Geneva Lakefront Realty
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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $37MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $115MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily within reach.

    As an important aside, that sales volume makes me the #1 dollar volume agent for Walworth County for 2014. That's pretty cool. So is the fact that since the start of 2010 I have closed more Geneva lakefront transaction sides than any other agent. I suppose that makes me the Top Agent in Lake Geneva, because there's really no other way to define top.

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

  • Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.

    ~Doug Larson

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Vacation Home Search


Open House

May 27, 2015 by David | Add comment
There was a time in the town when the towns people who had chosen real estate as their profession held houses open, for the public to see. The sales people, with their logos emblazoned on their car doors or at least on the back window of their SUVs, made a plan on most of the Saturdays and some of the Sundays to stick signs in the yards of the homes that they were trying to sell in hopes that passersby would stop, see the home, like the home, then buy the home. This was the intent of the open. There were drinks at these opens, sometimes food, certainly brochures, and the agent with the car and the stickery adornment. At first, the open houses were few, seldom even, as agents fit them in when they could, to appease their sellers who demanded they do something. Who demanded they do anything.

When these open houses were new to the town, the town paid them no mind. Who would want to see the Johnson's living room, they wondered. And so they went about their weekend business, ignoring the once-in-a-while-open-houses, in fact, viewing them as annoyances. Some people from neighboring cities would come to town on those open days, and they would drive poorly and without knowledge of which streets were one way and which were both ways, without awareness of school zones. They would turn left when they should have only turned right, and when they did turn right they would do so on red, which everyone who was from the town knew was something that only people from the other town would do. The open houses, though despised by the local population, were increasingly popular amongst the be-dazzled Realtors, because they knew they could find people who didn't know the town, people who didn't know one Realtor from the other. They knew they were on to something.

After a season or two of these opens, the towns people began to venture out, because the Johnson's living room had been the buzz at church last Sunday, and why should the tour only be for those from other towns? So they started to make a practice of visiting these houses, when they were open. Saturday morning was for soccer, or baseball, but mostly, soccer. Then, lunch. Sometimes only ice cream. After ice cream, it was open house time, and such a great flood of traffic would arrive at the doors of those agents who parked their tattooed cars in the driveways of those houses. After some outcry, there was a demand that the after soccer ice cream be skipped, and that the Realtors, in exchange for being visited by so many potential clients, should provide lunch and deserts, drinks, too. So the Realtors engaged companies to bring food over, small food for napkin eating. Deserts, sure, but those were just homemade bars with nuts and raisins. The next Sunday, everyone talked about how the house with the raisin bars would not be visited again unless the desert was changed.

The Realtors, awash in new people who purported to be clients and buried deep in catering bills, decided that it was time to ask visitors to bring a dish to pass, something savory for those whose last name started with any letter between A and M, and something sweet from those who had any other last name that started with another one of those later letters. The towns people grumbled at first, thinking that the open house was merely a chance to accumulate decorating ideas from their neighbors, and to ooh and aah at the splendor of the Miller's dining room chandelier. But slowly the dish-to-pass idea caught on, and the Saturday pot-luck was a raging town success. Mrs. Huffaker brought her potatoes, and Mrs. Wilderman brought her famous deviled eggs. At church on Sunday, it was decided that the best open house of the weekend was the one at the Sterling house, because they had both the potatoes and the eggs, and the Realtor was there but he wasn't all "you should buy this". How best to eat and drink and view the incredible pool table room of the Farrel's if not without the constant badgering from the host Realtor?

Everyone decided that it would be best if the Realtors were no longer involved in these open houses. The brochures, the name-tags, the cars-with-websites; it was all too much. But the Realtors persisted, and though the people wished them to just leave the houses open and return to the house when the food had run out, the Realtors stayed. Sunday, it was agreed that the Realtors must be selfish, certainly a very un-Christian characteristic, and that they should be chastised by the minister. The minister, having heard the complaints, sided with the townspeople. The Realtors were greedy, and this sin would not be tolerated. The next weekend, there were open houses. The food was plentiful, the drinks flowed, and the homes, without the annoyance of the Realtor and the brochures, was much easier to wander through.

The Realtors were perplexed by this development, and so they called a meeting. The restaurant parking lot was filled with stickered cars, and the waitress had no trouble calling each patron by name, on account of the name tags. The Realtors, after a season of open houses, of providing food and drink and tours and brochures, realized that the homes they had been holding open in August were the same homes they held open in May. It was decided then and there that no further open houses would be scheduled, hosted, or allowed. Open houses, they realized, didn't help sell a house, they just helped feed the neighbors. The next Sunday at church, the minister heard complaints about how the Realtors had selfishly decided to stop holding open houses, and the minister agreed that selfishness is a sin.

Memorial Day Weekend

May 22, 2015 by David | Add comment
There are things that must be remembered on Memorial Day Weekend. First, this is a weekend to remember. Not to remember what it's like to grill and to boat, nor to remember what it's like to make a jello desert in the shape and colors of the American flag. No, this is a weekend to remember those who gave far more than I'll ever give to anything. Here's to those men and woman who died so that my kids can sleep in their beds at night without a single care in the world.


The other far less important thing to remember this weekend is that Memorial Day Weekend, try as we might, is not summer. It's not. It sort of feels like summer, and depending on the direction of the wind and the intensity of the sunshine, it can seem just like summer. But alas, summer it is not. This is a warm up for summer, a weekend where we work through the kinks. A weekend where we practice what it is to spend the summer lakeside. If you've made the decision to hand your weekends over to Lake Geneva, then this is a weekend to sharpen your vacation skills. Keep that in mind and a rainy day or two won't ruin your life.

There was an auction last week, that of a house on the North Shore of Geneva. It was advertised as an estate, but it wasn't an estate. It was, instead, a very nice house on a nice lot. It sold for $5.35MM, plus a bidder premium, and as a result it will appear as though the auction company worked their magic and beat our little market with their advertising procedure. What actually happened was the house sold for market value, and if the seller had listed the home in the range where it just sold, there could have been a closing a year or two before now. The buyer purchased a very nice house, and in that we can all be pleased. But did the auction really achieve a superior result to a traditional brokerage model? No. How would I have determined the process to have been a market-beating success? If the sales price reflected the prior brokerage list price of $6.495MM.

I closed on a little Willabay condominium yesterday, the first such Willabay closing for me in several years. Willabay is that large condominium complex just to the East of the Williams Bay beach. It borders the Kishwauketoe Conservancy, and so the frogs and herons are the Westerly neighbors. It's a nice little place, and the two bedroom ground floor unit I just sold for $208,000 backs up to that wooded refuge. It's also close enough to the lake where a simple peak outside the patio door reveals a very pleasing view of the water. It's not lakefront, but it's $208k, with low taxes and low dues, and if you're wishing to spend your weekends but anywhere in your boring suburban back yard, this is not a bad way to accomplish that goal.

And that brings us back to this weekend. It's a Holiday, one for remembrance and practice, but it's a Holiday that, perhaps more than any other, reinforces in each and every one of us a strong desire to spend our weekends doing something different. A block party thrown by your subdivision board is not something different. If you're confused as to what I mean, consider this quick Memorial Day Weekend litmus test. The answers can only be determined on Tuesday morning, after the weekend has come and gone.

Did you, at any given point between Friday afternoon and Monday night, step inside a shopping mall?
Did you, at any given point between Friday afternoon and Monday night, eat at a Red Lobster, Olive Garden, or Outback Steakhouse?
Did you, at any given point between Friday afternoon and Monday night, mow the lawn at your primary home?
Did you, at any given point between Friday afternoon and Monday night, take a nap in the same bed that you sleep in every weeknight?

If you answered yes to any of the above, your weekend was awful. I can help change that. I might not be a Chicago broker that comes at you with the promise to dazzle you with technology, but I am a Lake Geneva kid who knows everything you'd ever want to know about this lake, and that just might be enough to change your weekends.

Summer Homes For City People

May 20, 2015 by David | Add comment
I have never bought something of relative cost without some form of regret. I bought a YETI cooler last year, mostly because I've always wanted one. I thought loosely about buying that cooler for months. Then I thought intently about it for weeks. The I tossed and turned restlessly for the days leading up to the fateful purchase. When I finally gave in and bought the cooler, I thought, meh. I probably didn't need a $400 cooler. I probably shouldn't have bought it.


And so it should be no surprise that yesterday, when the delivery truck pulled up and unceremoniously unloaded 15,000 copies of my latest Summer Homes For City People magazine, I was anxious. After reviewing the new issue, I was a bit nonplussed. I mean, sure, it's way better than any real estate publication ever printed, but still. It isn't great, and great is how I imagined it would be for the last five months when I worked on the content. It's out now, this magazine, viewable here by clicking on the cover above or the icon to the right of this post, and able to be grabbed from any place around Lake Geneva that's worth its salt.

In honor of my deep exhale of relief, I'll leave you with a re-post from last year's magazine. It's May Fly season at the lake, which is somewhat okay but really quite bothersome. I swallowed several of these bugs today, and if you're up this weekend you'll likely dine on a few as well. It's all part of the process, and May Flies are something we must abide. On Friday, we'll chat about the Memorial Day Weekend and the auction house that printed for a sizable sum at the Tuesday event. For now, May Flies.

The May Fly

I do not know what a June bug is. I don't know what sort of bug it is, but I think it's a beetle. I also don't know if it's a June bug, as the month would suggest, or if it's a Joon bug, which is how I think the spelling is of that movie alongside Benny, which also might be Bennie, but who knows. I know certain things about June bugs. I know that they are bugs, and I know that while they likely arrive sometime in June they most certainly do not only exist during the month that I assume to be their namesake. My daughter's name is May, but she exists the same in May as she does in June, which is to say that she exists solely for the purpose of torturing her brother and making him feel as though she gets special treatment. She does, but not just in May because her name is May.

Mayflies--I know more about these than I do the bugs that may or may not be beetles that come after the flies. Mayflies aren't really flies at all. They do fly, but they do not buzz against windows and spoil picnics and touch everything in the way that garbage flies do. Perhaps calling them garbage flies is inappropriate, like calling field corn horse corn, but as I recall fruit flies are more like small bugs, or gnats, than they are like flies, so I'll assume that fruit flies are like gnats and garbage flies are the flies that we think of when we think of flies. Which is often, in summer. Mayflies, they're a summer bug too, which is back to our point about those flies existing, at least sometimes, outside of May.

This is the time for these bugs. In fact, it might be past the time for these bugs. They were buzzing while I was working, buzzing in great dark clouds over piers and in front lawns and buzzing next to lilacs as they bloomed and made all the world smell like the pages of Glamour magazine. They were in these large schools, roaming about without moving much at all, hovering, really, hanging out in front lawns and near bushes and over piers and over expanses of calm spring waters. These bugs can, at first, seem daunting. There are many of them, but the swarm doesn't instill fear like a swarm of bees would. And they don't instill disgust in the way that a mass swarm of flies would, be those flies garbage flies or fruit flies, it doesn't matter much. They're still flies, and a whole mess of them would be just miserable.

I'm sure I saw some of these dark schools of Mayflies during their namesake month, but I can't remember them this year because I didn't take any time to smell any roses, or to pick any dandelions, or to walk along the shore path near the water where these bugs like to hang out. I haven't done these things because I haven't had the time, but that doesn't mean that I didn't see some Mayflies this year. I did. I saw plenty of them, just not the huge swarms of them that I remember seeing during other Mays from other years. I remember one year when they were particularly impressive. I fished off the Loch Vista pier, casting thin line with small hooks looped through the faces of small minnows. I don't feel good about doing that to those minnows, but I do feel good about watching a small red and white bobber slip under the still surface, and I feel equally as good about reeling in a smallmouth bass before gently unhooking it and releasing it back to its watery home, so the minnow part is unfortunate but I find that its end justifies its means.

I remember one late afternoon, late enough where the sky was dark but the light hadn't yet faded enough to be considered night, and I was doing that casting and standing and reeling. The buzz from the Mayflies was pronounced--loud even--and I felt great privilege being on that pier in that scene, watching my bobbers. I'd look away at times, just for long enough to see the cloud of Mayflies dip too close to the water so that the wings of the lowest members would dimple the surface and stick together. The bugs that met the water in this way would stay there, glued to the surface of the calm lake, where they'd lay without hope until a small bluegill would ascend from the depths and sip them, implying politeness while still being ruthless. I watched the scene play out, the falling to the water to become a meal, the bobbers dipping under the surface, the smallmouth pulling away as best they could, the night sky growing dim, the Mayflies abuzz.

This is May, and we're at the lake. The flies are not flies at all, just Mayflies in some quantity. They won't bite, they won't bother, and soon enough they'll be dead and stuck to spiderwebs under the eaves of our homes and the canopies of our piers. They aren't anything to fear, no more than we'd fear a Joon bug, or a June bug, or the dreaded Juhn bug.

Lake Geneva Club Sells

May 18, 2015 by David | Add comment
I like the Lake Geneva Club. I like it better than its neighbors, but I like the neighbors plenty, too. The Lake Geneva Club has always been a nice mix of old and new, rarely pausing from the gentrification that has been a steady there for the past decade. The piers are nicely configured now, the road newish, the tennis court well maintained, the fundamentals well cared for and updated. I've sold many homes on this street, and have had many more listed. The street is comfortable without being shabby, it's quiet without being dull, it's cute without being a caricature.


In the fall of 2006, a ranch home came to market. The home was well kept, if boring, and it sat a long enough ways from the lake to not have a view, but not so far that it wasn't somewhat desirable. The price for this ranchy mediocrity was $829k. It was a lofty price, sure, one that made no sense then just as it wouldn't make sense now, but I was somewhat to blame for the price, even though the listing was not my own. In August of that year, I sold a cottage in the Lake Geneva Club for $790k, a price that was owed to its location within the club; it was just one home from the lake with rather dazzling views. That sale set in motion a race to capitalize on fleeting momentum, and so when this ranch was listed for $829k there was little doubt that the goal was to crush a home run, rather than to string together a few singles, maybe also a walk, and drive home a run.

That property sat on the market at $829k for some time. Then it was reduced to seven something, the exact number not mattering at all then and certainly not mattering today. Then it was six something, maybe for a while, then five something. When it was five something I took notice on behalf of customers, and I routinely chauffered buyers down that favorite lake access lane of mine, pulling into the large asphalt parking lot and showing the mediocrity that was this ranch. The home had an easy lay out, three bedrooms and two baths, a large double lot, and a boat slip. It was a nice candidate for a renovation, and I often suggested that a $120k remodel would make this boring ranch come alive as an exciting lake cottage. No one listened, and the home sat and sat, even as I tried my best to convince my buyers of the value of finding vacation home satisfaction on this street where it came easily.

From the time that this ranch was first listed until the date last week when it sold, six other MLS listed homes in the LGC came to market and sold. I sold four of those six, yet for some reason listings on the street have recently eluded me. That's a curious point, as it drives home the real estate agent choosing method most favored by the consumer: List with the lady who's the sister of the lady who does your mother's hair, or succumb to the listing pressure of those agents that hawk down expired and For Sale By Owner listings. Either way, six buyers looked at the Lake Geneva Club listings, and six buyers chose anything but the small ranch on the big lot with the three bedrooms.

There was at least one false start, one contract that came together and failed to close. But mostly, nonchalance and a market that looked past this home and towards anything but. Until this spring, when the lake access market between $500k and $750k enjoyed a generous spurt of activity and a buyer was brought to those humble steps of that unassuming ranch. That home finally closed last week, for $500k, making it a quality print for the association and a victory for the seller who finally, mercifully, found his buyer.

Today, there are two homes for sale in the LGC. Both are near the lake, one has a slip of somewhat difficult access. The street, and those available homes, should breath a sigh of satisfied relief. The ranch home that was first listed nearly nine years ago has sold, and there's another new owner about to realize that their weekends were completely and utterly awful before now.

(This was not my listing and I didn't bring in the buyer.)

Big Foot Beach Proposal

May 15, 2015 by David |
I do not know why the Maytag family dug out the Ceylon Lagoon, now known simply by the area that surrounds it: Big Foot Beach State Park. I don't know if they did it because they wanted somewhere to fish when the waves pushed too tall on the big lake, nor do I know if they built it as a sort of fish farm, somewhere they could stock and harvest fish. Whatever the case, we can be certain vanity played a role, but what we cannot wonder about is the source of this small pond: Man.

Conservationist are currently apoplectic over a proposed plan to relocate the city of Lake Geneva boat launch to this lagoon. The plan would move the launch from its current location at the end of Center Street, which is a location that's been both curious and ridiculous since the dawn of boat trailers. The launch clogs the main thoroughfare of this bustling town, creating both functional and aesthetic struggles for all within range. As part of this launch relocation, South Lakeshore Drive itself would be routed around the East side of the lagoon, allowing for a proper beach where now there is just a thin strip of sandy rocks.

I may be a conservative, but I am thoroughly and entirely supportive of the environment. That said, I do think there are ways that both sides of this debate can find peace. On a national front, environmental groups like Trout Unlimited (whom I am a major supporter of) have stirred up grassroots support against states that seek to sell off their owned lands. The environmentalist groups make a very large leap in the assumptions that cause their angst. If a state sells some of its land, that means the Koch brothers buy it and immediately A. Frack it, B. Pour banned chemicals on it and into the rivers, C. Cut all of the trees down and pave it so their Republican friends can park their fancy cars on it.

This is the stretch, and this is what makes people so upset about the thought of a state selling a tiny fraction of its unnecessarily owned land. Nearly 20% of the land mass that is Wisconsin is owned by some form of government, be it municipal, state, or federal. Wisconsin has joined in this land sale idea, contemplating liquidating some of this massive ownership position. Liberals and their conservation hawks say this is a egregious mistake. They say it's stealing the future from our children and grandchildren. They say that public lands are a right that must be defended. They say the Koch brothers hate children and squirrels.

I say the state should sell land, but they should do so in a thoughtful, restricted manner. I don't like the idea of polluting our waters and land, but I also don't like the state owning such an incredible percentage of this state. The bipartisan fix? The state owns the land, they slap a conservation easement on the land that prohibits future development, banning land separations, installing fishing/hunting easements on land that has value in that regard, limits timber harvest, limits agricultural use (installing a percentage of the land that would be allowed to be made tillable), and so on and so forth. If a state does this, then offers the land for sale, do you know who would buy it? Hunters, fishers, people that want to own land to walk through. You know, conservationists. This is the solution to the national handwringing over public lands, because it removes land from state stewardship while ensuring that the land is indeed preserved, forever.

The same concept applies to the proposed relocation of the launch into that man-made lagoon. I mention the man-made part because I do think it's important to note that this was not some natural occurring pond. It was a Maytag made pond. So I agree with parts of this plan, but not all of it. I think the solution takes parts from the current plan and applies some conservationist principle that will help ease the minds of those who share my concern for turtles and fish.

Let's agree that the downtown Lake Geneva launch is a disaster. It disrupts traffic and is a general nuisance. Let's move the launch to the lagoon, but instead of making the entirety of the lagoon the boat launch, let's take a quarter of the lagoon and make it a launch and leave the rest alone. If the Maytags could excavate a giant lagoon with old timey tools, certainly we can divide the lagoon into two with our shiny earth movers. We keep the vast majority of the lagoon as a lagoon, so the fish can turtles can be happy. Also, John Muir would be happy.

Then, we re-route South Lakeshore Drive. There is faux concern over this road being some old indian trail, which is why we must keep it paved. This is madness. To pay homage to the old Indian Trail, we make the shore path in that area dirt, and we put up a sign telling people that they're now walking on an old Indian Trail. Also an old Indian Trail? The entirety of the shore path.

With the launch installed at the far south end of the current lagoon, and the rest of the lagoon protected by our new earthen divider, we get to expand the beach that used to be a beach. However, we do not make the beach the entirety of the current stretch. We identify the proper location for the beach, and we make it four hundred feet wide, give or take. We plant nature along the shorelines in the other areas, with rocks to help keep the erosion at bay. With a defined beach, a defined lagoon, a defined launch, and a defined new route for the road, we're onto something.

There is concern about cutting down trees to reroute the road. I share this concern, which is why I was displeased last year when every tree that even remotely resembled an Ash was unceremoniously cut and burned. Let's re-route the road, and make it a neat little road that winds through a wooded park. This wouldn't be the first time that a road wound its way through the woods around a lake, sort of like all of the other roads in this area.

Another concern is the vast amounts of asphalt that would be added. Strange no one piped up when Gage Marine paved over their entire lakefront, without any natural border to catch the runoff gasoline and asphalt tar before it dumps into the lake. Strange no one realizes that with the Center Street launch every drop of rain that falls on the massive Cove parking lot runs right into the lake. Strange that for decades the huge blank swath of asphalt at the Lake Geneva Yacht Club ran from road to lake, without any natural border at the water to eliminate contaminants. Let's not pick and choose our hatred of asphalt, let's just place it in a better location.

That means the new parking lot to accommodate park patrons and launch lovers will not be constructed near the lake. It will not be a visual eye sore, nor an environmental one. Let's put the parking lot farther to the southeast end of the property, and let's make it gravel. Gravel lots aren't made from tar, so they're good. And before I forget, let's realize we have a boat density struggle on Geneva Lake and therefore the launch fees at this new launch should be very high. We'll make them high under the guise that we have to make them so in order to pay for the launch, but we'll all know we'll make them high because of our disdain for day-tripping boaters.

Like all issues that present as a stark contrast between the wishes of business or municipalities against the sign-writing environmentalists, there is compromise. The current Big Foot Beach plan is compromised, and should be modified to make both sides happy. In that, I'll be happy, too.

Hollybush Sells

May 13, 2015 by David | Add comment
There are many reasons to sell your house. For instance, if you live in a small house and you'd really like to live in a big house, you sell the small house and buy the big house. This is super easy to understand. Also, if you live in a big house and you think it's time to live in a small house, you sell the big and buy the small. If you live near a highway and you think you'd like to live near the country, you sell the highway and buy the country. If you bought an expensive house when you were making lots of money and now you're not making any money because you decided to sell real estate for a living, you sell the expensive one and buy a cheap one. Things couldn't be easier to understand.


But sometimes you sell because you wish to explore new opportunities in new places, and see new things. Sometimes you feel the comfort of the familiar and wish for the discomfort of a challenge. Sometimes things just run their course, which doesn't mean you no longer love the house you've now decided to sell, nor does it mean you dislike the town the house is in or somehow feel less than enamoured with the lovely lake that house is on. Sometimes, it's just time. That's why I just sold a lakefront house on Hollybush for a wonderful seller to an equally wonderful buyer.

Rare is a real estate deal that doesn't feature some form of catastrophe, actual or mostly perceived. If life is in general stressful and somewhat annoying at times, a real estate deal takes all of the stress from regular life and magnifies it into one event. Real estate transactions, put painfully simply, bring out the absolute worst in people. It brings out the greedy and the petty, the irrational and the frantic. It brings out the tendencies that we spend most of our lives trying to suppress. This isn't to say that everyone is horrible, but it is to say that real estate has a way of making otherwise sane people act otherwise. This is why I celebrate deals where I have the privilege of working with people who are indeed level headed, honest, and trusting. This was the case in the transaction I closed on Monday, and I'm grateful for it.

The house on Hollybush is one that I had been working on listing for quite some time. The home is unique, in a Usonian way, at home and comfortable on the pages of Dwell magazine, perhaps not just tolerated there but outright adored. The style of the home is unique, if dramatic, and while style is personal property is universal. This home was on a level half acre lot, with 96' of pleasing frontage, and a Westerly exposure that allows that early evening summerly glow to wash over the lawn and flood those massive lakeside windows. This property closed for $2.1MM, and it fits both the market and the eye of the renovation-minded buyer. It was a nice market deal, and I feel lucky to have played a role in matching a motivated buyer with an off-market seller.

But about that seller, and about what these lakefront homes mean to people. Uninitiated lakefront buyers can be callous, seeking only shiny and new, or new and shiny. They can see homes and marvel at the unique nature, but it's a bemused marvel not an impressed marvel. They see lakefront homes and easily dismiss them based on fit and finish, stoves and refrigerators, the color of the walls or the shape of the bathroom tile. They see houses as houses, and dismiss or at least fail to see just why these homes can be so important in the lives of the sellers. This particular home was owned by the same family for all of its existence, having been built by the father of the seller in the early 1960s. Primary homes have changed, homes were sold to buy traditional condominiums, children were born and raised, grandchildren welcomed and loved, business created and sold, lives were lived. But the steadying force through all of the change in a long life has been this home, this somewhat peculiar ranch home on the southeasterly shore of this great big lake, and that stable nature has affected four generations of this family. This home wasn't just a home on some lake somewhere, with curtains and curious flooring, it was everything to this family.

There is value in that, and I find myself increasingly understanding of what these homes mean to these families. This is a business, sure, one where we churn homes to make a living and satisfy egos, but these homes take on a different level of importance. To some families lake houses are just lake houses. They matter on the weekends under the summer sun. They matter when property taxes are due. They matter when the well pump breaks on the Saturday before the Fourth of July. They matter when the pier bill comes in $400 more than it was last year. But to some families they matter more, and that's what makes selling them so much more contemplative. To the buyer of this home, I wish you and your family a similar lifetime of memories, and a fondness that extends beyond the color of the kitchen cabinets. And to the seller, congratulations on a life well lived, and to the next chapter that's set to begin.

The Flowering Tree

May 11, 2015 by David | Add comment
The mighty Oak tree. For all of the moving I've done, and all of the land that I've called home, I have only owned one prized Oak tree. The trees that typically fall under my temporary ownership are scrub varieties, those Boxelders and its twisted cousins that lack any sort of pedigree. Even the Boxelder at least has a name that people know, and that's more than can be said for most of the trees that I've owned. They're just trees, the variety that grow tall and skinny or short and curvy, without much to offer while living, and without burning long and hot when dead. At my current home, I do own one singular Oak, and what an impressive tree it is.


It's huge, this Oak, big and tall and sturdy. It's old, so old in fact that I hesitate to guess its age. If you were to guess the age of an old woman, it would be best to err on the side of youth. If the old woman looks 90, guess that she's not a day over 78. But with an Oak tree, to guess less is to insult its heritage, to insult its will to live and thrive and grow tall and round. But this Oak tree, though I love it and appreciate it, it's on the margin of my property where it intermingles with small trees of varying makes and models. The majesty of this Oak is obscured by the company it keeps.

If you drove down South Lakeshore Drive heading from the Fontana lakefront to the East, this is a pleasant drive in May, and in July, and in January. If you made that drive in July, you'd notice some scraggly trees that jut out at odd angles from the Buntrock property, just to the West of Westgate. Those trees in July look like weedy trees, the sort that I would own, and in January they look the same, sans leaves. During any month of the year they blend in to a larger tree line, and they mean absolutely nothing. But that's not the case in May, because right now those trees are ablaze in a hot pink glow, the color radiating from the otherwise green scene. Those trees today don't just mean something to that landscape, they mean everything.

In fact, everywhere today there are trees just like those. No-name trees that burst in pink flowers, and apple trees dressed in white and pink. Pear trees do the same, and crabapples make up for their mostly inedible fruit with their remarkable spring display. Cherry trees, both the ones cultivated for their tart fruit or the ones that grow wildly on the lot lines of properties like mine, they're magnificent right now. I don't even need to mention Magnolia trees, because they're the most beautiful of all. My aunt owns a home in Williams Bay on the main street. It's a great little house, and for eleven and a half months of the year that vacation home badly needs a new roof and some painting. For those other two weeks, the perfectly shaped, towering Magnolia blooms and blooms, and then no one cares about the peeling paint or the curling roof. They can't see past the blossoms, because they just don't want to.

A boat trip around the lake in July is really terrific. The shoreline and the hills that rise beyond it are deep and green, dark and full of life. Wisconsin flaunts it's deciduous heritage in July, and you'd be remiss if you didn't pause to appreciate this landscape. But today, a boat ride around the lake features a dull hint of green, contrast by the bright yellowy-green of the Willows, and accented by the pops of white pedals from the cherries and the apples, the pinks from the crabapples and the purple from lilacs. The steady deep tone of summer is beautiful but unvaried, whereas the pastel tone of May is exciting and colorful, a visual treat to reward us for enduring the months of dull and gray. Summer is where I'd like to spend most of my time, but the flowering trees of May cannot be overlooked.

The Oak tree in my yard is slowly sending out its leaves. Oaks are like that. They're old, after all, so they move more slowly and deliberately. Acorns are neat tricks, so tidy and important, but an acorn cannot hold a candle to a scrubby tree that blooms with so much pent up vigor. Here's to you, miscellaneous flowering trees, for making beautiful my wait for summer.

Lake Geneva Sales

May 08, 2015 by David | Add comment
Many years ago, I decided to buck the most important trend in real estate salesmanship. I decided that I didn't like every single sale. Contrary to current mass email form, I also decided that I wouldn't do my best to make it seem as though every sale was a sale that I personally handled. If you receive emails with "market updates", you'll notice that it looks like your particular agent sold every property they send you. This generally isn't true, obviously. Either way, I'm a trend bucker, and I think that's a good thing.

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While I desperately do not like every single sale, I have to tip my hat in the direction that it should be tipped. Buyers buying vacation homes is always good, but buyers who close in the month of May deserve a little extra applause. If you buy a vacation home in June, that's terrific! Same goes if you buy one in December, it's still a good idea. But to buy in May is to experience the most immediate form of gratification. Buy in May, and on Memorial Day you're grilling lakeside, which is the only place to grill, in the event that you have a choice. So May buyers, good job.

There were several sales this week of vacation homes, and they should be discussed. The flipper's house on Geneva Oaks Trail closed for $1.2MM. I'm guessing the flipper made a couple hundred grand on that deal, which is nice for him. That property is one off the lake, so it's a nice comp for lakefront homes in the entry level price range. It was a nice enough house, with a nice enough view so long as the lakefront home doesn't switch from ranch model to colonial.

Two properties in Loramoor sold this week, both off-water homes with slips. The one house was an original carriage house for the estate, so it was old and strange, maybe stranger than old, but certainly a sizable house and an even larger project. $600k was the print price, and I'll be curious to see what transpires there now that the property has closed. Will the home be torn down? Extensively renovated? Painted and moved into? Who knows? Not me, that's why I'm guessing. The other house was of a standard type ranch home that had some nicely elevated finishes and a trade price of $655,000. That's not a bad sale, not at all.

A small ranch in Cedar Point closed for $280k, so that's nice. The home was sort of close to the lake, with a sort of view, and sort of a back yard, but really just a bit of grass and a fence. It was a market sale, with neither buyer nor seller winning. I'm sure when the buyer walks down to the lake this summer he'll feel as though he won, but perhaps when he walks back up the significant hill to his new house he'll feel otherwise. Time will tell.

The market remains active, and I see pockets of value that still exist. Two of the best value segments right now are both on the lakefront. The entry level lakefront market looked, a year ago, as though it was about to take off. Then came a glut of new inventory, and inventory pressures prices, which appear to be soft. I'd expect a few of these entry level offerings to sell right, and buyers would do well to pay attention. The same goes for the larger lakefront land buys, those properties with marginal homes but nice lots priced around $4MM. Expect one or more of those sellers to be willing to deal, and if there's a buyer out there that wants to build a legacy type vacation home, that buyer should probably email me before he, or she, makes a great big mistake.

George Williams, et al

May 06, 2015 by David | Add comment
When I was in High School, Keanu Reeves came to Williams Bay for a few days. I don't know where he stayed. I do know that he ran through the halls of Yerkes, and then ran across that roof. He was confronted by a police officer, who was shot by some really bad guys in a helicopter. Keanu then ran through the woods and took the controls of a hovercraft, where he successfully used that unwieldy vehicle to outrun and outmaneuver the helicopter. Later, after he used that payphone in Williams Bay and after he ran on the roof and didn't shoot that cop, he waded through water to hide out in a house that cinematically was on Geneva Lake, but in practice it was not. We all know Geneva doesn't have a reed-flanked shoreline.


This was the only movie to be filmed in Williams Bay when I was in High School. I suspect it is the only movie filmed in Williams Bay ever, though I welcome correction on that. Given that I was a teenager and a movie was being filmed just a mile from my home, I wandered onto the set a few times. The set, in this context, was George Williams. The film crew had added some signage to GW to make it look like it was something that it was not, and because I was in high school and Keanu Reeves was in town, I stole one of the signs.

From that day until this day, I have never stolen another item. It really wasn't thievery, anyway, as the movie had ended and the film crew was rushed off to film the next scene, and they left behind their signage like a conquering army. I still have that sign, but today isn't about that sign, or about the way the girls in my High School fluttered over the thought of stupid Keanu Reeves setting foot in Williams Bay. Today is about George Williams, and how today it looks nothing like it did then.

I drove into George Williams this morning to look at a house that was just listed on the strange little street that one can only arrive upon after driving through George Williams. There is construction this morning, old buildings being either town down to be replaced, or torn mostly down to be renovated. I drove past rows of buildings, each with names and each in dazzling condition. I drove past finely trimmed and generously mulched beds with flowers and trees, each in their place. I drove past the administrative buildings and past student housing, down around the lakefront building with its ample lakeside porch. I drove around and around, and I was thoroughly and entirely impressed. This isn't Keanu's George Williams.

During the 1980s my best friend was Matt Gleason, and he lived at the Conference Point Camp. His parents were the caretakers there, and I can remember watching my first bit of Top Gun at his house, and I can remember my parents calling his parents to tell them that I wasn't allowed to watch those sorts of racy films. Conference Point Camp at that time was, and remained for quite some time after, a miserable wreck. Buildings were slipping down the high hillside and into the lake, and if they weren't, it seemed as though they soon would. Paint peeled, wood rotted, trails were untended, grass was crowded by weeds, and generally things were decrepit at best, and dangerous at worst.

Today, Conference Point Camp shines again, or maybe for the first time, I can't tell. New ownership has given life to this tired old camp, and anyone with eyes should rejoice in this re-birth. Buildings have been, one by one, renovated, cleaned, painted, made right. Wood floors have been sanded of so many generations of filth and stain, and they've been made to shine and glow as they once did. The camp has a long ways to go, but what a remarkable transformation they've already accomplished.

Covenant Harbor has, in my recent memory, led the way with this sort of stewardship, with their finely painted buildings and wonderfully maintained lakeside landscape. Norman Barr and Holiday Home have been working to clean up their grounds as well, and the Lake Geneva Youth Camp has been spending money as if there is no end to the supply. These camps anchor various points of our collective shoreline, and I, for one, am extremely pleased that they've all embraced a desire to improve themselves, and by doing so, improve our view.

Lake Geneva Auction

May 04, 2015 by David | Add comment
If you are a seller of real estate, particularly the luxury brand of such, arriving at your wits end is not an uncommon scenario. Luxury real estate, by its very definition, is subjective. It functions well in markets where throngs and throngs of wealthy people live. For instance, Beverly Hills. We've been given a window into this luxury real estate world, where television cameras follow pointy-shoe-wearing-slicksters as they launch luxury properties at wealthy buyers. It would be easy to watch this show and take away nothing but the idea that pointy shoes and fancy cars and ample sunshine are, indeed, the three elements to luxury home sales. But look deeper, look to where one of these fresh-faced Realtors meets with a potential seller. Look where the Realtor tells the client that the home is worth $10MM, and the seller wants $14MM, and after some time or no time at all, a buyer (maybe from China) buys the home for $13.8MM. What goes unspoken is that the buyer was completely and entirely screwed, but look- a Ferrari parked on Rodeo Drive!


Luxury markets love na´vetÚ, in fact, they can't do much without it. That's why Lake Geneva is a different sort of market, as it combines lots of wealthy people with an obvious luxury market to pick over, but those wealthy are from the Midwest generally, where a different set of sensibilities often tags along for the ride. Sometimes, this trend is broken, like when a lakefront home sells for a 45% gain when the market doesn't justify it. That looks like a trend to adjacent owners, but we all know it to be what it really is- an outlier. In the absence of that coastal brand of recklessness, luxury sellers who are unwilling to meet the market where it is often resort to extreme measures to sell.

For instance, sellers will call or email their chosen agents and ask them what's wrong. Not what's wrong with the property, mind you, nor what's wrong with the price, but rather, what's wrong with the agent. After all, they own luxury real estate, and what they know of such real estate is what they've learned from luxury real estate television shows, which take place in Beverly Hills and Manhattan. If the emails and phone calls don't work, some sellers resort to 10 pm text messages to their agents, which they'll be surprised to find doesn't help matters. Once these gyrations take place, and a reduction in price to where the market wants the home is decided against, the wits end has arrived. Up next? Auction.

Luxury real estate auction companies are all different, but they are all the same. They combine sleek websites with large photos with pretty extraordinary advertising budgets. They flood the target market with knowledge of this auction, and they generate interest in what is an otherwise tired market offering. As a side note to sellers who love the advertising and wonder why their traditional broker doesn't advertise with such gusto, please consider that most of the time the auction house is given an up front payment by the seller, by which they advertise in these fanciful outlets. As a side note to that side note, if any seller of mine, current or future, would like me to advertise daily in the Wall Street Journal, I am more than happy to do so assuming I've been paid up front by the seller for such expenses, just like our auction house friends. Anyway, the buzz is generated through seller-paid advertising, and the dates are set in stone. The luxury property will be auctioned, to the highest bidder, no matter the bid. Exciting!

These sorts of auctions have become somewhat common out in the West, or anywhere else in the country that an overpriced, albatross of a property has lingered on the market for too long. The goal of the auction is very, very simple. It's to liquidate the property. But lest you think the seller is truly interested in liquidating at a rock bottom price, please don't. The true, unspoken goal of any auction, whether it's of some ancient pottery or a giant diamond or a house on a ski slope or one on the North shore of Geneva Lake, is to get a buyer to overpay. The function of a market is to test out prices, to present a product to the world in hopes that the product and the price satisfy the intended buyer. The function of an auction is to engage a buyer, or four, and blend large egos with timing that is, at the time of the outcry, of the essence. The seller, having given their property up to the process, expects a buyer to pay more than he or she would have through traditional brokerage channels. That is the goal of the shiny ads. That is the goal of the slick website. That is the goal that is representing an auction seller.

My goal, of course, is to protect a buyer from such nonsense. That's why any buyer considering the purchase of an auction property in this market would be exceedingly wise to contact me first. To get me in their corner, to advise and direct, yes. But mostly to provide market context that will ensure overpayment does not occur, slick drone video footage or not.