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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $37MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $109MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily within reach.

    As an important aside, that sales volume makes me the #1 dollar volume agent for Walworth County for 2014. That's pretty cool.

    I will always attempt to back up my opinions with solid statistics and historical perspective. Visiting this site early and often is hands down the best way to learn about this market. Period. Honestly. My full disclosure statement is available here.






  • Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.

    ~Will Rogers

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    Email David Curry
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South Shore Club Foreclosure Sells

Dec 22, 2014 by DC |
You at a desk, three years ago. Your job, to chart a recovery plan for the South Shore Club. You'd need some paper, a pen. Maybe a pencil. Some coffee. A snack. Nothing salty, but something. You'd need to figure out how to generate volume, so that new buyers could see an established history of meaningful sales activity. Then, you'd need to liquidate the 10 or so remaining, developer owned lots. After that, you'd sit back and look at your paper, with these two notes, some crumbs, a ring where your coffee cup rested. Then, you'd need to rid the club of a few of the upside down owners, some of the weaker hands that through naivety or difficulty and just bad luck found themselves in a bit of trouble. This would need to be your three point plan. Create sales volume that would establish a trusted price range. Sell the remaining lots. Remove any financially troubled ownership. Three goals, three lofty, potentially unrealistic goals, and one mostly eaten cookie. This was three years ago.

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It was three years ago because that's when the developing group of the South Shore Club called me. They wanted to know what to do, how to do it, and they figured that the guy who wrote some damning bits about the South Shore Club just might be the guy to do it. If you've been reading along, which I hope you have, you know what happened from that day until this one. The South Shore Club accomplished every one of those goals, culminating with the sale that I just closed on Friday of a foreclosure at lot 33. Since January of 2012, I have sold four built homes in the South Shore Club, sold 9 vacant lots, and moved one foreclosure and one short sale. The sales have been established, the inventory cleared, the trouble spots scrubbed clean. The reality of what has happened here is that in 35 months we've taken a club with a questionable future and transformed it into one of the most desirable locations on Geneva Lake. I'd take a bow but I'm not silly enough to think that it was all my doing.

The most recent sale was of the REO property that I told you about just a month or so ago. That property came to market and sold in the same week, to a buyer who recognized value when he saw it. Sure, it was masked with some gaudiness that might have deterred a handful of initial buyers, but value is value, loud paint job or not. The sale at $2.15MM is a nice print for the market, even if it undersells my target price range for those SSC homes in that sort of location (I see those homes priced from $2MM to $2.5MM in the coming months and year). While some SSC neighbors may be displeased with that sales price, the greater market will be the prime beneficiary of this sale. Lingering REO properties are the sorts of properties that apply downward pressure to a small community, and in this case, we immediately and easily pushed this property from the market and into strong hands. That's a win for the SSC, even if the immediate neighbor reaction may be to cry foul about the pricing.

While I've never pretended to me any sort of foreclosure specialist, and I'm not on any bank's short list of REO listing agents, this sale is my third lakefront foreclosure wherein I've represented the bank or REO holding company. Two years ago I represented Bank Of America in their liquidation of the Clear Sky Lodge property ($3.7MM), last summer I represented an REO holding company out of New York on the sale of that Geneva Oaks lakefront that moved at $1.925MM, and now this SSC property. In the brokerage world, this makes me a lakefront REO stalwart, and I'd like to be considered such for any bank that seeks to move any property in this Lake Geneva vacation home market. I know I typically write to buyers, but this is an appeal to sellers, as I don't see anyone in this market that has charted the lakefront REO track record that I have.

For the South Shore Club, there is now just one available home. That property is my listing on Forest Hill, for $1.849MM. That property is poised to sell at a very discounted number, and I'm looking forward to bringing another new buyer into the SSC. If you know anyone who might be interested in snapping up this last morsel of inventory, now's their chance.

The Mundane

Dec 19, 2014 by DC |
Sometimes, work is boring. My younger brother works in a forge, where I've been told he does all sorts of things, but mostly he stands in place and punches in directions that a machine can follow. In the summer, it's beastly hot in there. In the winter, he stands in place punching in directions, but his fingers are frozen and his breath hangs in the inside winter air. In the spring, he stands and punches directions into that machine. Same for the fall. He'll do this for 12 hour shifts, mostly six days a week, and he'll do it until he can retire or he dies, whichever comes first. From my view, there's no way his job is not exceedingly boring.

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My older brother works in a city with tall buildings and bright lights. He has worked in that city for years, at different jobs, never particularly enjoying much security at whichever desk he sits. He is smart, smarter than me, and he works in that corporate world that I've only read about in books and watched on silver screens. His job involves numbers, lots and lots of numbers, constantly numbers. He is probably bored, but perhaps his work is less boring than it is tedious. It's stressful, too, and there may be no worse job than one that combines the mundane of numbers with over-doses of stress. My brother will work there until he retires, or until another job comes along, or until he dies, whichever comes first. From my view, there's no way that his job is not difficult to desire, and irrepressibly boring.

My friends, they work, too. They work in trades and they work in offices, and some work in living rooms of random strangers, singing each night and strumming a guitar in exchange for a small paycheck and perhaps a pot-luck dinner. The ones who work in trades curse the heat in summer and they curse the cold in winter, and when they're not working, they curse. The office working friends are still young enough to have hope that they'll someday be something, but mostly they'll be in vinyl ranch homes in rural towns, and they'll eat at Chili's on Tuesdays because kids eat free, and they'll go to church on Sunday because they're more disciplined than me. Either way, they'll work in that office or the others will work in that field, or some will work in those constructions sites until they retire or die, whichever comes first.

I sit here, at this large desk that's really just a built in shelf, and I write on this keyboard a few mornings a week, and some days I show houses to nice couples from Lake Forest and from River North. Some times, I show houses to rude people, those who are mean or disloyal or otherwise demanding in a way that has very little bearing on my reality or theirs, and those are the days that I'd rather just be fishing in knee-deep water, surveying the run that's just around the next bend, scanning for rising trout. Or I'd rather be afloat, with a phone number that no one knows and a face that no one recognizes, with nothing on my horizon but the rising sun on one side and the setting sun on the other. Other days, I sit on that boat or I wade that stream and I fear the day that no one knows my phone number and no one recognizes my be-jowled face, and I think I should get back to that desk that's really just a long shelf, and I should type on this keyboard.

I won't be selling a Lake Geneva vacation home to my factory brother. I will never sell a vacation home to my city brother. I won't sell a vacation home to my tradesman friend, nor will my musician friend buy one from me, unless he concocts just the right mixture of rhythm and rhyme and his songs play on the real radio, not just the subscription one. I will never sell a lakefront home to my friends who live in corn field ranches, to those who work in the morning until the night for meager scratch that they are grateful to earn. But to those who are sitting at their own desk this morning, to those who have both job security and means, to those who have spent their own time wishing for something different, for some place different, for a way to live a life that they're not living now, to those I'd say we have 2015 to make a change. Mondays are stressful. Tuesdays are boring. Wednesdays are tedious. Thursdays are intolerable. Fridays, they've always been a mix of the prior, but they can be exciting. They can be a portal to another world, to another life, to a boat adrift and a sail filled with wind.

Over Improving Real Estate

Dec 17, 2014 by DC | Add comment
The articles that grace the front page of the Chicago Tribune's Real Estate section are generally not the sort of articles that one would want to put on the front page of a newspaper like the Chicago Tribune. They are generally AP stories, or the sorts of vague stories that look like AP stories. You've seen them before under headings such as "How To Stage Your Home To Sell!", or the ever popular "Rent Vs. Buy?", or what about "Millennials- Renters For Life", or my favorite "Tips For Vacation Home Buyers". These articles are puff pieces, fillers. They are the print version of the live news report from the Zoo when the reporter explains how there are giraffes there. There have always been giraffes there. And for as long as there have been giraffes at the zoo, there have been vague stories about vague real estate concepts.

Last Sunday, which is the only day I subject myself to reading that written drivel, there was a front page article whose official title escapes me. It was, something like, "Over Improving Real Estate". There was an image of a cartoon house, with a bunch of decks and fancy looking attachments. The article was intent on telling you not to over improve your real estate. The theory is sound. If you buy the biggest house on the street, you're not the brightest real estate bulb. If you buy the worst house on the street, good for you, but then avoid making it the biggest, fanciest house on the street. This is good, solid, if vague, advice. This sort of topic is one of the reasons that Geneva is such a draw for the uber-wealthy, because try as they might, it would be very hard to become the biggest house on this great lake. On the contrary, if you wish to build a big house in Vernon County, Wisconsin, beware, building over 2500 square feet just made you a .001%er.

Geneva is a big proponent of over improving, and while I am a fierce opponent of the act, one look around this lakeshore proves that I am in the minority. If bigger is better, then gaudier is more beautiful, or so the recent story here goes. The strange thing is that our market selectively punishes those who over-improve. There are some cases where big homes were built for big dollars in locations that would rather not support such personal indulgence. Those homes, in many cases, were foreclosed on or otherwise taken from those excessive hands. Today, however, as I scan the MLS, I see at least one property that I would deem over-improved that the market has chosen to reward.

There are three new lakefront and lake access contracts pending, and one of those caught my eye. Two of the three are normal-ish homes. One is on Sylvan Lane, just East of Knollwood. I don't really like $800k for a lake access home that lacks a boatslip and is absent any spectacular defining characteristic. Milquetoast is desirable to some buyers, so I suppose I should be happy for that segment of the market. The other home is a lakefront, wedged in between two other lakefronts, priced just under $2MM. That home is pending sale today, and while I think that it's a nice house for that money, I do think there's something rather humbling about being a small home in between two big ones. The Tribune AP placement person would tell you that it's good to be the small home on the block. I'd tell you that it might be theoretically good, it can be a big of an ego drag to pull up in between two relative behemoths. But still, the price will be fine for the market, I suppose.

The third pending sale is the one that proves over-improvement on the shores of Geneva is not necessary something the market punishes. If you told me we'd be wedged up against a large association pier, on just 60' of elevated frontage, mere feet from neighboring houses on nearly all sides, I'd tell you that we won't be listing that house for $2.6MM. No matter the level of gild, it's not something that we should find interesting. But remember, that's us, and we're the smart ones trying to navigate a market filled with unique pitfalls. That home, the one with the pool and the fancy, just found a buyer. $2.6MMish proves that over-improving on the lakefront is something that can't really be done, as long as the style is mainstream enough to appeal to most buyers.

I add that last bit because there are specific styles that can easily scare buyers away and cause them to avoid any level of polish. If you build a mediterranean villa, and it's super mediterranean villa-y, then you better hope for a buyer who adores that particular style. Likewise, if you build a log cabin on this lake, because we know Geneva to not be up north but to some people it is their own personal Minocqua, you're going to have a hard time attracting buyers if you overbuild. But if you build in a lake-sensitve style, and your price range is $3MM or below, it's nearly impossible to over improve a setting, as much as I wish that weren't the case.

This Sunday, let's all ready along to see why you should "Paint Your Bedroom Purple To Attract Buyers". The article will likely be found on the front page of the Chicago Tribune Real Estate section.

Pier 88 Sells

Dec 15, 2014 by DC | Add comment
Ah, the unique, uncaged animal that is the upper bracket of real estate. Upper Bracket varies in definition, but it's easy to assume that it means the top of the top, and not in the way that agents can proclaim themselves Top, rather in the way that we all know the Top to be defined- statistically, not proclamatory. Unless you're inside the friendly environs of Manhattan or whatever neighborhood in London has the most heiress buyers, or whichever street in Beverly Hills is the hottest one (it's whichever street you're standing on with a shiny-shoe wearing agent), the Upper Bracket is generally a market that faces tall odds, stacked high and deep against whatever property achieves that rarefied status. Upper Bracket, it's nice there, but getting there isn't easy.

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Lake Geneva's Upper Bracket, no longer capitalized after this sentence, is a strange concoction. On one hand, you have loads and loads of these properties, iconic houses owned by iconic families, the sorts that suggest Polo is their favorite sport without their voice belying even a slight hint of irony. These are the properties we see from the water, the properties we walk across on our shore path, the properties the tour guides tell you about. These are properties we love to have, but they are rarely properties that trade. Why don't they trade? Mostly because their owners are content in their domain, happy to be the steward of a championship property. But it's also because the market doesn't produce many buyers that are willing or capable of biting off a purchase price that would have to accompany such a marquee property. It isn't that buyers don't have the funds to buy someone else's trophy, it's just Geneva has shown a complete and thorough trend that says buyers of this strata want to create their own something.

It's that upper bracket desire to build a legacy rather than buy one that has fueled the most recent high sale in our market. 88 North Lakeshore Drive, known as such because of the pier number and the location of that pier, closed on Friday. I was pleased to work with this buyer, and when a few months of dust settled the sales price of $5.195MM was printed for 234 feet of impressive frontage and 5.2 acres of level, wooded land. Sure, there were buildings on this parcel, a very serviceable house, a lovely in ground pool, a guest house, a storage barn, etc and etc, but these items had little to do with the motivation of the buyer, and even less to do with the value of the property. $22k per front foot is a market number that we can all be pleased with, but $22k per foot for 234' of the most beautiful frontage to come to market in quite some time? That's something worth celebrating.

To understand the sale, we must first understand the competing inventory. It might be a fun game for most of us to play, to consider what property we'd buy if we had the ability to do so. Would you buy the Castle Grayskull on the North Shore of Pebble Point for $11MM or so? Or would you consider the European Elegance of the Black Point estate for $12MM. Perhaps the dazzling importance of the Basswood estate for $11.5MM is more to your liking. Or, if you're like the pier 88 buyer, you'd choose none of the above, because what point would it serve to buy someone else's creation when you could simply buy the ingredients to create your own? The truth is, excepting my listing at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive, there isn't another marquee property that's on the market that could compete with brand spanking new construction. While the property on the hill on the North Shore of Fontana is nice indeed, 110' of frontage doesn't qualify for estate status.

So with that, this: Look for an exciting new build sometime in the next few years at pier 88. The new owner suffers from no deficiency of style, and it's a guarantee that whatever is built there will become one of the most beautiful homes on this most beautiful lake. For me, I now feel satisfied to have sold two of the last three homes on Geneva to close over $5MM. I also feel much appreciation towards this buyer who has demonstrated loyalty and friendship that I will not soon forget.

Meet Hopper

Dec 12, 2014 by DC | Add comment
Her life is not without inconsistencies. On one hand, she'll push back if you try to push her off your side of the bed. She'll snap at you if you treat her poorly, or if you withhold food from her. She's been getting heavier, and while I may abide a lot of things I will absolutely not abide weight gain. If anyone is going to be gaining weight around here, it had better be me. She's sweet at times, cuddly even, when we're watching television late at night. Often, I have to carry her to bed, which is not particularly strange.

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But she eats dog food, and laps water without much grace. She'll roll around in questionable piles of questionable things, and then run to the door when I get home, as if. She mothers the children nicely, waking them in the morning for school and following suit with all sorts of yelling if they disobey. She's not great at detecting subtle disobedience, but she's pretty good at discerning blatant disobedience, especially if it involves stomping of feet, yelling, crying, too. She's a good friend, that Molly. And it was four years ago this fall that I introduced her to my family, and to this audience.

I find it nauseating when other people talk about their dogs. It's almost as bad as listening to people drone on about how their children would get great grades, if only the teachers knew how to connect with them. And because both are nauseating, I don't tell you about how smart my children are, or how great my daughter is at swimming (the best), or how impressive my son is at basketball (tops!), but I will tell you now about a massive, literally life changing mistake that I recently made.

Molly is a good dog. I mentioned above that she's mostly dog, but she's successfully blurred the boundaries between dog and man. She's indeed part of the family, and though non-dog owners do not understand that, it's a known condition amongst dog people. I, by the way, am not a dog person. I will not seek out dogs to pet or play with or otherwise be near. I do not wish to have my house smell of dog, nor do I want things covered in dog hair. This is why Molly is a mini golden doodle, capable of much affection but very little mess.

Molly, though I feared she would be, has not proven to be a mistake. Earlier this year, I contemplated adding another dog. I'm not having any more planned children, and I nixed my wife's desire to have chickens, goats, and various other living things, so I thought long and hard about adding another dog. Sabrina, a nice woman from downstate Illinois, has golden doodles, but she also has various other doodle creations, mixes of some normal dog and various shapes and sizes of doodle. She is a mad scientist, with not one intimidating Frankenstein, but rather generations and generations of genetically modified doodles.

I reached out to her, to reserve a new puppy. My wife wanted a full sized dog, to offset Molly's smallish nature. I thought about it, and when I was in a weak moment of thinking myself into accommodating another dog, I thought only of the warm scene that finds two dogs sleeping near a winter fire. Like children, I like them best when they're either outside running around, or sleeping. There is little room for the in-between.

I asked clients about the idea of two dogs, and most said it was a bad idea. After some thinking myself into the idea, I thought myself out of it, and on the day that I was to drive to Bourbanais to meet with Sabrina and pick my new, large doodle, I bailed. I felt guilty, but doodle puppies should be considered currency, as no one with a thousand dollars in their pocket can refuse such a darling freak of nature.

I made the mistake of telling my wife about this attempted dog purchase, because I thought she might be happy with me for both considering her idea, and then being smart enough to nix it. The pleas began anew, and when I told her that it was up to her, the worst possible outcome was in the offing. By early August, we had a new dog. This one a labradoodle, a full sized, giant creature that we named Hopper. Not because he hopped a lot, but because when I fly fish in the summer my preferred fly of choice is a hopper pattern, and with the addition of a new dog I would find myself fishing, often.

It has been four months since we added Hopper to the fold. He is large and dumb, disobedient and bold. He is everything I figured he would be. He is too excitable, and perhaps he took to his name better than I thought, as he tends to jump on anything and everything, small children, elderly women, passing cars. He's a jumper. But he's also a sweet dog who looks great in front of a wood fire, so I suppose not all is lost.

Lots Of Lake Geneva Sales

Dec 10, 2014 by DC | Add comment
Business has a way of making the participants feel strange emotions. On one hand, I'm super happy and grateful and excited about having a tremendous year this year, one where I've been so incredibly fortunate to close over $25MM in sales. On the other hand, yesterday a whole bunch of properties sold and that makes me sad, and a bit green. It's not that there shouldn't be other agents selling the sorts of homes that I like to sell, it's just that there shouldn't be other agents selling the sorts of homes that I like to sell. Even so.

There were several sales that printed in the MLS yesterday, and all of them were constructed by someone other than this guy, for my Holiday shame. The first sale, in terms of my Importance Ranking, was on Forest Hill in the South Shore Club. That sale was of a home that I spent a good deal of time talking a buyer into, before that buyer went elsewhere and bought the property. I'm writing down that $1.68MM sale in my Theoretical Sales Column, which now has 2014 additions of a $3MM home in Loramoor, a short sale on Conference Point, a $3.1MM sale in the South Shore Club, and this Forest Hill property.

My immature reaction to the sale aside, it was a nice sale that makes perfect sense. The South Shore Club has three distinct price structures. The homes up front in the Club, those on the water or very near it, are in the $3MM to $3.8MM range. That's been documented and supported by three sales in the past 30 months. Then, walking away from the lake, there are values in the $2MM to $2.6MM range. Also documented, also supported by solid sales figures from the past two years. Lastly, there are homes in the back, on Forest Hill, those homes allow access to all the divine amenities of the SSC, excepting the promise of a lake view. Remember when the marking materials said that every home in the SSC would have a lake view? Yeah, they lied.

This home is alongside a spec home that sold around $1.65MM, and that home is next door to a home that sold for $1.75MM as a foreclosure several years go. The value of Forest Hill is between $1.65MM and $1.8MM, which is why my listing on that street for $1.849MM should indeed be the next home to sell. With my REO property pending sale at a list of $2.275MM (should be closing this month), my Forest Hill listing is the only game in town. Want to buy in the South Shore Club? I'll see you at Forest Hill. Or, you could be proactive and email me to explain what exactly you're looking for, and then I can track it down for you. That, or you could talk to an agent who your mother knows from Tuesday Bridge Club. Either way.

Another lakefront home sold yesterday, that on Sidney Smith Lane for $1.9MM. I don't like this sale much. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but only when viewed in contrast to the Loramoor lot I sold last week. That lot was 110' on the lakefront, deep and treed and pretty. It was surrounded by homes valued between $3MM and $5MM. This Sidney Smith property is a tear down by any definition, and the lot has a shared driveway, some sort of shared sidewalk easement thingy, and it is flanked by modest homes. Sidney Smith Lane is a very nice lane, and the drive to the lot may be more redeeming than the lot itself. Loramoor for $2MM or Sidney Smith for $1.9MM? The question must be a Jeopardy style joke.

Next up are two off-water lake access homes. One in Geneva Manor, a couple doors down from my fabulous pool-home that I should have sold in August. Closed at $500k, it's a nice sale I suppose. I would have rather had my pool house for $940k, but I understand why someone would buy this particular house for that particular price. It's quaint and it's cute, and I don't mind a $500k lake access home there, even if it doesn't have a slip.

The last sale was on Oriole Lane in Knollwood. I know that home well, as I sold it at the peak of the market for $850k or so. That home came to the open market this past summer, for $900k or so, and when it failed to sell it was reduced and then reduced some more. A brokerage change triggered an extreme price drop, from $800k something to just $650k. It sold right after that price drop, because why wouldn't it? Is there a particular broker skill that has sellers cut their nose off to leave a property? Of course there is, but I'd have a hard time supposing that a buyer who was motivated to buy at a $650k list wouldn't have been similarly motivated at a $689k list. The closed price of $615k is fine for our market, and it's always nice to have volume. The home was cute, well cared for, and had a nice lake view overlooking the Knollwood Park. Good enough for me.

Geneva Lakefront Realty Office

Dec 08, 2014 by DC |
Last night, after watching a show that promised me I would see a man be eaten alive by a giant snake, I couldn't sleep. Not because I was upset about watching a man be eaten alive by a giant snake, and not because I was upset that the man actually just got his arm a bit hurt so he tapped out, before the snake could eat him. I couldn't sleep because I just don't sleep all that well anymore. So I aided my sleep problem by grabbing my phone from the night stand and flipping through the pictures that I had previously taken. Most were from the last year, because my old iPhone had a nasty tendency to make me delete eight old photos before allowing me to take one more. The photos on my phone are just as you'd expect them to be- pictures of the lake, of boats, of fish, of kids, of houses, of views, and most recently, of a giant 16' Christmas tree that I felled and erected in my living room. This is my life, and it's obvious and predictable, if not glamorous when viewed through the selective memory of a previously crowded hard drive.

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About this time last year, the first photos of what would become my new office appeared. The hole was dug, the foundation poured, the walls built. Then, a couple months went by, with only walls built, to allow for the polar vortex to make its way through the Midwest. When construction resumed, it resumed at a slow pace. When the time was right, I pulled the wires through the building and ran PVC chases where I figured I'd someday need electronics to have their wires hidden. Around this time, the battles began, those between me and my father. In case you forgot my office structure, I sell 99.999999999% of the real estate here, but my 70 year old father is most technically the broker of the company. This was also dirt that he owned, so by default this was and still is, his building. But since I'm the one who meets customers and attempts to entertain clients here, the space would need to be something that I found suitable. You may find this hard to believe, but the definition of suitable varies wildly within the minds of 36 year olds and 70 year olds.

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Where I wanted hardwood there was a desire for carpet. Where I wanted trim there was a desire for drywall. Where I wanted fancy there was a demand for dull. Where I wanted shingles there was a desire for shingles, sure, but rough and tumble ones, the sort that pioneers would clad the non-street-side of their barns with. There was a battle. It's been said that children whose parents survived the depression tend to grow up to be financially conservative. I would argue that instead of behaving as that now-grown child of a depression era family, my father lives his life as though he is a present day orphan child, still living in the depression. His financial conservatism knows no limitations, and when it came time to put a sink in the office, where I had intended for a small coffee area to be, the sink that showed up was a drop in stainless steel sink- with the faucet still attached- that he had snagged out of someone else's garbage at some point in the last 20 years. Echoes of 1933.

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But the battle waged on, and when it came time to make selections for finishes, I had no choice but to fight for something better. After all, lest everyone forget, I've been extremely blessed to have sold $100MM worth of real estate over the past 5 years, and my customers and clients tend to be discerning, stylish, and of a very high caliber. So the work continued, slowly and without much method. The office was to be done in April, maybe May, but by June it was unfinished and July found it the same. August it was sort of more finished and by September it was kind of done. I moved in late in that month, and have now been plunking at this keyboard in this new office for the better part of 10 weeks. The battle is not over, but a momentary truce has been called.

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There is no sign here yet, but if you miss the new, shingled building at 57 West Geneva Street in Williams Bay, that's only because you're not paying attention. This new office is across the street from the Mobile station, one building to the lakeside of the Library, and three doors West of the Frosty Moose. My old office has become an Edward Jones office. Now you have the triangulation of my location, and I do hope that you'll stop in once in a while to say hello. Office hours are whenever I'm here, which is usually in the morning and then again in the middle of the day, and then again later in the day. To write OPEN 7:45-10:15, CLOSED 10:15 to 11:30, OPEN 11:30 to 1, CLOSED 1-1:30, OPEN 1:30 to 2:18, CLOSED 2:18 to 4, OPEN 4- 4:45, CLOSED 4:45 to 5:30, OPEN 5:30 to 5:34 that would have been a really annoying sign, and far too expensive.

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The key to this new office is that it now must increase my efficiency, which may increase my productivity. The productivity seems to be maxed out at the moment, but the efficiency could use some work. So, for now, I hope you'll stop in to say hello. We may get a coffee maker someday, but I'm going to need to sell another house first...

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

Dec 05, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I've gotten a bit lazy in checking foreclosures. I've gotten a bit lazy in lots of things, so this one thing shouldn't be that big of a deal, but it sort of is. Guarding against complacency is something that we all must do, but it's extra important for Realtors. To be complacent is to stop learning, and to stop learning is to stop providing something of value. If I stop providing something of value, then I'm going to rely on referrals from the lady who cuts my mom's hair, and that's no good because I don't even know that lady. Foreclosures.

I checked this morning, and what used to take me an hour or more has now taken me 10 minutes. There aren't as many of these distressed guys percolating as there used to be. But, for all of our "everything is awesome" refrain, there are still trouble spots that we, the smart ones, need to be aware of so that we can either react defensively to protect our possible nearby value, or react offensively, and seize the opportunity of another's distress.

There's a foreclosure in the works in Cedar Point Park. From a market perspective, that's not a big deal. Why not? Because Cedar Point is a large association, and a foreclosure or two scattered amongst typical sales volume doesn't hurt an association in the way that a singular foreclosure would hurt a much smaller association. So something awry in Cedar Point is no big deal, it'll just create an opportunity for something, which drives sales volume, which, in a round about way, actually helps.

Geneva National has seen its foreclosure problem ebb a bit, but they still exist there, and they will for(ever) quite some time. I don't see anything in the Abbey Villas or Abbey Springs, and that's always nice. The Villas have had their share of difficulty, and they deserve a break. I see nothing in Country Club or Indian Hills, nothing in Glenwood Springs, either. That's not to say something isn't amiss, somewhere, but it's to say that I wouldn't plan on it.

There's a possible lakefront foreclosure still working its way through the courts, that of a house that I've attempted to sell in the past. It's a troubled situation, and what would be best for that house and for the market is for that house to indeed be foreclosed on. Then it can come to market clean, be sold, and take a long time bit of uncertainty. Foreclosures can be viewed as the destruction of dreams, or they can be viewed as a necessary evil to create a stronger market. That's how Ra's al Ghul would have preferred we view this.

These foreclosures that continue now will be fewer and father between, but they're always going to exist. It's good that we don't have to dwell on them anymore, and it's good that individual associations are no longer suffering from rumors of an impending foreclosure wave. The South Shore Club has had three foreclosures in the history of the club, and yet there were rumors that persisted that insisted trouble was always brewing there. That wasn't the case, and that misinformation actually led to a lot of people missing out on rather incredible opportunities. If you're now ranking ownership strength in lakefront communities, I'd place the South Shore Club at the very tip top of that list.

The foreclosures that continue are now less frequently caused by unfortunate market conditions and more by systemic financial problems on the ownership side. In 2010, foreclosures were "crud, this house isn't worth much, let's run from it". Today, foreclosures are more "crud, our financial picture isn't getting any better, let's give in and let this place go". I think the latter is the more noble cause of a foreclosure, though it is more disappointing for the owner. Let's keep an eye on the foreclosure market, and let's work together if you're looking for some sort of distressed opportunity, but mostly, let's just watch the market and not let foreclosures bother us anymore.

Loramoor Sells

Dec 03, 2014 by DC | Add comment
If we're looking back, as I'm fond of doing, 2009 was a really bad time to list your house. There were buyers, sure, but there was mostly just chaos. In March of 2009, the DOW had just finished its 16 month decline that shaved nearly 8000 points off of that index, and the world was generally uncertain of what would come next. Around that time, there were many in Lake Geneva who kept the calm by saying that we were different. That Lake Geneva, in spite of its extreme connection to the health of the financial markets, would be just fine. There was Kool Aide being mixed, and while I sipped a bit from time to time, most agents here bathed in it so they could more easily guzzle it. 2009 was a strange time.

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When the stock market reached that March bottom, many owners of property here figured that things were either about to get a whole lot better or a whole lot worse. There were very few without an opinion. And so in July of 2009, an owner of a beautiful vacant lot in Loramoor decided to list. For $3,495,000. The markets would add back half of that lost wealth by December of that same year, but that did little to calm the fears that something extra bad remained in the offing.

This lot. It was listed then, and it sat from then until now. The price was shaved to $2.95MM, then some more, and then a little more. Then, once the shaving was done, they shaved it more. $2.1MM was the final list price, and off of that price I sold the lot yesterday to a beloved client of mine for $2MM.

The lot, admittedly, is a rarity in our market. 110' of lakefront, 1.5 acres, give or take. The surrounding homes are newer, bigger, nicer. The association is spread out, with large lots and large homes. If you could draw up a location to invest in a nice but not entirely over the top lakefront home, this would be what you'd draw. At $18,181 per front foot, I challenge you to find a better property that's sold at this price in the past 18 months. I am, as you can see, a fan of this sale at this price for this purpose.

Like all of my deals, this deal can teach us a lesson about the behavior of both buyers and sellers in this specific market. Buyers seeking lakefront in the $2MM to $3.5MM range are generally presented with two distinct options: Nice home on crappy land. Crappy home on nice land. There hasn't been a true offering of nice home on nice land without some nearby impairment (launch, giant association pier, etc) for quite some time. If you're a buyer capped at $2MM, you have plenty of tremendous things to consider, but if you're a buyer who would rather find something of the caliber that $3.5MM can buy you, you've been wandering in the desert for quite some time.

The buyer here wasn't particularly looking for a piece of land to build on. Rather, the buyer wanted a built house, one that could be bought, moved into, and enjoyed. But the market didn't yield a match, and this was the most practical option. The negotiation of this property is where the lesson lies, and it starts with understanding that Million Dollar Listing negotiations are not Lake Geneva negotiations.

Million Dollar Listing goes like this: I buy a $6000 suit, $1400 shoes, a $100k car. I wear the suit, those shoes, drive that car. I would also be sweating a lot out there, but that could be taken care of for the camera with loads of towels and constant off-camera-fanning. I write an offer on a house, I call the other agent. He says I'm low. I say he's high. He calls his seller. He calls me. We stare into the distance, on the split screen. We then declare we have a deal. Hurray! Then we go to dinner where we buy a nice appetizer for $54 and go home to our glassy, modern homes, the deal done.

In Lake Geneva, you make a bid in June, let it rest for July, August, September and October. Then, you try it again. If the seller has been sufficiently worn down, and his market fatigue hangs on him in such a heavy fashion, then he takes the bid and you close. Patience is a requirement of a purchase here, and some of the best deals I've done are deals where the buyer and seller take many weeks or months of time to wear down the other side. Of course, this has many disadvantages, as other buyers are apt to snap up a property while this grudge match occurs, but if the property isn't one that you must have, and if the competition for the property is light, then waiting out a seller for a bit is generally a great idea.

To the buyer of this property, well done. It says a lot about a buyer if they stick with an agent for a year or longer while engaged in an active, somewhat disappointing, massively frustrating search. Patience and loyalty are two concepts that real estate markets don't respect all that much, but I sure do.

Lake Geneva Tax Time

Dec 01, 2014 by DC | Add comment
Everything was going as planned. Thanksgiving dinner featured a juicy, perfectly cooked bird- a rarity in a Curry household that excels at baking but tends to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to cooking duration of poultry- the corn was yellow, the sweet potatoes orange, and while the custard pie had been left to cook for a few minutes too long, desert was rescued by a 3 gallon tub of Zanzibar ice-cream that my older brother sourced from a Madison creamery the day before. We shot clay pigeons after lunch, and by shot I mean shot at, in the general direction of, choosing usually to grant the clay pigeon an eternal stay of execution. The next day, we played basketball in the high school gym, which is a bizarre occurrence that features old, fat, and slow siblings pretending that what it unfolding is anything but an absolute tragedy. Even that, with the fatness and the sweating and the clanking, it was fine.

Then, on Saturday, my mail came. There were coupons for this and some for that, and some invoices for things that I should probably pay. As I flipped through each piece, I hadn't intended on yet seeing the last white envelope at the bottom of the pile- my tax bill. Walworth Township is where I live, and they must have been either more efficient than usual or they simply needed the money earlier this year, because the tax bill arrived in November. I opened it without delay, and while the bill wasn't bad, relative to how bad it could have been, I view any tax as though it could, indeed, be a bit less. With Thanksgiving now out of the way and Christmas still in the offing, this week rings in the beginning of the Walworth County Tax Bill Season. There's rarely anything jolly about it.

While you won't be overly excited to receive your bill, now is the time for you to consider what you might do in order to lessen that bill next December. If you're interested in stripping off half of your siding, not mowing your lawn for the entirety of next year, and allowing some neighborhood street toughs to launch a few stones through your front windows, that's fine, but that's not necessary. Lest you take what comes next as tax or legal advice, never forget that I am many things but a CPA and attorney I am not. This is how this is going to work:

Your tax bill will arrive in your mail. You will be dismayed. It doesn't matter the amount, you will be dismayed. After your initial grief, consider what you need to do next. You need to pay the bill. Unless, let's say, you live in Walworth Township and the township billed you for a fire call to put out a fire that never occurred, then you'll pay the tax portion of the bill but leave out the fraudulent phantom fire call charge. Tax bill payed, look at your assessed and fair market value. How does it look? Knowing that, as an owner, you'll believe your property value to be one number when it comes to selling and an entirely different number when it comes to taxable value, give it a good consideration. Is it close? Yes? No? It doesn't matter, the next step is the same.

Look to the market conditions surrounding your Lake Geneva area home. Live in a condo? You have a four bedroom at Vista Del Lago? Cool. They have you assessed at $550k? Okay. Email me, ask for the sold comps for the past 12 months. I'll give them to you, and you'll be initially saddened when you see that no four bedroom units sold in 2014. But what did sell were some three bedroom units, and they sold for $400k. Your initial thoughts will be that the comps do not help you, but they do. Who couldn't argue in front of an appeals boar that a bedroom isn't worth $150k? I mean, a single bedroom for $150k? Your honor, this must be a mistake.

See how that works? But I've gotten ahead of myself, because I've already pushed you in front of the appeals board. If appeals boards met right after you received your tax bill, everyone with a bone to pick would show up to pick it, publicly. But the appeals process for tax assessments occurs sometime the following summer, depending on your municipality. By then, most owners have forgotten the December pain of that tax bill, unless you opt to pay your first half of the bill by January 31 and the second half by July 31, then that tax bill stays on your mind throughout the summer. But most simply pay their bill, opting to declare it on the tax return filed in the year the bill was received, not in the following year when the bill is actually due. When this happens, the Open Book review seems forever away, and is usually forgotten by any except those who have a significant tax gripe. Open Book Review is the mail in rebate of tax assessments- some do it, but most lose the receipt and forget to clip off the bar code.

This is why today, even before you receive your 2014 tax bill, you must make a note in your calendar. Pick a day in March and make a call to your municipality. Ask them if they've scheduled the open book reviews yet. If they have, schedule your protest appointment. If they haven't, ask when they're expecting them to be (usually in the summer months), and then make a note to follow up. If you miss the review period, you're out of luck, and your non-complaint is a passive acceptance of your tax amount. If your assessment is below market value, terrific! Don't say a word. If it's near or above market value, do yourself a favor and shoot me an email. I'll send you some comps that might support your claim, and you just might save some money. If strange people can camp in front of a Best Buy for a week to save $100 on a no-name television, then we can certainly remember to make a few calls to potentially save a whole lot more.