It’s spring break, and everyone is gone. To the mountains. To the beach. To a different place with its own brand of monotony. In the mountains, it’s snowing again. Powder Day, the flat-brimming locals shout. But it’s more of a lazy shout, if there is such a thing. On the beach, more shells. Here’s one that looks like my dog, says some old lady, as she tucks it into her sack full of other shells that also look like her dog. It’s another place this week for many, a break from the monotony of our early spring, to enjoy the monotony of another place.
But while everyone is playing and traveling, I know that there’s something serious on the horizon. Memorial Day Weekend. It’s nine weeks from this Friday. It’s not going to be a normal Friday, that’s for sure. It’ll be you, your office, your co-workers, and there will be a decidedly pronounced difference in attitudes on that day. Some will have an energy, a desire, optimism. Others will behave the same way they did the week before and the week before. For some, that Friday matters. For others, it means only the turning of a calendar, from one season to another, unofficially.
The decision whether or not that Friday matters is yours, and yours alone. The market today is humming with activity, and while I particularly enjoy the activity on the lakefront, each segment of our market is bustling. There is no segment left behind this spring, each price range and housing category finding buyers and fielding offers. You needn’t be robustly rich to enjoy a weekend at the lake. So long as a $90k condo in Geneva National is in your range, you’re in play.
There are pending sales throughout our market, no matter if it’s a $198k cottage in Country Club Estates, or a lakefront estate on the North Shore of Fontana for $7.395MM. The best news for our spring market is that inventory is increasing, albeit slowly. New inventory in any category is a positive, as this market features considerable in-trading amongst vacation home owners. A new lakefront for $3.5MM is good, because it very well may free up a new listing of a $700k cottage with a boatslip. That boat slip property will be great to list, because an owner of a condo at Vista Del Lago might be looking to switch over to a single family vacation home. Any inventory is good inventory, as it lubricates the gears that churn this market forward.
For now, you have a decision to make. If you’re sitting in your office thinking about summer, this is fine. But if those summer thoughts lead you only to a Saturday rooftop dinner and a Sunday morning brunch line, then you’re not thinking as clearly as I had hoped. Dream of summer. Dream of that Friday, nine weeks from this one, but make the decision to make this summer different. I’m here to help, if only you’ll let me.
Above, the divine porch at 434 Oakwood in Fontana. Just sold last week for $1,150,000.
I remember when this place first opened. I had a friend considering putting a donut shop into this odd building on the corner of the Lake Geneva Club and South Lakeshore Drive, just East of Fontana. We liked the idea of a donut shop here. A really good donut shop. But alas, before we could act, Wisconsin Kingle Company moved into the space and while they do serve donuts, it’s kringle first. I stopped after they opened and ate a kringle, for research purposes. It was okay, I suppose. But I couldn’t shake the thought of a dialed in donut shop. My Kringle Kingdom for one delicious donut.
This isn’t a donut review, or a kringle review, it’s a pizza review, so when I walked in the other day I ordered one thing and one thing only. A pizza. There was no Supreme offering on the menu, just some other concoctions (The Texas Tornado?) and a build your own menu. I built my own, a 16″ thin crust (that’s their only crust, plus a gluten free option) with sausage, green peppers, and mushrooms. The nice thing about this process is that I didn’t even have to warn the waitress that I’m deathly allergic to a mere whiff of olives. Good thing, too, because this isn’t really a restaurant. It’s a take-out place, so there’s no waitress so much as there is a lady behind the counter. I placed my order, $20.25 for the designer supreme. It was 3:47 pm and the girl said the pizza would take about 10-15 minutes. Yes, I know it was early, and yes, I’m obese, and yes, I was a bit hungry.
A man wearing a chef’s outfit appeared from the back corner of the kitchen. It was his time now. Time to make the pizza. He reached into a cabinet and pulled out a crust from a clear plastic bag. This was a crust like a Tombstone pizza crust. He wasn’t busy throwing and stretching the crust, he just grabbed it from a bag. With the frozen crust on the table, he began his assembly. Some sauce, the vegetables and sausage, the cheese. It was a decent looking pizza, but I couldn’t help but feel anxious over the bagged crust. I wandered around the small space, wondering if this was all a big mistake.
If normal Lake Geneva pizza shops aren’t high on decorating, this place fell well below that low bar. It’s just a space. Some sections have food items on shelves to buy. Some beverage coolers line one of the walls. A walk-in beer cave, I think I noticed in the back. And there are Kringles, all varieties. Along with some donuts. The tops of the donuts had cracks in the icing, which is a tell tale sign that these were not the freshest of donuts. A cop walked in and bought some snacks. My mind wandered… what a shame it was that we didn’t put a donut shop here.
At 3:58 the pizza was assembled. The man said it would need seven or eight minutes in the oven. The allotted time passed, and the man pulled the pizza. As he transferred it from oven deck to cutting board he looked at it admiringly and softly, lovingly, whispered “this is beautiful” . This was the second bout of pizza-self-congratulations within a week, but I liked it, as I am nothing if not guilty of the same. The man cut the pizza with a few extra cuts in each direction, so this tavern style pizza was cut differently than others I’ve had. Each piece was small, not even two inches by two inches, but that didn’t matter now. It was into the car with my pizza, and it was sampling time.
The crust, as I saw when it was removed from the bag, was thing. Quite thin. The toppings were ample but not heavy, the cheese adequate without being a burden. The sauce was quite bland, with no real punch or sweetness. Writing this now, I cannot even remember tasting the sauce. The vegetables were properly softened. There was nothing here not to like. This was the thinnest crust of the tour, rivaling Mama Cimino’s but without the soft crunch that bothered me at Mama’s place. All in all, it was a good pizza.
But was it the best? No, it wasn’t. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here again. I didn’t like that the sauce was bland and I had a visual disagreement with the crust being pulled from that plastic bag. If you live on the south shore and you’re in the mood for pizza one evening, this would be a fine option. Like all corner stores, this isn’t a destination. This is a store of convenience, and this is a pizza of convenience. If you go, you’ll buy the pizza and eat the pizza and probably like the pizza. But you won’t make a note to go back, you know, unless you’re in the neighborhood.
The South Shore Club is all quite nice. The pool and the entrance, the tennis courts and the piers. There’s nothing like it here, and likely never will be anything like it again. Within the South Shore Club there are nice homes, some better than others. Some new, others older, some by the pool and some near the tennis. But beyond the typical homes in the SSC there are the elite. There are the select homes that do not merely angle over lawn and towards the water, but those that sit right up on the water. The front row. There are four of these built homes that match this description, two of which sold in the past 24 months for prices broke the existing South Shore Club sales patterns.
N1619 East Lakeside Lane was one of those sales. It closed north of $4MM, and the new owners immediately began the process of making a 15 year old home new again. Styles have changed, a possible surprise to some, in the event that you are sitting at home with your feet buried in forest green carpet. The process was thorough. Painstaking. Expensive. But no stone was left unturned and a house that felt very much like 2002 now feels very much like 2019. The finishes are superlative, with Plato cabinetry and Wolf appliances anchoring a stunning kitchen. Where there once was carpet there is now oak. New paint, new trim, new floors, fixtures and stone. The audio visual components and hardware have been updated throughout and a theatre room has been added to the walk-out lower level.
There’s nothing lacking here. No space concerns, with four levels of living space spanning nearly 9,000 square feet. No quality issues, with the extensive updates and recent repairs. And quite obviously, no location issues. This is the front house. The best house. The lot that faces the water fully, with a slight western tilt to take advantage of the sunsets. The location on the water is tremendous, opening to the widest section of the south shore, offering easy viewing of the nearby Lake Geneva Yacht Club regattas. And now it also plays like the newest house in the club, and it’s being offered mostly furnished for immediate use this summer.
Offered today for $6.495MM. It will be on the MLS later today and available for tour this week. If you’d like a tour of this home and the remarkable South Shore Club property, I’m here to help.
My newest pending lakefront contract, 389 North Lakeshore Drive, Fontana. It’s a great house on a great lot in a highly desirable location. I’m excited to bring a new family to the lakefront, and to help them make their weekends count. If you’re in the market to buy or sell in the upper bracket on Geneva Lake, there’s no question that I should be your agent.
In a well known, oft admired scene in The Great Outdoors, Buck Ripley is shooting pool at a local, Northwoods bar. His introduction to Cammie, a local, comes by way of an unfortunate placement of his pool cue. When the cue finds its awkward position, Cammie, the street tough Northwoods girl of John Hughes’ imagination, reacts with disgust, assuming young Buck placed it there intentionally. Later, Cammie is sitting outside the bar, puffing a heater, when she teases Buck, “you don’t know how local I am“.
Why am I telling you this? Well, because until a few weeks ago I didn’t know there was a pizza place in Walworth called Nayeli’s. Some local I am. Aiming to educate my Walworth ignorance, I pulled in for an early dinner at this Walworth establishment. It was Tuesday, it was melty outside, and the restaurant was empty. But it was only 4:45 pm, so the quiet nature of this basic restaurant was understood.
The interior is as the rest of them. Simple. Nothing here to remember, nothing to write down. You will not find any design ideas for your next basement remodel. It’s just a restaurant in a strip mall next to a Subway and some empty storefronts. In the distance, Mecum’s headquarters occupies the old grocery store. It’s just Walworth, and Nayeli’s is just a place to get pizza or a sandwich.
When a friend suggested I try Nayeli’s, the suggest came with a recommendation. Order the Double Dough pizza. There are several varieties of crust here: a thin crust tavern style, the double dough, a hand tossed pan style (somewhere in the middle of those two, I presume), and a Chicago Deep Dish. I would normally have only sampled the thin crust, but with the recommendation, I had to try the Double Dough. One large (14″) Double Dough Cheese pizza, and one large thin crust Supreme with pepperoni, bacon, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. I told the waitress to mail the black olives to Satan. It was 4:49 pm.
We sipped our waters, which my son tasted “dusty”, and waited. The restaurant smelled of cleaning solution, which I find obnoxious each and every time I encounter this restaurant flaw. Locals walked in with some frequency, picking up take out orders and driving away. Business seemed relatively brisk, and I was happy for the Nayeli’s that it appears as though they are holding their own in a town ruled by Pino’s. The waitress brought plates to the table and added that she brought us the bigger plates. Game recognizes game.
At 5:07, under the 20 minute timeline that I find to be a reasonable wait for a thin crust pizza, the Supreme was brought to our table. It was beautiful. Legitimately beautiful. Ample toppings buried in and around nicely browned cheese. There wasn’t too much cheese, which was nice, and more in line with Mama Cimino’s than Pinos or the Next Door Pub, who both apply cheese with a snow shovel. The initial crust test was astounding. This pizza stood at attention with no droop or sag, easily becoming the sturdiest, crispiest thin crust that I’ve experienced on this tour. I was impressed.
But things weren’t all perfect. The vegetables were a tad too crunchy, which wasn’t a fatal flaw, but was less than ideal. The real problem here is the sauce. It was a touch bitter. There was a heavy undertone of dried oregano. It reminded me very much of the pizza sauce at the old Chicago Pizza in Lake Geneva, the space now occupied by the Flat Iron Tap. The pizza was well constructed and well executed, but the sauce let me down. Admittedly I prefer a sweeter pizza sauce, but this sauce just wasn’t to my liking.
The Double Dough pizza was brought out shortly after the Supreme. The waitress said “this is beautiful” as she admired the nicely raised and golden brown crust. The crust was brushed with some oil, or butter, and it glistened under those dining room lights. Sadly, the pizza was mostly for looks, as the crust itself was, well, doughy. There was nice oven spotting on the underside, and it had some crunch, but it was a lot of dough, and the dough was a bit gummy, and not chewy. I don’t know what I expected, since it’s literally called Double Dough, but I’ve had better doughy pizzas. My friend, who is seemingly normal and capable of discerning good pizza from bad, failed me on this particular recommendation.
The pizza at Nayeli’s is good. The crust is superior. The restraint shown when applying cheese is to be commended. But the sauce wasn’t to my liking, and that is the only thing that holds this pizza back from taking the top spot on this tour. Next time you’re up at the lake and you’ve had enough of the regular pizza joints, try Nayeli’s. You just might like it, and if nothing else, you’ll feel like a local. You know, like me.
108 Fairview Drive, Walworth
$17.25 for a large (14″) Supreme, and $14 for a large Double Dough Cheese
I fished for a few hours last week. Me, the stream and the snow, deep and white, still soft, still clean, and the trout. It wasn’t a big stream, and I didn’t place much concern on the catch, but the sky was clear and the water, too, so I trudged through the knee deep snow and to the pool that ages of water had carved into and beneath that limestone bank. A solitary bald eagle sat in a nearby pine and kept en eye on my effort. I enjoyed that morning. I caught a few trout. It was a beautiful winter day in March, and that day is nothing like this day. Today, I’m ready for the melt.
The market, likewise, has spent this winter ready for spring. But unlike the icy hold on our landscape, the market thawed a long time ago. There’s a question as to whether it ever froze. It’s easy to sit back on a morning like this and feel the malaise of a late winter day. The ice and snow, clouds and wind. It’s all too much. But we aren’t long for it. Soon enough it’ll be spring and then summer and you’ll be sitting at your desk wondering why you let the malaise of March bring you down when you should have found the motivation of March, which is far more rewarding.
Around the lake today there is activity. Ample activity. A nonsensical tax bill proposed by The Billionaire Governor Next Door (that bill that supposes a hard working family earning one million dollars per year owes the same debt to society as a billionaire who made his money through the hard work of inheritance) is a headwind for our market, there’s no sugarcoating that. But in spite of this, the market persists. Activity is rampant in all market segments, from condominiums in Geneva National (at least ten under contract currently), to lakefront homes on Geneva. There is no let down here, just an unavoidable march towards summer, marshaled by those participants who feel like making this summer the best summer of their lives.
The lakefront condo market has had itself a nice little winter, with a rare pending sale over $1MM in Bay Colony, and another pending sale over $800k in Lake Geneva. The real tragedy here is that my Bay Colony unit, that one that’s so nice it’s almost difficult to comprehend, is still available. At $799k it’s being offered far below owner cost, and if you were looking to spend this summer lakeside in luxury, you couldn’t do it for less. Of course you could go to some other lake, but I know you’re smarter than that.
The lake access market is moving nicely, with twelve properties priced from $198k to $1.295MM currently under contract. Included in that list is my fine listing in Glenwood Springs, which remains the nicest off-water cottage I’ve ever seen. While this off-water activity is nice, the real action is once again found on the lakefront. My listing on Park Drive ($2.195MM) went under contract last week, as did another lakefront in Glenwood Springs in the high twos. A property in Shore Haven ($2.949MM) hit the market two weeks ago and was quickly purchased by another lakefront owner, as the trend of musical lakefront homes continues. It’s like musical chairs, but without the music or the chairs.
To round things out, the top end of the market received a nice jolt over the weekend with the fresh contract on my lakefront listing at 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. Newer construction in a desirable location is rarely offered on this lake, (note the desirable location part), so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this lakefront ($7.385MM) find a buyer. If you’re wondering how important it is to offer your home to the market in turn key condition, I’ll point to this sale and give you a hint: it’s very important.
The lakefront market added four new lakefronts in the past month and three of those sold immediately. I’m expecting lakefront inventory to increase in the coming month, which isn’t especially profound. The market will continue to move as the calendar turns, and if we’re experiencing this sort of activity now, can you imagine how much better it’ll be when the ice gives us our big, blue lake back?
There’s a thing about making Tuesday pizza night. It’s not a night where you have to contend with lines. Crowds like the weekends. But I think weekends are for rookies, and Taco Tuesday is for those who aren’t yet aware that we’ve replaced all of that with Pizza Tuesday. And if you walk into Mama Cimino’s in Lake Geneva on Tuesday you’re in luck, it’s two for one night.
That’s what the waiter told me when I sat down in the dining room of this Lake Geneva pizza house. Buy one get one, cash only, he said. The cash part was an obstacle for me as my wife had pried from my cold hand the last of my Tuesday cash. I ordered, but I didn’t get the free pizza, because I had to pay with a credit card. I couldn’t help but feel as though this was an unlucky occurrence, that I was somehow deprived of my double pizza destiny. I ordered a 16″ Cimino Everything, which comes with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives. I told him to cast my olives into the depths of fiery hell.
The restaurant was not full. If you’ve never been, it’s wedged in between the fast food row in Lake Geneva, just south of the main drag. The restaurant shares a common wall with a Verizon store. There’s nothing here out of place, but there’s nothing here that will uniquely bring you back. The tablecloths are white and red checked plastic. The tables wobble. There’s nothing else worth noting. But it was 6:06 on a Tuesday and I had already ordered. One other table had some patrons, one of whom leaned in towards me to whisper a hushed secret, the pizza is good here.
At 6:10 my friend joined me for dinner, a local of sorts who told me to eat here. He sat down and we waited. I stared at the ficus in the corner and flipped through the Lake Geneva Regional News to see which real estate agents still think print advertising is a good idea. At 6:25 the pizza was brought to our table. It was big, it was hot, and it looked delicious. For the first time on our tour, the outer edge of the pizza was a bit charred, which I like. It seemed as though our next door table mates might be right.
The pizza was once again tavern style, square cut, with the typical toppings under cheese routine that is common here. The cheese was thick, but not so thick that it bothered me. Both The Next Door Pub and Pino’s pile on the cheese with a heavier hand. The vegetable toppings were cut into smaller cubes, which more than once left me thinking a pale piece of tomato was actually a piece of carrot, which would have been disconcerting. The sausage was delicious and pronounced, but the rest of the meaty toppings faded into the background. Which is a good thing, because I generally find bacon to be a misplaced pizza topping.
The crust here is different. It’s thinner than any of the other pizzas on this tour. The consistency is not crunchy, instead it gives like a pie crust might. The crust behaved like it had butter in it, which I doubt it did. But still, it was thin and it was crunchy, though not like a cracker, and not with any real resistance. The first few pieces were nice, but as the pizza feast wore on, the squares failed to retain any crunch. At first it didn’t bother me, and I thought it to be a reasonable condition, but as I thought about it I found it increasingly unacceptable.
The sauce was sweet, which I liked, and the waiter brought us a small dish of marinara sauce “to dip the crust”. I appreciated that, and I found the waiter to have a friendly edge that I didn’t anticipate. It was clear this man cared about this restaurant, and wanted his diners to be happy with their experience and happy with the pizza, and I was, mostly.
But that crust, man, that crust. The consistency just wasn’t right for me. The soggy ending wasn’t right, either. At first I thought I liked the pie-crust type give to the crust, but thinking about it now, I prefer a crisper crust that takes a more significant chomp to work through. On this night, the pizza was pretty, pretty good. Was it the best Walworth County has to offer? No. But I think you should try it for yourself, and if it’s a Tuesday, bring cash.
Certain phrases elicit certain reactions. For instance. If I tell my wife to “calm down”. The reaction is something I can predict with startling accuracy. If my son is bothering me and I tell him that he is banned from his xbox, he’ll react in the same apoplectic manner each and every time. And if I read that someone says they don’t “need a lake house”, my reaction will escalate far beyond that of my wife having been told to calm down and my son having been banned from gaming. You don’t need a lake house? Pfft.
The latest round of this profanity was uttered by a well-intentioned homeowner in a recent Crain’s article. The person owns a home in a North Shore suburb of Chicago. The house is for sale. When a house is for sale, the owners grasp at straws to describe just what it is that makes their house more special than the others. Better than the others. Unique and rare, that’s what their house is. In the case of this gentleman he said that he never felt the need for a lake house, because this house, located on Lake Michigan, is his lake house. It’s a primary home and a lake house all in one, with one tax bill and one landscaping bill. It’s tremendous win. Or so he thinks.
Before I blast off into a state of discontent, I must remind myself that this guy means well. He’s just trying to sell his house, and that’s something that I can understand and appreciate. But in trying to sell his house he has reinforced a myth, and it’s the myth that I find unconscionable. The myth says that a house on or near water is a lake house. A lake house is a lake house, a lake is a lake, a view is a view. In this, homes near water are all the same. Be the home near a great big lake, a tiny little lake, or this, our magnificent lake. Homes are homes, lakes are lakes, and this guy has his lake house. For terrible and irreversible shame.
Yes, you could work your way up through the minor leagues and find yourself standing on the mound, about to hurl a heater in the first inning of your league championship game. You could do that. Or you could just buy a ticket in the bleachers and eat popcorn while you watch the game. In this scenario both people find themselves in the stadium on game day, under the same sun and staring at the same green, hatch-mowed grass. Why put in all that effort to be the pitcher when you can just buy a ticket and enjoy the same game?
This is what it’s like to own a lake house on the big lake, on either side of the big lake. And this is the primary and most significant difference between Lake Geneva and that big lake. The big lake is beautiful. It’s nice to look at. I appreciate it for the inland ocean that it is. I look forward to one day holding the Western states ransom as they wish to stick their straws into our big lake. But to ascribe lake house abilities to a home on that lake is simply an error. The difference between Lake Geneva and Lake Michigan? The ability to use the lake.
If you want to tie a boat in a harbor and drive home to your lake house, I suppose that’s up to you. If you’d prefer to have a lake house with a view of water and no means to use that water, that’s again, like your opinion, man. But if you’d like a lake house situated above that water where the water itself is the weekend, then that’s why you come here. If you’d like your boat waiting for you at the end of your lawn, tethered to your private, white pier, then you should be here. If you’d like to see sunrises and sunsets, this is your place. If you want to ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon and fish in the evening, all without leaving your own property, then you come here. A lake house isn’t really a lake house unless it lets you live in a way that indulges in the adjacent lake. Swim, boat, fish, ski, sail. This is what a Lake Geneva lake house will offer you. If you’re only interested in a lake house that offers you a great view and nothing else, you might as well just move to Evanston.
If you went to the Next Door Pub and the Next Door Pub was in Walworth, but instead of being in a restaurant space the restaurant is in the Ben Franklin space, then you’d start to understand. If the pizza that you ordered at that restaurant in the Ben Franklin building was similar to the Lake Geneva restaurant pizza, except that the pizza was just flat out better, then you’d realize that you’re not in the Next Door Pub at all. You’re at Pino’s. And the pizza tastes good.
The night was full of confusion. I had intended to take my family with for pizza, and we had intended to go somewhere in Lake Geneva. Maybe Oakfire, maybe not. But the dog’s grooming appointment ran late due to matting and shaving, so we were left with little time between the grooming and the 7 pm Faith Christian basketball game. With that little time there was no Lake Geneva drive in the forecast, so we settled into a Walworth routine and pulled up to Pino’s at 6:15 pm.
If you’ll recall the fish fry review, Pino’s is in Walworth at the back of the strip mall that houses a library, a Chinese restaurant, a gym, a general contractor’s office, and a medical clinic. If you were looking for a theme here, there isn’t one. The Pino’s building is far in the back, and it’s not a Pino’s building at all as much as it is a Ben Franklin building, assuming you were in the Walworth area in the late 1980s and maybe even the early 1990s. The building is large, so large that it lacks any particular charm. If you want atmosphere, go somewhere else.
But we’re not looking for atmosphere, we’re looking for good pizza. When we were seated at 6:16, there were no other patrons in the dining room. Only a scant few contractor types sitting at the bar, no doubt considering, as was I, that they were sitting in the sewing section of Ben Franklin. The waitress was quickly table side and without delay we made our order. One large cheese pizza ($16.25) and one sort-of large (14″) Traditional pizza. Their traditional comes topped with onions, mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, pepperoni, ham, and olives in two tones, which we requested be mercifully left off of our pizza. The time was 6:19 pm. On the stereo, Tom Delong sang about his first date.
At 6:29 pm, Weezer came on. It was apparent that the person making the music decisions was also nearly 41, and I wondered if they, too, thought it odd that our lives have brought us to this place. At 6:39, the pizza was served. 20 minutes is a nice amount of time to wait for a pizza. It isn’t so fast that it leaves you wondering just how the pizza could cook in that short amount of time, and it isn’t so long that you start to grow impatient. The pies were large, well cooked without being burnt, and looked exactly as a tavern style pizza should look. I’ve had this pizza before, but never under the guise of grading it for the world. This time, there was more on the line.
The first slice made it obvious that we were dealing with a lot of cheese here. Loads of cheese. But this is Wisconsin, and a cheesy pizza is what the locals demand. The flop test, as evidenced above, was passed with ease. The crust was crispy, but it wasn’t cracker crispy. The crust is thin, technically, but not so thin that you could consider labeling it “thin crust” on a menu. There’s very little chew to the crust, and if you were on a search for the worlds best pizza crust you wouldn’t stop here. The vegetables and meat on the traditional were delicious, with properly softened vegetables blending nicely with the generous chunks of sausage and thin wafers of pepperoni. The sauce wasn’t too heavy, and down to the last bite the crust retained at least some crunch. This pizza dinner was a good one.
Was it perfect? No. The scene has to account for something in this series, and the scene here is very, very basic. The service was polite and prompt, our water glasses refilled as needed. The pizza is, for this style of pizza, about as good as it gets. Was the Traditional a bit heavy on the toppings? Sure. Was the Cheese a bit heavy on the cheese? Yes. Would I have preferred a crust that was either thinner and crispier or one with more rise and chew? Of course. But on this cold February night, we were happy to eat a properly prepared tavern style pizza, albeit in the woven basket section of the Ben Franklin.
Pino’s Last Call Pizza Pub and Grill
545 Kenosha Street, Walworth
$16.25 for a 16″ Cheese, $22.25 for a 14″ Traditional
It’s over. That’s it. There’s nothing left. We made it. No more winter, not here, anyway. Sure, up north there’s still winter, but there’s winter there in the spring and there’s winter there in the fall. Winter is what they do. Winter and bugs. But that’s not how it is here, no sir. Here, winter is done and spring is next. I’m happy to have arrived here, in spring.
Ah, but you say it’s still winter. You say it’s three degrees outside today. You say the wind blew at 50 miles per hour yesterday and last night, and cars wrecked and houses shook. You’re right about those things, they did happen, and they are happening, but what does that have to do with spring?
The forecast, you tell me, and you point to your phone, to the icons and the numbers. It’ll be cold all week, you insist. Snowy, too! Yes, but how much longer can that cold last, now that it’s spring? If it’s spring, I’ll give you your cold temperatures, but there’s no staying power, not now. Days, sure. Weeks, maybe. But months? Years? There’s hardly anything to worry about here in this late winter that’s really my spring. You should see things like I do.
The ice! You insist, albeit in vain. Yes, I know there’s ice. Lots of it. My driveway is impassable, my yard a slick, thick sheet of frozen snow and frozen rain, the lake, deep and dark and thick with ice. I get it. I do. That doesn’t really have anything to do with spring, and you’re right. That’s why I know they’re not long for this place, at this time. How much ice can last through spring, which it now is? With so much spring around us, who can even see the ice?
Still you think I jest. Still you think I’m wrong. Still you sit in your house with the furnace churning and your hands warmed by your coffee and you shutter to think of so much more winter. You’re forgiven for being wrong, but you’re still wrong. In the same way that summer is over once you start thinking about fall, once you start wishing for denim and boots and apples and leaves, it is also the case for winter. Once I’m done with the snow and the ice, which I have now decided I am, there can be no more winter with my mind set forward to spring. Get ready for it, because it’s coming and it’s coming soon, though I admit my definition of soon may be different than yours.
More than fifty years ago, in a suburb of Chicago, a member of the Rosati family opened a pizzeria. Years later, a franchise model was born, and Rosati’s Pizza expanded throughout Illinois, the Midwest, and beyond. Today, there are nearly 200 Rosati’s locations. But that doesn’t concern me, because I didn’t even want to eat lunch at Rosati’s yesterday. Oak Fire was my aim, but Oak Fire’s website said they were open, their menu placard outside the restaurant said they were open, the guy inside walking around seemed to indicate that they might be open, but the door was locked. Improvise, adapt, overcome.
I thought of two or three other pizza places after Oak Fire and before Rosati’s, but those places would only open later in the day for dinner service. Pizza, it seems, is seen as a dinner item, which is silly. With the history of my day in place and the history of Rosati’s understood, I pulled into the parking lot and met a friend for lunch.
I had never darkened the door of Rosati’s. Not this one, not any one. The Lake Geneva location is adjacent the Sherwin Williams paint store, just a bit West of the Highway 120/50 intersection, behind the Taco Bell. The location is not ideal, but it works. The interior of the restaurant is decorated like the basement rec room of a Schaumburg tudor in 1996. Chicago Bears and Bulls memorabilia, along with a few token Packers pieces covered the walls. A life size cutout of Michael Jordan and another of a younger Brett Favre kept watch over the dining room.
Don’t confuse Rosati’s with a normal sit-down establishment. This is a fast food restaurant. The tables are covered in wood grain formica. The chairs are the sort you’d stack tall after a church service. There’s nothing here memorable, nothing that sets any sort of mood. This is a place for eating. At 12:30 pm on a Tuesday there were a scant few tables occupied when I walked up to the counter to place my order.
The large cheese pizza was 16 inches, the same size as the large at The Next Door Pub. The menu said the pizza was $16.99. The special, scribbled on a dry-erase board near the entrance, said that a Tuesday large cheese + 1 topping pizza was just $13.99. Their version of “supreme” is called Super Supreme and features opinions, peppers, mushrooms, sausage, pepperoni, and black olives. I ordered the pizza half cheese, half super supreme, minus the black olives because those are disgusting no matter what anyone says. The order-taker struggled with my order.
The way I saw it, she had a few different options for my bill. She could consider my order as the cheese special at $13.99 and add on a fee for the half that was super supreme. Or she could charge me $16.99 and add a charge for the super supreme half. Or she could charge me for the super supreme, and that would be that. The latter option seemed the wrong one, but that’s what she chose. I paid $21.49 for a Super Supreme that was half cheese. I was wounded. But I paid the tab, tipped her for her self-inflicted trouble, and sat down at a table near Brett Favre. It was 12:36.
Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I thought the wait was too long, especially for a chain restaurant that should, at this late date in their business history, have the art of quick pizza making well refined. I also thought of how I received the Next Door Pub pizza quickly, and that turned out to be fatal speed, so I waited. Thirty minutes after I ordered, the pizza was brought to the table. It was large, greasy, well browned, and cut tavern style. It looked pretty good.
And it was pretty good. The sauce wasn’t super sweet but it had nice flavor, the cheese was ample and spotted with browning from the hot oven, the crust crunchy, at least at first. The crust was thin, but it wasn’t particularly good. There was a school cafeteria vibe with the crust. It didn’t flop as terribly as the Next Door Pub rare crust, but that’s a low hurdle to clear. Toppings were applied with a heavy hand, and the cheese was thick, but not so much that it was a burden. It was good because I was hungry, but was it something unique, something worthy of praise? No, it wasn’t. Still, we ate the pizza and were satisfied.
Will I go to Rosati’s again for pizza? No, I won’t. The pizza was fine. But we’re not trying to find fine. We do fine really well here. We’re looking for outstanding. Rare. We’re searching for a winner, and in a crowd full of pizza, Rosati’s doesn’t deserve any special consideration.
240 Edwards Boulevard, Lake Geneva
$21.49 for a half cheese/half super supreme thin crust pizza (note: there are several styles of pizza available here- deep dish, double crust, etc)
Lakefront buyers know that a hunt for a lakefront house can be fun. Can, being the operative word there. It could be fun. Should be fun. But often, in this market, it is anything but. No inventory, stubborn sellers, too much competition amongst other, potentially more motivated buyers. Sometimes, it’s all too much. But in the process there is an education, as buyers come to understand what it is they should expect at certain price points on this magnificent lakefront.
Enter Park Drive. A south shore lakefront with almost 80′ of level frontage with a rare sandy beach shoreline. Lakefront home buyers understand that $2MM or so doesn’t typically allow for such a wide swath of level lakefront. What’s typical in this market now is fifty feet, maybe more, maybe less, on the side of a hill. Park Drive has a three car attached garage, into which you enter off of a private, paver driveway capable of holding several cars. Parking and a three car attached garage? Not common in this market at this price point, but you already knew that because you’re a $2ish buyer and you aren’t finding what it is that you want.
An old cottage, that’s what you’ll find here. Some lipstick, a heavy hand, and voila, that’s the cottage you’ll find for this sort of money. But that’s not what I have here at Park. I have a lakefront home built in 1996 with Viking appliances and multiple fireplaces and so much glass on that lakeside wall. Yes, you can find an old cottage on a hill for this price, with those fifty skinny feet and that little pier, but why would you keep looking for that house when this better house is right here, right now, ready for summer 2019?
Three bedrooms, two baths, a three car garage, private pier, huge lakeside deck and patio, 79 feet of dead level frontage, turn key condition. $2,195,000. Let me know if you’d like to see it.
On December 17th, I decided to try the Keto diet. The timing was complicated, so close to Christmas, a holiday revered in my family for its significance, yes, but also for the candies, the breads, the pies. In spite of the temptations, I adhered closely to this diet. No sugar, no bread, no starch. Fruits aren’t even safe on this diet, and so I steered clear. I was proud of myself for enduring the way I did, steadfastly from that day in December right up until a day during the last week of January when I realized that I am nothing if I not a bread eater. If I can’t eat bread, what’s the point of this so called life?
I like pizza. Quite a lot, but maybe not more than the average American, or European. I find it to be a comforting old friend, a safe menu choice, a small pie making for a simple appetizer, or a large pie feeding a family of four for $20 or so. Even when my wife and I traveled through France last spring, we often found our meal of choice in the shape of a circle. It wasn’t only difficult for me to avoid pizza during the six weeks I toiled under the meaty thumb of Keto, it felt wrong.
My mother made pizza on Saturdays. A homemade crust, thick and doughy, sauce, and toppings that generally steered clear of anything exotic. Sausage and pepperoni ruled. Later in my life, I had a wood fired pizza oven built at my house so I could experiment with my own pizza making, the results of which varied wildly from pizza to pizza. Later, I built a fly fishing cabin, and added a wood fired oven to that home as well. My pizza making skills evolved, but consistency still haunts me, even to this day.
Earlier this week, I posted a picture of a floppy slice of pizza on my Facebook page. It was a woeful slice, indeed. I announced the beginnings of a pizza review series, and the response was enthusiastic. In fact, when my wife logs into my account to tell the world that I’ve died, fewer comments will be left. Some warned me against local pizza. Go to New York or Chicago for pizza, they said. This place is the best, some wrote. Try this place, order the pizza well done, someone suggested. Pizza, while not a particular strong suite of the Lake Geneva area, is something that matters.
In preparation of my review series, I decided on the process. I will order one large pizza, half cheese and half supreme (or whatever the establishment calls their pizza with some vegetables and sausage). There’s a popular website where the founder travels from town to town reviewing pizza. “One bite, everybody knows the rules”. This is what the man says before taking his bite. I know this concept to be preposterous. One bite does not tell the tale of a pizza. What if I’m exceptionally hungry that day, and that first bite is amazing not because of the pizza, but because of my near starvation? What if the first bite is good, but the next thirty-four are mediocre? This will not be a one bite review, this will be a pizza review. I’m not a coward, so I’ll eat the whole stinkin’ pizza. How else can a dish be judged?
That brings us to my first google search. “Best Pizza in Lake Geneva”. This is what I typed into my browser. Tripadviser, Yelp and others told me there was a consistent opinion in our market. The Next Door Pub received top placement on many sites, often followed or proceeded by Oak Fire. With the reviews of the people considered, I made my first decision. It was a snow day, and I was hungry, so at 5 pm sharp my son and I walked into The Next Door Pub.
This establishment on the north side of Lake Geneva is one that I know well. I’ve eaten the pizza perhaps a dozen times before, which doesn’t make me a regular by any stretch. The space is quite basic, nothing fancy. A couple of dining rooms and a bar. It’s modest. But at 5 pm on Tuesday night the place was hopping. The clientele was diverse: construction workers, families, retirees and at least one young couple on a date at the corner table, awkwardly sharing an order of wings. My son and I were seated at a four top near the front door, and then we waited.
And waited. And waited. Ten minutes later, a waitress made her way to the table and took our order. One large pizza, half cheese, the other half being their “famous garbage pizza”, that of onions, sausage, green pepper and mushrooms. We sat and listened to the conversations of the surrounding tables. No one had anything interesting to say.
Ten minutes later, the pizza arrived. It felt like it came out a bit too soon. We had waited more than ten minutes for our waters, and expected to wait another 15 or more for the pizza. But ten minutes later, there it was. A large pizza, half cheese and half garbage, cut tavern style. That style, by the way, is the common style for pizza in the Lake Geneva market. It’s a reasonably thin crust pizza with ample toppings, cut in squares, not slices. This pizza looked fine, but the cheese on top was quite white. There was no evidence of browning, no bits of char. The speed at which the pizza was brought to the table and the lack of browning on the cheese was worrisome, but I’ve had this pizza before and figured it would still be tasty, even if it didn’t look tasty.
But it wasn’t. The crust was limp, as evidenced in that damning photo above. It was soft, soggy, undercooked. When I mentioned this initially on Facebook someone said that I have to order the pizza “well done”. This is silly, and akin to ordering a Coke and asking the waiter to make sure it’s fizzy. The crust was soft and too thick to be considered proper tavern style, the sauce was a touch sweet, which I actually prefer. The cheese overwhelmed the pie, which is a condition that used to plague my mother’s pizza as well, though she never opened a restaurant. The sausage was fine, not too loaded with fennel seed, which is a vile seed that should never again be planted. The vegetables were adequate, not too crunchy, but here they are placed under the cheese and stacked high, which means great care must be made to pull a square of pizza from the plate and not have all of the toppings slide onto the table. Making matters worse, the crust couldn’t even support itself, so this pizza was less a pizza and more a soft, messy casserole.
I recognize people love The Next Door Pub. It’s a fine pub, and I’m sure many people count it as their favorite. But I’m not many people, and I have no allegiance to this, or any other restaurant in the area. I’m just hoping to eat some good pizza, and on this night, I struck out.
The Next Door Pub
411 Interchange North (Highway 120), Lake Geneva, WI
$19.70 for a large half cheese/ half garbage pizza
Here we are again. In February. The snow is still flying, but we know what we know. Summer is coming soon. With that in mind, buyers are looking forward to maybe, potentially, perhaps, spending this summer in a different place. In this place. Our place. Many are waiting. Hoping. But January is spent and February is aging and the wait continues.
Inventory was a concern heading into this new year, but I was more concerned about the stock market. Concerned about stability. The December market slide has reversed course, leaving my worries to the singular: Inventory. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case at this time of any given year, but this year, this morning, it’s all about the inventory.
Year to date we’ve technically added three lakefronts to the mix. But that’s just a technicality, as those three lakefronts were all available last year, and have only now come back to market after spending the holidays on pause. For all of the inventory concerns I had at the end of 2017, the first 42 days of 2018 brought eight new lakefronts to market, and several of those were indeed new offerings. 2019, you’re letting us down.
And what of the buyer activity this year? What’s the theme in our market at this very moment? Showings, by my eye, seem to be quite high given the difficult weather that we’ve experienced over the last several weeks. Contracts are relatively low, but that’s purely a function of limited inventory. Expect contracts to pick up in February and March as buyers either pounce on new inventory, or realize their options for 2019 are going to remain limited and turn to the existing inventory to scratch their summery itch.
For my part, I’m working on some new bits and pieces of inventory that you’ll know about soon. I’m also starting to work on the 10th issue of Summer Homes For City People, which will hopefully be available Memorial Day Weekend. If you’re in the mood to buy or sell Lake Geneva this year, I hope you’ll let me know.
Managing Directors, Those Bored and Successful, My Wife and Children, My Mother Who Reads These Posts, and my Fellow Lake Geneva Admirers:
We meet electronically this morning at a moment of unlimited potential. As we begin a new year, I sit here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for your family, that prized collection of individuals who count on you to ignite their weekend, lakeside dreams. Our fellow Midwesterners are watching us now, hoping that we will not vacation as two parties, some seeking solace on these shimmering shores, and others still wandering blindly towards a great big, unusable lake in a lesser Eastern state, but as one Nation, united in the desire to spend weekends splashing and playing. The contrast I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda, not an agenda for those in Winnetka and another for those in Hinsdale. It is the agenda of the American people, those who have come here, weary of their work and seeking rest.
There is a new opportunity in American vacation homes, if only we have the courage to seize it. Victory is not winning the bid. Victory is winning the bid on the right house, on the right lake, at the right price. This year, we will recognize an important anniversary that shows us the majesty of this great Lake Geneva mission. This year, we mark 23 years since the start of what I would call a most illustrious Real Estate career. Should I have gone to college and law school? Of course I should have, but that doesn’t matter now. It’s too late to worry about that when the promise of summer is so near.
Today, a mother from Buffalo Grove will log on to her computer, and she’ll stumble upon this website and her eyes will be opened to the possibility of a Lake Geneva vacation home. This is the promise of America, yes, but it’s the further promise of Lake Geneva. And when this mother searches and strives and brings her family to the lake this summer, and oh so many summers after, this is when the dream of my father, and of her father will have been realized. Of course, that assumes her father dreamt of this in the way that my father did, but still. It’s in these people, the city worker and the mother from Buffalo Grove and my father and her father that combine to make the state of the Lake Geneva market strong.
The results of this work, of the street plower dutifully fulfilling his pledge, and of the mother looking and then buying the most perfect lake house, is that our market has never been stronger. We have never been stronger. We own the Midwest vacation home market, and it is all but assured that the coming year will be as bright as the years that preceded it. No, brighter, as if that could be possible. We do not shut off our lights, or turn away any weary travelers just because we are content in our own strength, proud of our resilience and upper bracket liquidity. Instead we offer benevolence to the lake weary, to those who toil and labor in cities and in suburbs, and we offer them shelter because that is what we do and this is who we are. How can we call ourselves Americans if we do not encourage those with the means to lay down roots near our shores? The only wall that Lake Geneva needs is made of Hydrangea, and it blooms as bright as the faces of our sun-kissed children.
The question for us today is actually only for you. It is not for you if you’re content with your vacation home ownership here. If you splash your way through every summer, this is not a charge that you need to consider because you have already passed this greatest test. The question today is for those who sit at their computers, who sit on their couches, who spend Saturday wondering what Sunday will bring even though you know it just brings a long line and then brunch. Maybe a stroller ride through an insufferable park. The question is what, exactly, are you doing? Why are you allowing a most un-American complacency to drag down your weekends, when you know that we’re here- the city worker, polishing the streets that we’d like you to drive over, and the mother, picking up corn at the farmer’s market in the morning to cook it lakeside in the evening. We are here, working and playing and living in a most amazing fashion, even while you sit there in that same new chair, obstructing your own path in life simply because you’re scared to venture into the unknown. Do you not dream our same watery dreams? Do you not wish for your own American dream?
But this isn’t the unknown, my friends, this is America, yes, the most pure version of it. This is America, if the entirety of it would be washed in clean water, surrounded by a lush green shore, where every family gets a boat in every slip and some gas in that boat and a few hours of leisure. This is what we offer, and in the coming months you must make a decision to join us or forever get out of our way. In God We Trust, yes but do we not also trust in blue water and soft summer skies? Do we not trust in weekends that are different than weekdays? In summer that is different than fall? We can make progress this year, together, but we cannot do this without your cooperation. We can lead you to the water but we cannot make you swim. We cannot simply urge you to join us if you will not make even a modest effort. This isn’t what it is to be an American, to lie and lounge in city apartments and in suburban backyards, this isn’t the sense of adventure that our fore-bearers wished for us. Do you not aspire to join us in our greatness?
But today is for the laborer. The partner and the founder. The director and the vice president. They rise and they work, and they rise and they work. They wake on Saturday and they pretend that this day is somehow different. They rise and think that a Lake Geneva vacation home isn’t for them, because it hasn’t ever been for them. That this dream is unattainable. They huddle in their darkest corners, holding tight to their money that they’ve worked so hard to earn, and they fear the things that might happen if they let some of it go. They live as though their pedigree is in question, as though they cannot consider Lake Geneva because of its long enduring reputation as a place for the very best among us. I assure you today, as I will assure you again tomorrow, that Lake Geneva is for everyone, for every man, woman and child, for anyone who wakes on a Saturday and says, “I’m bored, let’s go to the lake”.
And so I make this decree, by executive order, under the authority bestowed upon me by myself, I hereby demand every vacation home seeker of some means to at least consider a Lake Geneva vacation home. Your complacency cannot thrive under this bright lakeside sun, and so this command today by me, your market leading agent, shall be followed otherwise the willing dissenters risk being labeled enemy combatants and foist into the darkness of a Pure Michigan weekend. We may disagree on the course of value, or on the benefits of one shore over the other, or on which restaurant is worthy of our breakfasting intentions and which restaurants are not, but we can agree that Lake Geneva is the place to be. In fact, it always has been, and it always will be. If we can summon the courage to live in a way that finds our weekends at the lake, then we can achieve a new standard of living for the twenty-first century and beyond. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless Lake Geneva and no place else.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the week that was. Monday we were roused from our slumber by snow, perhaps six inches of it, and we were glad. Or at least my kids were glad, because snow days are to be celebrated. Then the temperatures dropped, and Wednesday school was called, followed by Thursday. It was terribly cold, but you know this because you were there. Or here. The week was memorable, and in the dark depths of this important winter it would be easy to forget a very basic truth: Summer is coming.
This is true, whether it feels true or not. There is no way around it. Summer will be here soon. In the real estate sense, it’s right around the corner. January is gone, the boring, tedious Super Bowl is over, and what comes next is easy. Summer. Yes, there’s plenty of winter left. It will still be cold. There are months worth of fires left to be burned. There is work to be done, wintery work. Like any season, much of our time is spent preparing for the season to come, and since Spring isn’t so much a season as it is a petulant in-between that we must suffer, the next thing is summer. Ready or not.
I have to tell you this now because now you still have time. If you’re a vacation home buyer, you should be aware of your schedule. Looking for a house in February is good if you’d like to be contracted this month and closing in March or April. If you close in late March or April, that gives you a handful of weeks to prepare your new property for summer. There are sheets to buy and pillows to fluff. There are walls to paint and cabinets to wash. Hardware should be upgraded, because we all know you cannot abide a full summer with those terrible doorknobs.
I like June buyers. They’re nice. Sweet. Showings are easy and weekends are soft. June buyers are simple. To be a June buyer is to be motivated, sure, but motivated for what? To close quickly in July and suck a few extra weeks of real summer our of 2019? How much better it would be to be a February buyer. Time, that’s what this buyer has. If you’re buying in February you are seeing this market for what it is when the romance is gone. You see behind the veil. There is no clarity of vision in June, there is only the overwhelming urgency of summer. February? That’s the sort of buyer I’d want to be.
The good news for February buyers is that I’m here, and I’m at your service. The weather isn’t great. The lake is frozen and layered with weekend slush. There’s nothing here right now but the business of summer, and it requires your immediate attention.
It’s January. Time for snow storms that aren’t really actually snow storms, and lakefront price reductions. Inventory will build over the coming 30 days, and price reductions won’t be uncommon for existing inventory. That’s why I just reduced the price of 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana $500,000. It’s $7.395MM now, and if you had been hemming and hawing over this place, it’s time to come take a look. The driveway is plowed.
This is the time of year when social media feeds are filled to the brim with mockery. Mockery of our place, of this place, of the cold. The snowbirds are on beaches, toasting to sunsets. Karen guessed the exact time the sun set and she won a free T-Shirt!! They offer up lip service to their northern friends. Stay Warm! They say, with their feet in the sand. Another Boring Sunset! They write, implying that it isn’t boring at all. Why Do I Live Here? Asks someone who hasn’t yet won the ability to spend their winter someplace else.
Me? I was driving home last night in a snow squall, the wind whipping across the road, drifts creeping towards the center line. I drove in my car, my steering wheel and seat warm, my four wheel drive confident. There was no crisis here. I pulled into my driveway and into my garage. I walked into my house and lit a fire. The night would be easy now. The cold outside of no concern. The scenery and the excitement of severe weather both to my liking. What’s so bad about winter?
I suppose there are ways that it’s bad. If you park your car outside your primary home at night, every night, that might be pretty difficult. I remember the days of scraping windshields and dead morning batteries, and those times were indeed more difficult than these times. In the same way, if you live in the north and you lack a fireplace, this would make winter far less appealing. Why would you invite this condition upon yourself? We all make mistakes that we have to live with, but no fireplace in Wisconsin? Really? Remedy this, and you’ll be closer to enjoying the nights when the temperatures plummet and the snow whips.
But this isn’t about why winter is fine. This isn’t about stew and fires and warm hats. This is about you, and your vacation home, and how you can enjoy winter without stressing about your vacation home. I’ve mentioned these things before, but they bear repeating on a morning such as this. Lest you think I’m lecturing without practicing, I have a small cabin 160 miles away from here. I don’t go there super often. But today, with temperatures well below zero, I know my little cabin is just fine.
Because of technology. Cheap technology. I have a single camera in the house, and a single thermostat. Both connected to a single app on my phone. This technology could have been set up by my 12 year old daughter. The total cost of this futuristic set up was around $350. With this set up in mind, I can look at a live feed of my little cabin living room and know that the temperature outside is -11, but the temperature inside is 63. This is the lesson.
Times were, vacation homes were drained of water, covered in plastic, and turned off. This would happen in October, and the old cabins would sit, freezing and dry, until the following April, or May. That was nice back then, but this is now. There’s no reason to own a Lake Geneva vacation home if you’re not going to visit between October and May. The days of seasonal ownership are long over, as owners have realized that winter here is enjoyable in its own way. But even if we’re not going to visit in the winter, we should take care of our houses. The first step? Temperature.
Tempting as it might be to turn the heat down to 52, because you want to save the planet and conserve energy, don’t do it. Just don’t. Leave your heat at 63 degrees or more. Why would you turn the heat lower than that? To save $50 a month for a couple of months? Don’t be silly. Leave your heat at 63 (install a wifi thermostat so you can monitor it), and don’t go about the business of draining your water lines with the assistance of a plumber. Just do as I do and turn off your well pump and water heater (don’t do this is you have a whole house humidifier, or consult your plumber), or turn off the municipal water supply inside your crawl/basement. You do this in case the furnace blinks out, and in doing so you’ll make certain that you won’t have a houseful of water a day or two later. It’s easy and smart.
About that camera. Why wouldn’t you do that? It’s so easy, and you needn’t hire an IT firm to set it up. It can be as simple as a single camera that will alert you to motion or sound. Can it nab an intruder for you, too? No, but I find that just a little peace of mind is better than none at all. In fact, I’d trade no peace of mind for a little every time. Between the camera and the thermostat, I don’t really see what else you’ll need aside from a local emergency contact if indeed something goes awry.
Next time you’re tempted to lock your vacation home down tight and give it up for the off-season, rethink your mistake. Keep the heat up, turn the water off. Check in once a day with your app. And if you do come up for the weekend, be sure to have some firewood. Make that fire. Enjoy that house. And remember, it could be worse, your life could have been reduced to watching a sunset and hoping the waitress calls your name.
I’m not sure why you’re spending the time to read this. It’s coming. Can’t you see? It’s not far away now. Last night, it wasn’t even close. No one cared about it, then. Cars drove and people walked, stores sold goods and life was as normal as ever. Then it wasn’t. Things changed when the thing found its way onto the radar, close now. Nebraska, then Iowa. Soon enough, the state line. Cars are driving faster now. Gas stations rationing gas. Five Gallons Per, the sign reads. Women are nervous and in the distance, the sound of a man, gently weeping behind his garage, where his children cannot see his tears.
Emails to check this morning. Trying so hard to find a distraction from the thing. Maybe this email will say something about anything else. Something about the shutdown, about the wall, something about Nancy Pelosi on the tarmac. But no such luck, the topic is consuming. News organizations, once enemies battling for clicks and subscribers, united in this front. United in their warning. A modern day electronic air raid siren. MAJOR STORM COMING. Nothing else matters.
And yet there you are, reading this, wasting time when there’s so little left. We might get snow tonight, so much that it’ll stick to the ground and stick to your boots. If you’re out in it, there’s a chance some of it sticks to your hair, or your hat, if you’re lucky enough to have one. You’re going to need it. It isn’t just all this snow, so much of it that it might rise to the top of your ankle if you’re short, it’s the wind, too. A mighty wind, some would say, maybe the greatest wind ever. Coming off that giant lake, blowing hard, making it difficult to stand. The snow traps your feet, the wind pushes you over. This is how it’s going to happen, the weathermen have foreseen it.
Be safe, dear friends. Cling tight to your loved ones, to your life. The snow is coming, and it isn’t just any snow. It’s a Major Snow. If you don’t believe me, check your email.
There are few market segments that I find as curious as Geneva National. Under no other particular context does one association make up its own market segment, but here we are, knocking at these gates. The fact that this large association functions as its own market is something that vexes those who live and play there. Why can’t a buyer just be on the hunt for a Lake Geneva area condominium priced under $500k? Why must a buyer seek out Geneva National specifically if they wish to buy one of those condominiums? Why does a homebuyer who purchases a vinyl corn-field tudor for $500k neglect to first consider his options inside Geneva National? Does that buyer know that Geneva National is nicer, and objectively better?
For the year just ended there were 81 total MLS sales. Those sales ranged from small condominiums priced under $100k, to beautiful newer homes priced over $1MM (two sold over $1MM last year). As we sit just inside the parameters of 2019, there are only 36 available homes and condominiums (ten more properties are under contract), including two properties listed incorrectly in the MLS as single family homes (these are technically all condominiums). The fact that an agent listed two homes as single family might be a sloppy mistake, or it might just drive home the point I made in the opening paragraph. If you want to sell Geneva National’s single family homes, are you better off pretending they’re not inside Geneva National?
I think the answer is no. Or at least it should be no. Geneva National is back, and it really is better than ever. Sure, there are still homeowners residing inside these brick and cedar behemoths that were built prior to 2006, those with dated finishes that the owners don’t think are dated. Sure, there are still lots that can be bought for the price of a high mileage used Corolla. But the market has mended, and the volume from 2018 is a sure sign that things are back to stable. While I enjoy seeing lots of sub-$200k volume, the true measure of Geneva National is in how it deals with its expensive inventory. Continued high volume years would be nice, but that’s not necessary to continue the momentum that GN has successfully built over recent years.
Over the last six years, Geneva National has averaged 2 sales over $700k each year. 2017 printed just one sale at that level. 2018 closed four sales over $700k, and that might be as good of a sign as any for this embattled association. Sell the higher end inventory and you’ll give buyers confidence to move up in price. You’ll give vacant land buyers confidence that their new build makes some market sense. And you’ll give current owners confidence to update those awful 2003 bathrooms. Broad market activity is terrific, but the real positive out of Geneva National in 2018 was an increase in upper bracket liquidity.
To understand how far Geneva National has come, you need only look back to 2012. That year was likely the bottom of the last market cycle, and during that dark year Geneva National closed just 35 single family and condominium properties. For each of the last two years, GN has closed over 80 such properties. Current inventory is low, but there are several high dollar properties on the market today that will test the continued momentum of this large association. Will buyers at the high end appreciate the country club atmosphere, complete with new pools and tennis, to such a degree that they’ll provide liquidity over $1MM? Or will those higher value buyers continue to opt for the lakeside lifestyle that the Lake Geneva lakefront and lake access market provides? Only time will tell, but if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet against Geneva National in 2019.
When we entered 2018, we knew we had some inventory problems. This was widespread throughout the vacation home market, from entry level cottages to lakefront estates. What we also knew was that buyers rarely find the patience to stand back and wait for the perfect piece of inventory, instead they tend to wait for a bit, and then default to the next best thing. If you were looking for a lake access home with boat slip last year, you know how difficult the hunt was. The good news is that we can now test our theories: If there weren’t ample offerings with slips, then the market should have shifted towards condominiums as buyers looked for similar attributes and price points in a different ownership model.
The good thing for 2018 is that our model held up. Low inventory in the single family lake access market propelled sales of lakefront condominiums to a multi-year high. During 2018 we closed 15 total lakefront condominiums, up from 12 in 2017 and eight in 2016. If we look deeper into the trend, we know that buyers have shown an increased desire to be walking distance to downtown Lake Geneva. If they want a slip and want to be close to downtown and they have a typical condominium budget of less than $800k, then Vista Del Lago should have had a stellar year. Guess what? It did.
There were seven sales in Vista for 2018, priced from $355k to $580k. I personally sold two four bedroom units (the largest in the complex) for $520k and $515k, respectively. Those sales were off-market, as buyers looked for inventory that didn’t exist, and their smart agents contacted me to find out what might have been available privately (you should do the same). Vista has had some tumult over the past decade, but the best possible thing for any association that’s on the rebound is volume. Vista, congratulations on 2018.
Around the lake we had two sales at Geneva Towers, both lower priced sales sub-$400k. There were no sales at Somerset, Harbor Watch or East Bank, those three higher value condominiums on the eastern shore. Working around towards Williams Bay, Bay Colony closed two units at $565k and $530k, and there weren’t any sales at Bay Shore or Bay Colony South. Fontana Shores, that brick condo north of Gordy’s, closed two units. A two bedroom for $494k and a one bedroom for $405k. At the Fontana Club, over in Glenwood Springs, there were two sales, though the sales were of the same double unit. The combined unit (that I had sold previously) sold in early 2018 for $685k. Then the owners renovated it, and put it back for sale in the fall. It closed late in the year for $835k, likely representing a meaningful loss for the seller.
It’s fun when a market allows you to prove a theory, and in 2018, the mid-range vacation home market did just that. Some buyers, if faced with a lack of inventory in their target segment, will reach up. That’s common here. In fact, I can’t tell you how many buyers I’ve worked with started with a a target of $500k and ended up spending $900k. Lake Geneva can do that to a person. But what’s more likely, is for a buyer to look around at his desired price range, and in the absence of inventory, she’ll look away from single family homes and to the lakefront condominium. Prices have lagged in the lakefront condo market even as the single family homes have appreciated. That creates some value, and when you combine value with inventory, you have the makings of a terrific year.
We know the trend. It’s not just here, but it sure is pronounced here. It’s not just a trend on Geneva, it’s a trend on our other, secondary lakes as well. Construction. It’s everywhere you look. Delavan is full of construction, Lauderdale, too. Heck, even Lake Como has a strong movement of new construction. Gentrification, is good, everyone except the hipsters say. Out with the old and in with the new, this is our progress. This is what we were made for. To improve, to manipulate, to grow. Geneva is certainly taking that mantra to heart, and we’ve been building and building, and in fact, we just might build until we can build no more.
I left my office this week in the rain and drove around the lake. Down the roads that lead to nowhere, around the corners where the summer lives. In Williams Bay, there’s a large scale lakefront remodel that’s been in process for well over a year, and there are two spec homes that have recently been completed. Further south, there’s a rumored new project underway, that where two lakefront homes will replace one lakefront home. More on this trend later, but overall it’s a negative trend for our lake. If you care about this scene, fight against density.
In the Elgin Club, there’s a new build that’s just about done. There’s one nice sign in the Elgin Club- a neighbor purchased a home and knocked it down, perhaps to create a peaceful side yard. That’s the sort of trend I wholeheartedly endorse, and I do hope that more lakefront owners take advantage of purchasing neighboring properties when they come to market. Fewer homes, that’s what we need.
In Geneva Bay Estates there’s a new foundation where a modest ranch once grew. There’s a patch of dirt in Geneva Manor where a home recently stood. That wasn’t a lakefront home, but it was sort of like lakefront, so it matters. $900k or so for a tear down here isn’t something I’d sign up for, perhaps chiefly because of the tax bill that the City Of Lake Geneva likes to gift to new owners. Speaking of, did you know that the combined Stone Manor tax bill for the majority owner there is now nearly $300k? And the city hassles over permit applications, for shame.
Around that corner of the lake there’s a new build just finished on LaGrange, and a new complicated build underway on Marianne Terrace. That’s a project led by Lowell Management, and that’s a good thing. This site is unique, more like Malibu than Lake Geneva, and I have no doubt that the finished product will be beautiful and well executed. The lakefront in Loramoor is humming along, looking sharp as it has since it first rose from that dirt (that I sold) in late 2017. At the bottom of Sidney Smith, there’s still the home that’s been under construction for years, looking, well, still unfinished.
On Maple Lane, two new homes were just built, and there’s a new spec home taking shape there along that stretch. Those are easy, deep, 100′ level lots, so it makes sense (in one way) why people are drawn to that spot on the water. In Fontana, there’s a new build on the hill above the lake, but it isn’t lakefront, so it shouldn’t count. No matter, you’ll still see it from your boat this coming summer.
The lakefront has plenty of new construction, this you can see. But I’m not thrilled with much of it. There are large, awkward houses being planted on lots that just can’t support that sort of heft. We don’t have any architectural approval committee for the lakefront, and in some ways, that’s a positive. But in other ways, it sure would be nice to have a panel to look over these builds before they rise. I dislike the trend of splitting lots, perhaps unless those lots are at least 200′ in width. The issue I have is when smaller lots are created out of old plat standards. The houses that tend to be built on the smaller lots rarely fit the neighborhoods. They aren’t cottages. They’re monstrosities looking to maximize living space and minimize neighborhood charm.
Even so, Lake Geneva is continually improving itself, and one day, we’ll look around and have nothing left to improve. If you’re a fan of this lake and wish for it to remain intact long after we’re all gone, you have but one aim. Root for less density. Root for fewer associations. Fight against keyhole developments (much like the one proposed for Basswood last year). It’s easier to knock down charm and replace it with mass efficiency, but is that what’s best? I don’t think so.
The year just ended was, by most accounts, a good year. But that’s a silly way to describe something as diverse and unique as a year. That’s like booking a table at Alinea and after four hours and 20 courses you take to your social media account to describe the meal as “good”. That wouldn’t happen, and that’s just a meal. How much more deserving of proper critique and detail is an entire year of our lives? Now that I’ve built this thing up, let’s dumb it back down and talk about the lakefront market in 2018. The year? It was pretty good.
We started 2018 with light inventory, just ten lakefront homes were available at the onset of 2018, and that limited inventory forced me to worry about what the year was going to look like. I knew there were buyers, plenty. I knew we had pending sales to give us a nice start to the new year. And I knew the stock market looked stable on the heals of a Federal tax cut. But what I didn’t know was how much more inventory we’d add, and how firm the buyer’s resilience would be if we didn’t add enough inventory.
That’s what matters, after all. The buyers. See, a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer is generally only a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer. But that motivated dedication only lasts for so long. If you have a buyer and they can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll wait, for a while. They’ll come up to look at a lame new listing, and then they’ll come up again to look at another lame new listing. They’ll stay engaged, because the lakefront life is the life they want to live. But after time, that passion erodes into frustration, and frustrated buyers have a tendency to wander. Why spend so much effort waiting for a perfect lakefront on Geneva when Michigan has a whole state full of average vacation homes?
I know, and you know, and that buyer used to know, that a Lake Geneva lakefront is not like any other lakefront. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I worried that the desperation of 2018 would lead some buyers astray, and no doubt it did. But the year just ended with 23 lakefront sales (24 with the vacant lot included), including two in the South Shore Club and one in Buena Vista (technically not private frontage). That number is down from the 2017 total, but considering the limited inventory, that number is a terrific total.
In all, we printed 2536 feet of lakefront shoreline, up from the 2017 total, but less than the 2016 total of 2882. That includes one lakefront vacant lot on the North Shore. We sold just over two million square feet of lakefront land mass, and more than 115,000 square feet worth of living space. Prices ranged from $11,250,000 for a North Shore estate, to just over $1.1MM for a Walworth Avenue cottage. For my involvement, I ended 2018 as the number one individual agent in Walworth County yet again (per MLS), with more than $35,000,000 in closed transactions, so that’s nice.
The lakefront loves its price per foot (PPF) measurement, that is, the total value of lakefront sales divided by the total amount of lakefront feet sold, this we all know. You should also know that I don’t love this measurement, as it really only seems to apply to lakefront homes in the 100′ range. 200′ lakefront lots experience compression of the number, in the same way that lots under 100′ tend to overachieve. We ended 2016 with a PPF of $27,193. We ended 2017 at $27,578. And after the activity and bustle of 2018, we finished the year at $27,684. For the buyers who think this market has spiraled upward and out of control, consider those numbers. Does that seem like unsustainable, unwarranted price growth?
For 2018, we’re going to look a bit deeper at the numbers. We know our market was skewed by the $11,250,000 lakefront sale, that of 415 feet of frontage and almost 20 acres. We had an average number of entry level lakefront sales last year, closing four lakefronts under $1.7MM. The remainder of the lakefronts fell into somewhat familiar price categories. Let’s throw out our outliers at the high and low of the market, and pull our 2018 numbers from the remainder of the lakefront transactions.
With that in mind, our PPF figure for 2018 actually goes up, to $27,994. If you look at the purest way to measure the accuracy of that number, you needn’t look further than the 100′ vacant lot that sold on North Shore Drive last summer. That 100′ sold for $2,750,000. That’s easy justification of the average. But there’s more to the lakefront than a basic price per foot tally, there’s also the average price per square foot of the structures themselves, as well as the price per square foot of total land mass. For these two figures, we’re going to keep with our habit of throwing out the high and low 2018 outliers, as well as the South Shore Club sales and the Buena Vista sale, as these are not true lakefront sales (even though the market treats them as though they are).
2017 registered an average housing price per square foot of $560. 2018 pushed that average up to $625. For the overall land mass statistic, we had a 2017 average of $58.09, whereas 2018 just printed a $51.66 average. Does that mean the value of lakefront land actually decreased in 2018? Of course not. None of these metrics individually tell the story, which is why to judge the performance of our lakefront market you need to figure and consider all of them.
Today, there are just nine lakefront homes for sale on Geneva. If you remove the Fontana home that has shared frontage and a shared pier, and you remove the Trinke property that has a lagoon between the home and the lake, then you’re stuck with just seven true lakefront homes on the market. Of those, the least expensive is listed over three million dollars. Not cool if you’re a buyer. But if you’re a buyer, I have some good news for you in 2019.
The recent tumult of the stock market is a difficult situation for the lakefront market. Rising interest rates don’t bother us very much, but a decline in invested assets does. With this in mind, our stable of confident lakefront owners will find a few who dislike what they see, and those few might offer up some inventory that will appeal to the 2019 buyers. To be certain, there are plenty of buyers still. The low inventory of 2018 didn’t scare away everyone, though I’m sure there’s some guy sitting at his Michigan vacation home this morning what it is that he’s done. Pray for this man, and his family.
I’m anticipating inventory will increase in January, and you’ll see reduced prices in a few of the 2018 carry-overs. Most sellers don’t care if the market slows, but again, if you’re a buyer, you’re not concerned about most sellers. You’re concerned only about the position of the seller who owns the home you’d like to buy. 2019 is going to provide inventory, and for the buyers who have been waiting, the question will be how the seller prices line up with buyer expectations.
I think buyers will be a bit more shrewd in this new year than they were last year, but I have a bold prediction to make: 2019 is going to be just fine. We’re going to sell lakefront homes. The market is going to provide inventory. We’re going to end 2019 somewhat flat in terms of valuations and volume, but flat is just fine with me. Flat, in fact, is good.
The stock market is going to either go up or go down, but one thing will remain. People want something more. They want a place that means something to them, and to their families. They want to enjoy their wealth. We can’t buy more time, and while I’m also sad that my Apple stock has cratered, that isn’t going to keep me from wanting to enjoy my family and enjoy this place. And I’m betting I’m not alone, because what you see below isn’t something you can replicate in the city or the suburbs.
The problem with this tradition is that it’s based, at least somewhat, on emotion. On feelings. Which is why I told my daughter on Friday morning that we would not be cutting down our tree that day. Who could think about cutting a tree down under that blistering sun? Only a fool would cut down a winter tree on such a warm day. My daughter was distraught by the news, even as we spent some of that morning skiing the melting slush at Alpine Valley. Saturday was colder, but still warm. Sunday was chilly in the morning, and knowing I was running out of time to continue this tradition, we loaded up the Gator and drove down the road to pick, cut, and haul the tree that would become our 2017 Christmas Tree.
Fast forward. I sawed the tree down, we hauled it back on the roof of our UTV, my daughter beamed. I trimmed the trunk, crammed it into the heavy iron base, and in spite of five watchful eyes, the final adjustments to plumb and level left us with a tilting fir. The tote of 2016 lights was pulled from the corner of the basement, and the light checking process began. First strand. Works! At least a few of them did. The first half didn’t, the second half did. The next strand, nothing. And the third and fourth, nothing. A few more half strands, a few more duds. When the lights were all checked there were three sections in the working pile and ten in the garbage pile. The lights that I bought last year, carefully unwound and stored in my lidded tote, were duds.
Walmart could save us from the darkness, but when I stood in the light aisle, jostling for position and staring at the bounty of different lighting options, I felt uneasy. I know not to buy colored lights. I know not to buy flashing lights. The strobe effect is dizzying. There were LED and green wires and white wires, and larger bulbs and smaller bulbs. Bulbs shaped like teardrops and others shaped like gum balls. Some smooth and others rough like a cheese grater. I’ve erred before while buying lights, falling victim to the white wire strand when I clearly wanted the green wire. I surveyed the wall of lights. My daughter stood back, silent, knowing this was a decision for a father. For a man.
My wife had mentioned some lights she liked in the RH catalog. But this was Walmart, and so I’d have to match the fancy style with whatever lights were available in Delavan on that day. I settled on some LED lights that promised 25,000 hours of lighting. The bulbs were shaped, the glass etched, they were fancy. Expensive, considering the other lights on those shelves. I felt like I was doing the right thing, right by my daughter, right by my wife, right by the planet, on account of the LED.
I’m a big fan of the big reveal, which meant I wouldn’t turn on one section of lights before the entire tree was lit. The six boxes were enough, if a bit light, as I should have bought seven. Maybe eight. But the tree was lit and the ladder was needed to get close enough to the top of the 15′ Fir. Now all we needed was an extension cord. After scouring the Christmas Totes, we had none, but we did have those left over strands of lights from last year, so we used that twinkly section to connect the outlet to our new, beautiful LED lights. There was no hurrah, no particular fanfare. No Griswold moment of delayed satisfaction. But when I plugged in those lights something awful happened. The LED bulbs turned on. Their eery, cold light pushed through the pine needles, barely. The late afternoon sun was fading by then, but the now lit tree somehow made the room darker. The lights weren’t white, not really. They looked white on the box. They looked white when we put them up. But now electrified, they were blue. I checked the remnant boxes that were scattered on the floor. Cool White. I bought Cool White LEDs, which are cleverly named because no one in their right mind would buy blue Christmas lights.
The greatest trick the devil ever played was not making people believe he doesn’t exist. No, his greatest trick was labeling blue lights Cool White. Tonight, there’s no need to ask me what I’ll be doing. I’ll be taking down Christmas lights and replacing them with ultra cheap, warm, glowing, green wired Christmas lights. And next year, I’ll throw those new lights into the garbage, because that’s our tradition.
In real estate, you either win sometimes or you lose sometimes. There is no such thing as winning or losing. You’re winning, a bit. Losing, a bit. Both, often, at the same time. That’s because you don’t have one boss, or two, you have dozens. Or more. They come and they go, they’re not your boss forever, usually. This is why I can be both hero and villain on the same day. In successive phone calls. Winning and losing, in the same breath. The goal of the real estate agent is to win a couple more times than you lose. To chalk up a few on the good side, to offset all of the ones on the bad. In 2018, I won quite a few, and it’ll mark my ninth straight year of winning more than I’ve lost. But don’t be confused, I’ve definitely lost.
In my case, those losses look like the homes that I haven’t been able to sell-yet. They’re the inventory pieces that didn’t quite work out- yet. They’re the sellers who have likely grown tired of me, but not quite completely tired of me- yet. With that in mind, here’s a run down on the scant few pieces of personal inventory that I haven’t been able to sell-yet.
If you’re looking for a condo on the lake, there’s really no better idea than this Bay Colony unit. It’s on the ground floor, which matters, a lot. You have a private outside entrance, so you don’t need to schlep your groceries through a common entrance and down a common hallway that may or may not smell like re-heated brats and mustard. The unit is fabulous. Obviously, tremendously, unavoidably fabulous. It’s easy to own, easy to use, and as luxurious as any hotel suite, assuming you’re staying at the suite with two bedrooms, two baths, a boat slip, lake views. Reduced to $799k, far below replacement cost.
If you’re searching for a lake house, but need a bit more flexibility than the condo can offer, then this property in Glenwood Springs is for you. This isn’t just some cottage by the lake. It’s the nicest cottage by the lake you’ve ever seen. Fully and outstandingly dialed, this Fontana retreat is finished to the highest standard. Four bedrooms, four baths, private pier (with shore station), lake views, and appointments that you just can’t find in this market in this price range. $1.295MM and your weekends will never, ever, be the same.
You won’t be surprised to learn that horses aren’t really my thing. And equestrian properties West of Walworth aren’t usually my thing, either. But this property was too interesting for me to turn down. 250+ acres. Woods, prairie, pasture, crops, river and hills. Swimming pool, tennis court, two guest houses. Stables and indoor riding arena, offices and more. This is a world class equestrian facility, yes, but you needn’t be a horse lover to find interest in this property. It’s a sportsman’s paradise, and it offers a rare assortment of features that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in this market. $2.499MM
My newest listing, 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana, hasn’t sold yet, either. But it will sell. Why is that? Well, because it sits on a most lovely piece of lakefront right in the heart of Fontana, and the house itself is one that you’d be hard pressed to replicate for the sales price. The lake loves new construction. It craves new construction. And it also features a host of owners who have spent fortunes in the hunt of that new construction. Why would you entertain the aggravation and time-drain of a new build when you can buy this nearly-new home and move right in? That’s right, you wouldn’t. $7.895MM
Speaking of new construction, my magnificent estate on Basswood is still, as of this moment, unsold. That’s a shame, really. We’ve done the hard work of reducing this price to the point where it now makes sense for an upper bracket buyer. 214′ of level Basswood frontage. Swimming pool, guest house, immaculate grounds. This home was built in the early 1990s and could be used immediately by a new family, much in the way that the current family has used, and loved, this unique property. Or you could buy it and renovate and when the last window treatment has been hung you could be all in for far less than it would have cost to build new, and in far less time. $8.495MM.
Tis the season for dreading the mail. There’s something nice about the season, relating to the mail, I suppose. Each day, my mailbox is full to overflowing. Will there be Christmas cards? Or will there only be pamphlets and magazines, newsletters and postcards, each hailing from a company that I’ve likely never heard of, telling me how their luggage, their sweater, their ski jacket, their fly rod, is indeed the thing that I never knew I needed. There’s more junk mail than ever, and it doesn’t bother me. But weed through that mail carefully because there’s a special Christmas surprise waiting for you: Your property tax bill.
If you’re lucky enough to own property in the Village of Williams Bay you’ll be happy to see a 6.5% average increase in that property tax bill. That, in an of itself, isn’t a tremendously difficult situation. It’s just some money, really. On average, I’d guess houses in the village have appreciated similar to that rate over the past year, which makes the tax increase easier to swallow. Plus, the state just voted for Tony Evers to be Governor, so obviously low-ish property taxes are not something that people really care about. Add to that the fact that any municipal spending bill on the November ballot passed, and you’ve got a populace that has sent one clear message to their town boards and capital building: Tax Us, Please.
Contrary to what you’re thinking, this isn’t a post about politics. It’s a post about taxes, and about a specific lie that municipalities repeatedly tell their citizens. Recently, the lie was told to get spending referendums across the state passed. It’s a lie told whenever a developer sets up an easel and turns the page to the first colorized map of a new, shiny development. It’s the lie the aldermen and trustees tell each other when they huddle in secret, or when they debate a proposed development with their community. The lie is complex but so very simple. If we add more residents, we’ll add more people to help pay for the burden of local government, and our taxes will go down.
If you’ve driven around Williams Bay lately, you’ve noticed a construction boom, of sorts. Along our lakefront, at least four new homes were added, with presumably, fat tax bills. But that growth pales when compared to the growth along the Theatre Road corridor. This is where the growth has been, and this is where the growth makes some sense. These are primary homes, close to the fancy-paints new school, in neighborhoods where kids can ride their bikes and parents can enjoy their own version of small-town living. These neighborhoods sat relatively dormant over the past decade, but have been firing on all cylinders over the past 18-24 months. I confirmed with the village that there were 31 new home permits issued in 2018, with perhaps two more to be issued between now and January 1st. That’s 31 new homes, paying an average of $4000+ in property taxes each. In an area where growth was once nonexistent. The village coffers should be overflowing with revenue.
But show me what that does for the town. Show me a tangible difference in a town that has growth and a town that doesn’t. In our downtown, we still have a vacant lot rotting on the marquee corner. We have For Rent signs keeping pace with Open signs. We have the same crappy Christmas decorations strung from our telephone poles. Tell me, exactly, what this growth has done to benefit the community? Along those lines, with this growth, shouldn’t our property taxes be kept in check? Isn’t that the sales pitch? Grow or die, they say. We need more tax-payers to shoulder the municipal burden. This is the pitch you’ve been led to believe, but the results are in. Growth doesn’t mean your taxes go down, it just means your expenses go up. Merry Christmas from the Village of Williams Bay. Now don’t forget to check your mail.
I’m sitting here again. Like Groundhog Day, without the square. Just me and this computer, this desk. This street. A few snow flurries outside, just a dusting I’m guessing. It’s just a guess, because I haven’t heard. If there was a storm brewing, I’d have heard. You’d have heard. Everyone would have heard. It’s impossible to escape the coming storm, or at least it’s impossible to escape the knowledge of it. It’s coming, alright. But not today, because these are just flurries. It’s a morning like that. Not too much to discuss, really.
That’s because it’s early December in a resort town. It isn’t really winter, yet. It might feel like winter for a while, but this isn’t really winter. This is just the start. The rain from the weekend ruined the ski hill for a while, at least until they can cover up all of that ice with some smaller pellets of ice. The ice rink in Lake Geneva isn’t opened yet, big surprise. I haven’t driven past the Ice Castles to see what all of that rain did to them. I’m guessing they’re in a state of ruin, but no one is going to admit that. Not now. Not before the season starts.
My wife’s car battery died again. The car isn’t old enough to deal with that fate. The other car battery died a few weeks ago, after I asked my son to move the car from the top of the driveway to the bottom of it. He left the key on and the battery drained. I replaced the battery with a new one, but the idle isn’t right and the car tends to stall, which is why I have to have one foot on the gas and another on the brake when approaching an intersection. It takes some getting used to, but it’s not so hard. I vaguely remember my brother making fun of my mom for driving with one foot for the gas and the other for the brake, so perhaps all we’re doing now is what she’s always done. It can’t be that hard.
I’d like to write about the market, about the season, about the sales, but I can’t. It’s December, and any year to date statistics are ridiculous when viewed so close to the year end. There’s no point in writing a market review now when I have a big year end review to write soon. What if I wrote a nice report only to have something sell in the next four weeks and ruin all of my morning effort? What would I do then? Would I write the same review but change a few of the numbers, maybe adding a paragraph at the end, or at least changing a few of the words so the post looked like its own, new, thing? What would be the sense in that? Am I so desperate for content? No, I’m not.
I think I’ll go check on those Ice Castles, and maybe take a swing past my stream to see if the trout are running. That’ll give me something to do until it’s time to write these reviews. What else can I do? The season hasn’t even started and it’s barely even snowing.
It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the piers are unceremoniously disassembled and stacked along our shorelines. That happened in October, sure, but this morning there are still piers in the water, plenty of them. Covered in snow, surrounded by 38 degree water, still there. Soon enough, they’ll all be out, all stacked in some haphazard pile, lined up along the shore to remind us why we wait. There’s more to this time of year than just waiting, mind you. It’s not just the Holiday season, it’s more than that. It’s the time of year when buyers buy houses with bad boat slips.
Is there such a thing? You bet there is. A boat slip is not a boat slip, is not a boat slip. These things appear the same, especially when the components that make up the slip are stacked in a snowy pile along the shore. But they are not the same. If you’re new to the market, or perhaps working with an agent who might be new to the market, you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference. After all, the MLS distinction for “boat slip” doesn’t specify what sort of slip you’re buying. You want to see homes with boat slips, you look at homes with boat slips, you buy a home with a boat slip. Cool, right?
That depends. A boat slip diagram on a listing sheet might look simple enough. There’s a pier, some slips, a line to depict the shore. Everything is awesome. Except that you, the winter buyer, can’t quite tell how much water is in that shoreward slip. Is it enough? Well, that depends on what you’re looking to put there. Is there enough water for your 25′ Cobalt that you desperately want to gift yourself for Christmas, under the guise of it being a present for the entire family? Or is there enough for a 16′ Lund? Maybe a waverunner or two, or a scow, so long as the center board is out? Boat slips can be deceiving.
There are homes in this market that fail to sell simply because of their assigned slips. There are homes with terrific slips that have been bought by neighboring owners only to have the slip switched with their poor slip. That just-bought home goes back on the market sometime later, but instead of being sold with its terrific slip, it now has the miserable, shallow slip. Later, you peruse the online listings… Oh look, a home with a boat slip!
There are associations with assigned boat slips. There are associations with boat slips that can only be attained after decades on a waiting list. Other associations have other rules. The off-water market functions largely on the availability of a slip. What’s a slip worth these days? Call it $200k and you’ll be safe. Sometimes a slip ads even more value, and sometimes it’s less. Sometimes a slip is good and sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it looks good but it’s still bad. Whatever the association, wherever the slip, winter buyers should beware. ‘Tis the season where the bad slips are nearly indistinguishable from the good ones.
If you’d like to know the difference, it’s actually rather easy. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you.
I think it’s cute that the city of Lake Geneva is installing an ice rink this winter. The ice rink will complement the ice castles that are currently being built on the beach. When Winterfest rolls around, the city will be bustling with every sort of wintery thing imaginable. I’m glad for the city that they’ve decided to use some of their enormous budget on things that actually improve the experience that is Lake Geneva. But with that acknowledgement comes criticism, which will be something that they write on my tombstone, assuming I’ve prepaid for the inscription. In the City of Lake Geneva, it’s amateur hour.
Or amateur season, to be more exact. We know we do summer well. We have no choice. Well, we do it mostly well. The ridiculous boat parade that accompanies the Venetian Fireworks might be one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen. It only seems ok if you squint and imagine you’re at Lake of the Ozarks, or the Dells, or some damned up river in Texas. But aside from that, we do summer well. Fall is also handled with care, and handled rather well. The leaves will turn whether we wish them to or not.
But in the winter, this is when the wheels fall off. We’re making strides, don’t be confused. The ice rink is a nice idea. It is. It reminds me of the good times I had on the Williams Bay ice rink back in the early 1990s. What fun was had down there. We’d play hockey and lose the puck in the snowy walls that made up the edges of the rink. We’d skate and catch a rogue stone with our blades and crash into the ice. Once, I checked my friend Eric so hard that he walked home and didn’t talk to me for a couple of days. It was a lot of fun, during a simpler time.
This isn’t that time. This isn’t a simple time, not by any stretch. It’s a complicated time with complicated problems that call for complicated solutions. The city is building an ice rink. The rink will have a floor of some sort, some short walls. I’ll bet they’ll string up some lights to make it look pretty, for the two or three days that the ice will be smooth. Once they open up the fire hydrant and flood the rink, they’ll hope the water freezes and cross their fingers that it stays frozen. This is what we did in Williams Bay when we were kids. We had no other choice. The city of Lake Geneva has another choice.
If you want to know where winter is done well, look to the mountains. I’m tired of the mountains, personally, but they know how to capitalize on their seasons. They also know that when you build an ice rink in your resort town, you build a permanent rink and you refrigerate it. Further, you run the zamboni over it once or twice a day. Yes, this sounds like more cost. It sounds like more effort. But what are we if not a destination worthy of some effort? If we’re going to try to make improvements, shouldn’t we really, actually try? How can you effectively market an attribute if the attribute is only going to function on the whim of the weather?
I’m glad there’s an ice rink coming. I’m glad there are ice castles crowing. I’m just not sure that any of it is going to work, assuming we’ll have a normal winter that features a pattern of freeze and thaw, of snow and rain, of clouds and sun. I’ve learned some things in my life, and those things have cost me on every level. Don’t try to save money on everything. If you’re building a house, don’t try to do the painting yourself. If you’re remodeling your kitchen, don’t skimp on the appliances. And if you’re building an ice rink, build an ice rink.