Blog :

Mayfly

Mayfly

It’s that season again, and with that season, we’ll require a reminder that Mayflies cannot kill you. They can’t give you Zika. They can’t do anything but annoy, and that’s okay. A post from the past…

 

I do not know what a June bug is. I don’t know what sort of bug it is, but I think it’s a beetle. I also don’t know if it’s a June bug, as the month would suggest, or if it’s a Joon bug, which is how I think the spelling is of that movie alongside Benny, which also might be Bennie, but who knows. I know certain things about June bugs. I know that they are bugs, and I know that while they likely arrive sometime in June they most certainly do not only exist during the month that I assume to be their namesake. My daughter’s name is May, but she exists the same in May as she does in June, which is to say that she exists solely for the purpose of torturing her brother and making him feel as though she gets special treatment. She does, but not just in May because her name is May.

Mayflies–I know more about these than I do the bugs that may or may not be beetles that come after the flies. Mayflies aren’t really flies at all. They do fly, but they do not buzz against windows and spoil picnics and touch everything in the way that garbage flies do. Perhaps calling them garbage flies is inappropriate, like calling field corn horse corn, but as I recall fruit flies are more like small bugs, or gnats, than they are like flies, so I’ll assume that fruit flies are like gnats and garbage flies are the flies that we think of when we think of flies. Which is often, in summer. Mayflies, they’re a summer bug too, which is back to our point about those flies existing, at least sometimes, outside of May.

This is the time for these bugs. In fact, it might be past the time for these bugs. They were buzzing while I was working, buzzing in great dark clouds over piers and in front lawns and buzzing next to lilacs as they bloomed and made all the world smell like the pages of Glamour magazine. They were in these large schools, roaming about without moving much at all, hovering, really, hanging out in front lawns and near bushes and over piers and over expanses of calm spring waters. These bugs can, at first, seem daunting. There are many of them, but the swarm doesn’t instill fear like a swarm of bees would. And they don’t instill disgust in the way that a mass swarm of flies would, be those flies garbage flies or fruit flies, it doesn’t matter much. They’re still flies, and a whole mess of them would be just miserable.

I’m sure I saw some of these dark schools of Mayflies during their namesake month, but I can’t remember them this year because I didn’t take any time to smell any roses, or to pick any dandelions, or to walk along the shore path near the water where these bugs like to hang out. I haven’t done these things because I haven’t had the time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t see some Mayflies this year. I did. I saw plenty of them, just not the huge swarms of them that I remember seeing during other Mays from other years. I remember one year when they were particularly impressive. I fished off the Loch Vista pier, casting thin line with small hooks looped through the faces of small minnows. I don’t feel good about doing that to those minnows, but I do feel good about watching a small red and white bobber slip under the still surface, and I feel equally as good about reeling in a smallmouth bass before gently unhooking it and releasing it back to its watery home, so the minnow part is unfortunate but I find that its end justifies its means.

I remember one late afternoon, late enough where the sky was dark but the light hadn’t yet faded enough to be considered night, and I was doing that casting and standing and reeling. The buzz from the Mayflies was pronounced–loud even–and I felt great privilege being on that pier in that scene, watching my bobbers. I’d look away at times, just for long enough to see the cloud of Mayflies dip too close to the water so that the wings of the lowest members would dimple the surface and stick together. The bugs that met the water in this way would stay there, glued to the surface of the calm lake, where they’d lay without hope until a small bluegill would ascend from the depths and sip them, implying politeness while still being ruthless. I watched the scene play out, the falling to the water to become a meal, the bobbers dipping under the surface, the smallmouth pulling away as best they could, the night sky growing dim, the Mayflies abuzz.

This is May, and we’re at the lake. The flies are not flies at all, just Mayflies in some quantity. They won’t bite, they won’t bother, and soon enough they’ll be dead and stuck to spiderwebs under the eaves of our homes and the canopies of our piers. They aren’t anything to fear, no more than we’d fear a Joon bug, or a June bug, or the dreaded Juhn bug.

 

Above, my Lake Geneva Club listing, freshly under contract.
Vernacular

Vernacular

If we were in the deep south, it would be understood that there would be certain words we’d use at certain times. We’d drop the G on many words, like he’d be “fixin” to catch a “beatin”. This is hard for us yankees to understand, but this is the way it is. Why then, should it be any different for us? Why shouldn’t we have our own set of words, meant to describe our own set of things? We aren’t in the northeast where things are strange and er is pronounced uh, but we are unique. At Lake Geneva it’s less about the pronunciation and more about the chosen word.

With Memorial Day on the very near horizon, it’s a good time to take a refresher course in our preferred words. Perhaps you’re new to the lake scene altogether, which means you haven’t yet had a chance to learn these linguistic lessons the hard way, through the embarrassment of the utterance. Or maybe you’ve been here so long you’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter anymore. What matters, you say, is world peace and kindness. You’re being silly, because the words matter far more. Without further ado, the list:

There is a company here called Pier Docktors. This is a company that makes, installs, and removes piers. The name is a pun, a play on the words, which is the only reason we’ll give them a pass for using the root word “dock”. The white thing that juts out from shore in front of your house is called a pier. It’s not called a dock. There is no acceptable substitution for this. A pier is a pier and a dock is a dock, and what we have here are piers. Don’t call them docks. It’s embarrassing to the pier, and to you.  There are a couple of piers on the lake that aren’t white. Those piers are not the piers you should emulate if you own your own. Piers are to be white, end of story. Docks can be brown, but we don’t even have those here.

If you’ve worked hard and sacrificed and you’ve made your way to the lakefront, your front lawn is the lakeside lawn.  When your friends are coming over to hang out, you tell them you’ll be in the front yard, or front lawn. This is the lake lawn, not the street side lawn. I’m amazed at how many people- seemingly intelligent, good natured, people- get his wrong. Your backyard is the street yard. Your front yard is the lakeside yard. Please don’t confuse the two.

Did you catch a bass off your pier? Really? Was it a largemouth or a smallmouth? If you say, neither, then you didn’t catch a bass. There are only two types of acceptable bass in Geneva Lake. The largemouth and the smallmouth. If you caught a rock bass, then you caught a rock bass. Don’t call it a bass. It’s only a bass of sorts, in the way that a Redfish is really just a freshwater drum which is really just a carp. Don’t church up a rock bass by calling it a bass. It’s a rock bass, nothing more, nothing less.

The little white plastic or wood or foam thing that floats out in front of your house beyond your pier isn’t called a can. It isn’t called a mooring ball. It isn’t called anything except what it is: A buoy.  I’ve heard all sorts of other abuses, but this white bobber that you tether a boat to is called buoy. It’s a buoy now and it’s a buoy later. It’ll always be a buoy. Please don’t call it by any other name, and if you have one, don’t you dare tie a pontoon boat to it.

The Shore Path has received much attention this spring, mostly due to the absurd Muck Suck race that was supposed to be held this coming weekend. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the race was canceled as a result of a significant push back from the lakefront owners. The shore path, as it is, is a lake path, but it should never be called that. Your great Aunt’s name is Edna, but you don’t call her Edna, you call her Auntie Edna. Show a little respect and call the lake path what it is: The Shore Path.

If you invite me over to your house this summer and you send me a text like this, “David, stop on over. I’ll be in the backyard on the lake path trimming some weeds that have grown too close to the dock”, just know that I won’t be coming over.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

Next week I’m going to do an in depth review of Abbey Springs, Geneva National, the lakefront condo market, and the secondary condo markets (Abbey Villas, Abbey Hill, Willabay, Bayside Point, etc). But today we’re going to look at the lake access and lakefront markets, because there are some interesting things occurring within these segments. I wrote earlier this week that each segment is active, which sounds like something easy to do and easier to write, but it’s not easy to do. Rarely do all pricing segments of one major market feature the same general mood. Rarely does a $200k cottage sell with the same frequency as a $4.5MM lakefront. But that’s what we have today, and it’s really quite amazing.

We know the entry level vacation home segment is super active with 10 out of the 28 homes priced under $500k currently showing as active with offer. What’s more interesting to me is that we have 22 homes available priced between $500k and $1MM and just three of those are pending sale. That’s not a terrible number, and that’s actually not what’s particularly unique. In this price range buyers will generally be able to find a transferable boatslip. Not always, but often. They’ll also typically be looking for a lake view, or proximity to the lake, or something unique about the house.  What’s curious today is that of the three homes pending sale in this segment, just one of those homes has a slip. The other two do not, and both are priced in the $600s.  Buyers buy for all sorts of reasons, so I would never seek to explain all purchase behavior, but if I’m a buyer in this segment I’m likely looking for a slip first, and every single other thing second. Buyers often think they won’t need a slip. Then, after the first weekend at the new lake house, they’re wondering where they’re going to moor the boat they’d like to buy.

The other range that continues to impress is the off-water lake access market over $1MM. This range was slow last year at this time, with ample inventory and few buyers.  The market has absorbed much of that aged 2016 product. Today there are 10 off water homes priced between $1MM and $1.7MM. Of those, two are under contract. That might not seem like a lot, but it is. As the entry level lakefront inventory shrinks (just two lakefront homes priced under $1.5MM today), expect to see this market garner more and more attention. The idea here is simple. If a buyer can’t buy lakefront, they’ll look for the next best thing. And if lakefront is rare and pricy, often buyers will seek some sort of off-water property with a slip or a view or maybe both. These are not market mistakes, generally anyway, but they are market moves born not out of pure desire, but simply out of limited options. I’d like to take the pretty girl to the prom, but she’s already going with the quarterback, so I’ll take this other girl, who likes fidget spinners and eats erasers, but her hair is okay.

Lastly, the lakefront market itself.  There are offers being flung around like so many pancakes at the fly-in-breakfast. The one out West of Walworth. These offers are generally coming together, but increasingly sellers are holding out for more money. Better terms. This might be a good idea or it might be a mistake, and I’m going to go with mistake. Some of the properties with offers are flawed- and the sellers used to understand those flaws. Now the sellers figure the market is in their favor, and their flaws are hidden by the hysteria of it all.   They shouldn’t be this way. The market can turn as quickly as a 10 percent correction in the S&P, so sellers should remain confident but cautious. New pending sale mentions this week include the Congress Club listing in the $1.6s, the north shore Fontana lakefront in the low $2s, and the lakefront on South Lakeshore in Fontana in the mid $4s. These sales will all make sense once they close, so I see nothing particularly unique or exciting here. Rounding out the lakefront activity, my pending contract on the Folly Lane property listed in the high $7s.

Inventory remains the question for each segment. The MLS only shows 17 true lakefront homes available this morning. Of those, there are some nice properties, some rare properties, and some that represent solid value. The low inventory situation will likely persist this year, though I’d expect several new offerings to come to market over the next 30-45 days. As always, if you’d like to know about these new offerings before the rest of the market, just let me know.   The lake today is buzzing with activity, and not just of the housing variety. Landscape crews are hustling to mulch beds and plant annuals. Pier guys are racing to install the last of the piers. Irrigation systems are being activated. It’s a frenzy, to be sure. But it’s our frenzy and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Above, a new lakefront I’m bringing to market next week.
Inventory Problems

Inventory Problems

What is a healthy real estate market? Is it a market with plenty of inventory so that every buyer has an opportunity to buy whatever it is that they want?  This would be the generally accepted position of most. Yes, we should have inventory for all, available at all times, with low interest rates and sunny skies. Also, hopping, happy white bunnies.

The problem is that it is impossible for a market to exist that pleases buyers and sellers equally.  Even if you’re a seller and then an immediate buyer, you don’t have things exactly the way you’d like them. Unless you’re selling something into a hot segment and buying something in a slow segment, you’re likely selling high and buying high. When the markets were bad, sellers were selling low and then buying low. As I was advising then, this felt terrible but was, in fact, really quite smart. The trick then was simply to sell low and buy lower, just as the trick today is to sell high and buy less high. I admit the clunky phrasing will never catch on.

Today the market is active in all segments. Unlike the initial improvement we saw from 2012 through 2015, where certain segments were left out in the cold even as others advanced, today the entire market is humming.  There are 19 lake access homes priced under $400k at the moment. Of those, 8 are under contract. There are homes with slips priced between $400k and $900k pending sale,  and even our off-lake $1MM-$1.5MM range is churning out volume. There are two pending sales in that category, one in Lake Geneva priced in the $1.3MM range and one in Fontana priced near $1.5MM.  This is the range, in case you forgot, that has been struggling over the past 18 months.  Today it is fluid and potentially as liquid as any other individual market surrounding the lake.

The entry level market on Geneva is still giving up some inventory, with two lakefronts priced under $1.5MM.  Beyond that there is a pending lakefront in Lake Geneva priced at $2.195MM (my listing), and a recent sale in that same category of a house in Williams Bay on the north shore of Fontana Bay. That property closed for $2.125MM. I had that home for sale a couple of years ago and failed to sell it.  The house didn’t bow to the market, the market came up to that house.  Around the other side of Fontana, a house that had been for sale off and on for years has gone under contract with an asking price of $4.65MM.  That’s a nice property in a nice location. It makes sense that it sold quickly this time around.

In our upper bracket ranges, I have a new deal on a lakefront priced at $7.95MM.  That’s the biggest story of the last 24 months- the improved liquidity at our market’s very top end.  We used to sell a lakefront over $5MM every other year. Now we can sell five or more per year. When this sale closes that will make six sales over $5MM between June 2016 and June 2017. Of those six, I’ll have closed five of them, leaving little doubt as to which agent best understands the highly nuanced upper bracket here.  This increased liquidity is good for the lake, but it will have a cap.  Over $8MM the numbers get a bit more sticky, and we still haven’t ever printed a transfer at $10MM or over. Expect this to be tested this year, both with some of the current inventory and with new inventory that’ll likely leak to market over the coming months.

So is this a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Is the market healthy? Well yes, it’s healthy. It’s active and it’s dynamic.  But as for who’s in control of this whole thing, that depends on specific properties. You can sell into a hot segment right now and buy into a cooler segment. That is still possible, and that’s the best possible outcome for those seeking to upgrade or downgrade without leaving these shores.  The trick now is for buyers to remain patient (and seek out the proper guidance, from me), and for sellers to resist the urge to indulge in overconfidence.  Either way, if inventory remains low we might have a slower summer than any of us want.

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Sadly, the big story this morning is that of a kayaker who died in Geneva Lake yesterday. This sort of story isn’t nice to write about, but every unfortunate occurrence is an  admonition for the rest of us. Lakes in the spring are cold. The sun may be warm, the wind still. But the lake is still icy cold. I’d guess the water temp in Geneva today is around 52 degrees. Maybe 55. That’s cold enough to take your breath away, and if you lose your breath when you’re in the middle of the lake, your life cannot be far behind. I don’t know if this poor man had a life vest on, but remember to always use a life vest if you’re out on this lake in a vessel as unstable as a kayak.   It’s a sad story today, for sure.

The shore-path-race seems to be as unpopular as anything has ever been. It’s as unpopular as suburban style housing developments proposed for our cornfields. It’s unpopular. The city alderman who approved this race should remain ashamed, and hopefully they’re being bombarded by angry letters and calls from lake residents who wish to see their path left for the dreams and the wanderers. Several local groups have taken action against this stupid race, and with any luck it’ll be called off before the first ankle is sprained.

It’s my birthday this weekend, which is nice for me. But it’s also terrible because I’m getting old and my beard is graying and my temples have completed the process. I sat through my son’s spring music concert the other night.  As a proud parent and school alum, I had every reason to sit still and marvel at each squeak from the flute and eat off-key solo. But I have found, that even at my advancing age, I still lack the maturity to sit still for 90 minutes while high schoolers sing Disney songs. Perhaps this means I’ll never grow up. Perhaps it means I’ve failed at this game. But as Mark Hoppus once said, No one should take themselves so seriously. With many years ahead to fall in line, why would you wish that on me?

My Morel season was another bust this year. I didn’t have time to look as much as I should have, and when I did I didn’t really find many. A few dozen, perhaps. I know morel season waits on no man and yet I expected it to wait on me. It didn’t. And now I’m another year older and have scant few morels to show for it. This is something I’ll have to live with until next May, when I’ll try to right the wrongs of 2017.

Lastly, if you were in the Lake Geneva Starbucks this morning at 7 am I did spill that entire cup of coffee at the cream station. Everything was going fine until I looked up while putting on the lid. The entire cup poured onto the counter, the floor, even into the little container where the Splenda reside. I felt sort of bad about this, but quickly used one hundred or more napkins to tidy up my mess. I apologized profusely to those around me. But if you were me, and it was your birthday this weekend and you hadn’t really found any morels,  are you trying to tell me you wouldn’t have also spilled your coffee?

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and my wife and all of the other mothers.
Lakeview Lakefront Sells

Lakeview Lakefront Sells

Buyers are not generally pleased with the way this market is performing. Buyers want to know when the market will shift in their favor. When the inventory will increase. When the skies will clear and the sun will shine on them, not on the seller. To be a buyer today is to assume the seller has the upper hand.

Last November a small house in the Highlands came to market for $1.2MM. The house was about what the market expected for this price. 45 feet of frontage, some basic things like a sort-of kitchen and some bedroom-ish spaces. It was fine, this house. And the market was hot, especially on the heels of my closing of the lakefront down the road on Lakeview right around that same time.

But the house didn’t sell, because it didn’t have any sort of sizzle. Buyers looked at it, often, because it was, at the end of every day from then until now, cheap. But was it cheap enough? After all, the house down the road closed at $1.26MM and had a bit more frontage, a boathouse, better finishes and it was clean and easy. This house wasn’t clean nor was it easy, and so, in spite of this dynamic seller’s market, the house sat.

I was working with a young couple last summer and fall, a couple who, in spite of their newness to our market, felt compelled to pull something off. They didn’t want to spend a lot, though in Lake Geneva even our little is a lot, so we targeted the entry level lakefront market, looking for value even as sales printed all around us. Patience, even in an escalating market, would prove to be the right practice.

We bid low in March, or maybe it was April. Pretty low. Quite low. The seller responded. We negotiated some more. A bit more. Just a tiny bit more. We closed that purchase on Monday for $925k. The new buyers are into a lakefront home for the lowest amount that anyone has paid for 45 or more front feet on Geneva since January of 2013, and that, no matter how terrible the kitchen, is a value.

There’s something especially rewarding about placing a new Lake Geneva owner into a lake house. This sale was not the largest, nor was the house the fanciest. But the house allows a young couple an opportunity to experience the lake for the first time, in a way that will be completely and utterly new to them. To this new buyer, a big congratulations and many thanks for letting me help with this lakefront purchase.
To the buyers who claim this is a seller’s market, what of the sale here on Lakeview? If you liked your down market in 2010-2013, that’s fine. I liked it quite a bit, too. But the market today is robust and healthy and yet still discerning buyers with enough vision can still secure lasting and permanent value. Don’t let the headlines get you down. Every seller has their own circumstance, and every home its own unique set of challenges. Our job is to discover those homes and those sellers and do our best to print value.

700 South Lakeshore Sells

700 South Lakeshore Sells

When I listed this property last August, I knew exactly what it was. It wasn’t the most perfect house on the lake. The kitchen wasn’t exactly the current style. But it was 4 acres and 162 of frontage with so much square footage and so many resort-style amenities. The house had been listed off and on for what felt like ages, as if anyone really knows exactly what an “age” feels like. Still, the property was repositioned with the help of a fresh perspective and some fresh marketing efforts and I was pleased to work for that seller to get that property sold.

Last Friday, I sold 700 South Lakeshore in the city of Lake Geneva for $5,900,000. The sale is the fifth over $5,000,000 since the start of last year. Of those five sales, I’ve represented the seller in four of them. I’m not really sure now what else I can do to help convince the upper bracket market that I’m the man to handle these luxury listings. Perhaps the secret will be unlocked after I sell five out of the last six…

While I’m happy for the seller who now gets to move on to the next chapter of her life, I’m exceptionally pleased for the buyer. This is a new lake owner, with a new reason to look forward to the weekend. There’s something extra rewarding about selling a lake house to a first time Lake Geneva owner.  They don’t yet know what they’re in for, but I do. We do.  A very special thank you to this seller and buyer who allowed me to help bring this sale together.

Lake Geneva Shore Path Race

Lake Geneva Shore Path Race

The Shore Path. It is perhaps the most unique aspect of this Lake Geneva scene. While water flows from one end to the other, from a shore over here to a shore over there, the thing that truly connects this lake is this path. The original iteration of this path is easy to imagine. It was a foot path for the indians who inhabited this land, a worn single track used by these residents and the deer to get from one location to another. Later the path became a means for estate staff and grounds workers to move from one estate to another. The path endured and was protected via a deed restriction that still today runs through every lakefront property on Geneva Lake. The shore path is immensely valuable to this lake, to these owners, to this thing we call Lake Geneva.

The shore path, no matter if it is a recored as a public right, is best viewed as a privilege.  The constitution does not protect the shore path. It is simply a privilege, bestowed onto the public by a benevolent group of owners who, 130 years ago, could not have foreseen the path becoming the tourist attraction that it is today. Take away the boats, the fancy piers, the ornate lawns and strip this lake down to its very natural, undisturbed state and the only thing that would remain is that single path.  Though there are signs occasionally to remind the path strollers that this path is on private property and should be treated with respect, the path is often the subject of much abuse.

Path walkers are to do one simple thing when they walk the path around Geneva Lake: Stay on the path. This concept is not difficult to understand. The path does not give a walker the right to comb the private beach in front of the path for sea glass or shells. The path does not give the walker the right to snip a flower or two along the way. The path is not intended to encourage loitering. There should be no resting, no matter how weary the walker, on the lawns of those great lakefront properties. The path is for walking and walking only. Leash your dogs or leave them at home.

With that understood, imagine my surprise to hear that the City of Lake Geneva has voted to allow a running race to take place along this venerable path.  I have significant issues with the city itself, with the government run by those that seemingly fail to understand why the city is popular. The city exists solely because of the lakefront home owner, as without that high tax paying vacation home owner, there would be no means to carry out whatever it is the city is intent on carrying out. I was in the room yesterday while a local resident argued with a city employee over a parking ticket. The city employee was refuting every argument this resident made as to why he shouldn’t have been given a $20 parking ticket. The city worker staunchly rebuffed the residents claims as though her very life depended on it. This is the city that has forgotten what made it popular in the first place.

The city voted to allow this race, to be run by as many as 150 racers, to occur over Memorial Day Weekend. This old single track around Geneva Lake is ill-suited to host a race of any variety, and the group who should have been defending this historical footpath instead voted to exploit it.  For shame, city aldermen, for shame. And shame on Clearwater Outdoor for having any part in this race (according to the Muck-Suck website).  As an owner here or an interested party in this lake, you should be motivated to keep the serenity of it all intact. There are few vestiges of history here that can rival that path, and the path should be protected at any cost. The city has approved the race for this year, likely out of the primary governmental motivator greed, but there is time to stop this race from ever occurring again.

Reach out to the City of Lake Geneva and tell them to knock it off. The footpath is meant for leisurely strolls, not organized races. Keep the races to the streets and protect the path.  The mayor and city aldermen are listed below. According to what I’ve read, the only alderman who voted against this exploitation was John Halverson. Well done, John.

akupsik@cityoflakegeneva.com

sstraube@cityoflakegeneva.com

echappell@cityoflakegeneva.com

dskates@cityoflakegeneva.com

rhedlund@cityoflakegeneva.com

bkordus@cityoflakegeneva.com

khowell@cityoflakegeneva.com

cflower@cityoflakegeneva.com

jhalverson@cityoflakegeneva.com

 

Shore Path Photo Courtesy Jeff Robichaud
Equestrian Estate

Equestrian Estate

I rode a horse once. It was an unruly horse, wild maybe. I was all of 12 years old and I was riding on the back of this wild beast; a girl who I fancied held the reins. The horse ride was uneventful for a few moments, until a sheet of construction debris blew up in the wind causing the horse to jump and jolt. I fell to the ground, awash in shame and roadside dust. I have never ridden a horse since. But this isn’t about me and my horse situation, this is about a new listing of mine, a listing that represents a bit of a departure from my norm. This horse property isn’t on the lake, obviously. It isn’t right next to the lake, either. It’s about 15 minutes from Fontana and once you arrive you’d be forgiven if you thought I transported you to Lexington. This is one heck of an estate.

If you’ve never looked for a large swath of available land in Southern Wisconsin, then it would be impossible for you to understand just how rare this offering truly is. Several decades ago, a world renowned physician spent untold hours and uncountable dollars assembling this sportsman’s paradise. A passion for Peruvian horses and a desire to create a first class equestrian facility fueled this remarkable effort, and today this amazing estate is for sale. While the property must be toured to be fully understood (watch the video), you can see from these photographs that this is not your normal Wisconsin equestrian property. This is a significant retreat for any outdoor enthusiast.

Here we have more than 278 acres of contiguous farmland, woodlands, and pasture; with a flowing stream winding through it all. The house is large and upgraded, the grounds immaculate. There’s a pool and tennis court, a guest cabin and more. The horse facilities themselves are among the finest you’ve ever seen, complete with indoor riding area, conditioned stables, office space for facility managers, and a pastures galore.

Dry Creek flows through this property and divides the woodlands from the pasture, creating wildlife habitat that has been undisturbed for decades. Hunters will enjoy the upland fields and heavily wooded hillsides. Trails are cut through much of this property for horse riding or perhaps just UTV riding. If you’ve been looking for the ultimate Wisconsin retreat that can offer you a little of everything, this is it. If you’ve been looking for a first class equestrian property less than 90 minutes from Chicago, well you’ve found that, too.  Offered today in the high $2MMs.

Shore Haven Sells

Shore Haven Sells

The single lane associations on the south shore of Geneva are some of my favorite lake access associations. These are not large associations like Cedar Point Park or Country Club Estates, rather they’re intimate skinny lanes with a handful of homes, perhaps 30, perhaps 50, rarely more and rarely less. These associations generally offer one thing that the larger associations cannot- transferable boat slips. Excepting Sybil Lane, the other three in this stretch- Shore Haven, The Lake Geneva Club, and Oak Shores, all offer each home a fully transferable slip. Some slips are larger and others small, some shallow and others deep, but if you’re a buyer on these streets then you’re going to be buying a boat slip, and that is always a good thing.

Some buyers don’t want boat slips. I’m not a boater, they say. I don’t even own a boat, why would I want a slip? Considering I’m a sage old Realtor at this point, I can tell pretty early on if the buyer is the sort who claims to not want a slip but who will, at a later date, wish for one. If a buyer wishes to spend $300k on a lake access home, that’s terrific news. But that buyer won’t be buying a boat slip for that sort of money. The home they can buy will be nice enough, with lake access through an association park and pier system, but a transferable slip will not be possible at that price range. However, if a buyer is looking at $500-600k lake access homes and doesn’t think they need a slip, I’ll always encourage that buyer to consider homes with a slip first. To vacation at Lake Geneva and not have access to a boat is like sitting down for a dinner at your favorite restaurant and not being allowed to order.

Last week, I closed on my listing in Shore Haven for $675k. This was a nice house with terrific proximity to the lake, but that’s not why it sold. It sold because of its wonderfully large and deep transferable boat slip. Today, the home next door to that one is closing to a customer working with me, and that home will be selling because it’s cute, sure, but mostly because of that slip.  Today, buyers searching for sub-$800k homes with boat slips are not going to be overwhelmed with the multitude of options available to them, but they are going to have options. As of this morning there are 6 homes with transferable slips (or pier) for sale priced under $800k, including my rare offering in Ara Glen listed at $775k.

The next home to sell on this list will likely be my painfully cute cottage in the Lake Geneva Club listed at $609k, pictured below. That home has a nice slip, a double lot, and all sorts of cottage charm. If you want to pull up to your lake house and feel a deep sense of contentment, then email me and let’s make a deal.  It’s May 1st, which means summer isn’t some far off thing we’re quietly dreaming about. It’s right here, right now, and before you know it you’ll be sitting in your Saturday suburban back yard wondering where all your cool neighbors went.  The time is short, but there’s still plenty of it. Buy this house, be in for Memorial Day Weekend, then wonder how you ever spent Memorial Day Weekend anywhere else.

$609k, with slip.

 

Black Point Sells

Black Point Sells

The whole lake is special, we all know that. Every nook and cranny, whether our particular nook or our own favorite cranny, is unique and valuable. Some North Shore dwellers couldn’t fathom the horrors of living on the South Shore, and those South Shore owners would rather be dead than find their pier numbering 1-411. But there are universal bright spots, rare locations where the stretch is just right. The trees greener. The water bluer. One cascading landscape falling into the next, on and on, until the unique nature of it all turns to a different flavor, a different style, favored by someone else but not by everyone. These particular sections of the lake are sometimes obvious. Basswood. Snake. Creek. The lanes that offer up our best.

But the other areas, those are more nuanced. I once had a client who could have owned anything he wanted on this lake, and it was a difficult push to get him to move from his lakefront house in Glenwood Springs. He loved that house. That area. Those streets. The way the lawn runs uninterrupted for 1800 feet, give or take. He learned to love what he knew, and when the chance to move on presented itself, bold and immediate, he paused. Because Glenwood Springs was where he felt most at home.

This week, I closed on a hilltop house on Black Point. Black Point is just to the East of  Majestic Ski Hill. It’s dark and it’s intimidating and it’s high. The Black Point Mansion once anchored the entire point, but is now relegated to the land on the West side of the point, and everything else has been developed into large lakefront and lake access parcels. The homes there are varied, but mostly vastly improved and manicured. Two years ago, a 1980s cedar house came to market for $1.395MM. It was a nice enough house positioned in a most incredible way on the top of the bluff that runs from deep under the water and up to this very tippity top. The house is surrounded by towering pines, the sort that create a most audible white noise whenever the wind rustles. Under the summer sun, the sweet aroma of pine sap is unavoidable and welcomed.

The problem here was that the house just wasn’t nice enough to command that price. It was a nice house, sure, and the location was incredibly desirable, but the house lacked the sizzle that the market responds to. There’s a house in Lake Geneva that just came to market around $1.3MM, and that house looks as though it’ll sell quickly. The location is okay, not super unique, but quality. The house, however, has the interior sizzle that buyers clumsily rush towards.  Fancy finished in this market always attract buyers, whether that’s a lakefront home, an off water home, or a primary home without any lake access at all.

And so the house on Black Point sat. It caught the attention of a dear client of mine, but our lower priced interest was rebuffed by the seller. We watched it some more, enamored with those pine trees and that deep water slip. It should be noted that “deep water” is a way we describe slips, often. But in the context of Black Point the deep water is different. It’s really deep. Like immediately deep. Dropped your sunglasses off the end of the pier? A fish with large teeth, irridescent skin and a light dangling off its head in front of its eyes just ate your RayBans.  The house, no matter that location and that slip and those two acres of pine trees, didn’t sell.

Over time, the price was adjusted. Lower a bit here and lower a bit there.  This spring, after the property was growing a bit weary, we bid again. That deal was negotiated to an end, and the cedar house on the top of Black Point sold this week for $950k. My client is pleased and excited, as am I.  This is a special location, a prized location. There are others on the lake, some more special and more unique than the others, but this location, man. This location. Congratulations to the new owners.

Mushroom Time

Mushroom Time

When an acorn falls in the forest a squirrel eats it. The squirrels wait for the acorns, then the acorns drop from the trees, and then the squirrels eat the acorns. It’s really not so difficult.  Some of the acorns are washed away in fast fall rains, buried under piles of leaves and silt, hidden away from the gluttonous squirrels.  The next spring that acorn shell will crack, and a tiny oak tree will emerge.  Over some time, the oak tree will grow tall and thick and we’ll look at it proudly and say, “now that’s a tree”.

In the same way a farmer will soon sow his Wisconsin field. He’ll till the soil and fertilize the soil and my wife will stand on the side of the field and picket his seed provider. He’ll plant corn seeds and after a germination period of a week or so, the baby corn plant will emerge. It’ll grow and it’ll tassel and by early August the corn stalk will have healthy, golden ears of corn. The farmer will wait for the drying of September and the hardening of October and then, or in the month that follows, he’ll harvest.

The farmer doesn’t have days to harvest his field. He has weeks. Sometimes, he’ll leave his field up over the winter, if the cash prices are too low and the granaries are too full, he’ll opt for the cheap storage of an upright field. The corn is already dry, not willing to rot, and the deer can only eat so much of it. The farmer, though he moves in November with urgency, has plenty of time to harvest his corn.

If the acorn is allowed to grow and the oak tree emerges, this is generally accepted as a good thing. Who doesn’t like a sturdy oak tree? It makes for a good leanin’ tree and an outstretched branch of enough heft will make for a wonderful tire swing support.  There’s nothing immediate about an oak tree. No window that opens and closest abruptly. And there’s nothing immediate about a corn stalk, about the way it grows and the way it greens and then turns to gold and offers its seeds to anyone.

These things are not true with the mysterious morel. The mushroom sprouts from the earth, pushes, really, emerges, sort of. It grows and then it’s there and the next day it isn’t. Was it picked by a fellow trespasser? A woman with a wagon is pretending to pick up garbage on the side of this road, but is she really harboring a vast bounty of stolen fungus? Or was it kicked off accidentally by a bounding deer. Or pecked at, momentarily, by a strutting turkey. Where did that mushroom go?

No one really knows. It’s here now and it’s gone tomorrow. Maybe it lasts a week. But the wind blows and the tips dry and the bugs eat and the rain swamps. There’s no reasoning to this madness. It’s mushroom madness, really. Which is followed closely by Morel Blindness; a condition that strikes at the most inopportune of times. The season is upon us, and unlike the lazy corn or the sturdy oak, this isn’t a game for the passive. It’s a game for those who have work to do but would rather find their way to the dead trees and the sunny southern slopes. It’s mushroom time, ready or not.

Geneva Lakefront Sales

Geneva Lakefront Sales

Now see, that’s a spring weekend. When I write about how much I dislike spring, I should be clear: I am not an opponent of seventy degree April weekends when the trees are blooming and the tulips are blooming and anything that was seemingly dead has now come to life. I dislike early spring, ugly spring. March, you know what I’m talking about. This is the spring I love, and this is the spring we’ll have from this day until the last day, when summer arrives. If you don’t feel the immense buildup towards another Lake Geneva summer, then I’d only ask what it is you’re doing with your life.

Last week, two lakefront sales.  My listing on Park Drive on the south shore sold Friday for $1.2MM. That’s a 60′ level lakefront lot with nice views, a three bedroom house and a two car garage. To be sure, there’s nothing super fancy here, but there is a solid house on level frontage with a private pier. $20k per foot is a price the market will pay often for such a property. I was pleased to get that property sold, both for the long time owner and for the new buyer.  This is also my first lakefront closing of 2017, but rest assured, there are more to come.

The more interesting sale last week was not mine,  and even mentioning this brings me  and my extended family intense, enduring shame. This was not my listing and it was not my buyer. Ever notice how you get emails from agents or you see their “sales” on social media, and it seems as though one agent is selling absolutely everything? That’s because agents like to disguise the fact that the sale was not actually theirs. I can’t be like that, I won’t be like that. So I’ll tell you when I sold a property or when someone else sold it. This seems the only honest way to approach this. Oh, and those Facebook ads you see where an agent is advertising a particular property? That’s not always their listing, either.  The online and print real estate game is changing, and the lines of what is and what might be are increasingly blurred. Onward towards the sale that wasn’t mine.

Sidney Smith is a nice lane.  There are nice houses and super nice houses here, nothing bad. The lakefront, East of the Smith house, was always nice, but never particularly improved. Decent houses occupied the strip of land between the Smith estate and Loramoor, but nothing had been built there for several years. A couple years ago two lakefronts sold on Sidney Smith, both homes that were either tear downs or renovation candidates. Alas, as this is Lake Geneva and the year is post-2012, the two homes were torn down and two new homes were built. One of the new owners was just beginning construction when they had a change of plans, and the house hit the market.

Now, it should be noted that Sidney Smith is nice, which is why I already noted it. It should also be mentioned that these lakefront lots measure 105′ in lakefront width. They are nice lots, but they are not estate lots. The closest comparable lot size would be found on Lackey Lane, both in terms of front feet and overall land size (about three quarters of an acre). As you may know, I sold a stylish Orren Pickell house on Lackey last summer for $4.275MM, and in the same year I sold two land value deals on Lackey in the $1.9MMs. The land on Sidney Smith had sold for $1.925MM in 2015,  further solidifying the comparable status of Lackey and Sidney Smith.

This home that hit the market last summer did so at $3.895MM, and sold after a short time on market. The buyer was not buying a finished product here, rather she was contracting on a house that would  be finished the following April. The sale closed last week at $3.8MM, though I understand there were added upgrades that may have impacted the actual buyer cost. Still, we can look to this sale and see how it makes sense, especially when compared to the Lackey sale from last summer.

That said, this Sidney Smith house was not on par with that Lackey house. On the exterior, it was more basic, less ornate.   Though the square footage was similar, it was less of a house.   But the SS sale proves one thing about this market, and that’s the level of construction that buyers are willing to trade for their four million dollars.  The homes do not need to be stunners. The lots need not be estate quality. The houses need to be nice enough, the land nice enough, the location nice enough. Long gone are the days when $4MM bought an estate. This was the case as recently as the early 2000s, but this is not the case today. Four million dollars will buy a good property with a good house, or a great property with an okay house, or a great house with an okay property, but rarely will it buy a great house with a great property.

The sale matters if only for the fact that it solidifies what the market can offer a buyer for $4MM.  This also reinforces the smart decisions being made by those who have purchased 100′ of land in the last few years and are, or will be soon, building new homes on those parcels.  The market is rewarding new construction, so if you have it and have a hankering to sell it, let’s talk. If you’re a buyer and you’d like newer construction but you can’t find it, we should also talk.

 

Aged Lakefront Inventory

Aged Lakefront Inventory

So much excitement, so early on. New pictures, new mulch, new signs. This is going to be it, this is going to be the year. The month. No, the day. Will it be today? It might be tomorrow. Certainly by Saturday. Sunday, well that’s a day off for many. Monday? Could it be? No, it’s not. A few days later nothing. Weeks, nothing. Months, nothing. A showing next Friday! That’ll be the one. What took so long? The showing is a bust. The buyer’s daughter had the sniffles and so they decided against the arduous trip up paved roads from so far away as Barrington.   There was once so much optimism, so much hope. So much blind faith. And now, nothing. Days to months and months to years.

To be a seller today is to be confident. The markets are hot, mostly hot anyway, or so the newspaper says. Certain markets are slowing, the Hamptons, Manhattan, Beverly Hills. But are they slowing because they were recently too active? Are they only slowing now relative to the torrid pace of the last half decade? Are they slow, or just less magma than we’ve recently been accustomed? Even so, those are those markets and this is this market. Sellers at Lake Geneva are, for the most part, bursting with enthusiasm.

And that’s fine, for a while. Initial enthusiasm is life affirming, and it’s important. Sellers should be proud of their house, proud of their mulch, proud of the photos. Proud of that real estate description (see my prior post). Lake Geneva is a market filled with nuance and irregularity, and for those reasons alone, every seller has hope. That house sold for that much, so my house HAS to be worth at least this much. Oh how much fun it would be to sell in a market that makes complete sense. A ranch on a street is worth the same as the ranch on the same street. Here, the ranch can be worth more or less depending on so many factors, all of which are not entirely clear.

This is the new seller situation, but what of the aged seller? What of the property that hit the market with speed and has since, over time, dulled to a fruitless crawl? How does that seller feel bout so many mentions of a “hot” market? The initial emotion is anger, not at the market or at the house, but at the broker. This is the problem during times of these active markets. If a house isn’t selling while everything else is, then the blame must lie solely on the shoulders of the guy or gal whose name is on the sign. It’s their fault. And often it might be, but let’s assume you didn’t hire a bad agent, because you’re smarter than that. Then whose fault is this delay?

It’s the price, silly. Hot markets can only overcome so much. An active market might allow a seller a 10% premium over a calculated value, but 20%? 30%?  Where does it end?  The low inventory condition at the lake is one reason lakefront sellers are so confident.  If I have a 1960 Corvette fuelie and I live in BumbleTown, Wisconsin, population 184, do I get to ask  $150k for a car that’s only worth $90k?  But I’m the only 1960 Corvette in town! The absurdity here is the same as a seller who thinks any price is attainable simply because the competition is nonexistent, or slight at best.

That brings us to the market today, and the confident seller of last year. Last year’s confident seller is this year’s weary seller, and those weary sellers are just who aggressive buyers should be targeting.  New sellers are too optimistic. Old sellers are growing tired, and an ambivalent seller who has let their hope diminish is the best sort of seller for a value minded buyer. Let’s get out soon and find a few of these sellers. Let’s find properties that have been overpriced for so long the seller has no choice but to accept the reality of our lower offer.  Sure the market is hot. Sure new inventory won’t be easy to buy without paying a market rate. But in spite of this, there is opportunity if only you’ll throw your attention towards the sellers that the market has forgotten.

Descriptors

Descriptors

I might have figured out what’s wrong with me. It’s not that I don’t want to write something every other morning, as I have for the past nine years. I do. I really, really do. I drive to this desk and I think along the way, what should I write about? I play through the usual suspects. Spring? Green Grass? Blooms? Wisconsin is the best but Lake Geneva is better?  Something sold? Something listed? My teeth? My back?  Dumb sellers? Dumb buyers? Foreclosures?  These are the common themes. But the first thing I do when I sit down is scroll through the new inventory. Sometimes it’s just a few listings, sometimes it’s thirty, or forty. I look at the pending and sold listings from the night before. I read the descriptions.

And that’s when everything goes dark. I read about immaculate ranches with dazzling backsplashes. I read about heaven, often. What it’s like, who is there, how it’ll all be. Apparently it’s going to be a raised ranch with new carpet in the lower level and stainless appliances.  Sometimes, I wonder about perfection. What is it, can we achieve it? Is there something we should be doing? The answer, after the morning scroll, is yes. It is achievable. It is something we can do. All we need is an above ground pool and a few freshly planted Impatiens. That’s it. Perfection, achieved.

This is what’s wrong with me, but it might be what’s wrong with everyone else. The real estate business wishes it could change. It really does. Like a drunk who just wants a little sip on a  Saturday, it doesn’t want to want this. But real estate can’t change, it won’t change. It’ll always be the same. And that’s not because of the real estate agent, it’s because of the consumer. If Joe Blow Realtor Guy can write about how elegant a house is just because it has white carpet in the dining room, how can we stand a chance?

Not just as real estate consumers, but as a civilization. If so many are having their breath taken away each and every day just because there’s a wood stove insert stuck into the failed chimney, can mass extinction be that far behind? If buyers are so readily interested what they might achieve in their life, can you blame a Realtor for saying, in all caps, ALL THIS CAN BE YOURS?  If that promise of delight doesn’t get to you, perhaps this one will work? It’s a ranch in Elkhorn, but what you don’t know: IRRESISTIBLE GOT TO BE SEEN RANCH.

I can’t, and so I won’t. But that’s what’s wrong today. It’s what’s wrong every day. The world is dumbing around us and the world of real estate is leading the exodus from intelligent dialogue.  En masse, buyers are looking for kitchens with decorative ceramic tile backsplashes, and if this is what they want, who are we to stop them? If I’m to be reminded of a  bygone era each time I walk into that vinyl sided colonial in that corn field subdivision, can you blame me for wearing these plowing boots and chewing on this large piece of field grass? How could I work, knowing this bygone era is waiting for me each and every time I go home? Why would I ever leave?

So I suppose that’s what’s bothering me. How can I play in this game when the whole game is reduced to a blithering mumble of absurd adjectives? I know lots of adjectives, but how could I use them to describe a kitchen with HotPoint appliances? Stainless Steel, I suppose. Or Shimmering Stainless Steel, because then I evoke emotion and alliteration, and what is one without the other?  Want immaculate perfection and an amazing mud room with mini fridge, for those moments you walk in the door after a long, multi-day cross Saraha hike?  Well then you’re in luck, it all exists in a $120k condo near Pell Lake.

These seemingly random examples of horrific real estate ad copy were not figments of my imagination. They were all culled from the new inventory this morning. This is why I will never understand how to effectively write ad copy, because most of these homes will sell, and right now someone is reading about that elegant white carpeted dining room and realizing that they’ve waited their whole life for such elegant, European sophistication.

Guest Post

Guest Post

My son had a school writing assignment due this week. I read it and thought it was entertaining. He shares some characteristics with his father. Also, I don’t feel like writing anything this morning.

 

A Great Big Trout

by Thomas Curry
Theres no other way to put it. I’m lazy. That’s why whenever my dad says we’re going to Viroqua, I cringe. I cringe at the fact that I have to get out of bed and drive a total of six hours in a car all in one day. But on every one of those special days that are set apart to go fishing and check up on our cabin thats being built near Viroqua, I eventually muster enough energy and will to get out of bed. I go because of my love of fishing and our soon-to-be-finished-cabin.

By the time we even get to Viroqua, my dad and I have heard every Blink-182 song there is, contemplated whether or not to get the flavor of the day from at least five Culver’s, and we have also already devoured at least one twelve pack of tacos from Taco Bell. But one of the most satisfying parts of going to Viroqua is just looking out the window and watching the topography of Williams Bay slowly turn into the rolling hills of the Driftless. Our first stop in Viroqua is the Food Co-op. There are chocolate covered peanuts at the Co-op. There are also dried mangos and a bunch of healthy food and hippies. This is always our first stop, and usually our last stop as well. The Co-op is mainly where we eat in Viroqua, but there is another place, The Driftless Cafe. My favorite thing to get from there was the Barbecue Panini until one tragic day when they took it off the menu. That was a sad day. After we go to the Co-op, we usually go to our cabin and do some work there. Our cabin is black with a metal roof.

After work at the cabin, it is time to fish. But we are not normal, middle of the road, spin fisherman; we are fly fisherman. We pull up our waders, put on our boots, and “gear up” by putting on our fishing pack full of flies, hemostats, and other cool things. Shortly after driving around and making fun of the out of state fisherman, we find the perfect stream to fish. The stream that my dad and I fished last week was a beautiful, winding stream full of waterfalls formed by springs. There was a pasture next to the stream, filled with cows. Around the stream was tall grass. Although beautiful, at first this stream was not giving us what we wanted- fish.

You see, trout are not like other fish, they can not be caught with ease. Other fish will eat anything you put in front of them. For example, the bluegill. A worm? The bluegill already ate it. A jig? The bluegill already swallowed that. Trash? The bluegill ate that, of course. But try to harass a trout with a jig? The trout is spooked. Other fish are also dumb. The trout is the perfect mix of brain and brawn.

One of the worst parts of fishing to me is when my dad is catching all of the fish and I am catching none. That’s what was happening to me last week for a majority of the time. The turning point of our fishing trip was when we approached a wooded section of the stream. When you are fly fishing trees are actually one of the biggest concerns. Nothing is worse than losing a fly to the clutches of a tree. My dad told me to go up further ahead of him to fish a section of the stream. This section had a tree branch hanging just above the spot where I needed to cast in order to catch a big trout. I cast in that spot over and over until finally I was about to give up. My dad was calling me and telling me to follow him further up stream. “One last cast”, I told him. I placed the final cast right below the hanging branch. The fly drifted for a long time and I was about to move on with my dad when I felt a huge tug on my line, as if I had caught a rock. It was a fish! It was fighting hard as I yelled for my dad to come over. He told me to keep my rod tip up. The fish was extremely energetic, it whizzed all around the stream, back and forth, up and down the stream. Finally the fish was worn out. I picked up the fish and took a picture. It was a brown trout. The biggest of the day.

Every time I go to Viroqua I realize the reason I get out of my bed on those mornings. I get out of bed because of days like these. Days where I catch big fish, add on some calories, and spend time with my dad. Not every kid has fishing days like this. Some kids use spin reels. Some dads make their kids only fish with worms.

The End

Avant Bicycle and Cafe

Avant Bicycle and Cafe

Resort towns in the Midwest tend to follow the same pattern. A downtown, some shops. The outskirts of the downtown, some big box stores. In the downtown you’ll find some stores that sell sunglasses, some that sell ice cream. Some that sell t-shirts. Some of those t-shirts are geography specific, like “I drove all the way to Michigan and all I got was this crappy t-shirt”. That’s one of my favorites. Some of the shirts are specific to nothing, except to whiling away time. A clock with a beer on it and the minute hand pointing to the 6. That’s a staple of resort town wares. There will be some restaurants, some good others bad. Mostly bad. These are the strings that tie a Midwest resort town together.

At Lake Geneva, we have those same strings. We have some t-shirt shops, obnoxious each one. We have some places to buy fudge. We have ice cream shops. How Coldstone Creamery survives in the downtown high rent atmosphere I’ll never understand. Two ice cream concoctions for your two toddlers? That’ll be $14.55. We have restaurants to buy bad food, and some to buy good food. We have old bars, we have some new bars. We have old hotels and new hotels. We have all the trappings of your typical, boring Midwest resort town.

But these are the things we have in common with other towns, the things that exist in each town because some town somewhere decided to try it all first. Increasingly, small resort towns are getting better, they’re getting more interesting stores, more interesting t-shirt designs, better restaurants and better food. For all those food improvements, our local coffee scene is sorely lacking. Fontana has the Coffee Mill, which is nice. Williams Bay has Boxed and Burlap, also nice. But Lake Geneva has a coffee scene that’s been on the decline.  Boatyard Bagels brought Intelligentsia to our cups, and it was nice while it lasted.  Boatyard has since closed, not due to a failed business idea or lack of market interest, but because the building they leased ended up selling to someone who had a different goal for the space.  I miss that space.

Across the street, Caribou Coffee sold to Peet’s Coffee and then Peet’s caved to the heavy burden of downtown Lake Geneva rent. I liked that shop not for their coffee, but for the marble. So much marble. It was good for town and I’m sad that today the landlords of that building are still advertising the space, and the adjacent space as FOR RENT. The rent’s too damn high, but that’s none of my business.  Across town we have Starbucks, which remains an anchor. There’s another Starbucks in the Target, but that’s not a place you’d go because of the Starbucks, you’d just stop there if you’re buying whatever it is people go to Target to buy (disclaimer: I hate Target, for no particular reason. It reminds me of Prange Way, so maybe that’s why). There’s a rumored new Starbucks coming to the empty lot to the North and West of the Lake Geneva Walmart, so that’ll make three Starbucks within a mile radius.

Across from Starbucks is Geneva Java, which sounds like it might be okay but I’ve never been in there. Down the road you can go to Simple for breakfast, but you better only feel like drip-coffee, because that’s all they serve. The bakery next door surely has an espresso machine and a capable barista, right?  Don’t be silly. You can get drip coffee there, too, and you better like it.  A morning danish is wonderful, but if I can’t wash it down with an Americano,  is it worth the effort? Simple is the best breakfast in town,  and the bakery is the best bakery in town, but would it kill them to invest a few grand in an espresso machine? Apparently.

Perhaps their lack of espresso-ness left an opening in town, considering Boatyard is gone and so is Peet’s, and the Starbucks triangle is farther East.  With the newly renovated, super art-deco Geneva Theater now open, the traffic on the West side of Broad Street should be picking up, which should breathe life into the space that has been so many different things over recent years. Good Vibes was some sort of musical, or perhaps a restaurant, I’m not certain. The Creperie resided in this spot for a bit, but I can’t say I ever saw the CLOSED sign flipped to OPEN.  Now this space, the space right to the south of the theater, is home to yet another business. I went there yesterday to see what it was all about.

Avant Cycles was previously located in Delavan, behind the giant elephant and next to the karate shop. I never went there. Now Avant Bicycle and Cafe has made the move to Lake Geneva, and they’ve opened in that recently renovated, nicely appointed space at 234 Broad Street. The store has a coffee shop in the front and a bike shop in the back, a combination sure to thrill bearded hipsters and bag clutching tourists alike.  My mountain biking career was short lived when I discovered how much I hate mountain biking, but my love of coffee persists. The space here is comfortable, stylish, and I think it’s a tremendous thing for town. It brought something interesting to a revolving door location, and if we’re to make Avant last in this spot we’ll need to buy some coffee from them. And maybe a few bikes, too.

And that’s the thing about Lake Geneva. It has the cheesy trappings of every resort town, but it’s continually improving and that’s all I ask of it.

Golf Lake Geneva

Golf Lake Geneva

I haven’t cared about golf for a long time. To be honest, I never particularly cared about golf. I was on the golf team in high school, which, at first blush, might sound like I was a reasonably good golfer then. The truth is the Faith Christian School golf team didn’t have any barrier to admission. If you owned a set of clubs, or felt like using a set borrowed from one of the teachers who liked to golf for free and was, as a result, labeled the golf coach; then you were on the team.  At the start of one match, I teed off on the 10th hole of George Williams and ripped the drive straight down the middle.  My opponent acknowledged my immense skill, to which I replied in a golfing sort of way, “that’ll probably be the only good one I hit all day”. It was.

Into my twenties I played some golf. At one point in time, I counted myself as a good enough player. The summer I twice shot 80 was the summer I hurt my back, and just like that, my golf career was over.  I still play from time to time, and I still think I might have a shot at being decent if I were to practice, but interests have pulled me in different directions now. Those different directions didn’t stop me from flipping to the last few holes of yesterday’s Masters finish, and what a finish it was. I felt genuinely pleased for Sergio. I felt somewhat strange watching the announcers handle him as though he was a washed up old veteran who had finally broken his personal curse. I felt that way because at his old age he’s younger than me.

And that finish got me to thinking about golf again, about the courses and the options and the Lake Geneva golfing scene. There are plenty of reviews of local courses available. I’m sure you can read all about slopes and handicaps and the like, but this isn’t like that. This is the abridged version of local golf as seen through these two eyes, and as experienced by this one-time-marginally-proficient-golfer.

In my mind, the king of the local golf courses is Geneva National. It doesn’t matter which of the three courses it is; this is the best golf in the area. The Player course is the most scenic and involves the fewest number of houses. Trevino is the easiest of the three. I once teed off on a Trevino par three. There was a group just leaving the green who had stopped to watch my shot. There was another group behind my group, watching. The pressure was on. I gripped the eight iron and swung. Clean. Beautiful. High. It looked good, like it might go in. When the ball landed on the green and rolled towards the hole the green-side group through up their arms and hollered in celebration. A hole in one! At least it seemed like that was the case, until I walked up and the ball was three or four feet from the hole. The green-side group must have been more easily triggered to celebrate than most.  The Palmer course is nice, but I despise the finishing few holes. Geneva National is the king. If you want high quality golf, play here.

The Grand Geneva would beg to differ with that prior opinion, as their Brute and Highlands courses are indeed very, very nice. But the Brute from the tips is just awful, a terribly difficult endeavor suited for truly great players. The Highlands has some spongey, swampy holes that I don’t like. I played the Grand Geneva often when I had a good friend who was the tennis pro there. We’d play and he’d beat me and I’d realize how much I hate the game of golf. The Grand Geneva is worth playing, and you may like it, but I don’t.

Abbey Springs is a curious little course. I don’t think it gets the respect that it deserves. Yes, it’s short. Yes, the driving range is short. Yes, there are condominiums and houses throughout the course. But it is a beautiful track, capable of flustering the best golfer. There are views of Geneva Lake, wonderfully manicured fairways and greens, and if you own a lake house in the Bay or Fontana, it’s right next door. I dislike the layout of a few holes, but when you’re tucking a golf course into a residential development, creativity can suffer. Still, play Abbey Springs and be happy you did.

In Delavan, you’ll find Delbrook Golf Course. I’ve never played there. But I drive by it sometimes and I think about how some golfer apparently killed a turtle with his club and I cringe. What a terrible thing to do to a turtle. I’ll never play Delbrook, but I’m sure it’s just fine. Evergreen Golf Course in Elkhorn is where we played some high school matches. It has some ponds with bass in them. I’ve fished for the bass before, but I don’t remember the course. It’s green and there are some flags. It’s fine, probably.

Hawk’s View still feels like a new course to me, though it’s been here for nearly two decades. In the 1960s, this was Mount Fuji, a ski hill that really was just a hill. Now the beautiful grounds host an 18 hole par 72 course and an 18 hole par 3 course. The par 3 course is ranked as one of the top ten in America, according to someone. Hawk’s view is well maintained, close to Lake Geneva, and it’s more affordable than the larger courses in the area. A Saturday round in July will run you $85, while the same round will go for $115 at Geneva National. The Par 3 at Hawk’s View is very nice, and comes highly recommended if you’re playing with a kid, or you’re just crunched for time. I haven’t played that course in a few years, but I just talked myself into it.

Obviously we have private courses in the area- The Lake Geneva Country Club, Big Foot Country Club, and Lakewood. But these aren’t the topic for today. I’ve played all three courses, and they each offer something unique, but today isn’t about the country club set. It’s about people like me, people like you, people that like to golf but haven’t made it their obsession. This summer, play a bit of golf. If you’re at all like me, it’ll remind you of the reasons you no longer play.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

This is the weekend we need. This is the weekend we deserve. This is the weekend that starts it all, really. There’s a long standing believe that Memorial Day Weekend is the kick off to summer. That’s nice that people still think that. I don’t. I think what I know, which is summer starts just as soon as the weather warms enough to turn our thoughts to it. A warm weekend in February doesn’t accomplish this. We enjoy the warmth but we know it won’t last. A warm weekend in April, now that’s the start of something. This is the weekend that starts it all. Seventies and sun, here we come.

The low inventory theme continues on the lakefront, though several “new” listings have come to market of late.  Of course most of these aren’t new at all, they’re just recycled inventory from last year that might have a better shot at finding a buyer now. On the lake there are at least six pending contracts, and three of those are deals in which I’m involved. I like that ratio, though 100% would be far more preferable than 50%.

I have a new contract on an entry level lakefront in the Highlands (my buyer, not listing). That’s a fixer upper and it’ll sell for a fixer upper price next month. My Park Drive lakefront with 60′ of level frontage is under contract with an asking price of $1.299MM. That’s a nice little house with a big view of the water. A listing on Constance in Williams Bay is under contract with an asking price in the low $2MMs. That’s a listing that I had a couple years ago but failed to sell. This is for my enduring shame.

The modern in Williams Bay for $3.4MM is still pending sale, as is the new construction on Sidney Smith in the high $3MMs.  New and of note is the pending contract on my listing at 700 South Lakeshore Drive in Lake Geneva. I listed this home last fall and told you that I would sell it. I wasn’t lying. It’s under contract now and will hopefully close this spring. If and when it does, that’ll be my sixth sale over $5MM since 2010.  The thing about being a luxury broker is that everyone can call themselves one, but it’s a lot harder to actually be one.

In spite of some new inventory,  we still have only 19 true lakefront homes (including the South Shore Club) on the market today. That’s remarkably low inventory, and it has left the market wishing for two very different things. Sellers love this environment, and hope it stays for the remainder of this year. Buyers are frustrated by this limited inventory and find themselves in foul moods as a result. I’m somewhere in between, hoping for new inventory but appreciating the environment for what it is today. The danger now is for sellers to not be too emboldened by the situation, and for buyers to not disengage from their searches just because they don’t initially see what they like. Sellers, stay smart, stay rational. Buyers, stay engaged, pour over the aged inventory and look for value while at the same time being ready to pounce on something new and exciting.  Buyers and sellers, work with me, and have a terrific first nice weekend of 2017.

 

Above, sunset at 700 South Lakeshore Drive, Lake Geneva.
Loramoor Opportunity

Loramoor Opportunity

On Monday, I said goodbye to an old friend. I met this friend when I was ten, maybe twelve, sometime around then. This friend was with me through it all, through the good times and through the bad.  We ate together, we laughed together, we chewed steak together.  Alas, this relationship wasn’t meant to last, and on Monday it ended.  It was one of my very favorite teeth, one way in the back, one that I used often. There was no tooth better. But on Monday it was unceremoniously yanked from the back of my mouth and I barely had time to say goodbye. That’s why I didn’t write on Monday.

But today is Wednesday and I’m over that weak tooth. Today is about Loramoor, and about decisions, both good and bad. Like all that candy I ate when I was a kid, and the dentist who decided to drill out every last bit of that poor, deceased tooth.  Today is about the decision to buy a tear down and build yourself a brand spanking new lake house. What a wonderful thing, this new house. It’ll be large enough and fancy enough; it’ll be perfect. You’re not one to live in someone else’s house, you’re the sort that wants your own house, with your own stamp of style and taste. I cannot blame you, as I, too, have built new homes and enjoy nearly everything about living in a new house.

Over recent years, this building boom has touched every bit of our vacation home market. The tear downs that make the most sense are on the lakefront, of course, where properties can be bought with regularity for land value. New construction on the lake makes sense most of the time, but for every two tear downs that make sense there is one that doesn’t. Tear down a house on 100′ of frontage and build new for $2MM or so? Usually a great idea, depending on the location of those 100 feet.  Pay $1.5MM for a house on 50′ of frontage and tear that down? Not usually all that smart. Off water, the same sorts of mistakes are made. Buy a cottage in Knollwood up the road from the lake for $300k and tear it down? Terrible idea, unless you’re looking to stay put for most of eternity.

But the segment that is most interesting when it relates to tear downs is the mid-market of lake access homes with boat slips. It’s not uncommon for a buyer to pay $400-600k for a house in a neighborhood like the Lake Geneva Club, or Hunt Club Lane, or Glenwood Springs, and then tear the house down. In fact, it happens with some frequency. A home on Hunt Club Lane sold in 2013 for $659k. It was a unique house, odd really, with an acre and a half of land and a boat slip.  The lot was not especially close to the lake. That buyer tore the house down and built new, effectively paying $659k plus demolition cost for a vacant lot.

This is one example of a phenomenon that occurs all over this lake, and it’s occurring more and more now that the market is high on buyers and low on inventory. Even the homes that aren’t entirely razed are generally the recipient of some form of major renovation. That’s why the new listing I have in Loramoor makes complete and utter sense. My newest listing is a level vacant lot measuring just under one acre in size, with a transferable boat slip in East Loramoor, a slight lake view, and a location on Loramoor’s dead end lane.  As opposed to the Hunt Club property that was far from the water, this lot is one off the lake (see map above). The asking price is $750k, no demolition required.

On the lakefront in Loramoor, I sold a beautiful lot last fall for $2.075MM. That lot will host an incredible new home this summer. Three doors to the West of my new listing is the old Loramoor stable house. This house was in poor condition for years until an enterprising buyer purchased it and fixed it up. That home is now for sale in the mid $1MMs.  I sold the house at W3036 South Lakeshore last fall for $1.625MM, that with a slip in Loramoor, three acres and a pool. The market context for this Loramoor listing is complete and it’s thorough and it proves that high valuations can and do exist here.

You could purchase a home in Shore Haven for $500k and tear it down. You could. People have. But what you’d be doing is building new in a neighborhood that has a cap of around $850k.  The same is true for the Hunt Club example. It’s rare to have a lake access neighborhood support built value to the mid and upper $1s, but that’s exactly what Loramoor offers. Consider this lot. Consider a new home, built near the water with a slip and a swimming pool and a most exclusive address.  It makes solid market sense, and it’s available today.

Colors

Colors

By now, we all know that things haven’t been going our way. We started out with that winter, so intent on enjoying it and skiing it and sledding it, scraping and shoveling it, too. But what happened wasn’t anything like that. We skied, a bit. Shoveled, a bit. Scraped, some. But the winter had come and the winter has left and nothing really happened. It was a winter without. We knew what would come next, and we waited and we waited and in February it came. Bright spring. Sunny spring. Warm and soft, spring.

That was a few days, maybe four, and it was February and no one thought it was really spring. Winter returned, but it was easy winter, annoying winter, just enough winter to ward off spring.  That winter relapse was quickly forgotten and there have been days of spring, days of warm, soft sun, and days of wicked wind, biting cold. Then the rains came, so many rains with so much water, sheets and sheets and buckets and buckets. No one thought it could last, but it did, and it washed our streets and soaked our lawns and filled our lakes.  The season isn’t so much spring, it’s just a rainy winter.

There are barns between my house and this desk. Many barns. Most are clad in metal, some form of sheet paneling either vertical or horizontal, typically in fleshy tones of white, gray, or brown. In the winter landscape, these barns blend in, offering no excitement, no allure, just utilitarian usefullness. But there is one barn painted the brightest of reds, and in the winter it is a beacon on my drive, a visual reminder that color exists even in the dullest of dark winters. In the spring, too, when the ground is gray and what isn’t is brown, and the tans of the cut corn stalks and the dull olive of the roadside grass means everything is quiet and stark, that barn shines bright and vivid, a reminder of color in an otherwise colorless world.

But these rains and this sky and this gray and this brown, it’s not all bad. My eyes can rest under this sky. There’s no strain here, no squint to see beyond the glow, because there is no glow. It’s just March in Wisconsin and things are easy on the eyes. The north side of Geneva Street is greening this morning.  The grass is greening and the bulbs are shooting and the crocus is blooming. The dull wrens of winter are being crowded out by the orange breasted robins of spring, and soon, the elusive Orioles will coast in on a southerly breeze in search of our fresh cut oranges and our purple grape jelly.  The piers are falling into place, now dulled and chipped by the winter but soon scraped and painted and bright again. The water is warming, slowly, but it’s warming and it’s still blue, even in the face of so much gray it is still blue. The grass is greening and the flowers are awakening and the sky is brightening and soon it’ll be the spring we’ve seen in our minds all winter. Prepare your eyes, the color is coming.

 

Photo courtesy Kirsten Westlake

 

Geneva National Market Update

Geneva National Market Update

I decided this morning that some market behavior has no choice but to flood over into different market segments. If, as we discussed last Friday, the primary home market is on fire below $350k, then the lake access and vacation home segment should be similarly torrid under that same mark. There’s no greater concentration of sub-$350k properties in the vacation home segment than in Geneva National, and so, as the theory goes, we should assume the market there is performing quiet well. Guess what? It is.

In Geneva National today, there are 80 MLS offerings of condominiums and single family homes (zoned condo). Of those 80, 12 are pending sale. Looking deeper, of those 12 pending properties, 10 are priced under $350k. This is a positive for Geneva National as much as it is a glaring negative. The condo market is doing just fine under that benchmark price, even though the prices are stagnant, but above that price Geneva National continues its decades long falter.

Of the 80 total homes and condos on the market, 39 of those are priced at or above $400k. Of those 39, just one is under contract today per the MLS. I’m not really worried about the homes in the $400-700k range within GN, as I think they will always have some relative liquidity in the market. The drag on those homes, as we’ve discussed, is the availability of loads of vacant lots and the incredibly low prices of many of those available lots. Why buy someone’s old house for $600k when you can build a new one for $575k?

On that subject, Geneva National would be wise to consider a revision of their condo declaration. I’m not attorney, so I’m not advocating as one, but I think GN could solve some of its vacant land inventory glut if they amended their declaration to allow property owners to purchase adjacent vacant lots and not pay the monthly assessment on those lots until they are sold by that owner or until a home is built. If I’m an owner in GN I might consider buying the lot next to me if it’s $25k, just because I’d like the privacy. But if I do that today I’m going to pay $300 or so per month in association dues, on top of the same amount I pay for my built house.  Because of this, I might shy away, but if I didn’t have the pay those additional dues, I might consider it. Eliminating the vacant lot inventory should be the goal of Geneva National, and this is one way to help accomplish that.

The biggest question for GN today awaits it at the top of the market. There are seven homes offered today priced over $1MM. These are nice homes, to be sure, and they likely couldn’t be built (at least some of them) for what they could be bought for, but there’s a problem here. The market in GN has closed three homes over $1MM since 2010.  That’s one home every two years, rounding down out of kindness.  Today GN has 14 years worth of $1MM+ inventory on its books. This is a bad thing, and I’m not sure how the market ever catches up to these heavier offerings if the housing market between $500k-$999k is still suffering as well.

So what do I like in Geneva National? I like the condos priced under $250k. I think they’re cheap, I think they can’t easily be replicated at those prices, and I like them for a vacation home seeker who doesn’t want to break the bank.  In spite of the unique difficulties facing Geneva National, I continue to think there’s nothing quite like it in our market, heck, in the Midwest, and for that reason it deserves consideration.

Spring Break

Spring Break

Well, it’s just me here now. Everyone else has left. The roads are quiet. The houses dark, excepting the one lamp left on to ward away any robbers.  But we don’t have robbers here, because it’s Lake Geneva, and everyone knows you’re gone anyway. The lamp tells us so. The gas station is closed, but there’s no one here to notice. The sign says GAS but the attendant is away, for a week, maybe more. The lamp in his window is neon, bright. There’s no one here because it’s spring break and I’m the only one in town. My kids have nothing to do now, no where to go, no friends to play with. They’re all gone and we’re the only ones here, but it doesn’t feel like spring anyway so what’s the point of a break?

Agents like to take spring break as well. They leave in the spring and they leave in the summer and in the winter they leave. They leave town for days, weeks, months. Some spend the whole winter someplace else, and they tell you that it’s fine because they have help. There’s someone to write the contracts for them and someone to show the houses for them. Someone will be there when you need them, they promise.  It’s spring break this week, but for many agents, this week is no different than many, many other weeks of the year. It’s just a break.

Saturday, I didn’t have any real reason to go to my office. I had appointments that I had already prepared for, and there was no need to sit at this desk and type anything on this computer. But on Saturday, late into the afternoon, I felt compelled to drive here and sit here and type something. I needed to review some deals, think about some people who are mad at me, think again about some deals that are close to be putting together. I needed to get out of my house and into this place, for no other reason than I hadn’t been here since the day before.

In the summer, and in the winter, and in the spring and fall, I like to fish. I fly fish in streams and I spend the day driving, fishing, and driving again. I do this in a singular day, sometimes a brief overnight, and I return to this desk when I return to this county. I make my absences seldom, not because I miss this desk and I have some desire to be here, but because the business of real estate and the market I serve is continually and constantly changing. This is the case on a daily, hourly basis, and in a market where inventory is sparse and buyers are many, being first in the know is something remarkably important. This is why I leave for a day, rarely more, unless it’s a family vacation that rarely, if ever, spans more than five days.

When I do leave, it’s a mess. Travel disrupts everything and leaves me scrambling to figure out what I’m missing and what I’ve already missed. Vacation is needed and it’s wonderful, but today isn’t about the merits of letting a mind rest for a while under the same sun in a different place, today is about choosing a Realtor that’s present.  More simply put, it’s about choosing an agent that is so wrought with anxiety when they leave their desk that they tend to rapidly return to it. Today is about picking an agent that doesn’t winter in another place, that doesn’t leave their work to assistants and fill-in cubicle-next-door-agents. Today is  just about making sure your agent is full time, present, and ready to work even when everyone else is on vacation.

 

Photo Courtesy Colleen Abrahamovich
Walworth County Market Update

Walworth County Market Update

When you’re a Realtor, you’re supposed to want to do everything you can to sell anything you can. You’re supposed to pay attention to every segment within your market, to the goings on in the rental world, to the commercial things, to vacant land and to that cute bungalow in town. The one near the school.  Realtors are told to be experts. In the next breath, they’re told to be always available, always present, always here for whomever it is that requires service. This is all a terrible mistake, and not coincidentally, this desire to do all things is the reason that most agents can’t achieve success.

Now, take this guy on the other hand. I don’t really want to do any business that isn’t the sort of business I want. If you own a wonderful apartment building in Elkhorn, I’m super happy for you. But I don’t know enough about the rental market in Elkhorn and the desired returns of that particular investor community, so I can’t (and won’t) successfully work with you. I’m not a commercial guy. In the same way, I don’t know anything about the single family housing market in Darien. I heard it’s okay. Taxes are high. That’s all I know, and as such, you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favor if you were to wish for my services in Darien.

The benefit of this narrow focus is as obvious as the detriment. I am not all things to all markets. I’m all things to one market. That’s my goal, and that’s my life, and I’ve made a decent little living serving only one master. But today isn’t about me, no matter how well I’ve done so far to leave you with that impression. Today is about the broad Walworth County market. Today isn’t about Lake Geneva, it’s about everywhere else. The markets in these other areas are thriving. Absolutely, positively, thriving.

Want to buy a little cottage on Cherry Street in Williams Bay for less than $200k? So did someone else. The house is pending. Want to buy a vinyl ranch in Lakewood Trails? Yeah, so does everyone else. Feel like a little starter house in Delavan for $69k? Too late. It sold. How’s about a late 80s raised ranch, complete with some sort of brown brick and a mismatched brown roof? Pending.  Delavan is doing well, except on the lakefront, where there appears to be just one home pending sale today. Earlier, I meant to say everywhere is going fantastic, except Delavan Lake.

Want to find a reasonably decent house on 3-5 acres in the country somewhere? Nowhere in particular, just somewhere around here-ish?  Ideally under $400k. Good luck! Those homes are selling at a feverish pace, and inventory is low.  Darien has 14 homes available, five are under contract.  Elkhorn has 34 homes for sale. 18 of those are under contract. Nine others are pending sale.  That’s absolutely remarkable if you think about it. Amazing, really. Well done, sub-$250k buyer. You’re buying, and you’re smart.

Why is the primary market here doing so well?  It’s thriving today because the prices are still modest, still reasonable, still affordable. The interest rates are low but rising, and this market is super sensitive to rates, and to the threat of increased monthly costs. The primary market is performing well, but over $350k that strength dries up. Consider the city of Lake Geneva, where 40 homes are available today. Of those 40, 25 are priced under $350k. Of those 25,  ten are under contract. Another four are pending.  Over $350k? Not a single under contract or pending sale.

And all of that makes solid sense. The primary housing market is driven by those people who work here, and most of the jobs in a resort market are the sorts of jobs that can support home ownership on a modest level. A nice Walworth County job can buy a $275k colonial on a lot that was home to corn not so long ago, but most Walworth County jobs cannot support purchases over $350k.  But this isn’t about jobs and it isn’t about interest rates and it isn’t about me. It’s just about the primary housing market, and today I tip my hat to a vibrant market segment that I have absolutely nothing to do with.

 

Photo courtesy Kristen Westlake.
Peace

Peace

In the stillness of an anywhere field, there’s a stream that babbles and weaves and spills. The stream is loud.  There are birds both quiet and noisy, some fiddling about to themselves and others calling in friends, mates, or warning others to steer well clear. A deer in the distance makes no sound, slowly chewing the most tender blades of fresh spring grass.  Two rabbits hop as rabbits do, barely crunching the dried winter leaves they bound over. There’s a soft quiet hum to this distant field, a peaceful way in which every noisemaker plays their part in this unintentional orchestra. The sounds of this field on this day are the sounds that anyone can hear in the background of whatever their noisy present might be.

The lake on that July Sunday is so blue. The waves are pushed by so much wind, starting in the southwest and blowing to the northeast, breaking all the way. These winds are steady, eight or nine knots, the sailors would guess. The steady crash of the waves against the shore provide the unexpected percussion.  The trees sway, so many maples and oaks and walnuts rocking back and forth. The white noise of the day, some others would say. Something you can hear but easily ignore.  There’s a quiet bass of a distant Streblow, or is it a Shepard?  Children splashing at the pier two doors down, the soft squeals of city children as they find confidence in jumping off the outer horse post.   Fishermen ply the waters, flipping their silly jigs towards the piers and under the buoy tied boats. Those boats, they click and they clack when their buoy chain bumps the clasp of their bow. A couple walk the shore path, no words are spoken.   The day wears on, the boats change, the shore path leads the way, and the wind slowly falls as the sun dips low.

Is one of these two scenes more peaceful than the other? Is the sound of a stream in a wildflower field any more serene than a steady parade of waves marching from one end of this big lake to the other?  Does a breeze blown tree in a lakefront lawn make for a different background than a breeze blown tree in the middle of the darkest, loneliest woods? Is a stream-side lunch any different than a lakeside lunch, eaten over wicker table in the cool porch shade? Is there any difference in quality between peaceful solitude and peaceful company? Is the sound of a distant car making its way down a gravel road somehow preferable to the sound of a Cobalt heading West towards the setting sun?

I love Lake Geneva, but good luck finding any peace and quiet. I love Lake Geneva, but there’s no solitude. I love Lake Geneva, but there’s no place to just rest.  These are the comments of those who visit our lake but have not yet found the time to understand our lake.  The magic of this place is not in its tourist-centric downtown, nor in the way boats can clog the outer ring of the lake on any given weekend. No, the magic of this place is in its ability to make a lakeside porch,  pier, or patio, complete with the background noise of lapping waves, rumbling boats, and children splashing in the shallows, one of the most peaceful places to read a book. To nap. To eat a summer lunch. To be still.  There’s no trick to making a place void of people peaceful. Even Michigan can do that.  The real trick is making a place so full of company a place where solitude is simple to find. Where rest comes easily. Where peace comes not with complete silence, but with the lovely hum of an unmistakable summer soundtrack.

New Lake Geneva Club Listing

New Lake Geneva Club Listing

There are certain houses that are, for one reason or many others, better. They might not be gilded with gold, or polished to the highest diamond shine, but there’s just something about them. They’re welcoming. They’re cozy. They aren’t big but they certainly aren’t small. They have a presence, which is something that most homes lack. Most homes are houses; wooden or stone structures with some walls and a roof, capable but not endearing. My newest listing in the Lake Geneva Club is the sort of house that you remember, because it’s a special house on a special street and everyone knows it.

You’ll may remember this house from when I sold it several years ago. I sold this house quickly, likely because of the intangibles that the home possesses but also due to the tangibles. There are three bedrooms here, with a room that functions as a fourth. There’s a screened porch and two ample patios. There’s a double lot with loads of parking. There’s a deep water, fully transferable boat slip. There’s a wood burning fireplace. Yes, for all of the intangibles of style and grace wrapped in a lovely vintage bow, there are fundamentals here that make this a terrific lake house.

I’m not going to write much more today. This house will sell, and it should sell quickly. At $609k, there’s nothing else on the market that competes directly with it. There are no other homes for sale in the Lake Geneva Club. If you’re a buyer who wants to feel something towards the lake house you buy, then come see this house with me, and make it snappy. This won’t be available in the MLS until Tuesday, so you’re getting a first look, and I do hope you’ll let me know if you have any interest.

Lake Geneva Home Inspections

Lake Geneva Home Inspections

I feel as though I’ve been writing more admonitions than entertainment lately. It must be the time of year; the swelling of interest and enthusiasm in the housing markets has me seeing things that I really don’t like.  I don’t like sellers who are pricing their homes as though they’ve uncovered a patch of ground with air rights adjacent Central Park, and I don’t like the general attitude that I’m seeing in the market. While buyers are making mistakes aplenty, it’s the sellers who are working overtime to make a mess of the market.

That brings us to the home inspection contingency as written into a standard Wisconsin Offer to Purchase.  I’ll add here that I’m not an attorney, not even close, so if you’d like legal advice please consult your attorney. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I do understand a few basic conditions of the offer to purchase. This is good, since I’m a Realtor, and I’m supposed to understand what it is that I’m asking you to sign. The inspection contingency, as written into most offers, is a contingency designed to allow a contracted buyer time to look over the house they’re buying, just to make sure there aren’t any skeletons, figurative or literal, hiding in any closets.

The inspection is well intentioned, and it’s necessary, and I’m glad that there are home inspectors to shine flashlights into crawl spaces and jiggle the handles on toilets. Some home inspections do turn up serious conditions- like a moldy attic (I’ve seen one in 21 years at this desk), or a moldy bit in the back corner of a carpeted basement. These are things that are not obvious and they are important to uncover. But the inspection contingency has become something different, something worse. The inspection contingency has become a license to concoct a wish-list.

That stove, it’s 8 years old. Did you know the average life of a stove in these United States is only 8 or 9 years? Neither did I, except that some inspectors will make notes of that on an inspection report and the notes cause a buyer to seek a credit for a stove that is, quite obviously, nearly dead. Or is it? If the stove works, is it worthy of replacement? Or a furnace that is 11 years old, and looks shiny and new. Whoops, don’t get ahead of yourself, that furnace is designed to only last 12-13 years, so a new furnace purchase is something the buyer must budget for. Or is it? The buyer finds a list of aging or dated appliances and mechanicals and combines that with a list of outlets that need $17 GFI’s installed, a drip leak under a bathroom vanity, three lightbulbs missing from the attic (possible sabotage by the seller??), and throws a wish list at their agent, and into the lap of the seller. I want a new furnace, a new stove, and all those GFI’s replaced. The inspection contingency, engineered to find faults that aren’t so easily noticeable, has become a weapon against a seller, and in turn, has become a weapon against the deal itself.

Sellers everywhere are cheering now, happy that someone has finally pointed out the flaw in the way this contingency is being used. But there’s admonition here for both buyer and seller. If you’re a seller, and a buyer sends you a ridiculous inspection repair list, it will likely contain some actual defects. The furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, and it’s leaking carbon monoxide. This explains those long naps you’ve been taking, and it’s also an issue. A seller would be wise to repair this for a buyer. In the same way, a stove that is 11 years old and has therefore outlived its usefulness according to Mr. Serious Building Inspector Guy, this is not a condition worthy of a credit. The key to any successful inspection and subsequent negotiation is to be reasonable. That’s it. Reason. Is that so difficult?

Buyers are taking advantage of inspections, and sellers are being unecessarily disagreeable. Both reactions are caused by the market. Buyers are feeling like they may be paying a premium of some sort, and so they’re looking for credits to offset their purchase price. They feel that they gave in on the sales price, so the seller should give back in the inspection. Sellers feel like the market is so hot that they’ve likely undersold their property, and so they dig in their heels on any inspection requests and assume that the buyer will accept the house without repair or credits offered, and if the buyer doesn’t, who cares!? The market is so hot they’ll just line up another buyer, likely for more money. This is the error being made every day in every healthy market across America.

Buyers, stop being so ridiculous. The purchase decision makes sense if the market value makes sense, and if the property you’re purchasing suits your needs. A $3000 furnace replacement doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the value. In the same way, sellers should stop being so absurd. You have a contract to sell your home for $2MM. The buyer wants a $5000 credit to cover all the stuff you’ve been hoping would just fix themselves.  You should play ball, stop being so stubborn, because the risk of losing a buyer is far greater than some potential reward of finding another one somewhere down the road.

Lake Geneva Market Conditions

Lake Geneva Market Conditions

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was just myself, no one else. I wasn’t able to fly, or able to breath under water; nothing terrific like that. I was just a Realtor in this dream, going about my Realtor business. I was in a living room, someone else’s living room, not a room I had been in before. It wasn’t a very nice living room, but it was okay, I guess. In dreams, decor rarely matters.

The seller was someone I knew. A kid I knew a few years ago, he couldn’t be more than 22 now, as he was in the dream. He was sitting in his house, except in real life it is his parent’s house, but not in dreams. It was his house and he wanted to know how much it was worth.  He kept repeating three million dollars. He was intent. Three million dollars. Maybe three million five hundred thousand dollars. He wasn’t sure.

I was uncomfortable in the dream. I wanted to hear him out, to listen to the myriad reasons his house was worth this much money, and so I sat on the couch as he pointed to comps. The comparables were indeed nice homes, lakefront homes, big ones and fancy ones and I had sold many of them. I nodded along with his charismatic plea. Three million dollars.

When it was my turn I explained that those homes were large lakefront homes, and that his home was a small A-frame located two blocks from the lake. He sat back in his chair, feigning disgust at my lack of enthusiasm. I used the example of the Knollwood house that sold two years ago for $2.2MM, and said that the only reason that home sold for such an incredible number was because the home was so amazing. It was perfect, I said. Luxe Magazine, I said. Three million dollars, he said.

When I sensed I was making some progress with him, I asked what he had into the house. He said $300k. I said, “you mean your parents had $300k into it”. He smiled and acknowledged that yes, it was his parents’ money and their investment, not his. I told him he’d be lucky to get $400k for the house, but that he shouldn’t be so upset because that’s a lot of money for a kid his age. The dream ended without any further commentary. I’m uncertain if I got the listing, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t want it anyway.

This was a dream, but this is my life today. The market at Lake Geneva is filling with competition, I should say, with other agents whom, no matter their lack of knowledge or prior success, are intent on telling the world of their proficiency. The competition isn’t that, but it looks like it when you drive around and see names on signs that you’ve never seen before. It’s a market chock full of agents, of open houses, or letters and websites and Instagram hashtags. Experts are everywhere. Things are changing, and it’s the competition in the business of real estate that’s often bad for the consumer.

And that comes back to my dream. Sellers know the market is hot. They know it because all 500 some agents in Walworth County are telling them. Hot. Hot. Hot. And so agents are bidding up the listing prices of houses, especially lakefront houses on Geneva Lake, and sellers are feeling flattered by all the attention. The dream I had was just that, a dream, but it’s based on the reality of this season. Sellers, a note of caution. A hot market means there are market buyers for your house. Someone might even pay 5-10% more than the market value if they love it enough. But if we take the bait and price homes too high just because there’s a slight chance we’ll get away with it, we’re going to damage the market by filling it with overpriced homes that will, ultimately, drag on the market and put downward pressure on the unrealistic listing prices.

Buyers, work with an agent who knows the market because they’ve proven that they sell the market. Sellers, work with an agent who knows the market because they’ve proven that they sell the market. This isn’t really that hard.

Lake Geneva Construction

Lake Geneva Construction

During times of relative boom, mistakes are made. Mistakes are made during times of relative bust as well, but those mistakes can be more easily forgiven because of the toxic guidance from fear and panic. During the good times, which we are certainly experiencing of late, mistakes are made not out of fear, but out of confidence.

Today, we have a number of factors causing increased construction, both of the renovating and of the new build variety. We have extremely limited inventory on the lake and in our lake access markets, and that alone is enough of a condition to cause a building boom. If you own a $500k house with a slip and you like your slip and you like your location, you still might be tempted to find a $1MM house that offers you something that you don’t currently have. But with the $1MM house not available, and you content in your location and amenity package, you could easily decide to tear down your existing house (in this pricing scenario that’s a terrible idea, by the way) and build a new house for $500k. You like your association enough to stay, so you build a new house.

On the lakefront, the same principle applies. Limited inventory means your dream home is likely unavailable. In this case, you should be wise and set out to find the best land you can afford and demolish whatever terrible house is currently squatting where your dream home would be built. This has happened at an alarming rate over the recent market cycle, and today there are no fewer than 15 new lakefront builds either underway or about to commence. The construction business is booming, and the combination of low interest rates, low inventory, and the wealth effect stemming from the stock market indices has created the perfect storm.

With this in mind, there are mistakes being made, and if you ask my wife, I’m nothing if not a capable mistake-pointer-outer-guy. First mistake being made: An abundance of new construction in locations that simply do not warrant the investment. This is the case often with off-water homes being built in associations that lack boatslips. If I’m in Knollwood, in the back, not near the water, should I buy a cottage for $300k and tear it down? If I do this, I build new for $450k, and I’m $750k into an association home with no view, no slip, and no chance at recovering my investment. This is a mistake. Owners make this mistake because they tell themselves it doesn’t matter, that they’ll never sell. Then I’m in the position of playing bad guy when I tell them their $750k house is worth $550k. Don’t make me be the bad guy. Be smart.

The next mistake is made by failing to build to the standard of your market. If you’re off water and you have a slip, let’s say you tear down a $450k home and build a new home for $500k. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this math, but let’s say you’re stubborn. You’re cost conscious as well, so you build your new home for $450k. In meeting that number, you skip on the nice appliances ($10,000 saved), install terrible direct-vent gas fireplaces, the ones with those glass fronts that fog over time ($10,000 saved), you opt for cheap Schlage hardware ($1000 saved), and you dumb down your trim package ($15,000 saved). You’re shrewd, so you just saved $36k on your new build. Look at you!

But what you’ve actually done is cut your own nose off. The house you’re building is already too expensive for the neighborhood, but instead of making it so nice that a buyer might be tempted to make a similar mistake and buy your overpriced house, you’ve dumbed it down to the point where it is now just a new cheap house that’s way too expensive. The same theory applies to the lakefront, and it’s always that lost bit of cost savings that blows the whole idea. You buy an entry level lot for $1.2MM, and you’re not an entry level sort of owner, so you tear the cottage down. You build new, knowing that you need to stay reasonably priced if you’re ever going to recoup your investment. So you build a brand new house for $600k. You cut the things I mentioned above, and you build a house that’s ugly, because architectural style would have cost you $20k in architectural fees and another $30k in framing intricacies. You saved $100k, and delivered an ugly, boring, middle of the road house. When you call me to list it someday, I’m going to pretend to like it but I’m actually going to hate it. Schlage, in your lakefront house? Really?

Beware these simple concepts. Don’t build new if your basis is too high to warrant the project, and if you do, build it right so you might convince a buyer that your house is worthy of a premium. I guess I really wrote this because I don’t want to see any more of those direct vent gas fireplaces. Let’s stop doing that.