Jun 17, 2013 by David
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It's time we talk about the South Shore Club again. I do hate being redundant here, which is why I approach the item of the day with a new piece of news in mind. Last week, I closed on Lot 3 in the South Shore Club. The sale at $360k represented a 20% appreciation from the time when the seller purchased that lot from me two years ago. The seller had planned to build but instead took advantage of another real estate opportunity elsewhere, which left this lot as the player without a chair. It had to go.
And go it did, somewhat quickly, and for that price that didn't represent a financial gain for the seller but did represent a pricing gain for the South Shore Club. That lot sale proves that buyer interest is up, but that lot sale alone didn't really drive that point home. The truth is, there have been four sales in the South Shore Club over the past 14 months. Those sales at $1.8MM, $2.5MM, $3.2MM, and $3.575MM do a thorough job at outlining the price structure at the South Shore Club, but moreover they prove the values of the select few remaining lots. Values that I think are on the verge of getting a whole lot better.
There are six developer owned lots left here, out of the original 40. Of those, the prices range from $699k to $990k. Lot 27 is also available, and that lot, tucked into the mature trees that ring the southern boundary of the most primary lakeside semi-circle, may be the best lot left in the entire club. The item of importance today isn't necessarily the sale of lot 3. It isn't necessarily the fact that the South Shore Club has never, ever looked better than it does today. And it isn't the fact that as I write there are 8 boats, polished and gassed and waiting for whichever owner ended up making Monday the last day of their weekend. The action item of today is that the few remaining lots are ready to be sold. Like right now.
Without speaking on behalf of sellers' that haven't given me a price target, I am writing today out of speculation. I think the remaining lots are going to be sold at prices that even I would consider to be cheap, and I'm signaling the masses today that offers of all sorts, while they've always been welcome, are down right encouraged. If you have been toying with the idea of entering into the lakeside country club atmosphere of the South Shore Club, this is precisely the time to take your offer and whip it at the wall. I'll bring lots of tape and see if I can make it stick.
And why wouldn't we want to indulge in these last lots? The pricing structure was a mere concept 15 months ago. It was a theory, based solely on my opinion of the market there. Fast forward to this morning and that theory has become an undebatable fact, with a precise and accurate pricing structure starting at the lakefront and extending all the way back to Forest Hill where the tennis court and playground sit, on a day like today, in perfect condition just asking to be used. If buying in the South Shore Club before the spring of 2012 took a leap of faith, buying there now would be easy for even the most narrow minded housing agnostic.
There are showings in the South Shore Club today. There is a big open house in the works for a few weeks from now, but of all the times to wait on something this likely isn't one of them. Consider making an aggressive play at one of these remaining homesites, and you just might be surprised to find just how willing the seller is to work with you.
Jun 14, 2013 by DC
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I closed on a four bedroom townhouse in Geneva National yesterday. The price, $290k for the real property and $20k for the personal property was fine. It wouldn't excite anyone for any real reason, neither to the high nor the low side. The unit is nice, the floor plan perfect for my new vacation home owners, the general mood sunny and clear. It adds to the activity at Geneva National, and that activity is increasing. Interest rates at ridiculous lows, attractive pricing, and declining foreclosures are bringing Geneva National back to relevance. That sale, at that price, isn't the point today.
The point, driven home by the experience of my buyer, is about the lending community- their process, their strengths, and their multitude of weaknesses. I don't mean to pile on an already distressed group, but sometimes not wanting to pile on isn't a good enough reason not to. I don't want to get up in the morning and go to work every day, but I still do that too. Without getting into the proprietary details of the transaction that just closed, allow me to paint the picture with a wide brush, using purposefully sloppy brushstrokes.
The buyers, a wonderful, financially over-qualified, young family from Chicago. The condo, a beautiful, spacious, newer condo in Geneva National. The deal, a buyer seeking financing of an amount roughly equivalent to half of the purchase price. The appraisal, accurate and in line and acceptable. The loan? Delayed, delayed, and then, delayed again. The closing took place yesterday, but after a month or more of working with a lender, the buyer opted out of the loan that was causing such significant delays and closed without the aid of borrowed money. This is public record now, and this is what happens when lenders cannot act within the timeline of both the contract and the timeline of their own hollow promises.
But that isn't the point either. It isn't important that the buyer was overqualified, or that the property appraised where it needed to. It isn't the point that the loan was for such a low amount relative to the value, and it wasn't the point that the lender, while efforting, wasn't able to close their end of the deal. The point is, it's time to start using local banks for our lending needs.
I used to use M & I Bank for my own mortgage needs, and I used them time and time again as I spun my way through literally dozens of loans over the past decade and a half. I used them because I liked my lender lady, and I liked the fact that they had my information on file at most times. Never mind that once local M & I has since been bought my BMO and their lending practices revolve mostly around a strong desire to not lend any money, the truth of the lending world today is that the smaller banks have the advantage. That advantage isn't a general all around sort of advantage, but if you're looking to secure a loan and close on a specific date, it likely isn't the best idea to call XYZ Mortgage Broker, even if they do have three solid reviews on Yelp.
This year, more and more buyers are borrowing money to complete their vacation home purchases. They are doing this, in part, because they wisely understand that inflation is going to carry us past this cheap money in a relatively short time frame. To lock in sub-4% money is a no-brainer, and this is why buyers who are cash-capable are pursuing these loans. The issue becomes the source of the loan, and I'm writing today to beg you to consider a few things before you google "LOW INTEREST RATE LENDERS".
First pro-tip: If you are a client of some private wealth division at a bank, they should be your first call. I have roughly $7 in accounts with Morgan Stanley, and I've been told repeatedly that if I desire a real estate loan, they can compete at a very high level with the terms and rates offered by anyone, anywhere. These deals are available to me, and at any time I'm at risk of my monthly service charge rendering my account in the red. If you have a connection, any sort at all, through a large brokerage house that handles your investments, the first and possibly last call for a loan should be to that office. They have an advantage in already knowing your financial position, and they have the increased pressure of knowing that you must be kept happy at all times, lest they lose you as a bank customer. They also have the added benefit of allowing you to borrow, possibly, against your managed accounts at supremely low rates (and the ability to tell you whether or not that makes sense in your situation). First call: wealth manager.
Second pro-tip: Call your local bank. I don't care which local bank it is, just call one. If you have a checking account, which I'm really hoping you do, call that bank. If that bank is Chase, or a national job, call them too. If you live in a town, say, like Lake Forest, and you bank with a Lake Forest Bank, or First Bank of Lake Forest, either of which I'm guessing exist, maybe call them. Better yet, stop over and see them. Ask about programs, rates, options. Explore. If you don't have a close relationship with the bank, still call. They may not have as many different programs as a mortgage broker would have, but they will have the ability to lend you money, assuming you're qualified. This ability is important and shouldn't be taken for granted.
Third, and last, pro-tip: Call a local Lake Geneva bank. We have many good banks here, and most of them are happy to lend to qualified Illinoisans for their vacation home purchase. The good ones here include Anchor Bank, Walworth State Bank, Community Bank Delavan, and a few select others. If you're looking for a loan to secure a Lake Geneva vacation home and the first two ideas aren't right for you, then pursue this option with fervor. The local banks may not be able to give you the same rock bottom rate as a mortgage broker might be able to find, but chances are your fees will be easier to understand, the gimmicks fewer, the results nearly infallible. To pay an eighth of a point, or even a quarter of a point, higher in order to have some certainty in the process? I'd take that slight premium nearly every time.
Borrowing money to pursue vacation home bliss isn't necessary for everyone, but in times when these rates are low and all but guaranteed to be on the rise (as they already have been), borrowing to achieve might just be the best option. As a rebuttal to everyone who may say, in a serious old-timey voice, "If you can't pay cash for a vacation home, well then you can't afford one"
, I point to my own father. He purchased his lakefront home on Geneva Lake in 1970 as a school teacher with very little money. How did he do it? He borrowed 80% from the bank and convinced the seller to hold a 20% second. My traditionalist father purchased his lakefront home with no money down. For $55k. It turned out to be a worthwhile risk.
Above, the dynamite view from my Fontana Club penthouse listing- $549k.
Jun 12, 2013 by DC
Yesterday started like any other day. I took a bath, because I built a house with a large bathtub and I feel like if not me, who, and if not in the morning, then when? I bathed, dried, walked to the closet, and pulled off the hanger some tan pants. I have others in blues and grays but tan was fine. I put a shirt on, drank a cup of coffee that was brewed in an exacting amount of time by my new dutch made, hand built, Technivorm. Technivorm, it bears to mention, has an awful lot of plastic for something hand made. I suppose it should say "hand assembled", but that sounds so much less expensive. The coffee was better than normal, but only because I willed it to be so in order to justify the Moccamaster, and then, I left the house.
I drove East, because if I drove West I'd drive further from my office, which I plan to do someday, but for the next 30 or so years I'll probably end up leaving the house and driving East, so that's what I did yesterday. East past some fledgling corn fields that appear to be well on track to making their knee high by the fourth of July pledge. Past some wheat fields, past a few soybean fields, both of which I'm sure have some target height by the fourth of July but the corresponding body part didn't sound as nice as knee. Mid-thigh high by the fourth of July never sounded as good. I drove past these fields as I do daily, down past my old high school and then past the other high school, the one that the Village wants to build a $22MM gradeschool next to. And no, I didn't forget to add a decimal in between the 2s. Past the overgrown field that used to be a pretty golf course, past the exit where I could turn in to view Yerke's Observatory and its oversized telescope, past Orchard and Oakwood and Williams and Collie and to my office. It was sunny the entire five minute drive.
Next, I sat at my desk for a bit. I returned calls, sent emails, retrieved texts and responded to those as well, and scanned the MLS for new inventory, sold inventory, and interesting price changes ($11.4MM to $10MM is a nice reduction, if it matters to you). My pants were fine at the office, because my faux leather chair is sticky in any humidity, and its best to keep my bare legs away from its synthetic hide. Once the cycle of work was completed, I drove to the mail down the block towards the lake and then North on Walworth Avenue. The sun was higher, still not high, but visible and bright.
I drove directly from the mail to Cafe Calamari, to their lakeside parking lot, directly across from aptly named Edgewater Park. I walked a mostly full box of magazines to the front door, and felt something. I set the box down, and I still felt it. I turned to face the car, and that park, and that lake, and I felt it again. I couldn't shake it, so I walked to the car, hoping that this condition would go away if I sat down. I turned the car to face south and waited for crossing traffic. It was then that I heard sounds, strange sounds, I scanned for crossing cars, but I saw none, instead I saw things, horrible, strange things, things that I didn't recognize and things that I wasn't sure about. I felt strange, things sounded strange, things looked strange. Tuesday was getting strange.
Driving onto Geneva Street towards Cedar Point gave me no relief. The sights were the same as were the sounds, my own physical feeling worsened. I felt something come over me. It wasn't coldness, but something different. My toes in my sandals weren't, say, cold, they were something else. I looked to check my complexion in the rear view mirror to see if I was discolored, perhaps pale, but I wasn't. Instead, I was almost flush, a sign to some that high blood pressure had taken over, but my blood pressure is only moderately high and not yet capable of causing redness. I teetotal better than anyone, so the blossoms on my cheeks had nothing to do with gin. And those sounds! They wouldn't quit. They drowned out my thoughts. And why can't I stop this redness in my cheeks? And what is this feeling, this feeling that I can't describe except to say that it's nothing like being cold?
I turned away from Cedar Point, rushing back to the relative safety of my office. I wanted to lock the door, draw the blinds, turn off the lights. I wanted to hide. I needed to hide. But I didn't. I drove home, desperate to find relief from this worsening condition. I drove back West, past the fields of corn and soybeans and wheat, and past the old golf course and the corn stand and the cows that moo deep into the night. I parked and rushed, careful not to fall from my confusion, back to the closet that I had been in just three hours before. I rummaged through the garments on the shelves and on the hangers. Pants, pants, long sleeved this and sweater that. Was there nothing here that I could wear?
What I needed were pants, but not the sort that went all the way to my feet. I needed some sort of pant that was shortened, cut off somewhere by the knee. Had there been scissors in that closet I could have made, in my sweaty haste, the sort of shortish pants that I needed. I pulled clothes from their places, throwing them behind me against the wall, like a person who matched the lottery numbers the night before but couldn't, for the life of them, find that ticket that bore the proof. After much searching, I pulled out something that looked like it might just work. They were pants, all right, but shorter than the ones that I had on. They were hemmed by the knee, neatly even, not in the way that someone would do crudely with a scissors. They were short pants, and they would help me to overcome this sensation that I hadn't been able to escape since I stood for that moment in the Cafe parking lot. I tore my pants from my legs, ripping and cutting at them like an EMT worker in an ambulance, desperate to save his patient from their wounds.
After that, things got better. I drove back past the fields, the overgrown golf course, the schools and the $22MM future debacle. I drove to Cedar Point, to where I had been going before, but now, with this change, the scenery came into view. The sounds were from people. Happy people. People laughing and walking and enjoying the brightness. The scene became familiar to me. There were children at the beach, splashing and playing. Women sat in beach chairs with oiled skin and smiles on their faces. I checked the mirror. I was still flush, but things were looking up. I had been getting hot, that's all, and it was about time.
Jun 10, 2013 by DC
If my fishing boat didn't have a fixed t-top, what on earth would my children climb on while boating? Without this top, with its metal structure and canvas awning, my daughter wouldn't be able to scale the side of it and dangle from it, leaning out over the water in a most dangerous fashion. Without this top, my son wouldn't be able to hang from it, with his legs lifted up towards his chin, his full 100 pounds testing the welds that some guy melted together in some sweaty shop down south. Without this top, what would I do with the hand that isn't clutching the steering wheel? These are important questions, but most important is the fact that my boat, and it's t-top, can't make it under the Trinke's bridge.
I spoke very highly of a long ranch in Trinke's Estates for quite some time. That ranch was, and is, boring. It's long and featureless, appealing in design perhaps only to someone who appreciates that stark brand of mid-century inspired architecture. I showed the home many times. Each to a different buyer, each time attempting to explain how this property- this one acre lot- was rare. The lot was large, the distance between the home and the lake not all that daunting, the grassy ex-airstrip that provided that direct route rather pastoral. The associations that ring Geneva Lake are many and they are incredibly varied, but most of them line up with some immediacy to the lake, with homes in a row, each with its own smallish lot. Trinke's is different, with large lots and wide open spaces not typically available near the lake for a reasonable ransom.
This home sold last week for $565k (not my buyer nor seller), and I think I'm a fan of that sale at that price. The lot is large, and I suppose if a buyer is seeking to remodel the home or tear it down, either option is reasonable as long as the expenses are appropriate. Would I be afraid of having $1MM total into this location, if it afforded me a new house? Not at all. Do I think the tendency, if building new, is to spend more than $435k? Absolutely. I think the best use of this home is to remodel it, and keep it as a mid-century design. There are spaces here that can be improved without the implementation of a wrecking ball, but that's a decision that must now be made by the new owner, and I am not he.
That praise heaped, it's time to pour some cold water. The question here isn't of the home, or of the lot, or of the superior access provided here. The issue is of that boatslip. The boatslip is inside the Trinke's lagoon, leaving some question as to what size and style boat will fit under the footbridge. My boat cannot fit under it, and my boat is a small 22' center console fishing boat, not some behemoth that is used to being turned away at low crossings. Fixed top arches will not fit under this bridge, so if you had designs on a gleaming Cobalt with matching stainless tower, you just might be out of luck. Since the access is somewhat restricted, can we treat this boatslip the same as we might treat the same size slip that extends out into the lake from a traditional cribbed pier? Nope.
In the same way that owning a dockominium slip at the Abbey Harbor to accompany your off-water home isn't the same as owning a lake access home with a boatslip waiting at the end of a short stroll, owning a slip inside a lagoon with limited access isn't the same as owning a big open slip on a big white pier. There are Geneva Towers condominiums attempting to sell with slips located in the, for lack of a better identifying term, Leatherlips Lagoon. These slips are not as valuable as slips on the open water for the same reason that slips in Trinke's aren't as valuable. If I have to be told not only how long my boat can be, which is a typical restricting item, but also how tall it might be and how high my own head can extend beyond my windshield, then I'm not a full price buyer. Slips in lagoons are nice, in the absence of a better arrangement.
Restricted slips of this sort really only exist at these two lagoon style harbors, so it isn't something that a buyer will have to become all that accustomed to. However, if the object of your vacation home affection has a slip in one of these two spots, it's best to not treat that slip as an equal to the bigger slips that extend into the main lake.
Jun 07, 2013 by DC
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My second car accident occurred sometime during a snow day in 1995. My first occurred on a dark night sometime during the summer that preceded that winter. That first one involved a Fiero that found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is easy to do considering anywhere you find a Fiero it is always in the wrong place at the wrong time simply because there is no right time and never a right place for this sort of Pontiac. The second accident didn't involve a Fiero, thankfully, because had it I would have likely been known from that day forward as The Fiero Killer, a name that would probably still follow me today.
On that snowy day, I was driving my Dodge truck from Williams Bay towards Lake Geneva. I bought that Dodge when I was still 15, from the owner of Belvidere Motors, by paying him a mix of some cash and trading considerable lawn mowing labor at his lakefront home on Conference Point. The truck was white, and the generous prior owner had chrome Mag brand wheels installed before he transferred ownership to me. It was a beautiful truck and it had not one or two but three tow balls on the back bumper, much to the delight of me and my 16 year old friends. The truck was my pride and joy, and had I not smashed into that Fiero just a month or two after I was properly licensed I would have liked it even more.
But that day, with snow packing tight to Highway 50, I headed East, towards Lake Geneva with my best friend in the shotgun seat, or at least on the shotgun side of the couch like bench seat that spanned the entire beam of the truck. Somewhere close to Anthony's Steakhouse the back end decided to travel faster than the front end and the truck spun in a circle once, or maybe even twice, as I careened east at 55 miles per hour. The spin out was spectacular, the thrill of excitement cut with life threatening danger a potent drug for my 16 year old self. When the truck came to rest, partially in the southern ditch and facing the oncoming traffic, we had survived. The accident, it turned out, was no big deal.
That snowy winter day in 1995 was not only the day of my last accident, it may have also been the last day that Highway 50 was smooth. Over the years since, that Highway has buckled and popped and moguls have grown like so many weeds, every 15 feet or so from the time you climb out of Lake Geneva until the time that you are mercifully allowed to exit onto either Snake Road, or Geneva Street, or any road in between. Pulling your car off of Highway 50 over recent years has signaled sweet relief, as any journey over that road, for any meaningful length, has been known to snap struts, hasten the demise of tire tread, and fray nerves all at once. My car currently has a front end problem. It might be easy to blame the severe ruts that formed over my dirt and ice construction driveway over the winter, but I know better. I blame Highway 50.
When spring arrived, tires and struts and shaky steering wheels alike rejoiced, for construction that would completely and entirely fix this tired old highway began. The divided double lanes that carry traffic from East to West and back again were forced to co-exist in just the southern lane, creating tight quarters for travelers. Traffic buzzes along, backhoes dig, road workers point and scheme and operate, and the chaos of a narrow construction zone is present all day, every day, for what feels to me will be like the entire summer and most of the fall. This is a massive project, a necessary project, and most importantly, a dangerous one.
The construction lanes are narrow, the traffic heavy at times, and the odds of many, many accidents occurring here this summer are extremely high. Today, a simple note of caution. Highway 50 is torn up, and it's best to pay attention while driving on this road so that you don't spend some of your summer on the surgeon's table.
Jun 05, 2013 by DC
Sometimes that constant itch that is a symptom of our biggest, boldest dreams simply cannot be scratched by the designs of other people. There are times, like the times that I just went through, that an architectural design sticks in your head and refuses to leave. Ask it politely, it doesn't budge. Demand that it leave you alone, and it only itches more and begs to be scratched. When a design concept is cemented in our heads and the desire to see it take shape overtakes the regular desires of our heart, well, then there's not much else we can do. Except build.
Vacation homes are emotional things. The pursuit of a home is emotional, the implementation of it emotional, and then finally, the rewards that manifest only after a lifetime of dedication to that home and to that ideal are equally as emotional. Most times, the homes that are built and listed for sale with signs in the yards and hyperbolic commentary on a website, those homes will work. One of those homes will likely speak to a vacation home buyer, and whether they buy it and use it as is, or they buy it and remodel it to their own liking, the typical case is that a built home will fulfill that gaping hole that we aim to fill with a weekend place.
Other times, nothing fits. We have rectangular vision and inventory of only circles, and this is when we must turn our eye towards new construction, and if we're looking towards that new construction then we must first cast our eye to some delicious vacant land. Vacant land has not been plentiful around Geneva Lake since forever, and as our desires find us on the shores of a lake that was discovered so long ago we either then must look for a suitable lot with a home that we might tear down, or we have to sort through 150 years of built inventory in hopes of finding one lot that slipped through the cracks of mass gentrification.
If we're looking for lakefront to build on, then the price structure is such that we are already only paying land value for the few delapidated or otherwise worn out homes that exist on Geneva, so we needn't pursue solely vacant land offerings if we're looking to build on the lake itself. But what if we're looking just off the water? What if we can't justify the lakefront itself, but we're seeking a home with reasonable proximity to the water and a transferable boatslip? If that's our goal, then we're generally going to be working with built inventory that might traditionally be available in the $500-$600k range. Consider the home that sold last year in the $500k range in Oak Shores. Then look towards the home for $599k that's pending in Trinke's. These are generally the sort of offerings that we can find if we're looking for an older, sort of lame house, on a decent lot with a slip and a casual saunter to the lakefront.
The MLS this morning has one vacant lot with boatslip available priced under $2.6MM. There are lots available in the South Shore Club, even though my Lot 3 on Forest Hill Circle listed at $399k is pending sale, there are still a few others remaining, including lot 27, which is likely the absolute best lot remaining in the South Shore Club. It should be noted now that it hasn't made sense to build in the South Shore Club pretty much since its inception, until now. We finally have sold comps that support value, and those sold comps suggest that a buyer with an eye towards building can do so and create immediate equity. Outside of the SSC, there is but one offering of a vacant lot with a boatslip- that being a lot in Brookwood, on Fontana's southern shore. That lot is large, and it's nice, but it's forever and a ways away from the lake. That's why it's pretty nice that I listed lot 5 in Geneva Oaks this week for $399k. It's level, it's wooded, it's close to the lake, and it has a transferable boatslip.
Best of all, I'm pricing this lot based on actual market statistics. In 2004, lot 15 in Geneva Oaks sold for $349k. This lot was sloped, and it wasn't nearly as large as my lot 5. I'm now on the hunt for a buyer who would like to see their own vision play out near this big blue lake. Why buy the dream of someone else when there's a nice patch of dirt ready and willing to accept the foundation of your own?
Jun 03, 2013 by DC
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I suppose I'm suffering from a case of missing perspective. Not life perspective, mind you, as I have two friends sick with cancer right now, so my life perspective appears to be soberingly fine. What I'm missing at the moment is market perspective. I've been watching this market, watching it intently and closely for just about 17 years. I've seen good times and bad (eat it, 2008), and I've seen my own market expectations change on what feels like a daily basis. Other things change less frequently than my market expectations, things like pants and socks and the position of the earth relative to the sun. This year, I'm struggling with the market. Is it healed, or just healing? Is everything right again, and are prices actually increasing, or is it just the hype that I've talked about recently bullying its way even into my conscience?
If you asked me this morning how the market is, I'd tell you with complete honesty that the market today feels less busy than the market did a month ago. That's the truth, which is all you can expect to ever read here. I feel like there were more buyers circulating in March than there are today, and that's just what it is. This feeling holds at least some weight, as the late May to mid-June swoon is owed, at least in part, to the rash of graduations and weddings that tend to occur right about now. Imagine the selfishness of these people who choose to graduate or marry, knowing full well that it might disrupt a bit of my prized showing activity at the lake!
This momentary lull is meaningful to me, as every day the market moves and twists and either continues its' mend or slips into a temporary pause. These undulations are best smoothed over with a heavy trowel, and the only way I know how to work this bumpy mess into an organized pattern is to view sold comps from one year against another, and that's what we must do today. The mood of the market changes often, but a look at comps will set us all straight, as sold statistics are able to be manipulated to show price gains or losses, but volume is indeed volume, and the measure of it is mostly infallible.
From the first day of 2013 through this day in June, we have had 33 lake access and lakefront sales surrounding Geneva. This is not taking into account the other segments of our Lake Geneva real estate market, those bits and pieces at Geneva National and Abbey Springs and the other condo developments that surround the lake without considerable proximity. The 33 sales include 8 lakefront sales, and this is our 2013, so far. We have 126 active lakefront and lake access homes on the MLS, and of these we have at least 6 lake access sales pending, and at least 3, but probably 4, lakefront homes pending sale. I can't help but note that one of those pending sales on the lakefront in the low $3MM range, proves more about the market recovery than almost any other sale to date, but we'll discuss that aspect only after that property closes. 2013, without any perspective, looks to be fine, but far from torrid.
During this same time of 2012, we had 19 lakefront and lake access sales, 6 of which were lakefront. If you'll recall, 2012 didn't heat up considerably until the second half of the year, for reasons that I cannot entirely understand. 2011 had 24 total sales YTD, and 2010 registered 20. No need to look back further, because the further we look back we risk catching a glimpse of 2008, and I prefer not to see anything from 2008 if I can help it. After reviewing these sales, there isn't really much more to say. The 2013 market is better, and by quite a long ways. There are buyers out today, and I dare say there are more of them today than I can remember in my 17 years of sales. That said, there is caution. Real estate here remains a tricky game, with some pricing reminiscent of a sunny day in 2006 even while other prices continue to lag and even soften. The goal now is to hunt down those remaining deals, because they exist, but they are elusive, and slippery, and it's best to approach them with caution, and gloves. And a hat. And maybe some eye protection.
Above, the pool at Bay Shore. $389k buys a new two bedroom listing I have there.
May 30, 2013 by DC
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I do not know what a June bug is. I don't know what sort of bug it is, but I think it's a beetle. I also don't know if it's a June bug, as the month would suggest, or if it's a Joon bug, which is how I think the spelling is of that movie alongside Benny, which also might be Bennie, but who knows. I know certain things about June bugs. I know that they are bugs, and I know that while they likely arrive sometime in June they most certainly do not only exist during the month that I assume to be their namesake. My daughter's name is May, but she exists the same in May as she does in June, which is to say that she exists solely for the purpose of torturing her brother and making him feel as though she gets special treatment. She does, but not just in May because her name is May.
Mayflies--I know more about these than I do the bugs that may or may not be beetles that come after the flies. Mayflies aren't really flies at all. They do fly, but they do not buzz against windows and spoil picnics and touch everything in the way that garbage flies do. Perhaps calling them garbage flies is inappropriate, like calling field corn horse corn, but as I recall fruit flies are more like small bugs, or gnats, than they are like flies, so I'll assume that fruit flies are like gnats and garbage flies are the flies that we think of when we think of flies. Which is often, in summer. Mayflies, they're a summer bug too, which is back to our point about those flies existing, at least sometimes, outside of May.
This is the time for these bugs. In fact, it might be past the time for these bugs. They were buzzing while I was working, buzzing in great dark clouds over piers and in front lawns and buzzing next to lilacs as they bloomed and made all the world smell like the pages of Glamour magazine. They were in these large schools, roaming about without moving much at all, hovering, really, hanging out in front lawns and near bushes and over piers and over expanses of calm spring waters. These bugs can, at first, seem daunting. There are many of them, but the swarm doesn't instill fear like a swarm of bees would. And they don't instill disgust in the way that a mass swarm of flies would, be those flies garbage flies or fruit flies, it doesn't matter much. They're still flies, and a whole mess of them would be just miserable.
I'm sure I saw some of these dark schools of Mayflies during their namesake month, but I can't remember them this year because I didn't take any time to smell any roses, or to pick any dandelions, or to walk along the shore path near the water where these bugs like to hang out. I haven't done these things because I haven't had the time, but that doesn't mean that I didn't see some Mayflies this year. I did. I saw plenty of them, just not the huge swarms of them that I remember seeing during other Mays from other years. I remember one year when they were particularly impressive. I fished off the Loch Vista pier, casting thin line with small hooks looped through the faces of small minnows. I don't feel good about doing that to those minnows, but I do feel good about watching a small red and white bobber slip under the still surface, and I feel equally as good about reeling in a smallmouth bass before gently unhooking it and releasing it back to its watery home, so the minnow part is unfortunate but I find that its end justifies its means.
I remember one late afternoon, late enough where the sky was dark but the light hadn't yet faded enough to be considered night, and I was doing that casting and standing and reeling. The buzz from the Mayflies was pronounced--loud even--and I felt great privilege being on that pier in that scene, watching my bobbers. I'd look away at times, just for long enough to see the cloud of Mayflies dip too close to the water so that the wings of the lowest members would dimple the surface and stick together. The bugs that met the water in this way would stay there, glued to the surface of the calm lake, where they'd lay without hope until a small bluegill would ascend from the depths and sip them, implying politeness while still being ruthless. I watched the scene play out, the falling to the water to become a meal, the bobbers dipping under the surface, the smallmouth pulling away as best they could, the night sky growing dim, the Mayflies abuzz.
This is May, and we're at the lake. The flies are not flies at all, just Mayflies in some quantity. They won't bite, they won't bother, and soon enough they'll be dead and stuck to spiderwebs under the eaves of our homes and the canopies of our piers. They aren't anything to fear, no more than we'd fear a Joon bug, or a June bug, or the dreaded Juhn bug.
May 28, 2013 by DC
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The flippers are back. They've pushed away from their desks at their mortgage broker job or their real estate job, or they've handed back the keys to the demo car they've been driving while on duty at their car salesman jobs, and now, they're back. They're back painting and tiling and drywalling and then painting before the drywall mud dries and putting down carpet before the subfloor leveler dries. And once those things are done then they'll be outside sodding the front lawn and planting impatiens just before the Realtor sticks the sign in for the first, and maybe last, open house. This is real estate today, and it's looking an awfully lot like the real estate from before.
When I say these flippers are back, I only say this because the Wall Street Journal told me. I say this because HGTV told me, and I say this because there's some guy in Las Vegas driving all sorts of new Porsche's that he, presumably, purchased because he's making so much money flipping homes. When I say they're back, I mean they're back everywhere except here. Here isn't Southeastern Wisconsin or Walworth County or the Lake Geneva area. Flippers exist and have the potential to thrive in these broad markets, but the here that I'm speaking of is the only here that matters- the Lake Geneva vacation home market. That's our here, and flippers? They need not apply.
The best flippers excel in large markets. The guy in Las Vegas? Probably actually making a killing and he probably deserves to drive those fancy cars. The sorts of guys in the Phoenix market who are doing what he does in Vegas, also likely crushing it. They are doing so because they are in large markets and large markets operate under a totally different set of rules than do small markets. Even some small markets, by inventory measurements, can be home to successful flippers. There's reason to believe that even today in Lake Geneva there are opportunities for flippers to buy for $65k, slap on $20k of lipstick and then sell for $120k. First things first, while this is possible even in this small market, consider the benefits of such an endeavor.
If I buy a dump for $65k, let's assume I'm the buyer that does this often, and as such, I have cash to spend. I spend $65k on the house, which works out to closer to $65,500 once I pay the title company charges and record my deed. I then proceed with my $20k renovation. I'm all in for $85,500. I have Realtors over, and they tell me they LOVE the red wall I painted in the dining room. No big deal
, I say, basking in the faux praise. I list the home with the Realtor who wears the largest fake pearls, and my price, $119k, is deemed to be reasonable. The open house occurs, and a buyer, A BUYER!, makes an offer. Since this isn't television, and Sandra Rinamoto is no where to be found, they do not offer me full price. They do, however, offer me $105k, and I negotiate to $112,500. As part of my concession, I agree to credit the buyer $2k at closing to cover their lender fees. Onward.
At closing, this is my math. I sell for $112,500. Minus $2k closing cost credit. Minus $6750 for broker fees. Minus $700 for title insurance. Minus $337.50 for transfer tax. Minus $75 for deed prep. Minus $200 to have the survey re-stamped. Minus $195 for the Home Warranty I had to buy this buyer when they got cold feet about the age of my furnace. My theoretical net is $16,742.50. I tied up $85k of cash for three months, and while it was only earning me 1% in the bank, I still lost out on $210 in interest. $16,532.50. Since I sold this home and didn't own it for any extended period of time, this gain was taxed at ordinary income, and since I'm a big shot theoretical flipper and I drive several different Porsche's, my tax bracket for Federal and State is a combined 35%, leaving me with $10,746.12. For three months of effort. Not all that exciting, is it?
But that wasn't the point. The goal here is to explain why flipping homes in a small market doesn't work all that well. Specifically, why flipping lakefront homes on Geneva for potential obscene profits doesn't work so well. The reason has nothing to do with broad market forces, or interest rates, or the like. The reason it doesn't work here is because in small markets everything is noticed. Buyers pay attention, and unfortunately these buyers also have keep memories. If I'm a lakefront buyer and I pay $3.25MM for a lakefront home, hurray for me. If I take that $3.25MM home and put $1MM into it to make it beautiful, and I ask $4.875MM for the home, attempting to sell for a reasonable, if small, profit, then my odds of achieving success in this context are quite favorable. The market remembers what I paid, the market can see the work I've done and the money I've spent, and to save the stress and misery of undertaking a remodel some buyer may well pay me a modest sum for my efforts of both time and resources.
Now, consider that I purchased that home for $3.25MM and now I want to sell for $4.875MM, not because I did any serious work to the home, and not because the market warrants it, but just because I feel like it. Are you a buyer? Anyone? Takers? Offers? Anything?! Even if the market can somehow support my new claim of value, will buyers flock to my door to reward me in such a lucrative manner? Probably not. They won't do this because they know what I paid and they are nothing if not intelligent. This is why sellers of such properties rarely succeed here. The market has a memory, and the only way to secure such an immediate gain is to look for a new buyer. New buyers might not know my history, new buyers might not understand what it is that I'm doing. New buyers just might reward my bravado.
This is why new buyers should work with me, David Curry, so we can avoid these sorts of things.
May 24, 2013 by DC
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After so much traveling, through the twists and turns and the flat tires and the false starts, and after that one day in February when we spent the afternoon staring at that wall just wondering what we did to deserve such a long and petulant winter--after all of that--here we are. We've made it. We've paid our dues and this is our reward. It's important to remember that Memorial Day Weekend isn't really and truly a summer weekend. We can't expect it to be. It's a spring weekend, one where we remember those who were better than we are, and one where we light a grill and wear a light coat to chase away the last remaining wisps of spring air. This weekend isn't about summer, it's about practicing for summer. This is our test run, and it begins right now.
But first, there is a sale to discuss. A sale to question, to consider, and then once we've considered and interrogated then we might just have to sit down and let it be, and turn our attention to that grill that desperately wants to be lit. I like Glenwood Springs. I like it quite a bit, really. I like the atmosphere, the action, the gates and the piers. I like pretty much the whole thing, and in that I'm reminding you that just because I don't like a sale price doesn't mean I don't like the association. The sale this week was of an off-water home with a lakeview and quite beautiful finishes. The location was one home off the lake, but the lake in this setting is far below the home, down the street a ways and then down a steep-ish slope before we meet the steps from slope to water and pier. This is easy access for a bowling ball, but not so much for us.
The home in question just sold for $1.1MM, and I represented neither party to the transaction. I like the house, I like the association, I like Fontana, but at $1.1MM for a home with a somewhat marginal view and no boatslip, am I fan? Not particularly. The sale makes sense from a market perspective in the sense that a market is created by a single seller and a single buyer. The price paid was acceptable to both parties, so who are we to care whether or not it made all that much market sense? To abstain from market opinions is the job of other people, but our job is to reconcile sales with the existing market to judge the market-based merits of the move. So, let's do that.
First, let's find an off-water sale in the last 36 months that sold at $1.1MM or more. Per the MLS, there has been just one such sale, that of another home in Glenwood Springs that closed at $1.25MM back in the winter of 2010. That's the only other sale over three years in that strata for such an off-water property. There are plenty of market sales in that price range, but those others are either private lakefront sales or they are properties that, while not technically lakefront, play like it (Congress Club). The last sale in Glenwood Springs in this price range was of the recently sold subject of this post, back in 2009 when it sold to the buyer turned current seller for $1.21MM. There's this sale, there's the one for $1.25MM on Linden, and if we stretch further back we'll find another sale on Harvard behind the Fontana Club condominium that sold for $1.2MM and change back when the market was humming and any investment in any real estate was momentarily infallible.
Outside of Glenwood Springs, there has been no precedent set for a $1.2MM range off-water home. In fact, it just doesn't happen with anything resembling frequency. But inside of Glenwood Springs, perhaps a few sales scattered over a few years is enough to justify a market for such an offering. The home that just sold for $1.1MM sold somewhat quickly, and that's probably the only market context we need. Whether or not I'm a buyer at $1.1MM for an off-water home that lacks a boat slip doesn't matter. Someone was, and that someone now gets to spend the first of many weekends lakeside, in relative luxury.
That brings us to this. It's an important weekend, and I'm wondering where you're spending it. If you find yourself gearing up for your first Lake Geneva based Memorial Day, then this is a wonderful and inspiring thing. If you find yourself preparing for your 10th, or 20th, or 50th Memorial Day at the lake, then this just found a way to be even more wonderful and more inspiring. But if you find yourself, on this Holiday weekend, schlepping to a Chicago brunch on Sunday because they have the BEST Eggs Benedict, then I'm wondering if you really understand just how boring that is. Change your scenery, change your schedule, and find yourself wishing Friday would just get here and get over with so you can get yourself to the lake.
I'll be at 521 Wilmette in Williams Bay this Saturday for an open house from 12 pm until 2 pm. Stop in and see me. The newest incarnation of Summer Homes For City People is available around town this weekend as well, so please do pick up a copy and let me know if you find it moderately tolerable.
Photo by Matt Mason Photography