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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With over $18MM in sales in 2013 and over $80MM in sales over the past 46 months, that goal is well within reach.

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






  • A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.

    ~William Wordsworth

  • How can I help?

    Email David Curry
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Zillow/Trulia Merger

Jul 30, 2014 by DC | Add comment
The headline was sensational, the subject near and dear to my cold heart: Zillow Aquires Trulia; Let The Real Estate Hunger Games Begin. So, Zillow and Trulia are on the path to become one. This is so incredibly romantic, I'd cry except that I know what the merger will mean: Nothing.

There is rampant speculation that this deal will mean trouble for so called "traditional" brokers. Some of the argument supposes that if these two online behemoths own the inventory, they can control the transactions. The easily convinced people who do not sell real estate but, instead, write online articles for a living, think that this means possible transaction fees for Realtors, with would potentially disrupt the entire home buying process, and the traditional real estate sales model that has existed since Esau sold his dad's house quickly, before proper title could be pulled, will be a thing of the past.

Now, it is true that Zillow is a big name in real estate. Zillow posts values, without a single ounce of accountability, and they post them online for the world to see. Without licensing issues and ethics to follow, Zillow can indeed disrupt the real estate model of being accountable to one party or the other. While I have to work with a buyer or a seller, or both, and make sure that my opinions are proven correct over time before I will gain the trust of that consumer, Zillow gets to activate their algorithms and assign value to homes that it has never seen, will never see, and has no interest in. In theory, this makes them an objective bystander, but in practice it makes them an ignorant interjector, unnecessary and irrelevant.

But that's how I see them, because I know they know nothing, and I also know that the consumer sees them differently. This is why people tell me that a $2MM house cannot possibly be worth $2MM, because Zillow has it's Zestimate at $1.6MM. Do you know why Zillow has that Zestimate at $1.6MM? Because they don't know the house. Sure, they know that the house next door sold for $1.6MM last year, and that the subject house has an assessed value of $1.6MM for tax purposes. But Zillow doesn't know that buyers love that sort of house here, and that the frontage on the $2MM house is 101', and the frontage on the neighbor's house is 93'. Zillow doesn't know that the extra 8' allows for a two-slip pier, and Zillow doesn't know that the only thing Lake Geneva owners like more than one boat is two. Zillow doesn't know these things because Zillow is a robot, and nuance is lost on robots.

Still, there are excitable sorts out there that think this spells doom for the traditional brokerage. This is such a common refrain that a bunch of really smart, really rich guys in San Francisco just raised a whole bunch of their own money to start an online home buying website/app called OpenDoor. Never mind that there's a broker in Massachusetts who operates under that name, and never mind that the broker in Massachusetts should probably start a suite against the San Francisco fellas on account of having their name stolen. The real magic here is that these smart, rich guys are going to disrupt the real estate model. In fact, they say they're going to take the traditional 90 day home buying process and simplify it down to a few clicks. Voila!

I, too, would like to make the home buying process this simple. I, unlike them, know it won't work, but I applaud their money-infused naivete. They say that the model will work in San Francisco, because in that town all one does is list their home and within 7 days it sells. I like the sound of that, and they do, too, that's why they're going to make a house-exchange of sorts, and you'll put your home for sale on the site for $1MM, and some guy with as much money as the OpenDoor founders will buy it with a click of his mouse. It'll be so much fun, this new way of buying real estate. And, if we're only going to do this in San Francisco while in the giant bubble that is the current VC/tech boom, I'll wager it'll absolutely work. If we try this everywhere else, at all other times, it'll fail miserably. But, but, VC's like the idea!!

That's what they'll say. We'll say it won't work, because we've seen this game before. Why doesn't OpenDoor matter? Why won't the Zillow/Trulia merger mean much? Why will these things come and go, and change bits of the business model along the way, but never, ever do away with the traditional name-tag wearing, Cadillac-driving, cheesy-smile-havin' Realtor? Because Autotrader.com didn't get rid of auto dealerships, and Legalzoom.com didn't force the retirement of all attorneys. Angieslist.com made the founding partners a whole ton of money, but did Angieslist wreck the home remodeling/service industries? No is the answer to all of those questions, because easier access to information doesn't mean we don't still need boots on the ground.

I would very much like to found a real estate start-up. Why? Because I would very much like to be very rich. My model? I'm going to start a website. That's the first thing. I'm going to give the company a catchy, silly name, like HOMELuv or something like that. Two words mashed into one are always popular, and so is capitalizing things at random. So that's my company, and that's my website. I'll offer homes for sale. You click on the home you like, and then click the "SHOWING" button. Then, I'll have a ROBOT meet you at the house during the showing, and that ROBOT will put a really heavy sell on you. For instance, if you say, "I don't like this refrigerator", the ROBOT will say, "You should like refrigerator". If you say, "but, I don't". Then the ROBOT will say, "Showing terminated", and then I'm not sure what will happen because I haven't developed this part of the software yet, but perhaps the ROBOT will either use roboty force to make you sign a contract, or the ROBOT will terminate the compromise, or the ROBOT will just get in its ROBOT car and slam the door before driving back to the office to throw pencils into the ceiling tiles.

Autotrader.com had the absolute best shot at turning the automobile sales industry on its ear. Search car, see car, click to buy car. Simple! Autotrader controls the inventory, and does not have to compete with MLS systems. Autotrader generates ad revenue, membership revenue, and perhaps transaction revenue. Autotrader should have ruined the automobile dealership model. There shouldn't be shiny dealerships with sign-spinning-monkeys out front ($1 for the reference), and there shouldn't be cheesy salesmen waiting for you inside on those faux-leather chairs. There should, instead, be cold warehouses full of cars, and when you successfully buy one with a few clicks of your mouse, the car should be delivered to you in a huge box, or wrapped in brown paper tied up with strings, or by a ROBOT. But what did Autotrader actually do? Well, it made it easier for you to find cars so you could go test drive them and endure the heavy sell for the maintenance plan. The industry didn't change, and cars are static, simple products when compared to houses.

What to expect from all of this real estate "innovation"? More of the same. It'll still be easy to find houses. It'll be easier to see comps. There will be shinier and flashier websites. But at the end of the day you're still going to be in my car, and I'm still going to tell you that it's only dirty because of my kids.

Swimming Time

Jul 28, 2014 by DC | Add comment
Babies are fed mashed peas. The pea jar is opened, perhaps warmed so that it is warm, but never hot, and then a plastic spoon labeled BPA FREE stirs the pea mush. The baby sees this, the great care taken in preparing this meal. Once the mash is warmed and the spoon has stirred, there's a small dollop of green pea paste on that spoon. The spoon must now be an airplane, or a train, or a car, or something to make the delivery of this mush fun. The sounds, the swirls, the flight path from jar through air to mouth. The baby sees this, too. The mash comes close, and the pilot teases the baby's mouth open to insert the sustenance. The baby is willing, if confused, and the mush is placed in the food receptacle. Then, a wait.

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The baby sours, his face crinkles as it will throughout his entire life whenever something unsavory graces his lips. The mash is spit, spewed really, out of the baby's mouth and down his chin. The pilot wipes it up and tries again. Parents, pilots, we are nothing if not steadfast. But the baby is onto something here, not just because he dislikes the taste of mashed peas, because most of us do. No, he's onto something because there's nothing savory about liquidy green. Some people drink thick green drinks, filled with algae and seeds and grains that I mispronounce. These people are strange, because most of us, from baby to adolescent to adult to old-timer, we know that natural-ish green liquid is not cool.

My children swim, a lot. They swim every day. There is no exaggeration in that statement. Every single day they swim. From early June until mid or late September, they swim. One day a week they may miss, but on other days they'll swim at two separate times, therefore making up for the skipped session. They do not have many water toys to play with. There is no water trampoline, those wretched things that people think are fun. There is only a pier, or two, one diving board, and a narrow shallow section where kids can stand, if they wish. My kids do not wish, because standing isn't swimming and swimming is simply what they do best.

When they swim, it isn't like when you swim. They swim under the water most of the time, with their eyes open, scanning for things to see. They see fish, lots of them. When other kids put on swim masks or goggles to see the crayfish under those shallow water rocks, my kids just open their eyes wider and snatch the crayfish. They are proficient, which is to under appreciate their proficiency. They swim, with open eyes, from pier to pier, under the piers and around them, behind the boats on buoys and yes, under them, too. They are watery creatures, as fish like as any 11 or 8 year old can ever be.

They also swim with their mouths open. A lot. I notice this sometimes, and I noticed it last night. My daughter and I decided, after the gale winds blew all day, that it was time for a sail. The time was approximately 7 pm. The wind had quieted, but I figured it was still virile enough to push our little boat back and forth across the Bay. We raced to the lake, rigged the boat, and pushed off. Shortly thereafter, I was proven wrong. The wind had died too much, there was no sail to be had. So we limped back to the pier and decided to, instead, swim. My daughter jumped from the boat before it had reached the pier. I followed, and we pulled the boat to the ramp.

We dove from the pier, my daughter intent on showing me all the games she plays with her friends when they swim. The games seem fun, especially for eight year olds. They are just games about jumping into the water, from the pier, diving or cannonball, cannonball or jackknife. Backwards dives that find the diver hiding under the pier before rising for a breath. The games are best played by kids, but I still enjoyed the enthusiasm. I also enjoyed watching my daughter swim with her bright eyes wide open, looking up at me on the pier while she pushed her way under the water. That water, it is so clear. It was clear last night, gin clear, if I drank and new what exactly that meant.

I dove in several times, and immediately reverted back to my childhood self. I wouldn't say I was drinking that clear water, because I wasn't. But I wasn't making efforts to keep that cool water from my mouth, either. What a treat to swim in a lake that had been stirred all day by boats and by wind, and to still feel that the water is so clear, so pure, that it just might want to be sipped.

There are other lakes, most of the other ones, that will encourage the opposite. You'll be as a child, being served mushed peas, and you'll swim, sure, but you'll make darn sure to keep that mixture from your mouth and far away from your open eyes. Come to Geneva, let the water rinse your eyes, and if you get a bit in your mouth, it won't bother you. Not one bit.

Sales Stress

Jul 25, 2014 by DC | Add comment

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There are many ways to get caught in the wrong house at the wrong time. Almost all of these are honest means, leaving no fault on the owner who was caught being with the wrong house at the wrong time. Back in late 2008, everyone owned the wrong house at the wrong time, because values of nearly every property, everywhere, were higher in 2007 than they were when 2008 turned into 2009. In 2009, in Lake Geneva, it was easy to pretend that you still owned the right house, even though it was proving to be the wrong time. We're Lake Geneva, we're different, was a common broker refrain over that time, and while some got lucky and snuck out in the dark of that bad-market-night, most owned properties that had their values crushed.

There is, however, one sure fire way to avoid the sorts of fates that can meet those who view housing as a large weight at the bottom of a heavy chain. Instead of viewing real estate as a forever proposition, you can remain nimble and fluid, able to sell when the selling is good and able to hold when the holding is best. There are ways to sneak out in front of coming tides, to ride them higher or to sit on the shore and wait for them to subside. The best single way to avoid being stripped of housing mobility and crushed under devastated values is to be forward looking and forward thinking, concerned about immediate trends, yes, but mostly concerned about what might be next.

This is easy from the inside of the business, and I count some of the best advice I've ever given in my 18 years at this helm to be that which I gave to a part-time spec home builder in 2007. We had spun several spec homes in Lakewood Trails, a modest full-time type neighborhood in Williams Bay whose valuation range was somewhat steady in the $280k to $360k range, and the builder had enjoyed some nice success over the prior few years. That summer, he returned from his winter home in Florida to ask me what he should build next. Sensing some uncertainty in that individual market, I told him not to build. I told him to sit this one out, to watch and wait. We would forgo the potential profit of late 2007 and by doing so avoid the losses that 2008 was sure to bring. We had chosen safety over risk, no gain over certain loss.

From the outside, the consumer end, it isn't quite as easy to see what's next, but it is more than possible. Did most who owned homes in the summer of 2007 think that the peak value of their home was going to continue to rise? If you had bought in 2000 and had enjoyed a 50% upside over the following seven years, did you think it was best to hold on for another bit of gain? Most of us did, but some did not. Some locked gains in 2007 and endured the biggest obstacle to successful real estate maneuvering: The blasted inconvenience of it all.

There is pain associated with moving. Mental pain, for sure. But physical pain, too. Real estate commercials show real estate transactions ending with smiles and neatly stacked, impeccably labeled cardboard boxes. Real life real estate transactions end with relief, with a UHaul out front for the buyer's crap that he moved from his last house, and a seller in a rental, set to wait out whatever he thought was coming next. I have been this seller, selling when times were okay to avoid having to sell when they were bad. I have sold at the peak, and bought at the peak. I have sold into the decline, and bought again in the decline. I have sold when things were a bit better, and bought when they were better still. There is maneuvering that is tiring, but there is maneuvering that is necessary. Most people don't do this because there is annoyance, cost, and stress involved. Lots of it.

So today, I find myself with a lakefront sale now dead, due to many circumstances but mostly due to the pain of the sale. As a culture, we seek immediate gratification in all things. We want what we want, and we want it now, or perhaps a few minutes ago. We want convenience and comfort, and even though we know what's best for us, we find it exceedingly difficult to take our medicine. How can we conjure up our own spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down? Well, we can sell when the selling is good and hold when the selling is bad. That'll make it easier, but the move is no less stressful, the effort no less significant. It's just that at the end of a stressful sales event we get to take a breath, consider our options, and move forward, again.

Summer Sellers

Jul 23, 2014 by DC | Add comment

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To be a seller in spring, is to be as a youth, full of optimism and energy, a spout of vision that has yet to be set off track by the harsh realities of time. Spring sellers are joyous, alive sorts, full of confidence and vigor, expecting all and fearing nothing. They are bold, they are brash, and when they get their price in their time, they are triumphant. To be a seller in spring who finds a sale in summer, that's what we should all hope to achieve at least once before the lights go out.

To be a seller in mid-summer, it's still good. The cicadas have barely begun their annual serenade, and all summer lovers know, as I do, that as long as cicadas sing there is summer to be imbibed. There are indulgences to be granted, there are buyers to be found. But summer, in case you haven't noticed, is growing mature. Those fields that I know love, they are tall. The stalks are green, sturdy, but even they show signs of age in their yellowing trunks. There is summer left aplenty, but to be a seller in late July is likely to be a seller in August, and to be a seller in August puts one in a foul mood that can, thankfully, be tempered by a boat ride and a fish fry. But still, foulish to downright irritable.

That's because a mid-summer seller understands that buyers are on the wane. The season at Lake Geneva continues in earnest until mid November, and buyers will appear in some numbers throughout the winter months with regularity, but that's like picking up a straggler Salmon in a tributary in late October. Sure he's there, but he had a whole lot more company a month earlier. Sellers today know that they are on the clock, and the smart ones are making adjustments today to capture the remaining summer interest.

The market is hot. It is. There are buyers about in serious numbers. There are offers, contracts, closings. It's active. It's fun, as a broker. But for all of that energy, aged inventory is sagging, and if it isn't selling, it's needing to adjust its price. You can only do so much to tweak the appearance of an aged offering. You can paint the front door red, except that you wouldn't do that because this is real life and not life as portrayed on HGTV. Anyway, you can do this or you can do that, but whatever you do you're going to have to drop that price. Sellers today are beginning to do just that, and buyers are immediately taking notice.

I see many things in the MLS every day. I see new listings and sold listings. I see expired listings, too. But I also see price reductions, and lately there are more of them. Proof you say? A lakefront listing in the Birches was $1.99MM or so, and it dropped last week to $1.599MM. It went under contract immediately after that significant hair cut. A listing off-water in Glenwood Springs on Linden was $865k. An aggressive seller price, the one that comes from a confident spring stance. Fast forward to a price reduction down to $765k, and that property is now pending sale. I had an aged listing in the South Shore Club last spring that was listed around $2.2MM. I dropped that price to $1.895MM and had a contract on it within two weeks. And most recently, I dropped the list price on a property of mine in the SSC from $2.149MM to $1.99MM, and activity has followed suit.

Not all inventory will be reduced over the next six weeks, but the old stuff will be. Newer listings won't reduce, nor will listings held by owners who have time, and exclusivity, on their side. It needn't be a lakefront home or a lake access home, either. Just yesterday I dropped an Alpine unit at Abbey Springs from $265,900 to $249,900, making that a downright steal for a nice two bedroom unit with ravine views. Sellers will be jockeying to capture warm weather market time, and buyers would do well to pay attention. Just because you hated a lakefront home at $2MM doesn't mean you won't fall all over yourself wanting to buy it for $1.5MM.

A Growing Appreciation

Jul 21, 2014 by DC | Add comment

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When presented with a plate of lasagna, I would routinely pick out the bits and pieces of green this or that. I would eat the noodles, both the mozzarella cheese and the cottage cheese mixture that my mom spread thin into one of the layers, but I would pick out the green flecks of spice that I didn't like. These oregano or basil bits were not for me, and I preferred to eat my lasagna deconstructed, piece by piece, carefully segmenting out the greens into a tidy pile on the edge of my plate. I spent most of my childhood doing this.

Later, when I was a single adult, or so my age would say, I would grocery shop for myself. At that time my diet consisted of Diet Coke, pears, and yogurt. I was buying for myself, and I was still confined to the narrow range of foods that seems easy, those foods that were free of hidden secrets. Pears had nothing to hide, and yogurt, while likely mixed in a factory that had plenty to hide, was creamy and smooth and the only bits were bits of fruit that I could identify.

In the same way that I was afraid of mysterious food, I was uninterested in anything that didn't involve the lake. Not any lake, but The Lake. I grew up with a mix of lake kids, in-town kids, and country kids, and it always seemed to me that the country kids were a bit off. They were shy, and their parents wore clothes that my parents didn't. They were 4H members and horse combers, they were egg gatherers and hay stackers. They were stall cleaners and jam canners. While I was only concerned about what Nike shoes I was wearing, they were concerned, it seemed, about just making it through the day so they could return to those chores. That world was foreign to me, and I don't think I even considered it long enough to be able to misunderstand it.

I overcame my food phobias years ago, but I do believe that I've only overcome my lack of appreciation for the country very recently. I drove last week, West and a bit North, to an area where there are no lakes. There are no boats, and while a large sign promised a Luau on Saturday night, there is generally very little to do. The drive takes one past cities, through towns, some large and some so small they have a sign that announces you've arrived, and five houses to tell you you're there, and a country road that leads to whatever is next that proves to you that you've left. There is nothing much there, and yet there is so much peace that I can't imagine a world without it.

Sunday morning I had showings. I really do enjoy showings, as it's probably the best part of my job, and the part that I most like. But before those showings, I met a client turned friend for a morning ski session aboard his most impressive Mastercraft ProStar. I may not have had to capitalize the S in prostar, but I did for effect. The lake was calm yesterday, full of fishermen in their shiny thin boats, and others in their dull, aluminum ones, but generally free of everyone else. The waves that did exist were soft, without defined edges but rather merely a push and a dimple; it was ideal for skiing. So I drove, in as straight of a line as I could muster, before swinging the GPS controlled boat into a violent circle. The skier tore through the water at 34 miles per hour, a speed that I believe could be truly defined as "break neck".

Skiing, it seems, is not all gun and throttle. It's the time between runs, where the skier thinks about what cuts he made well and the others that were sloppy. It's when the driver thinks about his turn and wonders if it was tight enough, while wondering if the straight away was long enough. It's when the 11 year old son aboard thinks about nothing but the waves and the donuts that would be eaten after the session was over. The act of slalom skiing is at once violent and exceedingly graceful, and I was glad to have that time on that big lake, soaking in the morning sun and enjoying the solitude of a few skiers and a whole lot of quietly methodical fishermen.

After skiing, it was home to dress and then to showings to try to impress. Once those were done for the day, I tore North, through Lake Geneva and into East Troy, to visit the metal worker named Pug that I have come to know and greatly appreciate. His shop is on the outskirts of town, and it seems to me that he's lived his life on the outskirts. He had been tasked with making me a metal door for my pizza oven, and as with the other tasks that I've given him over the years, his final creation was equal bits rustic art and ruthless efficiency. He is a good man, Pug, and as I sit this morning I'm thinking of what metal thing I might next need to have this relic of a man cut and weld for me.

Home was West, on ES, past fields of tall corn and bushy soybeans, past fields of golden wheat and pastures of cows, black and white and brown and white but always patchy in color. The fields are mature now, the season fully underway. There is no wondering if the corn will take, just wondering if the yield will be high enough to offset the low price of a bushel. The roadside farm stands are still selling produce from southern Illinois and Tennessee, but soon enough those girls and guys that sit under those shady roadside stands will be selling the corn grown in that field, and the tomatoes picked from this one. Soon, it'll be harvest time, and the fields will turn from green to gold, where they'll stand until the rush of combines sweep through.

Like the green bits that I never understood and the country kids that I was never nice to, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the countryside. There needn't be lakes and forests and flowering prairies in my view, as a rolling field of tasseled corn fits my eye just fine. The lake? It's still the most important thing, but to mix a little country with your lake might be a thing you should do. This weekend, go skiing. Go fishing. But take the time to drive a curving country road, and marvel.

Vacation

Jul 16, 2014 by DC | Add comment
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If you call your hair cutter lady, or fella, and he or she is on vacation when you call, you ask the receptionist when he/she will return, and then you schedule an appointment for that time. If you call your Realtor person because you have a real estate question or idea, and you find out that he or she is on vacation when you call, you generally just call the next person in line because, after all, what good are Realtors? Well, unfortunately, I think they're awfully important, and good ones make things better while bad ones, well, they make things worse.

Vacations for Realtors are generally non-existent. I vacation, sure, with my phone ringing the entire time and a fear of what I'm missing wrecking any supposed peace of mind I've left to find. While it's true that a Realtor can go shopping on a Tuesday afternoon because they feel like it, they also must show houses on Sunday mornings because they have no choice. I have weekday freedom, yes, but a day with appointments and emails and calls is never a day of freedom. When those days are seven days a week, 364 days a year (most people won't call on Christmas- MOST), well it's a recipe for angst. I've often said I'd trade the haphazard workday freedom for fixed weekend freedom, and while I don't plan on doing that anytime soon, the idea of a weekend off does appeal to me.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I will be on a short- very short- vacation. I will be with my wife and kids, trying to be Chet, while likely being Roman. I'll do my best. I'll catch some fish. I'll eat some camp fire hot dogs. And when I return, I'd like to think I'll be energized and bursting with renewed vigor, but I know I'll just be sunburned and tired. See you Saturday, if you can wait that long.

Paying The Ask

Jul 14, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I once had a customer who told me that the Lake Geneva real estate market lags behind the California real estate market, but that everything that happens in California will, ultimately, happen here. He told me this because he wanted a huge premium for his Lake Geneva home, and he figured that if he convinced me of the coming surge in prices that I, in turn, would be able to convince everyone else. He ended up being wrong, about that, and about other business things he did here, but the main sin in my eyes was his assumption that whatever California introduces Lake Geneva adopts. He was, and is, wrong.

That's why I hate seeing real estate stories originating in California that portend to carry some weight. Most recently, a Business Insider article about the craziness of the San Francisco housing market. Homes, it seems, are selling over ask with alarming regularity. Not barely over ask, mind you, but ridiculously over ask. As in, one home just sold for 80% over its asking price. As if I need sellers to feel ever more confident. The article, presumably based on some version of some truth, goes on to say that the average San Fran home sold in less than two weeks and 69% of those sold for more than their asking prices. To those who would wish Illinois to collapse under the weight of its own taxation, consider the income tax of those poor souls in San Fran who are greedily gobbling up these homes.

My issue with the BI story isn't what it tells us of the hyper-local San Fran market, but what it tells us of the national market. It says, in context that makes these following numbers seem pale and unworthy when compared to the titillating numbers from CA, that while the average SF home sold in just two weeks, the national average is around a month. A month! Could you imagine the horrors of a month on market? Me neither. At Lake Geneva, market times vary wildly, but it isn't difficult to imagine market times far exceeding 12 months for many properties, and a round about average market time of 4-6 months is probably a fair estimate of our true latency from list to sale.

The story goes on to tell us that while SF has had 69% of its homes sell over the ask, we national pukes have only, on average, 24.5% of our homes sell over the sticker price. This is what they tell us, and this is what I do not like, nor do I believe. Do you? If four homes were for sale on your street, do you suppose one of them would sell over ask? If we sell 20 homes on the lake this year, will 5 of those sell beyond their tag number? If I put my car for sale, on the side of the road, are you going to pay me more than I want for it? Well, of course not, but that's because you're reading here, and excepting one commenter, we are all incredibly sane.

Never one to assume much, I looked back at the 74 lakefront and lake access sales that the Lake Geneva vacation home market has tallied over the past 12 months. The BI story cites Redfin for its statistics, so if those algorithmic geniuses at Redfin are correct, or at least reasonably close to being correct, we should see around 18 of those sales register over the asking price. The actual number? 2. Two. One of those was a dump for around $110k somewhere, and the other a home in Country Club Estates that closed for $10k over its ask, as a result of multiple offers on the home. That $10k represented approximately 1% of the value of the home, so while San Francisco has homes that sell for 80% over the ask, we at Lake Geneva can proudly tell you we once had one home sell for 1% over its ask.

But that goes back to the moral of this story. Lake Geneva is a Midwestern market, for those not paying attention. Midwestern markets behave entirely differently from coastal markets, or those overheated by easy tech money or international investor types who like just about everything they see. Remember that Million Dollar Listing New York where the smarmy agent hires a bunch of hacks to make cold calls to China to see if someone wants to buy an otherwise horrible condo that couldn't be traditionally sold? Remember when some poor sap in China pays way over the ask for that place, sight unseen? So do I. The way that TV bit would play out in Lake Geneva would be rather sad.

Me, at the phone. Me, random dialing some person in Chicago. Hello, I say. They say, hello. I ask them if they'd like to buy a condo at Lake Geneva. They, no. I say, channeling my inner George, Well, why not??! They hang up, call the telephone cold call police, I get chided or jailed, either one.

That's because people around here are a bit more skeptical than they are on the coasts, and I'd rather have it that way. So next time you read an article with any statistic from Redfin, question first the numbers, then be glad you don't live in a market where people pay 80% over the ask on purpose.

Lake Geneva Sailing School

Jul 11, 2014 by DC | Add comment
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It seemed to me that if the boat tipped over, I'd be trapped inside the cabin, or worse, under the sail as that sail swung from the sky to the surface and finally, to the depths. I didn't want to die that way, not then anyway, not at such a young age. And this is the reason that I didn't like sailing as a child. I figured it was certain death, and death by drowning under a sail had to be one of the worst. This fear of the fixed-keel sailboat stayed with me for a while, but by junior high or high school I imagine it had faded away. By high school I was interested in Laser sailing, and with it feeling that capsizing was no longer a sure death to be avoided but instead, a quick way to cool off in the drink. My sailing was never skilled, my racing direction never certain.

My daughter, May, had a similar circle of sailing success. Originally, she found the Laser sailing fun, to sit in the cockpit next to me while I coerced that poor hull into holding my weight and hers. She enjoyed at least one month of sailing before a reversal, before a fear of sailing set in. There was no momentous event that changed her outlook, no dangerous sail or knock on the head with a swinging boom. There was only a decision that sailing was not for her. This occurred while aboard the Kestrel, the fixed keel boat that should, in fact, feel safer than a Laser. One moment we were sailing along, the whole family content, the next she was shrieking and inconsolable. Huddling in the cabin would offer no retreat, because she, like me at the same age, knew that during a capsizing event the cabin was no place to be.

That was early in the summer of 2013 that this fear developed, and it clung to her for most of the boating season. Towards fall she was less afraid, and even after one particularly harrowing, well documented Laser event that involved two turtled boats and a hurricane force wind, she still wasn't deterred. By September she was comfortable aboard the fixed keel boat once again, and by early this spring she had made the decision that it was time to join her brother at sailing school. Some people take a lifetime to overcome their fears, and my daughter did so within the confines of one calendar year.

The Geneva Lake Sailing School is run out of the Lake Geneva Yacht Club. It consists of a humble shack, some sailboats, and several tanned instructors. Kids as young as five or six can start their sailing careers here, and I see no better way to ease a child into a lifetime of sailing proficiency than by enrolling him, or her, in one of these summer classes. As with all things summer, this is a fleeting opportunity, one best captured quickly before all is, as Robert Redford proved, lost.

Here's how this will work. You'll call or email the Geneva Lake Sailing School. You'll figure out which week your kid can take an introductory sailing class. Once you receive your options, you'll then have to make a very, very difficult decision. See, in order to enroll your kid in a week-long sailing class, you'll have to make the impossible decision to actually spend a full week at your vacation home. I know, I know, it's crazy talk, but bear with me. Imagine a week that you don't pack up on Sunday and drive home, back to the city or the suburbs. Imagine how that might feel to break with the pattern of Sunday dismissal. You have absolutely nothing to do during the week in the city anyway, but how difficult and horrifying it seems to spend weekdays at the lake. The terror of it all!

I'm assuming that if both spouses work, then one will have to take off to spend at the lake. If both wish to take off, that's fine, too. This tenure when no one works and instead the family plays is called V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. It's a hard word to spell out, difficult to pronounce, and nearly impossible for the modern worker to understand, but it's a time tested way of recharging ones batteries. We think nothing of taking a week off in March to travel to some sand infested peninsula or island, and yet, in the height of a Midwestern summer we try to make our leisure bloom during only a Saturday and a Sunday? Shame on everyone.

So, we sign up for sailing school, because what are our other options? Do we sign our kids up for dance lessons, as my brother would have you do? You know what happens when kids become adults and they find themselves needing to entertain their friends? The kids who know how to sail take them sailing, and the kids who learned to dance? Well, they dance, possibly on a dimly lit stage. I don't want that to happen to your kids, so let's spend a week at the lake, having a good old fashioned summer vacation, and we'll learn to sail while we're at it.

Lake Geneva For Sale By Owner?

Jul 09, 2014 by DC |
My dad will, somewhat famously, hawk anything from the lawn next to our real estate office. There is nothing safe from this side-of-road mentality. He's sold several John Deere tractors, at least two fishing boats, a couple of Sea Rays, a red and white 1956 Chevy, and the list likely goes on and on. He lists these things for sale by putting them next to the road, and taping the accompanying FOR SALE sign onto their windshield, or hull, or engine cover. He sells these things By Owner. Never mind the heated debates as to whether a real estate office should double as a Flea Market because the sane among us have already won that debate.

These are, in my opinion, the only sorts of things that should be sold in a By Owner fashion. Houses, they're famously offered By Owner, or FSBO so I don't have to keep writing the By and the Owner, and needlessly capitalize them as I've been doing so far. Times were, back in the good old days of real estate, an old timer would list his property FSBO on a Saturday, because it was sunny and he had just finished mowing his lawn. He cuts the grass way too short, but that's what old timers do. Anyway, happy with his short grass, he sticks the FOR SALE sign in the lawn, and he waits. A buyer in a fancy sedan pulls up, finds out that the old timer has listed his house for $199k, and shakes his hand to buy it for that price. The fancy sedan guy did this because the $199k house was actually worth $250k, and everyone but the old timer knew it.

But, as is the goal in the FSBO, the seller saved $10-$12k in commission, and we all know that's way more important than selling at a silly market price. FSBO properties used to offer unique value to a buyer, but that's not really what happens now. Today, the old timer cuts his grass super, ridiculously short, and then he calls brokers. They come over, one by one, with their nice clothes and their shiny cars, and then if I come to the appointment, I bring my dirty car and wear my too-casual clothes, and we all, in order, give our opinion of value. The numbers vary, but the consensus is that the home is worth somewhere between $199k and $219k. The old timer is tired after all that Realtor nonsense, and so he naps.

The next day, he lists his house FSBO. His price? $289k. It's a deal, he thinks, after all, the house down the street that's twice as big and thrice as nice is listed for $299k, but he has the exact same mailbox, so his place is worth at least most of what that one's worth. He lists the house, the Realtors are all sad, except me, because I didn't really like the guy anyway. The next Saturday, the old timer is out mowing his lawn, extra short this time, so it'll look extra nice. A fancy stranger in a shiny car pulls up, looks at the house, hears it's only $289k, and buys it. This, of course, proves to the seller that he was right and that all those name-tag-wearing-Realtors were dead wrong. Except me, because I don't own a name tag.

This scenario demonstrates two dangers. First, the seller got lucky. He did. Just as I've represented properties before and gotten extremely lucky. It happens. The seller listed high because he didn't like what the Realtors thought, and this is the first danger of the FSBO. It used to be that those sorts of sales represented value, due to a naive, possibly ignorant, but still sweet, seller. Today, most FSBO's are listed that way because the seller doesn't agree with the brokers' opinion of value, and they list much, much higher. Look around the lake today, or perhaps your suburban neighborhood, and you'll likely see there's truth in that statement.

The other way of looking at this is that, indeed, our seller got lucky and nabbed a buyer. Did the buyer buy the house because it was perfect for him? Or did he buy the house, at least in some part, because he perceived the FSBO arrangement to represent opportunity, because he didn't have a snake-oil-selling-name-tag-wearing Realtor there to whisper in his ear? As buyers grow increasingly confident in the market, they are making an increasing number of mistakes. And as buyers make these mistakes, sellers see this and aim to capitalize. For both sides there is a warning to be heeded.

Sellers should be wary of the FSBO process, and listen to the market opinions of brokers. Sellers, both listed and FSBO sorts, should be keen to check their confidence, as the market is improved but buyers, for the most part, are not stupid. For buyers, consider the FSBO trap that I've laid before your feet. These properties are typically not the equivalent of classic car barn finds, where some rare value is discovered and bought for a fraction of retail. They are, instead, potential traps. Properties that wish to sell for so much more than the broker recommended prices. Buyers gallivanting around these shores on a weekend would do well to write down the addresses of FSBO properties, call the sellers to inquire as to their desired sales prices, and then call an agent who typically sells those sorts of properties (that's me), to get the scoop on whether or not the price is from 2014 or 2007.

Ban The Pontoon

Jul 07, 2014 by DC |

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There is one open buoy at my parents' house. If it hasn't been rented by an off-water neighbor, or secured by a passerby who noticed the sign that litters my parents' shore path lawn, then it's pretty much available. If you had a boat in need of a mooring, you could call and ask to rent this buoy. My father would ask nothing about you, where you work or if you have kids, but he'll ask immediately about your boat. My uncle has been lobbying his brother, my dad, to let him put a boat on that oft-open buoy. He has been asking for years, and the answer is always, without hesitation: no. The answer is this way because of the boat that wishes to be moored there, on that lone buoy.

If you had a sailboat, you could rent the buoy. A smaller I/O? Sure, no problem. But ask, as my uncle has, about putting your pontoon boat on that buoy that rests framed by my parents' living room and porch windows? The buoy whose tenant's boat will have no option but to be viewed, at all times, from the living room, master bedroom, porch, lawn, and pier? That buoy? Well, if that's the buoy then a pontoon boat is going to be a no, today, tomorrow, and forever. Some people treat other people unfairly, but in this family you're welcome here no matter what, as long as you don't own a pontoon boat.

I realize I have offended some here today, but you must have read beyond this post and determined that I'm not entirely afraid of offense. Pontoon boats are to boats what conversion vans are to cars. Sure, they'll get us from A to B, and we can have a sink and a dining room table near the driver's seat, but is it all really necessary? If a pontoon boat is your boat, then should I be surprised that you drive an RV to your loop office every day?

As all pontoon boat aficionados will attest, pontoon boats are like living rooms on water. If that is the benefit and the allure, I repeat, would you like to drive your living room on a Sunday morning, you know, because it's sunny out? They're great to party from, says my uncle, but this is my uncle who can and will party from anywhere, floating on anything, at all possible times, so this is less a benefit and more a fact of his life. You can fish from them! You can fish from them? You can fish from the Lady of the Lake or the Golden Gate Bridge, too, so let's not get all excited about fishing from something.

I wandered into the Gage Marine boat show room last weekend, not the one with the new boats, rather the one with the old wood boats. There were a couple Streblows, beautiful and bold. There was a Century Coronado, not wood, but classic by any standard, nonetheless. There was another wood boat or two, ones that didn't hold any of my attention, but shiny, wood ones for certain. And then, in front, daring to be missed, there was a giant pontoon boat, clad in what appeared to be wood. This was a wood pontoon boat, for those who wish to be driving their living room, but only if their living room is pretending to be a classic wood boat. This is the paradox of the boating world, a kin to covering your Kia with chrome and pretending it's a Harley Davidson.

I was out on the water yesterday, realizing that my supposed weather maturity was not as developed as I had previously pretending, and as I bemoaned the cloudy skies and the gray water, I noticed pontoon boat after pontoon boat whizzing by. They don't speed by, or rip by, but they sort of whiz by in the same way that someone on a moped can indeed pass you, but only if you're going 15 in a 25. It isn't that speed is important, because that's only true to the only boats on Geneva that are more obnoxious than the pontoon variety- the go-fast-Tony-Montana-boats that somehow, someway, traveled here from the Chain O' Lakes. I would like those to leave, immediately, followed by pontoon boats, all of the rental boats, and any boat painted yellow. If Herreshoff thought only a fool would paint his boat black, I can only imagine what he'd think about painting one yellow.

Anyway, it isn't that I don't love my pontoon boat owning clients and friends, because I do, it's just that I don't like floating living rooms with outboards attached. If you'll notice something about this blog, it's that this pontoon-phobia has been apparent for quite some time. I have never, purposefully, allowed a photo of a pontoon boat to grace these pages. That magazine I print? Proudly pontoon boat free since 2010's issue #1. As further testament to my dedication to be pontoon-free, I have never, in my entire life, boarded a pontoon boat.

My absolute favorite property on the entire lake is Mr. Ryan's House In The Woods. The property is stunning, the structures perfect, the piers divine. There is a Hinckley sailboat in one of those perfect slips, and this year a Hinckley Picnic boat has added even more visual appeal to this most idyllic property. The Hinckley's are both blue, with devastating lines and immaculate finishes. Yet, even for all of this lakefront perfection, there is another boat on that same pier, hoisted somewhat sheepishly in the third slip. It is a pontoon boat, and as long as it remains in that slip, I'm rethinking that whole "favorite house on the lake" thing.

Streblow, by Mike Moore Photography.