Geneva Lakefront Realty
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  • I'm David Curry, and I sell real estate for Geneva Lakefront Realty in Williams Bay. I write this commentary to help educate and entertain the Lake Geneva home buyer and seller, and unlike the authors of most other real estate blogs, I actually sort of know how to write. And I promise not to RANDOMLY capitalize Words. I write to extol the virtues of the Lake Geneva vacation home, and I have a personal, deep rooted desire to share my experiences and insight with you and ultimately dominate the activity in the Lake Geneva vacation home market. With more than $16MM in 2014 YTD sales and over $87MM in sales since the start of 2010, that goal is easily within reach.

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

  • A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.

    ~William Wordsworth

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Vacation Home Search


Fall Market Preview

Aug 22, 2014 by DC |
For the first time all year, my iPhone weatherman shows a forecast with lots of 80 degree temps and even some 90 degree temps. Remember those summer nights from previous summers, like from all of the previous summers that came before this one? Those were the nights where we'd walk outside after dark, after spending some time in our conditioned homes, and the late night heat would be as potent as the midday heat? Remember then, after those sultry nights, when we'd wake in the morning, early like, and the heat would still be there, waiting for us, suffocating us? Dew Point was the enemy then, but this summer, have we ever gone to bed hot and woken up hot? I know I haven't. But that's what it's going to be like in the coming Ice Age.


Though the iPhone says it'll be hot, this morning still smacks of early fall. Everything is green, yes, but flowers are showing their age and grass is starting to pale. There's a fall on the horizon, and if you wish to understand Lake Geneva at all times, then you must understand it in the fall. There's a distinct timeline of market events in the fall. The fall is for orchards and shopping for school clothes, sure, but it's also for real estate at Lake Geneva. A friend of mine at Chicago Title told me just this week that new orders have slowed some, but that existing orders are still high as buyers race to close in time to enjoy a bit of summer and the entirety of fall. Contracts are slowing, which should mean we're concerned, right?

Obviously not. Do I look concerned? I'm not, because the rhythm of a Lake Geneva fall involves a brief slow down right about now. The reason for this temporary pause has everything to do with kids. While kids are not a requirement of enjoying Lake Geneva, they do tend to be part of this equation for many people. While kids prepare for a return to school, parents are busily rushing from this and to that, buying new shoes and soccer cleats, scheduling doctor's appointments and dentist visits. There is much to do right now, and Lake Geneva will be on hold for many families who are currently distracted by the real world.

What happens next is as obvious as what is happening now. Kids return to school. Young kids to the elementary, older kids to the high school, and older kids who are sort-of adults, to college. Once the household has returned to a school schedule, that's when Lake Geneva resurfaces. For families who saw the summer come and go with nary a nod towards Wisconsin and the lake, they will feel as though they've missed out. Why would they feel this way, when they have city or suburban luxury to pad their September existence? Um, because the city and the suburbs are lame on the weekends? That's exactly right, so these families will know that they've missed out, and they'll consider sourcing a remedy to all that tedium.

They'll come to Lake Geneva, during weekdays when kids are in school, or they'll swing up on weekends, when they get a taste of what they've just missed. This is why the fall market for buyers is always active; because people realize that they've just missed yet another summer. The fall market will be solid this year, as it usually is, as buyers will chase down their summer dreams amid browned leaves. Buyers will be active through Thanksgiving, with most buyers making their moves between Labor Day and the end of October. The truly motivated buyers will never leave the market, and they will watch for new inventory or new price reductions, and they're as apt to buy in July as they are in December. But the masses, they'll be buying over the next 75 days.

For sellers, this should be good news. Sellers are always concerned about "missing the market". They think, in somewhat antiquated theory, that the market has ceased sometime around Labor Day. They are wrong when they think that, so sellers be aware that you have plenty of time left in 2014 to sell your property. Many sellers are reducing their prices now, and other sellers will be coming to market after spending one last summer at the lake. This phenomenon is rather common, as sellers who are a bit undecided in the spring will many times put off the decision to sell until they can have one last go around. Of course, building inventory that way can backfire, as sellers who consider selling in the spring can also end up keeping their home after they realize just how great a Lake Geneva summer is. Nothing makes you love it more than the thought of leaving it.

Above, 88 North Lakeshore Drive. 230+ front feet of lakefront, 5+ acres of wooded privacy, $5.9MM.

Summer Scape

Aug 20, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I have never been to Florida in the summer. The reason for this abstention is because I have all of my faculties about me, and I have increasingly little interest in going there in the winter time, let alone in the summer time. This is because there's no place I'd rather be than Lake Geneva in the summer, which is a statement that I've said throughout my life, and I mean it more today than I ever have. If I were to break the chains of sanity and travel to Florida in August, I imagine the things I'd see. I'm guessing there would be palm trees with those long, sharp leaves. I'm thinking there would be some impatiens and rhododendrons. Perhaps some dense green shrubs, with fat, thick leaves. I assume Florida in August looks just like Florida in January, and I find no fun in that.

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Today, the landscape at my house is pretty decent. It's all relative, landscaping, and my decent would be someone else's crappy, just as it would be someone else's incredible. There are varying ways of judging a landscape, and I'm trying to make mine a tolerable mix of wild and kept, of neat and natural, of rugged and refined. Out front, there is a vast jungle of weeds and grass, some so high they could reach a basketball rim without even trying. There is mostly grass though, the remnants of the farmer's field that was where my house is now. The grass is nice, and earlier this season it was green. Now it's still green down near the base, but the tops are waving seeds of gold and tan, bent from their own weight and bent in whatever direction the winds wishes them to bend. It's nice.

Inside of that wild boundary, the one so wild that my wife asks me to move the sprinkler if it's too near that edge because of the "wild animal sounds" that emanate from the grassy darkness, there is lawn. It's pretty nice, this lawn, and considering I sowed it all Johnny Appleseed style, without the handsome satchel, it's pretty nice. There was no thoughtful preparation of the soil before I scattered those seeds. Instead, a bulldozer pushed the dirt sort of smooth on a Monday and on a Tuesday I threw grass seed on top of it. A year and a bit later, it's nice.

Against the house there are plants that I bought from the nursery on Dam Road two November's ago. I didn't buy what I thought would look nice, I just bought what last remnant bits she had to sell at a steep discount before winter began. I planted most of those shrubs and flowers late into the fall, or early into that winter, whichever way you prefer to see it. Nearly two years later, they are growing and flowering and bushing and vining. The Hydrangeas are sending out beautiful cone shaped heads, with ivory petals that turn to pink on the edges. The shrubs are pushing out berries, blue and red, so that the birds might eat from them this winter when there's very little else on hand. The roses are bursting with blossoms, red and pink, but mostly red.

The cone flowers are tall now, big, showy heads of seeds and petals that the bees enjoy more than anything else I have here. The black eyed susans are my favorite, and those small one gallon plants are now many, many more gallons large. They are blooming profusely, and I love them for it. There are some other things here, too. Small deciduous shrubs that spread and bloom with pale purple blossoms, dotted with yellow in the centers. I don't know what they are called, because when a shrub is only $5, you buy it and then figure all the rest out later. They mapley looking shrub that was very tall last year, is less tall now, but that's because it didn't so much enjoy the past winter, and I had to coerce it back to life. It's fine now, the leaves turning from purple to, well, to purple.

There are grasses in this house-side garden as well. These are like the large ones that are out in the field, but they're more civilized, and mostly contained to the clump they came in when I bought them last fall from the Shopko parking lot. They were $3, so the gamble was hardly high stakes. They look nice now, and they blend with everything else, with the blossoms and the leaves, with the petals and the stalks. Everything works right now. In August, in the Midwest, there is very little that isn't pretty.

Even our weeds are pretty, which is why I brought home a hastily gathered milkweed arrangement for my wife the other day. I was fishing and kept finding my line tangled in these tall, purple flowers that hung from the stream side like intentional nuisances. I tore my line from them repeatedly, cursing them for being in my way. After some time of the cursing, I realized that these were, in actuality, beautiful flowers. So I clipped them, and I searched online to buy some seeds that I might scatter across the weedy/grassy portion of my very front lawn. I was cutting the milkweed arrangement when I noticed the wild daisy's growing in huge, towering clumps. These were wild as well, and who in their right mind can walk through six foot tall flowers without cutting a few down and bringing them home to a water filled vase?

The goldenrod is out now, as well. My wife is keen on telling me that it was always out, it just wasn't blooming. Whatever the case, the goldenrod is in bloom. Yes, it's an allergy bomb, but the suffering is beautiful. Huge fields of this brilliant weed are found anywhere you look now, as long as you're looking to the countryside and not to the cityscape.

The lakeside lawns today are filled with hydrangeas and showy perennial flowers of all makes and models. The grasses are tall, the shrubs vibrant and green, the lake as dazzling in whatever shade of blue you wish to see it in. As I age, I do not find myself drawn to further adventures down some far away road. I do not wonder what the alps look like in the summer, nor question the landscape of Oregon in the fall. I simply spend more time pausing now, looking at the ever changing landscape of this Midwestern county, and I can say without any equivocation, there is no prettier landscape in this world than that of Wisconsin in the summertime.

Geneva National Market Update

Aug 18, 2014 by DC | Add comment

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I struggle a bit with understanding how the news pundits explain housing. If, for instance, sales are up, then housing is doing well. Yay! If sales are down, housing is doing poorly. New home starts up? Yay! New home starts down? Batten the hatches. It's a simplistic thing to view real estate through a national lens, so I suppose we shouldn't fault these know-nothings for their knee-jerk reactions to the positive or the negative, but I still do.

If housing starts are down, as they are right now compared to the prior month, or quarter, or maybe from last year, who cares? Sure that's not great for home builders, but remember, what's best for the market isn't always what's best for home builders. Diminishing inventory is good for markets, if you're an owner already, even though it might be bad for buyers. Diminishing inventory, even in a climate of slightly lowered home starts is also a good thing for builders, because if there are fewer homes to consider, well, then, it might make sense for the builders to build a few more of them. News is always good and bad, and until we get reports that sales prices are down, sales volume is down, home starts are down, and interest rates are up, I'm going to proceed with my normal caution while still saying that housing is doing just fine.

Geneva National knows the gyrations of housing trends better than any association up here. While other large associations, like Abbey Springs, operate on a much lower volume expectation than does Geneva National, it's also proven to be far more immune to the tumult that has roiled GN over recent years. I could have said decades and the statement would have still been true. Geneva National typically has a bit of a difficult set of circumstances to overcome: High existing inventory and continually built and added new inventory, both forced to co-exist inside what is a broad market that thrives on relatively low volume. The combination for GN can be somewhat toxic, which is why slight downturns in the market result in very difficult times for GN. As I once heard about Michigan's Upper Peninsula, "If the US economy is thriving, the UP is in a recession, but if the US economy is in a recession, the UP is in a depression". I suppose the same could be set about Geneva National.

It isn't that I don't love Geneva National, because I do. But I love Geneva National like I love my children. I love them, and all, but I'm still keen to point out when they do something bad. Geneva National is, unfortunately, lagging far behind our broad vacation home market this year. Last spring, sales were up and the sky looked to be the limit. This year, things are different, and while the 2013 YTD sales tallied 41, the 2014 sales YTD number just 26. Inventory is down only slightly, so the reduction in volume isn't due to a pure lack of available homes and condominiums. The reduction in volume isn't due to increased pricing, either, as prices there seem to be stable to falling, even now at this late date in 2014.

Today, there are 48 Geneva National homes and condominiums listed under $300k. Only one of those is shown as pending in the MLS. Consider that the lake access market around Geneva has 21 properties available priced under $300k, and three of those are pending sale per the MLS. The broad market at GN, that inventory from the very bottom to the very top, shows 107 available properties, with just four of those pending sale. Contrasted to the Geneva lake access and lakefront market, where 147 total properties are available and 13 of those are pending sale. GN is lagging, which is rather sad given the vast amount of amenities and beauty that are present inside those gated boundaries.

What does this mean for the buyers out there who might be considering GN? It means that if the Lake Geneva market is expected to see many price reductions and yield many terrific deals, imagine what the situation will be at GN. There will be reductions and there will be deals. As always, I'm a buyer in GN if I avoid the newer enclaves that have potential for too much added inventory. While it might be sexier to consider a new condo on a street that will someday be filled with new condos, I'd rather buy an existing unit inside one of the aged enclaves where I can see a steady stream of sales and clearly understand the historical price undulations. There are deals to be had, but only for the intelligent.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Aug 15, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I suppose it could be said that spring buyers are those with immediacy on their minds. If you search for a home in March, at the tail end of a deep and dark Midwestern winter, it's somewhat obvious that you're searching for a summery reprieve. If you look then, buy a bit later, and close before that Memorial Day weekend, then you're a buyer who looked and bought in time for a full season of instant, ready-made summer. You get to close on a Friday and boat on a Saturday. You close on a Tuesday and swim from your pier on a Wednesday. You close on Thursday and are first in line for fish fry on Friday. This is what happens when you close right before summer, and this is rather wonderful.

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But today, it is no longer just about to be summer. It might be the dog days of summer now, but these are old dogs, and this is late summer. Drive around and look at the signs. While the cicadas have finally chimed in with their endless tune, and that's typically and always a sign of summer vitality, the greens on the trees tell a different story. Things are green, yes, but these things are less green now than they were just two weeks ago. The cone flowers are in bloom alongside the Black Eyed Susan's and the hydrangeas. These are not flowers that enjoy early anything, instead preferring to only blossom after the summer has worn on, and the fall is approaching. It's 43 degrees as I write, and 43 degrees has as little to do with summer as the gloves I wore yesterday morning while fishing a small spring creek.

This summer is getting late, and people who pay little attention to our real estate markets might think that means things are on the wane. Spring is for buyers, they say. Late summer is for revelers, and fall is for leaf kickers. That's what they say, I think. But I say each season has its own flow, its own rhythm, and while this season has a rhythm set by an unruly bunch of tree-dwelling insects, it's still a rather upbeat tune. The market is active, and unlike previous posts in previous years, the market is somewhat uniformly active. There are buyers about, on the lakefront and in the associations, looking for slips and hoping for buoys, searching for a view or just a short enough walk to a white, wooden pier. There are buyers, and they are paying the dulling green of the leaves very little attention.

Because to be a looker in the late summer is to be a buyer in the fall, and buyers in the fall have time on their side. If you buy on May 20th, you need to get yourself in gear, pronto. There's a boat to buy and a lawn to have cut, there's this and that, but mostly a lot of each. It's a harried time, the spring. The fall? It's slower, it's easier, it's less frantic. To buy in the fall is to sign onto an easy transition where there is no rush, no immediate concern, but instead, a gentle switch from primary home existence to lake home life. These late summer contract-seekers will be fall buyers, and to be a fall buyer is to ensure there's plenty of time to be ready for next summer.

Around the lake today there are contracts. That spec house in the South Shore Club is under contract, as I mentioned on Wednesday that I thought it might be. That's a big sale for the club, as any spec home situation inside of a small segment of the market has the potential to do damage. Why? Well, because spec home owners are owners only because they want to sell, and those who want to sell quickly are more tempted to adjust their price downward than are traditional sellers. Taking a spec home off the table is wonderful for an association, and this case is no exception.

There is a new contract pending with a buyer whom I'm pleased to represent over in Lake Geneva, that of a home listed at $1.6MM or so. It's a nice home, under contract to a wonderful family, and I couldn't be happier for the lifestyle adjustment they're about to undertake. Three homes in the Birches remain under contract, adding to the mass exodus of sellers within that association over the past three years. If you ask me, I'd say it's strange that so many homes in such a confined space have changed hands over such a short time frame. I'd be apt to subscribe to a conspiracy as to why they all might want to sell, but I know it's just a cyclical thing and sellers sell mostly when it's time to sell. And if you live on the lakefront in the Birches, it's apparently time.

The lakefront in the South Shore Club ($3.799MM) is pending sale, as I mentioned the other day. There's activity galore on the lakefront right now, which doesn't mean that a buyer has to make a poor decision. It's true that if just 20% of lakefront buyers hold some sort of high octane motivation it'll spoil the market for the remaining 80%, but that doesn't mean there can't still be deals printed this fall. I continue to look at the aged inventory for value, and love to snipe new listings in the event that they come to market at a reasonable market price. The temptation for new sellers to list at absurdly high prices will be rather potent this fall, so we'll just sort of watch those sellers bring their bravado to market and then we'll quietly hope that one of the 20% doesn't buy it. Watch for a new listing in Lake Geneva in the coming days, likely hitting the market at a price that's wildly above market.

Sellers, please stop listing your properties with the highest bidder. Buyers, please work with me so we can avoid those sellers.

South Shore Club Market Update

Aug 13, 2014 by DC |
The pool was rather perfect looking. Perhaps one or two groupings of a few individuals hung to its watery edges, but no one was swimming. The life guard was on the chair for a while, then she went around and rearranged one or two chairs. The monotony of the post dictated that she do this. There were a few people milling about near the lake, but a few of those few worked for the Club, so they were milling less and working more. Two women walked, between the lake and the pool, across the lawn at first, and then up the path. It was sunny and warm. The boats were there, most of them anyway. Perhaps two were gone. Were the people out to lunch on those boats? Were they driving them around the lake, showing friends this and that? Or were they just parked somewhere out of the way, drifting and thinking under that brightening midday sun. It was Saturday, August 9th, at around Noon. I was in the South Shore Club.

There was some fear last year that the SSC would not be as it was in prior years. I had placed many new owners in the Club over the past 12 months, and there was some concern that the sleepy nature of this lakeside enclave was soon to change. There was fear that the new crowd would be louder, more active. The old guard feared what changes would come with the new guard. In was apparent to me on that Saturday, as it has been on nearly every Saturday during 2014: The only thing that's changed at the South Shore Club is the market, and the lake sets perspective of it. The pool is still mostly unused, the boats still mostly undriven. The swim pier mostly un-swum. If you're a buyer, that's a very, very good thing.

So what's happened in the SSC over the past year? Well, lots of stuff. Last year, I sold lot 3 and then lot 18 and then lot 27. Then this year I sold lot 20 and lot 19 and then lot 31. I sold the home for $1.725MM on East Lakeside, and then someone else sold the home for $3.1MM on Lakeside. The home a few doors from the $3.1MM house is under contract shy of $3.8MM, and the rumor mill has it that a deal is about to happen on the spec home that was built on lot 3 ($1.749MM). Additionally, there's a home for sale for $1.75MM on Forest Hill that'll be sold soon. Lot 27 hit the market for $700k as a re-sale last week and has a buyer on it already. Remember the South Shore Club? Yeah, the new one is nothing like the old one. Except for the nobody home at the pool thing and the beautiful boats sitting unused bit.

I'd like to take some credit for the South Shore Club resurgence, and perhaps there is a tiny bit due. While the Club waffled around without buyers for a few years, it was obvious to me that there wasn't any deep rooted issue with the SSC, not with the general concept or with the nearly flawless execution of that concept, rather there was simply growing pains that coincided with a miserable market downturn. Once the appropriate prices were set and the proper narrative was crafted, it was only a matter of time before the market saw the club as I do now- as a viable alternative to traditional lakefront ownership.

We'd be remiss if we didn't add that somewhat uninspiring inventory in the $2.5MM to $3.5MM lakefront price range has helped push buyers to the club. If you're a $3.5MM lakefront buyer, you're probably not all that impressed with what we have available to you. There are unique homes, and there are unique parcels, but there is rarely a beautiful home on a beautiful parcel. The SSC takes the parcel out of the question, and instead allows buyers to focus on what most of them really, truly want: Some form of gilded luxury.

The SSC now has just two developer owned lots left. Those at lot 6 and lot 32. Priced at $595k and $649k respectively, they are fair lots and they will sell. If a buyer is contemplating one of those, he or she will be very pleased to know that I just put lot 20 back on the market as a resale. Priced to sell now at $585k, it's a heck of a lot. Great views, great proximity to the pool without owning too much proximity, and a tidy little price that's better than you could do through the developer. Why is that owner selling? Well, because he's found something else within the SSC that he likes and he's heading that direction. That's another important data point- sellers in the SSC are no longer sellers who don't want to stay in the SSC. Instead, now they're behaving like many owners of traditional lake access association behave. They're jockeying for better positioning but staying in the association that they've come to love (see Lake Geneva Club for a million different examples of that phenomenon).

Most of the disinterested or otherwise weak ownership is gone from the SSC now, and the fact that all of the vacant lots to have sold in the last 16 months have sold to cash buyers is something that the broad market should notice. This is a strong association, competing with the most impeccable lakefront homes. It's the SSC, which is just like the old SSC except with a whole lot of momentum.

The Watch

Aug 11, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I'm always surprised how many people watch properties. They don't look at properties, necessarily, but they watch them. They look at them online, they drive by them in person. They rent a boat and drive by from the water, killing the engine and floating, looking, watching, judging. They do this for a while, and then they might call me or make a mistake and call someone else, and they say "I've been keeping an eye on such and such house". They say an eye, but I know they mean both eyes and most of their thinking capacity, spending days and then months stressing over a particular house for one reason or another. I like to watch properties, and I know you do, too.


Watching a property is a nice way to get your arms around such a purchase. A vacation home purchase can be made on a whim, and if you were following along at home and watching the sale of certain properties this year we would almost have to believe that many of those were indeed purchased on a whim. While some rush and whim it, others lie in the weeds, waiting for the right time. What's the right time? Well, the buyer is thinking they need to wait for the right time to take advantage of the seller, but in reality the right time is that time when the buyer, the weed sitter, finally comes to terms with the decision he's about to make. He wants that house, and he's convinced himself that if he waits just a little longer, it'll be the right time.

Unfortunately for the buyer, this Property Watch isn't a solo game, even if he thinks it is. He's watching, he's sitting, he's eating some beef jerky to while away the time. He thinks he's on the inside track, after all, he's the one waiting. In another town, or in the same town, down the street a bit and around the corner, there's another Watcher, and she's watching the same property as the other guy. They don't know it, because secretly watching a property is a lonely game, and the Watcher likes the idea that he's hatched in his own mind: He's the Watcher, and that property will some day be his. All his.

Except the other Watcher thinks the same, and so they watch, in their different homes in their different towns, and they're intent on waiting for the right time to pounce. Summer is for suckers, they both think at the same time in different towns, fall is for the shrewd. Let the summer buyers buy, and let them pay prices that they think will be higher than the fall prices, and in broad theory, they're both right. There will be deals this fall, and they know it. Except they want one particular house, not any old house, they want one house. The house is perfect, it's without flaw, and they both know it. The timing is just about right, but first this green shoreline must fade and brown, and the blue waters must be free of white woody abutments.

Time passes. More time, too. The longer the property sits unsold, the more emboldened our watchers are. Watching from the computer screen, watching from the boat, watching from the car. Watching, watching, watching. Waiting, too, but mostly the watching is the active part, the waiting is passive, but just as important. Three weeks from Monday, the one watcher thinks. He'll be ready then. It's taken a while to come to terms with the purchase, mostly in his own mind, because the house he is considering is not one considered by those without the means to consider it, but come to terms with it he has. He's ready now, but he'll be more ready then. He pours his cereal, checks his screen. Still available, he sees, contented by his cunning delay.

She decides it's time, too. She knows it's time. There's no better house for her, no better spot on the lake, no better entry drive, no better pier. And that lakeside porch? None better. Her date is approaching, too. She can feel it approaching, though she senses the momentum she knows not when it'll boil to the surface. Two weeks, she thinks. She'll be ready then. She sits back in her chair, content in her patience, and impressed with her own self control.

Two weeks passes and she makes an offer. It's not a great offer, mind you, but it's an offer. The negotiations begin, and one week into them, another offer arrives. It's his. It's not great, either, but it's an offer. The seller, forever a non-component of this watching game, is suddenly and firmly in the driver's seat. The seller negotiates as anyone would, and pushes him and then her, her and then him, before the price arrives at the number the seller is comfortable with. She accepts the seller terms, he loses. He sits at his screen, desperately scanning for the next house that he might watch.

The seller sells, and she buys. She's thrilled! And we know she should be, because she just bought herself a most glamorous lakefront home on a most glamorous lake. One more jewel in the crown? Sure, but this jewel brings with it a lifestyle enhancement for the entire family and social circle that a simple jewel could never provide. The price she paid was fair, and she's content. The seller is content, too, knowing he just sold the house in November for the same price he would have been willing to sell it for in August.

The waiting game is fun. It's boring. It's exciting! It's tedious. But it's also mostly unnecessary. Love a house from afar? Stop crouching in those perfectly coiffed boxwoods. Just come up and see the house, love the house, buy the house. Chances are you'll buy it now for what you'll end up buying it for later, and what's the sense in that?

Lake Geneva Corn

Aug 08, 2014 by DC | Add comment
I have made a habit of taking one teensy tiny vacation per month. It lasts two days. I load my family into the good old family truckster, and we drive West and a bit North, for about three hours. It's far, this mini vacation, but it isn't a vacation that I take more than once a month, and I only go during the four months of summer, so the drive isn't all that bad as it might be if I owned an actual vacation home that distance from my house. If that were the case, we all know I wouldn't go there very often, on account of it being three hours away from my house. For reference, see anyone you know with a vacation home in Door County or anywhere in Michstakegan, because six hours round trip for one full day of vacation is something even professional semi-truck drivers would balk at.

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But about this little town, where we go. It has only few things worthwhile. There's a pizza shop, with pretty bad pizza. There's a store where they sell Norwegian things, much like the store that Lake Geneva used to have before it went out of business due to a lack of Norwegian trinket buyers and plummeting interest in lutefisk. For all of these non-things to do, there is one thing that I'm very pleased with in this little town, and that's the grocery store. It's a small store, but it's large enough to be sufficient for all grocery needs. Williams Bay has the Green Grocer, which is nice and needed, but you cannot exactly perform all of your weekly shopping duties there. This store, this co-op, it's rather nice.

It smells like some sort of natural oil or fragrance, but it would be easier to say that it smells like Hippie. There's dash of farm stand in the aroma, but mostly, Hippie. Oily and herby and naturaly. Still, I like the store and I like the way people look at me like I have absolutely no business being there. They think this because I don't smell the same, and I don't look the same, and I drive through the parking lot much faster than they do. I'm also taller. But still, the store.

Most of the thinks I like. The produce is nice, so is the meat. Everything is expensive. If Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck, then Co-op = Gross Monthly Income, pre taxes of course. In this store there are some bumper stickers. They say the sorts of things you'd expect them to say. WISCONSIN. GOT MILK? Stuff like that. Most of the stickers I like, and I agree with, excepting one. This one, it's small and plain. The sticker is all black, with simple block white lettering. CORN IS NOT THE ANSWER.

This is what it says. I have driven through the valleys by this town, those swampy, silty, sandy valleys. Their corn is usually impish, small, and not boasting the ear parts of the stalk that contain the actual edible bits. Their corn is lame, and if corn today is three-something a bushel, I'm guessing farmers there will not all be getting new F250's this year. CORN IS NOT THE ANSWER, says the sticker. Taunting the farmers there that are trying so hard to make it be. I say to the incense burning, quinoa having, oil lathering hippies: If corn isn't the answer, what on earth was the question?

The phrase must be somehow anti-big farming. It must have a seething hatred for Monsanto, somehow masked by the simple appearance of the statement. I'm guessing it was penned by someone who drove around their town for a while and looked at their sad corn, and declared it to be anything but the answer to anything. I drive around Lake Geneva a lot. Every day, all day. I drive so much you'd think I was paid by the mile. I see corn here, lots of it. Nine foot corn, busting with ears that are overwhelmed with kernels. I see Walworth County corn, and I'm pretty sure it's the answer. But this is horse corn, field corn as my Grandma May would prefer us to call it, and that might be the answer when it comes to feeding the world, but when it comes to feeding my family on summer evenings, well, then corn is still the answer.

But this is the sweet variety, and it's everywhere right now. It's for sale at farmstands and at grocery stores. Co-ops have it, too, flaunting their own sayings by putting it in their vegetable cases. Of course the grand-daddy of all corn is Pearce's, and the stand just so happens to be right down the road from my house, and I'm pretty happy about that. This weekend, you'll be at the lake. If you're not going to be at the lake, we should chat about that. Assuming you'll be here, because all of the other cool people will be, take a drive to Pearce's at the corner of Highway 67 and County F, just West of Williams Bay and North of Fontana. Buy some stuff. Buy some corn. Because if the question is what are we having for dinner, then the answer is, indeed, corn.

Tippity Top

Aug 06, 2014 by DC |
I was a senior in high school. Around that time, I had taken to using an old leather carryall. It was a soft briefcase with a shoulder strap, and I would put my papers in it and walk around like I was something else. During the second semester of my senior year, I would carry my papers to and from the technical college a few nights a week, where I would sit and listen to the instructor who would teach me about the real estate business. Looking back over these past 18 years, it's clear now that he wasn't teaching me about the business as much as he was teaching me how to pass a test so that I might learn about the business.


That class was 18 years ago last spring, and I still remember many of the lessons well. One that was preached with clarity and consistency was the admonition to stay away from proclaiming yourself the Best Realtor, or the Top Realtor, or the Most Amazing Realtor In The World. Why you weren't supposed to do this wasn't entirely clear, but we were warned about being this way, and advertising this way, time and time again. I remember some of the other lessons, but most I remember carrying my real estate papers to high school the next day, acting all grown up. I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry, but I read a quote on some motivational poster with a kitten on it that said, "In order to make a success of old age, one must start young". I now wish I hadn't read that.

With that lesson in mind, imagine my surprise that the new way of advertising real estate proficiency is to, indeed, proclaim oneself the Top, or the Best, or #1, or the Most Incredibly Amazing. I seem to be one of the few who haven't taken to this new form, which is why I thought I'd try to clear the record. When it comes to being the Top, that would imply that it's the number 1 position. As in, Top Mountain Climber In The World. Wow, we'll assume that guy has climbed mountains that other guys have not. Top Running Back In The NFL. We'll assume he's really fast, super shifty, and has amassed the most yards either all time, or certainly during his time. He's the Top, after all, and we all understand what it means to be the Top.

Except, when we don't. There has been some talk about Top salesperson this, or Top agent that, or Number 1 Most Awesome This, or That. So how does one quantify the top? In real estate, thankfully, the top is easy to find. There's just some math involved and some charts, and some reading between the lines, but mostly it's just fact. With that in mind, I thought it might be time to find out who is the Top Agent in Walworth County. Not the Top by self authorization, but the Top according to the charts. Math might get fuzzy at times, but it doesn't lie.

Since January 1st of 2010, there have been lots of sales in Walworth County. That's five calendar years worth of sales. I plugged the formula into the MLS computers, and the results might surprise you, but only if you glean your real estate knowledge from the papery edges of local real estate ads. If you did that, you'd be confused and you'd think that there is a Top, and everyone else that's actually, also, somehow, #1, or the Best, or the Most Amazing, etc and etc. The statistics?

Since 1/1/10 there are only 15 agents with total Walworth County sales volume in excess of $30MM. 15. Fifteen. There are 500+ agents in Walworth County, so you get an idea of how rarefied that $30MM air is. There have been six agents amass more than $60MM in sales. 6. Six. There have been three agents tally more than $80MM in sales. 3. Three. There have been two agents close more than $87MM in sales. Of those two, one works in a multi-agent team where all sales performed by the entire group are registered under one agent ID number. The other agent? Well, I guess that would be me. With $87,970,900 in MLS sales volume since the start of 2010, I guess I'd be the Top Agent for Walworth County, considering the only properties that close under my ID are properties that I actually list and sell, and not those listed or sold by my vast team.

That might sound self indulgent, even for me, but I thought maybe it was time to add some meat to all this verbose fluff. Next time you hear someone call themselves the Top, or the #1 Agent, please remind them that the statistics don't exactly bear that out. So why does that matter? Why should I bring it up? Well, because past performance isn't always indicative of future results, but it sure does make you feel a whole lot better. I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that this personal sales success has only a little to do with me. It really has everything to do with my customers who trust me, and that trust is something I crave far more than this superfluous volume.

Geneva Lakefront Condo Market Update

Aug 04, 2014 by DC |


I think if I were a condo buyer, be it in a sweaty city or up here at the lake, I'd prefer to be on a high floor. Not because I'm a friend of heights, because I'm actually rather afraid of them, but because I'd want that buffer of sky between me and the ground based goings on. Cars and people and sirens and shouts, I'd rather not hear those things. This is why people para-sail. They like to see what's happening without being stuck in what's happening. They want to see around them without only being able to see what's immediately around them. They want to get above the noise and increase their view. This is why if I were a condo owner I'd probably buy one on a higher floor.

There are exceptions to this idea. If I thought I wanted to be first out and first in, I'd maybe buy something on a ground floor. I have a Fontana Shores condo listed for $369k that's on the ground level, and I like that unit very much. But that's because the unit is on the first floor on the parking side of the building, and it's elevated one floor on the lakeside. The action is on the lakeside, so while I get to walk into the unit with my groceries in hand without navigating a single step, when I step onto my lakeside balcony I am, in fact, off the ground, above the fray, where I want to be.

In the same way that I wouldn't want to be in a ground level condominium in the city, I would absolutely not want to be in a garden view condominium. This is a clever way to describe the view from the unit, which may be a garden but is usually, as a matter of fact, hub caps, shoes, ankles, sometimes calves, and rubbery tires. This is what that sort of unit looks at, which is why I see a pending sale today for $599k at Harbor Watch and I think that I'd probably hold out for a higher floor. Price has something to do with it, which is why where's a one bedroom condo pending on the ground floor- the real ground floor- at Fontana Shores for just $234k.

Surely it wouldn't be great to be in a city, in a big building, and find yourself right on the first floor. That wouldn't be ideal. Or would it? A buyer just went under contract on a ground floor condo at Geneva Towers, those spaces generally reserved for offices and ice cream shops, and at $589k the buyer would have had to really like the idea of being turf level. But, alas, they did and so they bought, as did the people at Fontana Shores as did the people at Harbor Watch. Given there isn't a single other condo pending sale on the lake today except these ground floor units, perhaps I'm the outlier here. Perhaps it isn't height and view and silence that people crave. Perhaps it's noise and people and hub caps.

The lakefront condo market on Geneva is showing continued signs of life, and some units- like the ones mentioned above- are attracting buyers. Other units, like the ones that I seem to be trying to sell, are not doing as well. Units are available at both Bay Colony buildings, Fontana Shores, Fontana Club, Geneva Towers, and Vista Del Lago. While a few are pending, most are not, but there is good news to be gleaned. Vista Del Lago has seen its inventory shrink, and there are now just three units available there. That's a positive for a complex that had as many as 7 offerings a year or so ago. Geneva Towers has some interesting gyrations going on, with a brokerage shift for some of the units, and at least one sale over the last month at an elevated $800k+ price point. That building is slowly being cleaned up by an outside investor who seeks to position the units as luxury residences, rather than the blah units they've traditionally been. The efforts appear to be working.

I exclude Stone Manor from the list of lakefront condominiums, because Stone Manor is to a lakefront condo what a Porsche Turbo S is to a moped. Stone Manor is its own creation, seeking its own exclusive audience, and should not in any way to be lumped into a conversation where a one bedroom condo at Fontana Shores is mentioned. Some of the other marquee, though obviously less marquee, buildings on the lake do not have any inventory, either. Somerset has nothing to offer you. Eastbank doesn't want your attention, either. Bay Shore, while not marquee in many ways, doesn't have anything available today. The condo market is improving, though it sure is taking a whole lot longer than we'd all like it to.

For now, except to find value in this segment. The fall will yield deals, and if you haven't been paying attention, February at Lake Geneva is to spring what August at Lake Geneva is to fall. Our markets are forever in fast forward, and there are deals to be had by considering aged inventory held by disinterested ownership.

Geneva Lake Market Update

Aug 01, 2014 by DC | Add comment

In my mind, I develop all sorts of patterns. I think, this blog should be market updates on Monday, huge departures into gibberish on Wednesdays, and market recaps on Fridays. That's what this blog should be. Fact, fanciful fictiony fact, Fact. That's what I think I should do. I also think I should exercise and stop eating sugared Rice Krispies with half and half, but I haven't done either of those things in a long time so perhaps this blog pattern is best left like the rest of my personal disciplines; haphazardly erratic.

Today, there is an update to be given. The market remains hot, with no July fade as we might typically encounter. There is activity in all segments, with only one missing contracts. Recently, there have been closings. A home in Somerset closed for $793k, while the home next door was reduced to a price that represents almost half of a prior list. My listing on Sioux in Indian Hills has a fresh contract, even as the home next door succumbed to a price reduction in recent weeks. The cool old house with a pier on Linden in Glenwood Springs has a contract on it (to a buyer of mine), while the cool old house with a pier on the other side of Linden has reduced its price as it hunts for its own personal buyer. The market is hot, yes, but uneven as always.

The lakefront is active, though only the naive and uninitiated among us would so it is exceedingly hot. There are contracts on three homes in the Birches, as that association continues to play musical chairs in a way that most lakefront associations do not indulge. There's a fresh contract on the South Shore Club lakefront home listed at $3.799MM. I can only speculate that the sale there may have something to do with my dead deal on my old Loramoor lakefront listing. Anyway, there's another pending lakefront for $1.595MM in Cedar Point-- My mistake, that one is just priced like lakefront but is, indeed, off-water...

The only segment of the lakefront that's currently a bit slow is the upper bracket, those homes priced over $5MM. We have plenty of them for sale today, and while there are buyers, those buyers seem to lack the motivation owned by the rest of the market. Perhaps they're waiting for fall, and if that's the case, the sellers will be waiting for them in the same way they waited in July. Upper bracket lakefront sellers, save a very select few, are not a rushed bunch. If you're buying a $7MM lakefront home, you're not doing so with your last $7MM. On the flip side, if you're selling your $7MM lakefront home, it isn't because you've spent all the rest of your money. The upper bracket is a grudge match between well-healed citizens, and the only winner in that stare down is the one who gets to sit on that white pier this weekend. If you're a buyer of an upper bracket lakefront, and you're sitting at home this weekend so you can attend some gala with a tuxedo on, you're not winning this game.

There's a pending sale on Beach in Lake Geneva Beach Association, that sale being just the latest in that association that I'd rather not talk about all that much. My short sale on Conference Point that everyone wants to buy is still under contract, so there's no opportunity there. A pretty normal ranch in Academy Estates in pending sale priced at $695k, as is a home in the Geneva Manor priced in the six hundreds. There are deals, plenty of them, and the very entry level of our lake access market is participating as well, with a pending sale in the Loch Vista Club under $300k and one in Country Club Estates under $150k. There is activity, yes, but buyers needn't fear- there is still plenty of value to be had.

What's happening now is what I told you about last week. Some sellers are selling, and they're happy and glib. But the other sellers that aren't selling are growing increasingly interested in doing so. I'm seeing price reductions daily, as sellers try to cling to the last six weeks of actual summer. The fall market here is robust, so they needn't worry too much, but although I've been telling everyone for seven years that our fall market is just as active as our spring market, no one seems to be listening. Sellers, fear not, September offers you liquidity.

The reductions in the market are varied, as properties in all segments are undergoing these adjustments. The lakefront will not be immune to this, which is why I just brought to market the lakefront on Lakeview Road that you see above. The property is well known, and the price has been much higher up until now. At $1.749MM this lakefront offers tremendous square footage (5000-ish), wide water views, five cars worth of garages, and a most unique layout that plays very well with guests and owners who both wish to have their own lakeside privacy. I'm showing this house this weekend, so if you'd like to see it, just let me know. I've heard the knew word for showings is "tour", but I only go on tours if I want to be talked at for an hour. I go on showings when I want to look at something at my pace, which is how I handle showings.

This weekend promises to be an epic Lake Geneva weekend, and a glance at my calendar tells me that it's the first weekend of August. If your summer hasn't started yet, it's time.