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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 role 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.

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.

Housing Affordability

Housing Affordability

In a meaningful way, the housing market in these United States is driven by policy that is pushed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and various state and local associations that operate as ground troops. The local associations take their marching orders from the state associations in the form of campaign endorsements, bill endorsements, these sorts of things. As the housing market in the great State of Wisconsin continues to outperform, there is much talk at these associations of one thing: Affordability.

A simpleton might assume that increasing prices are good for people. After all, if you own a house in Wisconsin, there’s a terrific chance that it has appreciated in value over the last five years. This should be a positive, something to be praised and hoped for, something that policy should be driven to assist. But rather that rejoice over increasing prices, the powers that be have taken to wishing for more affordability. Affordability, they say, that’s the key to everything. Without it we have nothing.

But what about the guy making $48k per year living in the $199k ranch in Elkhorn? Does he matter at all?  Where does housing affordability rank in his list of concerns? Is he worried that his house he paid $197k for ten years ago is now, finally, mercifully, worth $219k? Is he upset that his value has increased, finally, after that lost decade?  Does he wish for his local Realtor and the state board to do something about this recent increase in price? Is he sad that the new buyer can no longer find a home in his neighborhood under $197k?  Of course not. Joe Homeowner is finally happy, because he’s finally building some semblance of wealth.

Why knock him down now?

This is the strange thing about real estate. National types want to push for affordability. State types, the same. Local governments, affordability. County Master Plans, largely engineered to foster affordability. NEWSFLASH:  Affordability is for the birds. It’s a way to keep a market, a county, a municipality, stuck in the mud. I’ve heard often this year that there’s nothing to buy. Nothing cheap, nothing sort-of-cheap, nothing sort-of-expensive. The markets have gone mad, and this is a bad thing, or so those in charge say. We need to make Walworth County affordable again (MWCAA never caught on, in spite of the red hats).  But why? Why must we remain more concerned for future residents than for the financial well-being of our current residents? What’s so great about cheap housing markets?

Does a housing market need to be uniform at all times? Do we always need to have 10 homes for sale under $100k and 10 homes for sale over $1MM?  Do we need to avoid imbalance? We had a significant imbalance from 2009 through 2015- where were the housing affordability stalwarts then, when affordability reigned?  Were they concerned over too much inventory, just as they’re concerned over too-little inventory today? Why can’t we allow normal housing cycles to exist, without the need to stifle the upswing with added inventory? I fought off bad development over recent years by making market based arguments as to why we didn’t need them. The market today is more healthy, more robust, with inventory being absorbed at a wonderful clip. Why stymie the growth with a wet blanket soaked to the core with $199k vinyl ranch homes?

You’ll be reading much more about housing affordability in the coming weeks and months, perhaps  years. Pundits and housing analysts will bemoan rising prices. Go ahead and let them be sad, but if you’re a homeowner, enjoy the ride. You deserve it. At the end of the day, why do you suppose Realtor Associations want more inventory? To aid in prices? To assist the needy? Try again. It’s so Realtors have more houses to sell, and they’re in the business of helping Realtors. That’s fine, but don’t ever mistake association policy for something that seeks to benefit Joe Homeowner.

Worms

Worms

Egg crates, that’s what you want. But not the egg crate itself, just the material. Whatever they make egg crates out of, that’s what the worm factory wanted.  They searched high and then they searched low, and they found the company in Indiana. Central Indiana, to be more precise. The business of egg crate material isn’t exact at all. A few pounds of finely milled saw dust, a few dashes of coloring- gray, sometimes blue, and a bit of glue. How much glue depends on the humidity, with great variations possible depending on the time of year in this part of Indiana.

The factory was originally only capable of producing these egg crates. 12 eggs to a crate, maybe 18, with a folding lid.  There’s a factory in Kentucky that can do the larger quantities, vast sheets of egg crate material capable of holding 12 dozen eggs. They stack and they layer and the cartons filled with eggs find their way to the muffin company upstate. But this factory only does the smaller variety, and that’s why they were perfect to recruit for the business of making egg crate worm cartons. The plan was flawless. The sawdust cheap, the glue practically free. And fishermen wouldn’t care if their worms came in gray or blue cartons, which was good, because everyone knew the blue was more expensive.

A mold was made, the batter was poured, and 7-10 business days later the worm company received their first shipment of cartons. The engineer, or at least the man whose work shirt claimed he was, had improvised the worm filling machine to accept these new sized cartons, and the first run was an astonishing success.  The cartons would be fed as sheets, 12 containers wide and 100 deep, where the worms and their newspaper-laced dirt would drop from the hopper into each individual dozen-sized serving.  Farther down the conveyor track, the cartons would separate, like pulling apart a delicate monkey bread muffin, and the worm filled cartons would whiz towards the inspection station.

This station was messy. As you’d expect. The station was originally intended for three inspectors, each with a swiveling chair, but rarely would there be more than one.  Bill showed up on time each day, ready to inspect. His job was simple- to pull out the worms that were cut into unfortunate pieces by the hopper dispenser.  The carton comes, the half-worm is identified and picked out quickly. Bill had a five gallon bucket on the concrete floor next to his chair, and after some months in that chair the motion of picking the wounded worm and dropping it into his bucket was so fluid that sometimes the engineer would drift away from his desk just to watch Bill in action. A poetry, of sorts, Bill the poet and his prose the movement, or so the engineer often thought.

Bill didn’t mind. He knew the bass under the Highway 67 bridge happily accepted his wounded worms just as greedily as they would his whole worms.

After several decades of turning out the finest egg-carton worm containers, the factory turned out its last sheet and closed the doors forever. Plastics were where it was at, and plastics were an entirely different game that the company wasn’t capable of playing.  Worse yet, the company knew these new containers would blow out of the fishermen’s boats and float across the lake, washing up on shore in a tangle of seaweed and trash.

Lake Geneva Club Sells

Lake Geneva Club Sells

There are certain things that I know without the slightest inkling of doubt. I know that summer days are best spent lakeside. I know it, you know it, remote villages in Africa know it. I know that pick up trucks should not be lifted as high as the pick up truck at the gas station right now is lifted.  You can’t know this, but you’ll need to trust me on this one. It’s just too high. I also know that when a charming cottage in the Lake Geneva Club is listed for $600k it’s going to sell pretty quickly. These things are all different but all the same. They are summer-time truths.

You knew I’d sell this cottage. It wasn’t just my intuition. It was obvious. Yet, the first few buyers who looked at it didn’t find it to be an ideal fit. So the property sat on market for a bit longer than I would have thought, and last Friday it sold. $592k for cottage perfection, a boat slip, a large double lot, and easy access into the Lake Geneva scene. The property doesn’t require much explanation, it’s just an easy cottage in mint condition with a transferable slip and membership to a fantastic lakefront association. Beginning, middle, and end of story.

But the property does give us some insight into the broader market, and that insight should be shared. I sold this cottage in 2013 for $525k.  If you’ll recall, our markets in 2013 were in decent shape, but activity was much less intense than it is today. The price recovery had begun, but only modestly. I’d guess that by the summer of 2013 the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market was 10-15% above the cycle lows.  With a fresh sale at $592k, we can ascertain that the market has risen roughly 15% since that date in 2013. If we assume that the market was perhaps 15% better in 2013 than it was at the bottom of 2011, then we’re looking at a 30% increase from the bottom of our market to where we find ourselves today.

If we go a step further and remember that our market was knocked off 30-40% between the high of 2008 and the bottom of 2011, then it’s not a stretch to say we’re within 10% of our prior cycle highs. That’s not a universal truth, but it’s a pretty decent data point considering the history of this individual sale.  The reason this particular sale is a decent indicator is because the cottage, while maintained, was not significantly upgraded over those years. If I show you a sale from 2013 of an old house and then show you the same fully remodeled house selling in 2017, that’s not a very good data point as the property itself was not merely riding the market wave, it was forcing an increased valuation due to the work that was completed.

Today, there are only two homes for sale priced under $748k with transferable boatslips.  That’s remarkable, really. To make matters worse, both of those slips are far from ideal. So what’s next? What does this segment of our market do now? Well, likely nothing. Entry level lakefront inventory is light, which means the owners of a lake access home with slip don’t really have any immediate upgrade option tugging at them. Without that option to upgrade, the only people selling will be those who are no longer wishing to own a Lake Geneva vacation home.

A big thank you to the seller who let me represent them both in this sale and in their upgraded home purchase. And a big congratulations to the new buyer, who finally gets to look forward to the weekend.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Wow. That’s really all there is to say. Wow. Maybe Wowzers. The lakefront market on Geneva Lake is as heated as it has been since the summer of 2007.  I was a player in the market then, but I wasn’t a large player in the lakefront market like I am today, so my view of that prior frenzy wasn’t from the front row. Today, with this front row seat underneath me, I find the market to be breathless. How I pine for the darker days when buyers had a few moments to gather themselves before making a lakefront decision.  For those buyers who had lakefront opportunities during 2011-2015 and failed to act, this post should be sung slowly as a dirge.

Today there are 21 lakefront homes available in our MLS. There are an additional four pending sale. At least two others have offers in negotiations.  At first blush, you won’t find this all that rare. In fact, our inventory has actually risen over the past three months, as for one period there were just 16 lakefronts available. There are two primary points of interest that have presented in this new market cycle. Yes, it’s no surprise that buyers still want 100′ of frontage and they want it now. Yes, buyers still love Viking ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators. Yes, Calcutta marble remains in high demand. The things you know are still correct, but there are two new drivers of interest that have never, ever fared particularly well in the history of our market.

Buyers have shown that they love being near downtown Lake Geneva. They don’t just sort of like it, they love it. I sold 700 S Lakeshore earlier this year in large part because of its estate qualities and its proximity to downtown Lake Geneva. The two lakefront homes on Main Street just West of Library Park are both pending sale as of this week (mid $2s), and that’s significant as both of these homes have endured some lengthy market times over recent years. Buyers found motivation to snap up these two homes, and I’m betting large amounts of your money that the interest was driven primarily by the proximity to downtown. In prior years, such proximity would have often been viewed as a negative feature. The noise and commotion, the tourists, the higher taxes. Yet of late, buyers love downtown and so buyers are buying downtown. It’s super interesting to me.

The other curious aspect of this new market cycle is the liquidity at the top end of our lakefront. Homes over $5MM have never sold with particular ease. During the last bull run here, from 2000-2010, just three lakefront homes sold in our MLS for a price that exceeded five million dollars. Since 2010, eleven lakefront homes (and a vacant lot, making it twelve) have sold over that benchmark. Of those eleven, I’ve sold seven of them, including three of four to close over $7MM, but that’s not the point (actually, it’s always the point). This increased liquidity is being viewed by the owners as some new stable trait of our market. Something that has finally manifest, and should stay in place forever. I’d question that theory, and would encourage any owner in this range who might be considering a sale to hurry up and sell. This liquidity is beautiful, but cycles are cycles.

And that brings us the concept of a lakefront market cycle. How long will this cycle last, and where are we in the cycle? Obviously it’s impossible to know this, but we do have the benefit of history to look at as a guide. The last cycle began in the late 1990s and ran up through 2008. The cycle lasted around 10 years, with gradual price increases occurring each year during that cycle, including in the years immediate following the 2000 dot com bust. If we look at our down cycle as occurring from 2009 through 2012, we’ve been building towards a new bull market since 2012. Yes, extreme value existed up through 2015, but for the most part our market was in full recovery mode (increased liquidity and increasing demand) by mid 2012. With that in mind, it’s easy to say we’re about five years into our current bull run.

How much is left in the tank? Well, judging by the market conditions today, I’d say plenty. Does it last two more years? Does it go five more? That’s impossible to guess. Keep an eye on the stock market and on our inventory if you’d like a clue as to where the market is going. If the indices stay high and our inventory stays low, you have the makings for a continued bull run. If markets melt to any extreme level and our inventory swells, that would likely mark the end of these conditions that favor our sellers. For now, look at the market. Watch it. And don’t do as many buyers are doing right now and make a mistake. Let me be your guide. Not only will we have a lot of fun with your house hunt,  you also won’t end up buying the wrong house in the wrong location.

 

Above, morning at my 412 Harvard listing. 
This American Dream

This American Dream

Dan, a member of the millennial generation, currently lives with his parents but said he plans to be a renter for life and never buy a home. He craves the ability to pack up and go, he said, and doesn’t want to be saddled with a home loan, property taxes or homeowners associations fees.

 

According to an article by Nicholas Padiak in last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, this young man from Chicago, Dan, isn’t going to be a homeowner. He wants to “pick up and go”, he says. No doubt his nomadic desires are fueled by noble thoughts, but they are the whims of a 24 year old, not the realities of any responsibility ladened adult.  His fellow Millennials found out the hard way that home prices go up and indeed they go down. This left this new generation feeling uncertain as to the implications of home ownership. This is why they want to travel, instead. This is why they want to buy 298 square foot trailers (with a trundle dining table!) This recent housing cycle found many of them new owners in 2008, and many of them recently foreclosed on in 2017.  The Millenials aren’t home buyers, they’re surfers and programmers and stay at home dog-sitters. This is all a huge mistake.

But, but, they’re drowning in student loan debt! Drowning, really? A recent study found that an average college graduate is carrying about $34k in student loan debt. The same study found that an average repayment plan has a monthly payment of somewhere around $350 per month. This is not a small sum of money. A recent Time Magazine article claimed the college class of 2017 average starting salary is just under $50k. More if you’re an engineer or software developer, less if you plan to work at a call center or as a psychic at a not-for-profit veterinarian. So let’s go with the $50k number. Let’s say $10k of that is eaten up by taxes. $40k is left. Age 23, $40k in take home, or $3,333 per month.  That crushing student loan burden will consume around 10% of that.

Remind me how this is somehow unjust? How this debt is so horrific that life must stand still so that signs can be made and protests organized? In Milwaukee, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $1089 per month.  That level of monthly commitment would afford a $150k loan with a $3000 annual property tax bill. Yes, a $150k loan won’t allow a newly christened adult the ability to live in Lincoln Park or in the Third Ward, but who says we get to skip all of the steps to building wealth and just arrive where we feel we deserve to reside?  What happened to suffering for a bit, sacrificing for the sake of future gain? I’m not writing this as an old person, I’m writing it barely one generation removed from the current lot.

But it’s not about the money, it’s about the freedom, or so the Millenial would say. What freedom, exactly? The freedom to move across the country with no liability or asset exceeding whatever can be packed in the Vuitton duffel? What sort of freedom is this?  Under this guise, a homeless man is truly the most blessed, for he can wander without complication, wherever he wishes. The trick here is that the homeless man doesn’t have his parents’ basement to live in, with his mother’s turn down service and Tuesday meatloaf.  The freedom to put off adulthood is indeed intoxicating, but at what later expense?

This response to the Tribune article really isn’t just about Millenials. It’s about home ownership in general. It’s about the way a buyer turned owner engages in this ownership. It’s about passive versus active ownership. Passive ownership looks like this: Buy a house in 2006 at an elevated market price of $200k. Sell supremely overheated house, no changes made, deferred maintenance accumulating, for $160k in 2012. This is what passive ownership looks like.  Passive ownership is fine if the owner plans to live forever in the house. My parents’ lakefront home was worth a lot more in 2008 than it was in 2012. Did this bother my parents? Nope, because they weren’t selling in either year. They aren’t selling this year, either. If you’re never a seller, ownership is simply a stabilizer, and there is some bliss in not worrying about the fluctuations in market value.

But this is about Millenials, and their ownership. If passive ownership looks, at least to them, like a formula for devastating loss, then what does active ownership look like? In the active ownership model, the house bought in 2006 would have needed a new kitchen and roof. It would have been neglected. And weekends would have been spend fixing that up that old dump. Active ownership would have recognized a profit in 2008, and captured it. Active ownership would have likely bought again in 2008 or 2009, and yes, paid a premium. But with a large down payment (owing to the gain on the fixer upper), the fluctuations of the crisis wouldn’t have mattered as much.  Illness or job loss certainly would have been an issue, but this isn’t about the devastating outlier, this is about the mean. That same ownership would have led to another round of profit in 2015-2017, and the process can repeat.

Long ago I asked a house-hunting-friend how long it would take him to save $30k. Without answering, he admitted it would take a long time. Like just shy of eternity (based on his then income). So I asked him why he wouldn’t try to make $30k on a house, given that the only thing required would be a significant effort, and effort, more times than not, is free. Today I ask the same of Dan and his Millenial friends. Effort is still free, and living your parents’ basement is still lame.

 

Above, the kitchen in the first house I ever bought. It was even worse in person. 
Jerseyhurst

Jerseyhurst

As an agent, there are certain streets around this lake that I revere. The streets that don’t encourage visitors. The streets that don’t offer up their homes with any version of regularity. The streets that are better than the others. Some of these streets you already know, but others you don’t. You don’t know them because they’re not like Snake or Basswood or one of the streets we know we should respect. These are the other streets, the short ones, the curvy ones, the ones that you don’t even know because why would you?  Welcome to Jerseyhurst Lane. The street so polished that you should always call it a Lane.

When the original caretakers cottage for the Crane Estate was built in 1885, it was long on charm and low on space. It wasn’t meant to be a lake house, a mini-estate, it was just intended to serve as a resting place for the family charged with overseeing the day to day at the large Crane estate. A place to eat dinner and a place to sleep.  Each room with a view of the lake, but, alas, there was no time for contemplation in this cottage. There was work to be done.

This original cottage was restored some in the late 1990s, and then in 1999 it sold to the current owner. This new owner had designs for this special location, and so a meticulous renovation with sizable addition was undertaken. Chris Hummel would be the contractor to oversee this work, and when the last wide-planked oak board was polished, the new owners had found themselves extra bedrooms, a large kitchen and attached garage, a large office,  and an ample great room with lakeside screened porch. The renovation was complete, the home perfect, or so the new owners thought.

More than a decade later, another idea, another plan to fix something that the house lacked: A first floor master bedroom. Sparing no expense, a spacious master suite was added, blending perfectly with the prior addition, which blended seamlessly with the original cottage.  The landscape here is Midwestern perennial perfection, fully irrigated and wonderfully large (nearly one acre). The lakeside porch has those incredible views and a steady breeze, while the brick patio is tucked privately into the lush backyard. A two car attached garage is augmented by a two car detached garage, leaving plenty of room for any car or toy you’d like to store.

The first floor master bedroom is luxurious, with separate tiled shower and soaking tub, double vanities and his & her closets. The are four other bedrooms here, each large and all but one possessing an en suite bath. The first floor den has it’s own bath, too,  and while the current owner uses this as a study, you’d be forgiven if you turned it into a TV room or an extra bedroom.  There are four fireplaces here, those wide planked oak floors, and character that you rarely find in such a unique location.

The house sits up away from the lake a ways, allowing rare privacy and continual quiet. The 50′ of lake frontage and private pier is shared with just one neighbor, though this home has exclusive rights to the canopied slip. There’s a 26′ Chris Craft Continental that calls that slip home, and though you’re allowed to put a new Cobalt into that slip, there’s something about the Chris Craft that perfectly matches the laid back style of this large lake house.

Today, this home has found its way to the open market, with an asking price of $2.895MM. It will be sold quickly, I do believe, so you’d do well to consider a tour of this home if you have any interest at all.  Streets like Jerseyhurst have been lining this lake for over a century, but rarely does a street like this extend to the public an invitation to ownership.

Expectations

Expectations

By now you know I have a problem with cars. I like cars, but I don’t like the process of buying a car. I don’t even like thinking about cars. I’m young enough to see a car I like and think, “I really like that car”. But I’m old enough to not pursue the purchase of such a car.  Men tend to track their lives by the cars they drive. I remember when I met my wife I drove a black Cadillac (don’t ask). Then, later, when my girlfriend became my wife, I drove a black Volvo. It was a nice car. Later, my wife almost decapitated our dog by sideswiping a telephone pole in a red Jeep Grand Cherokee. Life is most easily tracked when the memory places you behind the wheel.

The problem with these nice cars is that they’re expensive. Super expensive. And so earlier this spring I found my way to a car dealership and before my timid financial self could win the internal argument, I agreed to purchase a car. I negotiated for this car as best I could. I feigned the walk away. I stood up and paced. And when all of that was over I had raised my price by dollars and the dealer lowered theirs by pennies. I decided I wanted the car and so I had to pay for it. To walk away meant to repeat the process at a later date, and I was weary from so much anxiety. Later, when I think back about the spring of 2017, I’ll remember driving home in the rain with my wife who pretended not to like the new car until the seats started massaging her back.

This experience relates quite closely to the home buying experience.  The desire. The negotiation. The decision.  The decision, after all is said and done, is what this is really all about. I desired to buy that car of mine for about $1000 less than I paid for it. I could have stood my ground and hoped they called me the next day to accept my price. I could have done that, but I didn’t, because what I wanted to pay and what I had to pay were two different numbers.  This is the situation at Lake Geneva today. If you’re a buyer, there is likely the price you want to pay, which is likely the price I want you to pay, and then there’s the price the seller is going to make you pay. You know which price is more important.

This lake is rife with stories of would-be-home-buyers who stood on principle and stood until they were the only man left standing. The buyer who looked at that lakefront in 1998 and said, no. $575k is just too much for that lakefront. Or the buyers who stood with me on properties in  2011 and 2012 and said, no, the price won’t work. These are the buyers who today look at this market and wish they had the conviction needed at the time they needed it. It’s easy to harness buying conviction when it’s too late. I would have paid X! They say. But it’s too late, because someone already paid it. The practices that helped my buying clients purchase lakefront property at significant discounts to the market five years ago are, for the most part, no longer working.

That’s because we know what we’d like to pay, but the seller knows what they’re going to take. That’s why these last few months I’ve stood on many properties with many buyers and discussed the price I’d like them to pay and the price they’re going to have to pay if they actually want the house. Would I want you to pay $1.9MM for the house? Of course. Are we going to try to pay $1.9MM but realize, after a heated and skillful negotiation that we’re going to have to pay $2.1MM? Again, of course. Because in this low inventory environment sellers have the upper hand, and this is an undebatable fact.  There are some properties that have accumulated enough market time that they will succumb to our negotiating pressure but these sellers are the outliers today, not the standard bearers.

This summer, approach the market with caution. Certain properties are wildly overpriced. Others are not. Know the difference. Don’t approach the market with reckless, fevered abandon.  But when the time comes and you find the house you want, just remember not to get too hung up on a few percentage points.  Those few points will be long forgotten when you’re lounging lakeside, blissfully unconcerned with the slightly larger hole in your bank account.

Let’s Play Ball

Let’s Play Ball

To be the Dodger’s lead-off hitter is to be the invisible man.   That first at-bat is a thankless at bat, no matter the outcome. The vendors are still loading their trays with refreshments, the fans still waiting in the longest of lines at the last highway exit. The television broadcast knows you’re batting, but they don’t care. They pan the crowd, to show the empty seats, to show the mountains in the horizon and the brilliant color the smog turns that early evening air.  If you crack a thrilling solo home-run to lead off the game but no one is there to see it, does it still count as a run?

Likewise, when the team of large men in the NBA finals races off to a large first quarter lead but later melts under the pressure of a steady barrage of 30 foot foists, does that shimmering start mean anything at all? To the fans who saw it, I suppose the answer has to be yes. What a move!– the dad will say to his son. WOW! Some old lady will say to someone next to her. That lady has been to every NBA final since 1919, the announcer with the purple suit will say during half time.  But your team raced out to that lead and you were in line waiting on the nachos, and you only returned to your seat in time to see the other team drop so many threes from such great distances.

Today at the lake, we are in the first inning. It’s perhaps still the top of the first, but there are no runners on and two outs. The pitcher has been flawless, effortless, really. His slider is sliding and his heater is heating. The third base coach looked towards the dugout and said he doesn’t think he’s ever seen better stuff. The NBA game has started, and your team is up big on the visitors.  They’re throwing lobs and dropping threes and the coach crouched down in the huddle and told the players that he’s never seen them play better. And he’s been the coach for along time.

It’s early here, yes, but it’s phenomenal. Summer has started, whether you were ready for it to start or not. Last weekend, a client of mine decided to stay in the city. There were errands to run, things to do, a birthday party that begged attendance. The Lake Geneva forecast called for rain, and so the decision was made. The family would spend the weekend at home, in the city. Except then on Saturday the weather wasn’t foul at all, it was hot and sunny and bright. It was summer.  Weekend plans to sit idle were thrown aside and the family woke up Sunday morning not in their Monday house, but in their Sunday house. Who could push away summery things when summer is already here? This is like saying you’re skier and you’ve made a plan to ski in January.  When it snows 24 inches in two days in December, shouldn’t you go skiing?

Today it’s summer. Yesterday it was summer. Tomorrow? Summer.  Summer does many things to a soul; things delightful and refreshing. But summer can also torment, and summer can be cruel.  Summer isn’t going to wait for you to be ready, because if you’re not ready by now there’s a good chance you never will be. Don’t get caught in traffic when the first pitch has already been thrown.  The grass is green and the sky is bright and the home team is belting homers left and right.

Folly Lane Sells

Folly Lane Sells

If you’re showing a house on Folly Lane, it’s best to show it in late October.  That’s because the skinny road that makes an abrupt turn towards the lake off of Snake Road is lined with Maples. No, not merely lined, it’s choked with Maples.  These aren’t your run of the mill Maples with orange and red and all sorts of silly extra colors, these are the yellow Maples. That’s a man’s Maple, the yellow one.  And Folly Lane has all of the yellow ones, and as such, you’d be best served to show a house on Folly Lane in late October when these green Maples are brilliantly yellow.

But if you can’t show Folly Lane in October, it’s still a good enough drive any other time of year. I drove down that road last Friday with a cherished client in tow, and later that day we closed on the large lakefront at Folly Lane for $7.4MM. This price, by the way, is the same price the property sold for in 2012 (the furnished number was $300k higher than the recorded print).  I didn’t love that sale back then, as the market was in pretty rough shape in the summer of 2012, but today the market is robust and vibrant, especially in our upper reaches. Today, that sale at $7.4MM makes sense to the market, and I was supremely pleased to represent the buyer.

For the market, that’s the sixth sale over $5MM in the last 12 months. Of those six, I’ve closed five of them. That reminds me of something that happened over the weekend. On Saturday morning I was out early delivering magazines with my son. We were walking up to the Lake Geneva Starbucks to peddle our pile of propaganda. A woman was walking out with her husband, a copy of Summer Homes For City People in her hand. She was talking in low, hushed tones to her husband. In a terse whisper she said, “I’m not sure why I’d want to read Dave Curry talking about himself”.  I was disheartened to hear this, but I quickly decided that it would be better for me to write 84 pages about myself than about someone else. The waters could get slightly litigious if I wrote 84 pages about someone else.  And in the same way, I really don’t like having to tell everyone how I’ve sold five of the last six mega-sales on Geneva Lake, but if I don’t tell you, do you think the other 500 some Realtors here will?

As of this morning, there are six homes for sale on Geneva priced in excess of $5MM. Of those, perhaps four of them are actually worth more than $5MM. Be sure to ask me which ones those are. Of the remaining homes, there’s a rumored offer on one of them, and some interest in another. The properties in this strata are generally large, but of the remaining inventory there’s nothing particularly turn key on estate type parcels of land. That’s an issue for the market, especially as there are many upper bracket buyers in the market today.

The story of 2016/2017 is less about the primary market momentum and more about the incredible liquidity in the upper reaches of our lakefront market. Remember, from 2000 through 2009 there were just three MLS sales on Geneva that printed in excess of $5MM. In the past 12 months we’ve closed six. It’s all really quite remarkable until you remember that Geneva Lake is the best lake in the Midwest. Then it all makes a whole lot of sense.

A big thank you and congratulations to the newest lakefront owners. Here’s to generational happiness at Folly Lane.

Weekend Caller

Weekend Caller

We need to have an honest discussion. It’s rare, in any business involving sales, to have such a conversation, but converse we must.  This is about me, sure, but it’s about you. It’s about people you don’t know and people I don’t know. It’s about regular, good people. People we’d go to church with or go to fish fry with. People we’d do both with. It’s about the sorts of people we all are at points in our life. It’s about the weekend real estate caller.

In real estate, it’s a generally understood concept that Realtors work on weekends. We do. We all do.  There are some Realtors who take days off for religious reasons, and I applaud them for their conviction. There are other Realtors who take certain hours off- no calls after 6 pm- that sort of thing. But the vast majority of Realtors will show you a house Sunday morning at 8 am and they’ll show you one Friday night at 9 pm. There are no bounds for most agents, no time when they aren’t hungry to sell you something. Would it surprise you now that I tell you this is a bad thing?

Last weekend I had several real estate calls at my office line (262-245-9000). That’s not abnormal. But this was a Holiday weekend and you’ll be somewhat shocked to find out that Realtors also like Holidays.  These days were not created purely for bankers and school teachers and financial analysts. These are the holidays for the people, and while there is some testing that has not been entirely vetted, Realtors are also people. The business expects Realtors to be available at all times, at the drop of a hat, because shouldn’t these blood-sucking sales people be available whenever the job calls. Can I say no?

Of course I can, but it’s taboo to admit it. Could you imagine that on Memorial Day weekend I, too, like the idea of a cookout? I was momentarily undertaking the world’s greatest physical transformation earlier this year, but it didn’t stick so I’m back to preferring my protein to be wrapped in carbs. Soft, pillowy, deliciously doughy carbs. And so I like the cook brats and burgers and steaks, just like every other red blooded American.   I was in my office Saturday morning for a couple of hours, which felt like a nice effort on a Holiday, and that was that.

I stopped back on Sunday evening, after having spent the day Sunday out tiling at the never-ending cabin project I’m embroiled in.  Last weekend,  calls came for me to my office number. Voicemails were left. The weekend calls had left a couple of messages, and I was too late in my reply. Both buyers had moved on without me, which is both slightly understandable and also disappointing. And that comes back to the concept of this business and what it is different agents can offer.

Let’s say you’re looking to have some estate work done and you were told by a friend that their attorney is the absolute best. He does estate work all of the time, and he’s without rival. So you call the attorney, let’s just say on a Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend. If the attorney didn’t call you back within a few hours would you have called another attorney? Or similarly, if you call this attorney on a Monday but he hasn’t called you back by Monday evening, would you waltz into the closest lawyer’s office, the one in the strip mall next to the Cinnabon, and have the junior attorney from Middle Appalachia Technical College draft your docs? Of course you wouldn’t. Why then is real estate so different?

I love phone calls from clients and would-be clients. I crave them.  So please, if you’re calling me on a weekend, call my cell phone (262-245-1993). Text me. Email me (dave@genevalakefrontrealty.com). Do all of these things, but I’m begging you not to leave a voicemail at my office for me if you’re expecting a Sunday morning return call. While real estate is a game built around endless availability, I’d prefer it be built around the concept that some agents are more valuable than others, and if you’d like a Sunday morning agent with an hour notice I’m pretty sure I know you’re not going to get the agent who can guide you towards the right property at the right price.

Here’s to the weekend, and to cell phone calls. Above, a pier shot from Thursday. It’s summer. Be here.

 

Housing Markets

Housing Markets

I’ve been working with a friend who is in search of his first home. This is not typically my aim, but I decided it would be good to help him out. I figured it would be easy.  A $300k budget, the ability to handle a remodel, and plenty of enthusiasm for the process. This was what I thought. Six or more months into the home search I feel as though I may have made a big mistake. This market is tough. Like, super tough. You like that boring ranch on a half acre lot? You know, the one with the water in the basement and the rotting roof? The one that isn’t even cheap? Yeah, so does everyone else.  Take a home buyer and let him find interest in one or two homes that each sell before he can buy them and then stand back and look at the impatient mess that the market has created. Hot markets breed hot markets. Confidence, it seems, has never been higher, and with that confidence comes a tidal wave of buyer mistakes.

Because the papers are telling people to buy houses. Economists say buy. Lenders, buy. Realtors, BUY. Everyone wants you to buy a house. If you don’t own one, buy. If you own one, buy another. If you own seven, buy the eighth. After all, Lawrence Yun says you should buy. In case you don’t know Lawrence, he’s the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.  In spite of his research, he’s never found a time that wasn’t right to buy a house. Buy in 2008, because buy! Buy in 2009 because the market has pulled back. Rinse and repeat for the following four years. Then buy in 2013 because the market in rebounding. Then rinse and repeat that mantra from then until now. Buy, buy, buy.

And this is the attitude that has fueled a most remarkable level of growth in our primary housing market. Oh, I should add, this is not a post that’s very inclusive of the Lake Geneva vacation home market. This is about the primary market, where you live and where I live, not where you vacation and I vacation. This is the market for the people, and it’s absolutely on fire. McHenry County is on fire. Lake County, too. Kenosha County is booming because people from Illinois who don’t like high taxes are moving to Wisconsin to pay higher taxes.  Interest rates have risen, but they’ll be rising some more, so buy!  The narrative is the chorus, the refrain, buy, buy, buy. All of this is fueling a most incredible, dynamic market.

The Chicago Tribune chimed in on Sunday with an article that says- you won’t believe this- that it’s time to buy. Experts say you should buy a home this year. Buy one now, don’t be left behind. And this is the sort of thing that my young friend, Mr. Primary Home Buyer, is reading.  Everyone is buying, so why not me, why not now? Well, just maybe, because you can’t quite find the right house. When we started our search my buyer wanted to find lots of land. Ten acres would do, but twenty would be better. Thirty, ideal. The search went on that way for some time. Where has the search led us today? To $319k vinyl ranch homes on half acre lots. These are sent to me with the link to the property and a note “Not bad, right”.

No. Bad. Terrible, awful, bad. Because everyone is buying the feeling is that buying is a must. Buying is a requirement. Buying is all there is and without it there is nothing. Inventory is low, this we know. And this creates a bit of a difficult situation for would-be-buyers. If you’re buying a lakefront on Geneva, you know that not only is inventory limited today, inventory is limited at almost all times. It’s a low inventory market, in times good and bad. If you want something perfect, you’re going to have to compromise and buy something less than, because you can fix the things you wish were different.  The market on the lakefront is rare and valuable and it’s not at all like a primary home market. But that beat up ranch on 7 acres for $299k that you’re looking for? Well there might not be one for sale today, but I’ll bet you all of your money and a little of mine that there will be one coming to market in the next several months.

So my advice for the primary home buyer in this market? Be patient. Yes, interest rates are slowly rising. Yes, that’s too bad. But why buy a house you hate to save a quarter point on a mortgage rate? Find something you love, because if it isn’t for sale in May then there’s a good chance it’ll be for sale in June.

Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend

Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend

And away. We. Go.  That’s best if read in the Joker’s voice, right before he ignites a bomb that has the power to destroy one thousand Gothams. But alas, we are not igniting a bomb, though we are ready for this slow burning fuse to hurry up and give us a show. It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and with this weekend we commence the first summer of the rest of our lives. What a summer it might be. It could be. It should be, probably. The issue today is that last summer was just so nice. Last Memorial Day weekend was delightful, full summer, instantly. This summer looks to be off to a rockier start, or at least a wetter one. Still, after some driving, it’s time to live it up like it’s the weekend.

I’ve written it before, but it should be mentioned again. This weekend is not a summer weekend. No matter how badly we wish it were, it isn’t. It’s a spring weekend. It’s May, for crying out loud.  If the weather waxes summer, terrific. But if it doesn’t, let’s not get all bent out of shape. I can envision the text messages now… “What a crappy weekend”.   “Are you building your ark?” Etc and etc. Yes, the weather might let us down this weekend, but that’s okay. This is just a dress rehearsal for summer. It’s the last full pads practice before we take the field. This isn’t the big show, it’s just the dry run. Or wet run, depending.

What does matter this weekend is the intent of the weekend. Yes, we’ll light our grills. Yes, some will go swimming. Yes, I’ll have my Superjet in the water. But this is about remembering those who died in awful places so that we can live here, in this place, where our biggest concern is whether or not it’ll rain on our cookout. What an embarrassing bunch of people we are.  My kids can’t swim in the pool this weekend, so everything is ruined! No it isn’t. We’re alive. We’re free. We’re living in this place. We aren’t just existing. We’re living.

And so this weekend here’s what you should do. Pick up my 2017 Summer Homes For City People magazine. It’s out on newsstands now, and it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think it’s the best, either, but that’s just between us. At least I didn’t put the wrong date on the spine like I did last year.  Please grab the magazine and bring it home with you and leave it on the doorstep of your wealthy neighbor who doesn’t understand that weekends are not for the 6000 zip codes. Please do that, I’ll be thankful and my kids will, too.  Now that we’ve discussed the things you can do for me, here’s what we can do to show our respects to those who made all of this possible.

There are parades everywhere this weekend, but since you’re reading this on this site we’re going to skip all of the things happening in towns that don’t matter. There are parades on Monday in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, and Fontana. Men will march. Women, too. Kids, sure.  The Lake Geneva parade is downtown at 10 am, the Williams Bay and Fontana parades are in their respective downtowns at 10:30 am. I recognize you cannot attend each parade, but try to attend the one closest to your lake house. If you try, I’ll try. It’s so easy to get caught up in the superficial worries of this weekend. Is the lawn fertilized? Are the annuals planted? Is the mulch done? Why isn’t the irrigation watering in the far west bed?!  Who cares. Some famous philosopher once said, “It’s the superfluous things for which men sweat”.   Let’s stop sweating and give a salute, and then we can go back to sweating.

Here’s to a most enjoyable Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend. And remember, if it rains don’t be sad. It’s not really summer, anyway.

Mayfly

Mayfly

It’s that season again, and with that season, we’ll require a reminder that Mayflies cannot kill you. They can’t give you Zika. They can’t do anything but annoy, and that’s okay. A post from the past…

 

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.

 

Above, my Lake Geneva Club listing, freshly under contract.
Vernacular

Vernacular

If we were in the deep south, it would be understood that there would be certain words we’d use at certain times. We’d drop the G on many words, like he’d be “fixin” to catch a “beatin”. This is hard for us yankees to understand, but this is the way it is. Why then, should it be any different for us? Why shouldn’t we have our own set of words, meant to describe our own set of things? We aren’t in the northeast where things are strange and er is pronounced uh, but we are unique. At Lake Geneva it’s less about the pronunciation and more about the chosen word.

With Memorial Day on the very near horizon, it’s a good time to take a refresher course in our preferred words. Perhaps you’re new to the lake scene altogether, which means you haven’t yet had a chance to learn these linguistic lessons the hard way, through the embarrassment of the utterance. Or maybe you’ve been here so long you’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter anymore. What matters, you say, is world peace and kindness. You’re being silly, because the words matter far more. Without further ado, the list:

There is a company here called Pier Docktors. This is a company that makes, installs, and removes piers. The name is a pun, a play on the words, which is the only reason we’ll give them a pass for using the root word “dock”. The white thing that juts out from shore in front of your house is called a pier. It’s not called a dock. There is no acceptable substitution for this. A pier is a pier and a dock is a dock, and what we have here are piers. Don’t call them docks. It’s embarrassing to the pier, and to you.  There are a couple of piers on the lake that aren’t white. Those piers are not the piers you should emulate if you own your own. Piers are to be white, end of story. Docks can be brown, but we don’t even have those here.

If you’ve worked hard and sacrificed and you’ve made your way to the lakefront, your front lawn is the lakeside lawn.  When your friends are coming over to hang out, you tell them you’ll be in the front yard, or front lawn. This is the lake lawn, not the street side lawn. I’m amazed at how many people- seemingly intelligent, good natured, people- get his wrong. Your backyard is the street yard. Your front yard is the lakeside yard. Please don’t confuse the two.

Did you catch a bass off your pier? Really? Was it a largemouth or a smallmouth? If you say, neither, then you didn’t catch a bass. There are only two types of acceptable bass in Geneva Lake. The largemouth and the smallmouth. If you caught a rock bass, then you caught a rock bass. Don’t call it a bass. It’s only a bass of sorts, in the way that a Redfish is really just a freshwater drum which is really just a carp. Don’t church up a rock bass by calling it a bass. It’s a rock bass, nothing more, nothing less.

The little white plastic or wood or foam thing that floats out in front of your house beyond your pier isn’t called a can. It isn’t called a mooring ball. It isn’t called anything except what it is: A buoy.  I’ve heard all sorts of other abuses, but this white bobber that you tether a boat to is called buoy. It’s a buoy now and it’s a buoy later. It’ll always be a buoy. Please don’t call it by any other name, and if you have one, don’t you dare tie a pontoon boat to it.

The Shore Path has received much attention this spring, mostly due to the absurd Muck Suck race that was supposed to be held this coming weekend. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the race was canceled as a result of a significant push back from the lakefront owners. The shore path, as it is, is a lake path, but it should never be called that. Your great Aunt’s name is Edna, but you don’t call her Edna, you call her Auntie Edna. Show a little respect and call the lake path what it is: The Shore Path.

If you invite me over to your house this summer and you send me a text like this, “David, stop on over. I’ll be in the backyard on the lake path trimming some weeds that have grown too close to the dock”, just know that I won’t be coming over.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

Next week I’m going to do an in depth review of Abbey Springs, Geneva National, the lakefront condo market, and the secondary condo markets (Abbey Villas, Abbey Hill, Willabay, Bayside Point, etc). But today we’re going to look at the lake access and lakefront markets, because there are some interesting things occurring within these segments. I wrote earlier this week that each segment is active, which sounds like something easy to do and easier to write, but it’s not easy to do. Rarely do all pricing segments of one major market feature the same general mood. Rarely does a $200k cottage sell with the same frequency as a $4.5MM lakefront. But that’s what we have today, and it’s really quite amazing.

We know the entry level vacation home segment is super active with 10 out of the 28 homes priced under $500k currently showing as active with offer. What’s more interesting to me is that we have 22 homes available priced between $500k and $1MM and just three of those are pending sale. That’s not a terrible number, and that’s actually not what’s particularly unique. In this price range buyers will generally be able to find a transferable boatslip. Not always, but often. They’ll also typically be looking for a lake view, or proximity to the lake, or something unique about the house.  What’s curious today is that of the three homes pending sale in this segment, just one of those homes has a slip. The other two do not, and both are priced in the $600s.  Buyers buy for all sorts of reasons, so I would never seek to explain all purchase behavior, but if I’m a buyer in this segment I’m likely looking for a slip first, and every single other thing second. Buyers often think they won’t need a slip. Then, after the first weekend at the new lake house, they’re wondering where they’re going to moor the boat they’d like to buy.

The other range that continues to impress is the off-water lake access market over $1MM. This range was slow last year at this time, with ample inventory and few buyers.  The market has absorbed much of that aged 2016 product. Today there are 10 off water homes priced between $1MM and $1.7MM. Of those, two are under contract. That might not seem like a lot, but it is. As the entry level lakefront inventory shrinks (just two lakefront homes priced under $1.5MM today), expect to see this market garner more and more attention. The idea here is simple. If a buyer can’t buy lakefront, they’ll look for the next best thing. And if lakefront is rare and pricy, often buyers will seek some sort of off-water property with a slip or a view or maybe both. These are not market mistakes, generally anyway, but they are market moves born not out of pure desire, but simply out of limited options. I’d like to take the pretty girl to the prom, but she’s already going with the quarterback, so I’ll take this other girl, who likes fidget spinners and eats erasers, but her hair is okay.

Lastly, the lakefront market itself.  There are offers being flung around like so many pancakes at the fly-in-breakfast. The one out West of Walworth. These offers are generally coming together, but increasingly sellers are holding out for more money. Better terms. This might be a good idea or it might be a mistake, and I’m going to go with mistake. Some of the properties with offers are flawed- and the sellers used to understand those flaws. Now the sellers figure the market is in their favor, and their flaws are hidden by the hysteria of it all.   They shouldn’t be this way. The market can turn as quickly as a 10 percent correction in the S&P, so sellers should remain confident but cautious. New pending sale mentions this week include the Congress Club listing in the $1.6s, the north shore Fontana lakefront in the low $2s, and the lakefront on South Lakeshore in Fontana in the mid $4s. These sales will all make sense once they close, so I see nothing particularly unique or exciting here. Rounding out the lakefront activity, my pending contract on the Folly Lane property listed in the high $7s.

Inventory remains the question for each segment. The MLS only shows 17 true lakefront homes available this morning. Of those, there are some nice properties, some rare properties, and some that represent solid value. The low inventory situation will likely persist this year, though I’d expect several new offerings to come to market over the next 30-45 days. As always, if you’d like to know about these new offerings before the rest of the market, just let me know.   The lake today is buzzing with activity, and not just of the housing variety. Landscape crews are hustling to mulch beds and plant annuals. Pier guys are racing to install the last of the piers. Irrigation systems are being activated. It’s a frenzy, to be sure. But it’s our frenzy and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Above, a new lakefront I’m bringing to market next week.
Inventory Problems

Inventory Problems

What is a healthy real estate market? Is it a market with plenty of inventory so that every buyer has an opportunity to buy whatever it is that they want?  This would be the generally accepted position of most. Yes, we should have inventory for all, available at all times, with low interest rates and sunny skies. Also, hopping, happy white bunnies.

The problem is that it is impossible for a market to exist that pleases buyers and sellers equally.  Even if you’re a seller and then an immediate buyer, you don’t have things exactly the way you’d like them. Unless you’re selling something into a hot segment and buying something in a slow segment, you’re likely selling high and buying high. When the markets were bad, sellers were selling low and then buying low. As I was advising then, this felt terrible but was, in fact, really quite smart. The trick then was simply to sell low and buy lower, just as the trick today is to sell high and buy less high. I admit the clunky phrasing will never catch on.

Today the market is active in all segments. Unlike the initial improvement we saw from 2012 through 2015, where certain segments were left out in the cold even as others advanced, today the entire market is humming.  There are 19 lake access homes priced under $400k at the moment. Of those, 8 are under contract. There are homes with slips priced between $400k and $900k pending sale,  and even our off-lake $1MM-$1.5MM range is churning out volume. There are two pending sales in that category, one in Lake Geneva priced in the $1.3MM range and one in Fontana priced near $1.5MM.  This is the range, in case you forgot, that has been struggling over the past 18 months.  Today it is fluid and potentially as liquid as any other individual market surrounding the lake.

The entry level market on Geneva is still giving up some inventory, with two lakefronts priced under $1.5MM.  Beyond that there is a pending lakefront in Lake Geneva priced at $2.195MM (my listing), and a recent sale in that same category of a house in Williams Bay on the north shore of Fontana Bay. That property closed for $2.125MM. I had that home for sale a couple of years ago and failed to sell it.  The house didn’t bow to the market, the market came up to that house.  Around the other side of Fontana, a house that had been for sale off and on for years has gone under contract with an asking price of $4.65MM.  That’s a nice property in a nice location. It makes sense that it sold quickly this time around.

In our upper bracket ranges, I have a new deal on a lakefront priced at $7.95MM.  That’s the biggest story of the last 24 months- the improved liquidity at our market’s very top end.  We used to sell a lakefront over $5MM every other year. Now we can sell five or more per year. When this sale closes that will make six sales over $5MM between June 2016 and June 2017. Of those six, I’ll have closed five of them, leaving little doubt as to which agent best understands the highly nuanced upper bracket here.  This increased liquidity is good for the lake, but it will have a cap.  Over $8MM the numbers get a bit more sticky, and we still haven’t ever printed a transfer at $10MM or over. Expect this to be tested this year, both with some of the current inventory and with new inventory that’ll likely leak to market over the coming months.

So is this a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Is the market healthy? Well yes, it’s healthy. It’s active and it’s dynamic.  But as for who’s in control of this whole thing, that depends on specific properties. You can sell into a hot segment right now and buy into a cooler segment. That is still possible, and that’s the best possible outcome for those seeking to upgrade or downgrade without leaving these shores.  The trick now is for buyers to remain patient (and seek out the proper guidance, from me), and for sellers to resist the urge to indulge in overconfidence.  Either way, if inventory remains low we might have a slower summer than any of us want.

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Sadly, the big story this morning is that of a kayaker who died in Geneva Lake yesterday. This sort of story isn’t nice to write about, but every unfortunate occurrence is an  admonition for the rest of us. Lakes in the spring are cold. The sun may be warm, the wind still. But the lake is still icy cold. I’d guess the water temp in Geneva today is around 52 degrees. Maybe 55. That’s cold enough to take your breath away, and if you lose your breath when you’re in the middle of the lake, your life cannot be far behind. I don’t know if this poor man had a life vest on, but remember to always use a life vest if you’re out on this lake in a vessel as unstable as a kayak.   It’s a sad story today, for sure.

The shore-path-race seems to be as unpopular as anything has ever been. It’s as unpopular as suburban style housing developments proposed for our cornfields. It’s unpopular. The city alderman who approved this race should remain ashamed, and hopefully they’re being bombarded by angry letters and calls from lake residents who wish to see their path left for the dreams and the wanderers. Several local groups have taken action against this stupid race, and with any luck it’ll be called off before the first ankle is sprained.

It’s my birthday this weekend, which is nice for me. But it’s also terrible because I’m getting old and my beard is graying and my temples have completed the process. I sat through my son’s spring music concert the other night.  As a proud parent and school alum, I had every reason to sit still and marvel at each squeak from the flute and eat off-key solo. But I have found, that even at my advancing age, I still lack the maturity to sit still for 90 minutes while high schoolers sing Disney songs. Perhaps this means I’ll never grow up. Perhaps it means I’ve failed at this game. But as Mark Hoppus once said, No one should take themselves so seriously. With many years ahead to fall in line, why would you wish that on me?

My Morel season was another bust this year. I didn’t have time to look as much as I should have, and when I did I didn’t really find many. A few dozen, perhaps. I know morel season waits on no man and yet I expected it to wait on me. It didn’t. And now I’m another year older and have scant few morels to show for it. This is something I’ll have to live with until next May, when I’ll try to right the wrongs of 2017.

Lastly, if you were in the Lake Geneva Starbucks this morning at 7 am I did spill that entire cup of coffee at the cream station. Everything was going fine until I looked up while putting on the lid. The entire cup poured onto the counter, the floor, even into the little container where the Splenda reside. I felt sort of bad about this, but quickly used one hundred or more napkins to tidy up my mess. I apologized profusely to those around me. But if you were me, and it was your birthday this weekend and you hadn’t really found any morels,  are you trying to tell me you wouldn’t have also spilled your coffee?

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and my wife and all of the other mothers.