Mar 30, 2015 by David
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By now, everyone knows the lakefront market experienced its pricing peak in the middle of 2008. Or at least everyone should know that. What's lesser known is that by the time the single family market peaked, the condominium market had already begun its descent. Sure, there were a few heavy lakefront condo sales in 2008, but not everyone was convinced of the coming storm at exactly the same time. This is why even as some were running for cover others were marching forward, convinced that prices would increase for ever and ever. The condo market began to feel a bit strange in 2007, as sellers were mostly presenting their properties at exceedingly expensive list prices, and buyers were beginning to balk. Smart sellers cut and ran in 2007 and 2008, but the market is still full of sellers who foolishly held out for more even in those times of excess.
The Fontana Club is a condominium in Glenwood Springs, right smack dab on Fontana's southern shore. It's a rare condominium in a purely residential neighborhood, and it fits in with the surroundings in a way that no other lakefront condo might. Bay Colony is not subtle. Simply by comprehension of the English language you could assume that Geneva Towers is not modest. The Fontana Club is both of those things, and the Fontana Club pricing peaked on a summer day in 2005 when a buyer wandered into a For Sale By Owner open house and struck a deal to pay $635k for a two bedroom condo without a boatslip. The market yawned at the sale, but I knew that the end of the bull run had to be nearing. I was off on my broad-market timing, but the Fontana Club market peaked that day and it's been resetting, trying to find its balance ever since.
In the spring of 2013, I brought a two bedroom Fontana Club unit to market for $549k. The price was a bit stiff, but don't forget the $635k from 2005. Lord knows that no owners have forgotten. We danced away the last two seasons at that higher price range, and just last week came back to market at $489k. That price represents a reduction from peak of 23%, which is an awfully nice way to measure the correctness of the current number. These units sold for around $395k way back in 2000, so here's a seller who has taken impeccable care of his lakefront penthouse, and he's now trying to give it to the market for a mere penance over what he paid some 15 years ago. It's a good deal, but only if you're the sort of person who likes huge lake views and grassy lakeside lawns. If you don't like those things, Michigan is a-calling.
Not to be outdone by myself, I listed yet another lakefront condo last week. This one is at Vista Del Lago, which is a terrific development if you plan to be an active vacation home owner. If you want to sit and look at the water, Fontana Club is for you. If you want to sit and look at the water in between playing tennis, swimming in the lake in summer and the indoor pool in winter, boating, walking to town, then Vista Del Lago is more your speed. These are several unit styles at Vista. There are two bedroom units in the back of the complex that don't face the lake. Lame. There are two bedroom units that face the lake, but they're small. There are three bedroom units which are nice, but they generally have low ceilings and both tall and easily claustrophobic. Which is why when asked over the weekend if I've recently watched The Hunt For Red October I quickly declined. Even thinking about submarines makes me feel uncomfortable. Vista also has four bedroom units, big, bold units with lofts and all sorts of space. Of course that's the one I listed last week, because I care about everyone.
This $585k unit has the aforementioned four bedrooms, but it has so much more. There's a fireplace, a huge lakeside balcony, a garage, in-unit laundry, and a top floor location that means that the only foot stomping you'll hear will be your own. There's a deep-water boatslip, which is important to note because Vista does have some shallow slips that you'd rather not deal with. Vista is also easily walkable to downtown Lake Geneva, but it isn't so close that you're having to put up with all those tourists at your doorstep (you heard me, Geneva Towers). These are the facts about Vista, but the real value here is in both those amenities and the condition of this condominium. The kitchen has been torn out and replaced, the confining wall that blocked the living room from the kitchen has been done away with. The bathrooms are new and fabulous, the flooring new and the paint tasteful. Realtors love to tell you that all the work has been done, and that all you need to do is bring your bathing suit.
All the work has been done, but bathing suits, so long as you promise to only swim long after dark, are rather optional. You may get in trouble with the association, and you may have to explain yourself at the annual association meeting, but still. Also, you may get fired from your job for indecent exposure, and then you're going to have one heck of a time getting a new job, but your unemployment can be made less stressful if you're spending it lakeside. If you've been contemplating a lakefront condominium, now you have two options
and no more excuses.
Mar 27, 2015 by David
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The business of cell phone development is one wherein the initial technology has long ago been pioneered. Cell phones make phone calls, this is what they do. This is why they were invented. With that base technology in place, cell phone manufacturers sought to create better phones, faster, slimmer, sleeker, alas, shinier. They made them to make all sorts of sounds, first chimes and then rings and then submarine sounds and now whistles. They made them play music, to store it and then to stream it, they made them take pictures. They've all done basically the same thing for a long, long time now. Which is why the new business of cell phonery is aimed at convincing the public of perceived benefits, long after the real benefits have been cemented and made uniform.
For instance, want to bump your phone against another phone to share something? We've completely got that covered. Want to turn your phone on without actually touching the phone? Check, been there, done that. Want to have a phone that talks back to you when you ask it a question? No big deal, we've been doing that for ages. These tweaks along the way do nothing to change the actual cell phone- the call making, the texting, the web surfing- they simply ad gadgetry to make you think that any particular cell phone is somehow better than the others. This is why perception matters, and this is why marketing and advertising are engineered to show consumers that perceived benefits are worth the switch, the upgrade, the cost increase. That's because perception is more important than actual utility.
Soon, a great big, brash, real estate broker from Chicago is coming to Lake Geneva. They're going to pump up our market with advertising, with slick this and shiny that. They're going to tout their advantages, which they'll presumably proclaim to be seller access to the Chicago MLS, access to their network of agents, access to their marketing. There will be precision bits of information, highly detailed statistics engineered to shock and awe, but the goal of the advertising will be to make vacation home owners aware that their brand is now available in Lake Geneva. That's terrific news for me, because brands don't sell houses. Agents do.
Another Chicago brokerage came here a couple of years ago. They have a network of Chicago agents, too, and they have some shiny and slick ads and sites. They have had limited success here, even though they can effectively proclaim the same advantages as the new company will bring. They aren't as big, they aren't as shiny, and they have only actual letters in their business name. But they have offered the same thing that the new company offers, only they've done it for a couple of years. The largest Chicago brokerage is Coldwell Banker. Coldwell isn't the biggest broker by a little bit of volume, they're the biggest broker by billions of dollars. There's a Coldwell Banker office in Lake Geneva- one that's owned by a Chicago group with offices in Chicago. This is the largest brokerage in Chicago, with the most volume and agents, and they have an office in Lake Geneva. That office does hardly any business at all in the Lake Geneva vacation home market, because the market understands there's no advantage to working with them. That's because brands don't sell properties, agents do.
The news of this clunky behemoth's arrival has spread quickly. They, of course, haven't said anything yet, but the shenanigans have already begun. There's to be a new office downtown Lake Geneva, which is likely because they were afraid to come to Williams Bay, which we all know to be the hotbed of real estate things and stuff. They likely wanted to come here but saw my new office and figured they'd choose the path of least resistance and tuck away into Lake Geneva, where they can blend in with the t-shirt shops and cafes. They're going to take a few agents from Keefe, likely a few from Coldwell, ReMax, and Shorewest. They'll start their advertising, and the advertising will be all about showing the market that it doesn't know what it's been missing. Except that the market has already had and dismissed what they're offering. Access to Chicago agents and the MLS. It's likely the largest perceived advantage that means absolutely nothing since the advent of that machine with the strap that wraps around your butt and jiggles all your fat away.
Not one to back down from a fight, I'm preparing a plan to provide even more advantages to my sellers (both perceived and actual), and in doing so will hopefully limit the appeal of this new fat band melting/real estate brokerage. There are things Chicago companies can offer, just as there are things that McDonald's can offer. There's a McDonalds in Lake Geneva and another one in Delavan. They sell a ton of breakfast sandwiches. In fact, they sell billions of them. Daddy Maxwells doesn't sell breakfast sandwiches, not at all. But if I'm hungry and looking to eat breakfast in Lake Geneva, I'm going to head over to Daddy Maxwells. I'll do so because Daddy Maxwells is Lake Geneva. It's made in Lake Geneva, just like I am.
Mar 25, 2015 by David
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In basketball, the head fake is a pretty important variety of fake. It's usually best if accompanied by a bit of a shoulder shrug, some elevation of the tops of the shoulders, or maybe a turn of the shoulders, depending on the direction of the head fake. It's important, because it frees up space, which is what you need in this new game of basketball wherein nearly all of the shots are three pointers. You, with the ball. Your head, in fake position. Your shoulders, faking, too. Your hands, the ball, fake city. You make the move, the fake, and your opponent bites. Then you move aside and shoot a three pointer. My cousin Steph Curry does this very well, and why shouldn't he? We worked on that together at family gatherings, and he'd know nothing about the head fake if not for me. (those last two sentences are not true)
Geneva National also knows a thing or two about head fakes. It's been keen on giving one or two during the early spring of a few of the past years. Sales ramp up, pending contracts rise, and GN looks as though it's completely and entirely cured of whatever has ailed it. This happened in 2013. Unfortunately, the reason the early activity proved to be purely a head fake is because the volume stalled, prices sagged, and the year ended up being nothing like it started out to be. Last year, in 2014, Geneva National didn't even bother with the spring head fake. From January 1st through March 25th, 2014 GN only recorded 6 home or condominium sales. Head faking can get tiresome, and GN decided it would rather rest last year than attempt to go through the motions of a continuing recovery. This year, it's back to its 2013 form, and it's either mending or faking. It's too early to tell.
So far in 2015, Geneva National has printed thirteen home sales, four of which were single family and the remainder of the condominium variety. That's impressive, compared to the miserable performance of the prior year, but what's really quite attention grabbing is the number of pending sales. I counted 16 pending sales this morning, which is significant. There are just 96 homes and condominiums available in GN as of this morning, and those 16 others pending sale. That makes me really quite happy on behalf of Geneva National, as I continue to believe that there's no real reason that the properties there should be forced to suffer as they have. We've discussed this at length before, but it's important to remember that GN suffers from a very simple absorption problem, not some fundamental problem with the property itself. Simply put, GN requires lots of sales annually to keep the gears of its market effectively greased, and lots of sales in individual segments is not something that the Lake Geneva market does particularly well.
As a point of fact, there are seven single family homes pending sale in GN, priced from the upper $300s to nearly $1MM. The single family market in GN, especially those homes priced under $600k, provides considerable value in this marketplace, and it's nice to see the market recognizing that. As to where the GN market is at in terms of this last decade cycle, it's hard to say. I don't think it's keeping pace with the pricing recovery in the broader Lake Geneva vacation home market, which is likely at par with 2005 valuations right now. GN is likely still back at 2003 pricing, and because the prices have stalled in this recovery, plenty of value exists.
One particular pending condominium in GN caught my eye this morning. It's currently under contract at an asking price of $320k. That home sold in 2010 for $349k. So GN from 2010 to 2015 has, at least in one anecdotal case, lost value. Compare that to the $4MM listing on Bonnie Brae priced at nearly $1.4MM more than it sold for in 2011. That's the one that's pending sale now, and we'll see just how much one buyer and his agent thought the market appreciated since then. Seems to me that Geneva National is not the same as the lakefront market, but it's interesting to note the printed prices of these other markets and contrast them to the lakefront market. For a reminder, I think the market is up, at least as a broad measure, 10-15% since the market bottom of 2011/12.
Today, let's celebrate Geneva National and their blazing start to 2015. The inventory is light
, but tons of value still exists. If I'm a buyer in GN, I'm avoiding new enclaves of condominiums, because I don't trust the developers to uphold current pricing in the event that the market softens while inventory still remains. I'd be looking to pick off single family homes that look cheap, and I'd be focusing on built-out condo enclaves, the sort that have a history of sales that would allow me to easily ascertain current value. If Geneva National interests you, I'm pretty sure no one knows it better than I do.
Mar 23, 2015 by DC
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By now even those who loved it had started to hate it. The snowmobilers were over it, having long since fogged their engines and stowed away their sleds. The ice fishermen, once the biggest proponents of it had decided that they would no longer sharpen their augers. The guy who lives down the road some ways- the one who ice skated across the Bay as if he hadn't a single land-based care in the world- he didn't even feel like looking out his window anymore. This is why the town devised a plan.
It had been decided that enough was, by now, enough. The ice had grown thick and strong, and the townspeople had skated over it, drilled through it, sledded across it. They had loved it. But that was then and this was now, and now no one had any time for it. There was so much sunshine and some tepid warmth, so some thought the ice would simply go away on its own. One old man said he hadn't a doubt in the world that the ice would be gone by the first day of spring. The week that the first day was to occur, it was obvious to all, except that old man, that the ice was not going to leave by then, and in fact, some wondered if it would leave at all. At the meetings that followed, the confident old man was no where to be found.
At first the plan wasn't all that clear. The ice would need to be removed, everyone agreed upon that, but how? One veteran of some peace-ship told of how he and his crew would clean up oil spills by lighting the oil on fire and simply watching it burn. When some woman in the front row suggested that this couldn't be true, and that she had seen commercials about how Dove soap is what they use to clean up oil spills, everyone laughed. She continued, and so did the scorn. The peace-ship-veteran furthered, one time in the north seas they were cleaning up the oil by fire when he noticed that the fire not only consumed the oil, and the oily bits of birds and baby seals with it (the crowd murmured), but that it also ate away at the ice. He suggested that if we could drop a sizable amount of oil onto the ice, then light that oil on fire, we could easily remove most of the ice. After some deliberation, it was decided that this was not a well thought out plan, and both the man who suggested it and the woman who interjected that Dove soap was how oil spills were cleaned up were removed, he for his outlandish idea and she for her naivety.
At the next meeting, ideas were bandied about, with none carrying any particular heft because they were either entirely detrimental to the environment or because they were simply absurd. One idea, however, did stick, and great conversation and debate ensued. A young man in the back row mentioned that he had a helicopter, and that during prior efforts to thwart Western forest fires, he had piloted this chopper into the teeth of the fire to drop a payload. In the case of the Great Western Fires, or so they became known, he would drop a chemical fire retardant, and the fire would smolder and eventually go out. He said he still had the series of straps and pulleys that held that chemical container, and that this container weighed quite a lot and that his helicopter was strong and agile, and that he was a most skilled pilot.
He continued by asking his fellow citizens what breaks up ice the best. People shouted, Fire! Rain! Then someone shouted Oil that's been set on fire! And he was removed from the meeting. One child, a boy who couldn't have been more than 12, spoke up. Rocks, he said. Rocks. The crowd quieted. He explained how he had sat on the shore just the day before, throwing rocks at the ice and watching each one plunk down to the slushy surface and then through it. If we could drop a large enough rock, during a most windy afternoon, the rock would break a huge hole in the middle of that lake, and the wind, with that new foothold to whip waves, would be able to do the rest. One environmentalist shook his head and explained how the fragile ecosystem of a lake such as this couldn't be tampered with by adding one giant rock to the bottom of the lake. He tried to go on but he was removed immediately.
The pilot said that his chopper could indeed hold a rock of this size and weight, but where would such a rock come from? It would have to be big enough to knock a hole in the ice, and that hole would need to be very, very big. There were rocks around town, sure, but none big enough. The crowd stirred. There was one rock, obviously, that everyone knew of. It was a large rock, round and smooth, worn down from so many teenaged kissers and elderly leaners. It had been there forever, and there was no one in town that had known a life without it. It was a huge rock on the shoreline, and it had been featured in postcards from the turn of the last two centuries, and senior pictures and wedding photos. It was a rock, sure, just a rock, but it was more than that to so many. The meeting was adjurned and everyone was tasked with finding a suitable rock, but not that rock.
The next night, some rocks were in the parking lot. None of them were big enough, none up to the task. So it was decided, we had lived with this iconic rock for long enough, and it was time that the rock gave something more to us. The rock would need to be sacrificed to the depths, because nothing else could break up such thick ice. There were protests, shouts, tears. One elderly women started to tell a story of how her father had come home from the war and how he proposed to her mother... The Constable removed her before she could finish her story, because no one had time for that. The rock would be tied up to the helicopter, carried out to the middle, and dropped. There would be a pot luck at the village hall after. This was Friday, and the rock drop was to take place Monday.
The town was full of nervous energy over the weekend. People called relatives, friends. Old village residents who had long since moved away made plans to travel back for the Monday morning drop. Everyone was excited, some where nervous, others cried. The young pilot was the hero of the town, and every man slapped his back and every woman kissed his cheek. But on Monday, it snowed too much and the chopper couldn't fly in such limited visibility, so the entire thing was delayed. By Tuesday, everyone had realized what a horrible idea it was in the first place, and the town voted to just wait a little while longer. The ice wouldn't last forever even though it really did seem as though it would.
Mar 20, 2015 by DC
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To buy a house in Lake Geneva in 2009 was to catch a falling knife. The knife wasn't super sharp, but it was a knife. It was more like a butter knife, with only those tiny little teeth. Like the teeth of a largemouth bass, not really the teeth of a northern pike. The knife wasn't very big, and it wasn't very heavy, but I'm telling you it was still a knife. The knife hurt, a bit, and your hands would have been totally scraped. You'd have some kind of abrasion, maybe like you took one wipe down it with some sandpaper, the fine kind. You would have smarted for only a few moments, and it would have been less a smart and more a mild annoyance, but you'd still have caught a falling knife.
From 2009 into 2011, the market sunk lower still. That's why the knife part up there. Prices softened another 5-10% from 2009 to the end of 2011 and into 2012. From those low days to now prices are likely up 10-15%, give or take. So a buyer who bought it in 2009 is generally experiencing some form of positive equity, less if they did nothing to the home, more if they did something, and it was the right something. The market now features a few homes that sold in those recent years, and the question that needs to be asked is this: How much will the market be willing to reward those buyers turned sellers?
You know what I think the answer should be, because I just told you. It should be 10-15% more today than it was from those low, dark days of 2010 and 2011, assuming no changes were made to the property that might otherwise lift or lower the price. One such lakefront property that sold during the doldrums has returned to market, and is pending sale. The property sold for $2.6MM and change back in 2011, and it's now under contract with an asking price of $3.975MM. I'm not really too concerned about what the market thinks the premium should be for this sort of home sale, because I already know. What I am curious to learn is what a particular buyer thinks the market has done since then. I'll reserve judgement on the sale until such a time that it prints, but it's safe to say there's a premium sought and a premium accepted.
The lakefront market is currently a bit of a conundrum. I see some listings that I think should already be sold, and I see others that are pending that I didn't think would be. There's a Fontana lakefront pending in the $2s. Also, sharing a pier is like sharing a toothbrush with a stranger you met under a graffiti tagged bridge. There's the $4MM resale that's freshly pending, and I have one private lakefront deal that's under contract to a buyer of mine. That's a simple thing to note, by the way. If you're a lakefront buyer and you think you're paying close attention to the market by signing up for some agent's automated listing feed, you're really missing out. The real action happens right here, in this office and on this keyboard, and I'm constantly looking for sellers and buyers to connect in direct deals. If you want that sort of treatment, I think you should probably email me.
You can call, too, I suppose (262-745-1993).
I'm bringing a couple of new lakefronts to market next week, as I'm doing as much as I can to fill the inventory void that we're experiencing on the lakefront. In the very early stages of 2015, I thought this might be a year that we press the valuations forward a bit, and print higher sales prices than we printed, at least on average, in 2014. So far I don't see that happening, excepting the $4MM place. Instead, I see a bit of a mixed bag, with certain properties still wildly overpriced, and others strangely well priced and still curiously not fending off buyers. I expect things will sort out over the coming 8 weeks as we head into summer. This market has a way of turning quickly, and just as you're about to write it off for a few months it comes roaring back. I think that'll happen, which may mean that I just said disparaging things about it with the hope that it rebounds as a result. Like a coach telling a player he's no good just to motivate him. Anyway, I'm around all weekend and am ready to hunt down some value. Except on Saturday afternoon, that's my daughter's birthday party and if you're looking for a Realtor to skip his daughter's 9th birthday party you're best to go back to the gal who sends you those automated listing updates.
Mar 18, 2015 by DC
I'm not sure if I'm a Millennial. I'm pretty sure I might be Generation X, but I believe I remember some reference to Generation Y, as well. I know I'm not a Boomer, and I know I'm definitely not part of the Greatest Generation. That Generation went to war. At least some of them did. Lots of the ones who didn't go off to some foreign theatre went to war like my grandpa did. In a mechanic shop in Kansas. Or was it Kentucky? He served, sure enough, and then he came home to Chicago and bought a house. Then he and my grandmother had some kids, lived long and varied lives, and died. That's how it worked then, and that's not at all how it works now.
Not that Millennials- whoever they are- are supposed to go off to war. That's not it, not at all. They don't have to, and that's good for everyone. All that plaid tucked into skinny jeans and so many beards wouldn't be great on the battlefield. Not only that, but imagine the Middle East sun glaring off all those iPad and iPhone screens. It would be a dead giveaway, and the enemy would aim small, miss small, which is to say they'd aim for the plaid, sometimes the beards. It would be horrible. So it's best that these kids don't go off to fight in any serious numbers. But, if they aren't doing that, what are they doing?
They're going to college, I suppose. They're learning theory presented as truth from professors who mostly stayed home from those long ago wars. They're learning about the world political stage from shows on Comedy Central, and then they're hanging out with their friends, either in person or via Google Hangouts, I can't be sure. Lots of them are finishing college, and then they're moving back home, to live in their old bedrooms because turn down service is greatly appreciated and who wants to travel more than 25' for Thanksgiving Dinner?
But today isn't about that brand of youngster. It's about the other brand, the brand that either went to college or didn't, then started working. They may have student debt, or they may not, but they're more interested in working to slowly pay that debt off than protesting that it is somehow unfair, somehow an inequitable yolk around their bearded necks. They work with intent, with purpose, with an eye towards betterment and the future. This is contrast with those other sorts who work to pay the immediacy of bills- cell phone bills, espresso refills, e-cigs, beard cream, fashionable plaids, etc. This sort of which I speak is motivated, or are they?
Are they motivated, or are they just doing what prior generations mostly did out of fear for failing to meet expectations? Either way, they're trying to get somewhere and since the general theme of the day is that somewhere isn't as good as here, they have less competition and success should come. This is the group of which I speak. This is the group that needs to be buying houses, and they need to start buying them soon.
A client sent me an article yesterday that gave some data points on the "Millennial Homebuyer". I looked it over, but thought after that the entire article was based on a flawed premise. It was based on Millennials actually being homebuyers. Some 35% of them still live at home, and at least 25% of them are completely and entirely unemployed. This is not a group that appears to be getting in line to apply for mortgages. But this will, and has to, change.
Only 16% of Millennials say they intend to never buy a house. That's a good sign for the housing industry, but there's likely a very healthy dose of some-day-optimism in that statistic. The charge today is for this generation. They are coming of age in a world that just experienced a devastating housing crisis, where values where crushed by 50% in many markets. Even in this majestic Lake Geneva vacation home market we had some numbers print at 40% off of prior highs. The Millennial went to school, hopefully got some kind of job, and then the world went on sale. When the world went on sale, interest rates were pushed low and lower still in hopes of spurring some growth. As a result, the Millennial is currently looking at decade low home prices, historically low interest rates, and an increasingly favorable job environment. The Millennials broad reaction to this? Um, an evening with espresso, plaid, and video games in their parents basement. Mom, the meatloaf!
I know some people who are school teachers. I don't know them well, and if I passed them on the street neither I nor they would say hello. They are in a rental, currently happy as, or so I've heard, clams. They have no intent to move on and out, because of the favorable rental/caretaking gig they're enjoying. They live on large property, with all sorts of country fun, and they go to work in the morning and come home to the fanciful spread that it not theirs at night. They are Millennials. They are comfortable. Home ownership isn't comfortable, and it can be stressful both on relationships and on finances. But if young couples like these ever want to find some financial cushion they best get a move on. Rates won't stay low forever, and prices will someday rise. Beards could be forever, but real estate opportunities will eventually pass them by.
Author's note: I fully understand I have a beard and wear plaid I also recently bought glasses from Warby Parker.
Mar 16, 2015 by DC
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It's not really winter anymore. The snow is mostly gone. Both the tall piles of pushed white snow and the great glistening fields have been melted away, leaving country fields of mud and corn stubble, and city piles of various debris; rotting animals and so much trash. The season is ugly now. It's spring, but not really. The ice isn't good anymore. You could walk on it if you wished to tempt fate, but when you die we'd all read your obituary with little sympathy. He had it coming
, people would say. What did he expect,
others would rhetorically ask. The clean winter scene is gone, the spring scene is coming, but for now, it's just brown and gray, dirty and raw. Welcome to the spell of no seasonal conviction.
Though we are in the 'tween, this weekend there were great bursts of activity. Cars in driveways, cars on roads. Walkers pushing strollers, carrying shopping bags, tugging back at the dog leashes. There were people out, people up, and there was life. There is always life here, at this great lake, so that's not entirely unexpected. Indeed, winter at the lake is full of activity and fun, which is one of the myriad things that sets Geneva apart from the rest of the Midwest. But this weekend now past, there was more of it all. There were people, cars, and many lake house doors being unlocked for the first time in a long time. There was anticipation.
Most newer Lake Geneva owners recognize the value of a Lake Geneva winter. Most visit their homes, often. Why sit in the suburbs or the city on a winter weekend when you could make a short drive and be active lakeside? This is how the newer buyers think, but older owners are set in their ways, and they're comfortable in their sometimes non-commitment to the winter scene. Those owners were up this weekend, pushing aside the leaves that gathered near their front door, the leaves that were covered in thick snow and plenty of ice up until the sun and the warmth did away with that shroud. Houses were checked, front lawns were walked. Sticks were picked up.
Piers were looked at, not in the way we'd like to look at them, when they're long and straight and installed, but in their stacks on the lawns. Even when a pier stacked it's worth looking at. If you disagree, you must not own one. So the leaves are kicked aside, the sticks are picked up, the pier stack is looked at. The ice is there, so much ice, extending over the whole lake, but at the near shore there are glimpses of open water- not much- but enough. It won't be long now, these owners think. It won't be long now, not long at all.
But it will be long, and it will take too long. It will go on and on, and once spring in its full pastel glory does show up, it will go on and on some more. The ice will be gone in two weeks, the piers will be in within four more, and the boats will be in shortly after. There are many things to do before then. The carpets should be cleaned. That old television should be replaced. The refrigerator didn't work as well as it should have last summer, so it must go, too. These will be done in May, early May, mid May, late May. May. They must be done so things will be ready for when it all matters. Memorial Day. Without one eye on the task at hand and another on the goal that comes a mere 10 weeks from now, these things will not be done in time. The old owners know this. The new owners know this. The should-be and soon-to-be owners will learn it.
Mar 13, 2015 by DC
Two weeks ago, the ice was really something. It was thick, strong, proud. There was enough snow on top so that snowmobiles could race across it. Snowshoers were pleased to find enough snow to walk over, but not so much snow that the secret would be known about snowshoes. What's that secret? Well, that it's easier to just walk in the snow in boots, of course. Had the inventor of the snowshoe taken his new product to Shark Tank for his pitch, I'm certain I know what would have happened. The guy on the end with the pocket square would have wanted to try the shoes out. He'd walk in some snow they carted in for the show, and he'd take a few steps before telling everyone that the shoes look cool, but they don't work. Everyone would laugh. But about that ice.
When there is no ice, you can go in and on the water. You can go in the water just by walking in, but jumping off, by swimming out. But you can't go on the water without a boat, and even though all of us have boats, most of the people do not. Boats are rare commodities in the real world, which is why the large tour boats are always full of people. That's the only way those people can get out on the lake, to float over that water, to see those shores. Boating is liberating, whether by sail or by power, no matter the size of the craft or the make of the hull, but to most it's still a treat, still a rare opportunity, still something that's mostly for someone else.
The ice isn't like that. The ice is welcoming, accommodating, approachable. Two weekends now past, I went to dinner at a friend's house on the lake. He had spent considerable time clearing off an ice skating rink for his kids to shuffle around on, and when I say considerable time I do mean considerable time. Every weekend he cleared that ice, shoveling and scraping, hoping to time the clearing right so the ice stayed smooth, or became more so. This was dedication to the ice. That night, while we sat and ate brats, it reminded me how nice it is to be lakeside, grilling meats.
As I looked out to see our unattended children walking back and forth over the ice, with their twinkling lantern in hand, I took note of the larger scene. In the distance, there was the soft square glow pushing from the windows of the ice fishermen's shanties. There were snowmobiles whirling past, running as fast as they could, gobbling up the icy snow while they still had the chance. The town was beyond it all, bright and alive, filled with people out dining and walking, shopping. The light was fading fast.
The ice today is nothing like that ice. The ice now is heavy, dark. It's slowly being suffocated by the snow and water atop it, the weight pushing that once stable ice down into the water. The sun shines brightly on the surface now, rotting the ice with its warmth, forcing it to give up and give in. It's only a matter of time now. Within weeks the ice will be gone, and we'll have but our memories and some photos to remind us of what a winter here is like. Soon, the water will return, big and blue, clear and cold. The piers will go in, the boats will return, and within barely a few months the scene will be transformed into the one we all prefer. Summer is coming, and once the ice is gone there will be nothing that can stop it.
Today, we must guess. Not for prize, but for pride. Add a comment to this post if you have a good idea as to when ice-out will be complete. For this post, ice out is considered complete when the area between Gage Marine, Cedar Point, Rainbow Point, and Conference Point has all been turned to water. My guess is April 2, but that's just because I'm pretty certain that's when it will actually be.
Mar 11, 2015 by DC
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If this civilization wasn't so advanced, and we didn't already know what we liked and what we didn't like, we'd have to do some testing. If we were hunters not because we liked Filson jackets but because we needed to eat, then we'd go out hunting. We'd wander around and kill some living things. If we lived in town, we could ask the townspeople about the things that we see while hunting. For instance, we'd tell our town friends that we saw a small, gray colored animal with big ears, and it hopped around the woods, preferring brambles and thick piles of wood and brush. We'd ask if this animal was good to eat, and people would say that, yes, it's good. So we'd shoot it and we'd make stew of it.
If, however, we didn't live in that town, and we lived on our own, out in the wilderness like the old guy in Jeremiah Johnson, then we'd just shoot that thing, stew that thing, and eat that thing. If we liked it, we'd do it again. If we didn't like it, we'd look for other things to shoot at, and we'd leave the gray hopping thing alone. This is how trial and error works, and this is how preferences are developed. This, as you can imagine, isn't about rabbits. It's about houses. And we need to start taking a few bites to see what tastes right.
It isn't difficult to search for real estate. It used to be, back when newspaper advertisements were the only portal through which the public could consume inventory. But this is not then, this is now, and if my 11 year old son wanted to find a house to buy in British Columbia, he could do so within a few minutes of finding out where we hid is iPad. Inventory is easy to see, easy to digest, and opinions are easy to form. You could even be like some of the people I most dislike, and glean all of your lakefront real estate information here and then buy a bad house on the lake from someone else. Information is everywhere, and you can either benefit from it or allow it to overwhelm you, depending on how you act on it.
You could choose to sit at your computer, just you and your thoughts and so much Lake Geneva inventory, and teach yourself about the market. This is perfectly acceptable and entirely reasonable. You could take that to the extreme, and choose to only review the information on your own, and then when you're ready to buy you could go around calling only listing agents and tour those homes. This way, you only hear positive sales pitches and never the negatives, and if you think you're smarter than the entire market, you could act on this. But you wouldn't do this, because doing so would be to consider all of the information and opinion available to you disregard most of it.
The proper consideration for a lake home purchase is a fine mix of all of the above. Read about the markets. Read opinions. Review inventory. But then do the single most important thing you can do during the early stages of any property hunt-- come up and look at some homes. You must take samples from these homes, view the ones you like and the ones you don't think you'll like. Look at expensive ones that cost more than you can spend, and look at cheap ones that you assume are beneath you. Look at the market, touch it and feel it, take bites from it, and if you're doing this in the right manner, you'll be doing this with me as your guide. Without engaging in this style of market primer, you simply can't learn what you like and what you dislike. In the absence of this tangible exercise, you'll be stuck forever asking the townspeople what they prefer, and we all know the townspeople to be rather unintelligent.
Mar 08, 2015 by DC
In the early spring of 2010, I had a questionable idea. I thought I'd take some of these rambling blog posts that I call "stories" even though they lack a beginning, a middle, and typically an end, and I'd publish them in a magazine with some pretty pictures and my phone number. I ran the idea by some people. A friend of mine said it sounded stupid. My father said he didn't get it, but he said that while reclined in his La-Z-Boy in the middle of a weekday afternoon, a blanket loosely covering his old legs. Some clients that I asked thought it was a fair idea, but in truth they just didn't have the heart to tell me what a bad idea it really was. I printed the magazine anyway, and it was more like a pamphlet.
The 2015 issue of Summer Homes For City People is underway. It'll be the best issue yet, because I've not enlisted the help of Julie Barber for the design. The 2014 issue was her first, and it was markedly better than all of the ones that came before. I'm using Neal Aspinall for the cover design, as usual, and this year we're doing a full-cover wrap. The initial draft is above, but it'll likely be tweaked and tussled with before final printing in early May.
Just what is this magazine? Well, it's sort of a real estate magazine with beautiful property listings. It's also sort of a lifestyle magazine, like those shiny glossies that just have big pictures and ads. It's also sort of like a regular magazine, with writing and headlines. It's also sort of self-aggrandizing, but that's to be expected anytime a Realtor gets near a printing press. It's also still kind of a pamphlet, though far less a pamphlet now than it originally was, and I'm proud of the maturation of the design and the content.
I'm seeking a few extra ads for the upcoming issue, so if you know any business that would benefit from being included in this most wonderful magazine, please do let me know. I only take ads from companies that I think appeal to the Lake Geneva set, so if your best friend owns a bowling alley in Whitewater, chances are I don't want his ad. I'm also seeking lakefront and lake access sellers that want their homes celebrated on these bright pages. Time is running out for both opportunities. Oh, and remember when I said there had been some level of maturation of content? Well, below is a post that will be printed in the magazine, and you can rather easily see that maturation is a word that I'm using extremely loosely.
My introduction to life
It wouldn't have been that hard to find me. The sun was out, the grass was growing, my orange and white Simplicity lawn tractor had at least fifty cents of Herb's gas in the tank. I couldn't be reached by cell phone, because it was 1989 and only Miami drug dealers and my friend Eric's dad had those. If I wasn't on Liechty, and I wasn't at Doc's eating Williams Bay's newest delicacy- the egg roll- then I had to be on Elmhurst Street, mowing those lawns. The apartment building counted as just one lawn, with one weekly bill, but it felt like many lawns because of all the sidewalks that broke that wide lawn down into six mini-lawns. That's where I was, and that's where my mom found me.
I was late. It was whatever day of the week I had swimming lessons, and I was late. There wasn't time to ride my lawn mower home, to hitch up the little trailer that bore my name and phone number to the back bumper of that orange tractor. There was no time. I'd have to leave the tractor there, with the trailer next to it, with the blower and the weedwhip and the small red cans of mixed and regular gas. I jumped into the station wagon.
I spent many hours at the Williams Bay beach. This is where I took a lifetime of swimming lessons under the tutelage of the red swimsuit wearing girls that worked for the Water Safety Patrol. This is where I took lessons, but this isnít where I learned to swim. I learned to swim and dive at the Loch Vista Club pier. First in the shallows, near the slippery rocks and those slippery steps. Later, I would swim in and around the boats and the buoys, clinging to the underside of stringers and hanging to the top of horses. I learned to swim at that pier, but I learned about proper strokes and older women at that beach.
I learned other things there, too. I learned that if I ever found myself in the middle of a lake or an ocean, and I had fallen into that water with my clothes on, that I should take off my pants. While treading water, I was to tie each leg into a knot, somewhere between the knee and the cuff. Then, while treading water, pants-less, I was to hold the pants with both hands, by the waist band, and throw those pants over my head and down into the water. The goal here was to capture air in the pants, so that I could float longer in the middle of whatever watery grave I was treading water in. I remember working at this for quite some time, and while I passed the test, I was as certain then as am I now: This pant flotation device would never actually work. Instead, your pantless body would wash onto a beach some days later and the people there would wonder just what it was you had been doing.
This must have been the last year of these lessons, where the wheat is beaten from the chaff, and those of us proficient in tying pants into lifesaving devices went on to greater things while those who couldn't fell away, destined for nothing, ever. This last year was less swimming and more survival, less lessons and more cruel punishments that were devised by older people and implemented by high school girls with tanned faces, zinced noses, and red swimming suits. Each session featured something different, something more strange than the next. It was like Navy Seal training, without the supervision and protein bars and fame.
One time, we had to tread water holding a rock over our heads. The rock, looking back, must have weighed ten pounds or so. Maybe less, maybe a lot more. When these sorts of drills took place we had to move to the outer edge of the Western pier, presumably so that the younger children couldn't see what would happen to them if they stuck with these swimming lessons. Learned the front crawl, check. Learned to float, check. Learned the backstroke, check. Learned to dolphin kick, check. Learned to tread water with just your legs while holding a boulder over your head under the watchful eye of a tanned, red suited taskmaster? Um, check?
When someone is drowning, they are rarely passive. People only slip quietly under the surface to die in movies and album covers. What actually happens is a horribly frantic death flail, which is why people who try to save drowning people usually end up drowning along with them. Drowning people are selfish jerks, and they'll cling to you and drag you under no matter how large of a rock you can hold over your head. To prepare us for this inevitability, we had to fight off drowning victims. In this exercise, the victim would be the tanned lesson giver. I paid very close attention when she described what was about to happen.
She would be in the water, and one by one, we would have to approach her, drag her to safety, and presumably be rewarded with some sort of victory kiss. The last part was unclear. The girl promised that she would try her best to drown us, and that we had to use the various moves that we had learned. The moves were like, you grab my arm and I push it away, you grab my neck and I use some evasive maneuver similar to paint-the-fence. It didn't seem so hard, and whether I went first or I went last I cannot remember, but I can vividly remember my turn.
The girl, with the tan skin and the red suit, was treading water about 15 feet from the pier. She was fake screaming, fake flailing her arms, creating all sorts of ruckus. I jumped in, attempting to use that jump they teach that keeps your head from going under water so as not to lose sight of the victim. I approached her cautiously, not only because she was drowning but because I was 12 and she was 17. I would have been nervous no matter the occasion, if I were bringing a pack of gum to a gas station attendant who was the same age, I would have been just as nervous. This was less a swimming test and more a social one.
When I was close, she lunged. She grabbed me around the back of my head, pulling my face towards her red swim suit. It was fantastic and frightening at once, and though I didn't really want to, I used a wax on/off movement and deflected her hug. She played along nicely after that, and allowed me to tow her back to the pier, my tow hand dangerously close to her armpit. I had passed the test, and I had enjoyed every minute of it.
Swimming lessons stopped for me that year. I never went on to become a lifeguard. I never rode one of the patrol boats, with wayfarers and a zinc nose. I just went back to the orange and white Simplicity and mowed more lawns. Swimming lessons in pools are fine, but swimming lessons in pools prepare you for a life of swimming in pools. Swimming lessons in the lake are the best, and each beach on Geneva still offers those same swimming lessons from those same red suits. Check watersafetypatrol.org and get your kids signed up this summer. If you have a 12 year old son, chances are he'll love it, even if he acts like he doesn't.