Already Been Said

Already Been Said

I started to write about how it was 93 and sunny, and how it was always 93 and sunny. It’s 93 and sunny, I was going to say, but it’s going to be the same tomorrow. I was going to write how that would be boring, but I caught myself because I’ve written that bit many times over the last eight years. I’ve written how it would be boring to live in a place where the days were the same, even if the days were perfect. Perfection is tiresome, I was going to say. But I’m not going to say that because I’ve already said it, and how many times can I say that October is fall and November is fall but December is winter, except when it’s still fall?

Then I was thinking of writing an update on the lakefront market here. I was going to tell you what homes are under contract and which ones are about to close. I was going to tell you a bit about some of the complicated deals I’m working on, deals so complicated that I’m weary at 8 am just as I am at 7 pm. But there’s no sympathy in that, because Realtors aren’t necessary nor is their time valuable and if they were smart they’d all become dental hygienists and car salesmen. But I’ve written that already, so I don’t think I’ll talk about it anymore.

I was going to say that peak fall was yesterday, and I was going to tell you that I do hope you enjoyed it. But it’s calm today and the wind isn’t whipping so peak fall will last for the weekend, and you should all be pleased. Especially if you missed yesterday when fall peaked. But you knew it wasn’t really peak fall because you’ve been reading this for eight years and you know I have a tendency to shame you into visiting the lake on weekdays. I was doing it again, and you knew it, so I won’t mention it from here on out.

I could have written about how terrific it’ll be when it’s winter, because then I can go skiing with my son. My daughter won’t ski anymore because she broke her leg skiing last April, but I won’t say much more because you already knew that. You knew it last April, the day after it happened. Yesterday I was at the American Club with my wife. My wife doesn’t really like it when I take her on fancy getaways to fancy places, but you already knew that, too. You know how I feel about Kohler, how it’s all fake, how I’m only Truman when I’m there.  You know the fall colors there are like the colors here, except here they’re better. You know I don’t understand that town, and I don’t understand the low ceilings and I don’t understand why the people in the room above ours had to get ready to leave the resort so early yesterday morning.

At this point in our relationship, there’s very little you don’t know. You know that I’m busy and that the market is quite healthy. You know that I’m worried about inventory and I’m worried about the deals that I’m working on that feel as though they’ll only close once I’m dead. You know I had nothing to write about this morning so I wrote this.  And I’m sure you know I hope something interesting happens over the weekend so that I have something to write about. I’d write about the Cubs this morning, but I’ve already written about them.

Lake Geneva Fall Colors

Lake Geneva Fall Colors

I visited Chicago on Sunday to watch the Cubs do what the Cubs have done best for the entirety of my life: lose.  But before they lost and before I drove home and before I found my bed at 1 am, I drove down a Lincoln Park street to meet up with the client who witnessed the inept bats with me. The street was unlike other streets, as it was barely fall on the route I took to his house. But when I turned onto his street it was instant fall. Leaves littered the sidewalk and the covered the curb. The storm drains were clogged with yellow and orange leaves. It was fall, immediately and undeniably, fall.  This morning, I drove to Stone Manor as I prepare to close on that large sale next month, and I was struck by fall. It’s not becoming fall, it’s not going to be fall, it didn’t used to be fall, it’s just fall, and it’s right now and it’s glorious.

Early fall is easily mistaken for summer. Late fall  looks like winter, because winter is just late fall with some snow. But the middle of fall in Wisconsin is something that can’t be missed. It shouldn’t be missed. And it can’t be taken in on one street in Lincoln Park, or by gazing up to three maple trees in Oz Park as they turn brilliant and bright.  It isn’t even all of Wisconsin where this spectacle can be measured. I’m building that fishing cabin in the Western part of this state, and while the hills are nice the fall there is no spectacle at all. It’s just a dulling and a browning that follows a brief yellowing. They have lots of trees there, all sorts and sizes and densities, but Maples are not as common there as they are here. It’s the Maple that makes fall in Lake Geneva.  That’s because I hate to break it to you, but we have all the Maples.

I write today to pull away the mystery of fall. When should you visit? When is peak fall? Is it coming soon? Is it later, like next Thursday? Or is it right smack exactly tomorrow?  Of course it’s tomorrow. Tomorrow is the peak. Not early tomorrow, but late tomorrow, say, 3:30 pm. That’s peak fall at Lake Geneva, and you should be here for it.  I generally dislike the tour boats on Geneva. I dislike the Lady of Lake, because that stupid paddle wheel doesn’t turn at the same rate as the boat is traveling. The wheel is paddling at 3 miles per hour while the boat cruises at 10. I’m no engineer, but this strikes me as something amiss. And that boat is only outdone in its foolishness by that Mississippi river boat looking thing that looks as though it might tip over at any time. The wheel on that boat moves even slower, looking even more ridiculous, as that wheel pushes at 1 MPH while that awkward boat shoves through the water at 10 MPH. I dislike those boats immensely. But if there’s a time to jump aboard and play tourist, it’s during peak fall, because your boat might already be put away in its winter home on account of you being a quitter.

If you can’t come up this Thursday at 3:30 pm for the peak of fall, then come up this weekend. It’ll be the next best thing. The winds have calmed, and hopefully they’ll stay calm for a few more days so that we might enjoy this fall spectacle. Don’t bother driving to some other place, like  Michigan (Michstakegan), or Galena (absurd), or Door County (they’re closed), just drive here. Because we’re going to peak this weekend and we have all the maples. We also have incredible houses to look at and buy, and we have espresso and pumpkins and apples.   Please don’t sit in the city this weekend and pretend everything is okay. It isn’t. It’s never okay. Come to Wisconsin, specifically to Lake Geneva, because the fall we wait all year for is happening this weekend. If you stay home, you’re going to miss it, and that’s unacceptable.



As I understand it, Door County is a place where you go because you want to eat cherries while spending the better part of a full day searching for a place that will serve you a proper espresso.  Door County is also a place where lake access doesn’t mean the same thing that it means here. That’s because the lake isn’t really a lake at all, rather it’s an inland ocean, which is beautiful to look at but also mostly unusable for the typical weekend warrior. The lake is different, the market is different, the cherries are good, the espresso absent. This is all you need to know about Door County.  You’re welcome.

The market here is very unique, as lake access or lake rights really means something. For years I’ve heard sellers explain to me the reasons that lake rights don’t matter. Coincidentally, the only sellers that undertake this attempted explanation are those that own homes that lack the attribute. They’ll opine how lake access isn’t important because of beaches, and because of launches, and because of parks and restaurants. They’ll work to convince me that they’re right, all the while we both know they’re wrong.

That’s because no amount of dialogue, no matter how impassioned, can change generations of market behavior. The market expects lake access, it wants lake access, and when someone emails me this week and wants to buy a vacation home at Lake Geneva, they’re probably going to ask me about lake access. Once they ask me, I’m going to tell them that they need it. In doing so, I’m furthering the generational standard, leaving very little room for wavering. If you’re looking Lake Geneva, you should be looking lake access.

When the market was hot, buyers moved away from this standard. They’d buy homes on Anystreet, Williams Bay, because of the beach and the launch and the restaurants. They’d buy a home on Oakwood Street because it’s a nice enough street, and they could pay $180k for a house that would have cost $319k in Cedar Point Park. I understand the economics of a non-lake access purchase, I really do, which is why there should be a discount paid for homes that are in otherwise boring locations that lack lake access. If you’re contemplating a vacation home purchase here, your vacation home should be surrounded by other vacation homes. It’s really that simple.

Now that the market is warmer again, buyers are returning to their old discount-seeking ways. The house in Cedar Point is $289k now, and the house on Oakwood is still $180k, so Oakwood wins. If that’s all your budget will allow, I completely and entirely understand the reason you’d entertain Oakwood. I honestly do. But if the budget allows for the $289k, please go that route. Not because I want your Realtor, who should actually be me, to make more money, but because I want your future appreciation tied to the vacation home market, not to the primary market.

There are exceptions to this rule of mine. Unique homes in special locations, those get a pass. Unique lots- oversized or featuring some sort of special view- I’ll let those slide as well. But if we’re buying a normal house on a normal in-town street, let’s first exhaust our lake access options.  Because once you buy that non-lake access house in town you’re pretty much going to spend every day from then on wishing you had a private association pier to hang out at. And if you’re not going to have a private association pier to hang out at, you might as well keep driving for another day and end up in Door County. It’s BYOEspresso, just so you know.


PS. I was at the Cub game last night, which means it is likely my fault that they lost. 



Anxiety is a common affliction in the real estate world. Those not living in this world cannot fathom what might be so difficult about making buckets full of money while doing very little actual work. Those in the industry, and those who were driven from the industry from the anxiety, know this business to be different. My brother works in a factory of sorts. He sits somewhere and punches in some orders onto a computer screen, and then a robot does those things that he’s told it to do. It’s a nice thing to have the robot do that work, and when he drives home at night be doesn’t wonder about what might happen if the robot doesn’t work tomorrow. He doesn’t worry that the CFO just found out the new orders from that large new company have been canceled. He just gets up early and goes to work the next morning and sits on his chair and punches in the commands that the robot will follow. The anxiety of real estate is different, and it’s more intense and more troubling than anyone who hasn’t sat in my particular chair could understand.

But this particular chair does not own me, and so I sit in it for a while in the morning and then again for a bit in the afternoon. I drive around the lake, I drive down this road and down your road. I look at houses and I look at land and I look at views and I look for what it is that you’re hoping I might find. That traveling seat is far more interesting than this creaky seat that I pull up to this long desk in the morning. That moving seat helps with the stress of a day, and that seat gives me a glimpse of the lake that I’ve seen nearly every day for the entirety of my life.

Admittedly, there are views of this lake that I prefer over others. A fall view from the tip of Cedar Point, where Circle Parkway makes its most pronounced curve, that view to the West through the fall trees as they drop a storm of yellow and orange leaves; now that’s a view. It’s different up there. The lake looks different from that height, like something you can see but can’t touch, like something on a horizon that you’ll never catch. You can chase it from up there, and watch the waves from above, where the rise and fall isn’t visible but for the foamy white of the break.

Downtown Lake Geneva on an October Tuesday must look different in the minds and imaginations of the summer visitors, those who fill up on summer over a few weekends and then look back to their desks and not to the water again until the next June. But I see downtown on a Tuesday in October I know it looks like it should, I know it looks like July with a brighter leaves. I know the breeze blows the same off the lake but it’s cooling now, not warming, and I know the outdoor diners are still dining and they’re still toasting to this place, to this scene, to that view.

In the summer when it storms, I can’t know the severity or the angle of the storm until I see it from the shore, over that lake. I know then where it’s coming from, where the wind is blowing, and how bad it might be. I know the clouds and the way they twist and push and form those summer shelves. I can see rain and clouds from these office windows, and from the windows of my house, but I can’t see the detail until I’m looking over the water. It’s impossible to tell just what’s going on without that view.

Today, I see the leaves on the trees across the street, and I see the leaves yellowing and falling, more and more each day.  Because of this I know it’s fall, and I know the colors are starting, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. I won’t be able to know just how widespread these colors are until I’m driving through Williams Bay, past that launch and I look to the south and the east and the west.  Fall can sneak up on you, but not when you’re watching the colors change across the lake. It’s obvious then, and when I saw the Snake Road foliage from Big Foot Beach yesterday I knew that fall was no longer waiting. It’s here, and it’s bright and the colors are orange and yellow and red. I know this now because I saw it across that lake. In a life filled with twists and turns and the anxiety that this morning chair brings, that lake and those views are always there and they’re always steady and they will always catch my eye.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

This time of year the Lake Geneva real estate market will do one of two things. It will either push slowly and methodically to the end of the year, or it will remain as active as it has been for much of the past several months. Under the first scenario, it’s just a tidying up of the closings on properties that are already under contract, inching inevitably closer towards December 31st. The market will calm, fresh deals will be fewer and far between, and we’ll focus our attention on closing out what will prove to be the best year ever for the upper bracket lakefront market. The alternative course is that we add some new inventory over the next few weeks and that inventory is met with buyer interest. If that occurs, we’ll also likely see a push on some of the aged inventory that has been clogging the market for most of this year. New inventory that sells quickly helps aged inventory simply because it shows buyers that time is, likely, of the essence.

It’s early fall here, but it’s late fall for the real estate market. We have plenty of time left of active selling season, as I’d just as easily sell a lakefront in October as in June. The serious buyers will remain engaged throughout the change of seasons, those who understand that this search should not be taken lightly nor should it be considered over just because the leaves have begun to change.  But the summer buyers who operate on whim and fancy, those buyers will slowly drop off as the temperatures cool and the leaves dull and fall. November, now that’s a month for the serious buyer. Things are brown, and the things that aren’t brown are gray. Daylight is limited, sunshine, too. The buyers that remain through October and last into November are the real buyers, and I think there are more of them in the market today than I’ve seen in a long time.

The issue today is inventory, as we only have 22 true lakefront homes available as of this morning.  We haven’t seen much by way of new product this fall, and the two of the three new lakefronts that have hit the market recently sold immediately (Lakeview, $1.3s, Sidney Smith, $3.8s). I continue to expect new lakefront inventory to come to market, but I continue to be disappointed with each passing day. In February, it’s no big deal when a week passes without fresh inventory, because the next week will be better and the week after might be March. But in October, the next week might also be quiet and the week after might be November.  Lakefront properties have been listed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that’s a rare seller who decides to present to the market during that traditionally slow market. Still, if a seller is paying attention to the limited inventory she would do well to list into that environment, no matter what the calendar says.

Today there are several lakefronts pending sale. There’s the entry level on Lakeview that I mentioned earlier, and there’s the Marianne Terrace listing in the low $2s. That’s right next door to my listing that’s offered at a similar price. Shamefully, I haven’t sold my listing yet. The new listing on Sidney Smith of a home under construction sold quickly, and that sale is a very important data point for buyers looking to build new. That property sold for $1.925MM in 2015, and the seller began construction on a new home just a couple of months ago. That home was new, but it struck me as being rather basic as presented to the market, yet it sold and it sold quickly.  For buyers considering new construction projects, this is a reminder that the market is quite liquid for newer construction on reasonably nice lots (100 or so feet of frontage) priced below $4.5MM. This is a segment of the market that wasn’t particularly tested until this year, and it’s now obvious that buyers will gravitate towards new construction in this price range.  Lastly, my lakefront for $7.95MM in Fontana is pending sale.

So which scenario do think will play out? Will there be new inventory that will be excitedly gobbled up by the market? Or will the market slow as a result of stale inventory? I think it’s likely the latter, but I also know that as soon as you count this market out and expect it to sleep for a few months, it has a tendency to surprise. Still, expect a normalized market as we head into fall. Buyers will revisit aged inventory one last time, and they’ll be ready to pounce if any interesting new inventory presents itself as we move towards winter.

Car Shopping

Car Shopping

I need a new car. My car is older now, though if you saw it just after a washing and you were standing some slight distance from it you’d be forgiven for thinking that I have a very nice car. It looks nice in photos, that’s for sure. But when I turn the wheel the car clicks, which is a sound that I haven’t had a car make since I was 17 and my car was that gray Saab. That car clicked around corners as well, but things were different then so the clicking didn’t matter because when I turned the radio up the clicking stopped. My car clicks and I could have the click fixed, but it seems like the car is prepared to let something else start clicking or thumping or chirping once I fix the current click. That lake house you looked at has an ugly kitchen and the guest bedrooms are so small.

My car has been my car for several years, for long enough that it seems like I could use a newer one. I can’t buy a new one, because I don’t have that in me. I don’t have the stomach for new car prices, for the stickers in the windows, for the salesmen that think there’s nothing difficult about buying a new car for elevated sums of money. I don’t like the snack bars, the magazines, the modern coffee tables. I don’t like the way the deal doesn’t really start until you sit at the little formica desk and the salesman starts punching in the numbers, picking through the keyboard with his index fingers until he finds the right combination of numbers and letters. I don’t like it when he turns the screen to face me and the numbers look nothing like they did in the window. That lake house is expensive, because taxes and dues and sprinkler systems.

There are lots of cars on that lot, not just the ones in the showroom that look so wonderfully shiny. Years ago, I had a customer drive to a showing in a very white luxury sedan. The car was beautiful, but it was extremely white, and it had rained earlier that day and so his car was white with scatters of road dirt, like an abstract painting that I wouldn’t understand. We talked for a while about his white car, and after some time he admitted that he shouldn’t have bought a white sedan. In fact, he didn’t know why he’d ever buy a white sedan, except that he then resigned himself to the reason. It just looked stunning under those showroom lights. Indeed it must have, but in that driveway on that day that it had rained it just looked like a white car that needed to be washed. The lake house on a sunny summer afternoon when the water shimmered blue and the hydrangeas bloomed white couldn’t have looked more perfect if it tried.

There are cars to buy, but the car must be heavy because I’d like to gain the tax advantage from that heavier car. Needing a heavy car means the choices are limited, because a lighter car might be nice and it will treat tires with more respect but it won’t get me that deduction. Heavy cars are numerous, but I’ve been down the road of a fancy car and I see how the fancy cars wear after some time. That is to say they wear terribly, no matter what engineers we claim to be the best, no matter which country of origin has the finest craftsman, cars are cars and they break. When the expensive ones break because your warranty recently ran out, it no longer matters how nice the car looks after a wash, when the sun is low and the lights are on. So I’m on the hunt for a reasonably nice car that’s heavy, but not one that’s so nice that it’s going to break down and leave me on the side of some country road wishing for a car that favored function over form. You can find a lake house of superior style a long ways from the lake, or you can find one that’s sturdy and near, even if it isn’t all that sexy.

I’m looking for something that will get me from A to B, and won’t break somewhere between the span. But as I look I realize I don’t like cars anymore, or rather I have the same problem that I’ve always had of not liking the cars that I can afford, or liking cars that know I shouldn’t own. I should buy something, and soon, because winter is coming and the clicking won’t stop just because it’s cold. The clicking might even get worse, since it could progress from a click to a dreaded thump. Today I’ll think a bit about this process and about what I should do, and I’ll think about how my car search is like your lake house search, and how we’re both just trying to accomplish something that we’ve been thinking about for a long time.



I like to brag about certain things. For instance, I have a black SuperJet and there’s very little chance that you do as well. I have one, you don’t. It’s not that I’m better than you, but my SuperJet is better than yours, because you don’t even have one, which is embarrassing. For you, not for me, because my SuperJet is black and it’s custom, because it has an Uff Da sticker on it, which is something that only makes sense if your grandmother spoke some gibberish that she insisted was Norwegian. See, I’m bragging now, and there’s very little you can do about it.  Ah, but you say that it’s October and what good does a SuperJet do a Wisconsin boy in October?  Even that statement proves your SuperJet inferiority, because October is to SuperJetting what April is to showers. See? Bragging.

But I don’t intend to brag when I speak of my past personal real estate dealings. I don’t brag about profit or of market beating performance, though it has dawned on me that some of my anecdotal housing stories might be construed as less than humble tales. If you went to a foot doctor because you had something wrong with your foot, would you prefer the doctor tell you about what he learned in books, or would you prefer he tell you that last week he handled this same condition and fixed it? In fact, he saw the same condition three months ago and three years ago and he fixed those, too. Personal experience should lend some credibility to the expected outcome.

Back to those personal dealings of mine, they all have one common theme. No matter the house, no matter the price, no matter my personal confidence of lack thereof in the housing market, I have always left the closing table feeling as though I sold for too little. Buyers regret is a common affliction, in fact I also suffer from that each time I buy something, but that’s not specific to housing- I feel regret when I buy anything, including when I order a chicken wrap and everyone knows I should have ordered the brisket. But seller regret is just as real, and I’ve felt it each and every time I’ve been the one signing the deed. I left money on the table, I sold too cheap, I blew it. That’s how I feel  after every personal sale. Deflated, poor, taken.

The thing is, each personal deal I’ve closed is just a distant memory. They mean nothing to my life today. I look back at the progression of housing, to the first purchase and to the last one, and I think of how I caved in one way or another. I caved on the buy, and then I caved on the sale, I’m a professional caver, the farthest thing from shrewd, a sucker, really. But that’s how people who like to over think real estate might feel, that’s not how I feel. Because today I’m not holding any house that I no longer wish to own. I’m not stuck with a property that doesn’t serve a purpose in my life. I’m not beholden to something that erodes my personal finances just because I was unwilling to give in to a buyer’s last minute demands of a $1000 credit. I’m not stuck at my station because I couldn’t get that last 3% that I desperately wanted out of the buyer. I’m here now because I let the 3% go, because I know that moving forward is far more valuable than getting stuck.

Stop getting stuck. If you’re a seller, and a buyer won’t pay your “bottom” number, don’t be so stubborn. Meet the bid and move on. Often times a seller here is selling because she’s buying more house, or he’s buying less house, but he’s not removing himself from the market entirely. It’s just movement, up or down, but still here. And so owners buyer something new, hanging on to what they already own, because they don’t need to sell it. I can hold this forever, they say.  Never mind the financial bleed of an unnecessary, uninterested carry,  consider instead the emotional drain that accompanies this sort of prolonged ownership. When you wake up, do you think only about your new house and your job and your spouse and your children and that achy left hip, or do you think also of that house that you used to live in that you still own? It’s there, decaying, eating away at your finances and your mental-health. It’s there with you at all times,  serving no purpose, stuck in your thoughts.

This is why there is regret in real estate. Regret on the buy side, regret on the sale side. Did you sell your last home for too little? Did you end up taking the first offer and later beat yourself up for selling too quickly, for too little? Good, because I probably did the same, but here we both are, worrying about today and thinking about tomorrow, forgetting about yesterday and the houses we used to own.

October Drive

October Drive

The Saab 900 was gunmetal gray. The roads were straight, the path clear. North. That’s all I needed to do, bearing East when possible, but mostly just North. The Saab had a top speed that I never discovered. The rattle and wobble at 70 made sure that the higher numbers on the speedometer wouldn’t be touched. The roads were gray, the sky gray, the trees browned and grayed, the clouds gray. The lights dim, everywhere dim. The lake, that big lake to the East was gray, the water and the shore and the clouds and the space between, gray. It was late fall, I was 18 and I drove into the night.

On a typical trip to some other place, the route is dark and confusing and the turns many  but the destination, once it comes into view, is clear and bright, welcoming a weary traveler to the place where he intended to be. The traveler finds his destination and the troubles of the trip are forgotten, the wrong turns now merely a laughable memory because the journey is complete and the place he finds himself is perfect.  Instead, I drove the tired hatchback down slippery roads, soaked with rain and trampled leaves that had been ground into a paste on these county roads. I drove not knowing where I was going, not knowing what I was searching for.  The Pinkerton album my misfitted soundtrack.

A Vacancy sign was all I needed to see, and after some time I had been seeing nothing but. Vacancy, they’d all say, the NO distinctly quiet and dark, like the woods on these roads and the rain that fell and the paste that clung to my balding tires. The I didn’t want to commit to any particular lodging option until I had driven past many of them, each one darker and dimmer and more unwelcoming than the last. After some time of this I decided that one was as good as another, and I pulled in to a small cabin that looked like a house, with a car out front and a lamp lighting the window. The pull chain light flashed Vacancy.

The older woman was kind enough, and I exchanged some money for a key and a map to the cabin that would be home for as long as I decided it should be. If it was dark on the road, and dark in front of the cabin office, then it was positively pitch but the time I found my way down the leaf soaked path to the cabin. I don’t remember if the cabin had a name, like the  Chipmunk House, or if it just had a number, like Cabin 3, or a letter, like B. I found the cabin and went inside, the rain intensifying, the darkness finding its way darker still.

It wasn’t scary in the cabin, but it wasn’t not scary, either.  It smelled like wet dust, like any cabin would smell after the first rain of spring, after a long time of sitting empty over a long, cold winter. But this was fall, not winter, and so it smelled anyway and I left my bag on the bed and drove towards town to find something to eat. The town greeted me in the same manner as the county did, in the same way as the cabin office did, in the same way that the cabin did. It was dark in town,  a few cars offering the only movement, the only thing open a small gas station with two pumps, pay inside, cash only. I bought a cardboard wrapped pizza, first estimating its size to determine if it would fit inside the narrow oven at the cabin. A two liter of pop rounded out the order. The man at the register looked at me like any man at any register has ever looked at a single traveler who appears lost and confused, whose clothes and hair were soaked from the dark rain, who looked as though he didn’t belong there.

I couldn’t just drive back to the cabin at this point, because the TV was small and the pizza would only offer a few minutes of distraction, and so I drove down to the shore to look at the water. That’s why I was there, after all, to fish for the salmon that should have been running in such great numbers that even me, a kid from another place who drove there only on a whim, with some cash and a new CD and a wobbly gunmetal gray car. I pulled up to the harbor, to look out between the swipes of the wipers, to see the water whipped and the waves crashing. There were no fishermen there. Just me, in my car with my pizza and a fishing pole. I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but this wasn’t it. This looked intimidating, unappealing, difficult. I ate the pizza on my bed and tried to ignore the wind that felt like it might knock the cabin down and bury me in a pile of dusty rubble in a county where I shouldn’t have been.

The next day, the water was high, the sky gray, the town as empty as it was the night before. I kicked some leaves down the sidewalk in town, looking like a lost tourist who showed up the day after everyone else left. The restaurants had signs, THANKS FOR ANOTHER GREAT YEAR, even though I knew they didn’t mean it.  If the year was so great there would have been some money left over to fix the awning that was tearing at both ends, mildewing so heavily that I wasn’t sure what color, exactly, the fabric was supposed to be. The river that I wanted to fish was wide and muddy. Even if there had been fish in it I wouldn’t have been able to catch them, and since I didn’t see them it didn’t make any sense to me to fish for something I wasn’t sure existed. I had missed the run and I had missed their fall, I figured, and that’s why no one was here. I shuffled through town for the remainder of that day and drove home before the night fell.  It was October and I had missed what I had driven so far to find.

Today, it’s bright and the leaves are green, except the few that are yellowing and the others that are turning to red. Mostly, it’s still summer here, even though the temperature disagrees. It’s early enough that you still have time. You won’t miss fall here if you visit this month, but if you show up later in the month I assure you the lights will still be on. We’ll still be here, because it’s Lake Geneva and we don’t look at October as the end of anything. It’s just the start of another season, and like all of the other seasons, it’s one that should find you here.

Market Timing

Market Timing

Earlier this year, I wrote an email to an owner of vacant lot. I told him should be be interested in selling, there was a likely premium awaiting him. He hadn’t bought the property too long ago, but the market had been looking for what he owned, and it was obvious to me at that time that some pent up demand had to exist. He emailed me back and said he wasn’t interested. This was earlier this year. Recently, he emailed me asking for a price for his property. I told him a number that was indeed a premium, but not as significant of a premium as I had mentioned earlier this year. He was angered by my number, and suggested that I must have forgotten what I told him only a few short months prior. In fact, I hadn’t forgotten that lofty number at all, but in the time since that quote the market had added inventory in this specific segment, and that inventory had failed to sell. The market momentum that I sensed earlier this year had been squashed under the weight of competing inventory. The time to sell was last spring, the momentum was there, the market ripe, the window missed. This is not my fault.

Sellers have a hard time with this discovery. When it comes to real estate, you can either sell when the market wants you to sell, or sell when you want to sell. There’s no other choice. If you sell when the market wants you to sell, you behave like I do- you lock a gain when you see one, and you move on to the next project. When you sell when you want to sell, you assume the market will respond kindly, because after all, you’re a seller and your house has that sweet gold faucet in the master bathroom. But the market doesn’t care about you, it doesn’t care about your faucet, and if you decide to sell when the market isn’t primed for your specific offering, you’ll flutter in the wind as you await the whim of the market to turn your way. This concept isn’t that hard: Sell when the market is good, hold when it’s bad, but don’t sell into a bad market and expect to overcome it just because your house is special. Yes, I know that in that line of ranch homes your home has an outdoor kitchen that consists of some stacked concrete blocks with a grill precariously perched in the middle.

If you’re a long term holder of real estate, then you needn’t worry about the right time or the wrong time, you just live and you enjoy the seasons and you replace the roof when the time comes. This is how most of us tend to view real estate. We view it as though we’re there forever, or for long enough that market peaks and valleys matter little to us because after a long time of ownership we’ll have enjoyed some appreciation no matter the immediate mood of the market. But this self considering view is incorrect, because most of us move every 5-7 years and if we’re timing those moves at the peak of a cycle then we’re selling high and buying high, and if we miss the peak then we’re buying low and selling low, the net gains are the same.  So if we’re going to buy and sell, shouldn’t we do so in an opportunistic manner?

The time is now to be an opportunistic seller if you’re an owner of a lakefront home with a market value in excess of $3MM. Never before has there been so much liquidity in the upper bracket of this market, and I do mean never. Sellers of homes in $3-4MM range have always enjoyed some level of active market, so their inclusion in this segment isn’t unexpected. What it unexpected is the demand over $4MM, and that demand continues with pace all the way through $8MM. Without exaggeration, several of the homes I’ve sold this year are homes that I could have sold twice. The market needn’t  have one hundred buyers in this segment to thrive, it just needs a handful and that’s exactly what it has right now.

And that brings us back to the timing of it all. Yes, conventional wisdom says to list in the spring. But conventional wisdom is wrong in this case. If you’re a lakefront owner with a property in this discussed segment, now is the time to sell. You don’t need to sell now, obviously, instead you could wait until next year when you’re more ready. But next year has its own set of unknowns and the only thing known is what the market is doing today, and today it wants to buy your expensive lakefront home. This year, three lakefront properties have closed over $3.9MM. I’ve been involved in all three of those sales. Two more sales over $5MM are pending sale right now, and those are both my listings as well. It shouldn’t need to be repeated but if you’re a lakefront seller looking to capitalize on this market, I’m your guy.


To Farm

To Farm

The tractor is more important than everything else. The barn matters some, but not so much that you’d particularly miss it if you didn’t have it. The gravel driveway needs tending to, after the first snow and the last snow, the muddy middle seasons and the heat of a potholed summer.  The tractor is green but your neighbors is red, and still the neighbor down to the east has a blue one.  Some of the tractors on the road to the south are yellow, not a sunshine yellow but a harvest yellow, almost gold, really. Each owner will tell you why the other colored tractors are inferior to theirs, but each knows that a tractor is a tractor is a tractor, so long as it’s a good one. Without the tractor there is no farm. I learned this first.

Pluck a man from the city and set him atop that tractor and watch him try to fight his smile. It’s something that cannot be done, never has been done. There’s hardly a reason to frown on a tractor, at least not when it’s your first time atop one. But by the end of a soggy September there’s not much smiling done on the tractor. The harvest is just getting underway and the beans are too moist and the corn starting to mold. The ruts from the tires muddying the county road, no matter, car drivers just wait for the next rain to wash the road clear. Then the tractor muddies a two track path again, and the dance continues until the rain stops or the mud freezes or the last bushel has been hauled down the road to the granary.

I decided long ago that I wouldn’t farm for beans, and before that I pledged that the corn wasn’t for me. I hadn’t the manpower to pick the sweetcorn, to de-tassle and to haul and to market. I hadn’t the time, and my tractor was too small to haul such a heavy load of fresh, dew-soaked sweet corn. The best crop, an old timer once said to me, was the crop that grows without being told. The crop that grows because it wants to, that’s the crop to farm. Beans grow here, but they can burn out under an unreasonably high June sun before their canopy bushes to cover their roots. And corn loves the sun and it loves the rain, but too much in May and not enough in August make for a tricky harvest. I once saw a farmer drive his tractor down to the granary, his face beaming with the pride of a full wagon. When he pulled in to be weighed and inspected, he was turned away by the man at the scale. Too wet, he said, and too small, and too starchy. Even Kellogg’s wouldn’t grind that, the man said. The farmer slowly dumped his full season of work along the margins of the road in his way home, so that he might lie to his wife.  Things were fine and that the money would last the winter.

The crop I chose was hay. We call it hay but it’s just some grass and some clover and a bit of alfalfa. If the weather is just right, I’ll cut it four times. Once in the spring, twice in the summer, and once into the fall. I get more for the spring crop, it’s sweeter, and the horses prefer it. While the farmers a ways away mortgaged to buy their combines I needed only the cutter, the rake, and a bailer. I already had the tractor. You’d think the field would dry and whither under a hot summer stretch, because the grass lawns haven’t needed cutting two weeks by then, but the fields are sturdy and they’re persistent and when the rain falls they grow and then when the sun scorches they grow. And when they grow I cut and I rake and then I bail. It’s not so much work, not so different than mowing a lawn.  This is why when I become a farmer someday I’m going to be a hay farmer. I already have the tractor.

The Business Of This

The Business Of This

This is, after all, a business. It’s not hard to think of real estate as a business. The business of the business has an office and a phone and some computers and in this, it’s just like all of the other businesses. We all understand that, the business of real estate. But it’s harder to think of Realtors themselves as businessmen and businesswomen. This is because I’m wearing jeans right now and there are some holes in them, and I’ve only discovered these slight oil spots in my t-shirt now that I’ve left my house and am at my office. These oil spots vex, because I haven’t been spilling oil on myself, nor have I been rubbing shoulders with those who might have done so. Still, jeans with holes and oily t-shirts and yet I’m at an office that appears to be functioning as a proper business. But I’m here, at this office and it’s seven something and the majority of the real estate world is still in their pajamas, sipping their coffee, cracking open their laptops on their breakfast room tables. You could argue that pajamas without oil spots are superior to t-shirts with, but that’s not the point.

In this business there are wins and there are losses. I’ve been fortunate to win a bit this year, quite a bit, really, and in that there is comfort. Not comfort that I’ll always be okay but comfort in knowing I’ve successfully pushed off failure for another year. There’s some struggle now, knowing that I must either keep producing or whither away, but there is mostly gratitude for this incredible base of clients that have chosen to trust me with their Lake Geneva maneuvering. This trust is important, in fact it’s everything, and trust placed in a guy with oil spots on his black t-shirt is a meaningful level of trust. But still, this business and this life and the facts of real estate. I continue to feel that there are misconceptions revolving around Realtors and this life, and while most of the cliches are actually true and damning, there are some things I think you should know. Consider the curtain drawn back:

When I interview with a potential seller for their potential listing, I usually want the business. In the event that I don’t get that business, and instead another agent does, I can admit to you now that I wish bad things to happen to that listing. I actively hope it doesn’t sell. I aggressively root against the success. Now, now, don’t assume that means I won’t bring in a buyer and sell that property, because I will in order to drive home the point that the seller made an egregious mistake in listing with anyone other than me, but I do wish ill for the property in general. Petty? Absolutely.  This is a confession, but it’s not unique to me. Every Realtor everywhere feels the same, and now you know.

When I push a seller to take an offer that might be lower than what the seller wants, I’m not doing that because I want to get paid. I like getting paid, as does everyone who works at any sort of job, but when I urge a seller to accept a price I do so without any particular regard for a future paycheck. I do so because for every seller that refuses an offer and then, soon thereafter, ends up getting his price, I’ve seen 500 sellers who refuse an offer and are later filled with deep regret over their missed opportunity. Do I like making commissions so that my children might be able to eat their dinners of chicken, rice and corn? Of course. But do I tell a seller to take the money and run because I’m thinking about what I’ll get out of it? Absolutely not. The business is structured in such a way that compensation only occurs in conjunction with a closing, which leaves the interests of the agents subjected to conflicted scrutiny, but I assure you that I only push a seller because I know the seller needs that buyer far more than the buyer could ever need that seller. To put it more succinctly: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Agents are not always busy. They’re not. No matter what their Facebook or Twitter feeds tell you, they aren’t always on showings when they aren’t at closings. In fact, most of them are at home. That’s why I built this office to feel like a house, so that when the middle of winter comes and with it cold and dark and snowy, I can simply stoke a fire and work without feeling the need to drive home and do the same. Most agents work from home a shocking percentage of the time. So when you call them and they’re busy, they may be napping or sipping tea or they may be binging on House Of Cards because they assume it’s about real estate. I’m hardly ever at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m working 18 hour days, either. In fact, about once every 7-10 days I’ll go fishing and take that day mostly off, even though the cadence of my cast is continually disrupted by cellular notifications. And when I take a Monday or a Tuesday off and that’s the day you call me, don’t be upset, because on Sunday when you were playing I was showing houses to someone from Palatine.

The business is far more stressful than you might imagine. That’s because the agent is the cog that seems unnecessary and overpaid, but if the agent is doing this correctly the agent is also the glue that holds a transaction together. Being the glue is stressful, and it creates significant tension for the agent.  The world loves to view agents as overpaid cheeseballs, because in fact we often are, but successful agents are often so because they feel the burden of knowing the deal rests of their shoulders, and without them, the deal would often fall apart. Bad agents know this but they don’t care, good agents know this and it causes them to wake up at 2 am because they’ve had a nightmare that your deal fell apart and it was their fault, even though it wasn’t actually their fault. Good agents are stressed agents, and I’ve often done my best work when scrambling and stressing, especially when I’ve already forgotten that I have oil spots on this shirt and I’m already late for my first appointment.

Geneva Lakes Antique Boat Show

Geneva Lakes Antique Boat Show

The thing about September is that it can rain a lot. When it rains in September that’s not welcome, no matter who you are. Had I planted those new trees in my back yard I’d be happy for the rain. But I didn’t plant those new trees because I am waiting for October, for the month when the weather should be changing and with the change, rain. The farmers are happy for rain in June even when the lakeside revelers are unhappy with it. The corn needs rain, beans, too, and so the farmers wish for and the revelers wish against. In September, the farmers crave dry weather so their crops can be harvested, and the revelers crave those last few dry days of summer so that they might swim once more. Today it’s raining and yesterday it rained and this weekend it might rain. No matter, it’s boat show weekend and shows, as we know, must go on.

Here’s the thing about the Geneva Lakes Antique and Classic Boat Show: It’s something you should do, but it’s not something you’ll necessarily love doing. It’s a cool show because it’s here and we’re here and you’ll like the boats and the scene is fun, but it really is a show about old wood boats. I love old wood boats. I always have and I always will. But old wood boats are sort of like shoes. It’s neat to have a few pairs, but if you have 200 pairs and you look at them all at once they just start to look like a bunch of shoes. There are newer shoes that look like old shoes, and there are old shoes, and there will be some shoes that you’ve never seen before. But at the end of that day, and at the end of this weekend, these shoes are our boats, and our boats are your shoes.

That’s not to say this isn’t a good weekend to be at the lake, because every weekend is a good weekend to be at the lake, but it is to say I don’t want you coming to the boat show and expecting to be remarkably entertained. There will be some music, some food, lots of boats, and trinkets of boat-related interest offered for sale. Some old guy will sit by his boat, the one that you don’t care much for, and you’ll feel somewhat obliged to walk down his small pier wing and take a look at his boat. By then you’ll have already seen a hundred or so boats, but you won’t be able to ignore this man’s boat because you know he entered the boat in the show because he loves his boat. You feel like you should too, so walk down the pier and look at his boat and nod like you appreciate what it is that he has there. This is proper boat show etiquette.

I always feel sad for certain boats in the show, those boats that travel from Minnesota or Michigan or Iowa or Ohio to be here. Those boats spend their lives toiling in some dirty-water-lake in some other state and for just one weekend a year they get to ply our waters. They get to see how the other half lives, and for these boats this weekend is everything. They’ll arrive today and some tomorrow and they’ll push into our water and they’ll frolic for a few days. They’ll float and their hull will soak in the goodness that is Geneva Lake and then, without much ado, they’ll be dragged from the lake, kicking and screaming, snorting and huffing, and they’ll be towed, against their will, back to the lake from whence they came. It’s a good weekend for us, but a sad weekend for these out of state boats.

Come up this weekend, indulge the boats and the scene. If the weather cooperates it will be a perfect lakeside weekend. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, as the forecast threatens, it’ll still be a nice weekend. What would you be doing instead, hanging out at a mall or standing in line for brunch?  Hopefully I’ll see you at the lake this weekend.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

The entry level lakefront market is a perplexing little market. On one hand, it’s obvious that a cheap lakefront on Geneva will always find an audience. This is unavoidable. On the other hand, the inventory is slight in this segment and yet there have been two entry level lakefront homes toiling under $1.4MM for much of this year and nearly for all of last. In the same segment, a new lakefront was listed last week and has since gone under contract (I’m not involved in the transaction). Not only is the new home in the same segment, it’s on the same street, and it sold without much ado even as the other two sit. This bothers me, but it proves the market absolutely loves new inventory and at the same time finds something distasteful about aged inventory, no matter what benefits the aged inventory can offer. New inventory good, old inventory bad, or so the market proves.

Last month the wide frontage on Basswood closed for $3.55MM. Lest you think this was some amazing, full depth Basswood lot, I assure you that it wasn’t as ideal as it first sounds. The property was wide at the lake, beautiful indeed, but the lot angled back to a sliver as it headed towards Basswood. Compare this to my listing on Basswood (more money, granted) that runs a complete rectangle from lake to Basswood, full of old deciduous growth. Still, the lot that sold is nice and the house could very well be renovated. I’ll be curious to see if there’s a sizable renovation there, or just a lipstick renovation, or if the structure follows the well worn path towards demolition. Time will tell.

That sale was the seventh lakefront this year to print at or over $2.75MM.  Not coincidentally, of those seven sales, I represented either buyer or seller in five of them, including the three highest priced sales of 2016. Last year at this time we had closed just four lakefronts at or over $2.75MM, so there’s little doubt that the market at the higher end has much more strength now than it did before.  As I wrote last week, what this upper bracket markets wants now is more inventory. We can’t sell what we don’t have available, and so there are buyers on the hunt and increasingly less game in the field. My large lakefront in Fontana is under contract, leaving just 11 lakefronts priced over $3MM for sale. Of those, two or three of them are in no danger of selling, perhaps ever.  The highest priced listing to grace our lakefront this year has just been reduced from $16.45MM to $14.5MM.

And that brings us back to the entry level market and the lesson of the week.  In this lower inventory environment, new inventory will always be met with excitement. Sellers who are thinking of waiting until next spring to list their lakefront home are doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of the market conditions that exist today. Why trade the relative certainty of today for the complete uncertainty of some time far into the future? The thing is, even with this low inventory environment, there are deals to be had. There are aged bits of inventory that look appealing to me, but that’s because I’m value driven and I know that just because the market hasn’t been excited by a property that doesn’t mean there isn’t value hidden under all those days on market. Below and above, my Basswood estate listing.

North Lakeshore Sells

North Lakeshore Sells

Sometimes, there’s not much to write.

There’s a seller and a buyer and they get along and they’re both honorable and they complete a transaction. Sometimes, the house is perfect, the price is accurate, the deal pure. That’s what happened with W4449 North Lakeshore Drive in Linn Township this summer. I listed this home in July, and it closed yesterday for $9,950,000 (the fully furnished number, transfer will be less). The print is wonderful for the lake, wonderful for those of us who care about proving liquidity at the high range. If you offer perfection and you present it to the market in a  way that proves the pedigree,  good things will happen. In this case, I was honored to represent the seller who trusted me with this fantastic listing.  I’m beyond grateful.

This sale puts me over $37,000,000 closed on the year. That’s a humbling total that’s nearly double my next closest “competitor”. If you’re a lakefront buyer or seller with a Geneva aim,  I’m here to help.


Walworth County

Walworth County

There’s a problem in Walworth County. It isn’t that our fields are lush and our lakes wet.  It’s not that our towns are busy and our streets are clean and our schools are new. Walworth County, in spite of all the good, has a serious problem.   Walworth County should, at its very heart, know what it is. It should know what it means. It should know why it is successful and why it is desirable. Walworth County should know it is a rural county intermixed with lakes that bring significant resort business to our towns on the weekends. Walworth County should know exactly what it is, but the problem these days is that Walworth County is suffering through a full blown identity crisis.

The South Eastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is an organization that claims to act on the best interests of the seven Wisconsin counties that fall under its jurisdiction. This is the group that put together the 2035 Plan, which reads like a developer handbook. Develop these fields, make small lots so people can pass sugar between their windows without needing to toil through the effort of outstretching their arms fully, but give those suckers (residents) the ability to walk to a community park.  Put that park near a high speed transit line, and you’ll have completed the liberal dream for these United States. Cram residents into tight corridors, reducing theoretical congestion on roadways, make it easy for the government to shuttle them to and from work, and then let them all mingle together after work at a community provided playground. This is what SEWRPC wants, and this is what it wants for Walworth County.

The problem with SEWRPC is that it applies agendas for Kenosha County and Waukesha County with the same heavy hand that it applies those concepts in Walworth County. There’s a significant difference between these counties, as one is an affluent collar county to Milwaukee (Waukesha) and one is an industrialized county (Kenosha) with immediate and easy interstate access to Milwaukee and Chicago.  Walworth County, on the other hand, doesn’t have a primary interstate bisecting it, nor does it have a high full-time population of affluent professionals. Walworth County, much to the chagrin of SEWRPC, is an affluent county due mostly to its high influx of vacation home owners and vacationing tourists, which is something that the other counties under their domain can not claim. Walworth County isn’t at all like these other counties, and yet we align with SEWRPC and we ask them to give us our development and land use goals, and then we let developers run rampant over our farm fields based on some blessing from an organization that has such amazing land-planning skills that they consider Kenosha and Walworth counties to be the same.

As I’ve written about before, SEWRPC dictates growth to our rural county, and they do so largely on population projections. The theory states that if a county is growing, it needs new, cheap housing so that the people who wish to move to the county can afford to live there. Nice concept, even if it’s ridiculous because it assumes people only move to a county if they can find a $219k vinyl ranch on a quarter-acre lot near the highway (plus playground!). Because of these population projections, SEWRPC tells Walworth County which fields are primed for development, because develop we must if we wish to thrive. How on earth will we get a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail subsidized by the Federal Government if not for mass development?  And so SEWRPC tells us of their growth plans and Walworth County, desperately wishing to please their multi-county overlords, obliges.

Earlier this week there was an article in a local paper written by Walworth County Administrator David Bretl. The article discussed population growth in Walworth County, and much to the dismay of Bretl he delivered the “bad” news. Walworth County has only grown by 365 new residents since the year 2010. Worse yet, 305 of those residents were added to Whitewater, which is about as non-Walworth County as a municipality can get. So excepting Whitewater, the entirety of Walworth County has added 60 new residents in six years.  This summer the suits at SEWRPC held open meetings wherein they pushed their newest agenda for Walworth County- the 2050 Plan. I argued against their agenda based on market factors, population growth, and demographics, but I was quickly rebuffed. Now the Administrator of our county has told us that our population growth is anemic, which might be giving it too much credit. Meanwhile, SEWPRC swung and missed wildly on their projected growth estimates for Walworth County, and yet we continue to be led by them like so many sheep.

Here’s an idea. Walworth County, remove yourself from the SEWRPC fold. Why would we agree to be under the authority of an organization that doesn’t understand us, particularly one who has proven, heretofore, to be completely and amazingly inaccurate in their predictions?  Why would we let some outside organization tell us that our county, with its mix of agriculture and tourism, isn’t up to their standard? Why on earth do we listen to these suits from Milwaukee who push their agendas for high-speed transit, when Walworth County doesn’t even have regular old fashioned transit? Why are we letting SEWRPC give us a crisis of identity? We are acting like we don’t know who we are, but we know full well who we are. We’re a rural county with recreational lakes, and that mix is what makes our county so much more attractive than the neighboring counties. Let’s remind ourselves of that, and let’s stop having SEWRPC tell us what they’d like us to be and start embracing what we already are.

Last night, another development denial  in Walworth County. The Town of Walworth board yet again told a Kane County developer that he’s not going to build a couple hundred homes on the farm fields of North Walworth Road. Another win for the people, another win for the corn and the beans, and another defeat for a Kane County developer. Why does this development keep coming back? In large part because SEWRPC shaded an area of this land in yellow ink and said it might be a good spot for future development. Who will the homes be occupied by? SEWRPC isn’t exactly sure, but growth!


Inventory Alert

Inventory Alert

What we need now is something to sell. We’ve sold it all. We had a basketful of things, some with deplorable structures, others with superlative structures, and then we’ve spent our summer working and we’ve sold them all. There’s nothing left in our basket. We wobbled for a bit in the spring, then we steadied ourselves, and now we’re standing here and it’s September and our basket is empty. The cycle is complete, the inventory spent, the basket nearly or fully empty. It’s September and it’s summer but we know it’s fall and we’re out of inventory and so we’re out of luck.

The lakefront market wants inventory. It wants it really, really bad. It wants nice 100′ lots around $2MM and it wants built homes on those lots around $4MM, and then it also wants estate type lots in the high $3s. This is what the market has wanted for quite some time, so these bits are not new nor are they exciting, even if they aren’t currently nestled inside of our basket.  But what’s rare now is that the market wants big inventory. It wants perfection and it’s ready and willing to pay for it. There was a time when if your $7MM house was beautiful and stunning, no one particularly cared. Oh, sure, your friends would comment about how terrific your house was, and your family would fawn and your neighbors would look towards your house with a jealous sneer, but when you came to market the buyers yawned. Sure, it’s a nice house, they’d say, but it doesn’t have a private elevator to the lower level craft room so what difference does it make? 

Buyers in that range have been, prior to this year, seeking perfection. On Geneva, we can offer you that perfection, but every piece of it will have some nuance that can be interpreted as a lack thereof. A beautiful home near a condominium complex. A huge lot with elevated frontage. Too many steps. Too level, too moist. The house, too white or too dark or too blue or not blue enough. Buyers will come to me with requests and a one million dollar budget, and then I’ll set their expectations towards compromise. Sadly, with a $7MM budget the same is true. Compromise has been necessary, and buyers have found reason to pause based on the slightest bit of compromise.  David, the powder room is painted green! 

Right now things are different. Perfection isn’t necessarily required. The market wants beautiful, newer homes in the $5-9MM range, and it has multiple buyers on the hunt. If you’re a seller of such a home, you’ve never found a particular abundance of liquidity. Today, you have it. I can’t say how long this bump in activity will last, but it’s likely not forever and ever. If you’re an owner of a pricey home and you’ve been thinking about selling, I can unequivocally say that now is the time. The market is ready to absorb some pricey inventory. This week, my estate listed at $9,950,000 will sell. That will give the market a print that it’s been looking for, and that should help give buyers the confidence to know that they’re not alone in their pursuit for pricey lakefront perfection.  If you’re a seller,  we’re well past the point where I need to tell you who to call for representation. It’s cute that other agents want to compete in this segment, but there’s only one guy whose worthy of your time.

That’s me. I’m that guy.

700 South Lakeshore

700 South Lakeshore

There are homes that you know. Stone Manor. You know this place. You know the Driehaus property and the Wrigley cottages. You know where the Pritzker’s live at their Casa. You know lots of houses, and you know this house, too. It’s big and it’s white and it’s by Stone Manor and if you’ve walked the shore path, well then you know it. There’s nothing wrong with knowing houses, because we all know them and we all pride ourselves on that knowledge. It’s hard for me to break this to you, but I know more houses than you. And I know this house, because I’ve been in it and I’ve seen it and it’s been for sale before. That’s why I’m not going to introduce this new listing to you today as a house that you don’t know. I’m introducing it to you as a house that you already know, but you likely don’t understand.

To be fair, I didn’t understand it either. It’s a huge house, massive, really. Too big for most, but somehow probably too small for some. The lot is big, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s just under 4 acres, with 160′ of frontage, so it’s large enough to be estate sized but not so large that you’re left wondering what to do with all that land. It’s close to town, so close you can walk there without first considering your footwear, but not so close that you hear the busy hum of the tourist choir. It’s private. Exceedingly so. Terrifically so. Yet it’s close. The sun sets in the West, this we know, and this house faces west, this we still know. The pool is lakeside, facing west, which is how a photograph like the one above can happen. The thing is, it’s not a rare picture. It’s not hard to take or hard to time. You just need spend any old evening at this house and wait for the shadows to grow long and the sun to dip over that western shore. 700 South Lakeshore doesn’t have to try very hard to be unique, it just is.

But of the house, past the gate and past the tennis court and not yet to the pool and the pier, the house. It’s a big house, big enough. It was built in 1996, and judging from my Senior Year yearbook the style in 1996 wasn’t exactly what you see today. The house is somewhat dated, with cherry where there would now be oak, and tile where there would now be marble. The thing about this house is that someone could buy it today and move in tomorrow and be remarkably happy. Or, someone could buy it today and do a surface remodel tomorrow and by next summer they’d be even happier. Would you rather remodel an old house, or a newer house? The question is as most of the questions here, not specifically meant to be answered.

This is a special property in a special location, and I know it now more than I ever did before. I know it because I spent three hours at the house last week with the videographer, making this video that you see here and watching that sun fall to the west. I sat on the covered porches, which are among the finest covered porches on this entire lake. I lounged on the poolside chairs, delighting in a pool that faces the lake in such an unavoidable way. I thought about how that walk into town is so short, so easy, and how the pier is sturdy and white and the landscaping a mirror of perfection. I thought of the gate and the tennis and the densely wooded grounds, and how the privacy was equal to the privacy I might find off some skinny drive in some middle section of Linn Township. And then I thought about this house, how I thought I knew what it was all about but that I really had no clue. It’s $6.495MM, it’s light years below replacement cost, and it’s available today as my newest lakefront estate listing.

Loramoor Sells

Loramoor Sells

It seems to me that what this lakefront market really wants is newer inventory in the $3-5MM range. There are buyers in that range seeking newer homes on reasonably nice lots, and this is what they haven’t been able to find. My sale on Lackey Lane  ($4.375MM) fit that mold. The sale last year on the hill in Fontana for $5.1MM, too. Those sorts of homes are what the market wishes for, and yet that sort of home is what we haven’t been able to offer. Inventory concerns are real, and on Geneva right now the ideal inventory is what I’m describing today.

The curious part of this hole in the inventory is that the inventory has existed, but it hasn’t been built. It’s raw land, or it’s a tear down, but it does exist and it has existed for much of the past two years. There were two sales on Sidney Smith, then a sale on Lackey (of a tear down). Then, the vacant lot in Loramoor that I sold less than two years ago came back to market earlier this year. The key to building a new house and being all-in for less than $4.5MM is in buying the dirt for around $2MM. If the dirt is more, your budget is blown before you put a shovel in the ground. If the dirt is considerably less, you don’t have the sort of property that can support that elevated target price, no matter how shiny your Wolf oven is.

This is why when a buyer asks for an entry level tear down, I question the math of it all. Yes, it’s true that you can buy an entry level tear down somewhere around $1.1MM right now. But what have you bought? Likely the answer is around 50′ of frontage. That’s nice frontage, and if you wanted to buy a tear down for $1.1MM and build a new house for $700k, that might be a good idea. But what if you’re looking to buy $1.1MM dirt and then build a $1.4MM new house (5000 square feet x $300ish/ft)? Then you’ll be $2.5MM into a 50′ lakefront lot and again, I’m not concerned about how terrific your kitchen island is because that price doesn’t make much sense. The investment was a bad idea before it started.

That’s why the market has a sweet spot, that of a $2MM type lakefront lot possessing around 100′ of frontage, and on top of that it’s reasonable to build a $2MM or so new home. The market, with the sale on Lackey and the sale on the cliff in Fontana, has proven it can absorb new construction of a higher level in the $4-5MM range. With this known, if you’re a buying in the $4 range why wouldn’t you just build a new house? The answer is confounding, usually related to a distaste for the building process, or perhaps a lack of patience to wait the 10-16 months to have a build completed.  The thing buyers forget is that the house they’ll end up with for $4something will be exactly and precisely the home they wanted all along. There’s a wait involved, sure, but the outcome is individualized perfection that the market also appreciates.

Last Friday I closed on the Loramoor lot that I brought to market earlier this year. The seller had great hopes for that property, but life changed and focus shifted. That shift allowed a new buyer, a young family with eyes set on the lakefront, to find their way to the parcel that will hopefully be their lake home for decades or generations to come.  They paid $2.075MM for 110′ of frontage and 1.43 acres, and that’s something that will always make sense on this lake. The trick now will be to keep the all-in budget in that $4MM range, and once that happens the buyer will end up in a home that the market simply couldn’t offer. Want to find that $4MM new construction on Geneva? Then it’s time to get a bit dirty and build it.

Abbey Springs Market Update

Abbey Springs Market Update

There’s a truth we need to agree on this morning. Abbey Springs is nice. That’s a truth. Abbey Springs has a golf course, another truth. I have hit many Abbey Springs houses with golf balls that were launched off of a club face under my “control”, super truthful. Also, the Abbey Springs beach on a sunny holiday weekend is less a beach and more a flesh blanket. It’s a flesh blanket. Mind if I lay my head on your stomach, because I can’t find any open spot of sand? Flesh. Blanket.

But this is unfair, because it’s a nice flesh blanket and it’s the only association of its kind that has a beach at all. It’s a miniature Geneva National but instead of being located on Lake Como, it’s located on our Geneva Lake. It’s also just 592 units in size, which makes it enormous but still about one third the size of Geneva National. In this size difference there is a key to the market. Instead of needing to print 60-100 sales per year to keep pace with market demands, Abbey Springs can leisurely print 18-25 sales per year and everything will be fine. Smaller associations are like that, and Abbey Springs has both a holiday beach draped in a flesh blanket and a really solid market. Let’s talk more about the market.

Last year at this time there had been 14 closings in Abbey Springs, with just one of those sales printing over $500k. This year Abbey Springs has closed 28 total sales with five over $500k, including two over $800k.  With that you know this: Abbey Springs is having itself an absolutely terrific year. The condominiums are selling, the houses are selling, the beach has a blanket of flesh and the golf balls are knocking roofs. The grounds are well maintained and the ghosts of large past special assessments all but forgotten. Abbey Springs might be having the best year of any individual association around this lake, and that’s a really good thing.

But the market isn’t without holes. There are issues here, chiefly the market’s relative difficulty in printing sales over $700k. Yes, this year there have been two over $800k, but look back and consider since 2010 there have been just 9 single family sales over $700k in Abbey Springs. That’s a little more than one per year, and that’s not terrific.  There are loads of Abbey Springs homes valued over $700k. Lots and lots of them. Yet the market still has a hard time absorbing that nicer inventory. For an association as strong as Abbey Springs, with the indulgent amenities, I’d expect a stronger market over that price point. For context, Geneva National offers bigger and better homes for the money, but GN has printed 15 sales over $700k since 2010, so GN has finally beat Abbey Springs at something.

I have plenty of buyers who contact me in search of some nice single family home in Abbey Springs priced around $500k. This is hard for me to say, but Abbey Springs around $500k in a single family home situation doesn’t offer much. It’ll give you a reasonably decent house that needs updating. If you’re looking to spend $500k and you want a Viking stove, better check elsewhere. This does create a market for the buyer who wishes to improve a built home, as nice homes with elevated, newer finishes in Abbey Springs generally start at that $700k mark and run upward from there. Looking to create value in Abbey Springs? Buy an older house and fix it up. You know, like they do on TV.

I’ll be working this holiday weekend, so if you find yourself at the lake and in need of some advice, fire away. Unless you want to call me at 11 am Sunday morning and you’re hoping to see seven homes at noon, then don’t call me. Just email me and we’ll see what happens. Have a terrific weekend at the lake.

Walworth County Fair

There are very few reasons to ever go to Elkhorn. Even Elkhorn knows this. As a child, I never went to Elkhorn. As an adult, I go even less. It’s a town I usually skirt around, whether it’s when traveling from Williams Bay to the Milwaukee area, or if I’m traveling from Williams Bay to the Kettle Moraine area. No matter the cost, I tend to make a path that avoids Elkhorn. I have nothing against Elkhorn, it’s just that it’s Elkhorn and I’m from Williams Bay and if you grew up in Williams Bay you’d feel the same way. Elkhorn, mostly good for absolutely nothing.

But this is unfair, because there are a few reasons to visit Elkhorn. One of those reasons starts today: The Walworth County Fair. I went to this fair a few times when I was a kid, but a few times might be too generous. Maybe twice. As a full blown adult, I’ve gone approximately the same number of times. The fair smells of farm animals and it’s usually hot and always humid and when farm animals are doused in heat and washed in humidity, things smell less than ideal. They smell like your favorite inland lake, assuming your favorite inland lake is not Geneva Lake, which, if that were the case, it seems odd that you’d be reading this blog, unless you thrive on public scorn.

The fair starts today and it’s a good thing. It might smell a bit, and I might not go, but it’s still fun and it’s still a fair and if you’ve ever felt fondness towards any fair in any town, then this fair in this town will be worth attending. The fair organizers have high hopes that this year will be the first year since 2010 that the effort breaks even, but that’s not going to be the case if you stay at home like I will. So you should go to the fair this weekend, this Labor Day Weekend, and enjoy it. Eat some fried things and enjoy yourself. Let me know how it goes.

Later in September you’ll find another reason to visit Elkhorn, so if you miss this weekend don’t feel too terrible about it. Four times a year the fairgrounds host a massive flea market. It’s not just sort of a huge flea market, it’s the world’s largest flea market (not really). It’s huge and it’s fun and the people from Camp Wandawega will be there before you and they’ll buy all the cool stuffed raccoons and wool blankets, but still, there will be some items for you to buy. Like old water skis made of wood, people love those. Also there will be old brackets from old houses, people also love those. And there will be miscellaneous bits of old fishing equipment, and someone will have a Zebco rod and reel combo, purchased from Prange Way in 1987 and it’ll be in the original packaging.

This flea market is September 25th, and you should seriously go. I might be there, but only if my wife makes me go. If she goes without me, I’ll ask her politely to only spend $100, or maybe I’ll say $60, I can’t be sure. Then she’ll scoff as if you can buy anything at an antique flea market for less than that, even though I’ve been there and I know the Zebco set is only $15, OBO.

Luxury Markets

Luxury Markets

If you bought a mountain home in Aspen last year, I don’t quite know what to say. Aspen seems nice, though I’ve never been, and I admit that most of my knowledge of the town comes from a 1990s movie starring Lloyd and Harry. The market in Aspen, according to numerous news stories I’ve read over recent weeks, is not so good. Brokers are on record saying “They’ve never seen anything like this”. Generally, whether coming from a doctor or a Realtor, this is not welcome news. The market in Aspen has paused after a tremendous and breathtaking run with YTD volume off more than 40% from YTD 2015. Over the last decade buyers flooded in from all parts of the world to snag their own craggy piece of mountainside, but recently these affluent buyers appear to have vanished into thin air (altitude joke).

In East Hampton, which I presume to be East of Hampton, which is to the East of West Hampton, things are similarly bleak. Volume is off 53% YTD, and no one in the media is quite sure as to the cause. Is it stock market jitters? New regulations on off-shore money laundering? Zika? The collapse of many South American economies? No one is sure. One article I’ve read does mention the lack of inventory as being a contributing factor, but that’s quickly brushed aside before returning to theories about the petrodollar.

Uber-Expensive condominiums in Miami are off this year as well, with volume down more than 40% for condos priced over $1MM. This isn’t terrific news, and the same worries abound. Zika? Brazil? Knowledge that Miami is awful and filled with disgusting things?  Aspen, East Hampton, Miami, all off their game, all struggling to find volume. While I sit here in the comforts of my Midwestern office, there’s one obvious question to ask: Is Lake Geneva next?

YTD lakefront sales are outpacing YTD 2015 by a single sale, with 14 lakefront sales printing so far this year versus 13 for the year prior. There are three more lakefront sales pending, four if you count one private one, meaning we’ll be on track for a solid volume year. In that, we have already fared better than these other luxe markets. But does that mean we’re in the clear? Does it mean that Lake Geneva is impervious to jitters? If you were with me for the 2008-2013 cycle, you know that we’re not impervious to anything, except leaches. We don’t do leaches here.  We can get the jitters just like any high end vacation home destination, but there are a few things that insulate Lake Geneva better than most other high end vacation home markets in these United States.

For starters, we don’t have any dependency on the foreign buyer. This matters. It matters a whole lot. Aspen, riddled with foreign buyers. Hamptons, same. Miami, obviously. The thing about foreign buyers is that they’re not close to any of our markets, so each market competes for this same group of buyers. Sure there are tendencies for certain foreigners to gravitate towards certain markets, but for the most part a Russian buyer may be as likely to buy in Manhattan as in Miami as in Aspen as in Deer Valley. With no geographic constraints, a foreign buyer can buy anywhere. Lake Geneva, in comparison, requires buyers who live within 2 hours of our shores, of which, as no small coincidence, there are about 10 million people. Our market is small but our potential audience is huge. This matters.

In that lies the next point- the size of our market. Aspen is a two billion dollar per year real estate market. Lake Geneva, as it relates to the lakefront itself, is a $50-80MM per year market. We’re tiny in comparison. In fact, we need just 16-26 sales per year to keep this market operating as it should.  We don’t need some massive influx of new buyers to consume all of our new inventory, and that’s because we don’t really have any new inventory. New developments on the lake in the last 20 years  include the South Shore Club, and the South Shore Club. Also, the South Shore Club. We don’t do development here, so we don’t need to keep growing our buyer base. We just need to keep operating as an exclusive enclave that appeals to the well-to-do of Chicago.

We don’t have Zika here.

We do have Wall Street jitters, and our market is somewhat dependent on the health of the significant hedge fund industry in Chicago. Along those lines, I do see one concern for Lake Geneva moving forward. If the city of Chicago itself chooses to continue to tax its residents into submission, and if crime makes its way into or near the affluent sections of the city, Lake Geneva will inevitably suffer. My theory says that city dwellers are more likely to buy vacation homes when compared to similarly wealthy suburban residents. If you live in Lincoln Park, you better have a Lake Geneva lake house, this is obvious. But if you live in Lake Forest, you’re more likely to convince yourself that a country club will make up for a lack of a lake house. I need the affluent to continue the trend of living in the city because if that trend falters, Lake Geneva may lose a few buyers annually, and that’s not good for anyone.

Is Lake Geneva immune to the macro issues that can affect and afflict all luxury markets? Of course not. Do we have a leg up on our better known brethren because we don’t need a steady and uninterrupted influx of foreign buyers to keep our market moving forward? Most obviously, yes.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I think we know each other well enough that we can cut through all the nuance. It’s time we had an honest discussion about me, about you, and about what it is that we’re doing here. I’m here because I get to be, because I have to be, but because I want to be. I’m here for those reasons, and many more. I’m here because it’s what I know, it’s what I love, and it’s what I prefer. I like this place more than the other places. I’m here because I’ve always been here. But this isn’t about me, so in that, I’ve lied to you. This isn’t the first time I’ve lied to you, I’ve lied before. Like once when I said I was going on vacation for a week but I was really only gone for 48 hours because I’m a slave to this keyboard, to this desk, indeed to this place.  I apologize for the lies.

But why should I? Because this isn’t, as I’ve already mentioned, about me, it’s about you. It’s about August 26th and how late this is. It’s about the end of summer, because we all know what I’ve said a trillion times: September is still summer. Ah, but that’s another lie, because it isn’t. September is fall because when kids go back to school and the first fallen leaves get ground into the city sidewalks, that’s fall. It might feel like summer if you let it, but that’s the sensory part of September, not the emotional part. In fact, summer isn’t going to last through September, it isn’t going to appear sometime in October, for some of it or most of it or maybe none of it, because summer is already over. It’s August 26th and it’s not summer anymore. Anything I’ve ever said to the contrary is a lie.

I can tell it isn’t summer because my kids went swimming yesterday and so did my wife, with her ridiculous goggles, and then I played golf and I was sweating because it was still hot.  The sun was high, the haze summer-like, and when it was all said and done I thought that it was a nice summer day. But it isn’t summer anymore. The town was busy and the cars were everywhere, but they weren’t everywhere like they were two weeks ago, they were just some of the places that they were before. The lake was busy, but no it wasn’t, not at all. There were some boats, but hardly any. Lots, sure, but few when compared with before. The lake was quiet the town was empty and the sun was high and the water was warm but it was fall and not summer.

The leaves are green, which looks like summer, just like summer. Except now the leaves are dull, they’re dying. They look fine but they’re dying. Like me and like you, we might look fine, but we’re dying. All of us, dying. Just like the leaves and just like the empty stalls in front of the ice cream shops and just like the clothes rack at your local back-to-school-shopping-place, withering and emptying because it’s not at all summer, it’s fall. The dull leaves are dropping, they’re dropping because they’re dying and they’re dying because it’s not the middle of summer, it’s fall.  My cone flowers in front of this office window are beautiful, but that’s only if you look quickly. Look more closely and some are already dead, drying and offering up their seeds to the wrens and the other yellow birds that pick and pluck and leave the seed casings on my sidewalk. The squirrels are running across that sidewalk now, cheeks stuffed full to overflowing, because they know it’s fall and winter comes next and if they don’t pack enough nuts into their nests they’ll be like us and our leaves, dying.

So here we are, on this day when I finally admit to you what I know to be true. It’s August and it’s already fall. It feels of summer on my skin, but I’m far past the point in my life where I judge things based solely on how they feel. I imagine a skunk has soft fur. Delightfully soft fur. But I know that I won’t ever pet one, because my brain is smarter than my fingers. It feels like summer and I’m going to sweat today like it’s summer, but my brain knows what my eyes have seen. It’s fall, and it’s too late. If you were planning on doing something meaningful this summer you’ve already blown it. But Labor Day Weekend! Labor Day Weekend is for rookies.

It feels good to admit my lies to you. I no longer feel bound by them, I know longer feel that I need to tell you it’s still summer because we’re already agreed that it isn’t. The kids are in school and the ones that aren’t will soon be. You can swim off a pier this weekend and it’ll feel like summer, but when you dry off and sit on the pier you’ll look around and no longer view summer as something that’s happening around you, you’ll view it as something you were happy to have participated in. Unless you spent the summer in the city or the suburbs, busily tending to a summer of pools and shopping malls, then we all know the biggest lie today is the one you keep telling yourself: You had a great summer. No you didn’t, you blew it, and now it’s too late to fix your mistake.

South Shore Club Sale

South Shore Club Sale

Last month I listed a home in the South Shore Club. This month, I sold that home in the South Shore Club.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it kind of is. Imagine the South Shore Club of before, of pre-2012. It was a nice place, with boats and green lawns and that pool and a tennis court. It was a beautiful place back then, just as it is today. But back then the market was struggling with the concept, struggling with the idea that something off the lake with so many vacant lots could ever find its place in this lakefront scene. In spite of finished roads and amenities, in spite of fanciful built homes and happy owners, there was a dilemma: Would this place ever hold its own?

The answer, admittedly, was not then known. It couldn’t be known. There were too many vacant lots, too few sales, too much uncertainty. Would the developer go bankrupt? Of course not, but the question was still asked.  In 2012, these question that was the South Shore Club started to find answers. The lots were selling, the houses, too. Inventory was shrinking,  distressed owners were leaving. When I took over the marketing of the SSC it was an uncertain place, but by the end of 2015, when the last bit of old inventory was cleared and the last lot sold, it was obvious that the South Shore Club was on solid ground. Market acceptance is a wonderful thing.

This summer, the first real test. New inventory, new pricing, new product. Would the SSC absorb this quickly, or would the development stall at its first opportunity to show that it has indeed turned the corner? When I listed this home on Lakeside Lane in July, no one was more interested in the answer than I was. Yesterday, that home closed for $2.75MM, and that answered the question. The South Shore Club makes sense, the market understands it, and the woes of prior years are squarely in our rear view mirror. For the South Shore Club, no two sales have ever mattered more than the first sale of 2012 for $3.575MM and the first sale of 2016 for $2.75MM. The 2012 sale kickstarted a nervous market, and the 2016 sale proved that the SSC can compete with lakefront homes for the attention of new buyers.

I was pleased to have represented this seller, and am grateful for the opportunity to continue the momentum that the South Shore Club has worked so hard to gain. I’m always happy for these sales, but some do mean more than others. This sale doesn’t mean more to me than the sales that have come before and the sales that will follow, but to the South Shore Club this sale means the world. If you’re interested in being part of the South Shore Club scene, my vacant lot offering on Forest Hill listed at $598k is your best bet.

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

The first foreclosure I bought was in 2009. January of 2009, to be exact. The home was ugly, the property decent, the list price somewhere around $249k. In January of 2009 there was some sense that the market was bad, but what wasn’t clear yet was just how bad it would get. I bought, perhaps premature in the downward cycle, but I bought because I needed a place to live and had recently sold my primary home in Geneva National. As a broker who writes about vacation homes only, and as an audience that seeks info on vacation homes only, it’s sometimes forgotten that people buy homes primarily so they have a place to live. I admit I tend to think people buy homes so they have a pier to swim from. Anyway, I bought that house, that foreclosure, and I fixed it up.

I bought that home for $177k, put about $60k into a remodel, and sold it for $274k in the summer of 2012.  Had I bought that home in 2011, and sold it in 2014, the gain would have likely been far more significant, due to the lower purchase price and the higher sale price.  Prior to that property, this was the first foreclosure (REO) I had ever bought. Since that property, I have not bought any others. It’s strange to me to think about that, and I wonder why I didn’t buy more real estate when things were bad.  The only answer I can come up with is that I wasn’t interested in the project, because foreclosures here tend to be projects. I love projects, but I tend to only love the next one once I’ve forgotten about the tribulations of the last one.

Even though I haven’t indulged the REO, I have a tendency to watch for these bank owned listings. When one comes to market, usually by one of the brokers that specializes in that sort of thing (I have listed and sold three lakefront foreclosures, but never anything off-water), I pay attention. I look at the details. I look at the pictures. I find myself contemplating the idea. I wrote an offer on a foreclosure last year, a personal offer, and then when the bank didn’t negotiate, neither did I.  Last week, another foreclosure came to market, this one in Fontana, and cheap. I thought about it. I thought I should make an offer. It would need to be strong, at ask or better, and I thought about the possibilities for a while. A few minutes later I decided that it wasn’t for me, and I let the feeling pass.

But this is what foreclosures do, they incite a buying public to action, because even after seven years of seeing foreclosures with some frequency we have something programmed deep inside that assumes a distressed sale is a value. It’s a steal.  When the market was in rough shape, I’d receive emails often wherein the sender asked me about lakefront foreclosures. They were interested, they’d say. Foreclosures, foreclosures, foreclosures. I’d always respond with the same suggestion. What if I can find you a better deal on a better property that’s not a foreclosure? This was typically the end of the email exchange, because for many a foreclosure was the opportunity they wanted even though value was what they purported to be seeking.

Today, foreclosures are not so exciting. They exist, but in small quantities. Some of the foreclosure action around the lake is the same stuff we’ve been talking about for years. The Loramoor lakefront is supposedly foreclosed on and re-sold already, but I don’t know the exact details. The short sale in Williams Bay that’s been for sale for years is scheduled for another sheriff’s sale. There’s a sheriff’s sale pending over by the Lake Geneva Country Club. Another one in Country Club Estates brewing, and one in Country Club Estates that’s available as REO. There’s the large lakefront estate that remains under IRS control, and perhaps that sale will someday occur via public auction. But for now, for the rest of us, the reminder today is simple. Distressed sales do not always mean value, even though we’re programmed to believe that they do. Better value is found in properties that are merely aged on the market, as those are the deals we should be seeking. If one happens to be a foreclosure, so be it.



There’s a front to the north and it’s high and it’s deep and it’s dark and it’s nearly here. I can see it from this window, and I saw it from my car window on the way to this window. I saw it from my house. It’s dark and it’s gray and it’s smooth. It starts in the West and it lasts through the East. The North, that’s where it mostly is. There’s no wind yet, but soon there will be. It’ll push and it’ll bend and when it’s here you’ll know it.  Cars drive by, but they’re driving faster than yesterday. Faster than they will tomorrow. They’re driving with their lights on, to somewhere, to a garage or an underpass or the faux safety of a roadside ditch. The storm is coming.

It’s dark now and I can hear the rain hitting the top of the metal chimney that carries the winter smoke from my office fireplace. The wind is blowing. And the cars are driving, faster still. It’s a summer storm, and if it’s like the scant few other summer storms we’ve dealt with it’ll be here and then it’ll be gone, and the old men of the world will look at their rain gauge and tell us it rained a half an inch. Maybe more, maybe less. It’s raining now, but barely. I don’t think we’ll get to a half an inch, maybe a quarter, but I haven’t a rain gauge because the woman at the hardware store told me that I’m not yet old enough to buy one. That I could have someone older purchase one for me, but that’s the best I could do.

It’s still darker to the north but it isn’t raining anymore. Those were just a few drops, not really rain. To rain is to pitter and to patter and to last for more than just a bit. We’ve had bits of rain this summer, full on deluges at times, but what we haven’t had is a day off. A day of dark and rain, a day where it seems completely fine to sit in front of a computer screen and not find distraction out each window. We haven’t had those days during this summer of sun, and how I’ve missed them. A reset is what they offer, and a reset is what we haven’t received.

When storms come, they rarely last. They build and they twist and they look like they’re going to deliver a knock out blow, but they hardly ever do. Instead they just come and they shake and they make a mess of the lawn with early fall leaves that have no business falling in August, but fall they do. The wind is dying now. The sky is brightening. The thunder sounds more distant. The cars are still racing with their lights on but I think they might always drive like that. The edge of the storm isn’t smooth anymore, it’s rough and it’s jagged and it looks like it’s lost most of its push. This isn’t a storm at all. This isn’t a rainy day at all, it’s just a day with some rain.


Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It’s getting late. The greens are no longer bright. The grass is beginning to fade. The corn is drying as it should, first at the bottom and then, slowly, eventually, all the way to the top. The beans will start turning soon, from green to gold. Vast fields of gold. The lake is warm now, as it has been all summer, but it’s really warm now. This is peak summer, and much like peak anything, it can’t last forever. Soon the kids will walk past this office on their way to school, solemnly marching up this hill on their way to learn something. Today they’ll ride their bikes down the hill, down to the beach and to the ice cream shops. Today it’s still summer, but everyone can hear then ticking of the clock and it sounds like nothing but inevitability.

Sellers hear this clock, too, and they’re anxious. The August lull is here. It starts right about now, and it lasts a month, maybe a bit more, sometimes a bit less. It’s the back to school pause. The first two weeks of August are prime vacation weeks, and so the lake is full and the kids are smiling and the boats are gassed. The last two weeks of August are prime school return and school prep weeks, which is to say that they’re terrible but necessary. The market here will pause while this reorientation occurs, but once the kids are settled at their various schools near and far, the parents will look around and realize that September might sound like fall, but it still looks like summer. By the middle of September the market will spark once again, but not until sellers feel the uncomfortable weight of winter on their shoulders and consider reducing their price just one more time.

And this is the issue today, sellers who have been sellers for longer than they’d like are faced with doing something, with doing anything. The price reductions of fall have already begun, but they’ll accelerate over the coming two weeks. That’s because it’s Beverly Hills that sells houses by rolling out red carpets and hiring mermaids to swim in pools, and it’s the Midwest that sells houses by offering those houses at better prices. We’re sensible here. But in the fall reduction cycle there is opportunity for both buyers and sellers. Buyers know the market will slow over the coming months, and they know what I’ve just written: some sellers really do want to sell. But this situation also creates opportunity for new sellers. At this point in the season the aged inventory is just that- aged. It’s picked over and dismissed for one reason or many others. New inventory is always sexy, and fall is prime time for new inventory to come to market and in doing so, quench the thirst of desperate buyers.

The market has been moving this month, with new sales aplenty. I have a deal on my vacant lakefront lot in Loramoor, as a buyer recognized just how nice 110′ of level frontage backed by 1.43 acres of rolling land just is. That deal will close this fall. There’s another fresh deal on the finest listing that I’ve ever been tapped to represent. My wondrous estate on Pebble Point that I listed in July for $9,950,000 is pending sale to an excited new buyer. This sale will be the highest sale since the Pritzker family purchased Casa Del Sueno several years ago. This sale will also show the market that there are buyers over $8MM if, and I mean to write IF, the house and property are befitting the asking price. This should bring new hope to the multitude of owners who are currently $8-12MM deep into the newer builds of the past decade. While Geneva is still primarily a $2-4MM market, the new norm may very well become fewer but higher sales, as the $5-10MM range proves it has buyers.

For now, sellers of aged inventory should be looking at their position in the market and considering reductions. I just reduced my lakefront on Marianne Terrace from $2.475MM to $2.195MM, as a seller recognized the market context of his home. More sellers will follow suit in the coming weeks. New sellers would be keen to list soon, to take advantage of the limited inventory and considerable buyer traffic. And buyers would do well to consider all of the above. Pick off the aged inventory for value, and quickly focus on the exciting new inventory as there will be a handful of properties whose owners wanted to have just one more summer at the lake.



The vacation is over. It wasn’t all week, it was just two days. Maybe three, if you count the last day. There were fish caught and steaks eaten. Devoured, really. When you fish all day and then you grill steaks at 11 pm over an open flame, there’s little decorum left once the temperature reaches medium. The weekend was for celebrating, 50 years of tolerable marriage between my mother and father, which is nice. And now, Monday morning, the guests have left and life has returned to normal. I love my normal life.

My children are young, but they’re becoming less so. My son is 13 and my daughter is 10, and they are growing and aging,  but it’s different from the way that I’m growing and aging. This morning, over the last breakfast, there was mention of my children and how they should be traveling. They should come to Colorado, the guests said, where there are mountains. There is fly fishing in those mountains, rocky creeks with huge trout. My son should experience that, because he needs to. He should travel, see the world, gain experiences. He should go to that place where my daughter can shop with her aunt, and my son can fish with his uncle. If only they’d go there, then they’d know just how great that other place really is.

But now that talk is over, because now they’re gone and we’re still here. We’re here because we love it here, because Wisconsin isn’t a place you end up on accident. It’s a place you get live if you’re lucky.

To Vacation

To Vacation

I have now, rather unfortunately, decided that I don’t know what it would be like to take a vacation. I don’t understand the concept, not in the least. In the other world, the corporate world with secretaries and board rooms and parking garages, I wonder what a vacation from that is like. Is it fun? Does it even exist? Or is it as I suspect, a constant juggle of work obligations and family pressures, even though the email response is set to vacation mode. I’m on vacation, it’ll say, but it won’t mean that. Because people have already sent the email by the time they receive the response, and then you’ve already read the email while pretending to be on vacation. Your response to their inquiry is unavoidable. This is vacation today, and it’s downright terrible.

Vacation from real estate business would be easy if one had no business to worry about. If an agent who seldom sells wishes to go away, that’s no big deal. Go away, and no one will care. But when you’re in the middle of deals at all times of all months, of all years, how does a vacation occur? Is it a vacation if you just take work and do it from another location? If that location has unreliable cell service and only a bit of internet access, is the vacation truly a vacation or is it a place where you have to struggle more even while accomplishing less? Why must we always be accomplishing something? When do we get to go somewhere for a bit and ignore all the rest?

I don’t think there is such a thing as a vacation anymore. I think there are moments, brief windows where we can rest, but in real estate that doesn’t mean a Sunday night and it doesn’t mean a Monday morning and so I’m left wondering what it does mean. Or do we just work and work and then when we’ve decided that we can’t work anymore, either through fatigue of a mental or a physical nature, we then just give up and retire. We don’t have enough money to do that, but do that we must. This is why people move to Alaska and build log cabins with their bare hands and then end up eaten by a hungry grizzly bear. At least they died doing what they loved, not working.

There is no vacation anymore, but a friend of mine was in California last week and he sent photos of hipster coffee shops and of a big red suspension bridge. How was he on this vacation? Does he know something I don’t know? He seemed to be enjoying himself, but if I were driving in that car on that big red bridge I’d be texting and driving and my wife would yell at me for that and then what difference would it make if I were on that bridge or on Highway 50 passing Pesche’s? Another friend is off to another state this week, his whole family in tow. I don’t think he’ll get to ignore his work responsibilities while he’s there, but he has people who work for him so he can tell those people what to do and hopefully they’ll do it. If I’m going away, there’s no one to tell things to. There’s no one who can do these things I do, and it’s not because they’re hard. It’s just because the explanation of the status and of the process is more difficult than taking phone calls all day while in some other place. It’s just easier to keep working.

So this week, I’ll be gone for two days. 48 hours, give or take. It’ll be a vacation, but it won’t be. I’ll just be somewhere else with a phone and a computer and I’ll be trying to do something else but I’ll just be there working. In that, I suppose is the value of a lake house. Grind out the work week and then try to recharge during the weekend. It’s just that in real estate there is no grind during the week and rest on the weekend, there’s mostly grind during the week and grind on the weekend, but sometimes you get to go superjetting at 3 on a Tuesday afternoon because the sun is high and the water 80, and I suppose in that there is a rare reward. Summer is fleeting, take off work. Come up here, do your work from a white pier or a floating boat. Just do something different because we deserve it. We work too much, and it’s only getting worse.  I think I deserve it, and so I’ll see you in a few days,  after I’m done fishing small streams with a Helios in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Eternal Summer

Eternal Summer

In the middle of my living room is a large fireplace. It’s made of bricks and stone, mortar and sweat. Next to the fireplace there’s a basket of sorts, a large wooden container that spiders like to web behind, between the stone and the wood. In the container is the cut and split wood, the firewood. It’s oak and maple and sometimes ash. Increasingly, ash. Opposite the wood is the axe. It’s a handsome axe, a big axe, and it’s worn and dented and scratched. I see this fireplace and this pile of wood and these spider webs and that axe every single day. I see these items in the morning and again at night. In time, my dear fire friends, in time.

And that time will come, but it won’t be here soon. It’ll be here in October, late October, on that first Saturday when the sky turns dull and dark, when the rain spits and a lonesome walker can see her breath outside for the first time since April. On that day, the wood will be stacked in the stone fireplace, a match will be lit, and the fireplace will crackle and roar to life. Then the process will repeat, not during an Indian Summer, but during the later months, those cold November afternoons and the still snow of early December. The fireplace for now is decoration, but then it will be for heat, for moods and for satisfaction and for passing the time.

It’s been summer for a while now. Summer blossomed in May and then it stuck during June, then July and now August, too. June wasn’t like June, and July was like July. August, well for a while it’s been feeling like too much. How many times can I sweat through a Wednesday shirt before I say that it’s all too much? The summer has been here and the summer will stay here, and for the rest of August we’ll sweat and then we’ll swim and then we’ll swim and soon after we’ll sweat. September will be the same. The summer that came early will stay late, and we’ll all be happy for it and yet, deep down inside, we’ll all think a little about football and a little about leaves and a little about how nice it will be to wear jeans without feeling suffocated by the denim.

This is what it’s like to live here. To live in this place where our summer is summer and our fall is fall and when winter comes, it’ll be winter. Imagine a life where summer was summer and fall was summer and winter was summer. Spring? Summer. The excitement of it all would be lost on us then, when we wish for the days when 98 might be 82, so we can wear our light jacket to dinner. What a boring life it would be to live where the seasons are the same. The people who live like that tell us how great it is. They mock our winter. You have a little something on your hat, and on your boots, they say. They’ll think they’re being funny, that they’re better than us because their sunburn is the same in December as it is in June.

I lived for a while where I thought that might be nice, to ignore winter and spend the season in some other summer. But today, in the middle of a most righteous summer I think of how much I love the sun and the waves and the breeze in the trees, but I also love my fireplace, and that stack of wood.


Above, “Sweet Wheat” by Kristen Westlake