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Jerseyhurst Sells

Jerseyhurst Sells

There are nice locations on this lake. We know most of the nice ones. If we get to drive down Snake Road while en route to our lake house, this is a wonderful thing. If we turn off of South Lakeshore Drive onto Basswood, this also makes us happy. If we drive down Linn Pier and get to turn left onto Lackey Lane, we know we should celebrate that we were able to turn left instead of just right. There are roads that deserve our praise, and each person who has ever driven these curving lakeside roads knows it. 

But the roads we know are not the only roads. There is one road that most people don’t know. Tell them to find Jerseyhurst without the assistance of GPS. Tell your older friends to find it without a the help of a Rand McNally. It’s a road we know about, because we once heard someone at a nearby dinner table mention it. Or we know about it because a friend once went on a garden walk down that lane, though most invitees became lost along the way.

Once you do find Jerseyhurst, just to the West of the Elgin Club, it requires no creativity to understand why it’s so special. There are several homes here, but not so many really. Just a handful, each unique and each manicured and each representing the best that Lake Geneva has to offer. This is a unique lane, short and curved and limited, but why it’s special is apparent to anyone and everyone who has ever wandered down it.

This is why my Jerseyhurst listing sold, and sold so quickly. I was pleased to represent the seller and work directly with the buyer in this transaction, and the print price last Friday of $2,795,000 represents a fair ransom to find ownership on this most lovely lane. To the new owners, a big congratulations for becoming the new stewards of this wonderful lake house. To the sellers who spent many fine years here, a most sincere thanks for allowing me to handle this sale, and best wishes for whatever comes next.

As a self-indulgent aside, this sale has pushed my 2017 sales volume to $34MM and change, which leaves me alone at top of the Walworth County leaderboard. So that’s neat.

Bay Colony For Sale

Bay Colony For Sale

There’s a thing about lakefront condominiums. The typical way to remodel these condos is, well, typical. Some new countertops. Paint. A backsplash of something from Home Depot. And this way of doing things is just fine. When people come to see the newly remodeled condo they’ll tell you it looks nice. Good job, they’ll say. But they won’t really mean it. They’ll wonder why you put new counters on old cabinets and painted the old doors. They’re still hollow, after all. White paint doesn’t change that. But they’ll tell you it’s nice and they’ll leave wondering if the lie was convincing.

At my newest lakefront listing in Bay Colony, there’s nothing to look at that isn’t new. There’s nothing that was missed. What started out as an intended surface renovation ended up including new everything. Everything? Everything. And instead of the typical wares you’re used to seeing in this segment, the owner decided to do the unit right. The floors are oak. The counters are quartz. The bathrooms are marble. There are custom built ins galore. There’s a new laundry room. There’s style here that is not just rare on this lake- before now it didn’t even exist.

Two bedrooms and two baths with a slip. Immediate outdoor access from both the parking side and the lakefront, making for no annoying hallway conversations. Is this unit simple? Yes. It’s simple. But in the simplicity is the value. I’m offering this unit today at $899k, fully renovated by Lowell Construction. Fully furnished. Fully ready to transform your weekends. If you’ve been in the market for a turn key lakefront residence but have been let down by your condominium options, come visit me at Bay Colony unit 101.  It’s stunning, and that’s not the slightest exaggeration.

Geneva Pier Legislation

Geneva Pier Legislation

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does many good things. They also do many stupid things.  They do a decent job managing fisheries, though even in this there is both good and bad. They help protect shorelines from erosion, which is uniformly viewed as a good thing. They also manage piers, and on Geneva Lake, piers are everything.  Take a nice house off the lake that doesn’t have a private pier. Then add a private pier to that house and you’ll see a value increase of perhaps $250k. Piers are life.  With the DNR watching Geneva as closely as any body of water in the state, it only makes sense that our piers are often in their crosshairs.

At issue over recent years has been the existence of pier canopy curtains, the canvas extensions that button down the side of a boat slip to better protect the slip from the sun, wind and rain. These curtains have existed for eons, and have only very recently caught the eye of a watchful DNR, who have in turn labeled these curtains to be detrimental to aquatic habitat. The theory on their side suggests that curtains limit the light that can make it through to the interior of the slip, therefore limiting plant growth, thereby limiting fish habitat. Nice theory DNR, but it’s pretty absurd.

If you’ve ever lived on this lake, or observed the fishing habits of those who ply these waters for our mighty gamefish, you’ll see why this theory doesn’t hold up to real life. Fisherman on Geneva tend to fish in one of three ways. First there are the down riggers. Those who troll the depths hoping for something large and toothy to bite their lure. Then there are the drop-off fishermen, those who find the weed edges in 15-25′ of water and fish those margins for large bass and pike and walleye. Then there is the most populated group of fishermen- those who throw plastic baits into and around the piers. Why do they pitch and cast their lures into and under the piers? Because fish love cover and piers passively offer plenty of it.

If you’d like to view this in person, I could meet you at a particular pier on the south shore of Geneva. The pier is large and the water deep, and the fish under this pier are amongst the largest you’ll see in shallow water. The fish love this pier.  Coincidentally, this pier also has three slips protected by canvas side curtains. The fish don’t seem to know that side curtains are detrimental to their health.  The DNR also doesn’t seem to know that shade cools water and cool water is beneficial for fish.

Current legislation features an exemption from the side curtain ban for those side curtains that are covering wooden boats. This might be viewed as a win for some, but it’s discriminatory to those who own fiberglass boats.  Who is the DNR to suggest that only wood boat owners have the right to protect their personal property? This would be akin to allowing only those homes with hardwood floors to install drapes. Carpet lovers be damned.  I understand that the legislation is attempting to make the best of a sticky situation, but why is it sticky? Why should the DNR have so much power over private property owners?  What’s next, citations for too many umbrellas on a pier?

Today it would be a good idea to email Representative Tyler August (R), and tell him to adjust the language in his bill to allow fiberglass boats as well. Maybe tax the curtains at $10 per year, then the DNR can remain loyal to their actual goal: fee collection.  But don’t discriminate against fiberglass boat owners just because it seems an easier way to pacify a department that continues to persecute riparian owners.

 

Tyler August

Email: Rep.August@legis.wisconsin.gov          Phone: (608) 266 – 1190         Address: P.O. Box 8952 Madison, WI 53708

Bored

Bored

The West is burning. It’s been burning for quite some time. From Los Angeles to British Columbia, it’s all ablaze.  Their smoke bothered our Labor Day Weekend skies, casting a silver shade over our otherwise perfect sun. The forests are burning and the grasslands, too. Animals are hiding in swimming pools. The smoke chokes. The residents lie fitfully in their smoky beds, gasping through the thick air. I’ve been told for ages that mountain air is crisp and delightful, clean and pure. This is the other sort of mountain air, and it’s no good, not for the animals, not for the fish, and not for the residents.

The South is flooding. Palm trees swaying, ripped from their shallow, sandy home. Street signs twist in the wind. Garbage from one house blows to another, from one county to the next, up the coast and around and around. The storm was coming for a while, so slow it seemed as though it might never arrive. But it did, and the storm surged and the houses flooded and the people blamed the government.  Weathermen braced against the wind in displays of strength and hubris, delightfully unaware of the mockery their spectacle encourages.

In Texas, the stench of drying flood waters fills the air. It’s hot. And wet. Too hot and too wet, and the air is still and it smells and there’s no where to go. Wait, they must. The waters have receded, or they are receded, how could I know for sure? The flood waters are terrible and the wildfires are burning and the smoke follows its stream to the other parts of this country and the one above. An earthquake shook Mexico, shook it something terrible.  But the news has no time for the earthquake and the fires and the other hurricane. There is a storm in Florida and it’s blowing and it’s flooding and some would say it looks like the worst thing they’ve ever seen. Others say it’s nothing but a summer storm. Either way, it’s all terrible and it’s all bad.

And here I am. I’m looking out my window like I do every morning. The sky is blue. Powder blue to be precise. The trees are fading but they’re still very green. The grasses in my office garden look beautiful, even the coneflowers with their dark, dried seeds and leaves look delightful. It’s crisp this morning, like it has been for the past dozen or more.  There’s no reason to think today will be unlike those other days, with mostly sun and some thin, wispy clouds. Are those clouds or just the remnants of the western fire? No one knows. We don’t really care. It’s just another Monday and the temperature is perfect and the grass is green and later the lake will fill with some September activity. Not too much, just enough. That’s the thing about the Midwest.  The coasts call it boring. The mountains call it flat. New York doesn’t know where it is. But on this morning, with so much to worry about in the world and so much remembering to be done, there’s a place where life happily marches along. It’s called the Midwest.

Market Test

Market Test

By now, we all know the last two decades of market conditions at Lake Geneva. We understand the cycle. The market rose steadily from 1997 through 2008. Then the market fell from early 2009 through mid 2012. Today, we know we’re in year four or five of the latest bull market run. How long this run lasts is something we cannot yet know. I’ll let you know when it’s over. For now, we know the history and we understand it, but the biggest test for the market is beginning now.  Not now in terms of September 2017, not now in terms of Autumn.

Every market runs in these cycles. Some cycles are longer. Some are shorter. Some are less aggressive on the way up and less considerate on the way down. What lies ahead is the interesting bit.  I can guesstimate the percentages of appreciation and decline, with relative accuracy. I can tell you that at the bottom of our market cycle in 2011/2012, lakefront prices were off around 30% from their prior peak highs (2007/2008). I can tell you that since the market bottom we’ve regained perhaps 20% of those losses. In some cases, properties today are worth more than their 2008 market highs.  Try telling that to a lakefront home languishing on market in the Highlands for a price that’s not dissimilar from what it would have fetched in 2012. This is the anomaly of Lake Geneva. The market does not rise and fall with uniformity.

But that’s not the test. That’s just the set up. The real test is in the actual prices paid for properties that sold perhaps at the prior market peak, then again at the market bottom, and now again in 2017.  Today Lake Geneva is testing itself. It’s self inflicted, like volunteering to take a difficult exam even though the teacher is on vacation and the other students are still catching up on their week old homework.  The test is to prove, not with my theoretical statistics, or with some silly Price Per Foot averaging game, just how far the market has come since 2012. The only way to really know is the look to the lakefront houses that sold in 2012 and see what they’re selling for in 2017.

We know there have been some resales that roughly align with this timing already. I’ve sold a few homes in the last few years that sold during the market bottom once and then again as the market improved. Many of these have sold under unique circumstances. I sold a home on Folly Lane several years ago at the market bottom that has since resold. But the property resold at a higher price to a  neighbor because the neighbor had to have it. In the same way, the lakefront sale from last fall on the south shore of Fontana. The house that Matthew McConaughey was rumored to have bought (he didn’t). That home sold for a fat premium just one year after it originally sold. Was that a sign of the market appreciation? No, it was just an interested party pursuing a specific property. That sale looks nice in the MLS, but it isn’t a sign of broad market interest, nor does the PPF mean anything.

In order to really look at the gains since 2012, we need sales that have occurred at an arm’s length, under normal marketing conditions. We need an average sale. Moreover, we need several of these sales if we’re going to consider the outcome to be representative of the market. Thankfully, there are a few such sales, but for the sake of our concept, we’re going to need to cast a wider net. Let’s look at lakefront properties that have sold in the past 12 months that also sold between 2010 and mid 2013. In a low volume environment, which Geneva is in good times and bad, we’ll need to open the view to capture a larger sample size. Those MLS sales that match the stated criteria are as follows:

These are the handful of sales that follow our pattern.  The sales are not exact, since transfer prices can fluctuate based on allowances for furniture and other personal property, and the sales are not particularly equal since a sale in 2010 was of a property that likely still depreciated through 2012. Additionally, at least one of these properties was remodeled and updated in between sale dates (1014 S Lakeshore). But this is all we have to base our estimates on. These sales point to an average increase of just 10%.

Is that it? Is that the answer to the question? Well, not really. This is just a small sample size. We sell on average around 23 houses a year on Geneva Lake and this is just a snapshot of five of those sales. I would guess the market gains across the board have been somewhere around 20% since our market bottom of 2011/12. The market hasn’t yet printed enough volume to draw attention to that gain, but that’s my estimate and my eye is fairly keen. The market today is testing that 20% theory with several current listings that had previously sold during that recent market bottom. On average, these sellers are seeking 30% or more over the prior sale prices. The test today is to see if a market that is as robust and active as our lakefront market can indeed support that large increase over such a short period of time.

Do we know the answer to that question? Nope, but the good news is that the question has been asked and the market will answer soon.

The Why

The Why

It was windy. It hadn’t rained yet, but the clouds had overtaken the moon and everyone knew the rain was near. It wasn’t warm anymore, not warm like the day and not warm like the summer. It was cool. Cool like fall, cool like late-fall.  The day had given us a taste of summer, whether or not this was the last taste no one could be sure. But the wind blew the trees and a few leaves fell and the rain was coming and the moon had gone dark. It wasn’t late. A month ago it would have been light, or at least glowing, the last bits of the day still visible.  It was dark.

But the porch lamps were on and the screens are still free from their winter canvas.  A distant whiff of woodsmoke in the air, blown here by that wind that stripped a few leaves with it. The night was damp even before the rain came. Damp like a mountain night, cold like one, too. Cars clogged the driveways. The paved and cobbled drives that lead to the lakefront homes were littered with cars, just as the gravel drives with grass creeping in from the margins that lead to the small wooden cottages were filled as well.  A porch table with the mostly eaten dessert still left out, a crisp probably. Peach I’d bet, because the apples are not yet in season even if the cold wind proves their time is very, very near.

A flashlight in the yard. Kids running and playing and hiding behind the trees. The wind masks their steps even as the fallen leaves of late summer give them away. The adults lounge on that summer porch, with their bare feet tucked under blankets. The old wool ones look so nice in that porch stack, but they’re scratchy and uncomfortable and everyone knows it. Laughter leaks from one porch to another. A cruise boat pushes through the darkness, the revelers laughter making it to shore as nothing more than a happy murmur.

Me? I wasn’t on a porch. I was just driving a truck back to my parents’ house. Down the roads I know so well, around this corner and turning at that one. The streets full of those weekend cars. The porches light. The kids playing. The stories being told.  The weather, that damp cold night, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t even okay. It was pretty terrible, really. But the weekend went on, and the people gathered at those houses. The porches are all different, some large and fanciful, others small and bare. But the night was all the same, each house happy to be in use. Each group happy to have gathered here, at this lake, during this time. Even on the darkest, dampest of summer nights that feel more October than not, this scene is the same. We come here because we love the lake and the sunshine and the way it makes for a summertime afternoon. We stay here because at night on a cold porch with damp cushions and scratchy wool blankets nothing feels more like home.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

This market has a way about it.  Sometimes the market feels slow to me. It feels sluggish, lifeless. It feels as though the last seller has sold and the last buyer has bought, and the rest of the days we’ll just while away, wishing for the way it was. It feels as though we’ve done everything that we were going to do. We’ve sold the last big house. Sold the last lot. Sold the last cheap house. It feels as thought we’ve run out of tricks. And then a new week begins and the market proves why it is the single most robust vacation home market in the entire Midwest.

This week was one of those weeks. New contracts flying. New listings selling. A fresh contract on my lakefront home in the South Shore Club ($4.595MM). A fresh contract on a baseball player’s house ($4.995) in Fontana. A new contract on an entry level house ($1.195MM).  I wrote on that house earlier this week on behalf of a buyer, only to be told the house had just the day before gone under contract. A listing on 68′ in Lake Geneva for $1.799MM, under contract within 24 hours of hitting the open market. A contract on a spec home in Cedar Point ($3.85MM). Two more contracts are still pending,  those on my listing on Jerseyhurst ($2.895MM), and a lakefront in Knollwood ($3.325MM). The market, just when it seemed as though the summer lull was taking hold, has surged.

Of the 28 lakefront homes available today, 7 are pending sale, leaving just 21 available homes.  Lest you think all of the good homes are sold, consider that there’s still a lakefront home available on Geneva Lake priced under $1MM.  We’re going to run out of those homes someday, so if you have vision, it’s time to snap up this remaining bit of aged, cheap inventory. My listing in the Elgin Club ($1.975MM) has no reason to be available today. It should be sold. Perhaps I’m not very good at this game, because I’m failing on that house. It’s a large house on 50′ of level frontage with private pier and fantastic features, and it’s available today.  You should come see it this weekend. My listing in Fontana for $3.2MM is turn key perfection. My Loramoor lakefront for $5.995MM couldn’t be replicated for the price it’ll sell for. The market might be active, but there is value still to be discovered.

Aged inventory has a way of weighing heavily here, and today there is still plenty of it. There are properties entering their second autumn on market, and those homes, in spite of the market conditions, appear ripe to sell right. Let’s go look at those together. Let’s revisit the things the market has passed up time and time again. And let’s be first in line for the new offerings that are bound to make their way to market this fall. Remember, September is only fall in our minds, it’s still summer on our skin.  For now, let’s rejoice in the summer that we’ve had. Let’s be proud of this market, and of the recent spate of sales that will let 2017 be our sixth fantastic year in a row. And let’s realize that in spite of all this activity, there are still deals to be had. Here’s to this place. Here’s to us. Here’s to the last Labor Day weekend you’re ever going to have to spend in the city.

Sell The Lake Geneva Riviera

Sell The Lake Geneva Riviera

In a recent Lake Geneva Regional News article, City of Lake Geneva Alderman John Halverson, when discussing the state of the Lake Geneva Riviera and a desired multi-million dollar referendum for repairs asked, “If we don’t get it passed, what should we do? Sell the building?”

I’m so glad he asked, so that I can answer.  Yes. That’s the answer. Sell the building. The question was posed rhetorically, in a way that would suppose a yes answer would be ludicrous, even sacrileges. But the best way for the City of Lake Geneva to deal with the aging Riviera and the several million dollars of repairs it supposedly needs is to sell the building to the highest bidder. To keep the building beyond 2017 would be a significant mistake, and would prove once again that the city has no regard for the tax payers who already pay the highest rates around the lake.

I’m not suggesting the building be sold in a traditional manner, wherein the new owner would have the flexibility to do with it as he or she pleases. I’m suggesting that the city utilize the power of deed restrictions and covenants to clear an aging liability from their books.  The Riviera is a most impressive structure, and its unique location and design lends a visual boost to downtown Lake Geneva and that commercialized lakefront scene. The structure has anchored downtown for generations, and should be respected.   In the 1930s my grandmother would ride the train up with her sisters to dance at the ballroom on Saturday nights. She met my grandpa there, while he was hawking popcorn or cigarettes or newspapers. The Riviera has a deep and important history, and the building itself should be preserved. That’s why the property should be sold. Here’s how it could work.

The city slaps deed restrictions on the property, dictating the allowable future uses and the exterior design and color palette of the structure. What happens to the interior shouldn’t be any concern of the city, especially once they receive a few million dollars for the building.  With the deed restrictions in place, the aesthetics of the Riviera and the setting will be secure, no matter who owns the deed. There are options as to how to sell the space. The city could rezone the building into a condominium, and retain the lower level retail spaces to be operated as they are today. The problem with this model is that the city would then still be on the hook for repairs, that’s why it’s best to sell the entire structure. Separate the park from the building, retain the park (the fountain, etc), and sell just the building. The entire thing.

Who buys it? Well, I don’t know. Maybe one of the nearby local business would like added square footage? Maybe the cruise line operating from the adjacent city pier system?  The cruise line could utilize the space for some offices and use the ballroom for a wedding venue, just as it is used today. The difference is that rates could be increased exponentially from those paltry sums the city charges, and the building could be modernized to host more events.  Some might suggest the increased usage of the facility would be a negative for the city. I’d argue that the structure is a ballroom. It wasn’t built to sit idle. It was built to host bands and dances and parties of epic proportions. Why not let the private market return the building to its original intent?

The city has estimated the repairs to be in the neighborhood of $5MM. My estimates that I’ve considered now for all of five minutes prove that the cost would be significantly less. The problem is municipalities pay retail plus for everything they do (just check on the cost of school construction for proof). The private market could handle those repairs for less than a million dollars, likely with ease. Yes, a new owner would have to undertake these repairs, which drives up the initial investment. Yes, the fact that the city has broadcast these repairs to the world means a buyer will use the city’s figures against them in a negotiation.  Yes, that might mean the building sells for less than it might otherwise sell for. But the alternative is worse. The alternative is the city taxes its vacation home owners to fix up a building that loses money. To repair the Riviera on the taxpayer’s dime is the very definition of throwing good money after bad.

The idea of selling the Riviera hasn’t been discussed much in public, but it’s time the conversation begins. There is no reason for a city to own such a valuable liability. Deed restrict it. Zone it to allow very few select future uses, and sell it to the highest bidder. Since I am nothing if not a fan of Lake Geneva, I’ll even offer to sell the building for the city at a reduced commission rate.

New Lakefront Listing

New Lakefront Listing

The South Shore Club is all quite nice. The pool and the entrance, the tennis courts and the piers. There’s nothing like it here, and likely never will be anything like it again. Within the South Shore Club there are nice homes, some better than others. Some new, others older, some by the pool and some near the tennis. But beyond the typical homes in the SSC there are the elite. There are the select homes that do not merely angle over lawn and towards the water, but those that sit right up on the water. The front row. There are four of these built homes that match this description, the last having sold in 2014.

But of those front homes, only two were built in a sunny lake home style. Two have white trim, light cabinets and brighter exposures that feel more like a typical lakefront home on Geneva.  Today one of those rare lakefront homes is available, light and bright and ready for a new vacation home owner.  N1619 East Lakeside Lane features eight bedrooms and four full floors of finished living space. The lower level is a walkout to the lakefront, with a large family room anchored by a full masonry fireplace.  You’ll also find a bunk room with three adjacent baths. If you have a large social circle and feel the need to entertain, this house was built with you in mind.

The current owner (who is the original owner)  has a very large family, and when working with Orren Pickell and the architects to design this lakefront, he made certain that his entire family would have space of their own. That’s why the elevated bedroom and bath count. That’s why the fourth floor finishes into an office/den with an additional bedroom and bath. That’s why the lakefront deck is oversized and wide. That’s why the garage is deeper, with 8′ garage doors so your SUV can actually fit (a rarity given some of the tiny garage doors that plague certain SSC homes). That’s why there’s an elevator and a main floor bedroom suite.

Beyond the sheer size, there are finishes here that are both expected and unique to this home. Waterworks faucets and marble floors. Wood-Mode cabinetry and Wolf ovens. Sub-Zero refrigerators, both in the kitchen and the butler’s pantry. A solarium, constructed on the south side of the home in a classic English style, would make a terrific office or reading room.  There’s nothing lacking here. No space concerns, no quality issues, and obviously no location issues. This is the front house. The best house. The lot that faces the water fully, with a slight western tilt to take advantage of the sunsets.  The location on the water is tremendous, opening to the widest section of the south shore, offering dramatic viewing of the nearby Lake Geneva Yacht Club regattas.

Offered today for $4.595MM. It will be on the MLS later today and available for tour this Sunday. If you’d like a tour of this home and the remarkable South Shore Club property, I’m here to help.

 

Summer’s End

Summer’s End

The streets are quiet now. The excited conversations of summer are now just a murmur, fading like the green in all of these leaves. There was life back then, so much of it that it needed to be discussed. The green of the trees was bright, full, deep and overwhelming. It’s still very much green, but it’s duller than it was. Our conversations are quieter, the trees are duller, the waves are softer. The streets are quiet. This thing is nearly over.

Oh sure, we’re trying to act like that isn’t true. The gas station is full of boats this morning, their empty tanks being filled again. There’s still time, the boaters say. This day will be the best day. There won’t be many more like it, but this day. This will be the best.  The beer will be cold and the fish might bight.  When the fish ignore then we’ll tube and we’ll toast our skin and we’ll snack and we’ll drink. Today will be the best day of the summer. These are the lies of late August.  We know they’re lies, but we tell them anyway. We have no choice.

We know, deep down inside our summer selves, that the only way to enjoy summer is to engage in it without a clock. The only time that summer is truly bliss is during early summer. The sort of summer that has so much left in the tank that we wouldn’t even think of anything else. An 80 degree in late June will always thoroughly beat an 80 degree day in late August. That’s because in June there are more coming, so many more that who could count? There isn’t anything ahead but more summer, better summer, tons and tons of summer.

It’s not like that now.  There is football on my television, no matter if I click past the programming quickly or not, it’s still there. I looked at the stack of wood on my porch and thought that the stack should be taller. The wood is dry now, lighter than it was. It’ll be easier to stack higher and deeper, and I should start doing this soon. It won’t be long before I burn that maple. I cut and split the limbs in late winter, which is to say it was early spring, which feels now like it was forever ago, but not really. It was just a few months ago, before the spring really took hold, before the heat of June and the deluge of July and the niceness of August. It’ll be that way again soon. I should start chopping wood.

Yes, there are a few weeks of this thing left, but are there? If you’re lying in bed dying of something, is it great to be thinking that there might be a couple of weeks left? Is that life? Is that really, truly living? Or can you only really live when you aren’t thinking of dying? I always tell my parents that life doesn’t change when you’re on your deathbed. Life changes when you’re sitting in the doctors office swinging your feet back and forth off the end of that elevated bed when the doctor knocks at the door and enters the room. Life changes when the doctor tells you you’re sick. It doesn’t change when you feel sick, when you grow weak, when you’re nearly done. It changes right then, when she tells you what you have and why that’s bad. In the same way, is summer over when it’s October and the Sunday temperature barely touches 60 and we feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to wear our boots and visit the orchard?

I say no, that’s not at all when summer is over. Summer’s over when we start to think about fall, and I’m starting to think about it already. I don’t want to, I really don’t. I wish I didn’t have to rush through this season to discover the next.  I already know what fall is like. But that’s exactly what I have to do, because I have no choice. I’m from Wisconsin, proudly, and we can’t linger in any season for too long. I know there are boat rides still to come, swimming and superjetting and sweetcorn. But there’s also wood to chop and jeans to patch and cider donuts to eat.  I don’t want to do those things on purpose, it’s just that I can’t help it. The streets are too quiet for me to pretend any longer.

 

Photograph “Sweet Wheat” by Kristen Westlake.
Lakeview Pointe

Lakeview Pointe

I’ve written often about Geneva National. It’s a staple in our market, one of the largest pieces to this puzzle. Without it, a review of the Lake Geneva vacation home market cannot be complete. If you’ve read this column of mine for long enough, you know how I feel about GN. I love it, but I always advise caution when considering which enclave to choose. I dislike the newer sections of condominiums, those that are still under construction and growing. I encourage buyers to seek out condominiums in the established sections, so that their future value does not hang on the whim of a developer.  My approach to Geneva National in this regard has been consistent throughout the years.

Lakeview Pointe is a gated enclave on the Player course. The development consists of duplex style townhomes, each with two car attached garages, some 3500 square feet of living space, and uninterrupted views of the Player course, the course ponds, and Lake Como in the distance. The setting is as serene as any setting in Geneva National, and for those who haven’t been paying attention, all of Geneva National is pretty darn serene.  It’s close to the Clubhouse for those who wish to be members of the club, golf members or just social. If I’m a buyer looking for a large vacation home that represents the best bang for my hard earned buck, it’s Lakeview Pointe that I’m going to consider.

But within Lakeview Pointe, not all condominiums are created equal. Sure they’re all large, with those main floor masters and walk out lower levels. Sure they all have two car attached garages, and they all front the Player. But my new listing is the best of the best, boasting a view that beats all other contenders. The location on the corner of the run is what lets me see the Player green, the following tee, the ponds, the prairie, and Lake Como. I’m on the peninsula, looking south and east at all of it. If you’re a buyer who values location, there is nothing better.

But this isn’t purely a location buy. Look at the unit. It’s beautiful. It’s large and private, both quiet and exciting at once. The square footage could not be replicated for the $539k listing price. Key to understand here is this needn’t be a specific condominium buyer. This is simply a good fit for anyone in the market who seeks stylish square footage, and loads of it for a low price point. I suspect this unit will sell quickly, so if you have any interest, I’d love to hear from you sooner rather than later.

This weekend is Venetian Fest in Lake Geneva. Come for the carnival rides, stay for the fireworks. I hesitate to call this summer’s last hurrah, because it isn’t. But it’s getting close, and that should motivate you to pay us a visit.  And if you’d like to see the best condo in Lakeview Pointe, just let me know.

 

Whispering Oaks

Whispering Oaks

What is it that makes a lakeside property desirable? Is it the view?  That has to be some of it. Any nice house on any lot is fine, but a nice house with a view is something different. It’s something unique. We can have a nice house in the suburbs, and that’s okay. But what is that house looking towards? What is it surrounded by? More nice houses, I’d guess. Each with a landscape unique but similar, each with some hydrangeas in bloom and a burning bush waiting its turn.  The view of a lake house, now that’s something unique. That’s something special. But is every view as good as the other? Is a lake view on the east shore of Williams Bay the same as a lake view from the west shore of Lake Geneva?

Beyond the view, what is it that makes a house something else? What makes it something more?  We could buy a small lot right now on Geneva Lake for $900k.  The lot would be fine for our lakefront endeavors. We could swim and boat, we could sit by the fire pit and toast marshmallows.  But is an entry level lot with a nice house on it the same as a nice house on a large lot? Is the enjoyment the same? Well, in that, the answer is a resounding sorta. But the larger lot offers more opportunity, more driveway, more perennials, more lawn to run over and patio to lounge on. While nice houses are the same everywhere, the two things that make or break a lakefront house on this lake, or on any lake, are simply the property and the view. On this lake, the distinction between the desirable and undesirable properties is sometimes nuanced, but usually quite obvious.

There’s a house in Lake Geneva on a hill with 140 or so feet of frontage on Geneva Lake. The house sits high on a hill, with ample views looking long down the lake towards the west. This is nice. But is 140′ on a hill as desirable as 126′ worth of level property? If you think the answer is yes, then we’re going to need to sit down and have a deep and honest discussion about frontage. In the same way, is a property next to an association worth the same as a property next to other single family lakefronts? Is a property with an easement for this and an easement for that as valuable as a property with no entanglements?  If we’re looking for lakefront, shouldn’t we look for a nice house, yes, but moreover for a nice lot with level frontage and a deep landscaped lot without any of these annoying easements for access or driveway or something that benefits a neighbor?

Whispering Oaks is a house you might know. There are few homes with log accents on Geneva Lake, and this is one of them. This is also the newest of those existing homes. It was built in 1999 by the current owner, and built to the highest of construction standards. Were an architect called for wood bracing, steal was used. When an asphalt roof would have done just fine, a clay tile roof was installed. Where traditional insulation would have performed okay, fire retardant insulation was used.  An electrical service is an electrical service, until a contractor builds his lakefront dream house- then commercial grade transfer boxes and electrical panels are installed.  Most houses on this lake look nice on the outside, that’s not such a special trick.  What’s unique here is the quality of the construction that you cannot see.

But what you can see is pretty special as well. The great room is massive, anchored on one end by a Montana stone fireplace, and accented with 18″ Canadian Spruce. The windows are something else altogether, huge and wide and tall, showcasing that dynamic view of the lake, from the Lake Geneva Country Club north to the Narrows and east all the way to downtown Lake Geneva. The views on the street side capture the 1.15 acres of perennial gardens, and offers a peek of the Chicago granite driveway that winds from Loramoor Drive.   On the other end of this great room, the open kitchen, with custom cabinetry, and the Viking and Sub-Zero appliances you’d expect. On the main level a three car garage, full laundry room, guest bedroom with bath, and billiard room complete the design. A sprawling stone patio extends the width of the home, offering a robust buit-in grill, fire pit, nightly sunset views, and easy access to 126′ of level frontage.

Upstairs there are four bedrooms, two on the lakeside with private decks, including the master suite with masonry fireplace. The lower level is wide open, a rec room of epic proportions.  In total, we have more than 8000 square feet of well maintained living space. The pier, in case you didn’t notice, is absolutely beautiful, perfectly built for lakeside fun. The outdoor shower is a family favorite, and if you’ve ever taken a cold water outdoor shower you’ll like this shower quite a bit- it’s plumbed to a hot water line in the house- so your last cold shower is in the past.

If you’re in the market for a lake house. Let me show you Whispering Oaks. It’s a terrific lake house, but unlike many terrific lake houses on the market, this one is on the right lot, in the right location, with the right views.  $5,995,000.

Of Agents and Inuendos

Of Agents and Inuendos

This is serious. You’ve been having the pain in your knee for quite some time. It bothered you during your junior year, but what could really, truly bother you then? Some tylenol and a creatine laced protein shake is all you needed to make that slight twinge of pain fade into the background. It was the championship game, after all. The pain now is different than the pain then. It’s more permanent. More achy. Less a twang of pain and more a deep constant, like something has taken hold in that joint that cannot and will not give up.  You wait nervously in the doctor’s office. The smell of the receptionists microwaved lunch turns your stomach. Your knee is getting worse by the minute.

The doctor is friendly, you found him online. He has a billboard on the highway near the Walmart,  “satisfaction guaranteed”. The guarantee is figurative,  because there can be no guarantee with this sort of work. The knee doesn’t react the same each time. The doctor knows you know this, but his insurance company remains steadfast in their demands that he remove the writing from the billboard. He will, he says, but not until the contract is up. To change it now would be costly, and the state is behind in their payments for the elderly care he provides, and so things are tight.  Your knee offers some financial redemption. You hope he looks as he does on the billboard. Capable, confident, full of guarantees.

He enters the room. He’s confident. His office, he says, is among the best in the entire country. He’s number one in his group. The group over which he reigns is unclear, but he’s number one, that he’s sure of.  He’s been doing this for a while, years, in fact. How many is left out.  He does this all the time he says as he looks over the file. Nothing to be worried about. His knee is bouncing, nervously.  Your knee aches. He asks what the problem is. You tell him it’s your knee. He glances towards your leg. I see, he murmurs while furiously scribbling on his notepad, nodding the whole time as if asking himself questions and answering them quietly. Now let’s have a look at that knee.

His chair wheels over to you and he picks up your leg and rests it on his lap. His fingers prodding your achilles, pushing and waiting for your reaction.  He turns your ankle to the left and to the right, no reaction. He pushes your toes away from your heel, up and down, back and forth, all the while watching your face for any sign of discomfort. There is none. Satisfied with his work, he wheels away and looks toward his clipboard.  Good news, he says. It appears as though your knee is, as a point of fact, 100% healthy.

This may seem to be an absurd way to contrast a doctor with a Realtor, but it’s all I have for you this morning.  This market has me concerned, as buyers and sellers alike flock to agents who don’t know the difference between an ankle and a knee. Agents who see pictures of sunsets and ask if the house is on a shore of the lake that would never, under any circumstance, offer a sunset view. Agents who drive to listings and call for directions. Agents who ask if association frontage is private. Agents who don’t know the difference between a slip and a private pier. Agents who show on Powers Lake on Sunday and Geneva Lake on Monday and condominiums in Whitewater on Wednesday.  Incompetent, uneducated agents who find success because the work for a company that has some credibility.  This hot market has been a breeding ground for inexperienced agents, and sadly,  the market is falling for it.

In that, there is a real estate story.  Consumers see a brokerage, and they think the brokerage to be good. Or at least capable. They then approach the brokerage, looking for an agent. The assumption is that the agent, if aligned with a  large brokerage, is somehow an expert in their field. I would suggest to you that expert status is not attained by aligning oneself with a large firm. Now, if you’re in search of an attorney and you find one who is a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, you can reasonably assume that this partner is indeed a capable and competent attorney. But that’s because there’s a barrier to entry to such a firm. Only the best of the best gain membership. The barrier to entry to real estate is the ability to robustly fog a mirror, and if the test is completed without much difficulty, the agent is awarded a set of business cards and a gold jacket. You, the consumer, wander into the office the next day looking for a lake house. This is all a terrible, terrible mistake. Thankfully, there is a way to avoid the mistake. Looking for Lake Geneva real estate? Look with me.

 

Summer Night

Summer Night

There is some thought, rampant among those who cannot yet know, that a night is a night is a night. The night it dark here, just like there, in fact like every night. Night.  Those who love the night take great pride in this universal truth, that night is dark and it’s dark everywhere. In the daytime everything can be different. Every place its own, each unique. Some places with high mountains and cold rivers, others with wide plains and low, wet marsh. Some other places teeming with dark leafy trees and little dotted lakes, clear perhaps. Daytime, now that’s different because it looks different. But in the night when there’s nothing to see, each place is the same: dark and quiet.

But that’s not at all true. The night is filled with sounds, each season its own, each place its own. A winter night under a brilliant cold sky is something to behold. The deep, snowy still of a leafless and seemingly lifeless field contrast under the brilliantly bright stars.  But it’s not something one can savor. It’s too cold to dwell, and in, and so a winter night is something gulped in deep breaths and left alone. It’s still night outside, but inside with the wood fire and the warm lamp light is much more comforting.

A fall night is a noisy night, a windy night, some rain maybe. But that’s not entirely true. A fall night can be as alive as a summer night, or as still as a winter night, or it might be anything in between. There’s no rule for fall, nothing it must do. What it will do is build to a colorful crescendo just before it ebbs and falls silent. Fall is like winter without snow, unless it isn’t.

But those summer nights. In our memories, they all sound the same.  Crickets and hoppers, chirping and singing their redundant tune. Softly fading as the night wears on, only to be replaced by the chirping of song birds once the morning light is near.  This is what night at my house sounds like. My house, surrounded by prairie and distant trees, alive with the casual rhythm of so many field bugs. An occasional rustle in the grass, a rabbit hiding from a fox. A coyote clinking through the wooded edges, thinking about which chicken it will steal. There are other characters in this prairie night, but the stars are those bugs that I cannot identify, crudely scratching out the sound that I’ve come to love. Summer days can wear on me, but the sound of a summer night has yet to grow old.

I spent a few hours last week on a lakeside screened porch. The sounds were those of my childhood, a slow churning boat pushing through the night, returning its guests after dinner. Or the other boats, the large boats with parties aboard, spinning around the lake and clearing each point,  the dull murmur of the happy crowd reaching across the window and to my childhood bedroom. But what struck me wasn’t the familiar sound of a few slow boats. It was the quiet of it all. It was the distinct sound of a Geneva lakefront porch.  The steady but louder pitch of the cicadas, a sound I know well but one that I don’t hear at my prairie house. The quiet hush of leaves flittering in a late night lake breeze.  Next time you think a summer night is a summer night, spend one in a screened porch next to Geneva Lake. You’ll soon be like me, well aware of the privilege of a summer night anywhere, but equally aware that there is one place where that night is better. At the lake.

 

Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market

Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market

The thing about summer in Wisconsin is that as summer we know it starts on Memorial Day weekend. That’s when we’re first ready to light our grills, gas our boats, and indulge in this thing we call summer. Except that Memorial Day weekend is rarely summer, it’s more like spring with  swim shorts, and so we typically wait some amount of time for real summer to begin. Then once real summer begins we swim and we boat and we do the summery things. But this is June and that is July. If we’re waiting for summer to look, feel, and taste like summer, then we have no choice but to wait until August. We’ve waited, and it’s August. It’s time to eat.

Sure, we could have visited farmer’s markets in June. They exist then. The Lake Geneva market, on Broad Street in front of Horticultural Hall is open and ready for business (Thursday Mornings). But what would we buy? Some local honey, that’s nice. Maybe some fish from Rushing Waters. Some relish and jam, made by someone. But the product in Wisconsin then isn’t what we want it to be. If we were in Marco Island at their farmer’s market, we’d just buy produce that came off the Sysco truck (repackaged farm stand style, of course). But we’re not in Marco Island, we’re here, and we’ve waited and now the produce of Wisconsin is ready.

The Farmer’s Market in the Lake Geneva area is a thing of relative consistency. There are several of them (Fontana in front of the Coffee Mill on Saturday mornings),  but they’re basically all the same. What can you expect? Jam, honey, eggs, meat, cut flowers, bird feeders (made by Hank, or Hal, or Uncle Joe, or whomever), and other various and assorted things.  You’d be wise to buy all of those things at the market, but if you’re looking to entertain for the weekend at the lake, don’t you date buy your produce from Whole Foods and bring it here. Shop here. Buy our things.

Pearce’s Farm Stand (open daily) is outside of Williams Bay, in between here and Fontana on the corner of Highway 67 opposite Inspiration Ministries. It’s large and it’s nice, and while I dislike the carnival style haunted house stuff that’ll come in the fall, the summer stand is near perfection. The sweet corn is the main draw, and while the corn has been available for several weeks, it has only now begun to taste like Wisconsin summer corn should. It’s delicious, and you can’t buy it at Whole Foods. Even if you could, why would you? If you’re here,  indulge the markets. Wander around. Find some honey and some eggs. Do these things because you can’t fully enjoy a Lake Geneva summer if you don’t even know what it’s supposed to taste like.

 

Lakefront Inventory

Lakefront Inventory

It feels like an epidemic. Each day starts full of hope. Each day passes choked with despair. New inventory should be here by now. But it isn’t. Why isn’t it? This is what the people want to know. The smart Lake Geneva buyers are working with me, and I’m working for them, trying to dig up shreds of inventory so that I might offer it to them on this silver platter. Despite my efforts, the silver platter remains empty, carrying only the dust from a desperate summer.

Buyers are active on the lakefront, this we know.  Lots of agents have buyers at the moment. Lots. They’re asking me for inventory. David, what do you have that I might sell? This is sweet of them to ask so nicely, but what they don’t know is that any inventory that I uncover will be inventory that I offer to my buyers first, and to everyone else last. This is why buyers should be working with me, among all of the other reasons, but still, the market persists and summer moves along and there’s no inventory.

But that’s not entirely true. There have been seven new lakefronts brought to market from June 1st through August 1st. Of those seven, I’ve presented three of them under my brokerage. The thing is, five of those seven are listings that were previously on the market. Of the two new ones, I sold my listing (Jerseyhurst, closing next month), and the other listing is an entry level home seeking a buyer (visionary).  While I do see several of these new listings selling this year, it’s obvious to admit to you that our inventory is light at best. Anemic at worst.  But how does it stack up to a typical Lake Geneva summer?

Last year there were nine new lakefront listings 6/1-8/1.  For the sake of this historical reflection I won’t be deciphering which listings were “new” new, and which were  regurgitated new.  The same two months in 2015 brought 10 new listings to market. 2014 saw 12 new, and 2013 gave us 10. For the sake of averages, the market has produced 9.6 new lakefront listings between June 1st and August 1st. If we’re trying to be dramatic, that means the 2017 inventory production is 25% off the pace.

Still, in spite of the lighter 2017 listing volume, we’re still faring much better than the 2007 market. Those buyers were truly up against it, with just 3 lakefronts listed over those two summer months. And back then, the “cheapest” new listing was $2.2MM.  So yes, our inventory is constricted. Yes, that makes it tough on buyers. But don’t for a second think it’s some sort of historical anomaly.  It’s just a bit behind the running average, and I’m confident that August and September will bring some new inventory that will satiate the market.

 

Above, the master bathroom at my pending sale on Jerseyhurst.
Home

Home

My wife has adopted a particular driving habit. No, not the way her car crowds mine in the garage. They just want to be together, she says.  And not the way her foot lacks the ability to slowly and responsibly adjust the pressure to the gas pedal. It’s a road trip habit, but really whenever we’re driving, anywhere. A license plate from Manitoba. She spots them from miles away. Then she accelerates (see earlier note) to catch a glimpse of the truck, or car. Does she know the driver? She must, or so she thinks. She’ll wait outside restaurants for the plate owners to finish their meals so she can find out if, by some chance, she knows them.

The truck had a Manitoba license plate. It was southbound, as most plates from Manitoba tend to be, on that wide interstate. Traffic was hustling, but alternating between the hustle and a crawl with a complete stop thrown in now and then for good measure. The plate was affixed to a truck, a big truck, but not a semi. It was a dually, not unlike the truck my friend Eric’s dad drove in the early 1990s, but this one was newer, bigger, with dirt dried onto the paint around the wheels, up the tailgate, on the hood. The driver was going somewhere in a hurry. I sped up to see if I recognized the driver. I didn’t.

A horse trailer had 11 stickers of horses on the back of it. Five on one door and six on the other. The sticker horses were bucking, jumping, kicking.  11. I figured there must have been 11 horses in the horse trailer. Who would put 11 stickers on if there were only two horses in the trailer? The number seemed arbitrary, which means it must have been specific. The trailer was from Oklahoma, presumably as was the truck towing it. I couldn’t catch a glimpse. Just as I intended to accelerate the traffic turned to a crawl. All four lanes in either direction, crawling on a road meant for supreme and uninterrupted speed.

Feet on the dash. This isn’t something I’ve ever done. I’m too tall, I think. I did sit in the passenger seat once with my feet out the window, but that was when driving to a new fishing spot from an old fishing spot. My waders leaked something awful.  My socks were tucked into the outside of the backseat windows, flapping in the wind to dry. My feet outside the front window felt rare, like some sort of treat, born of necessity but also pleasant and curious.  After the interstate drive, I felt less special, less unique. Everyone drives with their feet on the dash, even if the truly brave (like me) go fully out the window.

The plates were mostly from Illinois. Trucks, cars, SUVs, campers even. Lots of trucks towing things. Bikes, both the motorized and regular kind. Fishing boats, some small, mostly smaller. But also four wheelers, loaded with mud, empty gas cans strapped to the front of the trailer. The various automobiles whipped past me, as I screeched along in the left lane, my rear calipers recently having decided that they had had enough of the squeezing and releasing.

But where were all these people going? I knew were I was going, but that was the only puzzle I could solve. Some answers were easy to guess. Arlington Lexus, the license plate holder said. Perhaps that driver with his wife blabbing in the front seat and his children glued to their individual screens in the back; perhaps he was headed to Arlington Heights. White Oak and Vail, maybe, somewhere near where my grandma lived for all of her best years. Other plates weren’t so easy to guess. Ah, but there’s a Cayenne with The Exchange written on it. North shore, for sure.

Traffic stopped again. Why would it stop now? Out of nowhere, with no construction tonight, as the flashing signs clearly stated Monday-Friday Road Work. It wasn’t one of those days, so why now? I thought of my brakes and imagined smoke pouring from the metal on metal grind. It was a truck, Illinois plates, pulled over on the shoulder, which wasn’t very wide, to re-position two kayaks on his roof.  Probably a weekend trip to the Wisconsin river, I guessed. Maybe the Kickapoo, but the Kickapoo is still high and dirty from the two weeks ago storm.

My exit. A couple of roundabouts and I found my way back onto a two lane county road, the sort that leads from the wide road and to my narrow gravel driveway. Turn right at the gas station, left twice and one more right.  Corn fields and soybean fields as far as the eye can see, or at least until the next tree line of Mulberry and Boxelder. The last turn onto my slow driveway, chickens on the lawn, eating whatever it is the chickens eat. I was home.

But where were the other drivers headed? Where were those Illinois plates going? John Kass told me most are leaving, most unable to accept a tax increase that puts them in an elevated tax bracket still far below mine in Wisconsin. If this mass exodus required the last carload to turn the lights out, where were these Illinois plates traveling in those southbound lanes so late into the fading Sunday sky?  The were going to the same place I was.  Home to the place where the roads are familiar. Home where the sporting team wears our favorite logo. Home, just past the school where their son bench sits with the football team and their daughter starts volleyball soon. On a road filled with travelers, only a few were weary. Most were just on their way home.

Geneva National Market Update

Geneva National Market Update

Ah, yes. Geneva National. The single greatest argument against Walworth County growth that I, or anyone, has ever made. Growth, it’s good, they say. It’s a necessity of life, like breathing and tacos. But it really isn’t. It might be good initially, for the mattress salesmen and the carpet installers, but over time, spurts of growth generally cannot be maintained in low population locations. There was a spurt of growth in a small town of Arena, Wisconsin. Perhaps it was Mazomanie. There’s a new commercial building on the main drag, shiny and bright. Vacant as vacant ever was. It’s for sale now, the restaurants long ago gone. Nothing there to take their place. Sure, growth dictated that the building initially be built, but the community lacks the ability to maintain the vestiges of that growth once the cycle slows. This is the problem with Geneva National.

When times are good, as they are now, things are fine. Things are never terrific, just fine. Today, Geneva National is fine. The inventory is low, which is the single best condition for GN. There are just 70 listed homes and condominiums. There are an additional 11 properties pending sale. All of this is good. What’s not so good for current owners and sellers is the pricing. Consider a little house on Saratoga. I lived on this street once. It’s a nice street. The house is listed at $599k and is pending sale. It’s the most expensive property in GN to be listed as pending sale this morning, which is a side- topic for a different paragraph. The house sold in 2007 for $750k. 10 years have passed, the market on the lake and near the water has recovered most, if not all of its losses from the past crisis, and yet Geneva National properties remain stuck.  Geneva National is struggling through the end of its lost decade.

But perhaps this is just anecdotal. Maybe it’s not all like this, right?  There’s a house on Edinborough pending sale. That’s a nice street, what a noble name. That house is listed at $347,500 and is under contract for a number that is, presumably, somewhere near that price. The house sold initially in 1995 for $375k. In 1995, lakefront homes on Geneva were selling in the $400-500k range. Those lakefront homes have appreciated 300% over the years, while Geneva National properties have found a way to decline over the same tenure.  Not good.

There are currently 11 homes listed for sale over $700k. That’s not a ton of inventory for a development this large, but it’s tough when not a single home in GN has closed (per MLS) over $600k all year. 44 homes and condos have closed this year in GN, outpacing the 38 sales YTD for 2016. That’s a good sign, but the weak performance at the top end, and the lack of appreciation at all segments is the issue here.  Last year, three homes sold over $600k, and even that was anemic. Does Geneva National offer a buyer a good value? Yes. Would I be a buyer in GN right now? Yes-ish.

I’d be a buyer of the condominiums in built enclaves. I’m not a buyer of something new in an unfinished section. This isn’t unique to Geneva National, this is my standard for any purchase, anywhere. Why buy into a segment that is possibly more sensitive to a  softening of the market? Why buy and leave your investment up to the future whims of the developer? I  like the idea of buying in stable segments with a pattern of sales that allows me to feel confident in my purchase. I want to buy something that cannot easily be replicated. Would I buy an existing house in GN right now? You bet I would. But I’d be looking for value in the sub-$550k price range, or over that I’d be considering homes that I can buy well below current replacement costs.

I love Geneva National. Because of this I want it to succeed. Sadly, the only way it will succeed is if future development stops and the existing inventory is absorbed. As long as GN keeps building new products, the existing products will find themselves in a tough spot. But growth is good, the simpletons scream.  They’re wrong, and Geneva National can prove it.

My Son’s First Job

My Son’s First Job

My first job was a job that I now think I’d rather not have had. I mowed lawns. Lots of them. Every week I mowed. Twenty weeks, sometimes more. If an August drought persisted, maybe less. I had an orange lawn tractor and a matching trailer and I’d drive around town and mow. I never really wanted to mow, of course. My dad made me. I remember dreading his heavy morning footsteps on the stairs. I’d hear them, and I’d know it was time to work. It was always time to work. They were coming to wake me up, to tell me it was going to rain, and the lawns had to be mowed.  I was just a kid, and while my friends rode their bikes around town and flirted with the red-suited beach girls, I drove my little tractor across the road, stopping only for a few quarters worth of gas from Herb’s and an egg roll and Sprite from Doc’s.

I guess I used to be proud of that work ethic. I used to remind myself of an old saying, “in order to make a success of old age you have to start young”. What a terrible thing that is to say.  I look back at my childhood now, thinking about all the time I spent working, and I wonder why.  Do I get to retire early because I mowed lawns when I was 13? Do I have some inordinate amount of money because I mowed 31 lawns a week at age 16?  The obvious answer to both questions is a resounding no. Did I learn to work? Sure. I learned to work, but some days that doesn’t feel like such a feat. Everyone works. Some work harder and some work less. But we all work, we all work, and when we’re done working we die. Why speed it all up and make a kid burn his lungs while washing out buckets of bleach for the guy who sold the contents of those buckets to restaurants? Did I really need that job, too? Why work at Doc’s on Saturday mornings in the winter, when that’s when the best cartoons were on? Why place such a burden on a kid when he’s just that, a kid?

My son started his first real job last week. It’s at a restaurant, bussing tables and washing dishes. It’s doing the things I did for Charley O. My son wanted the job because he felt like he needed some money. His friends buy shoes for hundreds of dollars. They have iPhones and iPads and iMacs. They have everything that he doesn’t. And they have these luxuries because they work.  And so it went, a desire for money and the just requirement of work to obtain it. He was beaming after his first day. He made $55. Or was it $70? I don’t know. I don’t really care. He opened a new bank account, this one near the restaurant, so he could walk from work to the bank. Depositing his money, like a real grown up. Saving for this and saving for that, and spending on this and spending on that. He has to work four days this week.  After his last shift his feet hurt and his back ached, but he’s happy about it.

I want to be happy for him. I want to be proud of him. But why should I be? Why does work have to define us? Why does he need to hurry to work when he just turned 14?  The answer, we tell ourselves, is that he needs to learn a work ethic. He needs to learn how to take instruction. To be berated for failure. To be praised for success. I understand these things. I used to work so hard for the same results. I wanted the money. I wanted the responsibility. I wanted the acknowledgement. I wanted to be told I was doing a great job, and at such a young age. Looking back, I just wish I had spent more time at the beach with my friends. I wish just once I went to a summer matinee at the downtown theater.  I wish I hadn’t grown up fearing the sound of my dad’s footsteps on the stairs.

But so it goes, my son, the worker. I’m proud of him. But I’m sad at the same time. The cycle of work only ends when we’ve won the game or the game beats us. There is no other way out. The working life is always there, always waiting for us, always expecting us to join in, always making us feel like someone else is working harder, achieving what we want. Must we do this at age 14?  I’ve done okay, I don’t need his help buying groceries. He’s starting his work life, and sadly, unless he can break a couple generations of an unhealthy emphasis on work and a narrow fixation on money that only seems to intensify as we age, it just might ruin him. I hope that it doesn’t.  I don’t want him to fear the sound of my footsteps outside his door. I don’t want him to always think it’s going to rain. I’d rather he just live, and enjoy his young life before the time for work is unavoidable.

Maybe Jackson Browne was right. Maybe we just should say a prayer for the Pretender. Who started out so young and strong. Only to surrender.

 

 

Author’s note:

 

This post generated quite a bit of commentary. I should probably clear up a few things. This was not an “anti-work” post. It was simply a post about the attitude towards work when we’re young. Work is good and necessary, but an attitude that values work over everything else is not good. The post was also written with some sadness as I watch my little boy grow up lightening speed.

The Abbey’s Market Update

The Abbey’s Market Update

This summer, the activity in the single family market has been well documented. In fact, it’s been documented to death. Bludgeoned with exclamation marks. Cause of death? Overuse of hyperbole. But still, the market is hot and so we recognize that. We’re grateful for it. The thing is, each market is connected, each segment joined to the price range above and below it. Each style of property hinging somewhat on the performance and inventory in the adjacent market created by a different type of property.  If the vacation home segment of $250k single family homes is hot and low on inventory, then the vacation condo market in the same price range should be equally as hot, right?

The vacation condominium market is dominated here by the two large players- Abbey Springs and Geneva National. But these resort developments are so large they actually operate as their own individual markets, with little carry over from the single family market and other smaller condo developments. Strange as it may be, a $650k house in Geneva National does not benefit from the strength of the $650k lake access market. When I was a seller in GN I would always find reason to complain about this lack of  correlation. It felt unfair, but I learned to accept it and have only harbored resentment and bitterness ever since.

The two condo markets that would most directly benefit from the entry level lake access activity are the Abbey Villas and Abbey Hill. Both are in Fontana, where the heart of our lake access market resides.  This morning there are only two single family homes with lake access priced below $300k in Fontana. That’s an incredible drought of inventory, and at this date in July it’s unlikely the inventory deficit is corrected before the year ends. If the single family market in Fontana is starved of inventory, then the two condo markets that feature units under $300k should be hot, right?

Well, sort of. Abbey Hill has two available condo units this morning priced from $225-255k. There haven’t been any sales in Abbey Hill for 2017 (MLS), following a 2016 wherein two units closed.  Abbey Hill, for the uninitiated, is up the road a mile or so from the Fontana beach.  It’s an older condo complex that won’t win any particular architecture awards for the overall complex, but the individual units are quite interesting. I’ve long appreciated the Abbey Hill condominiums for their character, and I don’t expect that fondness to change anytime soon. The units are cool, and if I’m a buyer in the $200s looking for a lake-based weekend, I’m paying Abbey Hill a visit.

The other Fontana property that should be directly tied to the single family market is the Abbey Villa. This is not to be confused with the Abbey hotel condominiums, which are different and, in my opinion, not a good idea. The Abbey Villas have had some difficulty over the last market cycle, but today the recovery seems complete. Last year there were 10 sales in the Villas, closed between $165k and $255k. 2017 had has five closings YTD, all priced between $216k and $260k. There is currently just one unit available at the Villas, priced in the mid $200s. The Abbey Villas have completely and thoroughly recovered, and for that, we can all be pleased.

Two condo markets, both in Fontana, both tied directly to the single family vacation home market. Both performing quite well, as they should be. If you’re a buyer looking for a sub $300k lake home, consider these condos. Specifically, consider the Abbey Hill units. They’re affordable to own and I don’t think there’s a better value in the Fontana market. As always, let me know if I can help.

 

Fontana aerial courtesy Matt Mason Photography. 
Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

In real estate, being shameless is quite important. I’ve struggled with this at times, most of the time, really. But I still tell you I’m this and I tell you I’m that, because if I don’t, no one will. But I’ve only developed some shamelessness when there was something to actually be proud of. Too proud, perhaps. The new market has generated so much shamelessness that you’d think everyone was the top agent.  Lakefront Specialist, that’s a common email tag. Lakefront Pro. Some opt for the shorter version, lest they spell specialist wrong. And others still, “The Most Powerful”. This is more like a Master’s Of the Universe theme, but in 2017, all of it has been adopted by my competition. It’s a bit dizzying.

The market appears to me today to be absolutely ladened with buyers. I say appears to me, because it’s impossible to know exactly what buyers are truly active and which buyers are just looking at properties because it’s 2017 and that’s the thing to do. I would guess there are more buyers in the market today than at any single point in the past 20 years. Yes, that’s a serious claim. But it’s likely accurate.  The smart ones are working with me, the others are working with the various and assorted Specialists that have very recently self-assigned that title.

Yet for all of these buyers, the market is still a Wisconsin market. We are still Midwesterners. And so we watch and we wait and we look for the right thing. Contrary to what your Specialist may tell you, the right thing is not always whatever was just listed.  This morning, there are just 22 lakefront homes available for sale on Geneva Lake. This includes the Trinke’s house that’s really just Trinke’s frontage, but we’ll add it in because we’re desperate for inventory.

Beyond those 22, there are others pending sale. A listing on Main Street in Lake Geneva in the mid $2s is soon to close. It should be noted that another lakefront in that area was under contract but has since returned to market. My marvelous listing on Jerseyhurst is under contract with a fall closing scheduled. A listing on the South Shore in the mid $2s is pending. And a small entry level lakefront in Fontana listed at $1.475MM is pending this morning. That’s a decent amount of activity, but it is not commensurate with the buyer activity on the lake.

There are several reasons for this. First, and perhaps most damning, is the absence of reasonable sellers. Note I say reasonable. The market is hot. Everyone knows this.  Even your newly minted Lakefront Specialist knows it. Sellers know it, too, and they’re attempting to capitalize on it. Sellers are listing aggressively, and we cannot blame them. But what we can do is blame them when they receive solid offers within mere percentage points of their bottom line and they choose to walk. This is foolish behavior. Sadly, this is the behavior many sellers have chosen to display. Perhaps the market run will continue long enough to prove them right, but perhaps their 2017 confidence is just a touch too much.

The inventory that deserves your consideration is both the new bits that have been trickling to market, but mostly the aged pieces of our market. If there’s a new lakefront for $3MM, guess what? You’re going to have to go for it quickly or someone else is going to buy it. That’s just the nature of this market. But if there’s a $3.5MM listing that’s been dying on the market for a year or two, isn’t this the sort of property we should be gunning for? I believe the answer is yes. Your Lakefront Specialist is reading this, furiously scribbling down notes, and he/she concurs.

So what comes next? What do we do with the rest of this superfluously soggy summer?  If we’re a buyer, we remain vigilant. We look for new inventory. We align ourselves with the only top agent in this market (spoiler- it’s me). We don’t chase every golf course hushed rumor down the rabbit hole. We don’t reach out to the new Lakefront Specialist. We just watch and we wait and when something looks right we take a run at it.  If we’re a currently listed seller, then we look at this market through a different lens. We consider our position in the market. We reduce if we haven’t had any offers in months, years. We look to position our property in the perfect light, with a hefty consideration for reality. And if we’re a lakefront owner considering selling, this is the easy part. We reach out to Dave Curry.

 

Above, my new Elgin Club lakefront listing. $1.975MM. 

 

Patterns

Patterns

There’s a pattern to these roads. Not the roads down here, but the roads over there. The roads that lead to the places where people need to be. The road from this town to that town. The road itself, the two track, lines optional. There is no shoulder here, and what was left has been washed out routinely over the past months. The farmers rake and sweep to make the shoulder whole again, but it’s of no use. The shoulder is gone. They only do the work because farmers follow forecasts and habits,  little else.  But the road wanders and it weaves and soon enough it delivers its cargo from the first town to the second town. There are houses here, the houses in-between. Belonging to neither town, to no particular group. The in-towners have their football team with the shiny helmets and their washed cars. The out of towners, if there could be such a group,  drive dusty-road trucks that are only washed on a clear sky Sunday.

There has always been a jealous pitch in this relationship between these two. The in-towners with their delivered water and their tidy sewer, with their beach passes and their curbs. Their gutters. Sidewalks, aplenty. There are bike lanes and parks and places to walk.  The out-of-towners deride the in-towners for their easy way of living, for the convenience of it all, calling them soft or pampered, or worse. The children walk to school in sandals. Others ride bikes, weaving across the lanes of slow city traffic, without care or obstacle. Weaving like that in the country would get you killed. The out-towners drive to town to pick up their milk and their eggs, their bread.  Oh the irony of those who produce the goods driving into town to pay the city tax when they buy back the items that were born from their part of their non-town.

But the in-towners, intent on raising their own chickens and owning their own bees, they’re equally envious.  Hicks, they’d call the others, hayseeds, sure. They are. But they can have a chicken or twenty and as many hives as they wish without first checking to see if the local ordinance will allow it. The building inspector would tell you that there are too many illegal hives in town, while his inbox overflows with anonymous emails containing links to stories that claim the honey bees are nearly extinct.  That freedom is enticing, but not so enticing that the in-towners would give up their short walk to the corner store and those red beach tags, sewn onto the suits of the bike-riding, shiny helmet wearing town children. The uneasy tension between the two groups is easy enough to feel but easier to ignore.

The bigger issue now is that the bees from the town hives have made their way to the flowers on the outskirts of town, which has led to claims from the out-of-towners that the in-towner’s honey is just as the eggs and wheat and cannot be really and truly their own.

Basswood

Basswood

Large homes tend to have similar problems. When designing a custom home, there is one usual and obvious limitation. Budget. But this is when you’re designing a normal house, something you’re trying to make fit into a particular lot and a particular segment of a particular market. What if we throw out the limitation of market segment concern? What if there is no budget? Still, a singular problem exists. The design. If the wife sews and the husband smokes cigars, then a large house design would dictate that a sewing room and a cigar room be incorporated. Let’s put those at opposite ends of the house, the architect says. And let’s not forget about the children and their children. Those loved ones need space, too. And little Karen just loves to make beed necklaces, the kind that tourists buy when on FunJet vacations. Karen, your beed room is down this hallway, across from the twelve bedroom suites, opposite the cigar room and above the sewing room. This is the large house problem, and it’s an epidemic.

The home at 4396 Basswood Drive is large. Some 15,000 square feet above grade, large. That’s a big house. To enter it is to know it’s big. The gate is big. The guest house is big. The lawn is big. The circle driveway is big. The fountain? Big. The grand foyer is as grand as any foyer has ever been, outside of a building designed for members of parliament.  While we cannot ever mistake this house for being small, what’s important here is how logical the big is. The layout of this house is symmetrical. Nearly perfectly so. There’s a lakeside kitchen that spans the width of the lakeside pool. There’s a breakfast room, a formal dining room. The sunroom on the east end of the house takes in private views of lush perennial gardens. The great room is vaulted, soaring really, as high as it should be and not a penny higher. The fireplace in the lakeside great room is one of five that you’ll find here.  I always say if you think one fireplace is good then you’ve obviously never had five.

We have 3.28 acres here, which isn’t any particular feat on this lake. The level nature of the entire property from entry to water is what’s rare here, as most 3.28 acre parcels on Geneva will suffer from some variety of cliff or ravine or other slope. There is none of that difficulty at Royal Oaks, which is what this estate has been called since it was first constructed in the early 1990s. Royal Oaks. That has a nice sound to it, but it would be overwrought if we didn’t have a lot graced by so many large oaks. The frontage is as the rest of the estate parcel- level.  The 214′ of rip rapped shore line is level, but not so level that the water event of this week troubled its shoreline in any way. The pier is large, two slips worth, centered so properly on that wide frontage.  The lakeside patio holds an in-ground pool, just like you know it should. Any proper estate should have a guest house, and as we know, these are not all created equal. The guest house here is large, with three bedrooms and more garage spaces. You’ll find seven total garage stalls on this property, so please do bring your summer car and leave a winter one any stall you please.

So why would someone buy this home? What’s the market argument in favor of such a property, of such a large manor style home? To understand the answer, first consider the land. At present, the lot is easily worth $4.5MM. Perhaps as much as $5MM. To build a home of this size, a cost of $500-800 per foot would be expected. After all, this home cost all of that back in the 1990s when it was first built. The time to construct this home exceeded two years, which it would still today. The paint here might not be to your perfect palate. The kitchen would today want marble. The carpeted areas would now like hardwood, maybe stone. There are things here you might wish to change, things I’m guessing you’d want to change. But the change is easy considering the house itself is built. The scale is perfect. Those upstairs bedroom suites? Each bedroom measured 19 x 19, with some larger. They’re perfect, they’re lakeside, and there are seven of them in the main house.

Unlike homes built in the 1980s and before, homes built in the 1990s generally follow a nice pattern of scale. At least this home does. The layout is, as I said earlier, symmetrical and well thought out. There is nothing wasted here. No rooms for superfluous specific uses. There is just a large house that has been well taken care of, ready now for you to use immediately and enjoy, or ready for a tidy winter surface update.  The choice is yours.  Spare yourself the uncertain prospects of building a new estate. Spare yourself the years of construction. Spare yourself the unknown cost overruns. Buy this home. Enjoy your weekends here, in immense style, on Lake Geneva’s luxury lane. Basswood. $9,750,000.

New Elgin Club Listing

New Elgin Club Listing

It’s the word Club that throws people off. There’s some significant confusion in the market regarding the Elgin Club. Is it a Club? Well, sort of. Is it a co-op? Like the Harvard Club or the Congress Club? Not at all. The Elgin Club tends to get lumped in with these membership style co-ops, if for no other reason than the name. Elgin Club. Sounds like a club. Sounds like a co-op. But it isn’t. Do you know what it is? It’s a lakefront association with private lakefront homes. That’s it.

But is that really it? Is that all the Elgin Club is? A group of homes, each owning private frontage and nothing more? Well, no. That’s not at all what it is.  The Elgin Club also offers 16 wooded acres that are collectively owned by these lakefront owners. This land offers a beautiful tennis court, a private wooded drive, and land for garages. There’s also a full-time on site caretaker who handles the lawn and road maintenance.  That’s what helps make the Elgin Club a unique place on Geneva Lake. Sure it’s private frontage and private piers and that lovely north shore exposure, but it’s also a caretaker and tennis and convenience that other lakefront homes just can’t offer.

My new listing isn’t too difficult to understand. It has five bedrooms and five baths. It has hardwood floors and a fireplace. It has a lot of things that you’d expect, but that’s not the rare bit here. What’s rare is what you can buy here for $1.975MM. This is an entry level price in our market, and what you’re buying here is far from entry level. You get 50′ level frontage. There’s no hill to descend- not from the road to the house or from the house to the lake. There’s a two car detached garage. There’s at least 3600 square feet.

There’s also a new roof for this season, but now it just sounds like bragging. The Elgin Club isn’t like every place on the lake. But it isn’t unlike every other place, either. That’s why my newest listing will sell quickly. It’s everything a lakefront buyer could want in this price range, but it’s also more.

 

Mid-Summer Markets

Mid-Summer Markets

This would be much easier if we weren’t here. If we were in some other absurd little Midwestern vacation home market, everything would be different. We’d have our season, and it would consist of ice cream and t-shirts and six or eight weeks of hustle. Some bustle. Then we’d have our off season, which would make up the remainder of our year. We’d have in season, off season, and that would be that. Our fingers would be sticky from all that ice cream and our t-shirts would be stained so that you could barely make out the location of that miserable little Midwestern vacation home destination.

But we aren’t there. We are here. We’re in the middle of our season now, but what is this season, exactly? Is it July and August, as some would suggest? Or is it Memorial Day through Labor Day? Is it Memorial Day through Columbus Day?  That’s a common thought, and it isn’t a terrible one. But really our market doesn’t turn off, our season doesn’t end, it just changes. We don’t close the doors, we don’t turn off the lights. We just enjoy this place with different goals in mind. The season, it’s upon us.

But this is the generic consideration of “season”. What about the market version? What about this season, this cycle? Where are we now, on this tenth day of July?  Agents are scrambling, screaming about activity and offers and counter offers and amendments. They’re excitable, this group. And there are more of them now, more than ever.  It’s easy money, so they start and they spout and they tell people things that they have no actual way of knowing. Yes, your house is worth X. I would know, I’ve been selling real estate since 2016. 

I would call this current position in our market the Mid-Summer-Pause. Sure, there’s activity. Lots of it. But it’s also taking a bit of a breather. The spring sprint has ended.  Inventory is low and refuses to grow. What inventory is present is either under contract, about to be under contract, or somehow fatally flawed and needing price reduction. I have two new listings coming to market this week, one you’ll learn about on Wednesday and the other on Friday, but I haven’t brought two lakefronts to market in one week for what feels like years.  Will buyers pay attention to the new offerings? Perhaps.

There are buyers, after all. Many of them. Lakefront buyers, lake access buyers, condo buyers, land buyers. And the sellers who have been in the market for some time now fully understand that the summer is fleeting. Even now, with summer so young, it is escaping us little by little. The days are shorter now. Shorter today and shorter tomorrow. Winter is coming. Sellers know this, and in spite of the measurable buyer traffic there are deals to be made. Sellers, in this mid-summer pause, will be reducing their prices.  Why reduce in the fall when you know the market is stronger today than it might be then?  Sellers will be considering their position in the market and reacting accordingly. At least the smart ones will.

Today, there are five lakefronts under contract. One is my listing on Jerseyhurst. Others are in the $1.4-2.8MM price range.  There are just 18 lakefronts available as of this morning, which is consistent with the inventory for most of 2017. It’s low, and we know it. But there is value in that list, even if it isn’t apparent based on the present list prices. Expect to see some reductions in the coming weeks, even as the market remains hot and buyers snap up new inventory.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being a seller who sees the activity in the market and knowing your home isn’t benefitting. These are the sellers that will reduce, and if you’re a buyer, these are the sellers you should be watching.

For now, it’s mid-summer. My arms are tired from superjetting. My nose is sunburned. And all is well.

Shameless

Shameless

This feels gratuitous, but I have to do it anyway. I could babble on and on about being the underdog,  or tell you about how mightily I struggled for the first 14 years of my real estate career. Or how every day, every day, every quarter and year somehow remains an uphill battle. But those things all sound like either complaining or whining or sandbagging. So I won’t do it. For now,  just this.

Real Trends compiles the list of the top producers in each state. It’s the real estate industry’s Emmy award. Our Oscar. It’s all we have. And for 2016, I was the number one individual volume agent for the State of Wisconsin. That matters, and so I’m proud to share it with you. It wouldn’t have been possible without the trust that so many have placed in me, and I don’t take it for granted, not for a second.

Matthew McConaughey Lake Geneva

Matthew McConaughey Lake Geneva

I first saw Matthew McConaughey in line at The Cheese Box. I had seem him before, sure, at the Quik Trip, but this was the first time I really saw him. He asked for American Cheese. Strange, I thought, to ask for such a boring cheese, but still. He asked for it to be wrapped in paper, like at the butcher shop, he said. He glanced my direction after he said that, with a nod to suggest that I knew what he was talking about. I did. Except the butcher paper at Lake Geneva Country Meats is white and this cheese paper was tan. Still, it was a nice interaction and MM swaggered out to his waiting Infiniti.

But you already know this isn’t true. Because why would it be? The rumors this summer, and the last, are swirling. Where is Mathew McConaughey’s house, everyone wants to know. The answer, from what I can glean from the interwebs, is Austin. Maybe Malibu. But Lake Geneva? Well, the source of that rumor rests squarely on the shoulders of one local publication. This publication swears that MM is moving to Lake Geneva. That he’s been seen all over town. Here and there. Everywhere. Driving and walking, talking and eating. He’s been seen. It’s too late. We know he’s here.

The last MM inspired piece declared that the Realtors are lying about this. That we’ve all been sworn to secrecy. The ceremony was indeed strange, with the blood and the capes and the copper bathtub, but there was no swearing. There is no secret.  The initial thought was that perhaps, just perhaps, MM had bought a house that sold in Fontana last fall. The house at sold for $3.9MM or so in 2015, then printed for a million and a half dollars more in 2016. The deal was shrouded in secrecy. Was this the McConaughey buy?

It appears as though it wasn’t. The publication from whom the rumors swirl insists that his house is near Stone Manor, just a ways up the road. But this, according to public records, is not the case. Could he have so successfully shielded his identity that he convinced a stranger from Aurora, Illinois to take title in her name, rather than his? I suppose that could be. But then, if the secret was so closely guarded, would he drive around town in his Infiniti with such blatant disregard for his anonymity?

I doubt anyone really knows if McConaughey has a home here. I don’t think he does. Purportedly he’s friends with the owner of Tito’s Vodka, who does have a home here. They’re Austin buddies, or so the story goes. Perhaps his wife is from Brazil, Illinois? Perhaps none of it is true. But why did a builder tell me once that he had plans on his desk to be bid with McConaughey’s name on them?  But if that’s the case, where’s the house? There are lots of new houses being built on Geneva right now. Loads of them. It’s just that I know each and every owner of these new homes and none of them are our actor friend.

So, is McConaughey a Lake Geneva guy? I don’t know. I doubt it. I have no reason to believe he is. But maybe you do. Did you see him at Popeye’s? Did you see him on the mailboat tour, with his Groucho glasses and mustache? Or maybe you just happened to be driving, minding your own business, when you saw him driving down the road, heading to Piggly Wiggly because his wife ran out of bratwurst. If you did, please do let me know because I’d really appreciate some insight on this. Personally, I don’t think he has a home in Lake Geneva.  But he’d be a whole lot cooler if he did.

Fontana Fireworks

Fontana Fireworks

I admit I’m a lazy fireworks watcher. I know what happens. The fuse, the ssssssss, the explosion. I’ve watched them before. I know the weeping willow and the star ones. I know about the loud ones that flash. I’ve seen it all.  It’s because of this that I find it difficult to be enthused by a new display. Isn’t the new display just the same as the old display? Aren’t the fuses the same? Now, if they could come up with new fireworks that I haven’t even thought of yet, then I’d be interested. Until then, meh.

And this makes me a bad dad, I’m well aware. Our Independence Day celebrations are typically the same. We grill something at the lake. We eat. My mom makes some flag jello, and some blueberry cheesecake with lemon glaze. It’s all quite good. But it’s heavy and I’m heavy and if it’s hot then I’m hot. After some boating, swimming, superjetting, perhaps a showing or two if I must, I’m beat. I retire early on most nights, and the 4th of July is no exception. It’s just that the fireworks, dad. We should go see the fireworks.

Should we? Need we? Aren’t these fireflies in the yard just as good but even more interesting? No fuse, no noise, no hooping and hollering. Besides, the neighbors have fireworks that they’ll light in their driveways until 1 am. Aren’t those fireworks good enough? Sometimes we go. Usually we go. To a boat or a pier or a shore path section. Sometimes we park high above the lake, on a farm field to the West of town, were we see the display underneath us. Yes, we’ll probably go. Probably.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. The fireworks this weekend are as they are every Independence Day Weekend. Fontana will launch their explosives from the beach barges just after dusk on the 4th. The Grand Geneva and Geneva National will send their wares to the sky on July 3rd, just after dark. I’m sure Delavan will have some fireworks, too, but I’m not concerned. The Lake Geneva Country Club will light their fuses  sometime this weekend, but exactly when I’m not sure. I’m guessing Saturday night. Let’s just go with that.

The weather forecast for this weekend is somewhat difficult. There are lightening bolts and rain clouds in my app. But if we’ve learned anything it’s that we cannot count on bad weather just as we cannot count on good weather. Let’s be here. Let’s enjoy this place. Let’s be thankful for our freedom, and let’s celebrate it by not calling the cops on our neighbors when they’re still lighting cherry bombs at 1 am.

Lake Geneva Musky

Lake Geneva Musky

It wasn’t so long ago that I remember seeing a rainbow trout. It was swimming from my childhood pier to the next door pier, aloof, brilliant, without purpose or direction. It was electric, shockingly bright like a rainbow without the storm. I cut my teeth on smallmouth and largemouth bass. The former falling between bronze and sage, the latter darker, steely blue, almost. I remember great clouds of bullhead minnows, one or two adults surrounded by so many offspring. The purple of the bullhead was matched only by the purple of the carp that would cruise the shallows two by two, under the early morning sun.

That purple was dark and serious, not at all like this rainbow trout. The trout was shimmery, silver and pink, red and orange. All of the colors, that’s what it was. And it was huge and it was football shaped and my young eyes could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was mysterious, foreign, something out of my most surreal dreams. But it wasn’t a dream at all, it was swimming in this lake from one pier to the next, in the middle of summer under that high yellow sun. I’m quite certain that I will never, ever, forget my first fleeting encounter with that trout.

I have not found my way to the pier this summer as often as in the past. There are conflicting reasons for this absence, each important and meaningful but also useless and mundane. Work, that’s what it is. But it’s also the rainy pattern of the past two weeks. Summer is well underway, but with a cold front slowly meandering through the Midwest it feels less like certain summer and more like an uncertain spring. Still, the pier has called and I have only seldom listened. Perhaps the calling has passed me by in favor of my son, for his ear is always bent toward the lake, always hearing the call of the waves and the fish and the diving board.

Several weeks ago I was delivering magazines and happened upon a scene in the White River Park, in the middle of downtown Lake Geneva. A police officer had his eyes trained on the water, that lake water that rips through the locks and provides life to the White River before joining other rivers and making its way to the ocean. How I feel for that water, once born of this lake and this place, to be forced to travel through so much ugly before ending up overwhelmed in a salty sea. The police officer’s gaze caught my attention. I know better than to walk past a policeman who is investigating something.

It was a musky. Four or five, maybe six. Large dark bullets in that clear swift water. They were holding in the current, like salmon pointed upstream. These fish measured 40 inches, some better, some worse. They were beautiful.  In the coming days and weeks anglers would arrive, prompted by ridiculous youtube videos, to try their hand at these few fish that had been swept through the spillway out of Geneva Lake and were now stuck in this skinny water. Lures were presented. Snags were committed. Pictures were taken. No shame appears to have been felt.

A week or two later I was on the pier with my son, casting a small fly hoping that something might bite. While pier fishing, many fishermen find their eyes trained towards bikinis on neighboring piers, but my eyes find their way to the water, under the surface, scanning for movement. Looking for fish, for bass and bluegills, for crappies and gar. Perhaps for an elusive rainbow trout, but not likely.  This is when the musky showed up. Rising out of the darker depths, 40 inches, likely more, of musky pushed slowly through the distance off the edge of the pier. My son was frenzied. Excitement filled his eyes.

A few years ago, the DNR stocked Geneva Lake with a large handful of fingerling musky.  The DNR undertakes such experiments often, throwing darts at a wall in hopes that something sticks. Fast forward a few years and the musky experiment has worked. The ciscoes and bluegills and perch would argue that the experiment has been a collosal failure, but the muskies disagree. The population has grown to such a degree that the fish being caught this summer are of trophy size. This summer, children will accidentally catch 44″ musky off of the piers.

This, of course, is exciting news. But it’s also delicate news. The fish are not reproducing in this lake, at least not to the knowledge of the DNR. So the experiment will yield only one real benefit: angling pleasure. Still, I have one bit of advice. Treat these fish well. Don’t keep them. Musky doesn’t taste great. Just enjoy the fight and release these monsters to the dark depths. If you see one stuck in a shallow river, just leave it alone. If you see one swimming slowly off the end of your pier, tease it with a lure, but don’t snag it. It’ll be a memorable summer for those who are lucky enough to catch a big Geneva Lake musky, but if you’re one of the lucky ones, just take a picture and let it go.