pending this morning priced under $600k. There are another 12 condominiums in Geneva National pending under $600k, and no fewer than three pending in Abbey Springs. The market is alive in this pricing segment, and with the only exception being the lakefront condo market. Currently that market is attracting interest, but there aren’t any pending sales to speak of.

And that brings us to the lakefront market. To the big time. The lakefront currently has 28 homes for sale (counting South Shore Club- 1 property, and counting one property that’s only sort of lakefront), with three more vacant lakefront parcels available. That’s 31 lakefront properties available, and of those there are four pending. The four pending include one on the hill in Cedar Point in the mid $1MMs, two on Lackey Lane (mid $4s and $2MM), and a fresh contract on my lakefront listing at 976 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana ($3.395MM). I tried to tell you that the new Fontana lakefront was going to sell, and after a month on the market we fielded two offers within a matter of days and now the property is under contract.  The market loves Fontana, this we all know.

Of the 31 active lakefronts, I have 10 of them listed. That’s significant, because if you’re a buyer looking for inventory, then you’d be wise to talk to the agent that handles the inventory. That’s me. Of the four pending lakefront sales,  three of those are my properties, either on the buy or list side. That’s also significant, because of the obvious. I think at this point there’s been enough beating around the bush. If you’re selling lakefront property on Geneva Lake, I’m your guy. If you’re buying lakefront property on Geneva Lake, I’m your guy. It seems as though there’s very little reason to argue at this point.

The lakefront is going to do one of two things this summer. It’s either going to stall out on new inventory, in which case we’ll see buyers ultimately pick off the inventory (much of it is quality) that’s currently available. If the inventory stalls, there’s no way we come close to matching the 2015 volume statistics.  Prices might tighten up, which will be good for existing sellers, but we just won’t see the same sort of movement that we saw in 2015.  Either that happens, or we add inventory, which will be snapped up by buyers who have already dismissed the available properties. This was the case with 976 South Lakeshore. It came to market at a time when little else was available, and because it’s a unique and special property, it sold quickly. If new inventory presents in May and June, expect July and August to be banner months. That’s the trend from 2015, where the lakefront market was sluggish until the end of June.

Weather does play a roll in this, no matter how much we’d prefer it didn’t. If we have a hot, sunny summer, sales will be good. If we have a rainy summer, with poor weekend forecasts, sales will lag. If it’s 77 and sunny every day from now until Labor Day, this won’t be good for any of us. Because then we’ll be selling entry level lakefronts for $5MM and our buyers will be international sorts and we’ll all be priced out of our own market. So let’s hope for a large percentage of sunny days, but not too many.

 

Lakewood Estates

Lakewood Estates

I was the first broker to try my hand at selling the new Harbor Watch condominiums on downtown Lake Geneva’s waterfront.  I believe the year was 2002, because I was at that building for an open house when my wife called to tell me she was pregnant, and my son was born in 2003. So let’s assume it was 2002. The market back then was humming, the sky, some wondered, was it really even the limit? The market was ready for new things, for bold things, and with condominiums listed in the million dollar range, we were offering both. I hung on to that listing for a year, maybe less, maybe more, and I didn’t sell any of them. Buyers wanted fireplaces (we had none), they wanted more privacy (we had little), and they wanted to pay less (not happening). We offered a product that the market wasn’t ready for.  During the two or three years that followed my listing tenure, the building sold out, at prices less than we had originally wanted but still, sold.  The market caught up with the product, and the product made some price adjustments to hurry up the union.

Last year, I introduced Lakewood Golf Estates to the market. There was some initial interest, some slight interest along the way, and then, over the winter while the project sat off market, some more tepid interest. There was interest, sure, but no one bought anything. In that, I failed the development because the market didn’t respond. Late last year, just before the listing was to drop from the market to refresh, we made a bold price shift. Lots that were $450k would now be $250k, and in that, the developer listened to what the market had been telling us all season. We were priced too high, too soon, it was just too much of a gap between the market’s expectation and our price point.

Today, I’m bringing Lakewood Golf Estates back online. The prices are reflecting those huge discounts to last summer’s ask. The development is one year older now, the trees one year stronger, the gate now nearly completed.  When you ask a buyer to envision something there is always a risk. The buyer might envision something different than the developer, different than the agent, and in that interpretation of what might be, a sale can be lost. Now, we’re back, we’re done, and we’re ready to sell these lots. There are just 16 lots in total, which you’ll recognize as being a reasonably low total. I’m anti- mass development, as everyone by now knows, which is why this development fits my eye so well. It’s small, it’s exclusive, and it’s representative of the type of properties that vacation home buyers wish for at Lake Geneva.

To recap what we have here, it’s a development on a golf course, but that’s where the similarities to golf course developments begin and end. The golf course here is the private, member’s only Lakewood, where there will be a maximum of just 50 members allowed (per current membership information). The course is a full 18, and it’s complicated and simple at once, with the 75 acre private lake playing a large role in many of the golf holes. I’ve played the course often, and have set a course record for most balls lost, which is better than not owning a course record at all. The golf is good, but that’s not all we have. There’s a private, member’s only clubhouse, and access for owners to board horses in the on-site barns. We have pastures galore, and one needn’t be a horse lover to appreciate the way a grazing horse swooshes his tail on a summer afternoon. The lake itself is an attraction, too, with 75 stocked acres that kids and adults alike will find pleasure in fishing. It’s a great lake for practicing sailing in small scows, and for paddle boarding and kayaking and canoeing, etc and etc.

If you took a flier on this last year but didn’t like our pricing, come back for another look. It’s a unique development minutes from downtown Lake Geneva, and I’m of the opinion that the prices are finally correct. If you’d like a private tour that includes a round of golf on the house, let me know as I’m happy to oblige.