Geneva Lakefront Realty
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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $37MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $109MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily within reach.

    As an important aside, that sales volume makes me the #1 dollar volume agent for Walworth County for 2014. That's pretty cool. So is the fact that since the start of 2010 I have closed more Geneva lakefront transaction sides than any other agent.

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

  • “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

    ― Henry David Thoreau,

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Recent Posts



Vacation Home Search



Jan 26, 2015 by DC | Add comment
Seeking a warmer sun and consolation for our winter condition, we boarded a series of planes and landed in a country to our south, far from the cold and the snow and so much pale. The flights were without incident, though I would add that every time a large tinny cylinder is rocketed above the clouds ladened with bulk purchased gallons of jet fuel to land safely is to cheat death. Still, the flight was comfortable and I was secure in knowing that should the plane crash I would at least die with my entire family, leaving no one orphaned or widowed and in that I took at least some comfort. The people on our journey south were nice, the flyers capable, the person in the chair in front of me only deciding once that it was acceptable to recline their seat back, and by default, the top of their head into my lap. In all, the panic attacks were brief, the hot flashes limited, and the journey from cold to warmth completed in under a day.

It wasn't the first day, but it was later that I'd be challenged to a game of bags by a local who wore the outfit of a hotel employee. I declined his first invitation and his second, but by his third I was already rotating my arms slowly. I warned him that I was a ringer, and when asked to explain what ringer meant I explained that I was elite in this sport. After I explained with hand gestures and facial expressions what elite and sport meant, the game was on. I quickly fell behind, and his joy was obvious. I was on the brink of losing when I found my rhythm. Steadily I scored and scored and scored, and when it was over I landed the bag in the 15 slot and captured the win. I told my new friend that I wasn't sandbagging him, that I was really and truly behind and only caught up because I was somewhat lucky. I explained what sandbagging meant, but in the presence of those bags and a beach full of sand my explanation was, in no way, understood.

Later that night, when sitting in our hotel room, my wife ran a comb through my daughters hair. The mix of chlorine and salt and sand had formed her hair into a shell, impenetrable by any comb but whose breach my wife attempted anyway, with downward rips through that hair, eliciting screams from my daughter and a grin from my son. I recalled my bags victory, and bit at my fingernails and crunched the hidden sand between my teeth. Later that night, long after I had showered, and after much tossing and more turning, I jumped from bed to violently sweep my hand across the sheets to rid them of the sand that scratched at my sunburned back.

The next day, while my kids were thrown by the waves and my wife reclined in her shaded chair, my friend from the bags found me. He walked up with a grin, which is what, along with his white outfit he is payed to wear, and asked me to play. Again. Having greatly enjoyed my prior day victory I obliged, and quickly jumped out to a lead. My smiling opponent had narrowed that lead some before I sank the last bag into the 5 slot, claiming victory for a second straight day. We had bet $20 on the prior day match, and in this match we loosely arranged to pay double or nothing, in which case I was immediately due $40. Being gracious, I let it go, because we never defined whose currency we would be paying the prize in, and if it were in his currency I had none present, and if I had my currency and not his, how would be handle the exchange rate? I explained to him what double or nothing meant while he grinned.

At dinner, I crunched down on what I thought was a tortilla chip, but the crunch lingered well beyond the chip and after some consideration I determined it was sand. It might have been from when I was playing bags, or it could have been from when I was with my children and we let the waves push us into shore again and again, or it might have been from the pocket or fingernail of whomever served me those chips, or worse yet, it may have been from the fingernail or pocket of the person that made the chips at the factory, who could tell? Later, I left a tip on the table for our smiling waiter, and my bills had sand on them, some salt, too, but mostly just sand. Later, I woke and swept the bed again.

In the morning, my daughter had sand in her eye. It may have been both eyes, but we just washed water on her face as if it was both eyes. My son had a pile of sand in his swim short pockets, one pile in each. He dumped the sand out on the marble floors. That sand found its way onto my feet, and then in between my feet and my leather shoes, rubbing and causing a commotion while we walked to lunch. My tacos at lunch had tortilla and sand crunch, both gritty and both sticking in my teeth. Later, no one asked me to play bags. Word had gotten around that I was not to be trifled with, and my wife and I wondered if our white-clad friend didn't come back to pay because he thought I would ask for the $40, in our currency or his, whichever. We sat on the beach, and when the neighboring chair lady shook out her towel, I had sand in my eyes to match the sand in my teeth.

Last night, some days after I have had no sand exposure, I put on a pair of shorts that I must not have worn since we cheated death and flew so high for so long until we were home. The sand spilled onto the kitchen floor and I quickly swept it up, but not before one of my two dogs ran through the pile. Later that night, I heard the dog scratching at his bed wildly and for a very long time. I understand, I thought. I understand.

Stone Manor

Jan 23, 2015 by DC |
Otto Young was born in Prussia in the year 1844. He moved to London, then to New York. He made his fortune in Chicago, and in 1901 he built his limestone masterpiece, dubbed Youngland Manor, on the eastern shore of Geneva Lake. After decades of meticulous restoration, the entire first floor of his palacial lakeside retreat is available for sale. The spaces are unlike anything most have ever encountered, with dedication to the restoration and preservation of orginal finishes typically reserved for public buildings of cultural importance.

Stone Manor

When construction of this home was originally undertaken, the budget was set at $150,000. Several years later in 1901, the completed project cost $2,000,000. When you gold plate your light fixtures, budgets tend to swell. Those original fixtures still light the rooms in this apartment, and each sconce and chandelier is equally unique and inspired. While these photographs represent the inspiring spaces both inside and outside of this spectacular apartment, it truly must be seen to be believed. As the current owner recently marveled, "Not a day goes by that I'm not struck by something new- a detail, a curve, a carving". It should be added that there is awe in the simple way the afternoon sun pushes through the spaces. After all, this is a 114 year old lakefront home, and it was built smartly by the son of an architect who understood the value in framing a view.


This is a lakefront property that we all know. If you've walked the shores, captained a boat, or toured the shoreline with a tour guide, you know this house. It cannot be ignored, with its limestone walls and massive scale. But there's something more here, something less foreboding than the name this property was given nearly 70 years after it first rose from this shoreline. This home represents the story of two men, even though there have been far more involved in the building from inception to this Friday in January. The first, of course, is the original owner. Otto Young.


Lest we think of Otto as a a land and jewelry baron who collected money to such a degree that he built a monstrous vacation home to display his affection for costly limestone, consider Otto as less that and more this: A guy from Chicago who wanted his wife and kids to have a place to spend their summer, away from the heat and bustle of the city. Consider he bought his boat before he built his house, which is a move that can only be considered a mistake if the owner of said boat is then looking to wedge it onto an association pier with length limitations. Consider he set out to build this house for that low sum of $150k, and when the last clouds of limestone dust settled he had rung up over $2MM in actual costs. There are owners around Geneva of late that have built homes for $10MM- Otto spent the equivalent of $55MM. Strip away all of the stoic, black and white history of this building and this lake and realize that Otto Young was a simply a buyer who wanted his lakefront home to be something special, and he got so caught up in that goal that he spent a bit too much money. This is a common affliction of lakefront owners for all of history.


A succinct headline wraps up how Otto Young must have felt about his beloved Youngland Manor. “Otto Young Dies At Country Home”. He had a fabulous home on Calumet in Chicago, nearby Marshall Fields little domicile, but he chose to spend his final days battling tuberculosis at the lake, probably gazing out over the waters, watching those marvelous sunsets. He was said to have frequented Palm Beach, Florida in the winter months, but upon the worsening of his health in October of 1906, he didn’t opt for the warm weather of southern Florida. Instead, he headed up the lake, even as fall turned to winter, and the vibrant colors of autumn turned dark. Otto Young died December 1, 1906. Newspaper accounts state that upon completion of his lakefront home, he spent most of his time there, even though he maintained his Calumet residence. The shame of Mr. Young’s story, is in the timing of it all. See, Mr. Young built the home in 1899, and it took nearly three years to complete, so it wasn't until sometime in late 1901 until he truly got to enjoy his expensive masterpiece. Like a bad Alanis Morissette song, Mr. Young died just four short years later.

Family Room

The ownership from Mr. Young through today is extensive, and complicated in and of itself, and that is to be expected. There has been little constant here at this Manor since 1906, and if not since, then certainly since the Young family relinquished control of the building and it fell into various hands with various uses and even more varied intents. The property was many things, but what matters most is that the building remains. It would have been remarkably easy to demolish this building in the 50s or 60s or certainly the 70s, back when development of Geneva was occurring rapidly and estates were being cut to pieces to serve the need for more lakefront homes, more lake access homes, more condominiums. The story continues in the 1970s, when the current residence for sale was a restaurant, serving the finest French fare in the most dazzling setting imaginable. The story finds a lakefront owner dining at the restaurant often, enjoying the fanciful scene and the food, sure, but enjoying the surroundings even more.


The owner quickly became fond of the space, and throughout those years a deal was struck between this patron and the owner: the first floor was to be sold. What follows is legal intrigue, as the difficult task of separating a first floor from a wholly owned building took time and money, perhaps more of each than anyone had bargained for. What transpired next is the remarkable bit of the tale, as the new owner set about restoring his new lakefront gem, and doing so in a way that honored the original builders and the original owner. It would have been so easy at this time to look at a wall clothed in 100 year old fabric, bits damaged by a century of moisture and neglect, and opt to remove it in favor of a more manageable material. On a lake famous for paying lip service to history but documented in its disdain for the art of preservation, this owner took the alternate route and what ensued was three decades of painstaking restoration.

Marble Fireplace

There are palaces the world around that are fanciful and detailed. If this building were a reproduction, a replication, a visually exciting but substantively false display of this ornate style, that would be acceptable but not preferred. What makes this building so incredibly unique is the original condition of it all. The light fixtures that adorn this residence were estimated to be worth well over one million dollars, a value earned by the authenticity and bespoke nature of these gold plates sconces and chandeliers. The flooring that was damaged over time was either repaired or replaced, but it was replaced with the same variety of wood, sourced from wherever it could be found, no matter the cost or the difficulty. The building is authentic, original, and in such condition that it can now be certain that this stone manor will anchor that eastern shoreline of Geneva for centuries to come.


What comes now is the sale bit. The owner, having cherished this residence for more than 30 years, has determined that it is time to let this property pass to the next deserving steward. The work has been done, the fabrics and stone and previous metals cleaned and revitalized. What is left now is the truest form of that original owners vision, having only been modernized where necessary to provide modern mechanical conveniences. The 12,000 square feet of finished space included two parking stalls in the underground garage, and a boatslip on the private piers. There is a massive pool on the roof, a tennis court, and ten gated lakefront acres. This is truly the most spectacular space in the Lake Geneva market, but it likely owns that same title for the entirety of Wisconsin. And that's why it comes back to those two men. The man who built his dream home, and the one who made sure it remained one.

Buena Vista

Jan 21, 2015 by DC | Add comment
The second home I ever bought was a small cottage on Kinzie, just up that Fontana road from the lake. I spent many hours there, indiscriminately sawing and chopping, hammering and sweating. I stood on the roof one day, with a shovel in my hand, scraping at the layers of shingles that had some of asphalt and others of cedar, and for a time I felt like the whole house was swaying. I though I had done too much, I had gone too far. I had stripped this old cottage of its prior shell, and in so much stripping I feared I may have caused it to fall in on itself. The swaying continued for some time, and I had the disoriented feeling that I was aboard a ship on the high seas, except this ship was my home, my second home. On Kinzie.


The swaying was imagined, a rather uncomfortable condition caused by the intense swaying of a tree that grew tall and bold right next to the house. As the great tree trunk moved ever so in that wind, it performed the illusion that the tree was the stable bit and that I, aboard this house/ship was the one on the move. Later that day, I'd fall off the roof. When I landed, my palm was pierced by an old nail that had previously been holding a cedar shingle on. A few days later, I drove around Siesta Key looking for a clinic because my jaw was feeling tight. I was certain I had Tetanus and that my jaw was beginning its death clamp. The nurses laughed at me, stuck a needle in my arm, and I went back to the beach. This is my Kinzie story.

The reason I was on Kinzie in the first place was because I really liked Kinzie. It's a nice little street, connecting through from the lake to Highway 67. It's sad that Highway 67 is labeled Highway 67 for its time when it courses through Fontana's downtown. Williams Bay calls Highway 67 Geneva Street, and Lake Geneva calls Highway 50 Main Street. It would be good if Fontana did something similar, because to tell you that the street connects the lake to the Highway paints a picture that isn't all that clear. The street is small, slow, and humble. On the South, it borders homes that lack lake access, but those homes still fall into the hands of vacation home seekers because those seekers wish to be in the heart of all things Fontana. As one cheesy real estate description proclaimed, "Fontana is ground zero for summertime fun". Cringe inducing, yes, but accurate? Of course.


On the North side of Kinzie, once you get close enough to the lake, the road hosts Buena Vista, that most exclusive association where homes sell quickly to people who specifically want to reside within that association. Why do throngs of people wish for a Buena Vista address? Because Buena Vista is old school, like the Harvard Club but without all the rules. Their lakefront is perhaps the nicest on all of the lake, with ample grass and tennis courts and a playground. At the lake, they have an old timey high-dive, and if I were a buyer of a lake access home I'd have "high-dive" immediately under "roof" on my list of vacation home must-haves. Thankfully, as is my way, I have not teased you without offering you a solution to your Buena Vista desires. Enter 316 Kinzie. It's on the street that I love because it didn't give me Tetanus, and it's in Buena Vista, the association that I love for its exclusivity and high-diving capabilities.


$549k buys this pretty little cottage. Here you'll find a transferable buoy, which is really nice for sailors especially, but also for boaters. The house is three bedrooms, two baths, and all sorts of cute. There's an ample screened porch, positioned smartly to capture the bit of lake-view this home affords. The kitchen is nice, modern, and a recent renovation finds a wonderful laundry closet adjacent the tiled foyer. If you're looking for a seven bedroom house with a swimming pool, we should talk about that, but this is not that conversation. If you're looking for a vintage cottage that's been updated for comfortable, all season vacationing, this is your chance. Buena Vista waits on very few, so if this is of interest, let's chat. I promise not to talk about Tetanus anymore.

2014 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

Jan 19, 2015 by DC | Add comment
Yes, it's nice that 24 lakefront homes sold in 2014. That's a good number, a strong number, one that we should all be proud of. We should congratulate one another, with hearty back slaps and grins, so proud of our efforts. But now that we're done with that jubilance, let's tell the story of 2014. Let's talk about what happened, and more importantly, what didn't happen. 2014 was a year of stories, many stories. It was a year of life and death, but in our real estate vacuum, the entire year can be summed up in three distinct plot lines. We should talk about those now, because my back hurts not from that missing disc, but from such enthusiastic congratulatory slapping.


If you were me, and you pulled the sold 2014 inventory priced over one million dollars, you'd find 28 results. You would assume, as we could have assumed in years past, that this volume was representative of lakefront homes and lakefront homes only. In 2014, as a point of fact, only 24 of those million dollar homes were lakefront. Four were off-water homes, and in that there is our first sub story. Four buyers capable of spending over one million dollars decided, rather than wait for some entry level offering that might calm their jittery weekday nerves, they'd jump in with both feet into a land-locked vacation home. This isn't rare, and in the history of Lake Geneva it has been done many, many times. But recently it has not been, and so the four off-water million dollar homes of 2014 are a surprise, and one worth noting as they likely pulled lakefront sales figures down, if only by that slight bit.

14 of our 24 lakefront sales closed under $2MM. That's a high percentage for any year, but especially high in a year that found national markets booming at the $2MM+ levels. In that, our second important plot. Six homes sold between $2MM and $2.5MM, and then, the story; just a single lakefront sale between $2.5MM and $3.5MM for the entire year. This price range is where buyers can generally settle into if they desire larger frontage with a modest home, or a fancy home with modest frontage. This is the upper-bracket sweet spot of our market, as homes priced over $3.5MM perhaps average the number that we saw in 2014- three. Buyers seeking to deposit $3MM into our liquid bank should be able find something of quality in that price range, and in 2014, they were left with very few options that absolutely nobody entertained. For a while I had a contract on a $3MM house in Loramoor, but we all know how that turned out (badly).

The idea that somehow we were short of buyers in this target category would be completely flawed. There were $3MM buyers last year, just as there are now, into this new year. But faced with milquetoast inventory they opted for other things, for this same lake, but for different ideas. I sold a lot on the lake in Loramoor last fall, and that was to a buyer that would have jumped at a quality offering in that $3MM range. In the absence of built inventory, buyers will build, and I'd successfully argue that a $2MM, 110' vacant lot + a $1.5MM new house = a sum greater than the individual pieces. As a value hunter, I like that sort of math, and plenty of buyers agree. In fact, look at the other sales on the lake, those 20 sales priced at $2.5MM or under. By my discerning eye, at least four of those homes were bought to be torn down, and two of those four have already been demolished. These weren't $2MM buyers that are doing this, these are $4MM buyers that took matters into their own hands and will now create a home to fill their personal market void.

The other story of 2014 is one told through the lens of the upper-upper-bracket. While we had two sales in the high $3s, that of an overdone house in Indian Hills and another of a pretty South Shore Club house, we had only one sale print over $4MM. That sale was my listing and sale on Creek Lane, at pier 88. For $5.195MM, that buyer secured what is, without any doubt, the best piece of dirt (234' and 5.3 acres) to sell on this lake in a long, long time. There's a contract pending today on another piece of dirt that might want to consider itself a peer, that over on Snake Road, with 261' of frontage and 3+ acres. Listed at $5.75MM, this property would like to think it's as good as, or better than Creek Lane. The simple truth is that it isn't, not by approximately one billion miles. It's not in the same conversation, and the reason as to why cannot entirely be written here, but is, instead, simply understood by those who grasp the nuances of this lakefront market. I don't just grasp those nuances, I bathe in them.

While the mid-market can claim an absence of sales based on an absence of inventory, this elite bracket can do no such thing. We had more of this extreme upper bracket inventory in 2014 than I can remember in my 19 year real estate career. We had oodles and oodles of it, and aside from some solid interest that I had in 1014 South Lakeshore ($7.95MM) and some play on the Basswood listing near $6MM, I'm not aware of any serious interest in any of these homes. This is a surprise to me. It's no secret that upper bracket buyers like to leave their own mark on the lake, which is why we have some homes that feature 28 car garages, but it is a surprise that a buyer or two didn't see value that's below replacement cost and opt to buy now and enjoy now rather than buy now and enjoy two years from now. The immediacy of the built palace is a strong selling point, and we'll see if a buyer or two decides to pounce on one of these done offerings in time to enjoy a 2015 summer at the lake. 2014 saw no such buyer.

In addition to the 24 MLS lakefront sales, there was one private sale that I'm aware of in the low $3MM range, that in the South Shore Club. There were also two vacant lakefront sales, priced at $2MM and $2.85MM. My involvement in this lakefront market for 2014 was not insignificant. Of the 26 lakefront MLS sales, I sold nine of them. That's 35% of the lakefront business that I owned in 2014, and I'm just a kid with messy hair and a beard that was described by a client as being less than ideal, less than perfect. Which is fine by me, because perfect beards only belong on theatre actors and liquor moguls, and I am neither. Of other importance is that since the start of 2010, three homes on Geneva have sold in excess of $5MM, and I've now sold two of those three.

What to expect for 2015? More of the same. I see plenty of carry-over deals from 2014, and they'll print in early 2015. While this head start is rough on my own volume numbers (I have none of these deals, very sad trombone), it's great for the market. We'll sell plenty of homes this year, as solid portfolio returns from 2014 combine with low interest rates to fuel buyer motivation. The big question will be that of inventory. We have entry level inventory, though not a lot. We have that holdover upper bracket inventory, plenty of it. What we don't have is exciting $2MM to $4MM inventory, and we don't have anything in the South Shore Club, excepting my fantastic listing on Forest Hill that I just dropped to $1.775MM. If we can add interesting inventory in the $1.7MM to $4MM range, we'll see a repeat of 2014 in terms of volume. If we don't add this inventory, expect prices to inch upwards as agents do their best to lure new inventory to market in the only way we know how: Promises of big money.

2014 Geneva Lakefront Condo Market Review

Jan 16, 2015 by DC | Add comment
I have spent plenty of time living inside high rise condominiums. I haven't lived in one in Walworth County, nor have I lived in one in Cook. But I have lived in one for a week at a time in Florida, so I think that in and of itself should make me an expert on this sort of high living. I have lived this way long enough to know that I do not necessarily like living this way. But even that depends on my setting, for some places would find this elevated living to be pleasant, and other places would find it to be annoying. If I lived in New York City, with so much filth and sewer beneath me, I would enjoy my lofty perch. I, clean, far above that, dirty. I would like that, very much so. And when someone knocked at my door late into the evening, I would presume it was either my butler, or my doorman, because who else could it be with me, so high into that eastern sky?


But this is how it would be if my habitat was the city, and it is not. At Lake Geneva, I'd rather be close to the ground, close to the green grass and the goings on. I'd rather be close to the water, to my pier, to my boat, to those waves and that sun. The sky could wait, as I'd rather find the floor, often. This is why I probably wouldn't buy a condo at Geneva Towers. This building, along with the Bay Colony buildings, represent our only buildings that might be considered high, at least in a Walworth County sense. The Bay Colony properties are surrounded by grass, by trees, with water immediately out in front of the building. There is also a giant new home built in between them, in case you thought everyone was smart at real estate. The grass and trees and water is what makes Bay Colony a more palatable option for those wishing to come to the lake to connect with nature. Geneva Towers is fine, and I don't mind the building for the absolute right buyer, but this is more of a perch for a buyer who would rather survey that participate. Views galore, city at your fingertips, but walk out of the building and onto a pier? Better call the crossing guard.

Even so, Geneva Towers had a very nice 2014. Three of these units sold in 2014, including one of the spec units that have been transformed individually in hopes of slowly transforming the entirety of the building. That sale was at $895k, for a unit that wasn't 100% finished, so it's safe to assume that this all-in purchase was well over $1MM. That's the first of three spec units to sell in the building, and the other two remain on the market, in search of that elusive condo buyer who wishes to live above it all, away from it all, while still being in the heart of it all. While we're on the topic of million dollar condominiums, I have a private offering that I could sell in the low one million range, and that unit is better than Geneva Towers, bigger than Geneva Towers, more exclusive than Geneva Towers, and it has a beautiful, deep water boatslip, which Geneva Towers lacks. Lagoon slips where your boat must be nearly of a low-profiled racing design are not the same as canopied, white pier slips. Not now, and not ever.

Vista Del Lago had itself a fine year, with three sales priced between $415k and $550k. I expect I'll be bringing a very nice four bedroom loft unit to market in that complex this season, so if amenities excite you, perhaps you should be asking me about that potential listing. Vista isn't without some complications, but the simple truth of that association is that they have a full slate of amenities that other lakefront condo complexes simply do not possess. Indoor pool, outdoor tennis, piers, garages, slips- it's all rather complete. Three sales last year is a good number, and the market should be pleased with that.

I sold a unit at Eastbank last spring for $675k, a unit that was large and impressive, if dated. Still, loads of square footage, two car attached garage, canopied slip- all of these make for a nice vacation home package. A unit at Harbor Watch sold last year, and that sale is interesting for what it means to the valuation of the lakefront condominium. Garden view is a nice description, but we know that to mean basement, and in the case of a basement unit in this location on the corner of South Lakeshore Drive, that means hub-cap-view. The unit sold in 2003 for $535k, back when the Harbor Watch was new and unproven, and much uncertainty surrounded it. Would the market absorb it? That was my question, especially after I represented the complex for a while and failed miserably. Consider now that the property just sold for a price that represents a paper valuation gain of about 10%, which is a nice print for a market struggling to understand where the valuations should be relative to prior prices. It's important to see some price gains from 2003, which probably puts our new pricing close to 2005 values. So that's nice.

Bay Colony had two sales, continuing momentum that has built in that northerly of the two Bay Colonies. The South building had a false start or two, as inventory there came to market and failed to sell. That's because a million bucks for a condo is not an easy sale, and it's particularly difficult when the offering needs updating. On the West End, Fontana sold just one lakefront condo, a two bedroom at Fontana Shores that closed for a low price of $295k. I had a unit for sale in that building all year, and I didn't sell it. I had a unit for sale at Fontana Club all year and I didn't sell that one either. I'm not happy about that, but when pricing remains paramount, especially in a condominium setting, both non-sales were not unexpected.

I'm pleased that the lakefront condo market has recovered in the way it has. A few years ago, the market was stalled out even as the residential lakefront market chugged on with remarkable momentum. Now the condo market has caught up, and we should expect to see continued condominium sales as long as the prices resemble actual value. As an exciting aside, I'm bringing on a massive residence at Stone Manor next week, so look for the stunning pictures of that most unique lakefront creation.

Only In Streams

Jan 14, 2015 by DC | Add comment
The lake was there, right where it is now, when I was a child the same age as my son is now. The lake back then was big, and it was blue, and if I went out in a fishing boat I could hope to catch bass and pike and trout but I would expect to catch bluegills and bullheads and maybe a crappie, if the season was right. Back then, I watched the lake and wondered about it. I wondered what was under that surface, and it didn't matter if the surface was still and calm or it if was whipped and bold, it was still the lake and I was still curious. I see it today, when I drive past in a hurry or slowly ply it with a hull, and I think the same thing. What's going on down there? My son in the boat, wondering either the same thing or wondering nothing at all, who could tell?

There is a picture of me in a boat, a boat without an engine. There are recent pictures of me now, in a boat, a boat with an engine, but that engine doesn't work well or often, so the boat without the engine in that old picture is basically the same thing. Except that boat is smaller, made of only plastic, without a console or any seat aside from the strip of plywood that stretched from one side to the other, just big enough for a kid to sit on. In that picture, I'm sitting in that boat. I'm too old to be doing such a thing, at least too old by the way we see things today. I must have been thirteen, and I was oblivious to the spectacle that was a thirteen year old boy out in a dingy barely as long as he was tall. I'm sitting in that boat, too old to be doing so, with ice all around me and on top of the entirety of the lake, excepting the small path in the ice that I had broken through to form a one way route from the shore.

I had paddled out a ways, but not really far at all, and I had done this for a reason that I cannot know now. Would my son still do something like this? He's smart and he's strong, but he'd probably look to a little boat and look to a frozen lake and wonder who would ever want to combine the two. I did, and when I look at the picture now, from this perspective of several decades later, I still think it would be fun to sit in that little boat and break through that bit of ice. I still wonder about that lake, and what's under that surface, and I wonder if I'm not so grown that I wouldn't do the same thing again this spring, when the ice softens enough so that a child, or his adult self, could paddle through it, breaking off chunks along the way.

In the stream that I know, one of those that brings fresh water from a hillside and down into this lake, there are brown trout. There are always brown trout there, in this stream, but never too many of them and never any remarkable specimens. Today, there are big trout, Seeforellen strains, the sort that comes from deep mountain lakes in Europe. Their ancestors made that journey here so many years ago, and here they are, doing what they do, running up small streams and spawning, breeding to make more trout for my son to show his son someday so many years from now. I've been watching these trout, feeling not like a father showing these fish to his son, but feeling like a boy showing these fish to his friend.

Will he feel the same when he's me and no longer only him? Will the memory of the places and the things and the small boats with ice around them be the same? Or will he go as I see kids now going, endlessly onto the next sparkly thing, away from the small streams with salamanders and frogs and sometimes giant German trout and into the distance looking for whatever might be next?

South Shore Club 2014 Market Review

Jan 12, 2015 by DC |
It almost feels unnecessary to write a year end update about the South Shore Club. I know I've written about it often, steadily, so much that it might be too much. But it can't be too much, because there hasn't been a bigger success story in the entire Lake Geneva vacation home market. This is the success story of 2014, and this is a change in fortunes that has to be acknowledged.


Going into 2014, I saw possible inventory issues at the SSC. I envisioned a scenario where there may be as many as six built homes coming to market there, and that scared me a bit. The SSC had never proven particularly adept at absorbing this much inventory in a decade, let alone a single year. The fears were real, and I recommended that sellers be defensive and do their best to undercut their competition in hopes of selling first. Some followed that lead, and in February I printed a sale on East Lakeside for $1.875MM. Then, a direct deal came in for a home on Lakeside that I had listed the prior season, and two of the possible bits of inventory were cleared from market. Another possible listing didn't ever hit the open market, as the seller of that particular home chose to stay put and enjoy their SSC home. Three down, three to go.

Forest Hill had a spec home for sale, and when summer came that home sold. Around that time another home on Forest Hill hit the market and sold within 6 weeks. Another one down. Four sales. Spring also brought a new lakefront in the Club to market, one right smack-dab up front, and that one sold in relatively short order for $3.591MM. Five sales. During this entire time the lots were selling, and I was selling them like hotcakes at the county fair, except that I sold more of them and I didn't have to wear an apron. Lot 20 sold, then lot 19. Then lot 31, then lot 27 sold and lot 20 sold again, then lot 32 sold. In 2013 I sold a lot on Forest Hill for $360k. In the fall of 2014 I sold the last lot on Forest Hill for $550k. The vacant land inventory was now cleared from the club, with no developer owned lots remaining. Momentum. Late in December, a private transaction of an SSC vacant lot printed at $1.2MM, which is the highest price paid for a vacant lot in the club since forever ago.

In November, I listed a foreclosure on East Lakeside. Then in December, I sold that foreclosure for $2.15MM. Six sales. The inventory I feared would drag on the market instead provided fuel for the market resurgence that had begun way back in 2012 when I took over the marketing of the club and sold two homes. The year has now ended, and the South Shore Club could not have had a better year if it tried. All vacant land inventory, sold. All but one of the available homes in the Club, sold. Price ranges remain intact, those target ranges that I speculated way back in 2012 would become the norm for the SSC. Market perception of the Club has completely shifted, and calls are now trickling in from buyers that would love to be in the SSC, rather than the calls I received two years ago that were largely from sellers wishing to move out of the club. The market shift is complete, and the South Shore Club had the brightest 2014 of any individual market at Lake Geneva.

What's next? Well, that depends. Will the owners that are now building (four homes under construction in the club as we speak, with another scheduled for spring) stay put? Will they enjoy their creations and live this lakeside lifestyle that the SSC offers? Or will some see the profit on the table and be tempted to sell? I think we'll see a mix of that, as most of the new ownership is excited to see just how this lake-living is done. There will be new inventory this year, as owners who may wish to make a move will see this newfound market optimism and take advantage of it. I see no possible foreclosures in the works in the club, which is the first time in several years that I haven't been eyeing at least one trouble spot. The ownership is now strong, interested, and the SSC should be able to make the next step forward and test the momentum with price gains.

For all the activity in the club, outside of the vacant land prices rising during 2014, there has yet to be built home appreciation. That's the next goal for the SSC, to take this market strength and test it with printed appreciation, not just passive equity gains. I expect that'll happen this year, as Geneva is a market that is highly motivated by scarcity. If nothing else comes to market in the Club for a while, expect that next new offering to be met with a lot of market enthusiasm. The South Shore Club is back, and it's absolutely better than ever. As the guy at the helm during this momentum swing, I'm the South Shore Club agent, and I'm the guy to contact if you'd like to be kept in the loop on new inventory changes here. Just don't tell me you want to buy the next foreclosure here, because we both might be too old by then to enjoy the process.

Walworth Palms

Jan 09, 2015 by DC | Add comment
Siberia has no palm trees. I've never been there, but I've read about it in magazines, and I've watched videos about there, the sorts that take Patagonia clad fly fisher types and helicopters them into this great forsaken land. They fish rivers that no one else fishes, and they watch out for bears. Wolves, too. They only fish there in the summer, because in the winter who could? No one would, that's because it's dark there, cold there, windy there. It's desolate, cruel, viciously fatal. The rivers freeze, the bears hide, the wolves wonder why they can't do either. The thing about Siberia is that it's hard to get to, far away in a direction that most people don't want to head. Siberia, it's unattainable. North Walworth Road on a winter day is as close to a Siberian experience as most of us will ever achieve. North Walworth Road, there are no bears and no wolves, but things freeze.

The road runs East and it runs West. It doesn't run in any other direction. There are fields on either side of the road, great long and wide fields of beans and corn, some years corn and beans. When it snows, the plows make their way down that road. If it snows at night, you can bet with absolute conviction that the roads will be plowed. They'll be plowed by the next afternoon, maybe evening, depending. Once the plows do their shoveling, the roads stay clear for a few minutes. Then the wind blows more and the snow pushes over the road, gradually building at the edges and then adding and adding until the great drift sweeps over the road itself, which leaves motorists wondering why the plows haven't been there yet, and if they have been there, they wonder when they'll be there again. This is North Walworth Road, or TINWD.

Along that road, to the North of it, on the end of the road that would be considered the East end by everyone except those who live to the East of it, there is a humble row of trees. They're not by the road, not at all. They're out in the field somewhere, running in the same sort of direction as the road itself, but not exactly. They must define one field and border another, and they've yet to meet the plow blade of a dozer. Grain prices have led to land lust, which has led to farmers cutting, plowing, or otherwise eliminating any land that isn't tillable. These small strips of trees, the scrubby ones like Boxelder and Mulberry and Hickory, the sorts that grow twisted and tall along fence lines and have, until now, been left unmolested- these are the trees that are being cut and burned. Reclaiming farm land for farming is the farmers prerogative, but it sure hasn't been kind to wispy trees that for generations have clung to those field's margins.

This row of trees, the one to the north of the north road, it's still there. The trees are tall, slender, not bushy and bold like a Silver Maple, but tall and lean like a young Elm or am oddly trimmed, youthful Willow. They might be something else, but they can't be one of those young trees because who would have planted a row of trees so far from anything on that road that connects very little to hardly anything? They must be old, these trees, and while I cannot be certain what they are, it's easy to see that they are, indeed palm trees. The sand that blows from the fields and onto the road, creating dunes and bars that stretch into and over the road, it comes from where those trees are. It comes from way out in that field, and it's white sand, delicate sand, covering everything now from the road to those trees. They're tall, those trees, straight and narrow with only a fluff of leaves on the very tops. They sway in the wind when the wind blows, which is always out there.

The sun lit those trees this morning. It lights on them every morning, but this morning the sky was soft and pale and pastel. The sun lit the sky as subtly as any tropical sky I've ever seen, lighting on the white, windswept sands that fell two nights ago. That sand was blowing today, blowing to the road and drifting into those dunes that the plow will someday come to push out of my morning way. The trees were there, lit in that wonderful way, swaying back and forth, bending under the billowy pressure of that northwest gale. North Walworth Road might as well be Siberia, but if you squint on a chilly winter morning, it just might be a far away beach.

New Geneva Lakefront Listing

Jan 07, 2015 by DC | Add comment

The thing about entry level lakefront is it's entry level. Because it's entry level, it's like anything that's so aptly labeled. An entry level sedan doesn't have a heated steering wheel. An entry level tent doesn't keep the rain out. An entry level remote control drone that your son received as a Christmas gift doesn't stay in the air for more than a few seconds and it certainly doesn't stay intact upon landing. This is what entry level is. It's sacrifice for the sake of owning the thing. If you want to get from point A to point B, entry level cars work fine. If you want to steer with the steering wheel while wearing gloves, your hands stay warm. If you tent in a desert, the rain-proofing isn't necessary. If you want your drone to look cool on your desk while it charges for the flight it won't ever take, the drone can do that just fine. And if you want to be on the lake with your own grass that leads to your own lake frontage, where your own pier juts out purposefully into those waters, then entry level works just fine.

Enter Oriole Lane. I just listed it today, and it's cheap. $1.299MM is the ask, and we're ready to sell it. It's a nice enough house, though I'd be lying if I said it didn't have some oddities. There isn't a garage. There isn't a true master bedroom suite. There isn't a huge basement, where you can put a pool table. And there isn't a Viking stove. There isn't any of this, but to quote a needlessly famous politician, what difference does it make? You have a sweet garage where you live. That same house, the one that you live in, has a super sweet master suite. It has a pool table in the basement! It has a huge Viking stove and a double-glass-fronted-Sub-Zero. It has it all, or so you think. You know what it doesn't have? 50 feet of level lakefront on Geneva Lake. You know what else? It doesn't have a pier. A big sturdy white one in the traditional H style. It doesn't have any of that stuff, and that's why you need to come visit Oriole Lane with me.


But that's only if you're looking for entry level lakefront that's priced at what some people have paid for non-lakefront. Last summer, someone paid just shy of $1.6MM for a home off the lake with no slip and barely a view. Why did they do that? Well, because it had shiny and fancy! This home has some shiny granite counter tops, and it has a really nice front sun room that just so happens to open up onto a pretty decent patio. That patio isn't like the one you have at home, because it doesn't have a built in grill and fireplace and it doesn't have that fountain with the LED lighting that changes based on your mood, or the season, or your mood depending on the season. But it does connect to a level grassy lawn that bumps right into that crystal clear water, assuming of course that you don't take the path that leads from lawn directly onto the pier, where your boat will be sitting waiting to ferry you to dinner at Gordy's or Pier 290, or into Lake Geneva to walk to Medusa or Sopra. So your fountain and your fireplace really can't hold an oddly colored LED candle to this lakefront.


There is reason to think this home is going to sell somewhat quickly, and that it'll sell at a great buy-side price. If you're looking for lakefront in this price range, in this current market, you're generally going to be relegated to some association setting that isn't nearly as desirable as this north shore, Knollwood location. If you or anyone you know might be interested in picking up an economical entry level lakefront, I'm here to help.

Lake Geneva 2015 Market Forecast

Jan 05, 2015 by DC | Add comment
The celebrating of the last year and the lamenting of the one now arrived, finally over, it's time to discuss what this market is doing now and what it's going to do in the coming days, weeks, and months that will define 2015. Last year, it was no secret what happened. Low rates and high stock prices fueled a continued buying boom, one that has now found no fewer than 105 lakefront homes print since the start of 2010. While I've been on the buy or sell side of more of those transactions than anyone else, I cannot entirely understand what pushed each seller to sell and each buyer to buy. I would say that most of the buying has been opportunistic, featuring a mix of long-time lakefront seekers alongside of new entrants to the market that see little nostalgia when they look to these shores, instead seeing only the sparkling clean water and heeding the call to jump in. We'll walk through the different vacation home segments individually in the coming days and weeks, to see how they fared in 2014 and to guess what they'll be doing in 2015, but today I paint with the largest of brushes. This is the macro approach to our micro market.


As I write, I'm distracted by the glowing Mobile sign across Geneva Street. It isn't the sign that distracts, it's the bright, proud numbers 1.99. Gas is cheap, so cheap that I feel the need to use as much of it as possible, to ward off this polar vortex that's bearing down. This cheap gas is much to the delight of those far-away vacation home markets in northern Wisconsin and in the strangeness of Michigan, for cheap gas will bring travelers that are required to travel very far indeed. Our travelers needn't travel much, so the cheap gas doesn't mean anything to our market, at all. It might mean day trippers have an extra $20 to spend on ice cream and I'M WITH STUPID t-shirts, but that's great for the storefront economy but not so important to vacation home owners. So if you hear someone on CNN tell you that cheap gas will be good for vacationing road trippers, just remember that while they're right, Lake Geneva doesn't care.

The stock market, those variable indexes that tell us whether we're rich or poor, this is the continued key to this ongoing Lake Geneva celebration of security. If we are to keep pace with prior years, and sell 20-24 lakefront homes, we'll need this market to stay stable. We don't need it to go up, remember that, we only need it to stay within a 10% range of where it is today. If the market corrects violently, that won't be enough to deter the most confident buyers, but it will make a dent on those buyers who may find themselves riding the fence. If the markets stay put, our market will continue its march.

Interest rates, as I've said a billion and three times, matter less than you'd think. However, these rates do fuel enough of our purchases that continued low rates will chip in and give us some solid volume that wouldn't be present in a higher rate environment. If the top dogs on the lakefront can earn higher rates on their invested money by keeping it invested, they'll easily opt for the cheap borrowed money to pay for this vacation home. How do they afford this vacation home lifestyle? Why high stock markets and low interest rates, of course. Expect the low rates, if they continue, to bring more buyers to our shores yet again in 2015, as cheap money locked today remains cheap money for the duration of the lock. Profound, I know, but these are the deep insights that you require of me.

Inventory will remain a concern as we move into this year, just as it did last year. The lakefront is thin on inventory, leaving any new sellers in a position of strength. They'll test that strength, which is why you'll see brand new inventory come to market at prices that look a bit bold. Entering 2014, I found myself calming many lakefront buyers. I attempted to assuage their concerns by promising new inventory. I told them it would come, if they would only find patience. Many were patient, and many waited through last January and all of February. They waited when the calendar said spring, and they waited in the chilled sun of our now ended summer. They waited and waited and for the most part, my promise of interesting new inventory went unfulfilled. This year will be the same, as we await the lakefront inventory that we rather desperately need. What sort of inventory?

Well regular inventory, of course. We have loads of upper bracket inventory, and while we only sold one true upper bracket estate this year ($5.195MM by yours truly), we have plenty that will carry over into the new year. Expect at least one of these to sell, and if the buyer has their bearings about them and their eyes and heart set on a carefree summer at the lake, they'll choose my 1014 South Lakeshore Drive listing. At $7.95MM you couldn't touch if if you were trying to replicate it in this environment, so a value hunting buyer will see the discount to replacement and buy it. I'm sure of it. That might be the only upper bracket inventory to sell in 2015, but there's no way to tell.

The inventory we crave is that priced from $2MM to $4MM. Blue chip lakefront parcels measuring at least 100 feet along the shore, and featuring some sort of house, nice or new or old and bad. Buyers will gobble up any sort, and new inventory priced from the high ones to the upper threes should have no problem selling. There's plenty of demand, and that buyer will find the year end stock charts to his liking, and the low interest rates may force her hand. It'll be a good year to be a lakefront seller in this price range, again, assuming you're a new seller and not a tired old one. Buyers should take note of the tired old ones, and work with me to secure value that exists in these passed over properties. If you're a buyer and you want to steal something, the new inventory is not going to be to your liking. If you want a deal, work with me, and we'll circle the herd and pick of one of the weaker, older ones.

The lake access communities should do find again this year, with Geneva National and Abbey Springs leading the way. Foreclosures have ebbed around the area, so while there will be some coming to market in 2015 it's no longer a market segment deserving its own forecast. The off-water lake access market had a very strong year, particularly in the $800k to $1MM price range, and we should expect that will continue. If inventory provides rare opportunities, as it did this last year particularly in my private sale of that fine Alta Vista property, we'll see plenty of sales like this in 2015. The entry level lakefront market has a few offerings, but very few, which will help this off-water market as buyers find little to their liking on the low end of the lakefront and opt for a nice off-water property instead. Rates matter to this buyer, and it'll be a good year to be a seller of an off-water, upper bracket home.

2015 should look a whole lot like 2014. The weak ownership has largely been removed from the market, and that should allow prices to continue their gradual ascent. Before you label me a market cheerleader, consider that I'd greatly prefer several years of modest appreciation rather than quick, immediate, overdone gains. While this year looks like it'll be starting slow for me personally, the broad vacation home market is active and will remains so throughout the year. Inventory will be coming to market in January, a bit earlier than it used to. In order for buyers to be prepared for a summer 2015 spent at the lake, they must spend January and February trudging through some snow and braving a vortex or two. I'm ready to help, and my value aim is as true as it has ever been.