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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $16MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $87MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily 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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Back To School

Sep 02, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I'm old enough now that I don't remember going back to school. I remember it in the high school context, what it was like to wear the new clothes and drive the new 1984 Dodge D100 truck. Those were some days. But the grade school back to school memories elude me. I assume I was shy, because I spent most of my childhood that way. I assume I was nervous, because that's something I was then as I remain now. I remember one year in particular, when a new boy named Jason joined our class. After school my mom said that I wasn't going to be the tallest kid in the class anymore, and she said it as if she was happy for that. I wasn't very tall, really, but Jason was taller and my mom, for some reason, was keen to point that out.

This morning, it's back to school for my kids. Sixth grade for my son and third grade for my daughter. They aren't outwardly nervous this morning, as I think I would have been. They are being kind to each other, which I suppose could be interpreted as nervousness. They are on the same side this morning, the side that finds the two of them heading into a new school year as individuals, in separate classes and separates halls in that small school, but still as a team, as brother and sister. They're still too young to fully understand that it'll be the two of them against the world for the remainder of their lives; still too young to understand that they'll always have each others backs, even when they don't feel like it.

It's sunny out this morning. It's sunny because everyone is going back to school and back to work, unlike yesterday when the day started off crummy, with wind and clouds and bouts of rain. It's sunny today, and it's going to be 80, too. But that doesn't mean it doesn't look like fall, and feel like fall, and that doesn't mean when I drop my kids off this morning and I haven't started the long, slow, death march towards the bitter pale of winter. That's the march we're on, whether we want to be heading in this direction or not, but no matter what inevitability lies ahead, today, it might feel like fall, but it's still summer.

The Twitter was full of nonsense yesterday. Not leaked celebrity photo nonsense, because that was the day before, but nonsense about the end of summer. Bobby Flay said that summer is now over, and he's looking forward to pumpkins and sweaters. Really, Bobby? There are few things I like better than fall, but on that short list, summer is one of them. I can't tell you that I dislike the thought of sweaters and pumpkins, because I own a closet full of one of them and a small patch of the others, but that's why God made October and November. September is as much for pumpkins as November is for Christmas. Each month has a rhythm, and September is for boat rides and swimming. There's a chance that a sweater may be needed on an evening boat ride, so in that, Bobby is correct.

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Aug 29, 2014 by DC | Add comment
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Early this year, I wasted a whole bunch of time putting, and then keeping, together a deal on a lakefront listing of mine. After deadlines were met and dates were extended, and after the things that typically happen during a real estate deal happened, then it was all proven an epic waste of time and the deal blew up. This week, a lakefront home in the South Shore Club closed for $3,591,000. You might not think much of that, as it relates to my waste of time farther down that southern shoreline, but the two events were connected. The deal falling through at Loramoor freed up a buyer to pursue what I perceive to be truly bigger and better things. The South Shore Club home sold because the other home did not.

That's a market update, sure, but it's more about marketing than anything. The broker of the SSC home, which was, rather obviously at this point in this post, not me, could have advertised that home all over the place. They could have put an ad in CHINA DAILY. They could have reached those Russian buyers by placing a huge, dimly colored ad in THE MOSCOW POST. They could have spend untold fortunes pulling full page ads and putting on champagne brunches. They could have, as I saw on television this week, invited some exercise company to shoot an exercise video there. For what? To market the home to the broad masses? Why do that when the home sold to a buyer who had a already developed an acute interest in Lake Geneva?

There's a marketing thesis in here somewhere. I might be able to sell a can of Diet Coke to someone who has been suffering along with Diet Pepsi all these years, but can I really sell a $3.5MM house to a buyer who has yet to realize he'd like one? The answer, over my 18 years, is no. I can present a home to a broad buyer base, to blow up my own ego and tend to my personal satisfaction, but does that really sell a home at Lake Geneva? The buyers who buy here are largely buyers who know here. They know what they're looking for, and they know what they'd like to pay. A billboard in Madison for Montana might make a family stop and think... hmmmm.... maybe we should go to Montana. But a full page ad in an expensive magazine doesn't generally result in a family saying....hmmm.... I've never heard of Lake Geneva, but honey grab the checkbook, let's go spend $3.5MM there!

Anyway, the South Shore Club home sold, as I told you it would. It was a heavy house, burdened some by those North Shore finishes from the 2000s that blended french country estate with medieval dungeon, but it was an undeniably nice house. The finishes were superlative, the location within the club as good as it gets. The price range that I defined for the club long before anyone else ever had the confidence to suggest a target has become the norm. $3.5-$4MM for the lakefront homes, a couple in the $3-3.3MM range that border those true lakefronts, $2MM to $2.6MM for the off-water, on-circle homes, and $1.7-$1.85MM for those homes on Forest Hill. Speaking of Forest Hill- I have reduced my listing there down to $1.895MM, which is a heck of a deal. Check the MOSCOW REPUBLICAN for my next ad.

Another lakefront sale this week was in the Birches. If you question which home in the Birches sold, that's a normal condition, because at some point over the past few years it seems as though every home in the Birches as sold. This one was the basic home on the top of that big hill that had been listed over $2MM for some time. It had a contract last year, but failed to close. The asking price then was in excess of two million dollars. The price was adjusted a few times this year, down marginal increments, until it was slashed to $1.55MM. A buyer jumped at it, and there's a new entry level lakefront buyer in a fairly decent lakefront house.

That home proves something about the entry level lakefront market. The days of buying a decent lakefront for $1.2MM are gone, for this cycle anyway. I sold a whole lot of lakefront homes in that price range over the last three years, and all of them have proven to be substantial deals. Now, the entry level still exists in that $1.3MM range, but it exists for bad houses mostly. The better values are those homes that might sell for $1.5MM or so. If I could buy an impaired lakefront for $1.3MM or a decent lakefront for $1.5MM, I don't believe I'd have to tell you what I'd do.

Two lake access homes sold in the last week as well, those being an okay house with a boatslip in Academy Estates for $640k and a vintage spread in Glenwood Springs with a lakeview, a double lot, and a private pier that sold for $730k. I didn't love the Academy house, even though I do love Academy Estates. If you're looking for a Realtor to show you around either the SSC or Academy Estates, consider I'm probably the only Realtor alive who took Driver's Education with the cadets at Northwestern Military Academy, AND played basketball against those cadets in their little, tiny, gym. I took Driver's Ed there with some girls from my school, and if you're imagining the cadets lining up from their dorm rooms and whistling and catcalling those girls, you'd be exactly right. Still, Academy Estates is nice, even if I wasn't involved in that sale.

The lakefront remains active, and though I'm expecting a short lull around this time of year, I haven't really felt that lull yet. There are buyers busily hunting, and sellers positioning their homes for the fall market. Price reductions are common right now, so buyers heading into fall are in a slightly improved position from where they were a month or more ago. It's raining right now, and it's cool outside, and it's also the start of Labor Day Weekend. Be safe at the lake this weekend, and if there's anything at all you feel like buying or selling, just let me know. I'll be busy placing my next ad in the CARACAS DAILY NEWS.

Big Sky Country

Aug 27, 2014 by DC |

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I don't recall being all that impressed with the sky in Big Sky Country. It was a sky, sure, but it didn't look any bigger to me than any other sky. Some skies are small, there's no doubt about that. When I lived in Geneva National, that was a small sky. My view was in all directions, but not very far in all directions. There wasn't much to see there, by way of the sky. The trees made sure I wouldn't have much sky to view, and the neighboring houses took care of what the towering foliage missed.

Manitoba, now there's a big sky. You can see rain coming for days there. It'll first appear on the horizon, at the outer edge of that very big sky. Then, a day or two later, it'll be closer. Day three, closer still. Day four, a hint of rain in the air, and a bunch some distance away in the sky, not no actual rain. Days five through seven are the same, with rain seemingly near but still not near enough to make the ground wet. The sky, it's that big out there. Bigger than it is in Montana, where they boast so about the size of their sky.

Monday was, a long time before it arrived, forecast to be a nice day. It was to be so nice, they said, that it would be worth spending the day skiing, if you were able to both take the day off and, you know, ski. So that's what a friend of mine did, and on Monday morning, around about the time the sky was bright with filtered sunshine, that's what we set out to do. It was 8:30 when this ski session began, and if it had unfolded as most ski sessions have a tendency to unfold, I would be back to my car and to my work no later than 10 am. At 8:30, the sky was big, hazy, but bright and warm.

By 8:45, the sky began giving way to an approaching storm. The storm must have come from some great distance, but from our view on the North Shore, somewhere around Pebble Point, the storm was coming from Williams Bay. The sky turned foul, dark, and the wind pushed in from one direction and then the next, before finally settling on the original direction and picking up momentum. We rushed back to the safety of the pier, where we stood and watched the storm make its way towards us. First, that wind. Then, the darkness that treated the sun as if it was such a powerless victim. Then, the sheets of rain, though not as much as the dark clouds and their sinister rotation would have suggested. There had yet to be any skiing.

Later, after a hearty breakfast and focused radar watching, the lake went slack again, and we walked to the pier. From the house, the water looked nice, flat, ski worthy. The short walk from house to pier allowed the water to bristle some, and it allowed the clouds to build again. The light gave way, the clouds twisted and churned, the wind shifty at first, then straight from the west and into our pier and our hair and out teeth. The bulk of the darkness went towards Fontana, though it once again came from Williams Bay. Some stayed north, towards Lake Como, maybe, or further, who knows? We watched it from the house, as this wind gathered itself much more capably than did the earlier wind, and it blew and blew, from West to East, with no variation in course. The rain fell, too, and it was once again no longer time to ski.

Time passed. The sky turned lighter again. Sunshine? Some. A glimmer of it, anyway. And the water, once whipped by that stiff gale, now turning softer by the minute, by the moment. Would their be skiing? We would try. Down from the house and onto the lawn, over the stone path and onto the pier. Under the canopy and into the boat. Out of the slip and over that water, now calm and peaceful and beckoning? Yes, beckoning.

But clouds again. Clouds from Williams Bay, clouds over Fontana. Churning and spinning and lifting and rotating, and coming our way. No matter, ski. Just ski. And ski we did. From shore to shore, around and back again. Straight lines, no laziness. Sharp turns, gravity be damned. Pure cuts and sloppy cuts, no matter, they were cuts. The water was calm enough, the sky bright enough, the window just big enough. There was lightening. Was it striking Fontana? Or Sharon? Where is Sharon, really? To the ground and back, pulsing each way. The skier, still in the water, emboldened for one last run. Towards the house. Throttle down, 6.2 liters doing exactly what it was made to do.

The shore passes quickly at a GPS controlled 34 miles per hour. The skier cuts when he can, with the darkness and the lightening and so much thunder so not very far away. The sky, the ski.

That sky on that day took on many, many forms. It was hazy and fun. It was dark and brooding. It was tumultuous and tantrumy. It was beautiful and scary, but above all, it was awfully big. You can miss that enormity when viewing a storm from a normal house window. You can see the storm coming, but you can't see if coming for long, and you can't see it linger to the south or the north, with its flickering electrical pulse stinging towns far, far away. At the lake, over the lake, you can take the time to savor a storm. It's coming, it's here, and it's leaving. Either way, it's best viewed from a lakeside lawn, or a white, sturdy pier. Or the driver's seat of a very fast boat.

Boat Density Geneva Lake

Aug 25, 2014 by DC |
The last boat study I'm aware of was conducted in 2003. This study looked at Geneva Lake on a number of different levels, including ecosystem issues, farm run-off concerns, invasive species considerations, and boat density. The study looked at historical boat densities on Geneva in an attempt to identify trends and lend some guidance to the future. For instance, on July 4th, 1977, there were 650 boats in use on Geneva. This includes sailboats, PWC's, and motor boats. It does not differentiate between a 44' Carver and a 13' Alumacraft. On July 4, 1988, there were 1120 boats in use. And on July 4, 2003, just 512 boats were under sail or under power at any given point on that day. The study doesn't mention weather as a factor, though I'm betting the 1988 day was 95 and sunny and the 2003 day was cool and rainy, but still.

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I am unaware of any newer study on this boating topic, but my eyes yesterday told me one thing: There might be too many boats on Geneva on any given Sunday. This common concern can be easily avoided by those with vacation homes here, by following simple weekend boating schedules that include boating before 11 am and after 5 pm. Allow the midday to be thrown to the day trippers and bachelor party types, and save the mornings and the evenings for the pure lake lovers. Even so, if there is a density issue, how might we curb that? Should we raise launch fees to obscene levels? We should, but the DNR won't have any of it, so that's off the table for now. Should we limit owners to a certain number of boats? Of course not. Should we ban rental boats? Most certainly.

I do not watch the rental boat scene closely. This is because I don't travel into downtown Lake Geneva on weekends unless forced by absolute necessity. So while I cannot know the exact number of rental boats, I do know what my eyes tell me, and that says that most pontoon boats on the lake are rental boats, and most 20' and under boats on the lake are as well. Rental companies have lots of boats, and these boats are in high demand. Where else can a family with no boating experience be given a five minute "push this to go forward" lesson and be given the keys and a full tank of gas to last four hours? The danger element is real, and given the density consideration on the lake has everything to do with danger and little to do with aesthetics anyway, the rental boats add to the density which adds to the danger. We can kill two birds with one stone by limiting these boats.

But it isn't all the fault of the rental boats, as the proliferation of so called "boat clubs" has added even more density to our water. Times were, you went boating if you owned a boat. Or, if you were lucky enough to have a friend who owned a boat. That way, you could burn through his tank of gas on a Saturday and throw him a $20 to feel like you compensated him for the fuel. Today, you don't need to own anything, including any level of boating proficiency. You just need to sign on to a boat club at Gage or Gordy's, and drive, drive, drive. Again, I do not know the exact numbers of boat club boats, nor do I know the numbers of participants in the clubs, I just know that there are more boats on the water lately, and it has nothing to do with more lakefront homes. It has everything to do with easier access to the water by those who would otherwise not be boating.

Some could argue that this is a good thing. That increased availability to the finer things in life is a positive for society. I would be hesitant to agree, but I might do so in the event that it could be proven that the operators of these rental boats are conscientious drivers. That isn't so say that owners are boating pros, because I've seen some horrible boating moves at the hands of lakefront owners. I've seen towed kids drop off tubes only to have the boat driver continue on course for far too long before noticing. I've seen others whip inside of each other, forever unwilling to yield the right of way, and cursing loudly in the process. I've seen some horrible etiquette on the lake, and that's because money can buy a wonderful, shiny boat, but it cannot buy calm nerves and common sense.

I sat at a lakefront house yesterday, on the front patio, in the shade, with a slight easterly breeze keeping my personal dew point at bay. I enjoyed the scene, as I always do. Sailboats tacked through that breeze, cruisers cruised and fishermen plunked their way from spot to spot, fighting the waves and the sun but likely not upset about either. The lake was full of boats, and it was undeniably busy. Late summer Sundays are like that, with every participant racing to cram more summer into this rapidly evaporating calendar. The rental boat drivers were doing the same, and while I cannot fault them for their enthusiasm, I can't help but think there should be fewer of them. Safety demands it, and perhaps it's time the DNR did, too.

Fall Market Preview

Aug 22, 2014 by DC | Add comment
For the first time all year, my iPhone weatherman shows a forecast with lots of 80 degree temps and even some 90 degree temps. Remember those summer nights from previous summers, like from all of the previous summers that came before this one? Those were the nights where we'd walk outside after dark, after spending some time in our conditioned homes, and the late night heat would be as potent as the midday heat? Remember then, after those sultry nights, when we'd wake in the morning, early like, and the heat would still be there, waiting for us, suffocating us? Dew Point was the enemy then, but this summer, have we ever gone to bed hot and woken up hot? I know I haven't. But that's what it's going to be like in the coming Ice Age.

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Though the iPhone says it'll be hot, this morning still smacks of early fall. Everything is green, yes, but flowers are showing their age and grass is starting to pale. There's a fall on the horizon, and if you wish to understand Lake Geneva at all times, then you must understand it in the fall. There's a distinct timeline of market events in the fall. The fall is for orchards and shopping for school clothes, sure, but it's also for real estate at Lake Geneva. A friend of mine at Chicago Title told me just this week that new orders have slowed some, but that existing orders are still high as buyers race to close in time to enjoy a bit of summer and the entirety of fall. Contracts are slowing, which should mean we're concerned, right?

Obviously not. Do I look concerned? I'm not, because the rhythm of a Lake Geneva fall involves a brief slow down right about now. The reason for this temporary pause has everything to do with kids. While kids are not a requirement of enjoying Lake Geneva, they do tend to be part of this equation for many people. While kids prepare for a return to school, parents are busily rushing from this and to that, buying new shoes and soccer cleats, scheduling doctor's appointments and dentist visits. There is much to do right now, and Lake Geneva will be on hold for many families who are currently distracted by the real world.

What happens next is as obvious as what is happening now. Kids return to school. Young kids to the elementary, older kids to the high school, and older kids who are sort-of adults, to college. Once the household has returned to a school schedule, that's when Lake Geneva resurfaces. For families who saw the summer come and go with nary a nod towards Wisconsin and the lake, they will feel as though they've missed out. Why would they feel this way, when they have city or suburban luxury to pad their September existence? Um, because the city and the suburbs are lame on the weekends? That's exactly right, so these families will know that they've missed out, and they'll consider sourcing a remedy to all that tedium.

They'll come to Lake Geneva, during weekdays when kids are in school, or they'll swing up on weekends, when they get a taste of what they've just missed. This is why the fall market for buyers is always active; because people realize that they've just missed yet another summer. The fall market will be solid this year, as it usually is, as buyers will chase down their summer dreams amid browned leaves. Buyers will be active through Thanksgiving, with most buyers making their moves between Labor Day and the end of October. The truly motivated buyers will never leave the market, and they will watch for new inventory or new price reductions, and they're as apt to buy in July as they are in December. But the masses, they'll be buying over the next 75 days.

For sellers, this should be good news. Sellers are always concerned about "missing the market". They think, in somewhat antiquated theory, that the market has ceased sometime around Labor Day. They are wrong when they think that, so sellers be aware that you have plenty of time left in 2014 to sell your property. Many sellers are reducing their prices now, and other sellers will be coming to market after spending one last summer at the lake. This phenomenon is rather common, as sellers who are a bit undecided in the spring will many times put off the decision to sell until they can have one last go around. Of course, building inventory that way can backfire, as sellers who consider selling in the spring can also end up keeping their home after they realize just how great a Lake Geneva summer is. Nothing makes you love it more than the thought of leaving it.

Above, 88 North Lakeshore Drive. 230+ front feet of lakefront, 5+ acres of wooded privacy, $5.9MM.

Summer Scape

Aug 20, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I have never been to Florida in the summer. The reason for this abstention is because I have all of my faculties about me, and I have increasingly little interest in going there in the winter time, let alone in the summer time. This is because there's no place I'd rather be than Lake Geneva in the summer, which is a statement that I've said throughout my life, and I mean it more today than I ever have. If I were to break the chains of sanity and travel to Florida in August, I imagine the things I'd see. I'm guessing there would be palm trees with those long, sharp leaves. I'm thinking there would be some impatiens and rhododendrons. Perhaps some dense green shrubs, with fat, thick leaves. I assume Florida in August looks just like Florida in January, and I find no fun in that.

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Today, the landscape at my house is pretty decent. It's all relative, landscaping, and my decent would be someone else's crappy, just as it would be someone else's incredible. There are varying ways of judging a landscape, and I'm trying to make mine a tolerable mix of wild and kept, of neat and natural, of rugged and refined. Out front, there is a vast jungle of weeds and grass, some so high they could reach a basketball rim without even trying. There is mostly grass though, the remnants of the farmer's field that was where my house is now. The grass is nice, and earlier this season it was green. Now it's still green down near the base, but the tops are waving seeds of gold and tan, bent from their own weight and bent in whatever direction the winds wishes them to bend. It's nice.

Inside of that wild boundary, the one so wild that my wife asks me to move the sprinkler if it's too near that edge because of the "wild animal sounds" that emanate from the grassy darkness, there is lawn. It's pretty nice, this lawn, and considering I sowed it all Johnny Appleseed style, without the handsome satchel, it's pretty nice. There was no thoughtful preparation of the soil before I scattered those seeds. Instead, a bulldozer pushed the dirt sort of smooth on a Monday and on a Tuesday I threw grass seed on top of it. A year and a bit later, it's nice.

Against the house there are plants that I bought from the nursery on Dam Road two November's ago. I didn't buy what I thought would look nice, I just bought what last remnant bits she had to sell at a steep discount before winter began. I planted most of those shrubs and flowers late into the fall, or early into that winter, whichever way you prefer to see it. Nearly two years later, they are growing and flowering and bushing and vining. The Hydrangeas are sending out beautiful cone shaped heads, with ivory petals that turn to pink on the edges. The shrubs are pushing out berries, blue and red, so that the birds might eat from them this winter when there's very little else on hand. The roses are bursting with blossoms, red and pink, but mostly red.

The cone flowers are tall now, big, showy heads of seeds and petals that the bees enjoy more than anything else I have here. The black eyed susans are my favorite, and those small one gallon plants are now many, many more gallons large. They are blooming profusely, and I love them for it. There are some other things here, too. Small deciduous shrubs that spread and bloom with pale purple blossoms, dotted with yellow in the centers. I don't know what they are called, because when a shrub is only $5, you buy it and then figure all the rest out later. They mapley looking shrub that was very tall last year, is less tall now, but that's because it didn't so much enjoy the past winter, and I had to coerce it back to life. It's fine now, the leaves turning from purple to, well, to purple.

There are grasses in this house-side garden as well. These are like the large ones that are out in the field, but they're more civilized, and mostly contained to the clump they came in when I bought them last fall from the Shopko parking lot. They were $3, so the gamble was hardly high stakes. They look nice now, and they blend with everything else, with the blossoms and the leaves, with the petals and the stalks. Everything works right now. In August, in the Midwest, there is very little that isn't pretty.

Even our weeds are pretty, which is why I brought home a hastily gathered milkweed arrangement for my wife the other day. I was fishing and kept finding my line tangled in these tall, purple flowers that hung from the stream side like intentional nuisances. I tore my line from them repeatedly, cursing them for being in my way. After some time of the cursing, I realized that these were, in actuality, beautiful flowers. So I clipped them, and I searched online to buy some seeds that I might scatter across the weedy/grassy portion of my very front lawn. I was cutting the milkweed arrangement when I noticed the wild daisy's growing in huge, towering clumps. These were wild as well, and who in their right mind can walk through six foot tall flowers without cutting a few down and bringing them home to a water filled vase?

The goldenrod is out now, as well. My wife is keen on telling me that it was always out, it just wasn't blooming. Whatever the case, the goldenrod is in bloom. Yes, it's an allergy bomb, but the suffering is beautiful. Huge fields of this brilliant weed are found anywhere you look now, as long as you're looking to the countryside and not to the cityscape.

The lakeside lawns today are filled with hydrangeas and showy perennial flowers of all makes and models. The grasses are tall, the shrubs vibrant and green, the lake as dazzling in whatever shade of blue you wish to see it in. As I age, I do not find myself drawn to further adventures down some far away road. I do not wonder what the alps look like in the summer, nor question the landscape of Oregon in the fall. I simply spend more time pausing now, looking at the ever changing landscape of this Midwestern county, and I can say without any equivocation, there is no prettier landscape in this world than that of Wisconsin in the summertime.

Geneva National Market Update

Aug 18, 2014 by DC | Add comment

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I struggle a bit with understanding how the news pundits explain housing. If, for instance, sales are up, then housing is doing well. Yay! If sales are down, housing is doing poorly. New home starts up? Yay! New home starts down? Batten the hatches. It's a simplistic thing to view real estate through a national lens, so I suppose we shouldn't fault these know-nothings for their knee-jerk reactions to the positive or the negative, but I still do.

If housing starts are down, as they are right now compared to the prior month, or quarter, or maybe from last year, who cares? Sure that's not great for home builders, but remember, what's best for the market isn't always what's best for home builders. Diminishing inventory is good for markets, if you're an owner already, even though it might be bad for buyers. Diminishing inventory, even in a climate of slightly lowered home starts is also a good thing for builders, because if there are fewer homes to consider, well, then, it might make sense for the builders to build a few more of them. News is always good and bad, and until we get reports that sales prices are down, sales volume is down, home starts are down, and interest rates are up, I'm going to proceed with my normal caution while still saying that housing is doing just fine.

Geneva National knows the gyrations of housing trends better than any association up here. While other large associations, like Abbey Springs, operate on a much lower volume expectation than does Geneva National, it's also proven to be far more immune to the tumult that has roiled GN over recent years. I could have said decades and the statement would have still been true. Geneva National typically has a bit of a difficult set of circumstances to overcome: High existing inventory and continually built and added new inventory, both forced to co-exist inside what is a broad market that thrives on relatively low volume. The combination for GN can be somewhat toxic, which is why slight downturns in the market result in very difficult times for GN. As I once heard about Michigan's Upper Peninsula, "If the US economy is thriving, the UP is in a recession, but if the US economy is in a recession, the UP is in a depression". I suppose the same could be set about Geneva National.

It isn't that I don't love Geneva National, because I do. But I love Geneva National like I love my children. I love them, and all, but I'm still keen to point out when they do something bad. Geneva National is, unfortunately, lagging far behind our broad vacation home market this year. Last spring, sales were up and the sky looked to be the limit. This year, things are different, and while the 2013 YTD sales tallied 41, the 2014 sales YTD number just 26. Inventory is down only slightly, so the reduction in volume isn't due to a pure lack of available homes and condominiums. The reduction in volume isn't due to increased pricing, either, as prices there seem to be stable to falling, even now at this late date in 2014.

Today, there are 48 Geneva National homes and condominiums listed under $300k. Only one of those is shown as pending in the MLS. Consider that the lake access market around Geneva has 21 properties available priced under $300k, and three of those are pending sale per the MLS. The broad market at GN, that inventory from the very bottom to the very top, shows 107 available properties, with just four of those pending sale. Contrasted to the Geneva lake access and lakefront market, where 147 total properties are available and 13 of those are pending sale. GN is lagging, which is rather sad given the vast amount of amenities and beauty that are present inside those gated boundaries.

What does this mean for the buyers out there who might be considering GN? It means that if the Lake Geneva market is expected to see many price reductions and yield many terrific deals, imagine what the situation will be at GN. There will be reductions and there will be deals. As always, I'm a buyer in GN if I avoid the newer enclaves that have potential for too much added inventory. While it might be sexier to consider a new condo on a street that will someday be filled with new condos, I'd rather buy an existing unit inside one of the aged enclaves where I can see a steady stream of sales and clearly understand the historical price undulations. There are deals to be had, but only for the intelligent.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Aug 15, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I suppose it could be said that spring buyers are those with immediacy on their minds. If you search for a home in March, at the tail end of a deep and dark Midwestern winter, it's somewhat obvious that you're searching for a summery reprieve. If you look then, buy a bit later, and close before that Memorial Day weekend, then you're a buyer who looked and bought in time for a full season of instant, ready-made summer. You get to close on a Friday and boat on a Saturday. You close on a Tuesday and swim from your pier on a Wednesday. You close on Thursday and are first in line for fish fry on Friday. This is what happens when you close right before summer, and this is rather wonderful.

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But today, it is no longer just about to be summer. It might be the dog days of summer now, but these are old dogs, and this is late summer. Drive around and look at the signs. While the cicadas have finally chimed in with their endless tune, and that's typically and always a sign of summer vitality, the greens on the trees tell a different story. Things are green, yes, but these things are less green now than they were just two weeks ago. The cone flowers are in bloom alongside the Black Eyed Susan's and the hydrangeas. These are not flowers that enjoy early anything, instead preferring to only blossom after the summer has worn on, and the fall is approaching. It's 43 degrees as I write, and 43 degrees has as little to do with summer as the gloves I wore yesterday morning while fishing a small spring creek.

This summer is getting late, and people who pay little attention to our real estate markets might think that means things are on the wane. Spring is for buyers, they say. Late summer is for revelers, and fall is for leaf kickers. That's what they say, I think. But I say each season has its own flow, its own rhythm, and while this season has a rhythm set by an unruly bunch of tree-dwelling insects, it's still a rather upbeat tune. The market is active, and unlike previous posts in previous years, the market is somewhat uniformly active. There are buyers about, on the lakefront and in the associations, looking for slips and hoping for buoys, searching for a view or just a short enough walk to a white, wooden pier. There are buyers, and they are paying the dulling green of the leaves very little attention.

Because to be a looker in the late summer is to be a buyer in the fall, and buyers in the fall have time on their side. If you buy on May 20th, you need to get yourself in gear, pronto. There's a boat to buy and a lawn to have cut, there's this and that, but mostly a lot of each. It's a harried time, the spring. The fall? It's slower, it's easier, it's less frantic. To buy in the fall is to sign onto an easy transition where there is no rush, no immediate concern, but instead, a gentle switch from primary home existence to lake home life. These late summer contract-seekers will be fall buyers, and to be a fall buyer is to ensure there's plenty of time to be ready for next summer.

Around the lake today there are contracts. That spec house in the South Shore Club is under contract, as I mentioned on Wednesday that I thought it might be. That's a big sale for the club, as any spec home situation inside of a small segment of the market has the potential to do damage. Why? Well, because spec home owners are owners only because they want to sell, and those who want to sell quickly are more tempted to adjust their price downward than are traditional sellers. Taking a spec home off the table is wonderful for an association, and this case is no exception.

There is a new contract pending with a buyer whom I'm pleased to represent over in Lake Geneva, that of a home listed at $1.6MM or so. It's a nice home, under contract to a wonderful family, and I couldn't be happier for the lifestyle adjustment they're about to undertake. Three homes in the Birches remain under contract, adding to the mass exodus of sellers within that association over the past three years. If you ask me, I'd say it's strange that so many homes in such a confined space have changed hands over such a short time frame. I'd be apt to subscribe to a conspiracy as to why they all might want to sell, but I know it's just a cyclical thing and sellers sell mostly when it's time to sell. And if you live on the lakefront in the Birches, it's apparently time.

The lakefront in the South Shore Club ($3.799MM) is pending sale, as I mentioned the other day. There's activity galore on the lakefront right now, which doesn't mean that a buyer has to make a poor decision. It's true that if just 20% of lakefront buyers hold some sort of high octane motivation it'll spoil the market for the remaining 80%, but that doesn't mean there can't still be deals printed this fall. I continue to look at the aged inventory for value, and love to snipe new listings in the event that they come to market at a reasonable market price. The temptation for new sellers to list at absurdly high prices will be rather potent this fall, so we'll just sort of watch those sellers bring their bravado to market and then we'll quietly hope that one of the 20% doesn't buy it. Watch for a new listing in Lake Geneva in the coming days, likely hitting the market at a price that's wildly above market.

Sellers, please stop listing your properties with the highest bidder. Buyers, please work with me so we can avoid those sellers.

South Shore Club Market Update

Aug 13, 2014 by DC |
The pool was rather perfect looking. Perhaps one or two groupings of a few individuals hung to its watery edges, but no one was swimming. The life guard was on the chair for a while, then she went around and rearranged one or two chairs. The monotony of the post dictated that she do this. There were a few people milling about near the lake, but a few of those few worked for the Club, so they were milling less and working more. Two women walked, between the lake and the pool, across the lawn at first, and then up the path. It was sunny and warm. The boats were there, most of them anyway. Perhaps two were gone. Were the people out to lunch on those boats? Were they driving them around the lake, showing friends this and that? Or were they just parked somewhere out of the way, drifting and thinking under that brightening midday sun. It was Saturday, August 9th, at around Noon. I was in the South Shore Club.

There was some fear last year that the SSC would not be as it was in prior years. I had placed many new owners in the Club over the past 12 months, and there was some concern that the sleepy nature of this lakeside enclave was soon to change. There was fear that the new crowd would be louder, more active. The old guard feared what changes would come with the new guard. In was apparent to me on that Saturday, as it has been on nearly every Saturday during 2014: The only thing that's changed at the South Shore Club is the market, and the lake sets perspective of it. The pool is still mostly unused, the boats still mostly undriven. The swim pier mostly un-swum. If you're a buyer, that's a very, very good thing.

So what's happened in the SSC over the past year? Well, lots of stuff. Last year, I sold lot 3 and then lot 18 and then lot 27. Then this year I sold lot 20 and lot 19 and then lot 31. I sold the home for $1.725MM on East Lakeside, and then someone else sold the home for $3.1MM on Lakeside. The home a few doors from the $3.1MM house is under contract shy of $3.8MM, and the rumor mill has it that a deal is about to happen on the spec home that was built on lot 3 ($1.749MM). Additionally, there's a home for sale for $1.75MM on Forest Hill that'll be sold soon. Lot 27 hit the market for $700k as a re-sale last week and has a buyer on it already. Remember the South Shore Club? Yeah, the new one is nothing like the old one. Except for the nobody home at the pool thing and the beautiful boats sitting unused bit.

I'd like to take some credit for the South Shore Club resurgence, and perhaps there is a tiny bit due. While the Club waffled around without buyers for a few years, it was obvious to me that there wasn't any deep rooted issue with the SSC, not with the general concept or with the nearly flawless execution of that concept, rather there was simply growing pains that coincided with a miserable market downturn. Once the appropriate prices were set and the proper narrative was crafted, it was only a matter of time before the market saw the club as I do now- as a viable alternative to traditional lakefront ownership.

We'd be remiss if we didn't add that somewhat uninspiring inventory in the $2.5MM to $3.5MM lakefront price range has helped push buyers to the club. If you're a $3.5MM lakefront buyer, you're probably not all that impressed with what we have available to you. There are unique homes, and there are unique parcels, but there is rarely a beautiful home on a beautiful parcel. The SSC takes the parcel out of the question, and instead allows buyers to focus on what most of them really, truly want: Some form of gilded luxury.

The SSC now has just two developer owned lots left. Those at lot 6 and lot 32. Priced at $595k and $649k respectively, they are fair lots and they will sell. If a buyer is contemplating one of those, he or she will be very pleased to know that I just put lot 20 back on the market as a resale. Priced to sell now at $585k, it's a heck of a lot. Great views, great proximity to the pool without owning too much proximity, and a tidy little price that's better than you could do through the developer. Why is that owner selling? Well, because he's found something else within the SSC that he likes and he's heading that direction. That's another important data point- sellers in the SSC are no longer sellers who don't want to stay in the SSC. Instead, now they're behaving like many owners of traditional lake access association behave. They're jockeying for better positioning but staying in the association that they've come to love (see Lake Geneva Club for a million different examples of that phenomenon).

Most of the disinterested or otherwise weak ownership is gone from the SSC now, and the fact that all of the vacant lots to have sold in the last 16 months have sold to cash buyers is something that the broad market should notice. This is a strong association, competing with the most impeccable lakefront homes. It's the SSC, which is just like the old SSC except with a whole lot of momentum.

The Watch

Aug 11, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I'm always surprised how many people watch properties. They don't look at properties, necessarily, but they watch them. They look at them online, they drive by them in person. They rent a boat and drive by from the water, killing the engine and floating, looking, watching, judging. They do this for a while, and then they might call me or make a mistake and call someone else, and they say "I've been keeping an eye on such and such house". They say an eye, but I know they mean both eyes and most of their thinking capacity, spending days and then months stressing over a particular house for one reason or another. I like to watch properties, and I know you do, too.

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Watching a property is a nice way to get your arms around such a purchase. A vacation home purchase can be made on a whim, and if you were following along at home and watching the sale of certain properties this year we would almost have to believe that many of those were indeed purchased on a whim. While some rush and whim it, others lie in the weeds, waiting for the right time. What's the right time? Well, the buyer is thinking they need to wait for the right time to take advantage of the seller, but in reality the right time is that time when the buyer, the weed sitter, finally comes to terms with the decision he's about to make. He wants that house, and he's convinced himself that if he waits just a little longer, it'll be the right time.

Unfortunately for the buyer, this Property Watch isn't a solo game, even if he thinks it is. He's watching, he's sitting, he's eating some beef jerky to while away the time. He thinks he's on the inside track, after all, he's the one waiting. In another town, or in the same town, down the street a bit and around the corner, there's another Watcher, and she's watching the same property as the other guy. They don't know it, because secretly watching a property is a lonely game, and the Watcher likes the idea that he's hatched in his own mind: He's the Watcher, and that property will some day be his. All his.

Except the other Watcher thinks the same, and so they watch, in their different homes in their different towns, and they're intent on waiting for the right time to pounce. Summer is for suckers, they both think at the same time in different towns, fall is for the shrewd. Let the summer buyers buy, and let them pay prices that they think will be higher than the fall prices, and in broad theory, they're both right. There will be deals this fall, and they know it. Except they want one particular house, not any old house, they want one house. The house is perfect, it's without flaw, and they both know it. The timing is just about right, but first this green shoreline must fade and brown, and the blue waters must be free of white woody abutments.

Time passes. More time, too. The longer the property sits unsold, the more emboldened our watchers are. Watching from the computer screen, watching from the boat, watching from the car. Watching, watching, watching. Waiting, too, but mostly the watching is the active part, the waiting is passive, but just as important. Three weeks from Monday, the one watcher thinks. He'll be ready then. It's taken a while to come to terms with the purchase, mostly in his own mind, because the house he is considering is not one considered by those without the means to consider it, but come to terms with it he has. He's ready now, but he'll be more ready then. He pours his cereal, checks his screen. Still available, he sees, contented by his cunning delay.

She decides it's time, too. She knows it's time. There's no better house for her, no better spot on the lake, no better entry drive, no better pier. And that lakeside porch? None better. Her date is approaching, too. She can feel it approaching, though she senses the momentum she knows not when it'll boil to the surface. Two weeks, she thinks. She'll be ready then. She sits back in her chair, content in her patience, and impressed with her own self control.

Two weeks passes and she makes an offer. It's not a great offer, mind you, but it's an offer. The negotiations begin, and one week into them, another offer arrives. It's his. It's not great, either, but it's an offer. The seller, forever a non-component of this watching game, is suddenly and firmly in the driver's seat. The seller negotiates as anyone would, and pushes him and then her, her and then him, before the price arrives at the number the seller is comfortable with. She accepts the seller terms, he loses. He sits at his screen, desperately scanning for the next house that he might watch.

The seller sells, and she buys. She's thrilled! And we know she should be, because she just bought herself a most glamorous lakefront home on a most glamorous lake. One more jewel in the crown? Sure, but this jewel brings with it a lifestyle enhancement for the entire family and social circle that a simple jewel could never provide. The price she paid was fair, and she's content. The seller is content, too, knowing he just sold the house in November for the same price he would have been willing to sell it for in August.

The waiting game is fun. It's boring. It's exciting! It's tedious. But it's also mostly unnecessary. Love a house from afar? Stop crouching in those perfectly coiffed boxwoods. Just come up and see the house, love the house, buy the house. Chances are you'll buy it now for what you'll end up buying it for later, and what's the sense in that?