Oct 31, 2014 by DC
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To be fair, the axe was never truly intended to be used this way. It's made by The Best Made Company in Tribeca, where the men are skinny and their jeans are skinnier, and their beards are full and their plaid pronounced. These are not the sorts that make axes for the mountain men out West, for the guys that strap these axes to their backs and hike for days. These are made for trips to the Adirondacks, to pack in the Defender 90, atop the Yeti cooler and next to flea market wool blankets, next to the wicker fishing creel and the bamboo fly rod. These are prop axes, but what beautiful props they are. Say what you will about these city dwelling faux outdoors men, they know how to make an axe.
The first few swings felt right. It had taken some time for my son and I to find a tree that was suitable for our intended purpose. Most of these trees are wild cherry and boxelder. Mulberry, too. They grow crooked on purpose. Most on the property are alive, and I didn't really want to harvest all live trees to build what must be built. So we walked, and when when stopped at a tree that was dead but not rotten, I took the first swing. And then the second. The wood split away like I had hoped it wood. The axe had been used before, plenty of times, but always with the log standing upright, with its grain exposed to my edge, and things split nicely, as they should. Swinging an axe against the grain is not as effective. American Felling Axe, in theory.
My son had his axe, but it wasn't best made by any hipsters in New York. I had bought a bunch of these smaller axes some time ago, and they're mostly for throwing into hunks of wood, but they have a handle and a blade, so they should be able to fell a tree. He swung a few times, chiseling splinters from that tree. I swung when he was done, and then he swung when I was done. Who picked this tree, anyway? Why did it have to be so incredibly thick? It looked, at first glance, like a small Boxelder, maybe 10" in diameter. Half way through, it looked like a Redwood, towering over us, it's girth mocking every one of our swings, Best Made or otherwise.
I had hatched this plan a night or two before, while watching Thorn in his ridiculous, water logged shelter. Thorn is one of the stars of a show called Live Free Or Die, but it might more accurately be called Live Free While The Cameras Are Rolling. Thorn is one of the stars, a guy who looks like Earnest P. Whorrel is the other star, one guy who looks like a Best Made Axe Co model is another, and a hippie couple with very questionable hygiene is the fourth. But about Thorn, he lives in a hut built into the side of a hill, with leaves and grass serving as his insulation, and animal pelts as his carpet. He has a wild glint in his eye, and some twigs shoved through his ears. He is a mountain man, and I respect him.
But his shelter is woeful. I watch this show, and others, and I always wonder why they don't build better shelters. That one guy went to Alaska for a long time, and he built himself a proper log cabin, with masonry fireplace and everything. Why can't they do this? It shouldn't be very hard, if you're alone in the woods, with some axes and lots of free time. Just chop down a tree, then another, and another and another, until after some time, your cabin is built. Build that cabin and you'll be so much better off. Why not? I know I would. I'd build a beautiful little cabin, and I'd make it look like the cover of Dwell magazine, with a proper roof and a proper front door, and some windows. I'd have to source the windows.
I do not live in the wilderness, but I live on 10 acres with trees and grasses and wild woodland creatures. I have these axes. That's why I took those swings last night, and that's why that tree finally fell. I realized once it fell that the battle was only then beginning. I'd need to section that tree into 8' pieces, and then scrape the branches off, and the knots. I'd drag those pieces to the preferred building site, which should be high, in a clearing, so it won't flood when the spring comes. To follow the plan I developed in my mind, I'm going to need about 80 such sections of log, which sounds like a lot, now that I haven't even made one piece. I'm going to need some old timey tools.
Later today, I'm going to take my son to an antique store. Most antique stores are okay, but they aren't old timey tool focused. There's one such shop outside of Walworth, and it's only open on Fridays for a bit, and for some of Saturday. It's a treasure trove of old tools, and I'm looking for the following: Some more axes. Some splitting wedges (to make the floor boards). A shingle splitter thing- it looks like a small sickle, and I saw it on the Mick Dodge show. I'll also need a bark stripper, and old hand drill, and a file to keep things sharp. I need some saws, a two man and a one man, so we can properly process these logs. We haven't decided if we're going to use nails, and I'm thinking we won't. We're going to make pegs and pound those through holes we'll drill with the old hand drill. That'll do.
Why am I doing this? Because I'm slowly losing my mind? No. I'm doing this because I'm kind of tired of living comfortably. I think I could have been a fair pioneer. I mean, I would have settled somewhere in the Northeast, because I don't like long road trips, but I think I could have survived. So I'm going to build some sort of shelter on my property, no permits required. The rules are simple: Only materials from the property may be used. Only old time tools may be used. No power tools. If I stick with it, I'll send you a picture. Why do I want to do this? Why not?
Oct 29, 2014 by DC
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I get asked lots of things. For instance, people say, why haven't you updated your photo on your website? In response I tell them that I don't feel like it. There's currently a competition amongst all Realtors, the world over, to see who can use the oldest photograph on their website and/or business cards. To be fair, the business card photo is in a separate category of the competition. I'm currently in the competition, but in terms of using super old photographs on marketing materials, I'm not even on the local leader board. Besides, I know that when people ask about my old photo they're basically just saying that I look super old and beardy and fat. That doesn't bother me.
I also get asked about properties, a lot. People email or call, and then I tell them what I think. They ask more questions, and then I answer those and interject some more juicy tidbits that they didn't ask about. Then, I ask them if they'd like to see the house they asked about. This is when they go dark, and then I find out later that they bought the house I talked them into. The South Shore Club has one such example currently, and while the buyer did end her declaratory sentence wherein she told me she bought the house direct with a smiley face emoticon, my bank still says they cannot accept smiley face emoticons as a form of payment on my mortgage. I argue that Bitcoin is just another type of smiley face emoticon, mined by computers in Norway, but they don't agree.
Once the questions about my photo and the questions about properties that people plan to buy from other agents have subsided, people like to ask about the market. How's it doing? I tell them it's doing fine. they ask how I'm fairing, if I'm hanging in there. This is when I play along and tell them I'm okay. If I answered the question with bravado and told them that I'm indeed the #1 AGENT in Walworth County, it wouldn't be perceived as humility. Plus, they'd look at my generally casual appearance and assume that I am lying to them. I'm not, but I just play along. Then, once they're done with all of that, they ask where the market is headed. They want to know what it's going to do. I tell them I don't know, and then I answer the question anyway.
Where is this market heading? What will the next one, two, three or five years look like? That all depends on a lot of factors that I cannot control, but I can certainly tell you what I think will happen. I can certainly identify the obvious factors that will influence our market, which shouldn't be a big deal but is, in fact, somewhat rare in this market. Some agents just like to tell you about pretty curtains and others prefer to regurgitate national housing statistics that are fed to agents in NAR emails. I'll take a stab at telling you where the market is going, but as is my angle, we have to first remember where we've just been.
If the peak was early 2008 and the trough was fall of 2011, and the swing between those two points was around 35%, then our benchmarks are established. Today, I think we've added about 20% back to our valuations, so we're somewhere around 15% off the peak, but 20% above the trough. Since the trough was almost exactly three years ago, we've been adding 7% (rounding up, as Realtors tend to do) annually to our valuations. For those who think this number to be unimportant, please understand that this is a huge amount of appreciation in a very short period of time. The market has been rewarding blue chip properties, particularly in the $2-$3.5MM range. Adding 7% annually is very nice, but is it possible to continue that growth moving forward? Nope.
That's why I see the market appreciation slowing. These gains must be digested, and we must test them for a bit before we can move forward, onward and upward, and always twirling. Consider a hypothetical property in this recent trend. The house sold for $2.5MM at the peak. Sweet! Then the house sold for $1.5MM at the bottom. Crap! Today, that house is likely valued around $1.8MM, reflecting a 20% gain from the trough of 2011. Is that house worth $2.2MM in three more years? I'm going to suggest that it won't be, but it might be worth $2MM. That valuation would depend on a 3% annual gain, which should be a reasonable expectation, depending on a few factors.
It's no secret I'm not concerned about interest rates as much as I'm concerned about stock market returns. While the growth of the stock market has been a huge driver of purchases over the last several years, we don't need the growth to continue at this pace to continue our momentum. Now that we've added back the losses of 2009, most of those in the lakefront market are feeling fairly confident in their personal economy. Remember, broad economies are important, but personal economies drive real estate markets. If everyone in some small town in North Carolina works at a plant that closes down, that town will suffer no matter how robust the national housing market. In the same way, if the stock markets stagnate and fewer people experience the joy of life changing market returns, this doesn't especially matter to many lakefront buyers.
If the markets are flat, or they trade within a 10% range from where they are now, Lake Geneva should continue to thrive. If interest rates go up, as they badly want to, that won't matter much. Will it potentially stall some growth in our off-water association markets? Possibly, but this is a lakefront post. Geopolitical events matter, but if you look to the lakefront market performance this year, and you consider the incredible instability in the Middle East and the Ukraine, and you remember that one plane went missing and another was blown up in mid-flight, and then consider that Ebola is sort of annoying, then perhaps our market has some blinders on. If Ebola strikes Lake Geneva, I think our market is in trouble, but the Grand Geneva airport has very few Liberian Airlines arrivals.
My take on the next few years is simple. The markets continue to perform nicely, but I'm not expecting 7% annual gains. There should be some pricing resistance somewhere around this level, and I'm asking customers to buy lakefront homes because they want to, not because they plan on banking a fat annual return on them. Over time, the markets will continue to gain, all be it much more methodically.
Oct 27, 2014 by DC
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Times were, late October had its own feel. Outside, it had a feel, sure, but that's temperature related and not real estate related. Except back then, those two things were mostly the same. Colder temperatures meant fewer buyers, and fewer buyers meant more Ramen for the Realtors. Under the summer sun, buyers abounded. They do now, as they did back then. Buyers boated and then buyers bought, and they repeated this courtship time and time again, back then. October was a month of transition, when buyers stopped coming to the lake, and when they stopped making the drive they stopped making the buy. November was a month of dread, of dead trees and raked up leaves. December was different, too, but similarly dead. Snowy dead is still, as they say, dead. These are no longer those times.
If you're nostalgic for these times, when a resort town truly became a shuttered resort town, at least for the bulk of the months when the water wasn't warm enough to swim in, you can still find it. This phenomenon happens everywhere, in Door County and in the entirety of Michstakegan. Oh, you think Harbor Springs is super great? Take a trip up in January, where the determination of whether the trip was a success or not revolves solely around whether or not you, or anyone in your party, died by snow or by cold or purely of a lonely heart. Most resort towns still shut down, saving all of their energy for their super short summer weeks. If we were all billionaires, we wouldn't mind having a summer home that could only be used for two months. In fact, if we were billionaires, we'd only visit for two weeks during that two month window, because we have places to be and many people to see.
Alas, we are not billionaires, and we are not patrons of those places that close. Geneva, it doesn't close. It wouldn't think of indulging such limited seasonry. That's why the way things were are no longer the way they are. The old rules of seasonal real estate no longer apply. This day, this glorious late October day, the market is as it was in spring, which is as it was in summer, which is as it was on those cold days in January: Active. I cannot pretend to understand the thinking process of my seasonal-vacation-home-seeking-ancestors, I can only tell you what I see today. What do I see? I see a market that doesn't care about the weather or the calendar, it instead only cares about the inventory. If there's desirable inventory in June, it'll sell. If there's desirable inventory in October, it'll sell. Desirable inventory on Christmas Eve? Sold.
This news is good for buyers and for sellers, but it doesn't eliminate the risk that sellers face this time of year. The risk goes like this: Seller lists home in May. Hurray! Seller has lots of showings in June. Yippee! Seller has an offer in July, but who accepts an offer in July? Not this seller. This seller is super confident, so offers at 90% of the list price are spit from his mouth like luke warm Panera soup. In August, there are more showings, but no offers. No matter, says this seller, the buyer will appear, if only the agent would pull that full page ad in the Hampton's Daily. That's where the rich people are
, says the seller, the Hamptons. The Hamptons!
In September, there are buyers. October, too. November, yes, buyers, but fewer of them. December, the confident seller of spring is no where to be found. Late season sellers are, typically, more motivated sellers, as the concept of waiting for the coming spring to sell the property doesn't excite anyone. That's a seller able to be picked off by a motivated buyer, and that's a seller that buyers should now be looking for. But Dave, Dave, you just said the market is active all year, and only Michigan has to turn its lights off until that miserable old Lake Michigan warms to a tolerable swimming temperature sometime next July. Or August.
Yes, this is true, I did say that. But just because buyers are active all months, and our lights stay on no matter the season, this doesn't mean that sellers don't feel a pinch when the clock turns back and the nights grow cold.
Over the past few weeks, there are offers galore. There's a new deal on the last of two listings in the South Shore Club, leaving my listing for $1.895MM as the only home available there. There's an offer on the Circle Parkway house listed around $2.3MM. A deal on the $1.3MM Cedar Point house, with the pier thing. There's a deal pending with a buyer of mine on the vacant lot in Loramoor, a beautiful piece of dirt for around $2MM. There's a contract on the white house on the side of the hill where Walworth Township touches Geneva, for $1.7MM. The beat up house on Sidney Smith that sits on nice dirt is pending with an ask of $1.95MM. Lastly, there's a contract on the king of lakefronts, my pier 88 listing at a bit under $6MM. The market, it's active, and it doesn't care if we're past peak fall colors.
YTD, we've had 17 lakefront sales. YTD 2013, we had 17 lakefront sales. YTD 2012, we had 16 lakefront sales. The market remains consistent, and with the buyer activity currently in the market, I'm betting we hang a year end total that bests the last several years. What then of the January market, when the snow piles high and the temperatures plummet low? Well, if there's either quality new inventory or aged, motivated inventory, it'll do just as it would do in August. Sell.
Oct 22, 2014 by DC
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Once, there was a group of people who decided that they no longer wished to be taxed for the sake of being taxed. If they ran their own towns and their own shops and their own limited government, it seemed superfluous to be taxed by a group who didn't have their best interests in mind. So the history books say there were skirmishes, and those skirmishes led to fighting and those fights to battles and those battles to war. The war waged on. It probably waged for so long that they forgot why they waged. They waged because they wanted freedom, even though the price of that freedom was more than some really wanted to pay.
Today, we are a civilized bunch. I mean, we're not, but on the surface we most certainly are. We do all sorts of things to prove that, every day. We wouldn't dream of starting a war over taxation. And so our civilization exists inside this structure where we vote for things we like and we hope that through those votes we may be able to push and pull our town and county and state and country in the direction that we wish it would go. We do this because we are civilized and proper, and we cast our votes into so many boxes and then hope that they are counted by neutral hands.
We pay taxes because we must, and even the most Libertarian among us would agree that some form of taxation is necessary to keep these roads paved and some bullets in our military guns. If the government decided that it would be best to tax us and then relieve us of the burden of voting, there would be outrage. There would be skirmishes and then fights and soon enough there would be war. Democracy is to voting life is to breathing, and without one there cannot be another.
Imagine then, the interesting way that property taxes are paid. If you own a home in Arlington Heights, and you wish to vote on that election that has to do with Arlington Heights, the voter's booth is open to you. If you own a home in Arlington Heights, and one in Williams Bay, you still get to vote. In Arlington Heights. Your tax contribution to Williams Bay be damned, you do not get to vote in the Williams Bay election because you are not allowed to vote in Williams Bay. The sentence was purposefully constructed without reason. You cannot vote in the election because you are not a resident. What makes you a resident? Paying taxes? Nope. What makes you a resident is living there more than half of the time, and paying income taxes as a resident of this state. You must pay taxes, you must not tax the system, and when it comes to deciding what happens in that town you must simply bite your lip.
I believe that phenomenon is known as taxation without representation, and if you think that's acceptable then I would have to speculate which side you would have been fighting on in 1774. Even so, we must abide the rules and if you're an Illinois resident who pays significant taxes on a Wisconsin vacation home, then you have much at stake in the coming November elections and nothing you can do about it. At issue is a Gubernatorial election that pits a candidate who doesn't like taxes against a candidate who loves them. There are other issues, sure, but those are subterfuge.
Williams Bay has an interesting vote on the same ballot, and that, too, pits taxpayers against taxpayers, just that one of the taxpayers gets to vote and the other does not. There is a school referendum on the ballot, and Williams Bay has convinced itself that is must have a new elementary school. I do not disagree with this idea. I think Williams Bay does need a new elementary school. I think the old school is quaint and charming, and it is the school of my youth, but it's old and in need of considerable renovation to the point where it may be better to tear it down and start over. So let's do that, let's build a new school.
The big brick Williams Bay High School building was built on the promise of Harvard's Motorola plant swelling our location population. That plant closed a few years after it was built, and the rush of students never came. Alas, the school was built anyway, and while I cannot remember the exact cost I believe it was somewhere around $8MM. The school was built for many students, of which few are present. The new school that the village wishes to build for its elementary students is to cost $19.9MM. That's $19,900,000. For an elementary school in rural Wisconsin.
The current debt on the older new building is scheduled to be paid off this year, resulting in a possible property tax decrease of $32 per $100k of assessed value. If the new school is approved, the tax increase will be $119 per $100k of assessed value, or a $151 increase per $100k of assessed value. The $119 figure is fuzzy math, as the real increase is the $151. This is to build a $19.9MM grade school for approximately 350 students. We need a new school, because renovating the old school is probably too expensive relative to the end result. What we probably don't need is a new school that's going to cost $19.9MM. Maybe we should build a new school that costs around $10MM? But the children!
But the new school is likely going to be approved and then built, because why wouldn't it be? The residents of town get to vote on the taxation of the group that owns the bulk of the assessed value in the district- the non-resident property owners. These non-residents get to pay the bulk of the taxes, including the significant increase for the new school, yet they do not receive the benefit of education for their children. They simply come here on the weekends, support the local economies with their entertainment dollars, and then return home, to pay the same taxes on their primary homes, where they actually get a say in the matter. It's somehow unpopular for me to proclaim the taxation without representation of our vacation home owners to be unfair, but isn't it the most patriotic theme of all?
Oct 20, 2014 by DC
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I hope by now you've figured out there's a difference in the way I sell, and promote, real estate. I have, at any given time, plenty of listings. Right now, I'm a bit low on listings, but that's only because low inventory is the welcome consequence of selling inventory. It's like when there's a storm coming to pummel the East coast. The TV people report live from barren shelves of the local super center, they flash to guys using small nails to hold up large sheets of plywood, and then back to the store shelves. We're supposed to feel badly for these people, because where there once was 100 bottles of Tabasco there are now only 11. I see those empty shelves and I don't think dire thoughts, I just think, hmm, good for that retailer. Without that storm they'd still have too much Tabasco. As if there is such a thing.
Anyway, one of the differences on my side is that, aside from being awful at returning phone calls, I don't promote my own listings at each opportunity. I think that's sort of a rookie move, to proclaim every listing the best, every view sensational, every kitchen gourmet. I think it insults the intelligence of the reader to do such things, so I try not to. If I really wanted you to buy only my listings, I'd work for a different company. Zing! Along these promotional lines, I don't like to talk about my own listings all the time, because the reality of this realty is that I possess only a miniscule fraction of the inventory. Lots of my listings are interesting and worthy, but the broader market has more to offer, so I talk about deals wherever they exist, even if there's no file on my desk authorizing my praise.
With that, this: I have a listing in Abbey Springs that needs to sell
. It makes absolutely no sense that it hasn't sold yet, and I'm taking it to you, the people, to help me. The condo is an Alpine model, which is so much better than a Lookout. It's a large unit, it's clean, it's offered fully furnished. It has a private wooded view, it's not too close to South Lakeshore Drive, and it's close enough to the clubhouse without being too close. It's a nice condo, and even if it were priced above market I'd think it to be a nice place that someone may take a bite out of. The thing is, it isn't overpriced. It isn't above market. There isn't anything wrong with it. It's tasteful, well kept, and downright cheap. Yet, for the economical nature of it, I haven't been able to sell it. For my shame.
Earlier this year, a similar Alpine model sold for $252,500. I'm asking $249k for mine. My seller is ready to move this unit, not because he hates the unit or because he hates Abbey Springs, but because he's owned the unit for several years and it's time to pursue something else. The seller bought the unit near the peak for $306k, and if we are to believe that prices are currently somewhere between 15-20% off the prior peaks, then our value in the $240k range is further cemented. Know anyone who wants a piece of the Fontana scene for a super low admission fee? Abbey Springs offers unrivaled amenities including indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, exercise facilities, a super nice golf course (a la carte), three restaurant options and a beach and pier system. It's really quite nice, and if you could buy this unit for $240k or so, why wouldn't you?
Oct 17, 2014 by DC
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I think we need to establish a few rules today. These are very simple rules, but they have been confounding the market for a long time. Buyers mostly present in the same way. They present as though they are smart, shrewd, fiscally sound and otherwise intelligent. While they are likely all of those things in real life, real estate is not real life. Real life finds you at the grocery store with a coupon, buying the cereal that's on sale, because that's the one that's usually on sale and therefore that's the one that you like. Real life has you opting for the vacation in Cancun, because it's so much cheaper than the vacation in the Bahamas, and you know the ocean is pretty much the same. This is your real life.
Your real estate life? You still act like you're super smart, but your actions in real estate are something that cannot be hidden. You buy something, the world knows it. You sell something, we know that, too. If you're making a move in real estate, say, in the city of Chicago, there's some anonymity to that move. There are a lot of people, after all, and you can buy something bad without many people noticing. At Lake Geneva, it's a small market, and a smaller world. It's impossible to hide what you've done here. We know what you did last summer.
That's why we must have rules, to spare you the shame of a dumb move. For instance, rule #1: If you're buying a lakefront house, you had better not be buying a shared pier. It's so simple, this rule. If there's a white pier in front of your home, and you're paying lakefront prices for that lakefront property, then the only person with permission to lounge on that pier had better be you. The neighbor up the road has an easement to use the pier? Run for the hills. See, super simple- don't buy a shared pier unless you're buying some remarkable structure for below retail, or if you're buying in an association type setting with no delusion that your purchase is private frontage. Paying private frontage retail AND you have a shared pier? Interesting.
The next rule is similar, but different. Instead of allowing another owner access to your pier, this one has to do with another owner traipsing over your property to get from point A to his point B. If your desired lakefront lot has a lakefront easement over it, I'd skip it. These easements come in various sizes and shapes, and are not all created equal. If, say, a neighbor has a tiny little strip of land that runs over the far edge of your property, and that easement allows them to gain access to the shore path, that's not really a big deal. If that easement is large enough to loiter on, and the easement spills from your land onto another person's pier, this is bad news. Remember, shared piers- Bad. Easements- Bad. These rules are not very difficult.
There are properties pending today, lots of them. There are some lake access homes pending sale including one in Oakwood Estates and another two in Country Club Estates. There's a cool little cabin on Aspen Lane pending sale, and another little cabin in Oak Shores waiting to close. There's a little joint with a slip and a view pending in Wooddale, priced in the low $600s. A home in Shore Haven just sold for $860k, which was a great price for that seller on that home. There are some other homes on that street that seem ready to sell, and I'd be tempted to buy a cheaper one and throw a big renovation on top of it rather than buy something that's farther from the lake, but that's just me.
There's a small lakefront in Cedar Point Park for $1.3MM pending sale, and that one has some shared things, and I don't like sharing. There's a large home off Glen Fern pending, one with a slip and a big lot but no lakefront or lakeview. That's listed just under $1.5MM, and it would make a fine primary home, or a nice, large vacation home, whichever. It's in a high rent district, so I'm a fan of that property and that sale, even if the house itself does need to be de-1990-ed. (Update, that home just closed for $1.37MM)
The lakefront on the side of the cliff in Fontana (actually Walworth Township) is pending, with a list of $1.7MM. That's a neat old house with a great lake view and 100' of frontage. On paper, it's really a nice deal, presuming it sells sub $1.5MM. I showed that house many times over the last few years, and never had any success in talking a buyer into it. The house needs a lot of work, and even once that work is finished the access to the house from the road will forever be tricky, as will the access from the house to the lake. It's a good house for someone, and we can all be thankful that it doesn't have a shared pier, or shared frontage.
A house in the Birches just sold for $2.4MM. The house was mostly log cabin-ish, so if someone wanted to get their Minocqua fix in Lake Geneva, they'll now be accomplishing that. Was it a great deal? Nah. Was it a fine deal? Sure. It was a nice house, so even if the frontage was steep, it's okay. The spec home in the South Shore Club that was built on lot 3 just closed as well, for $1.645MM. That sale is very important for the SSC, as it re-establishes the floor that I've seen develop over many years. There are two other homes for sale on that street, Forest Hill, but not a single home available on the circle that views the lake and the pool. This is a wonderful situation for the SSC to be in, as the inventory that has plagued the club for the last six years has finally been cleared. There's a foreclosure coming back to market there in the next few weeks, but that'll sell and simply add to the momentum here.
Lastly, I'm pleased to announce that I have a contract pending on my large lakefront listing on the North Shore. Listed at $5.995MM, this is, by a million miles, the best dirt available on the lake. 5.3 acres with 234' of levelish frontage does not come to market often, and when it does, it's certain to attract discerning value hunters. That's what's happening now, and assuming we can work through to the successful close, the buyer will be situated on one of the top 20 pieces of land on the entire lake. I mean, I haven't counted them exactly, but I'm guessing. Also, no shared pier.
This weekend, as I said before, will be glorious. Be here.
Oct 15, 2014 by DC
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The salmon run. They run up streams in Michigan and in Indiana and Minnesota. They run up streams in Ohio and New York. They run from salty oceans and up fresh streams in California and Oregon and Washington. These salmon run up streams in Wisconsin, too, and there's some tangible proof that our Wisconsin salmon runs are as prolific as any salmon run anywhere. Unfortunately for these salmon, they run up the rivers' Pike and Root, and Milwaukee, and Oak. They run through city parks and back alley parking lots, through golf course fairways choked with chemicals. All the while, they must run through and around the sharp hooks of the fall meat fisherman that line those muddy banks from dawn until dusk, day after day.
The problem with the fall salmon run is that it always happens, but it happens on its own schedule. If you were to plan a fishing trip to catch one of those massive salmon while they're struggling up those tiny streams, you'd be welcome to do so. Plan away. You could plan that trip for when you know the salmon typically run. Since they run from mid September until late October, you figure you stand a fighting chance at a hook up if you fish for them on October 1st. The fish will be running by then, and the fishing message boards are full of chatter in the days leading up to your trip. The day before your trip the message boards go dark, which is good, because fishersorts only talk when there's no fish to be caught. Silence speaks with the most clarity.
You arrive to fish, but find only a few scraggly fish, those ones that bear the signs of a difficult struggle upstream, through that dirty urban river. The banks are littered with rotting fish, the smell so pungent that you knew you had missed the primary run from the moment you pulled your car off the side of the road and opened your door. Rotting salmon smells like any other rotting fish, except that rotting salmon are huge and so the smell is, too. The salmon run for six weeks, maybe longer, but the run isn't marked by a few fish swimming into that river mouth every few hours, it's marked by an all-out rush upstream on that first day that the river breaks through the beach, pushed higher and stronger by a heavy fall rain. You may have found a salmon or two swimming in circles with a big casting spoon and a few feet of trailing fishing line hanging from their backs, but you missed the peak of that previously glorious run.
It's no coincidence that this salmon run happens in the fall. Just like the run, the fall is a mysterious creature. It's summer one day, fall the next. Then it's summer, then winter, perhaps fall for another day or two, then spring, followed by winter. Fall lasts for quite a long time, but that's only because November is still fall. The fall we all want, like that salmon rush on the day the river breaks into the great lake, is happening right, precisely, exactly now.
Last weekend was glorious, but the fall colors were yet to make their strongest impression. Today, through these low clouds and this petulant rain, I see colors. I see yellows and oranges and reds and browns. Yes, there are still greens, but those greens have a rapidly approaching expiration date. Once those greens turn to something else, they're not going to be here forever. In fact, they're going to be here just long enough for you to catch a glimpse, before the rain returns and the wind tears each and every one of those leaves from their summer homes.
Peak Lake Geneva color will be happening this weekend through the following weekend, barring too much of that wind and rain. Sure, you can wait. You can show up sometime in a few weeks and think that what you see is a Lake Geneva fall. You can also drive up to the Root River today and snag some nasty, rotting salmon.
Oct 13, 2014 by DC
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The American real estate story, as told from the mid 1990s through today, could very easily be told not through lots and lots of words, but simply through reading the closing statements of the homes that I've personally bought and sold. My story started in 1997, when I bought a small home on Clover Street in Williams Bay. The story wove through Walworth County, but no farther East than Knollwood and no farther South than Kinzie Street in Fontana. My current house is the westerly boundary of my pursuits, and the northern boundary is Geneva National. I spent plenty of years there, as renter, as owner, as builder, as schemer.
In the summer of one year I bought a two bedroom Fairway condominium in Geneva National. That was as far north as I had previously gone, and to this day that's still as far north as I ever got. The condo was nice, enough. It looked like the early 1990s, with green this and oak that, plastic counters and square white tiles. The purpose of buying that condo on that day was simply to have a place to find shelter while I built the house on Saratoga that I had planned to call home. I bought the condo for $144k, or maybe it was $146k. It didn't matter, because the year was 2006 and it was very hard to make a short term housing mistake then. I bought the unit, took down the wallpaper, tiled some bits, put granite where there once was plastic, painted things, changed the mantel, and did the revolutionary thing of the day: Hung a TV on the wall.
A year later, my house was nearing completion, so I put the unit on the market and sold it. It was, literally, that easy. Listed, sold. $188k, as I recall. A tidy profit for my efforts that were rather minimal. The fall that I sold that condo represented the peak of the market at GN. There have been fits and starts since then, spurts of activity that looked as though they would be the start of a market re-born; of a market that had once again found its stride. Since that fall, every sign of recovery has proven a false start. I don't say that glibly, as I have seen how powerful the market in GN can be, and I see how feeble it is today. Geneva National, no matter how hard it tries, just cannot gain any momentum.
I had a listing in GN earlier this year. The property was nice, and it wasn't all that expensive. I had showings galore, and one miserable offer that the buyer should have actually been visibly embarrassed to write. I failed to sell that house, just as I failed to sell the last condo I had available there. Earlier this fall, I had a call from a nice owner in GN, and after I bumbled the return of that call for a while, I had to come out and say it: I had no secret formula to sell a house in GN. I had no edge. I had no insight into who the buyer was and how we might find her. I had to level with that seller and simply tell him there is nothing aside from persistence that can sell a property in Geneva National.
Last spring I had an inkling that GN was about to rebound with some serious intent. The spring numbers looked solid, and there was plenty of activity. Interest rates were low, prices were low, and GN, while mired in a market slump, was still looking and acting like a high end resort development. More on that look later, but once the spring of 2013 turned to summer, the market recovery that I thought I saw was nowhere to be found. It was a head fake, nothing else. Consider this: By October 13, 2012 there has been 29 YTD sales. In 2013, the year that I thought started with an obvious bang, there were 49 YTD sales. But this year, this 2014, the year that the rest of the market looks fully recovered, there have been just 32 YTD sales.
Volume isn't the only way to judge market momentum, as low inventory markets can stall out on volume but still excel in market performance. In high inventory markets, like GN, volume is the best gauge of market strength, and so we must acknowledge that the performance this year is lackluster at best. For all this devil's advocacy I'm doing, there are some positive signs. Inventory is falling a bit. Prices are still falling, mostly, which means buyers will be forced to pay attention and focused buyers means sales volume. The foreclosures that have been constantly tripping GN are abating, and fewer foreclosures combined with less inventory should allow GN to continue its slow slog towards normalcy.
There are 99 active listings in GN this morning
. There are three more pending sale. I continue to believe that GN is the easiest way for a family on a budget to buy and own a vacation home at Lake Geneva. I was showing economical condominiums there last week, and I was a bit surprised at how cheap some of the condo units have become. $150k buys a pretty nice little place, one that I'd be more than pleased to frequent on weekends. For all the difficulties at GN, remember that the development is simply too nice, the terrain too varied, the woods too deep, the scenery too pleasant. Markets change, interest rates will rise, but developments that have unique visual appeal should always find their way back. Some just take far too long.
Oct 10, 2014 by DC
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There's a website operated by one of my competitors that lists a billion things to do in Lake Geneva. I'm sure it's helpful. I, too, fall into the trap of listing things to do, but I only list the things that I'd actually like to do at the time that I'd like to do them. For instance, in the fall, I go to the orchard. I don't go to the orchard in the summer, nor do I go in the young fall. I don't even want to go to the orchard on moderately warm days. I want to go orcharding when it's downright chilly. When the wind blows and the leaves are past their peak show. I like to go to the orchard and drink coffee, not because I need to stay awake but because I'm cold and I need the coffee to warm me. This is why I haven't yet told anyone to go to the orchard. There's a time for that, and it's not quite now.
If I told you to go to Venetian Fest, I'm sorry. I don't go. I don't like carnies so much, which may mean I'm missing out on bundles of fun. If that's the case, so be it. It's because I'm judicious with my attempt at dictating your leisure schedule that there should be some power behind an actual endorsement. If I told you a zillion things to do at the lake, you could bet that many, many billions would be really, really bad. Have you ever heard me tell you to go bowling? Of course not. I'm cautious and selective, because most times just being at the lake is retreat and entertainment enough. What's better than a Saturday lakeside with nothing on the schedule?
This weekend, you should probably be at the lake. Lake Geneva's Oktoberfest is today, Saturday, and Sunday. You should go. The weather is going to feel like fall. The lake looks like fall. The trees are starting to get with the program. There are shops in town to patronize, drinks to be imbibed, food to be consumed, and goods to buy. There's also a section of roadway on Broad Street that will likely be closed to vehicular traffic, so anytime you can wander down the middle of a Lake Geneva street on a weekend is a good time. There will be horses, and some hay, probably pumpkins. Corn, too. Field corn, dried and tied.
That's it. That's what you should do. That's what the city of Lake Geneva would like you to do, but what of the rest of the weekend? In all fairness to the festival, there's little go capture your attention beyond a couple of hours. The rest of the weekend you should do something just as fun, something far more relaxing, and something way more worthwhile: You should do nothing.
The art of doing nothing is nearly lost. Like blacksmithing and buying vacation homes in Michigan. There's always something to do, especially at Lake Geneva, but what if the best thing to do on any given weekend is precisely nothing? Why must we always be doing something? I have a good friend who has dozens of children. He may not have that many, but the number feels that strong when in their collective presence. He is tired, a lot. I tell him that he's tired not because of the 28 kids, but because he doesn't have any true, daily, down time. He has no window at night, when the kids are asleep in their beds, their futons, and in their drawers. No time to rest on a couch with a news show flickering in the background. No time to just be. There's tremendous power in being.
This weekend, I'd like you to visit Lake Geneva. Not for my good, but for that of our retailers and those people who are, at this very moment, loading their tame horses into a trailer to drive to Lake Geneva. After you visit the town, and stroll our perfect streets, go somewhere and do nothing. If you have a home here, go there and rest. Sit on a deck in the sun, or sit on a couch in front of the first fire of the season. Stroll around your yard, down the shore path, some ways but not so far as the walking could be construed as purposeful exercise. Just enjoy the lake and this cool October, and set your mind to accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Oct 08, 2014 by DC
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The people who make cars make them in silver and black and white and red. Most of the cars on the road fall under one of those four schemes. Is graphite a dark silver or a faded black? It doesn't matter. Those people who make our cars also make them in purple and orange and yellow and bright, Mountain Dew Green. The people who make jelly beans make them in raspberry, cherry, lime, and strawberry. They make mixtures of those, too, like strawberry-lime and raspberry-cherry, the latter of which is more than likely to be simply called Double Berry because it's more marketable. Those people also make salty popcorn jelly beans, and dour anise ones.
There's a nice house with vinyl cladding on the side of that popular interstate. I mean, it's not popular because people like it, but if you thought that people drove on certain roads in great masses and at the same time, and you thought that doing so made a road popular, then this road is as popular as they get. Big semis with Canadian license plates like that road, too. They particularly like it late into the night and early into the morning, when they engine break even though the signs clearly tell them not to. That house that shares a backyard fence with that wide road is $319k.
There's a house a ways away from there, in a nice subdivision with trees and grass and mailboxes with names on them. That house, it has cedar on its exterior walls, and the end of that cul-de-sac backs up only to some trees. A distance farther into those trees, there's a wetland, and while there are some mosquitoes that dwell there, it's generally considered to be a very nice swamp. This home is in the township next to the interstate, but it's on the other side of the township- the side that borders that Preserve, not the side that borders that great concrete vein. The house with the mailbox and the deck and all those trees is listed for $319k.
In the sixth grade, my friend's grandparents had a home in Florida. My friend went there every winter for a week. He came back to school tanned with stories of pools and palm trees and alligators and for at least some time after his return, he wore a shark tooth around his neck. His grandparents must have lived on the ocean, I figured, in a great big house with a great big boat out front. In Florida, there are lots and lots of homes. It wasn't until I visited Florida some time after the sixth grade that I realized Florida was not all alligators and palm trees and ocean-side mansions. It was also inland deserts and scabby swamps and trailer parks. Lots and lots of trailer parks.
These Florida homes are available all over, and right now there's one with a tile roof and a small backyard pool listed for $279k. That's a nice house, and it's in Naples. Not the nice Naples where the glamorous people shop and dine, but Naples nonetheless. From this home, you can drive to the airport in 30 minutes or less, or you can drive the other direction and find the beach in 10 minutes. You can drive to window shop on that famous shopping street, and you can dine waterside, assuming you're not golfing in a cart of gulfing in a boat. This is a nice place, Naples.
Farther north a long ways, there's a town. It's in Florida, but it's not close to anything except Orlando. There are pools there, and golf courses, and scabby swamps with some alligators and long-legged white birds. There's a house there, too, and it has a tiled roof and a small backyard pool. It's listed for $279k, and it's fine enough. The owners decided to paint it the color of a Florida sunset, so it's mostly orange with some yellow on the eaves. There are some restaurants in that town, but one of those is Waffle House, so I suppose there are really only two other restaurants. There's a theater, too, and if a movie releases on October 25th, that theater is sure to get it sometime around Christmas. The golf course there is simple, straight up one way and then straight back, again and again until 18 holes are completed. The carts are gas, but there's a rumor that they'll be getting four electric ones for next year.
Today, I was going to contrast sales volume on Geneva this year over last year, and then compare that to the Delavan Lake market over the same two tenures. I started looking at some of the Delavan sales, and I couldn't imagine, not for the life of me, why some of those homes sold. One in particular struck me in the way that that ugly baby struck that doctor on that one Seinfeld- breathtaking. It's a good thing we all like different things, otherwise there would be no one to buy that house near the interstate. There would be no one to eat the popcorn jelly beans and drive that purple crossover hatchback. There would be no one to buy that house in that no-name, land locked Florida town, and there certainly wouldn't have been anyone to buy that breathtaking lakefront on Delavan.