Blog :

Lakeview Pointe

Lakeview Pointe

I’ve written often about Geneva National. It’s a staple in our market, one of the largest pieces to this puzzle. Without it, a review of the Lake Geneva vacation home market cannot be complete. If you’ve read this column of mine for long enough, you know how I feel about GN. I love it, but I always advise caution when considering which enclave to choose. I dislike the newer sections of condominiums, those that are still under construction and growing. I encourage buyers to seek out condominiums in the established sections, so that their future value does not hang on the whim of a developer.  My approach to Geneva National in this regard has been consistent throughout the years.

Lakeview Pointe is a gated enclave on the Player course. The development consists of duplex style townhomes, each with two car attached garages, some 3500 square feet of living space, and uninterrupted views of the Player course, the course ponds, and Lake Como in the distance. The setting is as serene as any setting in Geneva National, and for those who haven’t been paying attention, all of Geneva National is pretty darn serene.  It’s close to the Clubhouse for those who wish to be members of the club, golf members or just social. If I’m a buyer looking for a large vacation home that represents the best bang for my hard earned buck, it’s Lakeview Pointe that I’m going to consider.

But within Lakeview Pointe, not all condominiums are created equal. Sure they’re all large, with those main floor masters and walk out lower levels. Sure they all have two car attached garages, and they all front the Player. But my new listing is the best of the best, boasting a view that beats all other contenders. The location on the corner of the run is what lets me see the Player green, the following tee, the ponds, the prairie, and Lake Como. I’m on the peninsula, looking south and east at all of it. If you’re a buyer who values location, there is nothing better.

But this isn’t purely a location buy. Look at the unit. It’s beautiful. It’s large and private, both quiet and exciting at once. The square footage could not be replicated for the $539k listing price. Key to understand here is this needn’t be a specific condominium buyer. This is simply a good fit for anyone in the market who seeks stylish square footage, and loads of it for a low price point. I suspect this unit will sell quickly, so if you have any interest, I’d love to hear from you sooner rather than later.

This weekend is Venetian Fest in Lake Geneva. Come for the carnival rides, stay for the fireworks. I hesitate to call this summer’s last hurrah, because it isn’t. But it’s getting close, and that should motivate you to pay us a visit.  And if you’d like to see the best condo in Lakeview Pointe, just let me know.

 

Whispering Oaks

Whispering Oaks

What is it that makes a lakeside property desirable? Is it the view?  That has to be some of it. Any nice house on any lot is fine, but a nice house with a view is something different. It’s something unique. We can have a nice house in the suburbs, and that’s okay. But what is that house looking towards? What is it surrounded by? More nice houses, I’d guess. Each with a landscape unique but similar, each with some hydrangeas in bloom and a burning bush waiting its turn.  The view of a lake house, now that’s something unique. That’s something special. But is every view as good as the other? Is a lake view on the east shore of Williams Bay the same as a lake view from the west shore of Lake Geneva?

Beyond the view, what is it that makes a house something else? What makes it something more?  We could buy a small lot right now on Geneva Lake for $900k.  The lot would be fine for our lakefront endeavors. We could swim and boat, we could sit by the fire pit and toast marshmallows.  But is an entry level lot with a nice house on it the same as a nice house on a large lot? Is the enjoyment the same? Well, in that, the answer is a resounding sorta. But the larger lot offers more opportunity, more driveway, more perennials, more lawn to run over and patio to lounge on. While nice houses are the same everywhere, the two things that make or break a lakefront house on this lake, or on any lake, are simply the property and the view. On this lake, the distinction between the desirable and undesirable properties is sometimes nuanced, but usually quite obvious.

There’s a house in Lake Geneva on a hill with 140 or so feet of frontage on Geneva Lake. The house sits high on a hill, with ample views looking long down the lake towards the west. This is nice. But is 140′ on a hill as desirable as 126′ worth of level property? If you think the answer is yes, then we’re going to need to sit down and have a deep and honest discussion about frontage. In the same way, is a property next to an association worth the same as a property next to other single family lakefronts? Is a property with an easement for this and an easement for that as valuable as a property with no entanglements?  If we’re looking for lakefront, shouldn’t we look for a nice house, yes, but moreover for a nice lot with level frontage and a deep landscaped lot without any of these annoying easements for access or driveway or something that benefits a neighbor?

Whispering Oaks is a house you might know. There are few homes with log accents on Geneva Lake, and this is one of them. This is also the newest of those existing homes. It was built in 1999 by the current owner, and built to the highest of construction standards. Were an architect called for wood bracing, steal was used. When an asphalt roof would have done just fine, a clay tile roof was installed. Where traditional insulation would have performed okay, fire retardant insulation was used.  An electrical service is an electrical service, until a contractor builds his lakefront dream house- then commercial grade transfer boxes and electrical panels are installed.  Most houses on this lake look nice on the outside, that’s not such a special trick.  What’s unique here is the quality of the construction that you cannot see.

But what you can see is pretty special as well. The great room is massive, anchored on one end by a Montana stone fireplace, and accented with 18″ Canadian Spruce. The windows are something else altogether, huge and wide and tall, showcasing that dynamic view of the lake, from the Lake Geneva Country Club north to the Narrows and east all the way to downtown Lake Geneva. The views on the street side capture the 1.15 acres of perennial gardens, and offers a peek of the Chicago granite driveway that winds from Loramoor Drive.   On the other end of this great room, the open kitchen, with custom cabinetry, and the Viking and Sub-Zero appliances you’d expect. On the main level a three car garage, full laundry room, guest bedroom with bath, and billiard room complete the design. A sprawling stone patio extends the width of the home, offering a robust buit-in grill, fire pit, nightly sunset views, and easy access to 126′ of level frontage.

Upstairs there are four bedrooms, two on the lakeside with private decks, including the master suite with masonry fireplace. The lower level is wide open, a rec room of epic proportions.  In total, we have more than 8000 square feet of well maintained living space. The pier, in case you didn’t notice, is absolutely beautiful, perfectly built for lakeside fun. The outdoor shower is a family favorite, and if you’ve ever taken a cold water outdoor shower you’ll like this shower quite a bit- it’s plumbed to a hot water line in the house- so your last cold shower is in the past.

If you’re in the market for a lake house. Let me show you Whispering Oaks. It’s a terrific lake house, but unlike many terrific lake houses on the market, this one is on the right lot, in the right location, with the right views.  $5,995,000.

Of Agents and Inuendos

Of Agents and Inuendos

This is serious. You’ve been having the pain in your knee for quite some time. It bothered you during your junior year, but what could really, truly bother you then? Some tylenol and a creatine laced protein shake is all you needed to make that slight twinge of pain fade into the background. It was the championship game, after all. The pain now is different than the pain then. It’s more permanent. More achy. Less a twang of pain and more a deep constant, like something has taken hold in that joint that cannot and will not give up.  You wait nervously in the doctor’s office. The smell of the receptionists microwaved lunch turns your stomach. Your knee is getting worse by the minute.

The doctor is friendly, you found him online. He has a billboard on the highway near the Walmart,  “satisfaction guaranteed”. The guarantee is figurative,  because there can be no guarantee with this sort of work. The knee doesn’t react the same each time. The doctor knows you know this, but his insurance company remains steadfast in their demands that he remove the writing from the billboard. He will, he says, but not until the contract is up. To change it now would be costly, and the state is behind in their payments for the elderly care he provides, and so things are tight.  Your knee offers some financial redemption. You hope he looks as he does on the billboard. Capable, confident, full of guarantees.

He enters the room. He’s confident. His office, he says, is among the best in the entire country. He’s number one in his group. The group over which he reigns is unclear, but he’s number one, that he’s sure of.  He’s been doing this for a while, years, in fact. How many is left out.  He does this all the time he says as he looks over the file. Nothing to be worried about. His knee is bouncing, nervously.  Your knee aches. He asks what the problem is. You tell him it’s your knee. He glances towards your leg. I see, he murmurs while furiously scribbling on his notepad, nodding the whole time as if asking himself questions and answering them quietly. Now let’s have a look at that knee.

His chair wheels over to you and he picks up your leg and rests it on his lap. His fingers prodding your achilles, pushing and waiting for your reaction.  He turns your ankle to the left and to the right, no reaction. He pushes your toes away from your heel, up and down, back and forth, all the while watching your face for any sign of discomfort. There is none. Satisfied with his work, he wheels away and looks toward his clipboard.  Good news, he says. It appears as though your knee is, as a point of fact, 100% healthy.

This may seem to be an absurd way to contrast a doctor with a Realtor, but it’s all I have for you this morning.  This market has me concerned, as buyers and sellers alike flock to agents who don’t know the difference between an ankle and a knee. Agents who see pictures of sunsets and ask if the house is on a shore of the lake that would never, under any circumstance, offer a sunset view. Agents who drive to listings and call for directions. Agents who ask if association frontage is private. Agents who don’t know the difference between a slip and a private pier. Agents who show on Powers Lake on Sunday and Geneva Lake on Monday and condominiums in Whitewater on Wednesday.  Incompetent, uneducated agents who find success because the work for a company that has some credibility.  This hot market has been a breeding ground for inexperienced agents, and sadly,  the market is falling for it.

In that, there is a real estate story.  Consumers see a brokerage, and they think the brokerage to be good. Or at least capable. They then approach the brokerage, looking for an agent. The assumption is that the agent, if aligned with a  large brokerage, is somehow an expert in their field. I would suggest to you that expert status is not attained by aligning oneself with a large firm. Now, if you’re in search of an attorney and you find one who is a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, you can reasonably assume that this partner is indeed a capable and competent attorney. But that’s because there’s a barrier to entry to such a firm. Only the best of the best gain membership. The barrier to entry to real estate is the ability to robustly fog a mirror, and if the test is completed without much difficulty, the agent is awarded a set of business cards and a gold jacket. You, the consumer, wander into the office the next day looking for a lake house. This is all a terrible, terrible mistake. Thankfully, there is a way to avoid the mistake. Looking for Lake Geneva real estate? Look with me.

 

Summer Night

Summer Night

There is some thought, rampant among those who cannot yet know, that a night is a night is a night. The night it dark here, just like there, in fact like every night. Night.  Those who love the night take great pride in this universal truth, that night is dark and it’s dark everywhere. In the daytime everything can be different. Every place its own, each unique. Some places with high mountains and cold rivers, others with wide plains and low, wet marsh. Some other places teeming with dark leafy trees and little dotted lakes, clear perhaps. Daytime, now that’s different because it looks different. But in the night when there’s nothing to see, each place is the same: dark and quiet.

But that’s not at all true. The night is filled with sounds, each season its own, each place its own. A winter night under a brilliant cold sky is something to behold. The deep, snowy still of a leafless and seemingly lifeless field contrast under the brilliantly bright stars.  But it’s not something one can savor. It’s too cold to dwell, and in, and so a winter night is something gulped in deep breaths and left alone. It’s still night outside, but inside with the wood fire and the warm lamp light is much more comforting.

A fall night is a noisy night, a windy night, some rain maybe. But that’s not entirely true. A fall night can be as alive as a summer night, or as still as a winter night, or it might be anything in between. There’s no rule for fall, nothing it must do. What it will do is build to a colorful crescendo just before it ebbs and falls silent. Fall is like winter without snow, unless it isn’t.

But those summer nights. In our memories, they all sound the same.  Crickets and hoppers, chirping and singing their redundant tune. Softly fading as the night wears on, only to be replaced by the chirping of song birds once the morning light is near.  This is what night at my house sounds like. My house, surrounded by prairie and distant trees, alive with the casual rhythm of so many field bugs. An occasional rustle in the grass, a rabbit hiding from a fox. A coyote clinking through the wooded edges, thinking about which chicken it will steal. There are other characters in this prairie night, but the stars are those bugs that I cannot identify, crudely scratching out the sound that I’ve come to love. Summer days can wear on me, but the sound of a summer night has yet to grow old.

I spent a few hours last week on a lakeside screened porch. The sounds were those of my childhood, a slow churning boat pushing through the night, returning its guests after dinner. Or the other boats, the large boats with parties aboard, spinning around the lake and clearing each point,  the dull murmur of the happy crowd reaching across the window and to my childhood bedroom. But what struck me wasn’t the familiar sound of a few slow boats. It was the quiet of it all. It was the distinct sound of a Geneva lakefront porch.  The steady but louder pitch of the cicadas, a sound I know well but one that I don’t hear at my prairie house. The quiet hush of leaves flittering in a late night lake breeze.  Next time you think a summer night is a summer night, spend one in a screened porch next to Geneva Lake. You’ll soon be like me, well aware of the privilege of a summer night anywhere, but equally aware that there is one place where that night is better. At the lake.

 

Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market

Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market

The thing about summer in Wisconsin is that as summer we know it starts on Memorial Day weekend. That’s when we’re first ready to light our grills, gas our boats, and indulge in this thing we call summer. Except that Memorial Day weekend is rarely summer, it’s more like spring with  swim shorts, and so we typically wait some amount of time for real summer to begin. Then once real summer begins we swim and we boat and we do the summery things. But this is June and that is July. If we’re waiting for summer to look, feel, and taste like summer, then we have no choice but to wait until August. We’ve waited, and it’s August. It’s time to eat.

Sure, we could have visited farmer’s markets in June. They exist then. The Lake Geneva market, on Broad Street in front of Horticultural Hall is open and ready for business (Thursday Mornings). But what would we buy? Some local honey, that’s nice. Maybe some fish from Rushing Waters. Some relish and jam, made by someone. But the product in Wisconsin then isn’t what we want it to be. If we were in Marco Island at their farmer’s market, we’d just buy produce that came off the Sysco truck (repackaged farm stand style, of course). But we’re not in Marco Island, we’re here, and we’ve waited and now the produce of Wisconsin is ready.

The Farmer’s Market in the Lake Geneva area is a thing of relative consistency. There are several of them (Fontana in front of the Coffee Mill on Saturday mornings),  but they’re basically all the same. What can you expect? Jam, honey, eggs, meat, cut flowers, bird feeders (made by Hank, or Hal, or Uncle Joe, or whomever), and other various and assorted things.  You’d be wise to buy all of those things at the market, but if you’re looking to entertain for the weekend at the lake, don’t you date buy your produce from Whole Foods and bring it here. Shop here. Buy our things.

Pearce’s Farm Stand (open daily) is outside of Williams Bay, in between here and Fontana on the corner of Highway 67 opposite Inspiration Ministries. It’s large and it’s nice, and while I dislike the carnival style haunted house stuff that’ll come in the fall, the summer stand is near perfection. The sweet corn is the main draw, and while the corn has been available for several weeks, it has only now begun to taste like Wisconsin summer corn should. It’s delicious, and you can’t buy it at Whole Foods. Even if you could, why would you? If you’re here,  indulge the markets. Wander around. Find some honey and some eggs. Do these things because you can’t fully enjoy a Lake Geneva summer if you don’t even know what it’s supposed to taste like.

 

Lakefront Inventory

Lakefront Inventory

It feels like an epidemic. Each day starts full of hope. Each day passes choked with despair. New inventory should be here by now. But it isn’t. Why isn’t it? This is what the people want to know. The smart Lake Geneva buyers are working with me, and I’m working for them, trying to dig up shreds of inventory so that I might offer it to them on this silver platter. Despite my efforts, the silver platter remains empty, carrying only the dust from a desperate summer.

Buyers are active on the lakefront, this we know.  Lots of agents have buyers at the moment. Lots. They’re asking me for inventory. David, what do you have that I might sell? This is sweet of them to ask so nicely, but what they don’t know is that any inventory that I uncover will be inventory that I offer to my buyers first, and to everyone else last. This is why buyers should be working with me, among all of the other reasons, but still, the market persists and summer moves along and there’s no inventory.

But that’s not entirely true. There have been seven new lakefronts brought to market from June 1st through August 1st. Of those seven, I’ve presented three of them under my brokerage. The thing is, five of those seven are listings that were previously on the market. Of the two new ones, I sold my listing (Jerseyhurst, closing next month), and the other listing is an entry level home seeking a buyer (visionary).  While I do see several of these new listings selling this year, it’s obvious to admit to you that our inventory is light at best. Anemic at worst.  But how does it stack up to a typical Lake Geneva summer?

Last year there were nine new lakefront listings 6/1-8/1.  For the sake of this historical reflection I won’t be deciphering which listings were “new” new, and which were  regurgitated new.  The same two months in 2015 brought 10 new listings to market. 2014 saw 12 new, and 2013 gave us 10. For the sake of averages, the market has produced 9.6 new lakefront listings between June 1st and August 1st. If we’re trying to be dramatic, that means the 2017 inventory production is 25% off the pace.

Still, in spite of the lighter 2017 listing volume, we’re still faring much better than the 2007 market. Those buyers were truly up against it, with just 3 lakefronts listed over those two summer months. And back then, the “cheapest” new listing was $2.2MM.  So yes, our inventory is constricted. Yes, that makes it tough on buyers. But don’t for a second think it’s some sort of historical anomaly.  It’s just a bit behind the running average, and I’m confident that August and September will bring some new inventory that will satiate the market.

 

Above, the master bathroom at my pending sale on Jerseyhurst.
Home

Home

My wife has adopted a particular driving habit. No, not the way her car crowds mine in the garage. They just want to be together, she says.  And not the way her foot lacks the ability to slowly and responsibly adjust the pressure to the gas pedal. It’s a road trip habit, but really whenever we’re driving, anywhere. A license plate from Manitoba. She spots them from miles away. Then she accelerates (see earlier note) to catch a glimpse of the truck, or car. Does she know the driver? She must, or so she thinks. She’ll wait outside restaurants for the plate owners to finish their meals so she can find out if, by some chance, she knows them.

The truck had a Manitoba license plate. It was southbound, as most plates from Manitoba tend to be, on that wide interstate. Traffic was hustling, but alternating between the hustle and a crawl with a complete stop thrown in now and then for good measure. The plate was affixed to a truck, a big truck, but not a semi. It was a dually, not unlike the truck my friend Eric’s dad drove in the early 1990s, but this one was newer, bigger, with dirt dried onto the paint around the wheels, up the tailgate, on the hood. The driver was going somewhere in a hurry. I sped up to see if I recognized the driver. I didn’t.

A horse trailer had 11 stickers of horses on the back of it. Five on one door and six on the other. The sticker horses were bucking, jumping, kicking.  11. I figured there must have been 11 horses in the horse trailer. Who would put 11 stickers on if there were only two horses in the trailer? The number seemed arbitrary, which means it must have been specific. The trailer was from Oklahoma, presumably as was the truck towing it. I couldn’t catch a glimpse. Just as I intended to accelerate the traffic turned to a crawl. All four lanes in either direction, crawling on a road meant for supreme and uninterrupted speed.

Feet on the dash. This isn’t something I’ve ever done. I’m too tall, I think. I did sit in the passenger seat once with my feet out the window, but that was when driving to a new fishing spot from an old fishing spot. My waders leaked something awful.  My socks were tucked into the outside of the backseat windows, flapping in the wind to dry. My feet outside the front window felt rare, like some sort of treat, born of necessity but also pleasant and curious.  After the interstate drive, I felt less special, less unique. Everyone drives with their feet on the dash, even if the truly brave (like me) go fully out the window.

The plates were mostly from Illinois. Trucks, cars, SUVs, campers even. Lots of trucks towing things. Bikes, both the motorized and regular kind. Fishing boats, some small, mostly smaller. But also four wheelers, loaded with mud, empty gas cans strapped to the front of the trailer. The various automobiles whipped past me, as I screeched along in the left lane, my rear calipers recently having decided that they had had enough of the squeezing and releasing.

But where were all these people going? I knew were I was going, but that was the only puzzle I could solve. Some answers were easy to guess. Arlington Lexus, the license plate holder said. Perhaps that driver with his wife blabbing in the front seat and his children glued to their individual screens in the back; perhaps he was headed to Arlington Heights. White Oak and Vail, maybe, somewhere near where my grandma lived for all of her best years. Other plates weren’t so easy to guess. Ah, but there’s a Cayenne with The Exchange written on it. North shore, for sure.

Traffic stopped again. Why would it stop now? Out of nowhere, with no construction tonight, as the flashing signs clearly stated Monday-Friday Road Work. It wasn’t one of those days, so why now? I thought of my brakes and imagined smoke pouring from the metal on metal grind. It was a truck, Illinois plates, pulled over on the shoulder, which wasn’t very wide, to re-position two kayaks on his roof.  Probably a weekend trip to the Wisconsin river, I guessed. Maybe the Kickapoo, but the Kickapoo is still high and dirty from the two weeks ago storm.

My exit. A couple of roundabouts and I found my way back onto a two lane county road, the sort that leads from the wide road and to my narrow gravel driveway. Turn right at the gas station, left twice and one more right.  Corn fields and soybean fields as far as the eye can see, or at least until the next tree line of Mulberry and Boxelder. The last turn onto my slow driveway, chickens on the lawn, eating whatever it is the chickens eat. I was home.

But where were the other drivers headed? Where were those Illinois plates going? John Kass told me most are leaving, most unable to accept a tax increase that puts them in an elevated tax bracket still far below mine in Wisconsin. If this mass exodus required the last carload to turn the lights out, where were these Illinois plates traveling in those southbound lanes so late into the fading Sunday sky?  The were going to the same place I was.  Home to the place where the roads are familiar. Home where the sporting team wears our favorite logo. Home, just past the school where their son bench sits with the football team and their daughter starts volleyball soon. On a road filled with travelers, only a few were weary. Most were just on their way home.

Geneva National Market Update

Geneva National Market Update

Ah, yes. Geneva National. The single greatest argument against Walworth County growth that I, or anyone, has ever made. Growth, it’s good, they say. It’s a necessity of life, like breathing and tacos. But it really isn’t. It might be good initially, for the mattress salesmen and the carpet installers, but over time, spurts of growth generally cannot be maintained in low population locations. There was a spurt of growth in a small town of Arena, Wisconsin. Perhaps it was Mazomanie. There’s a new commercial building on the main drag, shiny and bright. Vacant as vacant ever was. It’s for sale now, the restaurants long ago gone. Nothing there to take their place. Sure, growth dictated that the building initially be built, but the community lacks the ability to maintain the vestiges of that growth once the cycle slows. This is the problem with Geneva National.

When times are good, as they are now, things are fine. Things are never terrific, just fine. Today, Geneva National is fine. The inventory is low, which is the single best condition for GN. There are just 70 listed homes and condominiums. There are an additional 11 properties pending sale. All of this is good. What’s not so good for current owners and sellers is the pricing. Consider a little house on Saratoga. I lived on this street once. It’s a nice street. The house is listed at $599k and is pending sale. It’s the most expensive property in GN to be listed as pending sale this morning, which is a side- topic for a different paragraph. The house sold in 2007 for $750k. 10 years have passed, the market on the lake and near the water has recovered most, if not all of its losses from the past crisis, and yet Geneva National properties remain stuck.  Geneva National is struggling through the end of its lost decade.

But perhaps this is just anecdotal. Maybe it’s not all like this, right?  There’s a house on Edinborough pending sale. That’s a nice street, what a noble name. That house is listed at $347,500 and is under contract for a number that is, presumably, somewhere near that price. The house sold initially in 1995 for $375k. In 1995, lakefront homes on Geneva were selling in the $400-500k range. Those lakefront homes have appreciated 300% over the years, while Geneva National properties have found a way to decline over the same tenure.  Not good.

There are currently 11 homes listed for sale over $700k. That’s not a ton of inventory for a development this large, but it’s tough when not a single home in GN has closed (per MLS) over $600k all year. 44 homes and condos have closed this year in GN, outpacing the 38 sales YTD for 2016. That’s a good sign, but the weak performance at the top end, and the lack of appreciation at all segments is the issue here.  Last year, three homes sold over $600k, and even that was anemic. Does Geneva National offer a buyer a good value? Yes. Would I be a buyer in GN right now? Yes-ish.

I’d be a buyer of the condominiums in built enclaves. I’m not a buyer of something new in an unfinished section. This isn’t unique to Geneva National, this is my standard for any purchase, anywhere. Why buy into a segment that is possibly more sensitive to a  softening of the market? Why buy and leave your investment up to the future whims of the developer? I  like the idea of buying in stable segments with a pattern of sales that allows me to feel confident in my purchase. I want to buy something that cannot easily be replicated. Would I buy an existing house in GN right now? You bet I would. But I’d be looking for value in the sub-$550k price range, or over that I’d be considering homes that I can buy well below current replacement costs.

I love Geneva National. Because of this I want it to succeed. Sadly, the only way it will succeed is if future development stops and the existing inventory is absorbed. As long as GN keeps building new products, the existing products will find themselves in a tough spot. But growth is good, the simpletons scream.  They’re wrong, and Geneva National can prove it.

My Son’s First Job

My Son’s First Job

My first job was a job that I now think I’d rather not have had. I mowed lawns. Lots of them. Every week I mowed. Twenty weeks, sometimes more. If an August drought persisted, maybe less. I had an orange lawn tractor and a matching trailer and I’d drive around town and mow. I never really wanted to mow, of course. My dad made me. I remember dreading his heavy morning footsteps on the stairs. I’d hear them, and I’d know it was time to work. It was always time to work. They were coming to wake me up, to tell me it was going to rain, and the lawns had to be mowed.  I was just a kid, and while my friends rode their bikes around town and flirted with the red-suited beach girls, I drove my little tractor across the road, stopping only for a few quarters worth of gas from Herb’s and an egg roll and Sprite from Doc’s.

I guess I used to be proud of that work ethic. I used to remind myself of an old saying, “in order to make a success of old age you have to start young”. What a terrible thing that is to say.  I look back at my childhood now, thinking about all the time I spent working, and I wonder why.  Do I get to retire early because I mowed lawns when I was 13? Do I have some inordinate amount of money because I mowed 31 lawns a week at age 16?  The obvious answer to both questions is a resounding no. Did I learn to work? Sure. I learned to work, but some days that doesn’t feel like such a feat. Everyone works. Some work harder and some work less. But we all work, we all work, and when we’re done working we die. Why speed it all up and make a kid burn his lungs while washing out buckets of bleach for the guy who sold the contents of those buckets to restaurants? Did I really need that job, too? Why work at Doc’s on Saturday mornings in the winter, when that’s when the best cartoons were on? Why place such a burden on a kid when he’s just that, a kid?

My son started his first real job last week. It’s at a restaurant, bussing tables and washing dishes. It’s doing the things I did for Charley O. My son wanted the job because he felt like he needed some money. His friends buy shoes for hundreds of dollars. They have iPhones and iPads and iMacs. They have everything that he doesn’t. And they have these luxuries because they work.  And so it went, a desire for money and the just requirement of work to obtain it. He was beaming after his first day. He made $55. Or was it $70? I don’t know. I don’t really care. He opened a new bank account, this one near the restaurant, so he could walk from work to the bank. Depositing his money, like a real grown up. Saving for this and saving for that, and spending on this and spending on that. He has to work four days this week.  After his last shift his feet hurt and his back ached, but he’s happy about it.

I want to be happy for him. I want to be proud of him. But why should I be? Why does work have to define us? Why does he need to hurry to work when he just turned 14?  The answer, we tell ourselves, is that he needs to learn a work ethic. He needs to learn how to take instruction. To be berated for failure. To be praised for success. I understand these things. I used to work so hard for the same results. I wanted the money. I wanted the responsibility. I wanted the acknowledgement. I wanted to be told I was doing a great job, and at such a young age. Looking back, I just wish I had spent more time at the beach with my friends. I wish just once I went to a summer matinee at the downtown theater.  I wish I hadn’t grown up fearing the sound of my dad’s footsteps on the stairs.

But so it goes, my son, the worker. I’m proud of him. But I’m sad at the same time. The cycle of work only ends when we’ve won the game or the game beats us. There is no other way out. The working life is always there, always waiting for us, always expecting us to join in, always making us feel like someone else is working harder, achieving what we want. Must we do this at age 14?  I’ve done okay, I don’t need his help buying groceries. He’s starting his work life, and sadly, unless he can break a couple generations of an unhealthy emphasis on work and a narrow fixation on money that only seems to intensify as we age, it just might ruin him. I hope that it doesn’t.  I don’t want him to fear the sound of my footsteps outside his door. I don’t want him to always think it’s going to rain. I’d rather he just live, and enjoy his young life before the time for work is unavoidable.

Maybe Jackson Browne was right. Maybe we just should say a prayer for the Pretender. Who started out so young and strong. Only to surrender.

 

 

Author’s note:

 

This post generated quite a bit of commentary. I should probably clear up a few things. This was not an “anti-work” post. It was simply a post about the attitude towards work when we’re young. Work is good and necessary, but an attitude that values work over everything else is not good. The post was also written with some sadness as I watch my little boy grow up lightening speed.

The Abbey’s Market Update

The Abbey’s Market Update

This summer, the activity in the single family market has been well documented. In fact, it’s been documented to death. Bludgeoned with exclamation marks. Cause of death? Overuse of hyperbole. But still, the market is hot and so we recognize that. We’re grateful for it. The thing is, each market is connected, each segment joined to the price range above and below it. Each style of property hinging somewhat on the performance and inventory in the adjacent market created by a different type of property.  If the vacation home segment of $250k single family homes is hot and low on inventory, then the vacation condo market in the same price range should be equally as hot, right?

The vacation condominium market is dominated here by the two large players- Abbey Springs and Geneva National. But these resort developments are so large they actually operate as their own individual markets, with little carry over from the single family market and other smaller condo developments. Strange as it may be, a $650k house in Geneva National does not benefit from the strength of the $650k lake access market. When I was a seller in GN I would always find reason to complain about this lack of  correlation. It felt unfair, but I learned to accept it and have only harbored resentment and bitterness ever since.

The two condo markets that would most directly benefit from the entry level lake access activity are the Abbey Villas and Abbey Hill. Both are in Fontana, where the heart of our lake access market resides.  This morning there are only two single family homes with lake access priced below $300k in Fontana. That’s an incredible drought of inventory, and at this date in July it’s unlikely the inventory deficit is corrected before the year ends. If the single family market in Fontana is starved of inventory, then the two condo markets that feature units under $300k should be hot, right?

Well, sort of. Abbey Hill has two available condo units this morning priced from $225-255k. There haven’t been any sales in Abbey Hill for 2017 (MLS), following a 2016 wherein two units closed.  Abbey Hill, for the uninitiated, is up the road a mile or so from the Fontana beach.  It’s an older condo complex that won’t win any particular architecture awards for the overall complex, but the individual units are quite interesting. I’ve long appreciated the Abbey Hill condominiums for their character, and I don’t expect that fondness to change anytime soon. The units are cool, and if I’m a buyer in the $200s looking for a lake-based weekend, I’m paying Abbey Hill a visit.

The other Fontana property that should be directly tied to the single family market is the Abbey Villa. This is not to be confused with the Abbey hotel condominiums, which are different and, in my opinion, not a good idea. The Abbey Villas have had some difficulty over the last market cycle, but today the recovery seems complete. Last year there were 10 sales in the Villas, closed between $165k and $255k. 2017 had has five closings YTD, all priced between $216k and $260k. There is currently just one unit available at the Villas, priced in the mid $200s. The Abbey Villas have completely and thoroughly recovered, and for that, we can all be pleased.

Two condo markets, both in Fontana, both tied directly to the single family vacation home market. Both performing quite well, as they should be. If you’re a buyer looking for a sub $300k lake home, consider these condos. Specifically, consider the Abbey Hill units. They’re affordable to own and I don’t think there’s a better value in the Fontana market. As always, let me know if I can help.

 

Fontana aerial courtesy Matt Mason Photography. 
Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

In real estate, being shameless is quite important. I’ve struggled with this at times, most of the time, really. But I still tell you I’m this and I tell you I’m that, because if I don’t, no one will. But I’ve only developed some shamelessness when there was something to actually be proud of. Too proud, perhaps. The new market has generated so much shamelessness that you’d think everyone was the top agent.  Lakefront Specialist, that’s a common email tag. Lakefront Pro. Some opt for the shorter version, lest they spell specialist wrong. And others still, “The Most Powerful”. This is more like a Master’s Of the Universe theme, but in 2017, all of it has been adopted by my competition. It’s a bit dizzying.

The market appears to me today to be absolutely ladened with buyers. I say appears to me, because it’s impossible to know exactly what buyers are truly active and which buyers are just looking at properties because it’s 2017 and that’s the thing to do. I would guess there are more buyers in the market today than at any single point in the past 20 years. Yes, that’s a serious claim. But it’s likely accurate.  The smart ones are working with me, the others are working with the various and assorted Specialists that have very recently self-assigned that title.

Yet for all of these buyers, the market is still a Wisconsin market. We are still Midwesterners. And so we watch and we wait and we look for the right thing. Contrary to what your Specialist may tell you, the right thing is not always whatever was just listed.  This morning, there are just 22 lakefront homes available for sale on Geneva Lake. This includes the Trinke’s house that’s really just Trinke’s frontage, but we’ll add it in because we’re desperate for inventory.

Beyond those 22, there are others pending sale. A listing on Main Street in Lake Geneva in the mid $2s is soon to close. It should be noted that another lakefront in that area was under contract but has since returned to market. My marvelous listing on Jerseyhurst is under contract with a fall closing scheduled. A listing on the South Shore in the mid $2s is pending. And a small entry level lakefront in Fontana listed at $1.475MM is pending this morning. That’s a decent amount of activity, but it is not commensurate with the buyer activity on the lake.

There are several reasons for this. First, and perhaps most damning, is the absence of reasonable sellers. Note I say reasonable. The market is hot. Everyone knows this.  Even your newly minted Lakefront Specialist knows it. Sellers know it, too, and they’re attempting to capitalize on it. Sellers are listing aggressively, and we cannot blame them. But what we can do is blame them when they receive solid offers within mere percentage points of their bottom line and they choose to walk. This is foolish behavior. Sadly, this is the behavior many sellers have chosen to display. Perhaps the market run will continue long enough to prove them right, but perhaps their 2017 confidence is just a touch too much.

The inventory that deserves your consideration is both the new bits that have been trickling to market, but mostly the aged pieces of our market. If there’s a new lakefront for $3MM, guess what? You’re going to have to go for it quickly or someone else is going to buy it. That’s just the nature of this market. But if there’s a $3.5MM listing that’s been dying on the market for a year or two, isn’t this the sort of property we should be gunning for? I believe the answer is yes. Your Lakefront Specialist is reading this, furiously scribbling down notes, and he/she concurs.

So what comes next? What do we do with the rest of this superfluously soggy summer?  If we’re a buyer, we remain vigilant. We look for new inventory. We align ourselves with the only top agent in this market (spoiler- it’s me). We don’t chase every golf course hushed rumor down the rabbit hole. We don’t reach out to the new Lakefront Specialist. We just watch and we wait and when something looks right we take a run at it.  If we’re a currently listed seller, then we look at this market through a different lens. We consider our position in the market. We reduce if we haven’t had any offers in months, years. We look to position our property in the perfect light, with a hefty consideration for reality. And if we’re a lakefront owner considering selling, this is the easy part. We reach out to Dave Curry.

 

Above, my new Elgin Club lakefront listing. $1.975MM. 

 

Patterns

Patterns

There’s a pattern to these roads. Not the roads down here, but the roads over there. The roads that lead to the places where people need to be. The road from this town to that town. The road itself, the two track, lines optional. There is no shoulder here, and what was left has been washed out routinely over the past months. The farmers rake and sweep to make the shoulder whole again, but it’s of no use. The shoulder is gone. They only do the work because farmers follow forecasts and habits,  little else.  But the road wanders and it weaves and soon enough it delivers its cargo from the first town to the second town. There are houses here, the houses in-between. Belonging to neither town, to no particular group. The in-towners have their football team with the shiny helmets and their washed cars. The out of towners, if there could be such a group,  drive dusty-road trucks that are only washed on a clear sky Sunday.

There has always been a jealous pitch in this relationship between these two. The in-towners with their delivered water and their tidy sewer, with their beach passes and their curbs. Their gutters. Sidewalks, aplenty. There are bike lanes and parks and places to walk.  The out-of-towners deride the in-towners for their easy way of living, for the convenience of it all, calling them soft or pampered, or worse. The children walk to school in sandals. Others ride bikes, weaving across the lanes of slow city traffic, without care or obstacle. Weaving like that in the country would get you killed. The out-towners drive to town to pick up their milk and their eggs, their bread.  Oh the irony of those who produce the goods driving into town to pay the city tax when they buy back the items that were born from their part of their non-town.

But the in-towners, intent on raising their own chickens and owning their own bees, they’re equally envious.  Hicks, they’d call the others, hayseeds, sure. They are. But they can have a chicken or twenty and as many hives as they wish without first checking to see if the local ordinance will allow it. The building inspector would tell you that there are too many illegal hives in town, while his inbox overflows with anonymous emails containing links to stories that claim the honey bees are nearly extinct.  That freedom is enticing, but not so enticing that the in-towners would give up their short walk to the corner store and those red beach tags, sewn onto the suits of the bike-riding, shiny helmet wearing town children. The uneasy tension between the two groups is easy enough to feel but easier to ignore.

The bigger issue now is that the bees from the town hives have made their way to the flowers on the outskirts of town, which has led to claims from the out-of-towners that the in-towner’s honey is just as the eggs and wheat and cannot be really and truly their own.

Basswood

Basswood

Large homes tend to have similar problems. When designing a custom home, there is one usual and obvious limitation. Budget. But this is when you’re designing a normal house, something you’re trying to make fit into a particular lot and a particular segment of a particular market. What if we throw out the limitation of market segment concern? What if there is no budget? Still, a singular problem exists. The design. If the wife sews and the husband smokes cigars, then a large house design would dictate that a sewing room and a cigar room be incorporated. Let’s put those at opposite ends of the house, the architect says. And let’s not forget about the children and their children. Those loved ones need space, too. And little Karen just loves to make beed necklaces, the kind that tourists buy when on FunJet vacations. Karen, your beed room is down this hallway, across from the twelve bedroom suites, opposite the cigar room and above the sewing room. This is the large house problem, and it’s an epidemic.

The home at 4396 Basswood Drive is large. Some 15,000 square feet above grade, large. That’s a big house. To enter it is to know it’s big. The gate is big. The guest house is big. The lawn is big. The circle driveway is big. The fountain? Big. The grand foyer is as grand as any foyer has ever been, outside of a building designed for members of parliament.  While we cannot ever mistake this house for being small, what’s important here is how logical the big is. The layout of this house is symmetrical. Nearly perfectly so. There’s a lakeside kitchen that spans the width of the lakeside pool. There’s a breakfast room, a formal dining room. The sunroom on the east end of the house takes in private views of lush perennial gardens. The great room is vaulted, soaring really, as high as it should be and not a penny higher. The fireplace in the lakeside great room is one of five that you’ll find here.  I always say if you think one fireplace is good then you’ve obviously never had five.

We have 3.28 acres here, which isn’t any particular feat on this lake. The level nature of the entire property from entry to water is what’s rare here, as most 3.28 acre parcels on Geneva will suffer from some variety of cliff or ravine or other slope. There is none of that difficulty at Royal Oaks, which is what this estate has been called since it was first constructed in the early 1990s. Royal Oaks. That has a nice sound to it, but it would be overwrought if we didn’t have a lot graced by so many large oaks. The frontage is as the rest of the estate parcel- level.  The 214′ of rip rapped shore line is level, but not so level that the water event of this week troubled its shoreline in any way. The pier is large, two slips worth, centered so properly on that wide frontage.  The lakeside patio holds an in-ground pool, just like you know it should. Any proper estate should have a guest house, and as we know, these are not all created equal. The guest house here is large, with three bedrooms and more garage spaces. You’ll find seven total garage stalls on this property, so please do bring your summer car and leave a winter one any stall you please.

So why would someone buy this home? What’s the market argument in favor of such a property, of such a large manor style home? To understand the answer, first consider the land. At present, the lot is easily worth $4.5MM. Perhaps as much as $5MM. To build a home of this size, a cost of $500-800 per foot would be expected. After all, this home cost all of that back in the 1990s when it was first built. The time to construct this home exceeded two years, which it would still today. The paint here might not be to your perfect palate. The kitchen would today want marble. The carpeted areas would now like hardwood, maybe stone. There are things here you might wish to change, things I’m guessing you’d want to change. But the change is easy considering the house itself is built. The scale is perfect. Those upstairs bedroom suites? Each bedroom measured 19 x 19, with some larger. They’re perfect, they’re lakeside, and there are seven of them in the main house.

Unlike homes built in the 1980s and before, homes built in the 1990s generally follow a nice pattern of scale. At least this home does. The layout is, as I said earlier, symmetrical and well thought out. There is nothing wasted here. No rooms for superfluous specific uses. There is just a large house that has been well taken care of, ready now for you to use immediately and enjoy, or ready for a tidy winter surface update.  The choice is yours.  Spare yourself the uncertain prospects of building a new estate. Spare yourself the years of construction. Spare yourself the unknown cost overruns. Buy this home. Enjoy your weekends here, in immense style, on Lake Geneva’s luxury lane. Basswood. $9,750,000.

New Elgin Club Listing

New Elgin Club Listing

It’s the word Club that throws people off. There’s some significant confusion in the market regarding the Elgin Club. Is it a Club? Well, sort of. Is it a co-op? Like the Harvard Club or the Congress Club? Not at all. The Elgin Club tends to get lumped in with these membership style co-ops, if for no other reason than the name. Elgin Club. Sounds like a club. Sounds like a co-op. But it isn’t. Do you know what it is? It’s a lakefront association with private lakefront homes. That’s it.

But is that really it? Is that all the Elgin Club is? A group of homes, each owning private frontage and nothing more? Well, no. That’s not at all what it is.  The Elgin Club also offers 16 wooded acres that are collectively owned by these lakefront owners. This land offers a beautiful tennis court, a private wooded drive, and land for garages. There’s also a full-time on site caretaker who handles the lawn and road maintenance.  That’s what helps make the Elgin Club a unique place on Geneva Lake. Sure it’s private frontage and private piers and that lovely north shore exposure, but it’s also a caretaker and tennis and convenience that other lakefront homes just can’t offer.

My new listing isn’t too difficult to understand. It has five bedrooms and five baths. It has hardwood floors and a fireplace. It has a lot of things that you’d expect, but that’s not the rare bit here. What’s rare is what you can buy here for $1.975MM. This is an entry level price in our market, and what you’re buying here is far from entry level. You get 50′ level frontage. There’s no hill to descend- not from the road to the house or from the house to the lake. There’s a two car detached garage. There’s at least 3600 square feet.

There’s also a new roof for this season, but now it just sounds like bragging. The Elgin Club isn’t like every place on the lake. But it isn’t unlike every other place, either. That’s why my newest listing will sell quickly. It’s everything a lakefront buyer could want in this price range, but it’s also more.

 

Mid-Summer Markets

Mid-Summer Markets

This would be much easier if we weren’t here. If we were in some other absurd little Midwestern vacation home market, everything would be different. We’d have our season, and it would consist of ice cream and t-shirts and six or eight weeks of hustle. Some bustle. Then we’d have our off season, which would make up the remainder of our year. We’d have in season, off season, and that would be that. Our fingers would be sticky from all that ice cream and our t-shirts would be stained so that you could barely make out the location of that miserable little Midwestern vacation home destination.

But we aren’t there. We are here. We’re in the middle of our season now, but what is this season, exactly? Is it July and August, as some would suggest? Or is it Memorial Day through Labor Day? Is it Memorial Day through Columbus Day?  That’s a common thought, and it isn’t a terrible one. But really our market doesn’t turn off, our season doesn’t end, it just changes. We don’t close the doors, we don’t turn off the lights. We just enjoy this place with different goals in mind. The season, it’s upon us.

But this is the generic consideration of “season”. What about the market version? What about this season, this cycle? Where are we now, on this tenth day of July?  Agents are scrambling, screaming about activity and offers and counter offers and amendments. They’re excitable, this group. And there are more of them now, more than ever.  It’s easy money, so they start and they spout and they tell people things that they have no actual way of knowing. Yes, your house is worth X. I would know, I’ve been selling real estate since 2016. 

I would call this current position in our market the Mid-Summer-Pause. Sure, there’s activity. Lots of it. But it’s also taking a bit of a breather. The spring sprint has ended.  Inventory is low and refuses to grow. What inventory is present is either under contract, about to be under contract, or somehow fatally flawed and needing price reduction. I have two new listings coming to market this week, one you’ll learn about on Wednesday and the other on Friday, but I haven’t brought two lakefronts to market in one week for what feels like years.  Will buyers pay attention to the new offerings? Perhaps.

There are buyers, after all. Many of them. Lakefront buyers, lake access buyers, condo buyers, land buyers. And the sellers who have been in the market for some time now fully understand that the summer is fleeting. Even now, with summer so young, it is escaping us little by little. The days are shorter now. Shorter today and shorter tomorrow. Winter is coming. Sellers know this, and in spite of the measurable buyer traffic there are deals to be made. Sellers, in this mid-summer pause, will be reducing their prices.  Why reduce in the fall when you know the market is stronger today than it might be then?  Sellers will be considering their position in the market and reacting accordingly. At least the smart ones will.

Today, there are five lakefronts under contract. One is my listing on Jerseyhurst. Others are in the $1.4-2.8MM price range.  There are just 18 lakefronts available as of this morning, which is consistent with the inventory for most of 2017. It’s low, and we know it. But there is value in that list, even if it isn’t apparent based on the present list prices. Expect to see some reductions in the coming weeks, even as the market remains hot and buyers snap up new inventory.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being a seller who sees the activity in the market and knowing your home isn’t benefitting. These are the sellers that will reduce, and if you’re a buyer, these are the sellers you should be watching.

For now, it’s mid-summer. My arms are tired from superjetting. My nose is sunburned. And all is well.

Shameless

Shameless

This feels gratuitous, but I have to do it anyway. I could babble on and on about being the underdog,  or tell you about how mightily I struggled for the first 14 years of my real estate career. Or how every day, every day, every quarter and year somehow remains an uphill battle. But those things all sound like either complaining or whining or sandbagging. So I won’t do it. For now,  just this.

Real Trends compiles the list of the top producers in each state. It’s the real estate industry’s Emmy award. Our Oscar. It’s all we have. And for 2016, I was the number one individual volume agent for the State of Wisconsin. That matters, and so I’m proud to share it with you. It wouldn’t have been possible without the trust that so many have placed in me, and I don’t take it for granted, not for a second.

Matthew McConaughey Lake Geneva

Matthew McConaughey Lake Geneva

I first saw Matthew McConaughey in line at The Cheese Box. I had seem him before, sure, at the Quik Trip, but this was the first time I really saw him. He asked for American Cheese. Strange, I thought, to ask for such a boring cheese, but still. He asked for it to be wrapped in paper, like at the butcher shop, he said. He glanced my direction after he said that, with a nod to suggest that I knew what he was talking about. I did. Except the butcher paper at Lake Geneva Country Meats is white and this cheese paper was tan. Still, it was a nice interaction and MM swaggered out to his waiting Infiniti.

But you already know this isn’t true. Because why would it be? The rumors this summer, and the last, are swirling. Where is Mathew McConaughey’s house, everyone wants to know. The answer, from what I can glean from the interwebs, is Austin. Maybe Malibu. But Lake Geneva? Well, the source of that rumor rests squarely on the shoulders of one local publication. This publication swears that MM is moving to Lake Geneva. That he’s been seen all over town. Here and there. Everywhere. Driving and walking, talking and eating. He’s been seen. It’s too late. We know he’s here.

The last MM inspired piece declared that the Realtors are lying about this. That we’ve all been sworn to secrecy. The ceremony was indeed strange, with the blood and the capes and the copper bathtub, but there was no swearing. There is no secret.  The initial thought was that perhaps, just perhaps, MM had bought a house that sold in Fontana last fall. The house at sold for $3.9MM or so in 2015, then printed for a million and a half dollars more in 2016. The deal was shrouded in secrecy. Was this the McConaughey buy?

It appears as though it wasn’t. The publication from whom the rumors swirl insists that his house is near Stone Manor, just a ways up the road. But this, according to public records, is not the case. Could he have so successfully shielded his identity that he convinced a stranger from Aurora, Illinois to take title in her name, rather than his? I suppose that could be. But then, if the secret was so closely guarded, would he drive around town in his Infiniti with such blatant disregard for his anonymity?

I doubt anyone really knows if McConaughey has a home here. I don’t think he does. Purportedly he’s friends with the owner of Tito’s Vodka, who does have a home here. They’re Austin buddies, or so the story goes. Perhaps his wife is from Brazil, Illinois? Perhaps none of it is true. But why did a builder tell me once that he had plans on his desk to be bid with McConaughey’s name on them?  But if that’s the case, where’s the house? There are lots of new houses being built on Geneva right now. Loads of them. It’s just that I know each and every owner of these new homes and none of them are our actor friend.

So, is McConaughey a Lake Geneva guy? I don’t know. I doubt it. I have no reason to believe he is. But maybe you do. Did you see him at Popeye’s? Did you see him on the mailboat tour, with his Groucho glasses and mustache? Or maybe you just happened to be driving, minding your own business, when you saw him driving down the road, heading to Piggly Wiggly because his wife ran out of bratwurst. If you did, please do let me know because I’d really appreciate some insight on this. Personally, I don’t think he has a home in Lake Geneva.  But he’d be a whole lot cooler if he did.

Fontana Fireworks

Fontana Fireworks

I admit I’m a lazy fireworks watcher. I know what happens. The fuse, the ssssssss, the explosion. I’ve watched them before. I know the weeping willow and the star ones. I know about the loud ones that flash. I’ve seen it all.  It’s because of this that I find it difficult to be enthused by a new display. Isn’t the new display just the same as the old display? Aren’t the fuses the same? Now, if they could come up with new fireworks that I haven’t even thought of yet, then I’d be interested. Until then, meh.

And this makes me a bad dad, I’m well aware. Our Independence Day celebrations are typically the same. We grill something at the lake. We eat. My mom makes some flag jello, and some blueberry cheesecake with lemon glaze. It’s all quite good. But it’s heavy and I’m heavy and if it’s hot then I’m hot. After some boating, swimming, superjetting, perhaps a showing or two if I must, I’m beat. I retire early on most nights, and the 4th of July is no exception. It’s just that the fireworks, dad. We should go see the fireworks.

Should we? Need we? Aren’t these fireflies in the yard just as good but even more interesting? No fuse, no noise, no hooping and hollering. Besides, the neighbors have fireworks that they’ll light in their driveways until 1 am. Aren’t those fireworks good enough? Sometimes we go. Usually we go. To a boat or a pier or a shore path section. Sometimes we park high above the lake, on a farm field to the West of town, were we see the display underneath us. Yes, we’ll probably go. Probably.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. The fireworks this weekend are as they are every Independence Day Weekend. Fontana will launch their explosives from the beach barges just after dusk on the 4th. The Grand Geneva and Geneva National will send their wares to the sky on July 3rd, just after dark. I’m sure Delavan will have some fireworks, too, but I’m not concerned. The Lake Geneva Country Club will light their fuses  sometime this weekend, but exactly when I’m not sure. I’m guessing Saturday night. Let’s just go with that.

The weather forecast for this weekend is somewhat difficult. There are lightening bolts and rain clouds in my app. But if we’ve learned anything it’s that we cannot count on bad weather just as we cannot count on good weather. Let’s be here. Let’s enjoy this place. Let’s be thankful for our freedom, and let’s celebrate it by not calling the cops on our neighbors when they’re still lighting cherry bombs at 1 am.

Lake Geneva Musky

Lake Geneva Musky

It wasn’t so long ago that I remember seeing a rainbow trout. It was swimming from my childhood pier to the next door pier, aloof, brilliant, without purpose or direction. It was electric, shockingly bright like a rainbow without the storm. I cut my teeth on smallmouth and largemouth bass. The former falling between bronze and sage, the latter darker, steely blue, almost. I remember great clouds of bullhead minnows, one or two adults surrounded by so many offspring. The purple of the bullhead was matched only by the purple of the carp that would cruise the shallows two by two, under the early morning sun.

That purple was dark and serious, not at all like this rainbow trout. The trout was shimmery, silver and pink, red and orange. All of the colors, that’s what it was. And it was huge and it was football shaped and my young eyes could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was mysterious, foreign, something out of my most surreal dreams. But it wasn’t a dream at all, it was swimming in this lake from one pier to the next, in the middle of summer under that high yellow sun. I’m quite certain that I will never, ever, forget my first fleeting encounter with that trout.

I have not found my way to the pier this summer as often as in the past. There are conflicting reasons for this absence, each important and meaningful but also useless and mundane. Work, that’s what it is. But it’s also the rainy pattern of the past two weeks. Summer is well underway, but with a cold front slowly meandering through the Midwest it feels less like certain summer and more like an uncertain spring. Still, the pier has called and I have only seldom listened. Perhaps the calling has passed me by in favor of my son, for his ear is always bent toward the lake, always hearing the call of the waves and the fish and the diving board.

Several weeks ago I was delivering magazines and happened upon a scene in the White River Park, in the middle of downtown Lake Geneva. A police officer had his eyes trained on the water, that lake water that rips through the locks and provides life to the White River before joining other rivers and making its way to the ocean. How I feel for that water, once born of this lake and this place, to be forced to travel through so much ugly before ending up overwhelmed in a salty sea. The police officer’s gaze caught my attention. I know better than to walk past a policeman who is investigating something.

It was a musky. Four or five, maybe six. Large dark bullets in that clear swift water. They were holding in the current, like salmon pointed upstream. These fish measured 40 inches, some better, some worse. They were beautiful.  In the coming days and weeks anglers would arrive, prompted by ridiculous youtube videos, to try their hand at these few fish that had been swept through the spillway out of Geneva Lake and were now stuck in this skinny water. Lures were presented. Snags were committed. Pictures were taken. No shame appears to have been felt.

A week or two later I was on the pier with my son, casting a small fly hoping that something might bite. While pier fishing, many fishermen find their eyes trained towards bikinis on neighboring piers, but my eyes find their way to the water, under the surface, scanning for movement. Looking for fish, for bass and bluegills, for crappies and gar. Perhaps for an elusive rainbow trout, but not likely.  This is when the musky showed up. Rising out of the darker depths, 40 inches, likely more, of musky pushed slowly through the distance off the edge of the pier. My son was frenzied. Excitement filled his eyes.

A few years ago, the DNR stocked Geneva Lake with a large handful of fingerling musky.  The DNR undertakes such experiments often, throwing darts at a wall in hopes that something sticks. Fast forward a few years and the musky experiment has worked. The ciscoes and bluegills and perch would argue that the experiment has been a collosal failure, but the muskies disagree. The population has grown to such a degree that the fish being caught this summer are of trophy size. This summer, children will accidentally catch 44″ musky off of the piers.

This, of course, is exciting news. But it’s also delicate news. The fish are not reproducing in this lake, at least not to the knowledge of the DNR. So the experiment will yield only one real benefit: angling pleasure. Still, I have one bit of advice. Treat these fish well. Don’t keep them. Musky doesn’t taste great. Just enjoy the fight and release these monsters to the dark depths. If you see one stuck in a shallow river, just leave it alone. If you see one swimming slowly off the end of your pier, tease it with a lure, but don’t snag it. It’ll be a memorable summer for those who are lucky enough to catch a big Geneva Lake musky, but if you’re one of the lucky ones, just take a picture and let it go.

Housing Affordability

Housing Affordability

In a meaningful way, the housing market in these United States is driven by policy that is pushed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and various state and local associations that operate as ground troops. The local associations take their marching orders from the state associations in the form of campaign endorsements, bill endorsements, these sorts of things. As the housing market in the great State of Wisconsin continues to outperform, there is much talk at these associations of one thing: Affordability.

A simpleton might assume that increasing prices are good for people. After all, if you own a house in Wisconsin, there’s a terrific chance that it has appreciated in value over the last five years. This should be a positive, something to be praised and hoped for, something that policy should be driven to assist. But rather that rejoice over increasing prices, the powers that be have taken to wishing for more affordability. Affordability, they say, that’s the key to everything. Without it we have nothing.

But what about the guy making $48k per year living in the $199k ranch in Elkhorn? Does he matter at all?  Where does housing affordability rank in his list of concerns? Is he worried that his house he paid $197k for ten years ago is now, finally, mercifully, worth $219k? Is he upset that his value has increased, finally, after that lost decade?  Does he wish for his local Realtor and the state board to do something about this recent increase in price? Is he sad that the new buyer can no longer find a home in his neighborhood under $197k?  Of course not. Joe Homeowner is finally happy, because he’s finally building some semblance of wealth.

Why knock him down now?

This is the strange thing about real estate. National types want to push for affordability. State types, the same. Local governments, affordability. County Master Plans, largely engineered to foster affordability. NEWSFLASH:  Affordability is for the birds. It’s a way to keep a market, a county, a municipality, stuck in the mud. I’ve heard often this year that there’s nothing to buy. Nothing cheap, nothing sort-of-cheap, nothing sort-of-expensive. The markets have gone mad, and this is a bad thing, or so those in charge say. We need to make Walworth County affordable again (MWCAA never caught on, in spite of the red hats).  But why? Why must we remain more concerned for future residents than for the financial well-being of our current residents? What’s so great about cheap housing markets?

Does a housing market need to be uniform at all times? Do we always need to have 10 homes for sale under $100k and 10 homes for sale over $1MM?  Do we need to avoid imbalance? We had a significant imbalance from 2009 through 2015- where were the housing affordability stalwarts then, when affordability reigned?  Were they concerned over too much inventory, just as they’re concerned over too-little inventory today? Why can’t we allow normal housing cycles to exist, without the need to stifle the upswing with added inventory? I fought off bad development over recent years by making market based arguments as to why we didn’t need them. The market today is more healthy, more robust, with inventory being absorbed at a wonderful clip. Why stymie the growth with a wet blanket soaked to the core with $199k vinyl ranch homes?

You’ll be reading much more about housing affordability in the coming weeks and months, perhaps  years. Pundits and housing analysts will bemoan rising prices. Go ahead and let them be sad, but if you’re a homeowner, enjoy the ride. You deserve it. At the end of the day, why do you suppose Realtor Associations want more inventory? To aid in prices? To assist the needy? Try again. It’s so Realtors have more houses to sell, and they’re in the business of helping Realtors. That’s fine, but don’t ever mistake association policy for something that seeks to benefit Joe Homeowner.

Worms

Worms

Egg crates, that’s what you want. But not the egg crate itself, just the material. Whatever they make egg crates out of, that’s what the worm factory wanted.  They searched high and then they searched low, and they found the company in Indiana. Central Indiana, to be more precise. The business of egg crate material isn’t exact at all. A few pounds of finely milled saw dust, a few dashes of coloring- gray, sometimes blue, and a bit of glue. How much glue depends on the humidity, with great variations possible depending on the time of year in this part of Indiana.

The factory was originally only capable of producing these egg crates. 12 eggs to a crate, maybe 18, with a folding lid.  There’s a factory in Kentucky that can do the larger quantities, vast sheets of egg crate material capable of holding 12 dozen eggs. They stack and they layer and the cartons filled with eggs find their way to the muffin company upstate. But this factory only does the smaller variety, and that’s why they were perfect to recruit for the business of making egg crate worm cartons. The plan was flawless. The sawdust cheap, the glue practically free. And fishermen wouldn’t care if their worms came in gray or blue cartons, which was good, because everyone knew the blue was more expensive.

A mold was made, the batter was poured, and 7-10 business days later the worm company received their first shipment of cartons. The engineer, or at least the man whose work shirt claimed he was, had improvised the worm filling machine to accept these new sized cartons, and the first run was an astonishing success.  The cartons would be fed as sheets, 12 containers wide and 100 deep, where the worms and their newspaper-laced dirt would drop from the hopper into each individual dozen-sized serving.  Farther down the conveyor track, the cartons would separate, like pulling apart a delicate monkey bread muffin, and the worm filled cartons would whiz towards the inspection station.

This station was messy. As you’d expect. The station was originally intended for three inspectors, each with a swiveling chair, but rarely would there be more than one.  Bill showed up on time each day, ready to inspect. His job was simple- to pull out the worms that were cut into unfortunate pieces by the hopper dispenser.  The carton comes, the half-worm is identified and picked out quickly. Bill had a five gallon bucket on the concrete floor next to his chair, and after some months in that chair the motion of picking the wounded worm and dropping it into his bucket was so fluid that sometimes the engineer would drift away from his desk just to watch Bill in action. A poetry, of sorts, Bill the poet and his prose the movement, or so the engineer often thought.

Bill didn’t mind. He knew the bass under the Highway 67 bridge happily accepted his wounded worms just as greedily as they would his whole worms.

After several decades of turning out the finest egg-carton worm containers, the factory turned out its last sheet and closed the doors forever. Plastics were where it was at, and plastics were an entirely different game that the company wasn’t capable of playing.  Worse yet, the company knew these new containers would blow out of the fishermen’s boats and float across the lake, washing up on shore in a tangle of seaweed and trash.

Lake Geneva Club Sells

Lake Geneva Club Sells

There are certain things that I know without the slightest inkling of doubt. I know that summer days are best spent lakeside. I know it, you know it, remote villages in Africa know it. I know that pick up trucks should not be lifted as high as the pick up truck at the gas station right now is lifted.  You can’t know this, but you’ll need to trust me on this one. It’s just too high. I also know that when a charming cottage in the Lake Geneva Club is listed for $600k it’s going to sell pretty quickly. These things are all different but all the same. They are summer-time truths.

You knew I’d sell this cottage. It wasn’t just my intuition. It was obvious. Yet, the first few buyers who looked at it didn’t find it to be an ideal fit. So the property sat on market for a bit longer than I would have thought, and last Friday it sold. $592k for cottage perfection, a boat slip, a large double lot, and easy access into the Lake Geneva scene. The property doesn’t require much explanation, it’s just an easy cottage in mint condition with a transferable slip and membership to a fantastic lakefront association. Beginning, middle, and end of story.

But the property does give us some insight into the broader market, and that insight should be shared. I sold this cottage in 2013 for $525k.  If you’ll recall, our markets in 2013 were in decent shape, but activity was much less intense than it is today. The price recovery had begun, but only modestly. I’d guess that by the summer of 2013 the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market was 10-15% above the cycle lows.  With a fresh sale at $592k, we can ascertain that the market has risen roughly 15% since that date in 2013. If we assume that the market was perhaps 15% better in 2013 than it was at the bottom of 2011, then we’re looking at a 30% increase from the bottom of our market to where we find ourselves today.

If we go a step further and remember that our market was knocked off 30-40% between the high of 2008 and the bottom of 2011, then it’s not a stretch to say we’re within 10% of our prior cycle highs. That’s not a universal truth, but it’s a pretty decent data point considering the history of this individual sale.  The reason this particular sale is a decent indicator is because the cottage, while maintained, was not significantly upgraded over those years. If I show you a sale from 2013 of an old house and then show you the same fully remodeled house selling in 2017, that’s not a very good data point as the property itself was not merely riding the market wave, it was forcing an increased valuation due to the work that was completed.

Today, there are only two homes for sale priced under $748k with transferable boatslips.  That’s remarkable, really. To make matters worse, both of those slips are far from ideal. So what’s next? What does this segment of our market do now? Well, likely nothing. Entry level lakefront inventory is light, which means the owners of a lake access home with slip don’t really have any immediate upgrade option tugging at them. Without that option to upgrade, the only people selling will be those who are no longer wishing to own a Lake Geneva vacation home.

A big thank you to the seller who let me represent them both in this sale and in their upgraded home purchase. And a big congratulations to the new buyer, who finally gets to look forward to the weekend.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Wow. That’s really all there is to say. Wow. Maybe Wowzers. The lakefront market on Geneva Lake is as heated as it has been since the summer of 2007.  I was a player in the market then, but I wasn’t a large player in the lakefront market like I am today, so my view of that prior frenzy wasn’t from the front row. Today, with this front row seat underneath me, I find the market to be breathless. How I pine for the darker days when buyers had a few moments to gather themselves before making a lakefront decision.  For those buyers who had lakefront opportunities during 2011-2015 and failed to act, this post should be sung slowly as a dirge.

Today there are 21 lakefront homes available in our MLS. There are an additional four pending sale. At least two others have offers in negotiations.  At first blush, you won’t find this all that rare. In fact, our inventory has actually risen over the past three months, as for one period there were just 16 lakefronts available. There are two primary points of interest that have presented in this new market cycle. Yes, it’s no surprise that buyers still want 100′ of frontage and they want it now. Yes, buyers still love Viking ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators. Yes, Calcutta marble remains in high demand. The things you know are still correct, but there are two new drivers of interest that have never, ever fared particularly well in the history of our market.

Buyers have shown that they love being near downtown Lake Geneva. They don’t just sort of like it, they love it. I sold 700 S Lakeshore earlier this year in large part because of its estate qualities and its proximity to downtown Lake Geneva. The two lakefront homes on Main Street just West of Library Park are both pending sale as of this week (mid $2s), and that’s significant as both of these homes have endured some lengthy market times over recent years. Buyers found motivation to snap up these two homes, and I’m betting large amounts of your money that the interest was driven primarily by the proximity to downtown. In prior years, such proximity would have often been viewed as a negative feature. The noise and commotion, the tourists, the higher taxes. Yet of late, buyers love downtown and so buyers are buying downtown. It’s super interesting to me.

The other curious aspect of this new market cycle is the liquidity at the top end of our lakefront. Homes over $5MM have never sold with particular ease. During the last bull run here, from 2000-2010, just three lakefront homes sold in our MLS for a price that exceeded five million dollars. Since 2010, eleven lakefront homes (and a vacant lot, making it twelve) have sold over that benchmark. Of those eleven, I’ve sold seven of them, including three of four to close over $7MM, but that’s not the point (actually, it’s always the point). This increased liquidity is being viewed by the owners as some new stable trait of our market. Something that has finally manifest, and should stay in place forever. I’d question that theory, and would encourage any owner in this range who might be considering a sale to hurry up and sell. This liquidity is beautiful, but cycles are cycles.

And that brings us the concept of a lakefront market cycle. How long will this cycle last, and where are we in the cycle? Obviously it’s impossible to know this, but we do have the benefit of history to look at as a guide. The last cycle began in the late 1990s and ran up through 2008. The cycle lasted around 10 years, with gradual price increases occurring each year during that cycle, including in the years immediate following the 2000 dot com bust. If we look at our down cycle as occurring from 2009 through 2012, we’ve been building towards a new bull market since 2012. Yes, extreme value existed up through 2015, but for the most part our market was in full recovery mode (increased liquidity and increasing demand) by mid 2012. With that in mind, it’s easy to say we’re about five years into our current bull run.

How much is left in the tank? Well, judging by the market conditions today, I’d say plenty. Does it last two more years? Does it go five more? That’s impossible to guess. Keep an eye on the stock market and on our inventory if you’d like a clue as to where the market is going. If the indices stay high and our inventory stays low, you have the makings for a continued bull run. If markets melt to any extreme level and our inventory swells, that would likely mark the end of these conditions that favor our sellers. For now, look at the market. Watch it. And don’t do as many buyers are doing right now and make a mistake. Let me be your guide. Not only will we have a lot of fun with your house hunt,  you also won’t end up buying the wrong house in the wrong location.

 

Above, morning at my 412 Harvard listing. 
This American Dream

This American Dream

Dan, a member of the millennial generation, currently lives with his parents but said he plans to be a renter for life and never buy a home. He craves the ability to pack up and go, he said, and doesn’t want to be saddled with a home loan, property taxes or homeowners associations fees.

 

According to an article by Nicholas Padiak in last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, this young man from Chicago, Dan, isn’t going to be a homeowner. He wants to “pick up and go”, he says. No doubt his nomadic desires are fueled by noble thoughts, but they are the whims of a 24 year old, not the realities of any responsibility ladened adult.  His fellow Millennials found out the hard way that home prices go up and indeed they go down. This left this new generation feeling uncertain as to the implications of home ownership. This is why they want to travel, instead. This is why they want to buy 298 square foot trailers (with a trundle dining table!) This recent housing cycle found many of them new owners in 2008, and many of them recently foreclosed on in 2017.  The Millenials aren’t home buyers, they’re surfers and programmers and stay at home dog-sitters. This is all a huge mistake.

But, but, they’re drowning in student loan debt! Drowning, really? A recent study found that an average college graduate is carrying about $34k in student loan debt. The same study found that an average repayment plan has a monthly payment of somewhere around $350 per month. This is not a small sum of money. A recent Time Magazine article claimed the college class of 2017 average starting salary is just under $50k. More if you’re an engineer or software developer, less if you plan to work at a call center or as a psychic at a not-for-profit veterinarian. So let’s go with the $50k number. Let’s say $10k of that is eaten up by taxes. $40k is left. Age 23, $40k in take home, or $3,333 per month.  That crushing student loan burden will consume around 10% of that.

Remind me how this is somehow unjust? How this debt is so horrific that life must stand still so that signs can be made and protests organized? In Milwaukee, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $1089 per month.  That level of monthly commitment would afford a $150k loan with a $3000 annual property tax bill. Yes, a $150k loan won’t allow a newly christened adult the ability to live in Lincoln Park or in the Third Ward, but who says we get to skip all of the steps to building wealth and just arrive where we feel we deserve to reside?  What happened to suffering for a bit, sacrificing for the sake of future gain? I’m not writing this as an old person, I’m writing it barely one generation removed from the current lot.

But it’s not about the money, it’s about the freedom, or so the Millenial would say. What freedom, exactly? The freedom to move across the country with no liability or asset exceeding whatever can be packed in the Vuitton duffel? What sort of freedom is this?  Under this guise, a homeless man is truly the most blessed, for he can wander without complication, wherever he wishes. The trick here is that the homeless man doesn’t have his parents’ basement to live in, with his mother’s turn down service and Tuesday meatloaf.  The freedom to put off adulthood is indeed intoxicating, but at what later expense?

This response to the Tribune article really isn’t just about Millenials. It’s about home ownership in general. It’s about the way a buyer turned owner engages in this ownership. It’s about passive versus active ownership. Passive ownership looks like this: Buy a house in 2006 at an elevated market price of $200k. Sell supremely overheated house, no changes made, deferred maintenance accumulating, for $160k in 2012. This is what passive ownership looks like.  Passive ownership is fine if the owner plans to live forever in the house. My parents’ lakefront home was worth a lot more in 2008 than it was in 2012. Did this bother my parents? Nope, because they weren’t selling in either year. They aren’t selling this year, either. If you’re never a seller, ownership is simply a stabilizer, and there is some bliss in not worrying about the fluctuations in market value.

But this is about Millenials, and their ownership. If passive ownership looks, at least to them, like a formula for devastating loss, then what does active ownership look like? In the active ownership model, the house bought in 2006 would have needed a new kitchen and roof. It would have been neglected. And weekends would have been spend fixing that up that old dump. Active ownership would have recognized a profit in 2008, and captured it. Active ownership would have likely bought again in 2008 or 2009, and yes, paid a premium. But with a large down payment (owing to the gain on the fixer upper), the fluctuations of the crisis wouldn’t have mattered as much.  Illness or job loss certainly would have been an issue, but this isn’t about the devastating outlier, this is about the mean. That same ownership would have led to another round of profit in 2015-2017, and the process can repeat.

Long ago I asked a house-hunting-friend how long it would take him to save $30k. Without answering, he admitted it would take a long time. Like just shy of eternity (based on his then income). So I asked him why he wouldn’t try to make $30k on a house, given that the only thing required would be a significant effort, and effort, more times than not, is free. Today I ask the same of Dan and his Millenial friends. Effort is still free, and living your parents’ basement is still lame.

 

Above, the kitchen in the first house I ever bought. It was even worse in person. 
Jerseyhurst

Jerseyhurst

As an agent, there are certain streets around this lake that I revere. The streets that don’t encourage visitors. The streets that don’t offer up their homes with any version of regularity. The streets that are better than the others. Some of these streets you already know, but others you don’t. You don’t know them because they’re not like Snake or Basswood or one of the streets we know we should respect. These are the other streets, the short ones, the curvy ones, the ones that you don’t even know because why would you?  Welcome to Jerseyhurst Lane. The street so polished that you should always call it a Lane.

When the original caretakers cottage for the Crane Estate was built in 1885, it was long on charm and low on space. It wasn’t meant to be a lake house, a mini-estate, it was just intended to serve as a resting place for the family charged with overseeing the day to day at the large Crane estate. A place to eat dinner and a place to sleep.  Each room with a view of the lake, but, alas, there was no time for contemplation in this cottage. There was work to be done.

This original cottage was restored some in the late 1990s, and then in 1999 it sold to the current owner. This new owner had designs for this special location, and so a meticulous renovation with sizable addition was undertaken. Chris Hummel would be the contractor to oversee this work, and when the last wide-planked oak board was polished, the new owners had found themselves extra bedrooms, a large kitchen and attached garage, a large office,  and an ample great room with lakeside screened porch. The renovation was complete, the home perfect, or so the new owners thought.

More than a decade later, another idea, another plan to fix something that the house lacked: A first floor master bedroom. Sparing no expense, a spacious master suite was added, blending perfectly with the prior addition, which blended seamlessly with the original cottage.  The landscape here is Midwestern perennial perfection, fully irrigated and wonderfully large (nearly one acre). The lakeside porch has those incredible views and a steady breeze, while the brick patio is tucked privately into the lush backyard. A two car attached garage is augmented by a two car detached garage, leaving plenty of room for any car or toy you’d like to store.

The first floor master bedroom is luxurious, with separate tiled shower and soaking tub, double vanities and his & her closets. The are four other bedrooms here, each large and all but one possessing an en suite bath. The first floor den has it’s own bath, too,  and while the current owner uses this as a study, you’d be forgiven if you turned it into a TV room or an extra bedroom.  There are four fireplaces here, those wide planked oak floors, and character that you rarely find in such a unique location.

The house sits up away from the lake a ways, allowing rare privacy and continual quiet. The 50′ of lake frontage and private pier is shared with just one neighbor, though this home has exclusive rights to the canopied slip. There’s a 26′ Chris Craft Continental that calls that slip home, and though you’re allowed to put a new Cobalt into that slip, there’s something about the Chris Craft that perfectly matches the laid back style of this large lake house.

Today, this home has found its way to the open market, with an asking price of $2.895MM. It will be sold quickly, I do believe, so you’d do well to consider a tour of this home if you have any interest at all.  Streets like Jerseyhurst have been lining this lake for over a century, but rarely does a street like this extend to the public an invitation to ownership.

Expectations

Expectations

By now you know I have a problem with cars. I like cars, but I don’t like the process of buying a car. I don’t even like thinking about cars. I’m young enough to see a car I like and think, “I really like that car”. But I’m old enough to not pursue the purchase of such a car.  Men tend to track their lives by the cars they drive. I remember when I met my wife I drove a black Cadillac (don’t ask). Then, later, when my girlfriend became my wife, I drove a black Volvo. It was a nice car. Later, my wife almost decapitated our dog by sideswiping a telephone pole in a red Jeep Grand Cherokee. Life is most easily tracked when the memory places you behind the wheel.

The problem with these nice cars is that they’re expensive. Super expensive. And so earlier this spring I found my way to a car dealership and before my timid financial self could win the internal argument, I agreed to purchase a car. I negotiated for this car as best I could. I feigned the walk away. I stood up and paced. And when all of that was over I had raised my price by dollars and the dealer lowered theirs by pennies. I decided I wanted the car and so I had to pay for it. To walk away meant to repeat the process at a later date, and I was weary from so much anxiety. Later, when I think back about the spring of 2017, I’ll remember driving home in the rain with my wife who pretended not to like the new car until the seats started massaging her back.

This experience relates quite closely to the home buying experience.  The desire. The negotiation. The decision.  The decision, after all is said and done, is what this is really all about. I desired to buy that car of mine for about $1000 less than I paid for it. I could have stood my ground and hoped they called me the next day to accept my price. I could have done that, but I didn’t, because what I wanted to pay and what I had to pay were two different numbers.  This is the situation at Lake Geneva today. If you’re a buyer, there is likely the price you want to pay, which is likely the price I want you to pay, and then there’s the price the seller is going to make you pay. You know which price is more important.

This lake is rife with stories of would-be-home-buyers who stood on principle and stood until they were the only man left standing. The buyer who looked at that lakefront in 1998 and said, no. $575k is just too much for that lakefront. Or the buyers who stood with me on properties in  2011 and 2012 and said, no, the price won’t work. These are the buyers who today look at this market and wish they had the conviction needed at the time they needed it. It’s easy to harness buying conviction when it’s too late. I would have paid X! They say. But it’s too late, because someone already paid it. The practices that helped my buying clients purchase lakefront property at significant discounts to the market five years ago are, for the most part, no longer working.

That’s because we know what we’d like to pay, but the seller knows what they’re going to take. That’s why these last few months I’ve stood on many properties with many buyers and discussed the price I’d like them to pay and the price they’re going to have to pay if they actually want the house. Would I want you to pay $1.9MM for the house? Of course. Are we going to try to pay $1.9MM but realize, after a heated and skillful negotiation that we’re going to have to pay $2.1MM? Again, of course. Because in this low inventory environment sellers have the upper hand, and this is an undebatable fact.  There are some properties that have accumulated enough market time that they will succumb to our negotiating pressure but these sellers are the outliers today, not the standard bearers.

This summer, approach the market with caution. Certain properties are wildly overpriced. Others are not. Know the difference. Don’t approach the market with reckless, fevered abandon.  But when the time comes and you find the house you want, just remember not to get too hung up on a few percentage points.  Those few points will be long forgotten when you’re lounging lakeside, blissfully unconcerned with the slightly larger hole in your bank account.

Let’s Play Ball

Let’s Play Ball

To be the Dodger’s lead-off hitter is to be the invisible man.   That first at-bat is a thankless at bat, no matter the outcome. The vendors are still loading their trays with refreshments, the fans still waiting in the longest of lines at the last highway exit. The television broadcast knows you’re batting, but they don’t care. They pan the crowd, to show the empty seats, to show the mountains in the horizon and the brilliant color the smog turns that early evening air.  If you crack a thrilling solo home-run to lead off the game but no one is there to see it, does it still count as a run?

Likewise, when the team of large men in the NBA finals races off to a large first quarter lead but later melts under the pressure of a steady barrage of 30 foot foists, does that shimmering start mean anything at all? To the fans who saw it, I suppose the answer has to be yes. What a move!– the dad will say to his son. WOW! Some old lady will say to someone next to her. That lady has been to every NBA final since 1919, the announcer with the purple suit will say during half time.  But your team raced out to that lead and you were in line waiting on the nachos, and you only returned to your seat in time to see the other team drop so many threes from such great distances.

Today at the lake, we are in the first inning. It’s perhaps still the top of the first, but there are no runners on and two outs. The pitcher has been flawless, effortless, really. His slider is sliding and his heater is heating. The third base coach looked towards the dugout and said he doesn’t think he’s ever seen better stuff. The NBA game has started, and your team is up big on the visitors.  They’re throwing lobs and dropping threes and the coach crouched down in the huddle and told the players that he’s never seen them play better. And he’s been the coach for along time.

It’s early here, yes, but it’s phenomenal. Summer has started, whether you were ready for it to start or not. Last weekend, a client of mine decided to stay in the city. There were errands to run, things to do, a birthday party that begged attendance. The Lake Geneva forecast called for rain, and so the decision was made. The family would spend the weekend at home, in the city. Except then on Saturday the weather wasn’t foul at all, it was hot and sunny and bright. It was summer.  Weekend plans to sit idle were thrown aside and the family woke up Sunday morning not in their Monday house, but in their Sunday house. Who could push away summery things when summer is already here? This is like saying you’re skier and you’ve made a plan to ski in January.  When it snows 24 inches in two days in December, shouldn’t you go skiing?

Today it’s summer. Yesterday it was summer. Tomorrow? Summer.  Summer does many things to a soul; things delightful and refreshing. But summer can also torment, and summer can be cruel.  Summer isn’t going to wait for you to be ready, because if you’re not ready by now there’s a good chance you never will be. Don’t get caught in traffic when the first pitch has already been thrown.  The grass is green and the sky is bright and the home team is belting homers left and right.

Folly Lane Sells

Folly Lane Sells

If you’re showing a house on Folly Lane, it’s best to show it in late October.  That’s because the skinny road that makes an abrupt turn towards the lake off of Snake Road is lined with Maples. No, not merely lined, it’s choked with Maples.  These aren’t your run of the mill Maples with orange and red and all sorts of silly extra colors, these are the yellow Maples. That’s a man’s Maple, the yellow one.  And Folly Lane has all of the yellow ones, and as such, you’d be best served to show a house on Folly Lane in late October when these green Maples are brilliantly yellow.

But if you can’t show Folly Lane in October, it’s still a good enough drive any other time of year. I drove down that road last Friday with a cherished client in tow, and later that day we closed on the large lakefront at Folly Lane for $7.4MM. This price, by the way, is the same price the property sold for in 2012 (the furnished number was $300k higher than the recorded print).  I didn’t love that sale back then, as the market was in pretty rough shape in the summer of 2012, but today the market is robust and vibrant, especially in our upper reaches. Today, that sale at $7.4MM makes sense to the market, and I was supremely pleased to represent the buyer.

For the market, that’s the sixth sale over $5MM in the last 12 months. Of those six, I’ve closed five of them. That reminds me of something that happened over the weekend. On Saturday morning I was out early delivering magazines with my son. We were walking up to the Lake Geneva Starbucks to peddle our pile of propaganda. A woman was walking out with her husband, a copy of Summer Homes For City People in her hand. She was talking in low, hushed tones to her husband. In a terse whisper she said, “I’m not sure why I’d want to read Dave Curry talking about himself”.  I was disheartened to hear this, but I quickly decided that it would be better for me to write 84 pages about myself than about someone else. The waters could get slightly litigious if I wrote 84 pages about someone else.  And in the same way, I really don’t like having to tell everyone how I’ve sold five of the last six mega-sales on Geneva Lake, but if I don’t tell you, do you think the other 500 some Realtors here will?

As of this morning, there are six homes for sale on Geneva priced in excess of $5MM. Of those, perhaps four of them are actually worth more than $5MM. Be sure to ask me which ones those are. Of the remaining homes, there’s a rumored offer on one of them, and some interest in another. The properties in this strata are generally large, but of the remaining inventory there’s nothing particularly turn key on estate type parcels of land. That’s an issue for the market, especially as there are many upper bracket buyers in the market today.

The story of 2016/2017 is less about the primary market momentum and more about the incredible liquidity in the upper reaches of our lakefront market. Remember, from 2000 through 2009 there were just three MLS sales on Geneva that printed in excess of $5MM. In the past 12 months we’ve closed six. It’s all really quite remarkable until you remember that Geneva Lake is the best lake in the Midwest. Then it all makes a whole lot of sense.

A big thank you and congratulations to the newest lakefront owners. Here’s to generational happiness at Folly Lane.

Weekend Caller

Weekend Caller

We need to have an honest discussion. It’s rare, in any business involving sales, to have such a conversation, but converse we must.  This is about me, sure, but it’s about you. It’s about people you don’t know and people I don’t know. It’s about regular, good people. People we’d go to church with or go to fish fry with. People we’d do both with. It’s about the sorts of people we all are at points in our life. It’s about the weekend real estate caller.

In real estate, it’s a generally understood concept that Realtors work on weekends. We do. We all do.  There are some Realtors who take days off for religious reasons, and I applaud them for their conviction. There are other Realtors who take certain hours off- no calls after 6 pm- that sort of thing. But the vast majority of Realtors will show you a house Sunday morning at 8 am and they’ll show you one Friday night at 9 pm. There are no bounds for most agents, no time when they aren’t hungry to sell you something. Would it surprise you now that I tell you this is a bad thing?

Last weekend I had several real estate calls at my office line (262-245-9000). That’s not abnormal. But this was a Holiday weekend and you’ll be somewhat shocked to find out that Realtors also like Holidays.  These days were not created purely for bankers and school teachers and financial analysts. These are the holidays for the people, and while there is some testing that has not been entirely vetted, Realtors are also people. The business expects Realtors to be available at all times, at the drop of a hat, because shouldn’t these blood-sucking sales people be available whenever the job calls. Can I say no?

Of course I can, but it’s taboo to admit it. Could you imagine that on Memorial Day weekend I, too, like the idea of a cookout? I was momentarily undertaking the world’s greatest physical transformation earlier this year, but it didn’t stick so I’m back to preferring my protein to be wrapped in carbs. Soft, pillowy, deliciously doughy carbs. And so I like the cook brats and burgers and steaks, just like every other red blooded American.   I was in my office Saturday morning for a couple of hours, which felt like a nice effort on a Holiday, and that was that.

I stopped back on Sunday evening, after having spent the day Sunday out tiling at the never-ending cabin project I’m embroiled in.  Last weekend,  calls came for me to my office number. Voicemails were left. The weekend calls had left a couple of messages, and I was too late in my reply. Both buyers had moved on without me, which is both slightly understandable and also disappointing. And that comes back to the concept of this business and what it is different agents can offer.

Let’s say you’re looking to have some estate work done and you were told by a friend that their attorney is the absolute best. He does estate work all of the time, and he’s without rival. So you call the attorney, let’s just say on a Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend. If the attorney didn’t call you back within a few hours would you have called another attorney? Or similarly, if you call this attorney on a Monday but he hasn’t called you back by Monday evening, would you waltz into the closest lawyer’s office, the one in the strip mall next to the Cinnabon, and have the junior attorney from Middle Appalachia Technical College draft your docs? Of course you wouldn’t. Why then is real estate so different?

I love phone calls from clients and would-be clients. I crave them.  So please, if you’re calling me on a weekend, call my cell phone (262-245-1993). Text me. Email me (dave@genevalakefrontrealty.com). Do all of these things, but I’m begging you not to leave a voicemail at my office for me if you’re expecting a Sunday morning return call. While real estate is a game built around endless availability, I’d prefer it be built around the concept that some agents are more valuable than others, and if you’d like a Sunday morning agent with an hour notice I’m pretty sure I know you’re not going to get the agent who can guide you towards the right property at the right price.

Here’s to the weekend, and to cell phone calls. Above, a pier shot from Thursday. It’s summer. Be here.