Jun 29, 2015 by DC
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Sometimes, I like to see if I have more money than I had one year ago. It doesn't matter when I engage this frustrating exercise, it's just something that I feel as though I should do from time to time. Sometimes, the exercise puts me into a deep funk, when I realize that I am very good at treading water, but less capable at advancing directionally. Other times, I'm pleasantly surprised to learn that I have at least $15 more than I had during the same month of the prior year. Either way, whether satisfied or saddened, the exercise is always enlightening. Let's be enlightened as to the state of the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market, shall we?
I have, at current, plenty of lakefront listings. I have large ones and small ones, bland ones and shiny ones. I have great land for sale, regular land for sale, all sorts of things for sale. Because of this, I have a pretty nice gauge on the market activity for these lakefront homes. The activity, at this advancing date in the summer of 2015, feels very spotty to me. One weekend will be great, the next poor. One day showings will be set, anticipation will run high. The next day the showings will occur and the results will be mixed, though I would argue that for results to be mixed that would mean I'd get an offer or two. This has not been the recent case.
This is why we'll look back over the first half of this year and consider how we're doing relative to the same period last year. Snapshot broad measure shows we've sold 40 lakefront and lake access homes on or near Geneva Lake. That's not bad, not at all. 2014 YTD had just 35 sales, so we're advancing. 11 of the 2015 sales have been lakefront, and 11 of the remaining 29 lake access sales printed below $300k. In 2014 we had closed just 9 lakefront sales by this date, and of the remaining 26 lake access sales 14 of those closed under $300k. This makes sense, as buyers who are more sensitive to interest rates have been moving more quickly than the rest of the market.
For my involvement, last year I had sold three lakefront homes by now, and this year I've sold two. That doesn't seem so bad, but it feels bad, so if you'd like to buy a handful of lakefront homes from me this year, would you mind hurrying up a bit? Thanks.
Geneva National has been the king of the head fake over recent years, sometimes rushing out of the gate only to fall off as the year grows old. This year, it sprinted out to a sizable lead. 38 homes and condominiums have traded this year, with three of those printing over $500k. 2014 saw just 22 YTD sales, with only one over $500k. This is a huge improvement for GN, but just as it might be easy to think that GN has completely recovered and things will be wonderful from now on, a huge piece (maybe the entirety?) of Foxwood, a failed enclave within GN on the far northwest corner, is heading to sheriff's sale. Remember my GN advice? Don't buy a condo in a sparsely built out enclave, because you'll regret it. This advice holds is proven yet again with the Foxwood foreclosure.
Abbey Springs has long been a steady performer, and this year looks to be no different. YTD there have been eight sales per the MLS, contrasted with nine over the same days in 2014. This isn't particularly terrific activity, but it's plodding along just like Abbey Springs has a tendency to do. I have that beautiful home at 62 Saint Andrews on the market for $765k, so it's obvious that we'll have at least one sale in the coming months, assuming a buyer shows up in search of a great home for a great price in a great association.
The snapshot today proves the market has been consistent and that mostly we remain in a growth phase. Volume is increasing nicely, and prices in some segments are following suit. Mostly at this point in the year I'm on the lookout for buyers who want to pick away at the certain segments that are offering potential value. Those segments are mostly lakefront, but there are certain off-water homes that look ripe for the picking.
Jun 26, 2015 by DC
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There were common themes during the housing downturn. The first theme was that some buyers were able to capture their motivation and seek out value. When they found value, they bought the value. The wonderful thing about this brand of value is that it changes your life, which is better than the sort of value that's found when you drive across down to save two cents on gasoline. Another theme was that sellers appreciated buyers then, and if a buyer came to their door with a check, the smart ones took the check and handed over a deed. These were common themes back then.
The other theme on the lakefront was that building of new homes never slowed down. Perhaps there would have been more construction on these shores if the market had never slowed, but a drive around this lake in a boat during the years from 2009 through present has served as a nice reminder that most elite personal economies weathered the storm rather well. There were new builds on the water in each of the bad years, and in every year since. This year we have fewer new builds underway, perhaps just a couple finishing up and a couple currently being built, including the odd palace on South Lakeshore Drive, Fontana. The current conditions appear to be the quiet before the storm, as there are several lakefront builds planned for the coming weeks and months.
The South Shore Club has been awash in a frenzy of dust and lumber. The lots I sold last year have mostly been built on, and three of the four builds from last year have been completed. The last will be the finest of them all. There are a few vacant lots held by private owners now, and if you were late to the South Shore Club party but wish you had an invite, you'd do well to email me and ask about privately available parcels. Or, you could stay on that ridiculous automated email list you get from some agent you met at an open house once, either way.
I know of at least three new lakefront builds that are coming to our shores in the next few weeks, and as I play the cherished role of advisor to many of these new builds, I find there is a common theme running through all of them. There is a desire to position a property at an all-in price that reflects actual value. This has not been the case in most of the builds on these shores in the last 10 years. The mistake onlookers make is that they see a new build and assume that owner is in for some huuuuge sum of money, like maybe $4 or 5 million. The reality is that many of these new builds are actually $10MM type numbers, with some being much, much more. The desire to adhere to a market structure might be a hallmark of my clients, and if that's a hallmark I'm beaming with pride.
But in this desire to stick to budgets there can be something missed. The overriding goal of each build is to create something that will provide unmeasurable joy. This is the goal, no matter what. Does a coffered ceiling, a Wolf oven, and a marble shower increase enjoyment of a lakefront home? Would you be upset if I said of course? I know, I know, that goes against everything I've ever said, but really it doesn't. I don't want purchase decisions to be made based on the shiny and the slick, because that undermines the goal of finding lasting value. But once the lasting value is purchased (the land, the neighborhood, the setting), why not increase the comfort level to the highest limit possible?
I've had this conversation recently with a beloved client of mine, and my advice for lakefront owners undertaking the build process is based on my own building history. I have never, ever, finished a project and been upset about money that I spent. I have never looked at a finish and thought that I wished I had made it less nice. I have never looked at a Viking range and thought it to be a stupid indulgence. I have never looked to a marble shower and wished for it to be tile. I have never looked at hardwood floors and thought they should be carpeted. But I have looked at a bathroom and thought I should have made it bigger. I have looked at a trim element in a room and wish I had made it bolder. I have lamented the money I didn't spend far more than I ever lamented the money I did spend. In fact, it can be disastrous to underspend if the end product is someday supposed to fit the eye of a high end buyer.
This, of course, is advice within reason. If the indulgence pushes the build price beyond the scope of the future market value, then this particular item might be a mistake. But if the difference is between great windows or reasonable windows, go great. If the decision is between a fancy oven and a bad oven and the savings represent a few thousand dollars, go great. If a roof is to be cedar shingles and the budget really calls for asphalt, go cedar. Maybe borrow a litmus test from Ben Stein. If the purchase will lead to you eating dog food for dinner, don't make it, otherwise, spend away.
Currently there are several vacant parcels available on the lake. There's a small lot in the Elgin Club, and a big lot in the 700 Club. These are only clubs in the loose sense of the word. There are some possible opportunities in the South Shore Club, as I mentioned earlier, and there is one possible lakefront parcel in Fontana. There are several tear downs on the lake that represent potentially tremendous land value at the right discount to ask. If you're interested in one of these parcels, let's chat. We'll first buy the right land at the right price, then we'll talk some more about that marble shower that is absolutely, positively worth the price.
Above, the no expense spared living room of 1014 South Lakeshore Drive ($7.95MM).
Jun 24, 2015 by DC
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I do not remember having any bit of input into any singular plan during my youth. This was true whether the decision should have involved me, even if the decision should have involved me only in theory. I took piano lessons for ten years that would have been easier if served at Rikers. When the lessons began, I do not recall sitting down with my parents to discuss the merits of me taking piano lessons. I only remember complaining about the lessons. I remember going to the lessons, first with Miss Marie then with Mr. Mark. I remember how silly I must have sounded when I told the teachers that I had been practicing, because my stumbling fingers proved my lie. I remember the intense nerves of piano recitals, where I would breathe deep and the air rushing over my teeth felt like a dentist's drill. These are my experiences of piano playing, and no where in my deepest memories can I pull forward a conversation where my parents asked me if I wanted to play. It's because they were my parents and I was their son, and if they wanted me to play, I played. This is how it all used to work.
In the summer, I mowed lawns. At the time when I turned 12, maybe 13, I do not recall any parent meeting wherein I was asked if I felt I was ready to mow lawns. I was not with when my dad bought a very used, very orange Simplicity tractor. I did not have breakfast with him where we talked about which lawns I should mow, which ones I thought might be too big for me at that tender age, and which days of the week I wanted to have off to play with my friends and ride my bike around town. I was simply told which lawns to mow, and the expectation was unspoken but clear, so I added more lawns to my route and emblazoned my name and number on the side of the small trailer I pulled behind that tractor. One summer, I decided that I wanted to spend the semester abroad, learning at those temples to academia in foreign lands. My parents considered the idea, and after several family meetings they agreed to fund the trip, because I really wanted to go. Just kidding. I mowed lawns.
Family vacations were singular, annually. We went to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for two weeks each summer. This, as I've come to learn, had two purposes. One was to vacate the house so my dad could rent it and use the money to help pay his taxes. I cannot remember what the second reason was. I jest, it was so we could spend time together as a family, with my parents napping and then with the kids napping tortured, forced naps. We went there on vacation because we all liked it, and we had fun and I fished and met girls, including one who is now my wife. But at no point did we sit down over an Olive Garden lunch and plan our summer vacation together. We didn't each write our preferred trips on a scrap of napkin, and we didn't then add them to an upturned hat, and then no one picked the winning destination, and no one was then surprised. We just went to Detroit Lakes because that's what my parents said we were going to do.
We went to Disney World once. It was 1985. I was 7 years old, and in this old dim I cannot recall much of the event. I was exposed to the ocean for the first time, to that kelp-filled angry sea. I rode Space Mountain and have never ridden a roller coaster since, not even a teacup at the fair. When we planned the trip, I wasn't around. My brothers weren't either. My parents planned the trip, and we were pulled from school to go. We had a great time, but we didn't discuss which rides to go on and which day we'd go to the beach to see the kelp. We just rode in the back seat of that rented Lincoln, and we took it all in. We were passengers in the truest sense, along for the ride that was engineered to create memories that we might one day recall 30 years later when typing at a computer far more futuristic than anything Epcot Center could have imagined.
Today, I see things differently. I see my life, and I see that I plan vacations with my kids' input, even if I listen and don't act on that input... I tell them now that we're going to go out to dinner, and I hear them whine. They wanted to go somewhere else. I still tell my son to mow the lawn, but at the age of almost 12 I cannot imagine he'd be able to ride a tractor around town and mow lawns for strangers. On vacation, they tell me where they want to eat dinner, and they tell me when they want to leave because they miss their own beds. I ask if they want to fish with me and they tell me that they are too tired. They tell me what they want to do during their summer days, and when I interject that the lawn must be mowed I feel more like a peer asking them to please consider the chore, rather than a parent directing the chore to be completed on time and under budget. Things today have changed.
We are coddling our children, maybe too much. When my kids jumped and swam from the piers on Sunday, I couldn't help but think about customers that ponder a vacation home purchase and pause, thinking about their children. If we buy this home, where will my little princess swim?
This is what they wonder. With no beach, and no pool, how will they learn? How will they survive?
Or it's the other problem, of little Jimmy's baseball practice, and then his games. We can't come to the lake this weekend, because Johnny has that baseball game on Saturday morning, and then another one on Sunday afternoon.
I'm sure I missed some things when we went on vacation every summer. I'm sure piano lessons were skipped or baseball practice was missed. But none of that mattered, because my dad was in charge and we did what he said we were going to, without debate. Perhaps we need to add a bit of old school parenting style to our playbook. Our kids will someday look back and appreciate that we made
then swim from piers, and skip Saturday morning baseball for Saturday morning boat rides. Besides, your princess needs to learn how to swim better and little Johnny is horrible at baseball, everyone knows that.
Jun 22, 2015 by DC
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I spent Sunday lakeside, mostly. It's always good to spend a beautiful day by the water, assuming that water is 5400 acres worth and not in a kidney shape in your back yard (see Friday's post), and yesterday was no exception. The newest generation swam and splashed their way through the piers and around the shallows, and I was reaffirmed in my belief that kids who swim off of piers are vastly superior swimmers to those who swim off beaches. My kids are incredible swimmers, and for that I'm thankful. While the kids splashed, the adults of my age talked work, golf, money, boats, money some more, boats a bit more, jobs some, and then money again. The old folks talked about whatever it is they were talking about, inside that porch, sitting in those white wicker rockers. It was a good day, but not one that was spent without observations.
The lake was busy yesterday. There were pleasure boats of all makes and models, a Riva that came in close to pick up some friends from a nearby pier. Streblows and Cobalts as far as the eye could see. But also some horrible rental boats, and pontoons. Too many pontoons. I saw a pontoon pulling some kids on a tube, right in the lane of traffic, which we all know to be stupid at best, highly dangerous at worst. The kids fell from the tube, and instead of that unwieldy floating living room making a wide turn back to pick them up, the "boat" just killed its outboard engine and waited for the kids to swim back to the tube. That tube was some 100' away from the kids that were swimming in the water, and the forward momentum of the 'toon kept pulling the tube further from the kids' reach. All the while other boaters whizzed by the kids, the tube, the pontoon. I watched this unfold and thought that I should have some form of authority on this lake, to go out and commandeer the boat and pull it from the water before escorting both the highly stupid adults and their highly offensive boat to the state line. Alas, I have no such power.
But if I did, I'd also remove that absurd LINN FIRE boat from the lake. It's becoming exactly what I knew it would become: A sideshow. That boat, no matter what anyone says, looks ridiculous. It's ugly, hideously so, and instead of staying quietly out of view until it is needed (which will be nearly never), that boat spent Sunday afternoon ripping around the lake, and at one point I saw what I believe to be the spray from its water cannon. To put this in context, have you ever seen a fire truck just cruising around on a Sunday? Stopping once in a while to shoot some water aimlessly into the sky? Cranking the music while it rolls through a downtown city center where the drivers can gawk at the beautiful women? I've never seen it, until Sunday anyway. The fire boat turns this classy lake into a carnival scene, and I dislike carnivals for the obvious reasons. Linn should really put the adults in charge of this boat, and it should remain out of site until such a rare time arises that it is needed. Until then, I don't want my Sunday view interrupted by the sight of a 40 mile an hour sprint by a cartoonish red metal boat.
Enough about that, let's talk about condominiums. The lakefront condo market on Geneva, to be specific. The market is, unfortunately, not great. How badly I wish it would be, but just as I wished for that pontoon boat to leave my view alone, I am not able to wish things into being. There is, according to the MLS, one lakefront condo pending sale. That unit is my listing at Fontana Shores, and it's a nice unit for $369k. I have other units for sale, including a two bedroom at the Fontana Club for $489k and a four bedroom at Vista Del Lago for $569k. Both of those sellers are ready to sell, both are ready to be bought absolutely right. Yet both still pine for a buyer. At least they have company in their pining
, as not a single unit is under contract at either Bay Colony building, Vista Del Lago, Geneva Towers, Somerset, or Stone Manor. I have the ground floor anchor unit available there, and it's marvelous beyond description, but all that really matters is that I haven't sold it yet.
The lake access market in the $300k-$750k price range has had a very solid year. That price activity should carry over to the condo market, in theory, yet it obviously hasn't. There are quality offerings, reasonably accurate prices, and some highly motivated sellers. This, in conjunction with high stock market indexes and low interest rates should allow for a growth year in the lakefront condo market. That isn't the case, yet. Far from this being a negative post on the condo market, this is actually a positive post for buyers who are even loosely considering a lakefront condo purchase. There are deals to be had, and while the market in general is not brimming with value (entry level lakefront sure is), the lakefront condo market is poised to give up a few deals yet this summer.
Note I said "Yet this summer". Yet implies that it's not obvious that there's still much time left. After all, yesterday was the longest day of the year, and it's all downhill from here. Except that yesterday was also the first day of summer. Not the last, not the middle day, the first day. There is summer splayed out before us, and any motivated buyer could buy now and still spend all of August and September lakeside. I know, I know, why spend the summer here when you could spend it in your backyard? Why go through the trouble and expense of purchasing a place where your family and friends can spend time together in a different setting and in a different way? Well, because that sunset up there was taken last night, by a client of mine, from his pier. That sunset happens every day of the year, and that's reason enough to gather some motivation.
Jun 19, 2015 by DC
Certain things bother me. For example, when my contacts are blurry, even though I've properly rinsed and stored them according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Maybe it has to do with my eyes, not my contacts, but the gentleman at ShopKo whom I presume is indeed an eye doctor of some variety tells me my eyes are fine. Fine or not, if I have anything blurry in my way, I'm bothered.
But blurry vision pales in comparison to other things that bother me. The larger of my dogs had to get a haircut the other day. As is the case with most dogs of this genetic concoction, he had to be shaved all the way. He looks horrible now, part anteater part giraffe, with bits of deer intermixed. When I come home and this dog with this buzz cut greets me, I'd rather he not. I'd rather he spend some time alone, focusing on growing out his hair as quickly as possible so that I, his owner, can find it in my heart to acknowledge him again.
But this isn't really what bothers me, either. What really bothers me is when I'm cooking dinner for friends and I'm in the middle of things, in the weeds as it might be, and all I really need is a dish towel. A rag, as we call them at home. We have one drawer dedicated to these towel rags, and if I'm in the midst of a culinary emergency there is little question that this drawer will be empty. The other day this happened, and when a dish was on its way to burning in the oven, all I needed was a towel to protect my grip. The primary drawer was empty, so I checked the back up drawer, the one you can't count on. That drawer was empty, excepting one glove made out of scratchy metal with the word POTATO written across the palm.
But I'm kidding at this point, because what really bothers me is when someone talks about putting a pool in their suburban backyard. Whether this is spoken as a threat by customers that cannot quite find what they want on these near shores, or if it's spoken in jest, I cannot be sure. What I do know is that the mere mention of a backyard suburban pool makes my eyes blurry, my hands sweaty, and my heart weak. It bothers me.
Even slightly considering bailing on a lake home search and deciding on spending untold sums on a backyard pool is something I cannot abide. This would be similar to a car search. You're looking for a car, but not just any car. You want a murdered out Porsche 911, the turbo sort, and you want it in a particular year, with a particular mileage count, because you're particular. You search and you search. You look online, offline. State lines are blurred in this hunt. You search and you search, sometimes passionately other times with bored curiosity, but your incredibly precise requirements have made the search so far fruitless.
After some time of this search, you decide that you cannot wait any longer. You call the dealer, place the order, and when the deal closes you have bought a very nice, very white Toyota Carolla. This gets you from A to B, you figure, and it's just as good as that blacked out 911 from that particular year that you were lusting after. You wanted that Porsche because you knew how you'd feel when driving it. You knew how it'd look when you park it outside your favorite restaurant. You knew how you'd look when you drove it on a summer Sunday. But you couldn't find it, so you bought a Toyota, because it's also transportation.
Swimming in a pool will make your skin wet, just in the same was as swimming in the lake will make it the same. This is where the comparison between a backyard pool and this brilliantly blue lake ends. Maybe, if our Porsche-craving-friend had simply decided to consider a different year 911, in a different color, with slightly different miles, he'd have that car sitting outside his favorite coffee shop right now, and we all know how that would make him feel.
The suburbs are killing us. I include myself in the slaughter because of the damage that hearing about backyard pools inflicts on my sensitive ears. Ben Rector wrote a song for everyone
, and while you don't have to listen to all of it, just know the line that matters the most: Don't let the suburbs kill my heart and soul.
Perhaps in this context, the cause of death would be chlorine.
Above, the pool at 1606 West Main. If you must own a pool, it should be at Lake Geneva.
Jun 17, 2015 by DC
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Shadow Lane is really just a lane. You take it to cut directly from South Lakeshore Drive to the lake. That's pretty much the only reason you'd ever have to drive on Shadow Lane.Buy chance, if you've visited the South Shore Club over the last decade, you may have driven in and around the club and then exited stage West, which would take you to Shadow Lane. You've driven on this lane and you didn't even realize it. The road is a mix of good and bad, of nice homes and basic homes. Of lakefront and everything else. There is a modern day archeological site towards the end of the road, where rubble lies strewn where a house once burned. This is what you will drive past if you're trying to get to the lake, which is where a house has stood for a very long time.
I sold that house this week, to a lovely family from Chicago who first dipped their toes into this market and this lake a decade ago. The story is about the house, sure. It's about the lane, obviously. It's about a boat pier that houses a huge metal, entirely superfluous water-spraying fire boat. It's also about negotiating strategy, and the realization that most strategies are thrown out the window when another bid comes in from left field. It's about that rubble from that house that once stood proud. It's about a seller and her family and their great lakefront run that spanned many decades. But it's mostly just about this buyer, and about how buyers here have a tendency to sample the market before indulging their true aim: Lakefront.
This house came to market on a Friday, I believe. I had heard about it before then, which is why lakefront buyers should basically, effectively, obviously only work with me. My buyer had a tour on a Thursday, before the MLS knew of this property, and on that Thursday we caught both a glimpse of this old house and of the gross Linn Township metal posted pier that was being installed at that very moment. We toured the house, talked about the pier, and then we made an offer. The house went to the broad market the next day, and by Saturday there was another offer. Once that other bid came in and disrupted my well-designed negotiating strategy, we played defensively and secured the house. There's a very easy test that any buyer in my buyer's position should consider. If the negotiations go awry and another bidder ends up being the owner of the house that you're hoping to own, will you be upset if you walk by that house every weekend for the rest of your days and see another owner grilling out on the deck and diving from the pier? If the answer is yes, you buy the house.
And so we did, which is why we closed on Monday for $1.4MM. The house is a fine house. It's a good house. It's an older house, sure, but it appears to be solid and well looked after. There are many bedrooms, some baths. There is an old basement that had some water in it this week. There is a garage, some level lakefront, and a beautiful pier. The last sentence makes the sentence before completely and utterly irrelevant. If you're a lakefront buyer and you've identified where you wish to live on this great lake, and a home presents itself in that immediate, narrowly defined vicinity, a little water in the basement and some sagging trim on a garage window does not matter. Remember that, please.
But that's the deal, and I'm proud to have represented this buyer in their quest. I'm happy that we were successful. I'm happy that, after a decade on these waters, they found the path to the lakefront. Some houses I sell and then I wonder. I wonder about the owner, if they'll truly be happy there. I wonder if the new owner has what it takes to live lakeside, to fully enjoy what it is that they've captured. I wonder if the house will become part of their family for decades, or generations, or if they'll just fall away like so many of our new toys. This owner leaves me no question. They'll anchor this fifty feet of level south shore frontage for as long as I'll be paying attention, and in that, the market can rejoice. There's a great chance this home will become a generational retreat, and that brings me more pleasure than any quick spin ever could.
Because that's the goal here, after all. It's nice to churn through properties, to see buyers upgrade and downgrade, to see them create liquidity with their whims. I love helping owners sell and buy, buy and sell. It's a strong data point to consider if you're a nascent buyer. These owners buy and rarely leave. They may change addresses, they may move from an association to the lakefront, or from the lakefront back to an association, but they rarely leave. That's because once you let the lake get its talons into you, shaking free is not easy to do without inflicting upon yourself an unnecessary level of pain. These new lakefront owners long ago acquired the taste for this lake, for spending their weekends this way, and now they get to live as everyone with any house near this lake wishes to: front and center, on the water. It's another dream fulfilled.
Jun 15, 2015 by DC
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The rapids twist away from the road, but only briefly, before twisting back, cutting against the bank and throwing riffles and bubbles down the rocky slope. The run spills into a pool, a large glassy pool that looks, at least to this trained eye, as though it easily holds an abundance of trout. There are feeder streams, those that flow from different hillsides, bubbling and babbling their way down to the main branch. They bring nutrients and oxygen and cold, clean fresh water that the trout need. There are many runs and riffles and pools like this near my home, and they follow the road all the way from that home to this office, it's just that they're only rainwater, and there are no trout. It's raining here, again.
Yesterday, while I was diligently mowing my front lawn, a patch of blue sky appeared in between the varying colors of clouds. The blue sky was over my house, as if it were a sign of something, and while I watched that blue patch come and then go, I thought it to be a beautiful section of sky. Bright and blue, cheery and fresh. It wasn't like the clouds at all, with their dark and darker still mood, their ability to generate rain without even a moments notice. I thought of that blue patch and thought of a land where that blue patch wouldn't be just a patch at all, but the entire tapestry filling the sky. I thought about how great it would be to go through my day without a single concern as to what the weather might be like. I thought about the freedom it would give me both in thought and in action, if I didn't need to wait for a patch of blue to indulge me. I thought about how my son would be home soon to mow the back yard, and how he would complain and plead with me. He's too tired from swimming all day, he'd say. I kept mowing, the clouds kept their interval of dark and bright, of sunny and cloudy, of pleasure and pain.
The front lawn done, my son not yet released from his arduous schedule of pier swimming, I didn't want to mow the back lawn. It's much bigger, this back part, and it's daunting. No one knows this better than my son, because it is always his part of the chore. When I tell him to mow it, I act like it's no big deal. Like it won't take any time at all with that walk behind Gravely PRO-500 lawn mower, the same one I mowed lawns with when I was in high school. Like it's a breeze. But I know the truth; it's a miserably large lawn. I decided, instead, to take my bike out. This is the bike I bought, but not the first bike I bought this year. I took that first bike back, because of incessant ridicule from a friend who decided that my bike wasn't up to the standard, that it didn't have nearly enough carbon fiber. The new bike hasn't any of that either, but it was more expensive, so presumably it is better. I latched on my helmet, strapped on my gloves that I bought because I felt like I should, and pedaled. It was sunny, ish.
I dislike riding bikes. I reminded myself of that yesterday while pressing against a seat that could only be made more uncomfortable if it were made of broken glass and drywall screws. After the ride, an invite. Tennis was to be played, and it was to be played now. I didn't waiver in my immediate commitment, but I decided that I shouldn't have gone for the bike ride first, nor should I have mowed the lawn, even if it was only the front. My son wasn't home yet, the sun was still sort of shining, the tennis court and my friend beckoning. I played tennis for the next two hours. The sky was bright, the court hot, the humidity making it difficult to hold on to my grip. It wasn't raining.
In fact, it wasn't even sorting of raining. It was clearing, and when I wondered how that could be possible after the deluge of earlier, and the dark sparked cloudiness of the afternoon, I remembered that it was, after all, Sunday evening. Sunday has a way about it, that sort of way. If there is a day you can to see the spectrum of Midwestern weather, that day is Sunday. In the morning yesterday, it wasn't raining but everything was wet. After that, a downpour that lasted 15 minutes or more. After that, most people had decided that Sunday was a wash out, and that it would be prudent to get an early start on the work week by making the Sunday drive home an earlier one. Then I mowed my lawn and the hope began, and by the time the tennis was over the skies were clear, the lake having long ago fallen soft and quiet. The darkness and gray of earlier replaced with the soft pastels of a summer evening, the fulfillment of a blue sky made that much better by the gray that preceded it.
Forecasts can do lots of things. They can make farmers plant on a Tuesday because it's going to rain on Wednesday. They can make you informed, educated, aware. But mostly they make you timid, unwilling to embrace the fact that the forecast just might be wrong. They can make you miss mowing your lawn in the afternoon. They can keep you from a horrible bike ride. And they can keep you from playing tennis late into the afternoon. They can keep you from a Sunday evening that was as nice as any Sunday evening has ever aspired to be. This summer, let's forget the forecast. Let's just be. My son was home by the time I returned from tennis, and he was tired from his difficult day spent swimming. He said he'd mow the lawn on Monday, just as soon as it stops raining.
Jun 12, 2015 by DC
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The good news for whomever might be buying the lakefront house next to my parents' house is that Christmas lingers there. Long after the presents have been opened and discarded, long after the wrapping paper has been burned in the fireplace, long after the last of the orange rolls have been left in the porch to freeze in their tupperware container, the Christmas lights remain. The soft Christmasy glow from the garage icicle lights endures. This is a benefit of living next to my parents, assuming you love all-year Christmas decor.
With that, it should be obvious that there is a contract on the modest lakefront that rests at the end of Upper Loch Vista Drive. Listed at $2.425MM just a few weeks ago, it was a nearby owner who decided to upgrade to private frontage, so the market will absorb a sale and sellers will point to what appears to be a very strong sales price for limited frontage. I'd argue that nearby owner upgrade sales shouldn't really count the same as an outside buyer arriving at the scene and purchasing it, but what do I know? The house will be sold, the Christmas lights will dimly light their summer windows, and all will be well.
A lakefront on the south side of the lake closed this week. That lakefront was owned by the broker of a large local real estate company, and that brings up an interesting concept. Does it matter to you where the broker of your chosen brokerage lives? Does it matter where they vacation? Does it matter where they place their treasure? It should, because it's difficult to serve two masters. That's why it's nice that my father lives on Geneva Lake, and that the owner of the other large real estate company here also lives on the lake. I wonder where the owners of a new brokerage spend their vacation time? Just kidding, I know. It's Michigan. Michigan is not in Wisconsin.
Anyway, that property sold last week for $3.25MM. It was a very nice home, even if the exterior color scheme was subject to debate by anyone who had an opinion on house color, which is everyone I've ever met. The home was high end, and so the sale shouldn't be a surprise. There was a shared pier here, which doesn't matter to me in the same way that the shared pier of the Rainbow Point sale bothered me. That's because this setting was designed to have a shared pier, so the current shared status was intended. It was not a piecemeal arrangement, it just was. The sale is nice for the market and proves that Fontana + Shiny = Sold.
There are 138
active lakefront and lake access homes on the market. No fewer than 10 of those are pending sale according to the MLS. There are pending properties galore priced under $310k, but nary a few scattered in the segments over that low price point. There are two homes in the seven hundreds pending, and one fanciful ranch on Academy Lane pending at an eye popping ask of nearly $1.5MM. My buyer is still awaiting close on the $1.55MM Shadow Lane lakefront, the one next to the Linn Township fire boat.
Of that fire boat. It's disgusting, and it has no place in a residential neighborhood. Linn Township should be ashamed of itself for giving its residents such an insulting visual. I like the idea of a fireboat, because I was once a young boy who liked to play with firetrucks and remote control boats. I am not a grown man, sort of, so I understand that a fireboat with a giant water cannon is a good thing, in total theory. I also think that such a fireboat should be kept somewhere in an institutional setting, not in a residential neighborhood that has never before been forced to see such a grossly unnecessary municipal toy. If my lakefront house were burning and the comical metal fireboat showed up, I may wave it off, preferring instead to see a pleasant unmarred view while my house burns. Linn Township, put that boat by your boat launch, not at the end of Shadow Lane.
It would be nice if they listened, but likely they won't. It'll take some court action to decide that the pier was not permitted, that the riparian setbacks have not been met, should that be the case. Either way, get ready for a nice dose of tax payer funded blight on your next boat ride around the south shore. Thanks, Linn Township, for elevating my blood pressure.
The market looks fine to me right now. It might be a bit soft in segments, particularly in the $3MM+ range. There are buyers, but they seem to be content to wait, to while away their weekends in cities or suburbs, to grow old before they enjoy their weekends. This is their prerogative, and we cannot change that. As for me, if I were able, I'd trade one weekend living lakefront for a hundred in the suburbs. And yes, I know you have a trampoline and a fire pit and still I stand by my statement.
Jun 10, 2015 by DC
Lake Geneva has some grocery stores. We do. We have plenty of them, actually. It's just that they're not really all that great, even though you can accomplish all of your needed shopping at any one of them. While I think it's convenient to do your shopping at one store, the true epicurean experience here lies in sourcing individual ingredients from those shops that specialize in those particular items. As a point of fact, you would do well to source your cheese from the Brick Street Market in Delavan. You would do better to source your meat from Lake Geneva Country Meats. Along those lines, you would show extreme shopping sophistication if you went to the Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy to buy your Yuppie Hill chickens. What were you going to do, just buy your chickens from the grocery store? So pedestrian.
With that theme in mind, we must apply it similarly to our restaurant scene. We have lots of restaurants, as do all resort towns. We have more than we need, really, but we have varying levels of quality. Unlike normal restaurant ranking systems, we do not have restaurants, excepting Medusa in Lake Geneva, that do most things well. Instead we have a stable of restaurants that excel at one thing or another, but rarely at all things at once. This is why if we want the best chicken we must travel to East Troy, to Delavan for cheese, to Lake Geneva for meat. This is why dining success is not found in subscribing to one particular restaurant, but rather in finding the best of some dish and traveling to where it is found. I am here to spare you the trial and error.
BEST BREAKFAST DISH
Remember, that did not say BEST BREAKFAST PLACE. Even though this dish may be at the best breakfast place, this is best dish, and that best breakfast dish is unequivocally the Turkey Brussel Sprout Hash at Simple in Lake Geneva. It consists of what the name implies, plus pine nuts, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, butternut squash, and some potatoes, too. Top that with an over easy egg, and what you have there is the best breakfast dish in the county. Perhaps the world. Go eat it.
This is using sandwich loosely. However, yesterday I ate a panini at a local restaurant that was actually in no way a panini, so loose interpretations are allowed. I have no doubt there are good burgers in the area, but despite my All-American life, I am not a huge burger fan. That's why I go to Gordy's and order the Yacht Club Chicken Wrap when I want a sandwich, and I get it with fries because I don't want to appear emotionally soft, only physically so. The wrap is solid, with nothing attempting to be special, which is why it's good. If you want to steal one of my moves, when you order it, pronounce yacht phonetically. The waitresses either like that or find it thoroughly annoying, I can't yet tell.
BEST ELK MEAT ON AN ENGLISH MUFFIN
Pier 290 has a complicated menu. Unfortunately, it's unnecessarily so. Also unfortunately, there will be no change in this unnecessary menu because change is not necessary. They built it, and we will come. We can't help ourselves. I ate their yesterday, that whole non-panini thing, and I felt then as I always do. My tastebuds were ambivalent, but the scene is so terrific everything seems fine. So go less for the food and more for the atmosphere which is absolutely and positively second to none.
BEST FISH FRY
I have had tremendous fish fries at many local restaurants. I had a great fish fry once at most of the local establishments, but this is not about where I had a good meal once, this is about consistency, which is why if you're looking to eat fish, you should take the scenic drive to Rushing Waters and the Trout House, just north of Elkhorn at the southern end of the Kettle Moraine. I have for years traveled this short distance to procure smoked salmon and trout, more of the prior and far less of the latter. But the restaurant is new as of 2014, and it's a delight. Go on Friday night, eat the fish fry, thank me later.
I write this with great hesitation. I do not in actuality know where the best pizza is served. I know there are lots of pizza places, and if I had to default I'd just tell you to go to Gino's East in Lake Geneva. However, why travel from Chicago to dine as if you're still in Chicago? This would be like using a Chicago real estate broker when you're in Lake Geneva, which we all know to be a ludicrous proposition. There's a new pizza place in the old Scuttlebuts location, and that pizza place has a great pizza oven. But so do I (see above), which is why the best pizza in the county is likely in my back yard, however, I am not yet properly permitted to allow diners, and my liquor license has been held up because I apparently lack proper county certifications. The new pizza place is quite good, but the center of a pizza should not be a soggy mess, so we'll give some time for that to be sorted.
This is why you should eat your pizza at either Pino's in Walworth or the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva. Both forms of pizza are not pure, as they are loaded with too much cheese and too much everything else. However, they are both tasty, both local, both able to satisfy.
Coffee is not food, but it is the one thing most can agree on. Except for the tea drinkers. As for me, I do not find flower petals soaks in water to be appetizing, so I'll stick to coffee. And I do like cream with my coffee, half and half is fine unless you have heavy whipping cream available, then I'll have that. There are lots of coffee shops, which is easy to assume until you travel to somewhere like Door County and wish for quality coffee. I think the best coffee is somewhere that serves Collectivo, which is the ridiculous name that the folks who bought Alterra assigned to it. Simple serves this coffee, as does their bakery.
This is the Simple Bakery, without any question about anything. The danish is delightful as well, though the heading was very narrow- best croissant. The fact of the matter is that everything baked is terrific at this bakery, and we are spoiled for having it in our midst. I have to avoid the bakery due to what my doctors have called a little bit of a weight problem, but if I were skinny I'd eat there until I wasn't. Get the danish, or the croissant, and you'll be pleased, and soonly obese.
This is a bit of a trick category. We have only one bagel shop, and if this were winter I wouldn't tell you to go there, because if I did, it might not actually be open. My good friend Jeff owns Boatyard Bagel, and in the summer it is a terrific place to frequent. The ingredients are high quality, local when possible, and the culmination of his efforts is presented simply; a strong cup of Intelligentsia Coffee paired with a cinnamon and sugar bagel ladened with strawberry cream cheese is a sensory treat.
BEST FRENCH FRIES
A few years ago, Gordyís tinkered with their french fry. It was a disastrous tinker, one that they quickly fixed by reverting to the old fry. Thatís good for them, and for me, but the best french fry in the area is not even a french fry, itís a waffle fry, which, according to the Herbie Beard Foundation falls under the broad category. Harpoon Willies is not well known for fine dining, even though their pizza is rather good and their fish sandwiches are standouts. However, the waffle fries at Harpoons are the best fries in the county, bar none. Go there and eat them.
BEST PRETTY MUCH EVERTHING
Medusa on Broad Street in Lake Geneva. If you were a kid in the 1980s and you liked to smoke and listen to the Violent Femmes, you'll remember this as Hanny's. Chef Greg makes things taste good, so go there if you're looking for a high quality dining experience that can hold its own against any of the trendy Chicago restaurants.
There are others to list, but you'll be well fed and happy all summer if you follow my lead.
Jun 08, 2015 by DC
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The vacation is an odd creature. When I packed my bags last Tuesday night, I initially packed neatly and diligently, orderly and smartly. This was the first bag. The bag that came after the first neat one was less so, but still orderly. Then the fly rods were hung from the straps that adorn the interior ceiling of the fishing truck, which is really just a silver Lexus SUV that I call a truck in a futile attempt to bestow more masculine qualities upon it. The bags that followed the first and the second, the ones that came after the fly rods were set in their traveling spaces, those bags were less packed and more thrown together, with different bits of content no longer organized by size, shape, or theme. They were just bags, filled with cell phone chargers, boxer shorts, fly boxes, graham crackers and marshmallows. The chocolate would be purchased later. This is how my trip began, and like any vacation, the preparations had actually begun far prior to that Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning, we left at about the right time, but only after the dogs were sufficiently walked, the instructions for the dog-sitter thoroughly and annoyingly detailed. The house was cleaned, I yelled about it not being clean enough, the back of the truck filled to overflowing. The feminine SUV pointed West, but a bit North, the cruise control set at a rate of speed that would only later prove to be too elevated, at least according to the kind Swedish officer in Richland County that let me off with only a warning. I explained to him that I might have been speeding, but that if he were in my shoes, in that car with the bags and the graham crackers and the toxic mix of children then he, too, would be speeding in a futile attempt to outrun those problems in the backseat. He bought this, and I was thankful. The trip was not deterred, even if it was delayed while plates were run and I quietly pondered if the officer would come back to the car and arrest me in front of my children for outstanding warrants that would only be recognized as being against a different David Curry far after the damage that would be me cuffed and hauled away to the station in front of my wide-eyed children was done.
What followed was a few days of relaxation, I suppose. We were there in the small cabin that we have come to rent a few times a year, indulging in farmer's markets and clear trout streams. We were happy to eat breakfast in a place where no one knew our names, to wander streets where our faces were not familiar. I had brought along a handful of cash that I had carefully planned where each bit would be spent. After one day, that plan lay in tatters in the center console, coin change and single dollar bills littering the area where a stack of diligently assigned twenties had resided. I watched the weather with conflicted interests, wishing for sunshine for my view, but clouds for my fishing desires. I wished for this weather, and I wished for my kids to behave, and I wished for my wife to stop wishing that her dogs would be with us.
Mostly though, I fished. I took my son with on that first outing, and as is my selfish habit I took him with me to a stream that I like for its technical difficulty, for its wary wild trout and its heavily wooded setting. This is not ideal for any novice fly fisher, let alone an 11 year old novice. The tangles were many, the long casts required were made mostly by me, and though I tried my best to set him up for success, I failed. We fished the afternoon away, crawling over logs and through the stinging sort of nettle. We caught many fish, he practicing what he long ago learned; to handle fish carefully and with respect, to release them back to the stream that they call home. When I hooked one fish that ate the fly too aggressively and it was apparent that the fish might not survive, we released him anyway and said a prayer on his behalf. Later, we ate chicken wings that were really just globs of chicken covered in aggressive batter. After that, we slept in our small beds in the same room, the screen door and windows open to the night sounds.
By Friday afternoon, it felt as though we had been gone for a very long while. I had showings scheduled for Sunday, an open house, too, and so by Friday late my mind had turned to those activities. I tried my best to mix a desire to relax with the necessity of work, and feel this morning as though I failed at both. Saturday night, with one night remaining on our scheduled vacation, we drove home. By Saturday midday, it was apparent that in order to make a success of Sunday I would need to wake up in my own house, in my own bed. I would need to shower in my own shower, the one where I can turn to grab the soap without knocking my nose on the shower head. We drove back East and a bit South, back home.
In that cabin on one of those short days of vacation, I hung up three different jackets on three different metal hooks. The hooks were on the wall under the open staircase, and I had brought so many jackets with because I feared rain, and without a dryer available, I would need a dry jacket to wear while the wet one air-dried. As this was only a vacation, an engineered attempt to be part of a different scene, these were not my hooks. They belonged to someone else, and I had merely rented access to those hooks for a few days. As I looked at those hooks, I decided that vacations cannot pretend to compete with pure vacation home ownership. I wanted to own those hooks, just as I want you to own the Lake Geneva hooks that you long for. I had an email yesterday from a client that I hope to someday sell a house to. He asked about a rental for a week in July. He likely didn't understand when I responded by saying that he needs to buy his own set of hooks, so his jacket can hang there as long as he wishes.