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New Subdivisions

New Subdivisions

In the morning I wake up, clean up, dress up (down), drink the espresso that my wife kindly makes me, take my kids to school, and go to my office. I do this five days a week. On the other two days,  I skip the part where I drop the kids off at school. When I get to the office, I turn on the lights, sit down at this desk, and check the MLS. I check the new listings and the sold listings, the reduced listings, too. I think about what to write about. I think about the weather and the scenery, the lake and the sky. I think about the trees and the tinge of whatever color might be deepening or fading.  I think about the lakefront market, the lake access market, the vacation home segments in their pieces and as a whole. And then, when I sit back and consider everything I just say, “man, people are paying lots of money for really basic subdivision houses.”

Most days, I ignore those primary market thoughts, and write instead about lakefronts and the sort of real estate that interests me and my clients. But today, the primary market interests me, because this trend is established and it’s serious and I can no longer ignore it. The primary market is hot, all segments, all prices, so long as we’re talking about less than $400k. Some of the primary neighborhoods are selling for more than $400k, but not with particular regularity. Those primary home subdivisions that I wrote about with fervor a few years ago have come to life, and buyers appear to be content to purchase their own version of vinyl perfection.

When I wrote about the state of the primary market, the subdivisions were mostly idle. Some construction, but not much. In the three years that have followed, the construction market has boomed. New homes are being built with frightening speed, slapped up in a matter of a couple months. Efficiency, claims the builder. Haste and synthetic materials, counters this Realtor. But still, the market is hot and I’m curious to see what, if anything, today’s buyers have learned from the past market cycle. That cycle, in case you forgot, was especially hard on neighborhoods for the simple reason that platted neighborhoods tend to function as their own specific market. If there are four comps on the road you happen to live on and all of the homes were built to a similar standard at a similar time, you can bet your value will be seriously impacted by the sales of those nearby homes.

To check on the market, let’s look at a few random, recent new home sales in the new home subdivisions on the west end of the village of Williams Bay. I won’t identify the owners or the addresses, but let’s look at sale price ranges and mortgages pulled to gauge the strength of this homebuyer. That strength is important simply because the market isn’t going to appreciate forever (too bad, OpenDoor), and once the market stalls, those with the smallest percentage of equity are the most likely to face difficulty. The first sale was well over $400k- a price threshold very rarely surpassed in the primary market.  A check of the mortgage reveals the buyer only financed around 80% of the purchase. Good for them, and good for this subdivision.

Down the road, another sale. This one also over $400k, this one to a buyer who appear to have financed around 85% of the purchase. Another winning data point for this subdivision, as another strong buyer has entered the fold. The next sale was a bit under $400k, and that buyer looks to have put less than 4% down.  Another sale in a different subdivision, this one in the lower $300k range, this one to a buyer who put around 5% down. Another sale, this one just over $300k, the new owner putting around 4% down.  There are other examples, some with 20% down, others with less, but the concept here is simple. If you’re buying into a hot subdivision, paying hot subdivision 2018 prices, and your neighbors are, perhaps 40-50% of the time buying their homes with less than 5% down, is this is a solid model for sustainable values if we head into a down cycle within the next 4-6 years?

Personally, I don’t think it is. That’s why I wish primary home buyers would exercise caution as they rush to these newly drywalled homes. I understand the desire to be in a new home, but I’d rather be in an older home in an existing neighborhood than be surrounded by a constant cloud of low-money-down-construction-dust. An interesting side-note from my market studies of 2015 and 2016 is the desirability of subdivisions that are close to schools. If kids can walk/bike, or otherwise easily get to a school, the subdivision tends to be fairly hot. If the subdivision is outside of town, without a nearby city center or grade school, the subdivision is still somewhat stagnant. If you’re a primary buyer considering a new home priced $450k and under, please be cautious. I say that fully knowing caution doesn’t play a role in a hot market, no matter how badly I wish it would.

 

 

Lake Geneva Video

Lake Geneva Video

It’s been three years since I had my homepage video filmed. That was a terrific video, if I do say so myself. But this last week’s weather was so perfect I decided to have a new homepage video created. I hope you like it.

 

 

Bonnie Brae Boathouse

Bonnie Brae Boathouse

For each of us, there is something unique in our story, some important event in our past, or in the past of our parents, or our grandparents, or our great aunts and uncles, that led us to this place.  For the Ryerson Family, the events were rather curious. As the Great Chicago Fire raced through the city, decimating businesses, destroying homes, killing indiscriminately and ruining lives, there was but one large city lumberyard spared from the carnage: The lumberyard owned by the Ryerson Family. When the rebuilding process began, one family was prepared to supply those efforts. And when the ash settled and the city was restored, the Ryerson Family had not only played a major role in those efforts, they were rewarded with lasting riches.

Martin Ryerson was the son of the lumberyard owner, and as a son of privilege he attended CPS before ultimately graduating from Harvard Law School. At age 25, he was married and working his law practice, content in his city life. At age 34, his father died, leaving him the family business and making him one of the richest men in Chicago. His interest in education and civic matters led him to help found the University of Chicago, where he played a key roll in the design of the campus and served for decades on the board. The Ryerson Physics Laboratory still operates to this day. Due to his involvement with the University, he visited Lake Geneva to tour the brand new Yerke’s Observatory. After that visit to the lake he was hooked, and the same year purchased the property that would become known as Bonnie Brae (Pretty Hillside). At one point, the estate measured  nearly 100 acres and possessed more than 1200 feet of lakefrontage on the north shore.  If you think impulse buys are some sort of new thing, created by our impatient generation, Martin Ryerson would quickly disagree.

A year after purchasing the property and initiating a large scale, multi-building construction project, Martin turned his attention to the water and hired the Racine Boat Company to build his 72′ steam yacht.  At the time, the residents of Geneva would take the train from the city to the lake, and board their elegant steam powered yachts which would chauffeur the owners to their lakefront homes.  Hathor, one of a small handful of original steamers still on Geneva to this day, played host to elite society, including Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone, and a fairly well known impressionist painter by the name of Claud Monet.

With the addition of Hathor, Martin was in need of a place to store her, so he built a boathouse at the water’s edge, to the West of the main house, on a remarkably level section of lakefront.   For the next 34 years, the Ryerson’s would spend their fanciful lives traveling, building up the cultural scene of Chicago, and relaxing lakeside at their Bonnie Brae.   It was at the lake where Ryerson would die, at the age of 75.  Upon his death, 90 percent of his wealth was given away to the Field Museum, The Chicago Art Institute, and his cherished University of Chicago. Some time later, the large estate was divided, and one four acre parcel with 185′ of level frontage and a deeply wooded hillside was assigned to his original boathouse.

Over the years, the boathouse was renovated into a single family home. Additions over recent years made for a proper master suite.  An extra garage was built for storage. Bathrooms were updated with marble. Today, the original Bonnie Brae boathouse, with that long wooded drive off of Snake Road,  is offered for sale. $3,895,000 for 185 feet of frontage, 4.3+ acres of fabulous depth, and a 4,742 square foot house that is one of the last remaining boathouses on Geneva Lake. Martin Ryerson was friends with Monet and the Rockefellers. He studied in Paris and London. He founded universities and lasting civic institutions. But most of all he was just a guy who loved spending time at the lake, swimming off his pier and bragging about the speed of his boat. Today,  you can own his boathouse, and you’d be wise to act as quickly as he did in 1897.

 

Buena Vista Sells

Buena Vista Sells

It’s a curious thing to watch buyers as they watch the market, and the houses that exist inside of that market. Buyers are attracted to various things, to shiny, for sure.  They like marble and they like glitz, and even the most staunch defenders of Location First cannot help but be dazzled and drawn by the varying shapes and sizes of housing perfection that exist here. But beyond those things, there are locations that speak to buyers in different ways. One buyer might find a location to be busy, dense.  One buyer sees that scene and they decry their lost privacy, their potential involvement with their neighbors, their exposure. And yet another buyer comes to that same scene and feels at home. They feel at peace with those same surroundings. They thrive off of the activity, the proximity, the scene. To each his own is just a saying, until you come to these shores, at which point it becomes a most steadfast rule.

This week I closed 274 Sylvan in Buena Vista for $2,775,000. The house was special not just because it shared that glamor of sparkly hardwood and expensive appliances. It was a vintage home made to live like a modern one, but still filled with the original touches that made it feel rooted on that shore.  Buena Vista isn’t an association for everyone, but that’s only because there wouldn’t be enough houses to go around. There are tennis courts, an ample lakefront park and pier system, and then these scant few lakefront houses. A dozen, perhaps. These few lakefronts on this Northwest shore of Fontana Bay offer a classic lake experience combined with dynamite views of the lake and an easy stroll to Fontana’s lakefront scene.

To speak to the unique nature of this now sold offering, consider the last MLS sale to come to market here was this same house, when I sold it in the spring of 2011. Who can know when the next Buena Vista lakefront will come to market?  Like every lakefront sale on this lake, once a property is under contract or sold there are numerous buyers who wish they had bought it, and this home had its fair share of regret filled buyers. That’s because it wasn’t just an old cottage on the lake. It was an old cottage with a recent addition and important updates, but it still oozed that vintage appeal. That appeal isn’t easy to find on this lake, especially if you’d like to find it in Buena Vista. To the owners who allowed me to represent them in this sale, I thank you. To the new buyer who gets to enjoy their weekends in an entirely different frame of mind, congratulations.

Discernment

Discernment

A few weeks ago, I wrote an offer on a property on behalf of a buyer. This is no feat. There is no trick to this. It’s just a form written by a gaggle of attorneys and I’ll I’m charged with is the ability to fill in a few blanks. My son, at age 15, if given a few practice runs, could handle the document just fine. This buyer had looked at a few houses, decided he liked one of them, and we made the bid. Then we waited.

Sellers in 2018 are not uniquely motivated,  so this property that had sat on the market through the season now ended.  Our bid came in low, relative to the asking price, but high, relative to the actual lasting value of the house. We bid, we negotiated, the seller stalled, and in the midst of this another buyer materialized and purchased the home. My buyer was left out, in the cold. Disappointed, sure, but aware that other properties will, and must, exist.

There are brokers today feasting on the new market attitude. Many of these brokers are newly initiated, fresh to this game and racing to gobble any scraps that they find.  Some have held “clinics”, or so they’re called, to advise buyers on how to craft the winning bid. Others take the social media to explain how they maneuvered to get their buyer’s offer to be the one that the seller accepted. They are the victors, the capable and skilled sherpas who have led their buyers to the top of the heap and who will now rightly claim their commission based prize. All of this is fine, but it’s exactly what’s wrong with the business of real estate and the market of 2018.

We are programmed to want to win. My daughter wants to win her volleyball games. My son wants to be the valedictorian. I want to lead in the year end volume tallies (spoiler alert, I won’t win this year).  Buyers, well, they want to win, too. They want to win that house with the imperfect floor plan and the leaky basement. They want to win because they think the house will work for them, sort of. But mostly they want to win for the sake of winning.  Their agents prod them on, pushing them to bid higher, cleaner, quicker. The goal is the house, after all.

What house? Well, that doesn’t matter. Any house.  It’s just the pursuit that we find motivating. That brings us back to my failed bid and my buyer who very well might have felt great disappointment over not buying a house that they indeed liked.  Was it a big deal that we didn’t get this particular house? Not really. Would I have liked them to buy the house? Sure. But the market today isn’t separated by those agents who succeed in securing the house and by those who fall short, it’s separated by the agents who know the difference between a house worth pursuing and one worth leaving for the uninformed, undiscerning masses.

When the market was soft, discernment was key. Negotiating tactics were key. Timing was key. Today, with a heated market and throngs of buyers clamoring for lake homes, these prior skills are brushed aside in favor of urgency.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a contract on behalf of a different buyer and we were met once again with a stubborn, inflexible seller. We pushed forward and bought the house anyway. Why?  Because the house was worth the pursuit. The house will have lasting value in the market because it is unique, rare, both in setting and in style. Is it nice to win every bid? Of course it is. But there is contentment in knowing when to walk away and let someone else buy an overpriced house.

Seasons

Seasons

In the northern reaches of this state, where monuments to large men and larger fish draw worshippers and summer starts and ends in the span of barely more than a month, there are two seasons. Sugaring season, and the other season. If you’re of the persuasion, that is. Maple trees freely offer their sap for a couple of weeks each early spring,  causing the men and women to take to the woods and spend their days and nights in their sugaring shacks.  They’ll collect and boil, collect and boil, and soon enough they’ll have have enough maple syrup to last a few days, maybe more. It depends on the season.

In those same woods, but farther north, there’s another season. This one overlapping with the sugaring, and running both in the fall and the spring. It’s still one season, mind you, no matter if it comes around twice in the same calendar.  For a while at the start of winter and the end, and at least a bit of the in between, the rainbow trout run out of these great lakes and into so many little streams. They charge in on the first heavy fall rain, and again on the first early spring melt, intent on fulfilling their reproducing responsibilities. The men of the area go out to catch them, the better men throwing flies of varying sizes and intentions, the lesser men reeling back in large spoons or worse, soaking sacks of spawn on the bottom down line from a heavy hunk of lead.

A bit after the steelhead start, the whitetail rut, another season for another group.   Cautious animals abandon that deep seated instinct to chase a more meaningful goal. A doe scatters and bucks chase, while the men who aren’t fishing paint themselves with markers and drizzle urine on their clothes before scaling trees to sit so very still for so very long. Maybe a buck will snort and scratch its way down that path, the one that the hunter cut in August for that very purpose. Maybe the buck will come close enough so the arrow or the slug will find its fleshy target. Maybe it won’t. I’ll cheer for the hunter in theory and out loud, while I quietly but fervently root for the buck.

Down south, another season for another set. Morel season comes and morel season goes, and most of the world is blissfully, but ignorantly, unaware. If a morel is harvested, then ten thousand more wither in their place. This haunts the morel hunter, and the need to capture as many mushrooms as possible in such a short, temperamental window dictates swift and decisive action. This is no prey, in the sense that the hunter and the fisher aim, but it is as confounding of an opponent as the most wary buck or skittish steelhead. This season lasts but two weeks, maybe three, and as soon as it starts, it’s over.  The hunter must prepare, the hunter must pounce, and the hunter must endure the threat of ticks and the anguish that can come from pretending to be unaware of private property boundaries.

Here, too, there’s a season. Just one, really. Off of Geneva Street, just east of the beach, there’s a small road that runs from the north and towards the south from the start of Cedar Point Park and just barely into it. It’s a short road, stubby. An unnecessary road, one that everyone could do without. In preparation of summer time, the village drops a gate there, for some reason or another, to keep passersby from wandering down that little road.  There is no celebrity residing there, no special or unique house worthy of protection. It’s just a road. And in the summer, it’s blocked off. But after Labor Day, the gate is removed, and the thoroughfare of Bayview Road is once again connected to Geneva Street.  In Williams Bay, there are only two seasons. It’s either Bayview closed or Bayview opened, and I don’t have a particular preference.

 

 

One Last Summer

One Last Summer

Somewhere, sometime, there was a decision made. It was a decision based on indecision, really. This would be it. A lifetime here, in this place, but the times had changed. Someone had died. Someone had graduated. Someone had moved. Their fishing hat, with lures he’d never used, still sitting on the mantle. The sailing shirts, accumulated over years of school, still stacked on the closet shelf.  The place looked the same, but something was amiss. A change would be needed, no matter how badly everyone wished that wasn’t true.

Life brings change, no matter fervently how we root against it. There are times I wish for change as well. I live in the country now, content with it all. Content with the chickens and the bees and the dogs running free. But at times, like last night when the air was soaked with moisture and my expansive lawn needed cutting for the third time in a week, I thought maybe it was all too much. Maybe a house by the lake would be nice, with neighbors and a pier and a lawn that wouldn’t need so much tending. Maybe something simpler, something different. Maybe that’s what I need.

We’re all probably the same in this way, and that brings us to the family that decided in January, or last November over a great meal, or in May on that weekend when we remember, that it was time to make a change. The house had been a good house. A capable host. The catalyst for so many things, so many great times, so many memories, some good and others bad. But life changed, and when life changes, houses are often the casualty. The family made the choice back then, to spend one last summer at the lake.

It’s September now. Still summer, sure, but different summer. Old summer. Summer in the present addressed like it’s in the past. Summer, ish. For those families that made the decision, that last summer has run out. The bell has tolled. The clock has struck. The time is now.  If you’ve ever sold a house in this manner, you know this feeling. Regret. Indecision. Resignation.  But time wears on, and movement is inevitable. We’d all like to keep things as they are forever, to feel the permanence and comfort of what’s already known. But sometimes, there has to be a last summer. To those families grasping for one more day of that last summer, we salute you.

 

Emagine Theater

Emagine Theater

I’d like to become the sort of person who only spells theater theatre. I’d like to place emphasis on the A, while I’m at it. But I’m not sure I can pull this off, as much as I’d like. I don’t even really like movies all that much.  The concept of a Summer Blockbuster is lost on me. Who are these people who go to movies in the summer? Why are theaters even open then? Shouldn’t we only go see movies in the winter, when it’s cold outside and we’re hungry for popcorn? Why are we so drawn to bright lights and loud sounds?

In spite of these concerns, I made my way to the new movie theater in Lake Geneva this week. It wasn’t because I wanted to go see a particular movie. And it wasn’t because I was uniquely bored. I wanted to go to see what this new space was all about. I wanted to see if the new group had dialed in the movie experience, which is, as I mentioned, an experience that I care very little about.  I wanted to give the community a review of this newcomer, so I loaded my family into the car and pulled up to the Emagine Theater for the 5:10 viewing of The Meg.

As I already said, I didn’t want to see this movie. But my daughter has an affinity for Jaws, and so the natural progression to a prehistoric killer shark was unstoppable. After a series of partially completed roundabouts we had arrived at the old Showboat Theater, just outside of Lake Geneva on Highway 120.  The old theater was closed and subsequently sold, thankfully to the Emagine Theater group out of Michigan.

The website for Emagine promises that their theaters are luxurious and modern, with reclining seats and food service far beyond the typical popcorn and Mike and Ikes. They have a bunch of locations in Michigan and Minnesota, one in Illinois, and now one in Wisconsin.  I had bought two tickets to this B movie on my phone earlier in the day. $28 for four tickets to the 5 pm show, including a $4 service charge. That charge, the woman at the ticket counter informed me, would be waved if I signed up for some $10 year long pass, or something. Since I’m not a regular movie goer, I didn’t listen to her.

The interior of this old, boring building was sleek and modern. Fancy, almost. There’s a bar area with a fireplace (as I recall), a large concessions counter with hot food options and the typical movie fare. We ordered a pizza, which they told us would be brought to our seats, and popcorn.  My kids pleaded for water, but why would I buy water in a bottle when there were perfectly good drinking fountains right there in the lobby?

The service, as expected, was quite clumsy. No one seemed to know exactly what was going on, which didn’t bother me so much, as I was there only for the spectacle of the space.   After we were directed to our particular theater, we took our seats. Well, they weren’t our seats, as the ones I picked out and paid for online were supposed to be in the middle of the theater and were, instead, located in the last row. No matter, we had the entire room to ourselves. The lack of other viewers may have been because it was their second night open, or because it was a 5:10 show on a Wednesday, or because we were watching The Meg. I couldn’t be sure.

The popcorn was good, and when the pizza was brought out it wasn’t terrible. Too much cheese and the sauce was odd, but overall it was fine and we ate it all rather quickly. The screen was large and crisp even if the pizza was not. The seats were large and leather, capable of a full recline. I nestled into my chair, tilted it back, and marveled at all of the years we suffered through stiff-backed movie chairs. How awful things were for us back then.

The new theater is nice. It’s better than any area theater by miles, and likely rivals the very well appointed Marcus Theaters in New Berlin. It’s a good thing for the community, a good thing for the immediate area of that new Highway 12/120 interchange. Unfortunately, this new place will deliver the death blow to the Geneva Theater downtown Lake Geneva.

If you’ll recall, that old downtown theater was renovated in just the past two or three years. I was glad to see the renovation, as the space was too visible to go unkempt ad unimproved. While the exterior of the building looks nice, even if a bit art deco-y for my taste, the movie experience there is rather mediocre.  The seats aren’t the fancy new style, the screens are small, and the common areas boring. There was a great opportunity here to deliver a unique product, instead, the group took some city money and performed a relatively low end renovation. If this group doesn’t transform the Geneva Theater into a live music/live plays type venue, it’s going to fail, and soon. With the shiny new Emagine theater down the road, they don’t stand a chance.

 

PS. Skip The Meg

Abbey Springs Market Update

Abbey Springs Market Update

There’s a simple thought relating to markets like ours that supposes a specific pricing segment should prove active in different market segments. The theory would say that if $300-500k condos are selling, then those condos should be selling whether they’re on Geneva Lake, in Geneva National, or Abbey Springs. In the same way, if a $400k lake access home in Loch Vista Club is in demand, then a $400k lake access home in Cedar Point Park should also find an audience. The theory isn’t very difficult to understand, but markets don’t always behave in the most obvious ways.

Consider the lake access market on Geneva Lake right now. There are 34 active homes priced under $700k. Of those 34, no fewer than 12 are pending sale. That’s a very active market segment, with offers flying and summer contracts set to close next month. If that market is supremely busy with buyers seeking a reasonably priced vacation home experience, then the other specific vacation home segments in a similar price range should be similarly active, right?

Abbey Springs currently has 19 available condominiums and single family homes. Of those 19, the MLS shows not a single pending contract. Year To Date, Abbey Springs has closed 18 condos/homes, which isn’t awful, but it certainly pales to the 24 such sales for 2017 YTD. If there weren’t inventory, I’d understand the difference in activity, but there is inventory, even if it is a bit light.

In the same way, Geneva National has 57 available condominiums and homes priced under $700k. Of those 59, twelve are pending sale. That’s a decent amount of activity, especially for Geneva National, which has had its fair share of ups and downs over its lifespan. If the lake access market has approximately 35% of its under $700k inventory under contract, and Geneva National has 20% of its under $700k inventory under contract, then what’s eating Abbey Springs?

The answer, likely, is nothing. It’s just the unique nature of the Lake Geneva vacation home market.  That’s why I write this blog as often as I do. Markets here hinge on such low overall volume that a good weekend can right any listing ship. If there were three or four new contracts written in Abbey Springs last week that have yet to show in the MLS, just like that we’d see Abbey Springs marching in lockstep with the remainder of the vacation home segment.  If you’re trying to figure out the exact rhythm of sales at the lake, don’t.

Lake Geneva Realtors

Lake Geneva Realtors

There’s nothing that makes me hate my chosen profession more than leafing through a local glossy magazine. There are lots of glossies here, most notably that Summer Homes For City People glossy. That’s a heck of a magazine, but you knew I’d say that.  In spite of my magazine being the only magazine of importance and relevance, there are others that persist. I made the mistake of thumbing through one of these magazines over the weekend, and what I discovered left me weary for this business of real estate.

The issue isn’t Realtors, themselves. They’re fine, really. The issue is advertising. The issue is what we choose to say about ourselves in the hope that someone will believe us. The glossy I read through featured heaps and heaps of advertisements for brokers and their Realtors, and I thought I might lend a bit of MLS based fact checking to the advertised claims.  I’m all for self promotion (see: this blog, my magazine, my life, etc), but there’s a reason why my self promotion is heavy on specifics: I want to be taken seriously.

Without further ado and in no particular order, the ads I stumbled upon:

One claimed 33 reasons why a brokerage is super amazing. I did some research this morning and found that the Walworth County average closed sales (2018) for those 33 particular reasons was $1.67MM. For perspective and context, during 2016/2017 I averaged over $4MM in sales, per month.

Another ad, this one really fancy looking. The agent has been closing lakefront deals on Geneva, since quite a long time ago. Some MLS searching to provide background on the advertisement revealed that indeed this agent has put together single family lakefront deals on Geneva. Four of them, in total.  I, also have closed a few lakefronts on Geneva. 48 of them since 2010, and more before that, but alas, I don’t even have an ad in the magazine.

There’s some mention in other ads of agents winning awards from their companies. Watches, gold circles, platinum things. This is nice for these agents and their host companies. One such company gives away a watch the first year you sell $10MM with the company.  I sent an email to the company asking if I’d qualify for 4 watches for 2017 based on my production, of if I’d be capped at just one watch. (I jest)

Ooh, here’s another ad. This one is sleek. Super sleek.  This agent sells lots of houses that afford the lake lifestyle. To review the claim, let’s look through the MLS…. That agent has sold one home with lake access or lakefront on Geneva this year. One.  This does not make for a terrific year, but it does make for a great ad.

There’s no need to go on and on, as I think you have likely grasped my concern. As a consumer in the market you’ll need to figure out which agent you should use to represent you. Sadly, the lakefront market on Geneva is hot, which is attracting more and more agents to the lakefront fray. You can’t blame them, as it’s the biggest pie and everyone longs for a slice. Unfortunately, no matter what the ads say, not every agent is a lakefront specialist. Not every agent has success in specific market segments. If you’re an agent and you do a  terrific job selling in Geneva National, then put that in your ads.  I have a horse farm for sale (it’s amazing, really), near Clinton, Wisconsin. The fact that I have this farm for sale does not make me an Equestrian Property Expert.

This morning, it’s just another reminder, I suppose. If you need an attorney to help with your Last Will, please don’t hire a personal injury attorney. If you need a mechanic to replace your timing belt, don’t drop your car off at the bicycle repair shop. If you need a Lake Geneva area Realtor to help with your purchase or your sale, choose an agent with a pattern of success in the specific segment that has your attention. If you’re looking for a Realtor to assist you in Des Moines or Hinsdale, do the same.

Gone

Gone

This week wasn’t like the other weeks. It wasn’t like the one before it, or the two before that one. It’s been a week unlike any since this week last year.  No amount of sun can coax the summertime swimmers back to the shallow beaches. No particular special, even the all-time favorites, can tempt the diners back to those summery patios. There’s nothing that can be done now to slow this week down. The next week will come, soon enough. Summer is still here, but it’s mostly just a memory.

And we’re fine with that. Sure, some aren’t. Some are making their travel plans even this morning, as they sense the morning chill of September and wish it weren’t so. It’s too cold to golf today, someone will say. The club in Naples has their annual Welcome Back outing October 21st, and what an event that will be. It’ll be warm and sunny, so long as no hurricanes see fit to disrupt that ideal. What a life it would be, to leave summer and find your way to another summer. So much summer, all summer. All the time, summer.

With age, this is supposed to be what we crave. Summer, only. I had a good friend once tell me that it’s not good for kids to be raised in a climate where half of the year they have to stay inside. I agreed, thinking that Arizona would indeed be a terrible place to raise a family, what with the summer heat. I have other friends tell me they dream of days where they can transition from our summer to another summer, from our blue water to the bluer gulf water. From one summer utopia to a winter utopia that stays dressed as summer each day of the year.  I say this is all foolishness.

We here count our perfect weather days on one hand. Maybe two. This past week was just fine for me, I liked it rather a lot. But it stormed on Monday and it blew on Tuesday and only Wednesday and Thursday were nice days. Today it’s Friday and it’s cool again, cloudy and sprinkly. Like a warm day in late October, except it’s August and some still crave summer. I don’t. The two days this week were plenty for me. I loved them very much, and yet in spite of this affection I feel no particular need to dwell in them. They’re too perfect to expect too often.

It isn’t just late August that has me in this mood. I felt this way earlier in summer, too. A stretch in July where it was hot and sunny, then sunny and hot. A week, maybe more. Steady and unwavering, sweaty and persistent. Then, one day, I woke up to clouds and a wet sidewalk. Rain. My eyes rejoiced in the relief. I needed that day, because who am I if not a Wisconsin creation through and through? I was not made for intense summer, for the constant pressure that it brings. Yes, I know I should go down for a swim because it’s so nice out, but what if I just want to rest once in a while?

Yet here we are. The end of a summer. The kids are back in school, and those that aren’t won’t be able to escape it forever. The forecast still promises summer, and it will for quite some time yet, but the mood has been lost. If you’re sad for that, and you’re ready to escape this place in favor of another place where the summer never stops, I wish you well. I’ll abide your irrational mistake.

But if you’re like me, then you’re reasonably disappointed that summer is over but you’re more than ready for what comes next. You’re ready for cool mornings and still afternoon waters. For a town set free from its summertime rush. You’re ready for all of the joys of a Midwestern fall, and in case you weren’t aware, our kind of fall is glorious in a way that few places can comprehend. But so is what comes after, the cold rain of late October and the transition of color from red and yellow to the dull calm of November. From November to Thanksgiving, to that great feast, and into the first snow. The firewood is idle now, but its time will come.  I, for one, cannot wait.

West Wind Diner Fish Fry Review

West Wind Diner Fish Fry Review

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a thing for restaurants that offer Tater Tots as a side.  When a choice of potato is offered, it’s usually baked or fried. The baked potato is a thing of the past, even though Big Baked Potato works hard to convince you of their imaginary relevance. French Fries will always be a thing, always near and dear to me, but there’s no surprise here. It’s the Tater Tot that’s unique in today’s world of potato, and that’s why the West Wind Diner in Darien has a leg up on its competition, even before the rest of the menu is considered and a dinner is ordered.

The West Wind Diner is at the intersection of Highway 14 and Interstate 43, just outside of Darien.  The restaurant looks like something from Steinbach, Manitoba. If you’ve never been, trust me, this is what the restaurants look like. I’ve been. The parking lot is huge, mostly gravel, made that way on purpose to entice hungry truckers. It’s a truck stop, really, but it’s clean and it’s modern and there’s a case with  pies in it right next to the Please Wait To Be Seated sign.

A super friendly waitress sat us at a booth near the window. There’s no view here to consider, just the front grills of the vehicles in the parking lot.  We hadn’t intended to eat here, mind you.  We drove this direction to eat at the Duck Inn, farther to the North. That supper club staple was slammed at 5:40, with a 30-45 minute wait, so we drove back towards home and I remembered some fine diner meals I’ve had over the years at West Wind. That’s why we were there, and that’s why we listened intently to the fish fry offerings.

Baked or fried cod, fried is all-you-can-eat. There’s a perch offering, too, but when pressed the waitress revealed her affinity for the cod. The baked variety is offered plain, lemon-peppered, or blackened.  The choice of potato was as I earlier mentioned, and while I longed for the Tots, I stuck to my guns and ordered the potato pancakes. A choice of soup or salad was nice. My daughter went for the dumpling soup, my wife and I ate salad, appropriately drenched in ranch dressing.  The croutons were oily and misshapen, which at first seemed a bit difficult but was, in fact, a sign of their housemade origins.

I opted for fried and baked (lemon pepper, apparently, though I don’t remember ordering it that way). My wife went with the blackened cod and fries.  The baked pieces were large, rectangular. They were pretty good, though my wife thought the consistency was a bit chewy. They were a touch dry, and mine lacked salt. The seasoning additions were fine, but nothing memorable. I munched on some bread, because that’s what I do. The rolls were wrapped in plastic, like we were in seats 31 E and F, traveling from Newark to Tampa. There was no butter, foiled or otherwise, in sight. For shame.

My fried pieces were extra crispy, uniquely shaped, and sadly, dry. The tartar sauce helped a bit, but alas, they were beyond redemption. The potato pancakes looked the part, but they, too, were off. The texture was spongy, rubbery,  perhaps over-beaten to such a degree that the starch was too wound and bound. The applesauce was smooth, but at least it was served in a small metal tub (as was the tartar sauce).  At the end of our meal we were given the option of a few different sorts of ice cream, which were served in old-timey sunday glasses. The ice cream was meh but the touch was appreciated and charming.

When the dust settled, I was stuffed. The meal was perhaps a bit below average, but the waitress was sweet and there was obvious care put into the menu and the preparation. Sadly, this is not a congeniality contest. For the Lake Geneva Set, I can’t recommend driving this far out of your way for this fish fry.  While I appreciate the West Wind Diner, I think next time I’ll visit in the morning hours, and order an omelet with a side of tots.

 

West Wind Diner 5/10

620 North Walworth Street (highway 14) Darien, WI

All you can eat fried cod, or baked cod dinner (one or two pieces), typical sides plus tater tots.

Basswood Lake Geneva

Basswood Lake Geneva

A Wednesday reminder that my listing at W4396 Basswood Drive is still available. I just reduced the price of this home to $8,495,000, and it’s now offered at an extreme discount to replacement value. Consider the pending sale of a home in Lake Geneva listed at $14,500,000. Now consider buying this home, renovating it, and being all in for far less than the sale price of that nine year old home. It doesn’t take a genius to make the right moves in this market, it just takes a bit of effort.  Contact me for a private tour of this most lovely estate.

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

It might seem strange to even mention the term Price Reduction during this remarkable summer run. With sales popping and records breaking and everyone in the Midwest clamoring for a vacation home in Lake Geneva, why would we even bring up such a thing as a price reduction? It’s a wet blanket, really. It’ll throw off our momentum, ruin the buzz from this Kool-Aid fest.  The agents who vie for your attention don’t want you to think about price reductions, they want you to think about how you can buy that home NOW! Need help figuring out how to win a bid on a Lake Geneva area home? You’re in luck, some agents are holding seminars to teach you (YES YOU) how to win the bid.

But this is all ridiculous, really. The truth of our market is that it’s hot, yes. All price segments are hot. All categories and sub-categories. Except vacant land in Geneva National, of course. A lot just sold there last week for $4000. That’s the price I paid for a 1986 Saab 900 with a questionably service history and 130,000 miles, which, in Saab miles, is at least 1,000,000. Every other market is hot, every home in demand. So why talk about Price Reductions? Well, silly, because ’tis the season.

See, smart sellers know that while our market is active for each of our 12 months, there will be a dip in overall activity once school starts. Knowing this, sellers with relatively aged listings are faced with a decision. Reduce now or reduce later? If they’re smart, they’ll reduce now, while there are a few extra buyers in the market. Something I’ve heard often this summer is a buyer’s plan to wait until the off-season to buy. Prices will be lower then. This is the position of the uninformed, as Lake Geneva doesn’t cycle based on seasonality it lives and dies on inventory. If inventory presents in August and it’s right for you, then buy it. If it presents in January and it’s right for you, then buy it. Don’t base decisions on the color of our leaves.

Still, sellers recognize the market will ebb and flow, and if a reduction is in the cards, now’s the time to make that move. Recently, I’ve been applying this to some of my listings, because I’m smart, and my sellers are smart, too. I dropped the price of my W4396 Basswood listing $500k to $8.495MM. That home, by the way, offers value far and away better than the pending listing in Lake Geneva priced at $14.5MM. Far. And. Away. Like with Tom Cruise, but different. I just reduced my incredible Bay Colony offering to $879k, even after we came close with several different interested buyers over the past few weeks. Why reduce in the face of activity? Because activity only counts when the result is sold.

Around the lake, there have been reductions. A new home on the north side of Fontana dropped its price not so long ago, as did a newer home on the south side of Fontana. I dropped my Clear Sky Lodge listing $120k. A home in Cedar Point Park that came to market earlier this year has been reduced several hundred thousand dollars, as that seller searches for a buyer.  Off water, a home in Academy Estates has endured a series of micro-reductions this year, and a listing in Shore Haven just dropped in price last week.  For all of the buyers claiming this is purely a seller’s market, have you considered any of these properties that are bleeding from self-inflicted chops?

It’s August, and it’s still summer. In fact, this past weekend was one of the more active, glorious weekends of the entire year. In spite of this, sellers are making moves, and if they’re serious about selling this year they’re going to be adjusting their prices a bit. Consider the market this month, consider the aged inventory, and be on the look out for price reductions.  And as always, let me know if I can help.

 

Above, my Bay Colony Condo, just reduced to $879k. 

Woodstone Sells

Woodstone Sells

Woodstone, prior to last week, was a nice subdivision in Linn Township with mostly architecturally pleasing homes and a delightful little wildflower corridor. Prior to last week, the development was in decent shape, though it’s taken more than a decade to fill in the few existing homes that you see. Prior to last week, the top sale in the association was around $670k.  Then, last week, things changed.

I listed a home in Woodstone in June, and then I sold it last week. The price was $900,000, including an adjacent vacant lot that wasn’t included in my initial list price of $845k. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume that lot was thrown in for consideration of $60k or so, leaving the home sale at $840k. This was fine for my seller, fine for the buyer, and fine for me.  Who won here? The market at Woodstone.

With construction prices ratcheting higher and higher, neighborhoods are having a hard time justifying the new built values. If you buy a lot for $50k in a neighborhood that traditionally sells for $325k, that’s fine. But if the new build costs you $400k, then you’re a fish out of water. Neighborhoods need new comps to prove that the increased building costs still allow a buyer margin. That’s exactly what Woodstone just did, and it did it in a big way.

Now consider the new math of Woodstone. Buy a lot for $80k or so. Build a 2500 square foot house for $500k or so. Be all in sub-$600k. Prior to last week, that still made sense. There was a tiny margin. But now? There’s proof that the market has some room to run, and if you build the right house and add a swimming pool, you, too might be able to sell north of $800k.

Speaking of swimming pools, the market loves them now. Craves them. Can’t live without them. If you’re building a new house on the lake or in the country and the market supports the extra investment, add a pool. You’ll thank me when it comes time to sell. Unless you don’t sell until such a time when the culture hates pools, then you can blame me.

Congratulations to the seller who was kind enough to let me represent their lovely property. And congratulations to everyone who lives in Woodstone, or who might one day live in Woodstone. The market just got a whole lot better. Address Thank You Cards to me, at my office address.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that we’re in the middle of another Lake Geneva summer.  August is the peak of summer, sure, but it’s not exactly the middle. You could argue that it’s the end. School starts soon. The sun sets earlier and earlier each night. We’re no longer building toward summer, we’re doing our best to hang on to a summer that’s rapidly fading. In spite of our dwindling summer, the real estate market at the lake has given us something to talk about.

June and July were fantastic months for our lakefront and lake access markets. That late June through early July heat and the supporting sun pushed this market into hyperdrive, with contracts piling up like so many rock bass in my Uncle Joe’s five gallon pail. June and July saw five lakefront closings, and ten more lake access sales. The lakefronts that closed included a few bits of aged inventory as well as some new to market listings.

At the top end, the old Born Free Estate closed for $5.35MM. The new owner then promptly sold off a 100′ lot on the East side for $2.75MM.  I’d expect to see a significant renovation of the existing home in the near future.  Another high priced sale occurred on Basswood, that of the Woodhill Estate, which printed at $3.9MM. That’s a reasonable price for that property.  The market had a hard time figuring out if that home was a tear down, but the rumor is the new owner plans to renovate the existing structure.

On the lower end of the lakefront, a home in the Elgin Club closed for $1.245MM, likely a tear down or significant remodel candidate.  In Williams Bay, another home closed on Walworth Avenue where those thin 50′ lots rule the day.  That street featured two sales this year, both in the $1.2MM range, both side by side. I sold those homes back in the very early 2000s. This time around, both homes have sold to the same owner, leaving speculation that both homes might be torn down to make way for one new home. While that buyer is not my client, I’d offer up this unsolicited advice: Don’t do that.

Pending contracts on the lakefront as of this morning include a listing for $2.4MM in the Geneva Manor, a piece of aged inventory in the South Shore Club ($2.795MM) and my listing in Buena Vista on Sylvan ($2.875MM).  I’m guessing the Geneva Manor property will print at a meaningful discount to that lofty ask. With buyer activity at all time highs (far exceeding the activity during the 2005-2008 run), I’d expect to see many more contracts this month on the 17 active lakefront homes.

While these are nice sales and nice new activity, the property that’s on track to shock the market is the lakefront home at 590 S. Lakeshore Drive in Lake Geneva. This listing came to market earlier this summer for $14.5MM, with 210′ of frontage and above grade square footage of 9862 according to the assessor’s office. The property, as of yesterday, is pending sale. I’ll repeat, that property, listed at $14,500,000, is under contract.

I’m betting the property is going to close somewhat close to its asking price.  That’ll make it the highest sale in Lake Geneva history, which will be the third time in the past 24 months that this benchmark has been raised. This magnificent upper bracket run started in the fall of 2016 with my $9,950,000 print of this fabulous Pebble Point home.  The home at 590 has a current assessed value in the $5.75MM range, with a $117k tax bill. Assuming a print in range of the asking price, it won’t be a surprise to see the new owner receive a tax bill in the $250k range. So that’ll be something.

At first blush, this sale is terrific for our market. It further proves that this market has no rival in the Midwest. Other resort markets will gladly take your millions of dollars in exchange for a second rate vacation home experience. Geneva will take your millions and then, when you’re ready for another chapter, give you those millions back. Likely with interest.  Clean water and beautiful homes might be the obvious allure of this area, but liquidity is our greatest asset here, and this sale proves it once again.

But this sale also showcases the premium that our market places on newer construction. This home was not new, but with a completion date of 2009, at least one buyer figured it was new enough. Older homes on the lake that have not had recent updates are punished here, as buyers prefer to either buy new, or build new. That preference opens up a value play for buyers looking to make their mark on these shores, if only they’d be willing to undertake a remodel of an outdated home.

The market is in the middle of a most epic run, but I still see value out there. It’s not found in spiffy fixtures and Wolf ranges. It’s found in the land, in those piers, under that ugly carpet and behind that stupid basement powder room. It’s not obvious to the uninitiated. That’s why I’m here. To help guide the discerning. Consider the text message that I received last Saturday night (I posted this on my Instagram genevalakefrontrealty, which you should be following):

Tonya and I just said… Thank God Dave Curry talked us out of buying all those other stupid homes. Love this place. Hope summer is going well for you and your family.

If you’re in the market, you’ll know it isn’t hard to find a Realtor to talk you into something. That’s what everyone does. The real value that an experienced agent brings to the transaction is not in his or her ability to walk you through a house. My 12 year old daughter could do that, and she’d be terrific at it. The value is in finding an agent who cares enough about your purchase to talk you out of a property. If you need some better advice, let’s talk.

Crandall’s Fish Fry Review

Crandall’s Fish Fry Review

Old people get a bad rap for eating early. Younger people flaunt their late eating habits as though they’ve made it into some exclusive club, the club that only eats late. Dinner reservations for me and my cool young friends at 8 pm, please.   But throughout this year of fried fish dinners, I’ve found that old people don’t deserve this bad rap. There’s nothing wrong with eating early. In fact, I’ve been eating most of my fishy meals around 5 pm. Why? Because I don’t want to wait in line.  The old people don’t want to wait either, that’s why they head out early. And that’s why I cozied up to a garden-view table at Crandall’s last Friday at 5 pm on the nose.

This review wasn’t easy for me. I’ve long known of Crandall’s, but I hadn’t yet been.  As I defend and flaunt all things Wisconsin, Crandall’s is on the other side of that skinny border. It might be two short miles from Wisconsin, but it’s technically in Hebron, Illinois. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and we’ll begrudgingly allow our Illinoisan brethren to adopt our culture. I went there Friday night to determine whether or not they’re doing a proper job representing the Friday Fish Fry, which is, unequivocally, our thing.

I should note that my dinner at Crandall’s was covered by a gracious client of mine who had told me often of this regionally famous institution.  I was grateful for his invitation, and grateful for his wise guidance that led us to a four top table with a view of the pleasant gardens that Crandall’s has cultivated.  Something to be sure of, Crandall’s is not a Fish Fry Joint. It’s a Chicken Joint. The website isn’t CRANDALLSFISH.COM. It’s CRANDALLSCHICKEN.COM.  Even though the lake set knows Crandall’s predominately for its place in our fish fry realm, it’s a chicken shop first and a fish shop second.

Still, the waitress was table side and told us of the special. Fried Icelandic Cod is all you can eat. Broiled cod is single serve. If your obesity is uncontrolled, you can order the combo platter which is chicken and fish. And if you’re me, you order the combo platter AND a side of the broiled cod, just to be sure. The orders were placed and the waitress promptly brought out a basket of fresh, warm bread and cinnamon rolls. The butter was forced into a tablespoon rectangle and  held captive by foil, but it was softened, so things weren’t all bad. The dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls were both light and airy, and both quickly disappeared from our table. Our waitress removed the empty basket and we felt deep shame over our gluttony.

The fish was brought out soon enough, as the restaurant slowly filled with Friday diners of all makes and models. Some old farmers from down the road, some families from town. I recognized several diners from the Lake Geneva scene. Everyone was happy.  A heaping plate of chicken and cod and potato pancakes was placed before me, a towering tribute to fried flesh.  My large piece of broiled was on its own plate, served with some lemon slices.  I ate first from the cuts of fried  cod. They were flour dredged and fried, not battered. The fish was a slight touch dry, but the seasoning in the dredge was pronounced, which was a good thing.  The theme of proper seasoning would run throughout the night.

The baked cod had a nice texture and was properly salted, but it, too, was just a touch dry. I realized I was judging this place more harshly than it might have deserved, but this place is royalty in the fish fry world and I felt I had to hold it to that standard. The potato pancakes were crisp and moist and well salted. Maybe a bit too salted, if there is such a thing. While I was there for the fish, I ate a piece of chicken and quickly realized why the website proclaims the chicken to be world famous. It was tender and nicely salted, the thin seasoned dredge impossibly crispy. The chicken was divine.

As quickly as it started, dinner was over. I was stuffed. The dinner was a success, and it wasn’t difficult to see why Crandall’s holds captive the attention of the thousands of patrons who frequent this roadside restaurant.  While I’ve only been once, I had a distinct feeling that Crandall’s doesn’t waiver much from week to week, dinner to dinner. It has the air of consistency, much like Anthony’s, and that’s what keeps that till humming.  The staff was pleasant and courteous, the space clean and inviting, the parking lot oversized and accommodating. Unlike other restaurants in this series, I don’t think you need me to tell you to go to Crandall’s. If you already know, you already go, and chances are you’ll be there next Friday just like you were the Friday before.

 

Crandall’s  7.5/10

10441  Route 47, Hebron, IL 60034

Lake Geneva Condotel Update

Lake Geneva Condotel Update

At this point, we should have all learned a few things. If we were paying attention during the last market cycle, from slow rise to raging boom to crushing collapse, then we should have taken some things away from that decade long episode. In the same way, from that collapse to the nascent recovery to this now active and vibrant seller’s market, this should be teaching us something as well. I suppose in that there is a difference. Have we learned anything or have we just observed it all from afar?

What I’ve learned, mostly, is that housing markets do not rise and fall based on the math of it all. Sure, low interest rates and stable stock markets might kick off a resurgence of housing haste, but that isn’t what propels a market. What pushes a market from Tidy Recovery to Raging Bull is confidence. Confidence is what makes a family of 4 making $90k annually purchase a new vinyl box in a cornfield for $410k. This is the same thing that makes the same family drive to the car dealer and sign for a 0% loan on a $70k Tahoe. Interest rates and unemployment figures are sweet, but what pushes a market into hyperdrive is nothing more than individual consumer confidence.

Most of the things that happened during the last cycle are happening in this one as well. FHA loans are way up. Like sky-high, as a percentage of new loans. These are US Taxpayer backed mortgages that are given out with very little money down. When a market is appreciating, these mortgages are fine. But when the market stalls and reverses, these homeowners who were given those house keys with as little as 3.5% down will be the first ones to run for the hills. But if we continue our learning from the last cycle, then we shouldn’t panic sell our house unless circumstances (job loss, illness, etc), mandate it. If you bought a house in 2008, then 2012 was a difficult time to consider your negative equity. But if you’ve hung on into 2018 you’ve more than likely made a full and complete equity recovery. That, and you’ve had a place to live for the past decade.

But these are not market specific lessons. For those, let’s turn to the Lake Geneva condotel market. Condotel is a silly way of describing the sort of housing unit that is sold as a condominium, but operates like a hotel room. You buy the unit, you pay taxes and dues and extraordinary fees to the hotel, and they give you a percentage of the rental income generated. In theory, it’s a tidy idea. In practice, it can be either great, reasonably acceptable, or downright horrible.

The Lake Geneva market has a handful of these so-called condotels. Notably at the Grand Geneva (Timber Ridge),  The Cove, The Bella Vista, The Abbey Resort, and a few others.  Understanding the context that our broad market is hotter than a pistol, let’s consider the current market for these sorts of properties. I won’t delve into each development, but I’ll sample a few to give you an idea as to how I feel about them as an “investment”.  Crud, those quotes likely gave me away already.

Timber Ridge is at the Grand Geneva. It’s a waterpark. It’s nice enough. There used to be a rib joint inside the waterpark hotel, but I haven’t been there since my kids were last invited to a birthday party there. Today there are nine units available at Timber Ridge priced from $99k to $189k. None are pending sale.  Normally someone dissecting a condotel market would look at the net income and compare that with the purchase price. Not me. I don’t care if the units print 3% or 5% or 7% annual return on the most recent run of numbers. That’s because that’s not the issue with these sorts of units.

I care about the value of the real estate. Let’s look at the $99k unit. First sold by the developer in 2001 for $160,400. Nice. Then sold once or twice. Then sold in 2003 for $206k to the current owners. After 15 years, their investment has declined more than 50%. Another unit listed at $102k sold previously for $181k. Another unit listed at $189k previously sold for $305k. And the beat goes on.  Rather than view these units as an opportunity that the market has beaten up, I prefer to view them as a painful lesson of what happens when consumer sentiment shifts. Take away the free steak dinner and boat cruise; would anyone ever buy a timeshare again?

Let’s check on the Cove in downtown Lake Geneva, the place with that absurd blue roof. A little unit for sale for $109k. Prior sale? A 2008 print at $170k. Here’s another unit listed at $134,900. Initial sale by the developer in 1996: $135,400. 22 years, negative equity.  Let’s move to Fontana, and check on what is likely the best of this bunch, the Abbey Hotel. Here’s a unit listed at $150k. Prior sales price? 12 years ago for $254k.

It’s not that I enjoy beating up on a particular market segment, it’s just that I don’t know as though I’d be a buyer of something like this. Yes, they might turn a small profit on an annual basis. But what of the initial investment? What about that crushing loss?  These properties are relatively illiquid, intensely sensitive to overall market conditions, and reliant on a consumer that just might have learned their lesson.

If you’re a buyer searching for an economical condo that you can rent out to generate some income, I’d opt for the lower priced condominium units in non condotel properties. I’d look at lower priced listings in Geneva National, Abbey Springs, and the Abbey Villas. I’d consider those options 99 times before I’d consider anything else. If you’re in the market for this sort of thing, email me and I’ll set you up with my assistant Vicki who can help guide you through this particular market segment.

 

 

Loramoor Sells

Loramoor Sells

Most of the players in this game are endless and unflappable cheerleaders.  I did this! They say. I’m amazing! Others chime. Such is the business of self promotion. Without this promotion, no one would know anything about any of these players.  Aside from a news article once in a while, no one will spend much time considering your success. In the real business world, this is fine. To quietly go about mining dollars is the preferred way, but alas, the rules of this game do not allow quiet success.

I engage in this self congratulation often. I write this blog to educate and entertain, but also to make sure the reader knows which player in this game is indeed the most meaningful.  Heck, I write a whole magazine dedicated to this market, and as a fortunate aside, this player. Some pose with their real estate signs as though they’re prom dates, others plaster their names on their cars, while others still want to watch you while you grocery shop. No matter the platform, we’re just playing by the rules.

But sometimes, there’s no praise to be given, no praise to be asked for. There’s just a sale and a seller and a buyer, and that’s that. This is what happened last week when I finally closed on my aged listing off of South Lakeshore Drive. I first listed this home two years ago, and throughout that time I asked for listing extensions and price reductions more than I’d like to admit. I worked to sell this house, and ultimately I did sell this house, but I did a miserable job at it.

The market is, by all accounts, back to the prior market peak. In many instances, prices have pushed above that peak. Now consider this house that I just sold. It previously sold during the prior market escalation for $1.5MM and change. I just closed on it last week for $925k. That’s a terrible thing, and while I feel relieved that the property is no longer on the market, I know I was rather unsuccessful in selling this home.

The issue with the home was a complicated one. It wasn’t one issue at all, really. It was the perfect storm of trouble. First, a high prior print to chase. Second, an initial and subsequent list price (with another broker, by the way) that was sky high. After that initial list, the market was lost and the owner spent the next several years chasing buyers in the only way that actually makes a material difference: price reductions.  By the time I took over the market had written the property off, and while I thought I might be able to put some shine on the listing I ultimately failed at doing so. The price of $925k was a reasonable market price, but in this case, the buyer won.

I closed on another property last week, also somewhat of an aged piece of inventory. This was my vacant land listing in Loramoor. The lot was quite lovely, just one home from the water with slight views and proper lake rights through the East Loramoor Association. That lot was on the market for a year or two before closing last week for $625k.  In this market, that sale makes perfect sense. It was a nice market rate, with seller and buyer both doing well for themselves. Why would a buyer buy a home in a cottage neighborhood only to significantly renovate or rebuild it, when they could buy this lot in a high end neighborhood and be surrounded by high priced homes? Expect a new home to be built there soon, one that will likely make proper market sense.

These sales prove one important thing about the state of our market. As the lakefront inventory dries up (the lowest priced true lakefront home available today is my listing on Bluff for $2.145MM), buyers will look off water for reasonable values. If the cheapest lakefront is $2.1MM, it only makes sense that buyers in the low buck range will seek alternatives to sparse lakefront inventory. Expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future, as off-water homes in the $900-$1.7MM range find favor with inventory hungry buyers.

Abbey Springs Yacht Club

Abbey Springs Yacht Club

This fish fry thing has become a problem for me. It’s not even a problem that I was required to consider, which makes it even worse. It’s a problem I volunteered for. If no good deed goes unpunished, then consider this review series to be both my deed and my punishment.  The problem isn’t that I’ve been eating lots of fish. I’ve enjoyed the fish. I’ve enjoyed discovering locations that are new to me. I’ve enjoyed all of it. And until last Friday, one of the places I most enjoyed was the Abbey Springs Yacht Club.

The first time around, I praised the club. Their bread was warm, their butter soft. Their potato pancakes creamy, their applesauce cold. Everything was above average, close to perfect. I told you this. I told other people this. When I’d receive emails where people wish for me to distill this search down to the champion, I’d willingly suggest that the Abbey Springs Yacht Club was the best available. With this in mind and lots of visiting family in town, I took control of the fish fry schedule and brought my party of 16 to the lakeside restaurant for what I presumed would be a lovely dinner.

We were seated at two adjacent tables, each with a pleasing view of the lake, at a few minutes past five.  Yes, we went early. A long day in the sun necessitated this.  Out waitress was soon table side, and she was as nervous as anyone has ever been, over anything at any time in history.  She barely squeaked out the special, and had a difficult time with any basic questions that our table posed. I felt sorry for her, but I also felt that by the end of July any summer server should have figured out how to overcome their jitters.

Our drinks were brought out soon enough, but the wait for the fish was significant. Perhaps 35 minutes? Perhaps a few minutes more, maybe a few less.  The restaurant was not even half full, due to our early reservation, so the kitchen couldn’t have been in the weeds just yet. When the food did arrive the plate looked mostly right, but there were things amiss.

The coleslaw was piled on the plate, not in a small dish or container as I’ve learned is standard. The reason you don’t set a pile of coleslaw on a plate is obvious.  This isn’t a solid. This is a creamy item that bleeds and leaks all over the plate. My potato pancakes had coleslaw on them, so did my hushpuppies and my fish. This was an unacceptable condition. Speaking of hushpuppies, I had one on my plate, my wife had two.  These are the inconsistencies that plague Lake Geneva area restaurants, and it’s a shame. They are not inconsistencies that require secret formulas to fix. They just require a touch of effort.

The baked fish was ok. It wasn’t great, but it was ok. The pieces were small, almost like the kitchen shredded them with a fork so that we could eat them with a spoon. The fried piece on my plate was large, and at first glance, looked nice and appropriately browned and crisped. But the truth was revealed by the edge of my fork, as the interior of the filet was the consistency of applesauce.  The potato pancakes were redeemable, with a tender, creamy interior and nicely crisped exterior. I liked my pancakes very much, but the rest was a tremendous miss.

I felt the need to apologize to my group for leading them astray, for bringing them to this place with the mushy cod and the leaking coleslaw, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to sway those who might have been otherwise satisfied with their meal. But over the course of that evening and the next day I learned that no one particularly enjoyed their dinner. My dad said his french fries were the best he’d ever had, so that was nice. But the opinions were uniform: dinner was not very good.

This is why I’m going to kill this fish fry review series in the next couple of weeks. There are a few places left to consider, including Crandall’s (the stalwart) and Fitzgerald’s Genoa Junction. After those two options, I’ll crown a winner and we’ll be done with this thing. The biggest problem isn’t finding a nice place to eat fish on a Friday. It’s in finding a place that will serve good fish on a Friday in April, and back it up by serving good fish on a Friday in July. Sadly, Abbey Springs Yacht Club just failed this test.

Not The Same

Not The Same

I don’t really know exactly how Hamburger Helper works. I assume it’s just a powder mix, with some starch to bind and some salt to flavor. Maybe a dash of onion and garlic powder for good measure. I’m guessing you brown some meat, strain off most of the fat, and then stir in this powder. Give it a bit of time on some heat and it thickens and becomes Hamburger Helper. Maybe you add in macaroni or other noodles, I can’t be sure. But whatever you’d made you can eat it, and if you’re not a snob you can recognize that in spite of its name it tastes ok. It’ll satisfy your hunger, much in the way that a fine Porterhouse steak cooked on the dying embers of a wood fire will accomplish the same. Both are food, both come from a cow, and both will allow you to push away your pangs of hunger. In this, they are the same.

When I eat fish fry and tell the world about it, I get mixed reviews on my reviews. Some people like them. Good one, Dave. Other people shake their head because I just insulted their favorite restaurant. Others still tell me that fried fish isn’t good at all. That it’s not really food.  Unless you’re grilling a fine piece of line caught Tuna or a fat sliver of a Swordfish steak that you’re not really eating fish at all.  But that’s where they’re wrong, because I am eating fish, and it did taste fine, and my hunger was satiated. Would a nicely seasoned, seared piece of fresh Tuna be a finer option? Of course it would, but I was just looking to eat an easy dinner with $14.

This market of ours is causing buyers significant pain, as you know. It’s causing strife and anguish and terrible, terrible bouts of regret. Should you have listened to me and bought that lakefront home in 2013? Obviously. Increasingly, as buyers find little to pick over in this Lake Geneva market of ours, they’re turning to other ideas. To other lakes. Other places. Other states (shudder).  Michigan is better they say. Michigan has antique stores! Michigan has more nuclear power plants and more beach syringes!, they plead.  Do you know what Michstakegan also has? Inventory at lower prices. No one will admit this, but inventory and price drive decisions, and if water is water and a tree is a tree, then some water and a tree anywhere will do.

Maybe it’s not in Michigan, maybe it’s here. Another lake, perhaps. Farther away where the dollar stretches a bit.  Beaver Lake, that’s a nice place. Look how clear the water is! Yes, it’s clear and you just might have two or three feet of it off the end of your brown wooden pier. Maybe Pine Lake, where the water is clear and the shoreline green, where you can sit on your dock (they don’t get piers there, these are ours) and watch nothing go by.  If you’d like to sit in the woods by yourself, Pine Lake is fantastic. If you’re hungry and you want to go to dinner but you’re a recluse now and you’ve forgotten to renew your driver’s license you could shoot a deer and eat it. No one will notice.

There are other options. Lots of them. Anywhere you want to go, options.  If your standard for a lake house involves just a house and a lake, this can be accomplished anywhere. Want to save some money? Go to Tennessee, there are loads of lakes there and wonderful, plucked banjos to provide the soundtrack of your float. Or drive to the Northwoods, like so many do. It’s nice up there. Just plan to leave by 5 pm so you can roll in around midnight. Rainy on Saturday, oh well! You can go take your picture next to a giant wooden fish.

As I stood on a pier last night with the last few bits of sun peaking out around the Observatory’s iconic dome, I breathed the scene in. Soft waves, a gentle breeze, a boat or two slowly plying past heading to their nighttime piers. In the shallows, a Huron plucked around the rocks looking for the minnows that couldn’t escape his beak. In the distance, a sailor sitting stationary, hoping for a few last gasps of wind to bring him back to the pier. There’s something about this place that the uninitiated cannot fully grasp. Something rare. A blend of action and solitude, of peace and motion.  Something unique that other lakes simply cannot attain. You could leave this place in search of a lake that will more generously offer you inventory. They’ll give you nice homes for much less money. They’ll give you some water to swim in, no matter if your bathing suit will slowly turn green from the exposure. You could go to these places. But please don’t you ever mistake their Hamburger Helper for our Porterhouse.

Novak’s Fish Fry Review

Novak’s Fish Fry Review

On one hand, I should have probably visited France before I turned 40. Maybe it would have been more interesting if I had been 20 years old, backpacking and hitch-hiking my way through Europe, free as a bird without a care or concern or shred of responsibility.  Or maybe that would have been a terrible idea, because who would want to sleep in a dirty hostel when Amex has a Fine Hotels Collection? Who knew about this when they were 20?  Regardless of the benefit of better lodging, there’s one other desire I discovered on my recent trip that likely would have been lost on 20 year old me: The allure of outdoor dining.

While wandering our way through that foreign land I do believe we only ate three or four meals in-doors. This outdoor style had nothing to do with weather, as we ate outside as frequently in sunny Provence as we did in rainy Paris.   On my first full day home, I met up with a client who is also a friend and we decided to eat breakfast at Simple. It was a lovely spring morning, warm and dry.  The patio beckoned. But when I asked to be seated on the patio I was told that I couldn’t eat there. That it was closed. That the outdoor server wasn’t in yet. When I suggested that the indoor server could step a few feet out of the door and voila, become the outdoor server, I was met with resistance. We ate inside, much to our chagrin and much to the offense of my newly adopted habit.

Last Friday night it was a bit rainy, a bit cloudy, a bit windy. But Novak’s in Fontana was up for their turn on the Fish Fry Freighter, and so we pulled in and found a seat on their outdoor patio. Their patio has old metal chairs and tables, a lovely old iron fence, and ample umbrellas, so many that had it been raining we may not have even noticed. There is no remarkable view from this patio, no lake waves to watch, just a side of the fire station and a distant view of the gas station. Still, the landscaped boulevards in Fontana are in bloom and the grasses pushed and pressed with the wind, and the scene, in spite of any focal view, was rather delightful.

The fish fry at Novak’s is rather straight forward. It’s fried or broiled cod, served with a side of potato and all of the traditional accoutrements.  The cod meal is served as three pieces. If you want two, you’re out of luck. Expecting four small pieces? Hit the door. It’s three and you’re going to like it. When we inquired of our waitress whether or not we could do half and half, we were told no. Perhaps that’s because they can’t properly split three pieces. Maybe they have no tolerance for half pieces of fish, and they interpreted our request literally, with no wiggle room. My wife ordered the baked and I ordered the fried, thereby working around their no substitution rule. We were bored and hungry so we ordered the cheese curds to pregame.

It should be noted that while the patio is quite nice, the interior space lacks any particular panache. It’s just a restaurant space. You won’t remember it.  Our waitress was polite and prompt, perhaps owing to the fact that at a bit after 5 pm we were one of only two occupied tables. I’m guessing the restaurant filled up after we left.  We drank our water and watched the boulevard grasses dance in the lake breeze.

The curds were out within several minutes. They were smallish, and pale in color. I like my curds bronzed, but these were pale, almost yellow. Never mind the color, they tasted right, even if there was more chew to the cheese than I prefer. The cod was out a few minutes later, a nice little platter of fish and potato. The baked cod was covered in what we thought looked like dill, though it didn’t carry a heavy dill favor. The baked was well seasoned, nicely salted, and overall quite good. The pieces, however, were small. I could have used a slightly larger fish.

My wife ordered fries with her dinner, and we both agreed the fries were memorable. They are basically the same french fry that Gordy’s serves, which are among the best in the area. If you don’t eat french fries because you’re super fit and can’t spare the handful of calories, I weep for you. My potato pancake was singular, and it was just decent.  I found it to be too dry for my liking. It was close, but not close enough. Too much time on the griddle, or not enough mayo, sour cream, or whatever they use as a moistening agent.

The fried cod was properly crunchy, nicely salted, and nearly perfect. But there was something amiss. The batter was a bit soggy around the fish, so even though the exterior was crisped, the full bite featured some soggy batter. Still,  the fried portion was larger than the baked, and at the end of the dinner my wife and I both agreed that while we’ve had better, we’ve had many that were worse.  The tartar sauce was sweet and nicely seasoned, and while the applesauce won points for being served in a larger than typical plastic tub, it was too smooth for me.

I’d definitely add Novak’s to your Friday Fish Fry rotation. The patio might not transport you to Paris, but it’s better than sitting inside. At $14 per dinner it was in line with my pricing expectations, and the waitress was both polite and prompt, which is really all any of us can hope for. The fish was properly cooked, properly seasoned, and quite enjoyable. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, but attention was paid, and I appreciated their effort.

 

Novak’s 7/10

158 Fontana Boulevard, Fontana

$14 For Baked or Fried Cod

Today

Today

It’s another nice day here. The sky is calm and the birds are chirping.  Some water from the sky would be nice, but that’s an opinion only shared by the farmers, me, and those birds.  My Hydrangeas are nearly in bloom. I’m excited to see them again. I planted a few Hydrangeas at my office and they’ve already found the time to bloom and be eaten by the deer that stalk these mean Williams Bay streets under the cover of dark. Come to Nantucket, they say, we have all of the Hydrangeas! Look, some shingles and Hydrangeas and beaten up old shingles. I’ve been looking around here, and we’ve got all of those things. Big deal, Nantucket.

In spite of this delightful sky and these big, white blooms, I can’t help but look forward. It’ll be football season soon, someone just said. 55 days until College Football, written so boldly over a picture of a running back from some school diving into the end zone. I want to resist this. I want to think that football is a silly sport that I don’t even like, and fall is a time that I know will come at some point so why long for it now? Why, under these bright skies and with so much summer still in the tank, do I think about how lovely that first winter fire will be?

It’s July now. My son turned 15 last week. My dad will turn 74 next month. Or maybe it’s 73. Who could know? My uncle turned 60 recently, I think. My cousin got married in May and another cousin announced his engagement in June. I saw a license plate in town the other day, a recognizable plate that I’ve seen in this little town for the entirely of my life. I hadn’t seen the plate for a few years, so when I did notice it I focused on the driver to see if I recognized her. Sure enough, it was the lady who owned that plate when I was a kid, except she wasn’t the woman I remember. She was old and gray, weak in a way. If she’s that old now, so much so that she looked like maybe driving a car wasn’t the best idea, then what does that make me?

Half of the cars driving past my office this morning aren’t even cars. They’re trucks, big ones with trailers toting lawn mowers and weed whips and blowers and gas cans. It’s Wednesday and they’re mowing lawns. They mowed yesterday, too. Last weekend I showed a house in a neighborhood where I used to mow lawns. I looked at one house in particular and remember the owner coming out while I was mowing. He came out to yell. The lawn mower, he insisted, while leaving behind nice striped lines that I was rather proud of, was also pushing the grass down before it cut it. The grass was matted, sort of swept in the direction I was mowing but not entirely cut. As I drove past that house last weekend I stopped and stared at the exact spot that this old man violently raked his leg against the grain of that grass. He was pushing the grass up to show me what I wasn’t doing right.  He was right. I had been doing a less than perfect job. But that old man is dead now and his lawn is being mowed by someone else.

My wife said that her days pass slowly. That summer lasts too long. That time doesn’t march nearly as militantly as those fancy-pants neighbors. But I beg to differ. This morning I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, and found myself looking at 2015. What a year that was. My children were little, still children. We had pictures from vacations to the beach, trips to the ski hills, and afternoons spent splashing under this bright Wisconsin sun.  I looked much younger in those pictures than only three years should look. But I thought about the pictures from this year that I’ll be looking at in three more. How much younger I’ll look today. How much less gray. My son will have graduated high school by then and my daughter will be begging for her first car. Things will be different then, and then is right around the corner.

That’s why today I’m just going to be. I’m going to work and I’m going to play. I’m going to sand down the patio chairs that my wife decided to buy from the resale shop up the road a bit. I’ve been painting them green, like a Paris Patina, apparently.  Later, I’ll swim or maybe I’ll fish. I might see the old lady with the license plate or talk to my dad about what it’s like to get old.  I’ll drop my daughter off at sailing school, and I’ll bring my son with me to the gym and afterwards we’ll all stop at the lake for a swim. He benched 135 for the first time last week.  There’s nothing I can do to stop this fast progression of time, but I can stop to enjoy the unimportant moments once in a while. The moment isn’t some far away vacation. Some dreamt of goal. Some day far into an uncertain future that we’re foolishly counting on.  It’s just today, and it’s another sunny summer day  and we should be swimming.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t written as much about individual market segments of late, you’re perceptive. I haven’t.  It isn’t that I haven’t had thoughts, or that the market isn’t doing things I’m noticing and feel like sharing with you, it’s just that the market isn’t really all that fun right now. To be a buyer with some level of contemplative thought isn’t fun. To be a seller who sees the market ripping and roaring excepting your individual house, that isn’t fun. And to be an agent who has to deal with all of this, well, that isn’t fun either. It’s summer and we’re supposed to be having fun. But I’m not, and if you’re a buyer then you’re not. And some sellers aren’t either. This is the summer of our discontent.

The issue is that the inventory is limited. This we know. We knew this last year and we knew it was going to be an issue this year. And it is. Showings on lakefront homes are at all-time-high levels, and it’s not uncommon this summer to see four or five different lakefront showings a week on a lakefront listing.  Offers are plentiful, and just this past week there’s a new contract on an aged bit of South Shore Club inventory listed in the $2.8MM range, and a new contract on an entry level cottage in the Elgin Club in the $1.2MMs.  The other pending lakefront is of the Woodhill property on Basswood listed at $4.5MM. That’s a home that the market perceived to be a tear down, but rumor has it the soon-to-be-owner has chosen to renovate it.

For all of this new activity, there has been just one lakefront closing in the past six weeks. That closing occurred last week when the old Born Free estate on the north shore of Geneva closed for $5.35MM. That property last sold in 2011 for $3.5MM. There were no significant changes made to the property between 2011 and 2018. That’s real appreciation. To further that story, the new owner of that parcel tried in vain to cut the piece into three lots. Thankfully, the township struck that concept down, and the new owner was only able to get 2 lakefront lots out of the 200′ parcel.  When the piece sold last week, the new owner turned around and sold off the vacant 100′ of that lot to a new buyer for a rumored price in the high $2s.

There were six other lake access sales over the past six weeks, including the large stable home in Loramoor. That large property closed for $1.37MM. On a price per square foot measure, which our market doesn’t typically have interest in, that property sold for an unbelievable bargain. But in real life the price was about right for an off-water home (with slip)  in need of some final finishing touches. As with any aged piece of inventory, it’s terrific to see that property no longer on market.  I have several properties pending sale, including my modern off-water home on the south shore, a vacant lot in East Loramoor, and my Woodstone listing that I brought to market just a few weeks ago.

I’ve personally had several lakefront listing appointments in the past month, but all have ended with sellers either choosing to hang on to their homes, or other delays for unknown reasons.  The last several weeks of hot and sunny have provided powerful momentum for buyers who were possibly ambivalent about their purchase before. It’s one thing to be hot and bothered at the lake. At least refreshment is close. It’s another thing entirely to be hot and bothered in the city or suburbs, and that’s brought buyers to the lake in tremendous numbers.  Oh, and there’s a new listing on the lake for $14.5MM. It isn’t my listing, which is unfortunate and terrible. That will test the high end up here, which last printed an $11MM+ sale for 415′ of frontage and 19 acres on Snake Road.

If you’re a buyer in this market, I sympathize with your plight. Low inventory is making for a difficult process, but in spite of this there are still deals to be had. Some sellers are motivated, even while most of the others are not. Find aged inventory and pick at it. Needle it. Consider it. If you’re jumping around from agent to agent you need to stop doing this. Email me. Let me help you understand this market. Let me help you discover patience. The market won’t stay this tight forever. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

(No Fish Fry Review today. I went to the Lake Geneva Yacht Club on Friday night and the fish was overcooked and the potato pancakes blah. This reflects my recent disappointment during my return visit to the Abbey’s Waterfront.)

Valley Park Lake Geneva

Valley Park Lake Geneva

My large lakefront offering in Valley Park is still available, though it probably shouldn’t be.  Compare this property to the newest lakefront listing on Geneva, priced at $14,500,000. That listing has 3.46 acres.  Valley Park has 6.9 acres. That listing, for $14,500,000, has 210 feet of frontage.  Valley Park has 211 feet.  That listing has a City of Lake Geneva tax bill. Valley Park has a Linn Township tax bill. If you’re a buyer in the upper reaches of our market, you’d be well served to consider my listing in Valley Park. It’s large, it’s ideal, and it’s ready for the next owner. Best of all, with the $9.3MM I’m saving you, the new house you could build would be stunning, and you’d have several million dollars left over.  Why buy someone else’s lake house when you can build your to own your exacting specifications for less?

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry Review

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry Review

I’ve purposefully avoided reviewing Daddy Maxwell’s. The reasoning for this avoidance was complicated, I suppose.  Daddy Maxwell’s has been a staple in Williams Bay for as long as I can remember, and I hated the thought of delivering an honest review in the event that something went less than perfect. I love all things Williams Bay, and will defend all things Williams Bay, but I cannot effectively defend against my own honesty.  My father and his father and my great uncle were regulars at Daddy’s for decades, and I always felt  that I, too, might someday make it to that status (I haven’t yet). To make matters more curious, my son works there, dutifully washing dishes and bussing tables throughout the summer.  When I sat down at my table last Friday night I was fearful of the fish to come.

We went early. 5 pm, on the dot, early. It felt early, but other patrons were already finishing their fish when we were seated in that front, circular dining room. There’s just two spaces here, one room with booths that open towards the diner’s bar, and the other room with tables on the East side, where we were. There was a large middle table in that space that soon filled with a happy family and one shrieking child.  Fish doesn’t taste as good when your ears are under assault, but it was too late to back out now.

Daddy Maxwell’s isn’t open for dinner excepting for this Friday night fish fry. That shows keen awareness by the owner, and the menu reflects a willingness to modify what other restaurants often see as a very strict menu offering. This fish fry featured Haddock, Cod, Perch, Shrimp, and some other fish that’s served blackened with jerk seasoning. There are potato pancakes and the usual sides, each served in a small plastic tub. The menu, in case you haven’t ever been, has small bits of inside jokes and innuendo that I’m sure many people understand but I do not.  The deep fried perch comes with three pieces and a question, “Maybe retired old men eat out too often”...

The waitress was polite but firm, and responded with little hesitation when I asked what she recommended. The battered cod was good, she said. The grilled lemon pepper haddock is another favorite. I obeyed her and ordered the Tavern Battered Cod Plate ($10.75 for four pieces) with the potato pancakes and a single extra piece of lemon pepper grilled haddock, just to check it out. My wife opted for the Sizzlin Fish Tacos, (marinated, chopped haddock)…“Que Bueno”. My daughter left the reservation completely and ordered a burger. We nursed our waters and tried to ignore the eardrum shattering screams coming from the neighboring table.

The fish was out in short order, and looked good enough. The dinner was served with two slices of untoasted rye, along side a tiny packet of to-go butter. I’ll avoid comment, because I’m certain my opinion on this is already known. The fried cod looked more like fish-sticks than the larger, chunk pieces of cod most of our market serves. The small chunk of grilled haddock looked nice, so I tried that first. It was extremely subtle on the lemon pepper flavor, but the fish was delicately cooked and flavorful. I enjoyed it very much. The cod was crunchy with a thick batter, and the fish inside was pretty good. It wasn’t my favorite batter or fish on this tour, but it was in line with the average.

The potato pancakes (two) were thin and looked more like actual pancakes than most of the potato pancakes I’ve had. But they were very nicely seasoned and cooked perfectly. The interior was moist and creamy, the exterior just a bit crisped. They were a nice break from my unfortunate run of disappointing potato pancakes. The applesauce is only served with the potato pancakes, so if you opt for fries don’t expect any applesauce. But I am not the sort that slathers applesauce on potato pancakes, which must be something that one learns either at a very young age or never at all, so I eat my applesauce separate. And this was delicious applesauce. Huge chunks of apple, nicely sweetened. A winner on the applesauce scene.

When the dust settled I was satisfied with my meal. I wasn’t amazed by it, or enthralled with it, but I left satisfied that I had just eaten a proper Wisconsin Fish Fry, and my Friday night was still young. I made the most of that early dinner by going home to mow my lawn before returning to the restaurant to wait for my son to finish washing the pots and pans from dinner service. I’m pleased to report that Daddy Maxwell’s didn’t let me down. I was told later that I should have ordered the butterflied perch, but such is life.  Is Daddy Maxwell’s in my top five fish fish fry joints? No, it isn’t. But is it a nice, local joint to find a varied fish fry served with careful effort? Yes, it most definitely is.

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry 6.5/10

150 Elkhorn Road, Williams Bay

Cod, Haddock, Shrimp, Perch, from $8.25 to $16.50

 

Lake Geneva Buyers

Lake Geneva Buyers

It’s summer of 2018 and you’re in Lake Geneva.  You’ve done several things right to make it here. You’ve made strategic decisions that have led to this point. You’ve endured difficulties and celebrated successes. You’ve made it, even if you don’t know it. You can’t find yourself along these shores in search of anything and not understand that simply by being here you’ve proven your success. To arrive here, now, to be in this market as an owner or a buyer, there’s something that must be said: I’m proud of you.

If you’re here and you decide that you’re going to be a summer 2018 seller, then you do several things. You set up some listing appointments with the agents that you feel will increase your chances of selling in an efficient and lucrative manner. You interview the guy with the blog, the guy with the magazine (spoiler, those are both me), you interview the lady who your neighbor plays Bingo with, and you interview the guy who your husband’s friend golfs with. That agent is always golfing, but alas, you interview him anyway.

What happens next is the issue. Agents, sensing the market and sensing the competition, battle against each other to drive your price up. You listen. You don’t like the agent who keeps on insisting on using facts to back up his opinions (that’s me), and you don’t like the agent who golfs all of the time because he has two score cards in his pocket next to his soft-edged business card. You really like the bingo player, because she’s super enthusiastic and happy and she thinks your pricing ideas are right on.  Name your price, she says. So bubbly and so positive. Never mind that she rarely sells houses, you list because there’s palpable enthusiasm here and her price is 20% over the one the reality based magazine guy gave you.

That’s what sellers do. But buyers?  They’re even worse. At least the seller interviews prospective agents. Buyers tend to follow a different path. They drive up to the lake, drive around the lake, stop in at open houses and call the names on signs.  Recently, Walworth County Realtors have sprung forward into the 1950s and decided that open houses are the key to success. Every weekend, open houses. Down this road! Open House!  Agents press their pleated khakis and affix their gold name tags. They shuffle their stack of brochures next to the sign in sheet. That sign in sheet is often what will do you in.

See, buyers don’t seem to know it, but the real estate business is built around the concept of procuring cause.  While I’m not an attorney, I know that this concept is what drives the commissions in real estate. And in case you are exceptionally naive, you should know that commission is what drives real estate agents to work on Saturday and Sunday while the rest of the free world is playing. If you stop in to an open house and give that agent your name and contact info, that agent is going to make a claim that you’re their buyer. If you call an agent off of their yard sign and give them your contact info so that you might receive info, that agent is going to make a claim that you’re theirs. If you so much as breathe in the general direction of an agent, there’s a good chance that agent thinks you’re their customer.

What I’d like you to do is something different. I don’t want you to work with another agent and consult me and this blog for advice. That’s sort of lame, and unfortunately quite common. Instead, I’d like you to determine if you’re a buyer in the Lake Geneva market. If the answer is yes, then I recommend you follow the model of the sellers. You need to interview agents. Pick a couple, interview them. Interact with them. It’ll take an hour of your time and save you considerable consternation in the future. Further, it’ll save you from possible financial errors that won’t only harm your pride. Why would you work with an agent whom you met by sheer chance? Why would you work with an agent who pays the most for your lead on Zillow? Stop doing this. It’s embarrassing.

If you are in the market, and you’re reading this,  Send me an email. Set up a time to meet with me. We’ll talk about the market. You’ll quickly learn there’s a significant difference between an agent who says they’re a market expert and one who actually is.  The market is hot. There are mistakes being made. I’ll try to help you avoid those, and we’ll have fun along the way.

Fish Fry Problems

Fish Fry Problems

I might eat a fish dinner on a Friday. That fish dinner might be amazing. Tender, white fleshed fish, crisp, moist potato pancakes. Maybe even some chunky, cold applesauce. That dinner might be so good that I return to this computer a few days later and tell you just how good it was. Amazing, really. Go there, I’ll say.

And you might. The next Friday, because you were hoping to find someplace that might cure you of your bad run of fish-fry-luck.  And so you drive, to the place I went, order the things I ordered. The flaky fish and the crunchy batter, the crisped pancake and that perfect applesauce. You order and wait with anxious anticipation.  The fish is brought out. The pancakes, too. The applesauce is served.  But then something happens.

The batter isn’t crunchy at all. The fish is gray. There’s a bone in your broiled piece. The pancake is greasy and limp. The applesauce is warm.  Your waitress is rude and the ripped vinyl bench irritates your skin. You shouldn’t have worn shorts. Everything is terrible. David Curry was wrong.

Last Friday, I wanted to eat some fish. I had appointments that pushed my typical dining time to a later, more normal time. But it’s Fourth of July week, and restaurants are filled to overflowing. I called around to find a reservation. No luck. Our party of 10 would need special consideration, I figured, but no restaurant felt like confirming a table for me. Perhaps the knew the sound of my voice and knew to avoid me.  After some calling, we decided that the Abbey Waterfront should have availability because it is, indeed, a large space. We drove. We waited a few minutes. We were seated.

I didn’t really want to go back to one of my prior favorites, but with friends in tow I decided it would be good to stop the exploration and go somewhere I know to be good. The last time I went to the Abbey’s Waterfront restaurant I wrote a nice review. It was a good dinner. On this Friday I expected a repeat performance.

We ordered our various pieces of fish and potato and waited. The lakeside dining room was a bit warm on this sultry evening, but I gave it a pass as I guessed their air conditioning units were trying their best.  The restaurant was busy, so the 30 minute wait from ordering to eating wasn’t a surprise, though it was a touch annoying. Nevermind, I’d be more annoyed shortly, anyway.

The fish arrived and I knew it was off. The broiled cod wasn’t white like it should be, it was a bit gray, like it shouldn’t be. There was water pooled in the opened cracks of the fish, not drawn butter like any respectable fish would prefer to be baptized in.  The fried piece was still crunchy, but the batter was bland and the fish hidden inside was also gray. The potato pancake was fine, but dry, the applesauce was blah. The first order was cod, so I made the second order walleye. I waited for just shy of eternity, and when the fish came out the fried was just marginal and the broiled walleye was riddled with bones. I left, exceptionally disappointed.

And that’s the problem with fish fry in this area. It isn’t consistent. That’s why people drop anchor at their favorite and enjoy the experience for many reasons that have nothing to do with inconsistent fish and possibly dry pancakes. A friend of mine sent me a text on Friday night, just as I finished my gray dinner. He said, with more colorful adjectives, that the Evergreen Golf Course fish fry was terrible. The worst he’s ever had. An abomination, really. I took that to note and figured that based on his commentary I would be skipping Evergreen in future visits.

But I also sat back and thought that someone just left Evergreen the week before and told their friends it was the best fish they had ever eaten. Someone will leave the Waterfront this coming Friday and extol its impeccable delivery and marvel at the white, flaky flesh of both its cod and walleye. The problem with a fish fry is that for everything to go right there are too many factors. Too many nuances. Too many chances to serve me gray overcooked cod when all I really wanted was a nice little fish dinner.

Summery

Summery

My calendar said spring turned to summer last week. The first day of summer, it said, capitalized with an exclamation point. The hardware stores had an ad in the paper, every paper, telling us that it’s summer time and because of this we need things. Grills! Plants! Bee Killer! I was in a hardware store over the weekend when a man walked in with a bee problem. He told the store worker that his bees were out of control. They were in the rocks and around his waterfall.  They were a problem and his children wouldn’t be happy if they were stung, even though no one had been stung just yet.  I kept quiet for a while but ultimately decided to ask if he was certain these were not honey bees, because honey bees are valuable and shouldn’t be choked by a foaming pesticide. He didn’t know. They’re all bees he said. And they’re all going to die. Welcome to Summer.

A woman drove a convertible down the road and across the intersection where I was stopped. There was something going on around the corner, a race maybe. Some bikes zipped past. Numbers painted onto the participants’ arms. So much determination, so much haste. The woman in the convertible didn’t care, she had on her big hat, and I wondered how it stayed attached to her head without blowing away in the open-top-breeze. Pins, maybe. I figured there was a trick, something women know that I don’t. She turned the corner too tight and her wheel clipped the curb, causing the car to bounce and her hat to flop and her neck to whip back like something happened that she couldn’t control. Later, when she’s home she’ll tell her husband that she just can’t understand what happened to that wheel. By then the scrape on her shiny rim will be smudged dark by summer dirt that washed from the spring fields during the last storm.

No one knows when it’s summer more than boaters. You can see the boats now, sitting on trailers and in slips, full of gas and ready. There’s no time like now to boat, at least now that it’s summer. If you have a boat and you own it during summer, what a thrill. Boats in the winter aren’t nearly as much fun. That’s when the bills come due. Winter service, winter storage, winter protection from the winter: $2650. Last year it was $2250, but the economy is better and the labor is tighter so the price has to go up. Boats are like that, a good measure of inflation and of the economy. Need your boat waxed? It’ll cost you $550 during a recession and $825 during a boom. It’s booming now, and the bill was $900. The extra is the Geneva fee. It would have still been $825 in the Chain, but no $75 has been better spent.

It’s raining again. It’s not a spring rain, it’s a summer rain. I’m sure because the weatherwoman said it would be a passing shower, like how it rains at Disney every afternoon. It always amazes me how much rain we can get in the summer and yet when I want precipitation in January so my kids can ski, it’s as dry as the driest of deserts.  It’s dry in the Southwest, and they have purple mountain sunsets there. Come to the Southwest and see our cacti and our purple mountains and our sunsets! There’s nothing like a sunset over a purple mountain with some cacti in the foreground. That’s what they say, but I don’t believe them. Because it’s summer here and our sunsets are better. Once this rain passes I’m sure there will be a better sunset tonight. A summer sunset. The humidity will make the sky dazzle.

The calendar told people it’s summer, and they’re reacting. Boats are boating, sunsets are filling up Instagram. #summervibes, someone writes. Others Like. It’s that time, when summer comes to those who otherwise wouldn’t know. But I know. You know. We know summer has nothing to do with the calendar. Summer arrives when we first feel it on our skin. When the first pier is in, white and sturdy. The first boat pushes through the water from West to East and back again. When that first sunset is no longer visible through the bare branches of winter, but instead hides behind a deep, dark canopy of Oak and Maple. Summer doesn’t start at the end of June unless you’re not paying attention. Summer for me started sometime in May, whether the calendar watchers knew it or not.