Geneva Lakefront Realty
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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $37MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $117MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily within reach.

    As an important aside, that sales volume makes me the #1 dollar volume agent for Walworth County for 2014. That's pretty cool. I suppose that makes me the Top Agent in Lake Geneva, because there's really no other way to define top.

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

  • People take pictures of the summer, just in case someone thought they had missed it, and to prove that it really existed.

    ~Ray Davies

  • How can I help?

    Email David Curry
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Recent Posts



Vacation Home Search


Weekend Buyers

Jul 31, 2015 by DC | Add comment
It's widely understood that the purchase of real estate is typically the most important purchase someone will make in their lifetime. This understanding does not hold up if you're supremely wealthy and you buy businesses for tens or hundreds of millions, and it doesn't hold up if you buy commercial buildings of epic scale for a living. But if you're a normal person living a normal life, the purchase of a home, be it a vacation home or a primary home, is likely the largest single purchase you're ever going to make. Everyone knows that.


With that firm notion established, it would make complete sense to approach the decision with a special variety of tact. The decision would be made after some many hours of education about the product you're seeking, but only after you, as the buyer, thought out the ramifications of the purchase on your finances. Further, given the extremely subjective nature of real estate pricing, and the inconsistencies of valuations in each market, it would make sense to partner with someone capable of strategic guidance.

In this way, a real estate transaction would unfold like this. Buyer thinks about a vacation home. Buyer would like a vacation home, very much. Then buyer works on buyer's finances, making sure they can afford such a purchase and making sure that the purchase of this new thing will not render their finances fatally impaired. Once the finances are in place, the search for a market can begin. Lake Geneva, being the only vacation home market worth exploring, easily secured the nod. The buyer is able, the market is defined, now the next step begins.

Representation is important, and our buyer friend knows this. So the buyer asks people for recommendations. The names returned to him are varied. Research begins, online at first, which is how it must begin. There is a process of elimination, then a process of interviewing, via phone or email, whichever is the more convenient for our buyer. Then there is the gathering of facts, of sales histories and of anecdotal testimonies. Then, after these steps are completed, there is a choice. The buyer will meet the agent next Sunday for a tour, and if all goes well, this will be the relationship that culminates with the vacation home purchase that this buyer has dreamt of.

But this isn't at all what a typical vacation home purchase looks like. A few weekends ago, a buyer called me to see condominiums. Like, immediately, condominiums. They were interested, they said, and so they wanted to see those condominiums, ASAP! It was a Sunday, the one that fell after July 4th, and I was both busy with some work and busy with my personal pursuit of leisure, the sort of pursuit that even I, as a lowly Realtor, is actually entitled to. I responded to this buyer, told them of the available inventory, and told them that I could not show them property. I also asked if they were ready to buy, if they had talked with a lender or if the purchase would be cash. After many back and forth emails, they told me that they would no longer require my assistance. Thank God.

Then again, last weekend, a buyer calls on a property. They had to see it. They needed to see it. They must! And so I told them that I couldn't show the property because it was occupied, and I would need some notice. So a few minutes later, another agent called me to show the same property. The buyer? The same one that had asked me about it barely 20 minutes prior. This agent was told that the showing wasn't available, but that the buyer could come during the week to see the property. They came to see it, decided against it, and that was that.

The frantic behavior of buyers in a summer market is really rather disingenuous. There is some unnatural rush to see things, to see anything, to spend time with a Realtor in his car. While I recognize that this is a requirement of this vocation, the buyer who behaves this way is not only wasting the time of the Realtor, but she's wasting her own time as well. Worse yet than wasting time, there is a stronger likelihood of a market mistake being made if the process is undertaken out of order and in extreme haste. Having done this for 19 years, I understand the allure of this lake. I understand how sunshine and 83 degrees makes the buying decision easier. But I also understand that the best decisions are not made on a Sunday morning after thinking about a vacation home on Saturday night.

As a full time, all the time Realtor, I am always willing to entertain last minute requests. In fact, without them, I wouldn't have much of a business. That's why this admonition is not just aimed at helping the hectic weekend schedules of Realtors like me, it's also aimed at protecting the purchase decisions of buyers. Thoughtful, well considered decisions are the best decisions, and when there's a rush to look at some real estate because the sun is shining and it seems like a nice way to spend an afternoon, I know thatís not going to produce a quality purchase decision. Beyond even that, if youíre looking for a Realtoró any Realtoró who is able to rush out and show you a property, do you suppose thatís the best Realtor for the job?

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

Jul 29, 2015 by DC |
The one thing that you can be sure of is that if the market has an abundance of something no one will want it. If there is a car lot in Sometown, Wisconsin that has 39 red sedans for sale and just one white sedan, the buying masses will clamor for another white sedan. In fact, they'll say that they'd buy a white sedan for more money than they'd pay for the red sedan, if only the dealer had a white one to sell. In the same way, in Anothertown, Illinois, if a dealer has 39 white cars and just one red car, the clamoring will be over red. Red, red, red. Everyone wants red. Except in the Wisconsin town, they hate red.


This is true in real estate as well, which is why today there are 10 lakefront homes on Geneva offered for sale under $1.5MM and no one seems to care. The offerings in this price range represent quality properties at very fair prices, and yet all the market does is clamor for more inventory in the $2.5-$5MM range. If only we had a nice, new home on a nice, wide lot, and if only we had that property come to market in the $4MM range. Then the market would be excited, and willing buyers would rush with fistfuls of dollars. They'd do this because they've been wanting it for quite some time and they've gone unsatisfied.

And yet there it is, the humble entry level market. The market that offers buyers the lakefront life, where value is not determined by the make of your range but by the width of your lakefront lawn. Entry level lakefront homes are generally limited, either by parking or by size, and often by finishes, but to sit on a white pier that's all your own is a bit of magic. I'm assuming you've learned your lesson and you're not going to be buying a lakefront house with a shared pier anytime soon. There have been plenty of those mistakes this year to last at least a decade.

No, the entry level lakefront will rarely leave your fancy city or suburban neighbors particularly stunned when they pull in the drive. There won't be a ton of parking. There won't be giant plastered pillars that impress those who are easily impressed by ridiculous things like giant plastered pillars. There won't be long driveways lined with stone and filled with crushed imported granite. There won't be garages for all of your guests' cars. There won't be any of that, so on the surface, your lake house will look humble and simple, unassuming and unimpressive.

But give those guests a weekend stay there, and they'll leave knowing how privileged that weekend just was. That's because a small lakefront vacation home beats a large off-water vacation home any day of the week. There is value here as well, as printing a lakefront home at a discount is always nice, but it's especially nice when a $1.5MM lakefront home sells for $1.175MM. It's even nicer when money is still cheap and appraisers- even the most rogue among us- will have no trouble justifying the obvious value. This is the golden age of the entry level market, and if you're a capable buyer and you haven't taken notice, please smarten up.

So far this year we've closed two entry level lakefronts under $1.5MM. Those being the copper top on Lakeview for $1.473MM and my sale on Shadow Lane for $1.4MM. Last year at this time we had closed just one entry level lakefront, that of a $1.4MM sale in the Birches (that was swiftly demolished). 2013 was a busy year for the entry level market, with 6 lakefronts in this segment closed before July 30th of that year. In 2012 there were 3 sales of that entry level nature. This year we're not far off of that average pace, but the difference this year versus those years is that we have this glut of inventory, and that inventory is the reason opportunistic move-up buyers have a most rare opportunity.

If you need help seizing this opportunity, I'm your guy.

Above, the living room of my listing on Lakeview. $1.485MM. Boathouse with kitchen and bath. Private H-slip pier. Not shared...

A Lake Geneva Weekend

Jul 27, 2015 by DC |
There are reasons that people choose to vacation where they do. Some choose to vacation where they have family. Others choose to vacation where they have no family. Both are understandable. In the same way, some choose to vacation where there are lots of things to do, while others seek out an absence of activities. One of the things that Geneva excels at, among so many others that I simply don't have the time to articulate them all, is the ability to offer both sorts of vacationers their ideal vacation. Every week and every weekend this is the case, where some can find nothing but activity while at the same time others can find only a comfortable wicker chair in a quiet lakeside porch, but this weekend now past offered up the most glaring display of the remarkable difference between here and everywhere else.


Last week and into the weekend the Country Thunder music festival happened just a few miles East of Lake Geneva. That event draws the biggest names in country music, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr and Blake Shelton, to name a few. While that was going on each night since last Thursday, Dave Mathews and his band came to Alpine Valley, that winter ski hill/summer music venue just a handful of miles to the Northeast of Lake Geneva. While Dave Mathews was making odd faces and singing, Blake Shelton was talking about anything but his newest ex-wife, and Martin Short was presumably making jokes at the Driehaus lakefront party. This isn't a party that this local kid gets invited to, but rather it's a who's who of Chicago business elite that obtain the invite. After the dinner and entertainment, a private firework display launched from barges in front of the estate were a most public delight. This was Saturday night.

But Saturday during the day there were other things not to be missed. Williams Bay had their annual Art In The Park, which is exactly like it sounds. Part art, part park, you get the idea. Fontana hosted their annual Lobster Boil and Steak Fry, which benefits either the Lions Club, or the Jaycee's, or the fire department, I can't be sure. All the while it just so happened to be 83 and sunny, with a few white puffy clouds dotting the horizon but seemingly never interrupting the sunshine. With the various musical acts singing, the artist displaying their wares, the lobsters being boiled, Martin Short being Martin Short, and everything else that created activity if you wished to find it, I was just sitting on a pier, watching my kids swim. It was a private oasis in the midst of a summery throng.

Thursday morning Lake Geneva has a rather impressive farmer's market downtown in front of the Horticultural Hall. That's a tough schedule for pure weekend warriors, so Fontana has a Saturday market, downtown on the lawn in front of the Coffee Mill. But these are secondary to Pearce's Corn Stand, on the corner of Highway 67 and County F, which opened last Thursday and will now be open every weekend through late fall. One weekend, all of these things, options for everyone who wished to be amongst a crowd, and options for anyone who wished for the solitude of their own shady lakefront lawn.

Not to be outdone, Harbor Country, Michigan also had plenty of things to do. For instance, there was a Black Ash Basket Making Class last weekend. If you missed that, you could catch the Cake Decorating Class, but that was only on Sunday morning. The Van Dyke Revue played somewhere on one of the nights, and this cover band from Niles, Michigan may be willing to cover a Dave Matthew's song, if you ask nicely. I won't go on and on about the differences between the two vacation home destinations, because these differences are so black and white that it's unfair to try to contrast the two. A summer weekend in Lake Geneva can give you everything you want, no matter if fun is found in a stadium full of people, or at the end of a white pier surrounded by deep blue water.

The image above, snapped by yours truly, midday Saturday afternoon. For all of the "Geneva is too crowded" people to ponder.


Jul 24, 2015 by DC | Add comment
The weather, they said, was delightful. On a Monday it was sunny, with skies so blue it was difficult, after some time of gazing, to imagine what they might look like in any different shade. On Tuesday, the sun was bright, so bright that people wondered if something had gone wrong. Should it be this bright? On Wednesday, the sky was blue and the sun was bright, which was what they expected. Thursday the same and on Friday, somehow things were bluer and brighter.


The next week was the same, and the week that followed. They say that out there it's like that, just sunny and blue, or blue and sunny. In the winter it snows, but it snows only at night, so that the blue skies aren't interrupted. Children grow to be quite old before they learn what clouds are, and even then they're uncertain what Cloud Cover means. Cloudy skies are for storybooks and movie screens, not for their out of doors. In the winter it is blue and in the summer it is blue. It's blue in the spring and blue in the fall, and no one wonders anymore why, they just know it is.

I see this sky today and I see it blue. I see the sun that's bright and full. I see the water that's painted with the same brush as the sky, the only thing separating one from the other being a tenuous line of deep green trees. Sometimes, I see a cloud float by. For a while there are many, then few, then, later into the afternoon when the evening sets in, I see none at all. The sun fades away, slowly, teasingly, and we go to bed in the dark unsure of what the next day will bring.

Will it be sunny and blue? Will the clouds puff and dot the sky, or will the build and twist and darken? Will there be wind today, or will the lake rest again, for what might be the third day, or the fourth day in a row? It couldn't be the fifth day, because even children know the wind here cannot rest for that long. Will the sun return, to warm my skin and to dry my lawn, or will the next morning bring with it those clouds, thin and high, whitewashing the sky and paling the water to silver?

I do not know what it will do, which is why today I must savor what it is doing. These skies are blue now, but they won't be forever. Forever might be a few days, or it might be just the morning hours, or it might be, as I see sometimes, an hour in the morning followed by an interval in the evening, and solid clouds in between. On these days when the sun shines and the sky stuns blue, I know I need to pay attention.

They say that we should move to where the skies are always blue, and the sun always bright. They say it's better there. They say that it's too cloudy here, or too cold, or the summer is too short and too hot, but sometimes too cold and too wet. They say that this place isn't as good as that place. I say they're wrong. I want to live where the right days aren't something I count on. I want to live without expecting, and when I see a blue sky and a bright sun I want to drop the cloudy day things and rush do something that matters, to do something that I cannot do when the blues are gray and the sun has lost its way. Without so many clouds, these days couldn't mean so much.


Jul 22, 2015 by DC | Add comment
A long time ago, I frequented a chiropractor who hailed from Australia. He was a good chiropractor, as far as that goes. Looking back, I'm not so sure that he was Australian, and maybe instead it was his wife who hailed from down there. They may have met at chiropractic school, that one in some heartland state where every chiropractor goes. Or they may have met somewhere else, I can't be certain now. But I am certain that one time I was at their house, because later, after the chiropractic part of our relationship was over, I sold their Lake Geneva home for them. It was at their house that I first tried Vegemite.


Even then, I'm not sure if I tried it, or if I merely smelled it, because to do the latter would be enough to deter the prior. I watched as his children greedily ate the brown paste on their morning toast, and I thought to myself that I had entered some sort of parallel universe, where what was wrong is now right, and where what is awful was somehow not. I thought about the small clicking device that he would place against my shoed feet and click it, thinking that I was being cured of a fundamental spine issue, and I thought that if that was indeed the accepted sorcery, then perhaps it made sense why vegemite was the preferred breakfast smear.

I didn't need to have that experience with Vegemite to know that I didn't like it. I didn't need to be presented with a slice of toast, smeared with that brown semi-solid in order to judge it and dismiss it. A yeast extract, dark brown in color, with the consistency of gritty, stiff molasses? With that I know that it's not for me, whether or not I had seen it in person and smelled it with my own nose, held it in my own shaking hands.

This is why when I found myself at another area lake last week, showing homes there because not enough of you are calling me to see homes here, I didn't really need to walk down the pier to understand what the water was all about. I could see it from the house, from up the lawn and through the trees. I could see water that wasn't the color of the water I prefer, and I knew that I would need to bite my tongue and pretend that the water was water, and because it was water then that would be enough. Also, I cannot bite my tongue.

Another lake was on the tour, and this lake was well known in this area, having boasted several expensive home sales over the years. The lake had nicer water, not as soupy as the other lake, but still not like the water I know here. I walked to the end of the pier, wobbling over that metal-posted structure of questionable stability, and when I got there, I looked down at the water, and at the bottom of the lake. The distance from the top of the dock, (this sort of structure should not be called a pier, and I apologize for my earlier mistake), to the top of the water was perhaps one foot. The distance from the top of the water to the top of the lake floor was perhaps another two feet. Had I ran down that pier, assuming it wouldn't break apart like an old rope bridge in an old-timey Saturday morning cartoon, I could dive off the end and still have at least the lower half of my body sticking out of the water. This is unacceptable.

I drove around that lake, and the other, and I found myself repeating the same tired refrain, the one that agents from those lakes must find themselves repeating just as often. It's close to Lake Geneva, I'd say. This was all I could come up with when searching for superlatives, and I am no stranger to exaggeration. This would be like offering someone a steaming slice of Vegemite toast and telling them that it's sort of like strawberry jam. Yes, both are spread on toast, but one makes you happy and the other makes you question everything you've ever known.

Activity this year on area lakes has been high. Delavan is quite active. Powers, too. Lakes Mary and Elizabeth look alive. Lauderdale is moving nicely. Geneva has a recent spate of activity that looks nice on paper, but it seems to me that the markets on the other lakes are more uniformly fluid. This is why I propose a new set of house-hunting rules. If you are considering purchasing a property on any lake that isn't Geneva, and it's within 400 miles of Chicago, this is what you must do.

You must, without delay, jump off the supposed pier that is actually a dock, the one that's in front of the house you're considering buying. If you jump off the pier and smash your legs into the mucky bottom, quickly towel off, go home and shower thoroughly and diligently, then come to Geneva for a real jump off a pier.

If you jump in the water, and you're somehow small enough that you don't break your legs, you should float in the water for a bit. If the water, at this point in the summer, is over 80 degrees, you should immediately get out of the water, repeat the showering stage from before, and come to Geneva where the water is a delightful 76 degrees. Warm lake water is for Florida ditch ponds, the ones with the brain-eating amoebas.

If you jump in and the water is sub 80, then you must swim a bit. Back and forth and the same again. You must now let some of that lake water into your mouth. You have no choice. Open your mouth and let the water in. Did you like it? Did you taste things in it that you'd rather not taste? If so, do the leaving and showering thing, then brush your teeth and use mouthwash for a few hours before coming to Geneva. Jump in, swim, let some water into your mouth to wash away your earlier mistake.

If you jump in, and the water is cool, and you can swim without scraping your legs on the bottom or being consumed by seaweed and algae, and the water inside your mouth feels and taste okay, then you've passed the swim test. But let's be honest, you wouldn't actually be able to pass that battery of tests on any lake but Geneva, but I'll humor you. If the water test has been passed, then you must go rent a boat.

Once you have rented a boat, note I said a boat, not a pontoon because there is a difference, then you should take a cruise around that lake. Did the boat ride end sort of right after it started? Yes? Then take the boat back, demand a refund for your unused hours, and come to Geneva. Our boat rides take a couple of hours, because real boat rides shouldn't make you dizzy from the continual right, or left, turn.

I could add more things to your list, but there's no point. If you've actually considered the above, you're already at Geneva, marveling at the importance of it all. Our lake is big, it's clean, it's deep and it's rare. It's not like other lakes, and that's not because it's busy on a Saturday afternoon or because the real estate is expensive. It's not like the other lakes because it's better than the other lakes, and I'm telling you that as I guy that almost once tasted Vegemite.


Jul 20, 2015 by DC | Add comment
FOR SALE: One Lake House

Lightly used, near perfect condition

Well, that's not entirely true. We have owned this home for two years, and we've lightly used it. We have shared many beautiful moments here, under this roof, which doesn't leak, not one bit. It used to, back when the prior family owned the home, but it doesn't now. We spent our first weekend in this house and we were appalled that someone could have lived here in the condition that it was in. The house didn't even have air conditioning! Imagine spending weekends without air conditioning. We inquired of the last owner, whose family was represented by the eldest son of three, as to why or how they could have spent so much time here without air conditioning and with that slight drip drip drip that came through the porch ceiling during a heavy rain. He told us that when it was hot out they would open the windows and turn the fans on, and they'd go swimming in the morning and then they'd go swimming in the afternoon and when it was late they'd go swimming again. He said the heat didn't bother them, because their swimming suits were almost always wet. Imagine the inconvenience of sitting in a porch in a damp swimming suit!

Sleeps eight

We did that once. The first weekend after we had the air conditioning installed we invited so many friends and family members to our new lake house. We didn't yet have the roof leak fixed, so we hoped it wouldn't rain and if it did rain, we hoped that no one would notice. Could you imagine the embarrassment if someone saw that drip drip drip from our porch ceiling! That weekend things started off well. We had so much fun cooking steaks that we bought at Whole Foods on the way up, and then we had so much more fun sitting in the porch telling stories. That's not all together true, because we only stayed in the porch for a while until we decided that it was just too chilly to spend another minute out there. The next day it was cloudy, which ruined the day for everyone. We were going to take a boat ride, but the clouds were like mostly blocking all of the sun, and it didn't even clear out until it was nearly dusk. That night, one dear friend of ours left early, because he had a brunch in the city that he had to attend. He told us later that the croque madame was the best he's ever had, and he's had them all over the world.

80 Feet Of Frontage

We bought the house because the Realtor said it was good to have this many feet. We didn't really care how many feet it had, but the builder told us that it was good because when we decided to tear the house down (we didn't) it will allow us to build a big house like the one we have on the cul-de-sac back home. We took a family picture on that lawn once, and the men wore khaki and blue and the women wore white. My aunt wore her white Tory Burch shoes and I can remember the look on her face when those heels sunk into the lakeside lawn. She was mortified, and we all laughed, though later I confided to her that it wasn't a laughing matter. I helped her scrub them clean in the sink, which we replaced with stainless steel because the sink was porcelain, and the old owners hadn't been careful with it so there was a chip out of the front side. One day, we thought about playing the game the kids call "bags", so we went to the store to buy the game. We drove all around but couldn't find a Dick's Sporting Goods, so we didn't buy the game. Can you imagine a town without a Dick's Sporting Goods? My heavens, I feel like I can't even turn around at home without seeing one!

Close to Restaurants

When we bought the house, we were told that the neighborhood had a summer cookout each July. We were told it was a big event. The first July, we went, and we wore our whites and our khakis, and I even brought a sampling of macaroons from the shop on the corner near our cul-de-sac home. We were excited and nervous for this event, and when we walked up it seemed as though everyone was having a great time. There were children laughing and playing. The adults were gathered around the food, and we set our macaroon's down next to a bowl of potato salad. The smell of grilled meat was everywhere, but the plates were paper and the meat was actually brats. Back home, we have a neighborhood party where they boil lobsters, and here I was, sitting on a bench with sand on my shoes and a sausage looking hotdog that they called a brat. I ate some of it to be polite, but I thought more about the lobsters and the drawn butter and the way my back hurt front sitting on that wooden bench. There are restaurants in town, sure, and once we went to one and the waitress was slow and the food wasn't great. Admittedly, when the chef at the cafe down the road from our suburban mansion hails from France, how could I expect to find this breaded and fried fish even palatable?

Immediate Occupancy

We had intended to use our prized lake house this summer, but alas, our daughter is at cheer camp all of July and our son is first in his class and he decided to spend the summer studying for his ninth grade entrance exams. They came to the lake with us often that first summer, but once my daughter stepped on a rock in the shallow water near the pier ladder, and she cried and she cried. Mommy, she said, why are there so many rocks? I told her that I didn't know, but that it would be okay. We drove home that night so that I could take her to the Cheesecake Factory for her favorite dinner. I knew that would make her feel better, and after that she didn't want to swim because who could blame her?

Price Available Upon Request

Call XXX-5309

Stone Manor Press

Jul 17, 2015 by DC |

To Renovate

Jul 15, 2015 by DC |
Often, when someone buys something that's ridiculously overpriced, they point to the price that the seller paid when the seller was the buyer. Or, if the seller didn't buy the house, and instead built it, they'll point to what the cost of the construction was. See, I'm buying this house for $2MM and it cost $3MM, that sort of thing. This is what every seller of every oversized albatross mansion will claim is the key to their value. If they built a castle of a house, one that really looks like a castle with moats and guards and boiling oil in giant iron kettles, and that castle cost them $10MM, they'll offer it to you for $5MM and proclaim it to be an outstanding value. They'll say, look at what all of this cost me! You, if you're a gullible sort, will be impressed. You, if you're a value hunter, will think better of the entire thing. Are there broad market comps that suggest $5MM is a reasonable ransom? Of course not. Besides, who wants to own a castle, anyway?


In the same but contrarian way, if someone buys something that's priced far beyond the actual replacement cost, they'll say that they bought that house with the work done for them because they didn't want to deal with it. They didn't want the hassle of construction. They didn't want to pick their own fixtures and paint the walls in their own color. They'll say that they didn't have the vision to accomplish what was already accomplished for them, and so they'll buy for a price that measures above the replacement components. In fact, the sum of the whole is worth more than the individual parts, because a buyer didn't want to entertain the effort. This is the opposing viewpoint to the first scenario, and buyers will shape their own justifications for why they paid whatever it is that they paid. There is rarely a consistent approach.

This is why the lakefront at Bayview Road sold last week for $2.75MM. The house was nice, the frontage wide (134), the location within Geneva Bay Estates more than acceptable. The side note to this story is that the home that just sold had received a second floor and complete facelift, courtesy the developer owner. That home sold in 2013 for $1.765MM. The developer then put that second floor on, and fixed what ailed that smallish ranch. While we cannot know what the cost of the construction was, I will venture a personal guess- $550k. I only base that off of having built two homes from scratch in the last few years, and having remodeled four more over that time frame. Perhaps that's not the right number, because I can't say for sure what someone else spent on a project that I was not involved in. But it's a reasonable estimate, and one that's backed up by a bit of personal history with that particular house.

Whatever the case, whatever the number, this sale should go down as another print that proves my lakefront theory. Buy a property based on the property and location, and figure out the actual house part later. This will not always be gospel, as homes in different price ranges require different approaches, but to consider buying a house for $2MM and putting $500k into it will generally make more sense than buying the same property already dolled up for $3MM. This, of course, will be largely dependent upon your ability to add and subtract whole numbers.

There are variations to this general rule, and those come in the form of finding value within an established market segment that registers less than the replacement cost. For example, my listing at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. That lot is 165' wide and level at the lake, and 2.8 acres in manicured depth. If that lot were for sale, what would it be worth? Well, 150' and far less land is under contract in the 700 Club with an ask of $3.15MM. Fontana's south shore is currently far more desirable than nearly every other spot on the lake, so we're likely worth far more than that. I think $3.7MM is a fair estimate.

If the land is worth $3.7MM, what's the cost to re-build a 12,000 square foot home outfitted with the finest finishes money can buy? Add in a three pier and tennis court and two bedroom guest house and landscape the entire thing with perennials, then irrigate and light the entire property. That's not going to come cheap. If the pier is $100k and the tennis court is $70k (it's lit), the guest house will be $500k and the landscaping another $500k. The house itself is going to cost $350-450 per square foot. The math encourages a buyer seeking to build a new lakefront to first come to this home, because it's the right house at the right price ($7.95MM ask). This is an example of when it would make absolute sense to buy built over building new.

The current drought of quality inventory in the $2.75MM to $6MM price range offers up plenty of reason for a buyer to consider land first. By entertaining the concept of a new build or a thorough renovation buyers can look past current asking prices and the current condition of the countertops and the make of the appliances. They can focus on what matters- land and location- and find a way to negotiate a price that will make a renovation not only make sense, but make money.

Lake Geneva Pricing

Jul 13, 2015 by DC | Add comment
There's an art auction. The auction has some art that was painted by a man who is now very dead. The art is expensive, everyone knows that. This art has been sold over and over again over so many years, and increasingly, of late, the art has been selling for higher and higher prices. It seems that there are two rich men from some foreign land that highly cherish this dead man's paintings. The auction is scheduled, the advertisements (soft i) are placed. The paddles are printed.

The day of the auction arrives, and the auction house is pleased to find forty or more bidders gathered in the room. The two rich guys from the foreign lands are still in their foreign lands, but their representatives are on the telephone with the auction house and their representatives. The last two pieces by this same artist were sold last year for $10MM each. That's a lofty sum, and the auction house has now placed their pre-auction estimates at $12-15MM, allowing for some appreciation over the year. The bidders at the ready, the auctioneer takes the stage. The room is a buzz with interest, the phone lines quiet except for the nervous breathing of the representatives.

The auctioneer, with his auctioneer tone, asks for an opening bid. He is English, so he asks in a most polite manner, almost as if he's expecting no one to bid and the auction to be canceled, but one bidder does chime in with a half-hearted bid at $1MM. The room chuckles, the ice is broken. Quickly, the bidding reaches $10MM, then $11MM, then $11,250,000. The room grows silent, the auctioneer inquisitively begs. The phone bidders have not yet bid.

Thirteen Million! the phone representative cries out. Fourteen, says the other. Fifteen. Sixteen! Twenty! The room gasps. The opposing phone representative hushes her tone and implores her foreign, anonymous phone bidder. She whispers, though the begging is apparent. The room is unsettled now, with many heads shaking, eyes cast down, or around the room, whispers fill the space. There is an incredulous feeling owned by all present. The auctioneer is attempting to remain stoic, but he, too, shows some sign of disbelief.

The hammer drops at $20MM, a full 100% over the price that the similar piece sold for last year. Later, the room is strewn with bidders paddles, empty coffee cups, and many tattered dreams of the bidders who wished to pay a price that somehow reflected some version of reality. The next weekend the headline reads, "Kind Of Famous Dead Artist's Somewhat Famous Piece Sells For A Record $20MM".

The question for us today is to decide what that all means. Is the piece worth $20MM? If it sold for $20MM, that means it must be worth $20MM, right? I don't think so. Yes, someone parted with that sum of money to purchase that piece, but what if they needed to sell it again, would it be worth $20MM. There were forty bidders in the room who pegged the value at $11.25MM, and one who thought it was worth $16MM, yet it sold for $20MM. Is the piece worth $20MM? Or is it worth somewhere between $11.25MM and $16MM, the range where the masses found it acceptable?

This is, as you have already surmised, not a bit about art. This is a bit about the Lake Geneva real estate market, and at this point in time I'm seeing a rather incredible difference of opinion between buyers. The market is disconnected, and there are those buyers, a small percentage, that are out buying properties that are not proven by comparable sales, nor will they likely be proven in the near or far future. These particular sales are not sales for the masses, even when the masses are the one percenters considering an expensive lake house purchase. These deals represent outliers in our market, and rarely before has it been so obvious that most of the market has rendered certain properties unsellable, just in time for someone to come and buy it.

I have made a living hunting for value. My buyers are clients who seek value in their purchase, and the buyers that are currently working with me to find value have been experiencing some difficulties in that procurement. This is likely because the few deals that print outside of the realm of sanity cause feelings of uneasiness in the buying masses. The numbers can feel bubbly, too high, too random, and these feelings cause buyers to pull back, to wait for clarity. My perspective today is that the broad market is moving slowly, but purposefully, and the few sales undertaken by buyers that seek no basis for their purchase should have little effect on the psyche of buyers that continue to hunt for value.

If you're a buyer looking for lasting value, you should be working with me. I know what an outlier looks like, and am wise enough to avoid them.

Fishing Geneva Lake

Jul 10, 2015 by DC | Add comment
Last week, while the soft suburban children played on sand beaches within close proximity of their sunscreen slathering, summer-hat wearing mothers, my son and his friend dove from piers and hid near where the horses make their upward rise to meet the stringers. They dove and swam, swam and dove, fighting and playing, hiding and seeking. Swimming under water with his eyes open, my son spotted something that captured his attention. A large bass, carefully guarding the gravel patch that she had brushed bare with her tail.


My son returned to the pier to tell his friend where the fish was, how big it was, and what they would do next. The plan was to tie on a small jig, a white one with a feather for a tail and big yellow eyes drawn onto a round lead head. They assembled their gear and made casts. The first cast fell short. The second, too. They switched positions, the friend now in the starter slot, casting as far as he could cast. Each effort fell short, there was to be no catching that fish on that day, because the jig was too light and the line too heavy.

The soft beach children would have given up by now, assuming they somehow knew that fish was there, which, of course, they couldn't have known if they were only splashing in the shallows with small plastic shovels and buckets made specifically for the building of sand castles. Every fisherman knows there is no greater frustration than the inability to catch a fish that has presented itself as a target. This is why bonefish are highly prized quarry, and equally disappointing when they refuse to eat a well-presented fly. There had to be a way.

There was no boat, and eleven year olds shouldn't be driving those anyway. There was a dingy, but the one oar slot is loose, and when the rower attempts to row, the left oar always pops out of place. The exercise is confounding, and if the desired goal is to row from A to B, there will be circuitous visits to C,D,E,M along the way. No, the rowboat wouldn't work, but they hatched a plan that would, in theory, work.

The friend was to hold the rod, with the bail open so the line would pull freely. My son would hold the jig in his hand, and swim carefully and slowly out to where the bass was on guard. Once over the target zone, he would release the jig. His friend would know he had released it by the thumb's up my son would give as he thrust his hand out of the water. Once the jig floated slowly down to the bass, my son would give his friend another thumb's up, this one to indicate that the bass had eaten the jig and that a swift setting of the hook was in order.

When the bass moved quickly to bite the jig, it was clear this plan had worked. The friend battled the great fish, while my son swam from the scene. On the pier, they held the fish briefly for a photo and released it to the depths. They have been taught many habits by their fathers, habits both good and mostly bad, but to carefully handle a fish and release it immediately is counted as one of the better habits learned. That evening, when my son told me the story of his efforts, I couldn't help but smile.

Parents ask me about fishing often. They ask the best way to catch fish from piers in Geneva Lake. As I have more experience on the subject than any other Realtor in this market (without any question), I will offer you my sage advice. The fishing rig should be simple. A lightweight rod and reel, no Snoopy emblems allowed. The line should be six pound test. Any lighter and you risk a break off from an ornery fish, any thicker and you look silly. The next key to successful pier fishing involves small jigs. It does not involve worms or other forms of live bait.

I know, I know, worms are a staple of pier fishing worldwide. But they are also messy and once a mess of them die in your refrigerator the smell is as ungodly as any smell could ever aspire to be. The other problem with small children fishing with worms is that inevitably the fish swallows the hook, and then the dad or mom spends a few minutes ripping the hook out of the fish's throat, rooting around for that hook as though it were made from gold exhumed from the Titanic's dining room. This is unacceptable. As an aside, if you must fish with worms and the fish swallows the hook, you should cut the line right next to the fish's mouth in hope that the fish survives the order by digesting the hook over time.

Another key to understanding fish is to understand that they do not breathe well outside of the water. I've watched a parent rip a fish apart for a few minutes, then throw it back into the lake. If the fish somehow survived the massive stomach trauma, it certainly didn't survive the minute or two spent out of the water. Parents, be smart. Don't fish with worms because worms are for people who don't understand things particularly well.

So, we have the line and the rod, now the jigs. Buy small feathery looking ones, in chartreuse or white. They should be 1/32 ounce jigs. Not big ones. Once you have the jigs, take a pliers and bend down the barb of the hook, so that the hook will easily come out when the time comes. This is very important if you want to teach your kid to fish on their own, as the largest part of that fishing is the removal of a hook from the fish. The jig should be tied directly to the line, not onto some leader or some metal clip thing. This is horrible, and I see it often and then go wash my eyes with bleach. Rod, line, small jig, ready to fish. But how? Easy, silly. Let the line out near the pier and have your kid jig it very subtly, very slowly, right next to the cribs. The fish hide there, and they'll come out to eat the jig. Your child will be thrilled.

And since you had the good sense to bend down the barb, you'll be pleased because your kid can remove the hook without your assistance. In this, the fish should be held gently and the hook removed. My daughter saw a kid step on a fish to get the hook out, and she yelled at him, because she's smart and this kid was not. Hold the fish carefully, quickly remove the hook, and return it to the water. Don't put it in a bucket for a few hours to play with it, because you'll then be like my dog when he plays with a chipmunk, which is to say you'll kill the play thing.

There you have it. The guide to pier fishing with kids. Follow these steps and you'll be a star, and you'll teach your kid some valuable lessons about respecting fish. You'll also set them up for future independence, and your leisure time will be so much sweeter if you don't need to constantly monitor and assist in their fishing endeavors.

Above, my son with a beautiful brown trout he caught on a fly this week.