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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 $110MM 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. So is the fact that since the start of 2010 I have closed more Geneva lakefront transaction sides than any other agent. I suppose that makes me the Top Agent in Lake Geneva, because there's really no other way to define top.

    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.







  • “February is a suitable month for dying. Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long.”

    ~Anne Quindlen

  • How can I help?

    Email David Curry
    Or text to
    262-745-1993

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The Copper Top Sells

Mar 04, 2015 by DC | Add comment
There's a difference between building something for the market and building something for yourself. That's obvious. If your 3 year old daughter loves Barney, you could build her a purple house that resembles a dinosaur. When you do this, it'll be great. Then, later, when your daughter tells you she hates you and that she needs to borrow the car, then the dinosaur house must be sold. You could spend a lifetime searching for another buyer who wants a purple dinosaur house, and you could also market to people who like chicken houses, because purple can be painted yellow and dinosaurs resemble large, toothy chickens. This is the plight of those who build something for their own particular tastes, and it's typically a recipe for financial ruin.

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Building something for the market means lots of tan walls and some white trim, and maybe some polished nickel here and there. Building for a market, and by default, for the masses, means keeping things straight and simple, showing a bit of excitement here (whirlpool tub!) and there (tankless water heater!), but never too much. To show too much is to personalize, and personalization is bad in the sterile atmosphere that is the broad market. This thinking is what leads to horrible, repulsive subdivision spec homes, each more taupe and plastic than the next. But we are a nation of consumers, and it's much easier to drive that new Denali if you park it at that $185k vinyl ranch.

For these two simplistic scenarios, there is actually a third avenue that an owner can choose when building or renovating. They can choose what they like, and not necessarily what the market is known to like, and then present it to the market as though it is indeed what the market has been looking for. You can fill the market demand for something the market didn't know it wanted. This can be a great thing, as visionaries do this all the time. Fifteen years ago I didn't know I'd want to be able to play the radio on my phone and then magically make that radio stream from my phone to a speaker that doesn't plug in, but now I don't know how the world worked before Pandora and Bluetooth. There is, however, great danger in providing a product that the market doesn't know it wants, and in fact, doesn't want.

This was the case with a unique lakefront house on Lakeview in Linn Township. The home was modern, contemporary, both at once and at once neither. It was large, rambling, up and down and then down and up. The house has been affectionately dubbed "The Coppertop", and if you've never made reference to this home then you are not a true lake aficionado. The Copper Top was first listed for sale many years ago, for a price that either came close to, or actually exceeded, $2.5MM. That price wasn't acceptable to the market, and so the property languished and absorbed price cut after price cut. After some of this cutting, I listed the house last summer for the owner. I had many, many showings. I spent a great deal of time there, walking the stairs and arming and disarming the alarm. I ate some chocolates out of the refrigerator that I probably wasn't supposed to eat. But for all of my effort, and all of the time spent, I didn't sell that house.

After methodically implementing price cuts, a buyer did appear, but it was a buyer that had already seen the home when it was listed with the prior agent. When that buyer wrote, I was out of the deal, and that deal closed this week for $1,473,140. I was not part of the sale, which brings me great sadness. The deal was likely somewhat complicated, as the contract to closing time was lengthy, but the end result is a nice sale for the lakefront, and proof that every home- no matter the shape or size or fit or finish- will indeed find a buyer. This home was unique, sure, but you cannot really understand just how unique it was without having seen it. The lake sells many varieties of homes well. We love selling shingle style homes, our favorite. We sell the stone and wood manses's at the South Shore Club, people like those. And we sell old homes that need work. But the lake never sells shiny modern particularly well, especially if there is some premium sought. Here's to you, Copper Top, I wish you a lifetime of copper toppery.

My Boat

Mar 02, 2015 by DC | Add comment
My boat isn't such a good boat. Four years ago, when I found its picture on the internets, it wasn't such a good boat then, either. But when it arrived on that trailer after a harrowing journey from Stuart, Florida, it was an exciting moment. I met the transport guy at the Fontana gas station, and pumped the first of what would be nearly one hundred gallons of gas into that cavernous tank. The tank sufficiently and reasonably filled, I followed my new boat down to the Abbey launch where it would meet the cleansing waters of Geneva for the first time. Having already paid for a service of some sort at the dealership that sold me the boat, I was certain the boat would start. After cranking for some lengthy time, it was obvious that I shouldn't have been nearly so certain. The boat started after a while, but it didn't want to. But moments later I was on the open water. It was early April and it was cold, but it didn't matter. I had arrived.

Over the years that followed, I poured money into that boat. I bought and installed a depth finder that worked for exactly one season, knowing just when the warrant would run out before deciding to cease its underwater telepathy. I replaced worn plastic bits with shiny plastic bits, the sort that are colored to look like more expensive metals but are, as a point of fact, just shiny painted plastic. I replaced the stereo and the speakers, I had a windshield made by another company from the deep south, and that windshield is now far better than was the old one. I scrubbed the hull and had the motor painted. I did lots of things to that boat.

And the boat rewarded me well, for a while. I took to trolling, more and more. I pulled deep-running baits through the dark, deep waters, and I caught some very big fish. I caught lots of fish. Northern Pike, smallmouth bass, I guess mostly just those two things, but I'm convinced that I broke off a big walleye or a monster pike on one ill-fated effort on one sunny early evening in front of the Congress Club. I fished early and often, and I ate some pizzas on that boat late into the night when fishing with friends was pushed aside by our hunger.

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My children loved that boat, and I suppose they love it still. Those first two seasons I would take them out with me often, to throw those deep lines and cruise the shoreline, trying so hard to stay in 30-40' of water. If you've never tried to follow any consistent depth range in Geneva you can't know the struggle that this is. The lake is not a bowl, thank goodness, and the shoreline and the corresponding drop-offs vary from point to point and bay to bay, and it seems, from year to year. My kids liked hanging from the t-top framing, and treated this piece of the boat like an aquatic jungle gym. I would yell a bit, but mostly I liked it when they did that.

While the tone may be deceiving, I am not writing as someone would write about something that they no longer have. I still have this boat. It's currently covered in snow, pushed behind some trees at the very far end of my property. When we shoot clay pigeons, I make sure to tell everyone to not shoot in that general direction, but I know some still do. The boat is still there, and it's still important to me. But it let me down often last year. It wouldn't start. When the starting problem was fixed, and it started for a week or so, then it wouldn't start, again. The engine devours gas, so much so that it doesn't seem possible. The one hundred gallon tank, once something that I considered an off-shore type luxury, is actually a necessity if you're to boat for any considerable distance. Like, say, from Williams Bay to Lake Geneva and back.

The boat is now at a crossroads, and I with it. The engine troubles must be sorted. The hull must be properly waxed. The depth finder must once again find its depth. The starter must do as it is told, as it has told us it does by its very name. These things must be fixed in order to make it a better boat. In what feels like the dead of winter, it would be easy to assume these are tasks for another day. Surely boats can't be of importance when the ice is so thick and the snowmobiles cruise where the boats once did. But open water isn't more than 6 weeks away, and I need to be ready. In order to make a success of old age, I suppose one must start young. And in order to make a success of spring, one must do work in the winter.

Two Lakefront Sales

Feb 27, 2015 by DC | Add comment
I enjoy the marketplace positioned at the end of any given driveway. It's a place for garbage, gifts, and sales, depending on the day. For instance, if you had a television that was nice 10 years ago, and you recently replaced it with a much nicer television, you have one of three options at the street. You can put the old, used-to-be-nice-TV out at the road and offer it for sale. $20 seems reasonable. After some time, no one wants your television. A guy stopped and looked at it once, but then he walked up to your house and looked in the kitchen window, too, so it's not certain if he was a buyer or a taker. After some time, you remove the $20 sign and scratch out a new one. FREE! it says. You don't even write "to a good home" because at this point, no one cares about this television. Yes, it was nice. Yes, you watched game seven of some important sports series on it, and everyone in attendance marveled at how great the night was, how great the outcome was, how great your nacho dip was, how great your TV was. Those days are gone.

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No one wants your free television. That guy came back again, but he skipped the television and just looked in the kitchen window some more. After a week of it being free, and another week of hazing from your neighbors, you move the television from its location and pile it next to the trash cans on Tuesday morning. You tape $20 to the screen that night, to entice the garbage man to take what you no longer want. He takes it. You have now gone through the three stages of getting rid of something. You tried to sell it. You tried to give it away. Then you paid someone to take it. This is the business model for old televisions but also for old lakefront houses. Sometimes, the market hates your house so much that you have to figure out how to pay someone to take it.

That's not exactly what happened on the North Shore of Geneva, some ways from downtown Lake Geneva and along that Snaking road, but it's sort of what happened. Four years ago, a lakefront owner decided that it as time to be a seller. That owner had another property to build another house on, so the current property and the current house were no longer part of the future. They were the past, though the past was really the present, and that present lingered and lingered. Four years of market time, four years of trying to tell everyone to buy this house. Four years later, a deal was struck, and this week that seller closed on that house for $5.25MM. The property was 261' along the lake, and 3+ acres deep. It was on Snake Road, which is always good. While I never liked the house and I don't like the property, it was a fine sale and a good bit of comp for our market. But the story does not end there.

The neighbor to that Snake Road home, sometime in 2011, also decided that it was time to sell. There was no next property already in ownership, as was the case for the first neighbor, but selling was the goal and an upgrade was the plan. The house, a decent house with elevated frontage and aged finishes, didn't sell. It didn't sell that first year, and then it didn't sell that second year. It didn't sell in those middle years, either. Last year? It didn't sell. Last week, it sold. Hurray! $2.495MM for 115' of sloped frontage isn't so bad, even if the house needs a bit of love. But the sale isn't as it seems, and the other Snake sale isn't, either. These owners, both saddled with something they no longer wanted, faced with the reality that the market felt the same way about their homes as they did, made a trade. And so the $5.25MM house traded for the $2.495MM house, and once the money was supplied to make up the deficiency the deals printed. Two lakefront sales, big volume for agents, nice comps for our dying MLS, and no new lakefront owners.

Sometimes, when you can't sell something, and you can't really give it away, you just swap it for something else. The big house will now either be torn down and completely renovated and changed. The little house will likely be home to those owners for a while before it, too, is sold. Why make a trade only to sell what you've received? Because it's much easier to sell a $2.5MM house than it is a $5.25MM house. Lake Geneva is a market where we wish to entice new ownership, to show those city dwellers just how outrageously boring their weekend city life really and truly is. But it's also a market for those of us who know it, who love it, who know exactly what we want. Sometimes, exactly what we want is just something different, like maybe the neighbor's house.

R.I.P. MLS

Feb 25, 2015 by DC | Add comment
After two more months and some handful of extra days, I will turn 37. That age doesn't seem so bad to me. It seems youngish. For that sort-of-young-age, I have now spent more than half of it in the real estate industry. That's the only industry I have ever known. I thought I knew the lawn mowing industry, but who could know an industry when they're 15? I didn't know the real estate industry all that well for most of my life, indeed I'd say I have only fully understood the industry for the past few years. Any agent who is newish to the game who claims to know the industry really cannot. It takes some time in these trenches, even though the trenches that I spend my days in are lined with green grass and filled with super clear water. Also, I'm in a boat. But still, the industry.

Changes in this industry have come stubbornly since forever. The very notion of what we now know to be the MLS was foreign to the industry just 40 years ago. For the uninitiated, the MLS is a listing syndicate service that hosts the listings of groups of Realtors. Chicago, they have an MLS. Their MLS is different from the MLS in Austin. The MLS there is different from the one in Lake Geneva, and so on. The MLS has been uniquely important in changing real estate over the past several decades, and now the time has come when it must be said: The MLS must die.

Die it must, but it will not go quietly. The MLS will not simply refuse to eat, and refuse to move, and die in place. The MLS will eat organic and whole grain, it will exercise like mad, and it will take vitamins and medicine and seek out all that conventional medicine can offer and whatever the natural-types have- it'll take that, too. That's because the MLS is big business, and though MLS's are fractured and localized, they provide jobs and revenue and they have been, up until now, very important. They've been this way because they implement rules that their Realtor members must follow, and no matter how onerous these rules may be, they are followed and obeyed because without the MLS the Realtors won't be able to get their listings out to the buying public. The information that the MLS's cull has been, up until perhaps seven or so years go, closely guarded. Syndication was difficult, frowned upon, and scarce. The MLS's held the data, the Realtors were forced into paying to both provide and access the data, and the public went to the agents so they could have access to that golden data. Then Zillow came along and blew the whole thing up.

But they didn't walk in and blow it up. In fact, Zillow reached key partnerships with the National Association of Realtors, and provided a national portal through which all real estate listings might be visible. At first, Zillow was just one of many. In fact, search for a house listing right now and you'll find two forms of search results. First, you'll find a billion national style real estate sites like Zillow, Trulia, Homegain, Realtor.com, etc and etc, and then you'll find those same results on brokerage sites, both national franchise players and small mom and pop shops. That information is accessed for the individual brokers through an IDX system, which is effectively a system that charges brokerages to receive the information that they were charged to provide, which is an outrageous cycle that Realtors have been forced to abide. This listing information is everywhere, relatively loose in format, questionable in accuracy, and in some cases completely and blatantly wrong. But the key to understanding the current evolution is that the information that was once private and accessible only through fee-based membership is now public. The curtain hasn't just been pulled aside, it's been torn down, trampled on, and burned to a fine ash.

This, of course, has been good for the consumer. It has been good for the Realtor. It has, however, rendered the middle man- the person who is paid to collect data and then sells that data to Zillow and others- completely and utterly unnecessary. Rather than drone on and on, it might be easiest to explain the current role of the MLS by this snapshot from the movie Office Space:

{Scene Initech. Bob Slydell and Bob Porter are interviewing Tom.}

BOB SLYDELL
So what you do is you take the specifications from the customers and
you bring them down to the software engineers?

TOM
That, that's right.

BOB PORTER
Well, then I gotta ask, then why can't the customers just take the
specifications directly to the software people, huh?

TOM
Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, engineers are not good at dealing with
customers.

BOB SLYDELL
You physically take the specs from the customer?

TOM
Well, no, my, my secretary does that, or, or the fax.

BOB SLYDELL
Ah.

BOB PORTER
Then you must physically bring them to the software people.

TOM
Well...no. Yeah, I mean, sometimes.

BOB SLYDELL
Well, what would you say… you do here?

TOM
Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn customers so
the engineers don't have to!! I have people skills!! I am good at
dealing with people!!! Can't you understand that?!? WHAT THE HELL IS
WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!!!!!!!



Tom is the MLS. The Bobs are, increasingly, everyone else. The MLS is useless, unimportant, and within three years there will be a national MLS that Zillow will run. Realtors will submit their listings direct to our Zillow Overlords, and consumers will be able to do the same. Zillow will charge the Realtors to take their listing information, and then Zillow will use that information to generate leads which they, in turn, will sell back to the Realtors. Under my prophecy it might be easy to ask, "Gosh, Dave, it sounds like the Realtors aren't necessary either, so when do we get rid of them, too?" Snappy question, and while I'd easily argue that no algorithm can take the place of hyper-local knowledge, the answer to your question is rather simple. Realtors can't go away because there's way too much money to be made off of us.

New Buffalo

Feb 23, 2015 by DC | Add comment
Every so often, generally when I'm least expecting it, Michigan shows up. It happened a few weeks ago, when I learned that a friend of a client was building a home there. For what, you ask? Apparently to vacation at, though that's just unlikely speculation on my part. Then, just this past weekend, a lovely buyer called me to say that they had been considering Michigan, over Lake Geneva. After I came to, she was talking about how Lake Geneva makes more sense, which made me feel better, sort of. But for those reminders, I must take to these pages again to provide a primer of sorts. Considering a Michigan vacation home? Let's chat.

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If you're considering a vacation home over there, we'll have to assume you're considering such a purchase in so called "Harbor Country". Why would we assume this? Well, because you're reading this, which means you have to have some level of elevated intelligence, and everyone knows that a vacation home located more than 2 hours from home is a vacation home that will seldom get visited. On this matter of distance, let's say you live in Chicago, somewhere near Armitage. Mapquest tells me a trip to New Buffalo will take you two hours and five minutes. Not bad. Let's not consider the wretched scenery you'll endure during that drive, and only, instead, consider the time. If you choose wisely and head north from that Chicago location, you'll arrive in Lake Geneva after one hour and thirty minutes of driving. Because we at Lake Geneva are both gracious and benevolent, sheer geography allows us to provide you one extra hour of leisure each weekend. Advantage: Lake Geneva.

Now that you're here, and you're still 35 minutes from being there, let's consider what it is we have to offer you on a February day. First, we cannot offer you any catastrophic lake effect snow for your drive. We don't do that sort of thing. But we can offer you some ski hills, and we won't make you keep driving to find them. I, it should be known, am not a skier. I wouldn't mind being one, but I have so many things that I like to do, so many things that steal me away from what it is that I should be doing, that I know it's not so wise for me to engage in any further hobbying. Even so, skiing is popular and it's fun, and if you want to ski in New Buffalo you're going to have to drive a ways. A bit more than an hour, according to Mapquest. Once you drive that additional hour to Swiss Valley Ski place, you can experience the Midwestern thrill of a 225' vertical drop, and two quad lifts. That's nice, but not really.

Alpine Valley is just 17 miles from Lake Geneva, and Mapquest says that's going to take you about 19 minutes to get there. A round trip to Alpine from LG versus a round trip to Swiss Valley from NB will save you another hour and a half for your weekend, so Lake Geneva has just added three hours to your weekend. You're welcome. But about Alpine Valley (we also have the Grand Geneva's Mountain Top, but that's not as nice of a hill as Alpine, or so I'm told). It's not only the place where Stevie Ray Vaughan died, it also hosts a 388' vertical drop, and three quad lifts. Again, better than Harbor Country, but that shouldn't so much of a surprise. Further, if you were to visit Lake Geneva this weekend you would find that all of our shops and establishments, excepting Gordy's Boathouse, are open and warm. The same, sadly, cannot be said for New Buffalo. You might find a place to eat if you drive around for a while, and since you're in New Buffalo, we already know you love to drive. You do. Winter Fun: Advantage Lake Geneva.

But winter isn't what most people think of when they think of a lake house, even though they probably should think about winter because Lake Geneva absolutely crushes in the winter. No, most people think of summer. They think of white piers and blue waters, and alas, some think of beaches. They think of golfing and sportsing and skiing and fishing. They think of kids splashing in the shallows and morning walks to coffee. They think of boating on sun drenched afternoons, and come dinner, they think of putting on some summery clothes and boating to dinner. If these are the things they think of, whether they know it or not, they're thinking about Lake Geneva. That's because Lake Geneva is a destination for active vacationing sorts, the ones that want to see a lake and appreciate its beauty, but once they've seen the beauty they want to experience the lake. Lake Geneva is for people who want to use a lake, New Buffalo is for those that would rather sit and look at the lake. You know who else liked to look at a Great Lake? Ernest McSorely. You know what happened when he decided to take a boat onto it? Gordon Lightfoot does.

That's not entirely fair, because you can, indeed, boat on Lake Michigan. You can have your waterfront home in New Buffalo or beyond, and you can boat. But if you're going to boat, you're going to need to get back in that car for a while. There's a nice house for sale on Westway Drive in New Buffalo. It has 100 or so feet of frontage on the lake. Don't ask about the pier, because there isn't one. But you can keep a boat in the marina, and that marina is only 7 miles away from your new beach house. That's an easy 20 minute round trip drive, which isn't a big deal because you love driving so much. That's just a bit more lost time, but summer weekends are deliciously long and there's never any rush during a Midwestern summer that just lingers and lingers and lingers. OF course I'm kidding, advantage: Lake Geneva.

I could do this all day, but I won't. I didn't bring up the golf, or the dining, or the shopping. I didn't bring up summer water temps, or water quality, or nuclear power plants. I didn't mention the nasty undertow that exists on that big lake, and I didn't bring up the dirty nature of beaches. Lake Geneva isn't just sort of better than New Buffalo. It's vastly superior. In. Every. Single. Way.

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Lake Geneva Co-ops

Feb 20, 2015 by DC | Add comment
If you buy a car that, after some days or weeks or months or years, you decide that you do not like, you trade it in on a different car. If you buy a pair of jeans that looked right in the store's altered mirrors only to discover, later, that you do not like those jeans at all and, in fact, you have no idea what you were thinking, that's not really a big deal. You'll just stuff those jeans into the back of your closet, or you'll sell them at some resale shop, should you be that aggressive in your disdain for those ill-fitting jeans. If you order a meal at a restaurant, and you know you should have ordered the chicken but for some ridiculous reason you ordered the fish, you can pretty much either not eat the fish and go home hungry or you can send the fish back, pretending that you ate a bone or something, or that it tasted like ammonia and soap. I find that if you're sending back fish you should always tell them that it tastes of ammonia and soap, because listing both flavors makes it seem as though you have, indeed, really suffered some unexpected injury to your tastebuds.



In life, if you don't like something you've bought, you have options. In real estate, too. You have options for what it is that you've bought, in the event that after some time, weeks or months maybe, but hopefully years, you have decided that you either deserve better, or that you don't deserve that house at all. This latter feeling would have been nice to feel in, say, 2007, for those who bought real estate in, say, 2005, but as a matter of fact most in that boat only felt that way once the market crashed and the only option was to hand the keys to the sheriff. I have sold many homes and many condominiums and many vacant lots. Most of those properties are still owned by those dear people who bought those things from me. I would guess that my condo sales have turned over the most, but not because people dislike the condominiums they bought, but rather, because they like the lake and the accoutrements so much that they need more space, more views, better everything. So they go single family, and in theory everyone lives happily ever after, except the Realtor in question, who constantly wonders when it's time to upgrade into a bigger single family.

For all of these homes and condos, there is one small segment of my sold market that has experienced tremendous market stability. There is one class of property that my buyers have bought and held, and held, and then held. These are buyers turned owners, not buyers who are temporarily the owners of that thing before they become the temporary owners of the next thing. And I suppose, when it's all said and done, that such stability and longevity is the entire goal behind properties such as these. They are the co-ops, those magical, misunderstood properties at the Congress Club, Belvedere Park, and the Harvard Club. These are the properties of which I speak, and of all of the sorts of things I've sold, the buyers of these properties have been perhaps, the most content with their purchases.

The Harvard Club, that's a unique creation. There are rules and rules, and when you think the rules have all been written and every single one has been read, there are yet more rules. Don't bring a dog onto the property in the summer, turn the water off in the winter, pay cash and cash only, don't run over here and certainly only whisper after this time. If you must wear stripes and your body type isn't what a panel of observers would describe as SLENDER, please make those stripes vertical. I added the last rule as hyperbole, but I have not read the rule book lately so such a thing may exist. These rules make the market a bit uneasy, and I have had no greater difficulty in my real estate life than selling a simple, affordable, Harvard Club cottage. Buyers balk at these rules, wondering how life could be suitable under such conditions. But after much time, one buyer who finds the rules to be acceptable, perhaps even quaint and aspirational, buys and settles in. After some time of ownership, the buyer realizes those rules may be a tad annoying, but the special emotion that one feels when walking over that grassy front lawn on a mid-summer day would be completely missed if those rules didn't exist.

Currently, there isn't a single offering in any of our esteemed, rule riddled co-op style clubs. There wasn't anything available for all of 2014, either. As an estimate, there are around 50 such residences in these three clubs, and it looks to me that the most visible thing that all owners have in common is that they quite obviously love their cottages. No water in the winter, no dogs in the summer, no this and no that. While the rules may seem cumbersome to outsiders, the insiders know something that no outsider ever could. They know the value of a simple lakeside cottage, and in that, we can all be pleased.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Feb 18, 2015 by DC | Add comment
I like to make comparisons. For example, I compare our lake to other lakes. This is no comparison, really, but to say it's no comparison is to utter a figure of speech, which still leaves the no-comparison as a comparison. I also like to compare years, like comparing this one to one in 1997 when I was a young punk Realtor and I didn't need to think about losing weight. I didn't complain about $16 for my kids' rollerskating class at school. Those were the days, but these days are probably better. I like to compare less distant years as well, like last year to this year. Let's do that, because last year matters to you and what I thought about in 1997 doesn't.

1014 South Lakeshore, Fontana


Last year, we sold a lot of lakefront and lake access homes. I, personally, sold more here than anyone else. I'm proud of that, but that's last year and that year doesn't matter to this year. That's because this year the market is the same, but it's very different. The macro drivers of our market remain in place, those being portfolio returns and low interest rates. Those are mostly the same. But today, on this date that's creeping into late February, things feel quite different. Our market feels slow to me, even though there are plenty of buyers milling about. There seems to be a lack of conviction amongst the buyers, and I can't say that at any time in the past five years I've had so many nonchalant lookers on my radar. Nonchalance is good when you're browsing for cars, but not so great when you're looking for rare real estate. If you keep your interest a secret, no one can help you. It's like cancer- it's best treated when some smart people know about it. But of course it's actually nothing like cancer at all.

This blasé market isn't necessarily the fault of the buyers. It would be easy to blame them, these buyers, but it's not their fault at all. It's not my fault either, even though my wife would insist that it is. The pause in the market is the fault of the inventory, or the lack thereof. Last year at this time, I had already sold three lakefront properties. I was riding high, and to ride so high so early in the year is a really good thing, at least I remember it that way. The reason I sold those lakefronts last spring is because there was both some aged inventory that was able to be gobbled up by some of my value-minded buyers, but also because there was a few bits of reasonably priced new inventory that hit the market and sold. This spring, there is no such new inventory. There is little aged inventory that looks appealing, there is, instead, just some inventory and some buyers, and none seem too pleased with the other.

Last winter, it was cold. It's cold today, but this cold is unlike that cold. Last winter, for those who have forgotten, was either -20 or it was snowing. Many times it did both, which is to defy the very concept of a winter high pressure system. It was miserable in these regards, yet the buyers bought. The S&P spent most of last January hovering hear 1800, and it's 2100 today. Interest rates were higher last year at this time. Everything- the weather, the returns, the rates- they're all better this year. Yet for all of that influence, there's very little motivation present. Prices are being held up in most cases, by sellers who have plenty of staying power, and buyers aren't impressed. Some properties are falling in price, moving quickly to try to spur on market activity, and there is no better example of that than my listing on Forest Hill in the South Shore Club. It's now priced at $1.725MM, down in price considerably. It's now ready to become the lowest priced SSC sale in the history of the SSC, even as the SSC gains momentum and overall pricing buoyancy. Go figure.

Speaking of the SSC, the market movement last spring (real spring, not real estate spring, i.e., April/May) was significant. I was selling lots like hotcakes, assuming you believe that I could sell hotcakes like crazy. This volume was great for the market, and it caught the eye of many would-be lakefront buyers. These buyers were also mostly unimpressed with lakefront inventory, so they went the way of the SSC and snagged what has turned out to be incredible value. With no SSC inventory to speak of, there is nothing that presents as blatant value, and that's the problem. Buyers, even though everything is seemingly in their favor, aren't excited by what it is we're trying to sell them. This is why the market feels soft, because it is.

Consider that today there are three lakefront homes pending sale, but two of those three are involved in a property trade. That will look like volume to the market, but is, in fact, a neighborly property swap. The other sale is of a property that I'm not so keen on, and that buyer was in place in 2014. So where's the new lakefront volume? Well, it doesn't exist, and the precise reason it doesn't exist is because the inventory, outside of the very upper bracket, is so poor. The good news is that I will be bringing a bit of new inventory to the market in the coming months, and I expect that inventory to be greeted with enthusiasm. I also have a few one party listings that might be available to sell, so if you're a nonplussed lakefront buyer you'd do very well to contact me, but only if you want to know what's going on in the market behind the scenes. If you like knowing about inventory around the same time the Zillow computers find out about it, you'd be better served working with someone else.

Above, my world class listing at 1014 South Lakeshore in Fontana.

Belfry Theatre

Feb 16, 2015 by DC | Add comment
I was in the city this weekend. It was a nice time, in that big city, and I enjoy the change of scenery when tall buildings replace wide fields. Hustle and bustle means something entirely different down there, and the trip served as a needed reminder of just how badly city dwellers need weekend homes in the country. I always know this, but I know it more on a day like today after a weekend like the one now past. That beautiful Superior hotel was home for a while, but it could never be home for long. No, home was found when I followed that last curve on Highway 50, the one where the roadway dips and turns before passing the Grand Geneva and heading under Highway 12. That was when I felt at home, and that's when the problems began.

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I didn't voice this problem until I was through Lake Geneva, and down highway 50, appreciating the curves and the rolling hills and the wooded boundaries to the South and the North. It wasn't until I turned off onto Geneva Street and I pulled past Bayside Point. The stretch of road beginning at Bell's Store and terminating when Geneva Lake first comes into view down that slight hill and to the left, that's the stretch of road where the view burned at my eyes. Dilapidated houses, cars that look like they haven't been driven for months, perhaps years, littering the sides of those drives. Scrubby trees angling up at odd directions, sloppy or missing landscaping everywhere. This was a stretch of land that made me sad, because the view as one inches closer to that shimmering lake should improve and improve until the lake is seen and it can improve no more. I told my wife that I would like to be put in charge of a town, maybe Williams Bay, and I'd like to wield my powers of eminent domain with a very heavy hand. By now she had spent a full day with me, so my words fell on intentionally deaf ears.

Political office is not something that I aspire to, so I won't be cleaning up stretches of any given town any time soon, but there is something that I can do to help. For that matter, so can you. The approach into Williams Bay from the north has always been somewhat tenuous. Geneva Lake Bait and Tackle has occupied the West side of Highway 67 (Elkhorn Road once it hits the Bay) forever. I'm glad that it's there, though it won't win any architectural awards. Much of my old timey fishing knowledge about Geneva Lake comes from the owner of that north woods style baitshop, and I'm happy that I've been able to learn about what Geneva Lake was like in the 50s and 60s. On the East side of that road is Mercy Hospital, and while a giant hospital may seem out of place there, my eye has come to expect it and if we are to have a hospital so close to the lake I'm glad that it's a shiny, fancy one. Mercy is not a problem. But back on the West side of the street, just to the North of the bait shop rests the tattered remains of the Belfry Theatre, and that site has been a stain on the visual approach to Williams Bay ever since my eyes cared.

Sure, it was fixed up a bit while Eddie Cash spun his borrowed lyrical tales there, and during that time it was nice to see cars in the gravel parking lot on weekend evenings. But that short spell didn't solve the problem that is the Belfry Theatre, and now, finally, someone is trying to do just that. For some history, the Belfry Theatre was originally built in the late 1800s as a church. It became a theatre in the early 1930s, and sometime in the 1950s an old dormitory that originally housed immigrant orchard workers from the Crane property (Geneva National) was moved and repurposed on the land just south of the theatre. At the time, the building housed the resident actors and later became an antique shop before falling into disrepair. That building is still there today, looking awfully tired and tattered. The fact that an old church was turned into a theatre, and an old dorm was set upon the land to house some actors is really not the reason the Belfry Theatre is important. It's important because of who acted there, and because of where it is.

Famously, actors who began their early careers there include Paul Newman and Harrison Ford, and presumably plenty of others whose names don't really mean much to this 36 year old (Del Close, Gary Berghoff). These actors worked the stage at night, during various showings of various plays, and then during the day they worked on their lines and helped repair the property. I imagine they did both of those things, and then hitched rides to the Williams Bay lakefront to hit on the pretty ladies, but that's just a guess. Anyway, the meaningful history of the property aside, it's safe to say that the building and the grounds have meant very little for a very long time. The property is now rather lame, and after circling the drain for the better part of two decades it has finally fallen into the hands of new, purposed owners. This is why we should now care, and this is why we should probably help.


The new group is led my Anne Sperry Connors, a pleasant woman with whom I have exchanged a few emails on the Belfry project. She is currently seeking funds (the ownerships is a not-for-profit) to renovate the facilities and hopefully open for the summer 2016 season. The plans are ambitious, and the need for money pretty significant. The rendering above is from the website, and I for one would absolutely love to see that whenever I approach Williams Bay from the north. I expect that this project will succeed if the community- both the full time and vacation home variety- embraces the vision. If the community does not pitch in, this effort will likely fail. I don't want it to fail, so I'm planning to lend a hand. While I'm not as philanthropic as I should be, I can find value in this plan, and hope you'll join me.

Patience

Feb 13, 2015 by David | Add comment
Of myself, there is very little that I don't, or that I won't, share here. I tell you about my struggles and about my successes. I tell you of my disappointments and of my points of pride, and I do this so that you'll know me and see that I am nothing more than a guy who knows Lake Geneva extraordinarily well, who also happens to want to sell you your own piece of this lake so that you, too, may live the life that I tell you about living. It really isn't that hard. If I sold you something every second of every day, where would the discernment be? If I lack discernment, how can I claim to be a valuable asset to anyone searching or selling here? If I lack opinions, and I try to make my timing your timing, then how could I consider myself a trusted advisor and not a simple buy-this-NOW salesman? That's why I tell you about my life, and that's why I'm telling you about what I'm considering now.

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It is no great secret that I have taken to fly fishing like my dogs take to the shade on a hot summer afternoon. I find peace in this particular pursuit, and I enjoy it so very much. I am not in any danger of becoming my cousin, the one who decided to move to Montana to be a fly fishing guide, because I like Wisconsin far more than I could ever like Montana. Montana is for cigar chomping bankers, the ones who like to put pictures of large, colorful trout on their office walls, designed to foretell their experience and their proficiency. Wisconsin is for someone like me, who enjoys the challenge and skill necessary to work for that success. It requires effort and patience, and solitude- the latter two both being things that I need more of, at least at times. Further, a land purchase in Wisconsin allows me to live in Lake Geneva, to work in Lake Geneva, to do what it is I love to do most of the time while fleeting away some of the time to grab that skinny graphite wand and wait for the dimple of a rising trout.

This is why I've been slowly looking for some land in these trout areas. I started looking casually, just peripherally. One eye open to the thought, but mostly only considering such a purchase on a whim, or in moments of fancy that were not held on to for all that long. But more recently the thought has progressed from fancy to actuality, and I have been cruising the MLS not solely for Walworth County, but for this other county as well. What started as a possibility has become a strong desire, and in this I have submitted myself to the same process that my cherished clients have endured, or are currently enduring. It's our thoughts that drive these moves, and when the thoughts become too much, action follows. It's the same if you're looking for a lakefront home on the South Shore or a piece of land with a small stream running through it.

So what would I do with this land? Why would I buy it? Well, I'd do very little with it. I'd treat it as city people treat farm land, perhaps that land that they bought as a hedge or land that they inherited from a prior generation that viewed that land in an entirely different way that would have considered casual ownership a shame. I'm seeking to buy land because they aren't making more of it. I'm seeking to buy land, not just any land, because I see the scarcity of it all and sense that future values will improve. I'm buying land to stand on, to fish on, to look at, to consider. I'm buying land because I've made up my mind that I must have this thing that I really don't need.

The exercise of doing this has given me lots of insight into the struggles of anyone considering a property purchase at Lake Geneva. The idea starts off as a dream, slowly becomes a reality, and possibly, over some length of time, becomes a tedious nightmare before turning into the sweetest of weekend dreams. I have now felt the formation of location preferences, of pricing sensitivities and insensitivities- that process through which an idea starts off as a $500k lake cottage and ends up being a $2MM lakefront purchase. This happens often, and I understand it, though I am in no danger of pushing my pricing limits for land that isn't all that usable, in a place that isn't all that close to here. I see, however, how property acquisitions evolve, and it's been a valuable lesson. I love owning real estate, which is why I move constantly, but would you have it any other way? Who wants a Realtor who doesn't enjoy the process of real estate? Not me.

Perhaps most importantly, I have been learning patience. I have been off and on with this hunt for more than a year, and I may be closer now to a purchase than I was then, but who could tell? Am I nearing the finish line in this hunt or just barely beginning the process? Am I about to buy something or about to be forever a looker, intent to wait to find the perfect thing and not, in the mean time, buying the sort-of-perfect-thing? I'm sensing the patience that is required to buy something that you don't really need, and it has me thinking about my clients again, and moreover, my would be clients. I have been searching, contentedly, for a long time. I have been patient, and as the Realtor for my own interests, I see the immense value in patience.

Perhaps if your agent doesn't see the value in discernment, and in the value in dreams slightly deferred, maybe that means you should have another agent. Don't get me wrong, I'd really like you to buy a house from me, like yesterday, as my 2015 volume numbers are a bit miserable, but do I want you to buy a house from me or would I like to help you buy the house for you? Do I want to sell you something, anything, because I need volume and I crave it? Or do I want to help you on your pace, calling out value when it presents, and telling you to jump but understanding if you don't? The answer has always been obvious, but going through my own purchase exercise I've seen the value in dedicated patience, and I'm more committed to it than ever. But, like all matters of real estate that require patience, I cannot know what I should do to help you in your personal search if you don't tell me what it is you're looking for.

Other Lakes Market Update

Feb 11, 2015 by DC | Add comment
I made a pretty big mistake last week. If it was a mistake or an omission, who could tell? But it was a mistake, of sorts, either that or a calculated decision that presented as something of a mistake but was, as a point of fact, not. I received a call from someone wishing to have me maybe list something on Delavan Lake. Delavan Lake, for those unaware, is a lake to the West and a bit to the North of Geneva Lake. It's an okay lake, I suppose, as long as we're not being too picky about things. The call itself was not my mistake. When I did not return the call, that's likely where I erred, because I did what Realtors don't like to do: I turned down potential business. This is a cardinal sin in our business, as agents scrape together whatever they can find and hope that things work out okay. I used to do this, but now I don't.

I liken the dismissal of this other-lake business to someone receiving tickets to a baseball game. These people, the ones who received the tickets, they're huge Red Sox fans. Huge. They don't love the sport of baseball, rather, just those Red Sox. They love the Sox so much they once bid on the blood-red sock, only to become excited at the prospect of owning such a piece of red socked lore before bowing out at $1125. These are the people that received the tickets. The tickets are to a Brewers game in April, and they're playing the Rays, or the Devil Rays, whichever the team from Tampa is now called, depending on whether or not this team is still in Tampa. They have daytime tickets to the Brewers and the Rays, on a Wednesday. In April. They decline.

Can we blame them? After all, they love the Red Sox, not the sport. I am in real estate as they are in baseball, and so, other lakes sometimes don't count. But count they must, so let's count them. It's a good exercise to now and then review the sales on neighboring lakes, to either see how well they're faring or how poorly they're faring, and also to remind ourselves that some people view lakes as big collections of water, and if this is the defining criteria then a lake is a lake is a lake. Delavan is as Whitewater, which is just like Mary and her friend Elizabeth, which is not to say that they are different than old Beulah, perhaps Brown, though we can all agree that a lake named "Brown" cannot be anything like a lake named "Whitewater". Still, the lakes.

I mentioned this is an exercise, and it really is. Me at this keyboard, the one where my fingers type out GENEVA without even thinking about it, plunking in, instead, the names of other lakes as soon as my mind registers them. And so it went, just now, me listing names in my head, my fingers corresponding those thoughts to the MLS, where we're checking the overall, early season health of those lakefront markets. First, Delavan. How many sales on the lake so far in 2015? None. Zero. Onward. The next name I thought of, the aforementioned Whitewater, where one property has so far sold for the tidy sum of $309k. I have never seen Whitewater Lake, though once I did show a home in the woods somewhere near there, before the days of GPS and texting, and before I turned down the sort of business that I didn't want to define me.

Lauderdale is an easy guess, and that lake system has had two sales so far. One of note is Kirk Hinrich's house. The Bull's hustle player, the one whom I wish would have been a better three point shooter even though is percentages show me he isn't a bad one, he bought this lakefront house in 2005 for $1.25MM. The rumor that I like to relay as truth is that a friend of mine was working a carpentry job several years ago at a neighboring house to his, and noticed some guy outside shooting hoops. He was very good, this basketball shooter guy, so my friend took close notice. It turned out to be Kirk Hinrich, or so the story went and still goes. Somewhat astonishing to me, the house that he paid $1.25MM for at nearly the market peak just sold to a new buyer for $1.28MM. Either the home was remarkably special, or the property was rare, or perhaps someone wanted to shoot hoops on Kirk's old hoop. Either way, I don't know the details because Lauderdale, remember? The other sale was for $399,500, proof that Lauderdale is a strange bird with lakefront housing prices varying wildly depending on the specific bay, or the specific stretch of lake you're looking at. Onward.

The next name was Powers, and that lake to the East of here hasn't had a sale in 2015. I checked Comus, because I wanted to, and it's no surprise nothing has sold there, perhaps because nothing is truly on Comus. It's a small lake North and West of Delavan, and some lady caught a big musky there while fishing for panfish a few years ago. You pass it on your way to the Dam Road Gun Shop, which has a neat business card if you'd like to pick one up next time you're there. Browns lake came next, that small lake in Burlington, and there hasn't been a sale in 2015 on that oddly named body of water. To be fair, that lake may be partially in Racine County, and I'm only searching Walworth County, but I don't exactly know because Brown's.

Geneva has had two lakefront sales so far this year, so it looks as though we're on pace with the Lauderdale's of the world. But we're 5400 acres of delicious clear depths and they're 850 acres of weedy shoreline, so who's keeping pace with who?