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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.

Tired

Tired

Well, today it happened. I’ve officially ran out of things to say. Specifically, of things to write. There’s nothing left. After nine years of doing this, the well has run dry. To be honest, it ran dry a long time ago.  The problem is I can only write about the shore path once, maybe twice. I can’t tell you about how great white piers are but perhaps twice per year. I haven’t written about how great white piers are lately, because they’re mostly all stacked on lawns right now. There’s nothing romantic about a pile of pier on a brown lawn.

I could write about the foreclosure market, as I had intended to, but I realized that I’d just write the things I’ve written so many times before. There are a few foreclosures. None are exciting. There aren’t enough to damage the market in any way, and so on and so forth. I was thinking about writing about luxury markets, how some are slowing, but the ones that are slowing are largely doing so because of a glut of overpriced inventory, or new buildings and developments coming online. Then I was going to say that none of that really matters to Lake Geneva because our luxury market is pretty much devoid of speculation. I was going to write that until it felt tired and played, so I didn’t.

I thought about telling you how the lakefront condo market is doing, and when I looked at the market this morning I did see a couple of pending transactions at Geneva Towers and Bay Colony. But what could I say about the condo market that I haven’t already said? The market is okay but not great, maybe it’s the inventory or maybe it’s the demographics or maybe I don’t really know? I’ve already written that, multiple times.

I could go the way of most real estate blogs and write today about some happening or event somewhere that I don’t really care about. I can’t get excited about things that are lame. Free Movie Friday! That’s what some blog somewhere says, and the agent is smiling and there are exclamation markets galore. But I don’t care about that, and I don’t care about exclamation points because I respect your intelligence.

That’s why I didn’t want to write about the lakefront market again. It’s hot, you know that. I know that. Everyone knows that. The new listings that come to market this spring are going to be devoured by the market if they’re priced even remotely right. This is a problem for buyers because competition based on speed is difficult for most. My buyers tend to be deliberate and smart, which are two attributes that don’t go far in a market based on action not contemplation.

I guess I have to apologize for not having anything to say. It’s just one of those days where I don’t feel particularly introspective and I don’t see anything around me that needs discussion. It’s windy, there’s that. Super windy. Like amazingly windy, but who cares? Not me. So I’m not going to write about it.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

I almost bought a car in December. It was late December. The snow was falling and it was cold and it had been Christmas but it wasn’t yet the new year. I drove to the dealership, took a ride in the car that I was thinking of buying, and then sat in the chair across from the salesman for what felt like two hours. It felt that way because it was that way, and I sat and thought and looked around and thought some more. I wasn’t sure what to do.  The deal was in place, the trade on my car negotiated, the new vehicle ready and able and if I just said yes I would have driven it home. My children would have looked it over with great admiration, and my wife would have told me how superficial and horrible I was. Things were so close.

But I couldn’t do it, not then, and not in the days since, because I have commitment problems as it relates to cars. I dislike purchases that depreciate rapidly, which is also why I’m a solid $30  chicken dinner guy even when I kind of want the $62 ribeye. I drove from that car dealer and emailed the salesman the next day to work on a few final tweaks of our possible deal. The car, I was told, had sold.  I spend hours, no days, weeks contemplating most purchases, no matter how seemingly trivial they might be.  Although I am an alpha consumer, I’m reluctant.

This is a fine way to be, assuming you don’t want to secure something that might be fleeting. Just a week ago I wrote a bit on the state of the lakefront market. I was considering the pending sales on the lake and the market reaction to new inventory that had been slowly trickling on. My theory was that a market can be better gauged by the reaction, either swift or slow, to new inventory than it can be by the absorption of the old inventory. Since then, two things have occurred that have cemented my opinion of this market.

I listed that small lakefront with 60′ of level frontage a couple of weeks ago. Within a week, I had it under contract.  Last week, an odd lakefront came to market in the mid $3s, and it didn’t even last a week before a buyer put it under contract. These are the two newest lakefront additions, both unique in their own way, both under contract within mere days of listing. If you’re wondering about the state of our lakefront market,  these sales should help you understand just what you’re up against.

There are motivated buyers aplenty. More now than I think I can ever remember. There are buyers for entry level and buyers for large estates. There are buyers for land and buyers for finish, there are those who want to find value and those who just want to find a shiny marble shower. The market has plenty of matches, we just need some kindling. If you’re a buyer who, like me, finds it difficult to make a decision in any reasonable amount of time, this market is not going to be easy for you. But if you’re a buyer who knows what you want, and you trust your agent (that’s me) to guide you to lasting value, then it’s time to act. Inventory will be coming to market, but you need to get early eyes on it if you’re going to have a shot. Want to know what’s going on before the rest of the market?  Tell me what you’re looking for and you’ll be in the know before some automated MLS feed spits the listing your way.

Lake Geneva News

Lake Geneva News

I try my best to avoid involving myself with the municipal governments in this area. I care deeply about what happens here, about the future, about the way the whole thing seems to be turning out. That’s why I fight development, because it’s unnecessary and it’s evil and I wish Chicago developers would worry more about Chicago developments than rural ones. I shy away from fighting with the municipalities over things I feel are wrong, because the fight here is skewed and largely unfair. That’s because the tax base is large, owing that entirely to the vacation home set and their weekend homes, and yet the voting and decisions are carried out solely by those who live here full time.  The residents vote to spend the tax money of their neighbors who don’t have a say in the matter. That irritates me, and so I generally let sleeping, bloated, tax ladened dogs lie.

But sometimes it’s all too much, and I need to say a few words about the local happenings. And so here it goes. First up, more rumors and innuendo and hushed threats over the Geneva Inn. This is the old hotel on the southeast corner of the lake that used to be known as the Shore Club. This restaurant/hotel is in Linn Township, but the city of Lake Geneva covets it, and the development groups who eye it routinely wish to annex it to the city of Lake Geneva so that they can obtain city water and sewer. There’s much to discuss here, but there’s only one thing that matters. Development in this corner of the lake would be bad for the area. We do not need more development here, no matter what shape it takes, and we certainly don’t need some circus on that end of the lake. If you care about the lake and you like things the way they are, email the City of Lake Geneva and tell them to deny any annexation requests or development requests for the Geneva Inn.

Speaking of the city, there’s a new restaurant being built next to Popeye’s. Oak Fire Pizza, it might be two words not three, bought their building a few years ago. They renovated the building. They opened and they served me pizza that was decent, but soggy in the middle. Then they tore the building down and now they’re erecting a new building, to serve pizza. It’s a big gamble, a huge expense, but this is a good thing for the area. I don’t like development, this is obvious, but re-development of existing things should be encouraged, always. Lake Geneva is at a bit of an intersection these days. On one hand, rents are too high and certain marquee locations are sitting empty, an obvious sign of landlord/tennant disputes over reasonable rental rates. On the other hand, renovation and expansion is occurring, which cannot be anything but good so long as that expansion is simply replacing the tattered with the shiny, and not inventing new locations to cram the shiny.

Williams Bay likes money. They like it a lot. That’s why they several years ago approved an auto repair shop to be built on their main drag, just a few hundred feet from the lake. Any reasonable town with a reasonable eye towards the future would have denied this request, but Williams Bay is eager to play with the big boys like Fontana and Williams Bay and so they approve things that shouldn’t be approved. Like when the Williams Bay School Board pulled a fast one on the town and was allowed to collect tax dollars to fund the demolition of the old school building but then decided, instead, to sell the school building and pocket the dedicated funds. Williams Bay now wants to build a fire house. A new, shiny fire house. The fire house will cost a couple million because why not? We need a new fire house because the old one is too small for $500k fire trucks, and there aren’t even sleeping rooms in the old fire house. I can’t figure out why a volunteer fire department who battles fires on such an infrequent basis would need to sleep at their fire house. Baby, don’t treat me bad, indeed. Tell the Village of Williams Bay to knock it off, fire houses are for cities, silly.  On the heels of building a $20MM grade school, it takes a significant amount of gall to expect tax payers to fund a new firehouse of such royal proportions.

Speaking of easy tax dollars, a massive TIF grant was awarded to the new owner of the Geneva Theatre. Geneva 4, it’s called. I watched Hot Shots there from the front row, my neck crooked skyward, because it was 1991 and we rode our bikes there and we were late. The theatre has been in disrepair for ages, and so a new buyer surfaced last year and the city handed out bushels of tax dollars to aid in the renovations. The theatre now looks interesting,  art deco ish, but interesting. It was supposed to open on March 1st, but it didn’t. It’s supposed to open today, but who knows if it will. I asked the theatre manager for a tour of the property this week but was ignored, so perhaps they don’t want me to write nice things about their efforts.  I can’t tell you if they’re opening or not, but judging by the number of construction trucks outside the theatre yesterday it appears as though they’re giving max effort. The theatre will be open by summer, that we can be sure of, and it would be nice of you to visit it. I’m happy something was done here, and I’m happy the theatre remains a theatre and not a handful of t-shirt shops.

The biggest threat to the Lake Geneva market is not from outside forces. It’s not from greedy developers. The biggest threat is from within. It’s from the boards that run these small towns, the board members who so badly wish to matter. They want to make a splash, for the children they say, for the future. For this and for that, but the efforts are almost always guided by cliche and misunderstood standards that are rarely, if ever, challenged. Development does not make a community better.  Fire houses with sleeping quarters are not necessary. Hotels should be hotels, not water parks with carnivals surrounding them. The county and municipalities need to protect this lake, to protect the interests of those who make their living here at the same time as they protect those who fund all of this with their generous tax dollars. The best path forward is always one of caution, and when markets get hot caution is the narrowest of paths.

March

March

There’s a thing about March. It is, without any question, the worst month of the year. If you disagree, that’s fine, but I know deep down inside that I’m right. This is the key to winning arguments.  It’ll probably snow in March. It might snow today. It’ll probably be 65 in March, maybe 70. There is no ice left, that’s true of this March but not a typical March. What’s typical? March doesn’t know. March has no idea what it is, just that it came in like a lion and so it must go out like a lamb. March has no choice but to be the in between. Not winter, not spring, just something. A month, a space filler, a void. Ugliness, it will be at home here in March.

February, that’s winter all the way. Except this last February, where it was only a bit of winter but really none at all. It was spring. February showers bring May flowers, because in March, what could grow? February showers do nothing but wash some of the grit from the road and leave us wondering if we should rake out the fall leaves that accumulated behind our summer bushes, or if we should just put the rake away and prepare the shovel. It must snow again, right? It has to. It will. March, that’s when it’ll snow.

But this is the commentary of the weather obsessed, a troop I once belonged to, a long, long time ago. I broke free from those chains, from the chains that held my poor grandmother hostage for so long, in fact, right up to the moment of her death. I no longer live and die on weather, and when I see others proclaiming their misery simply based on the color of the sky I have to wonder why they, too, haven’t yet sought the salvation that comes from skyward ambivalence. I won’t care today that it’s gray and raining, and so I won’t care that March will be lots of that, with a bit of snow, or a lot of snow, who could say?

See, I don’t care about the weather anymore, not one bit. And it has led me to a place where things are much better. Wintery weather is just a reason to own skis. Rain is just a reason to own a house with a sturdy roof. And the summer sun is just a reason I must visit the dermatologist with increasing frequency. See, completely and entirely unconcerned about the weather. That’s why I can look to March not as an ugly month of the in-between, but rather as a month to prepare.   March isn’t spring, but the month sounds like spring, and when spring comes then summer follows. This is how it all works.  March is for preparing.

And what better time to prepare than when the skies are gray and the temperatures not cold enough to snow sport and not warm enough to do anything productive under the sun? There is no better time to prepare, and that’s why those who own lake houses shouldn’t sit around and wait for March to be over. They shouldn’t rest, contented in knowing that summer is still months away. I’m continually amazed by the lack of March motivation amongst the lake set. May, now that’s when they feel the burden of preparedness. But in March they don’t care. Must I remind you that last May we had summer that began as  early as the 20th of that month? How on earth can you enjoy instant and immediate summer if you spent March in the malls and on your couch?

If you’re a lake home owner, March is for getting ready. March is for buying a new grill because we all know your old grill is terrible. And why are you buying a Weber when we all know you can do better? March is for cleaning the gear room, where the life vests and the fishing poles and the paddle boards were hastily crammed last October. March is for doing the things that will make May so much better. But what about for those who don’t yet own lake homes? What about those who sit in the city or lounge in the suburbs, wondering what week long road trip they might take to pretend they enjoyed their summer? Well, March is a forgiving month for those people. March is a month for shopping. March is a month for buying. Yes, you should have been thinking about this last October, but you didn’t, because the Cubs were on their way to the World Series and you are forgiven for being obsessed. But now, this March, you’re running out of time but you still have plenty.

March is for getting ready. March is for looking. March is for contract writing, and then April is for closing.  Then May is for preparing and June is for enjoying your weekends in an entirely different way. If you haven’t even begun your search, that’s fine. Let’s get together this month. Let’s drive around and find something perfect. Let’s do this now because it’s March and there’s really nothing else to do.

12 Most Luxurious Lake Towns

12 Most Luxurious Lake Towns

This article, perhaps originally from Thrillist.com, whatever that might be, has been making the rounds lately.  The piece outlines 12 of the most luxurious lake towns in the world, and by now you’ve already guessed it: Lake Geneva is on the list. Because of course it is. It’s not a surprise that it’s on the list. It would be a surprise if it weren’t. The article is on Facebook and other various bits online, and local resorts and businesses are sending out emails to the tune of “Come Do This With Us Because We’re On A List Compiled By A Website That No One Has Ever Heard Of”. It’s nice of the Thrillist to tell us this, but it’s sort of like telling your favorite kid that they’re the favorite. It’s unnecessary, because their birthday BMW hasn’t even had its first oil change yet.

So thank you, Thrillist, for including our town, as if you ever had a choice. The thing is, this article doesn’t appear to be new. In fact, it looks like it’s almost two years old. Someone just found it and posted it to some social media and then it once again pushed around the circle of Lake Geneva influencers and influenced.  The article doesn’t mention anything important, just that we have some terrific mansions and some terrific water. Again, these are the things we already know. So let’s not take this article for what it says, and let’s not be shocked for our inclusion, rather, let’s use this article as a very important reminder.

There’s a particular agent in the Chicago market who has made a bit of a late career in selling large properties and larger homes in Wisconsin. These homes are usually oversized, like mega-oversized. Like 20,000 square feet, or built as an exact scale of Some Castle in Ireland, or built with 32 bedrooms, one for each of the dreams the owner had the year before he built this towering ode to an overactive dream cycle. The homes are rare. The 12,000 square foot replica of a replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright student’s parents’ home. This is what this Realtor has been tasked with selling. On paper and online, the properties look like a most impressive collection, but they are, as a point of absolute fact, disasters.

The homes might be large, they might be fancy, they might even be nice, but one thing they are not: built in the right place. They are creations that were spawned by ego, where the cry of the building mantra was, “I can do this, and I will do this”. The doing this part doesn’t make sense, even while we can understand the can. These are the homes in Oak Brook, the ones built to 20,000 square feet to resemble something other than a Midwestern house. These are the palaces built in Door County, made to be the biggest and the best. These are the sprawling estates built in Wisconsin’s Driftless region, an 18,000 square foot modern built on 100 acres in a community where 15 acres and a cabin are the desired property. These are the mistakes that plague every region in every state. These are the misfits, born of a desire to put something where it doesn’t belong.

And that brings us back to perhaps the most unique aspect of Lake Geneva. There are buyers who wish to build things, to build rare levels of sophistication, to build and build, up and out, to make something memorable. This has happened at Lake Geneva, and it’s happening more now than it has at any point since the early 1900s when barons and magnates took to these shores to build the testaments to their wealth. The thing is, at Lake Geneva it all makes sense. The market here supports mostly whatever you can build. The market here is strong, capable, and it’s not just because our waters are so clear and our shoreline so dynamic. It’s because there are other homes like those, lots of them, big mansions along every stretch of shore. Old estates giving support to new estates. The lake isn’t just a lake that’s on some website’s best of list, it’s a lake that can play host to whatever fancy you might crave. Lots of lakes can do that, but if you ever tire of our wonderful scene, Lake Geneva can give you something that these other Midwestern locations cannot: liquidity. And that’s the actual rare bit.

New Geneva Lakefront Listing

New Geneva Lakefront Listing

The thing about entry level lakefront is that it’s entry level lakefront. It’s not fancy. If it were fancy, it wouldn’t be entry level.  Entry level exists in increasingly fewer locations on Geneva Lake, due largely to the fact that often times buyers of entry level lakefronts transform those once modest, affordable homes, into something entirely different.  If you’re a buyer for an entry level lakefront, this generally means you’re on the hunt for something priced below $1.5MM. In that segment, there are things you can expect but mostly things you shouldn’t expect. Like garages and level frontage. Entry level buyers rarely have a chance to buy those.

W3298 Park Drive in Linn Township isn’t going to win any design competitions. It’s a nice house, with nice enough things, but fancy it is not. There’s a concrete driveway, fresh landscaping, and a beautiful lakeside paver patio. There’s a terrific H-slip pier, traditional and sturdy. There’s some new siding and a newer-ish kitchen and three bedrooms and two baths. There’s plenty to like. But the rare bits are not those bedrooms or the bathrooms or the stack washer/dryer in the hallway closet. The rare bit, if we’re looking for entry level lakefront, is the 60 feet of dead level frontage and the existence of a two car garage. These are, in the context of entry level lakefront homes, among the most rare amenities.

The house should sell rather quickly in this current market. The renovation of this house, should a buyer choose to improve upon what it is today, would be fairly painless. It’s a simple house without a lot of moving parts. The layout is normal, which, if you’ve looked at entry level lakefront homes for some amount of time, you’ll recognize as being unique for its plainness. There are no spiral staircases here. There are no rooms that you’re not sure what to do with. There’s nothing here that doesn’t make sense. It’s just a house with a big garage and a completely level lot, with 60 feet touching Geneva Lake. The views, as an aside, are among the best on this lake. Facing towards the City of Lake Geneva, the lake here is wide and round, lovely.

If you’d like to tour this home, just let me know. But if you do want to see it, you should probably do so sooner rather than later.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

I’ve been writing 2017 on my checks with solid consistency for the better part of a month now. There are no more sixes that have been scratched into sevens.  It’s 2017 and we know it, the shock of a new year has worn off.   Spring is racing towards us, or it’s here, or it’s not, no one is sure.  The year isn’t old enough to judge yet, but at seven weeks, the market is ready for a 2017 assessment.

The best way to judge an early year market is not by watching the closing data. Closings in January were sales from November or December. They are hold overs that pay testament to the prior year activity, and so they aren’t important. No matter, there haven’t been any 2017 lakefront closings to discuss. But there have been some new listings to review, and in those new listings there’s a bit of a story. The market can be measured by sales, measured by inventory, but also measured by the market reaction to new inventory. Let’s discuss that.

Last week a new lakefront in Cedar Point came to market in the $1.5MM range. A few days later, that lakefront property had sold. A magnificent sales job by the participating agents? A super rare piece of inventory that throngs of buyers had been anxiously awaiting? Not really, just an entry level lakefront that came to market cheap, and sold quickly.  Every property has a price at which it will sell immediately, so there’s no secret to that particular sauce.   But the sale proves the entry level market still has considerable legs even after the high volume year that was 2016. The quick listing and sale is a good sign for our market.

Two other lakefronts were brought to market this year, one being my listing in the South Shore Club that you’re looking at in the above photo. That’s a great house, but I haven’t sold it yet. It’s only been on market for three weeks, so by now it’s only fair to recognize that I didn’t price it as a fire sale. Another home in the South Shore Club that hasn’t sold for years came back to market as well, leaving two available homes in the club.  Remember, these aren’t association homes priced as lakefronts. They’re $5MM lakefronts priced as $3MM association homes.

Another lakefront in Fontana hit the market at just under $6MM. That’s a nice lakefront home to be sure, and it’s only been on market for the past two weeks or so.  Three new listings in total, one sold immediately, the other two for sale.  No carry over sales from 2016 yet, although there are a couple that will be closing over the coming weeks as there are currently five lakefront homes pending sale (including new contracts on the Solar Lane lakefront and the harbor front home in Country Club Estates).  So where does that leave us? Do we have the makings of a dynamic 2017 or are we seven weeks into a dud? The quick sale in Cedar Point tells us that buyers are ready and willing to pounce, but the two available at the higher ranges suggest buyers are still measured, still cautious, still paying attention. After all, this is the Midwest and we do measured very, very well.

The only thing we know so far is that the market is low on inventory, which is the same thing we knew at the end of December. Without new inventory, there’s no fuel for this fire.  The stock market stability is wonderful for our real estate market, and interest rates remain low, albeit it at higher lows than last year.  And there are buyers, plenty of buyers. All we need now is some more inventory, and I expect the market will find a way to provide that in the coming weeks. If you’re a buyer in search of something you haven’t yet found, let’s talk.

All Time

All Time

I’m hearing that this warm up is an all-time high. It’s the highest it’s ever been, so high, so early.  The men said they’ve never seen this before, this early and this high.  The birds fly north in their patterns. The plows hang to the front of the trucks, dry. The television women say it’s never been done before. It’s never been this high.  She delivers the news with a hint of worry in her eye, but the kids get to go to school and take off their jackets during recess, and there’s no ice shelf on the side of the road anymore. The news says nothing like this has ever happened, and an old man sipping his diner coffee says he hasn’t ever seen this, either. He’s old, he’s seen it all. Except this.

The ice is gone now. It’s still there, mind you, but it’s as good as gone.  It’s clinging and it’s shifting and it’s melting from the top and melting from the bottom. Soon, it’ll be dark, gray and wet, rotting. It’s rotting and the robins are flittering and the birds at my feeder and wondering what everyone is so upset about. The ice fishermen haul their sleds onto smaller lakes now, on to flooded byways of the Wisconsin river, those areas where soft ice might mean wet legs but certainly not death. The bluegills are eating wax worms, sometimes on teardrop jigs. The Northern Pike are ready to spawn. The men on their buckets say they can’t imagine anything worse, that it wasn’t like this before, when they were kids and the ice was thick and it stayed, sometimes, until June. We’d play baseball and then icefish after the game, they’d say.

Mark Zuckerberg said Artificial Intelligence is surveilling us. Jeff Bezos is selling the rest of our information to the CIA. Elon Musk said we should adapt so our species isn’t killed off by the Terminators. Join them, become them, then they won’t kill us, he said.  Things are bad. The liberals say the world is coming to an end. That everything is terrible, worse than ever. Nothing like this has ever happened. Dan Rather is ashamed of it all. Of us all.  Brian Williams has seen worse, he says, but he can barely remember those times because of the gunfire and explosions.

The stock market is high, all time high. It’s never been higher. But it’s perfect and scary, because when something gets this high it has no choice but to come down. Will it come down, soon? No one can say. But some are saying it must come down, the same who said it would go lower a year ago, back when things were low but the Liberals said things were perfect and the Conservatives squirreled away food and water and ammunition.  Nothing could be worse than last February, until this February when the market is high and the Terminators are coming for us and there’s really nothing we can do about it. Concrete bunkers are fine, but without proper ventilation they’re nothing but elaborate tombs filled with dehydrated food.

No, nothing could be worse than this time.   Everything is at an all time high. Panic, high. Markets, high. Temperatures, soaring. So high that the water is rising, the water is everywhere and there’s more of it and that’s terrible. California was in a drought, which was awful. Now it’s flooding there and the dam is giving way and nothing could be more terrible than so much water. It’s everywhere, and the great lakes are being drained by thirsty westerners. The pipe line might run through some town, and the people will put up signs that say NOT OUR WATER.  Things for them couldn’t be worse. Times, they’re terrible, nothing has ever been more terrible. The old men at the diner wonder aloud if they’ve ever seen things worse.

The ice is melting. The birds are chirping. The skies are blue, so blue that there might be something wrong. Has anyone ever seen a sky more blue? Should we be worried about this, too? Faith Christian beat Williams Bay in basketball the other night. We’re just a little school down the road from that bigger little school. The score was 80 something to 70 something and when our kids shot free throws the other kids stomped their feet and hissed and booed and clamored.  When we won, the boys were going to take their girls to Pizza Hut in Delavan but the pizza hut is gone and there’s just a sign that says BUY CARS NOW. Things couldn’t be any worse.

Linn Township Lake Access Market Review

Linn Township Lake Access Market Review

Once, I was in trouble with a seller. The seller was upset, but not upset like a seller gets when I leave a light on. Which, by the way, I tend to do. It’s like a puzzle, a prize, a riddle, each time different but always the same. A light, left on, somewhere.  But this seller was more angry than that, seriously angry, and not because I had left a light on or eaten a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup out of the pantry, which, of course, I never, ever, do. This time the seller was angry because I listed her home in the MLS under “Linn Township”. She said her home was in Lake Geneva, that no one looks for a home in Linn Township. That Lake Geneva is everything and Linn Township is nothing. Where is Linn Township? No one knows. She was upset.

This is not entirely uncommon, and if you’re a buyer I’m guessing you’ve possibly struggled with this distinction. The City of Lake Geneva is one municipality. The Town of Linn is another.  Where the confusion comes in is the mailing address for Linn Township homes is Lake Geneva, WI.  So, my confused seller from the example above was indeed correct, that her property had a Lake Geneva address, but it physically wasn’t in the City of Lake Geneva. Making matters worse, the Town of Geneva (think Lake Como, Geneva National, etc) also has a Lake Geneva mailing address but isn’t at all the City of Lake Geneva.  Of course none of this matters if Neumann was right and zip codes are meaningless.

Linn Township, whether confused for the City of Lake Geneva or not, is, without any doubt, the biggest player in our Lake Geneva lake access vacation home market. Linn has loads and loads of lake access communities, in fact, far more than all of the other lakefront municipalities combined.  I attempted a quick mental count and grew quickly tired by the time I had worked my way from Lake Geneva to Williams Bay, adding up 10 associations in that stretch alone. That brings up another item of geographical housekeeping: Linn Township is that area on the lake that extends on the North Shore between the City of Lake Geneva and the Village of Williams Bay. It’s also the area on the South Shore that runs from Fontana on the  West all the way back to the City of Lake Geneva on the East. It’s a large municipality, hosting a few dozen lake access associations, some big and others very, very small.

Today, just 16 off-water lake access homes are available in Linn Township. That’s a tragically low number, but it’s actually more inventory than most of the other municipalities have, relative to their 2016 sales. Last year, 12 lake access homes sold in Linn Township, priced from $69k for a cottage in Knollwood (please do not ask me to find you a $69k cottage in Knollwood, because the one that existed just sold), all the way up to an off-water estate in Loramoor that I sold for $1.625MM.

Maple Hills had a sale in the $200s, but before I tell you more, I will tell you that I’m not a huge fan of Maple Hills purely because it doesn’t feel like a lake access community. The location, approximately three million miles from the lake, makes it feel more like a subdivision in the woods than a subdivision near the lake, and for that reason, I’m not all that interested.  There was a sale in the Lake Geneva Beach Association at $360k, and there were sales in Wooddale (3), the Lake Geneva Highlands (2), Sunset Hills, Forest Rest, and Knollwood (2).  These are the sales, but 2016 was more notable for what didn’t sell, rather than for what did.

Per the MLS, there wasn’t a single closing in Shore Haven, Lake Geneva Club, Oak Shores, or Sybil Lane.  Nothing sold on Aspen Lane, nothing on Black Point, nothing in Glen Fern, nothing in Hollybush, nothing on Hunt Club Lane, nothing in Valley Park, nothing in the Lindens, nothing in Alta Vista, nothing here and nothing there. It was a year of limited inventory, and because of that, the sales totals were anemic. But beyond the lack of inventory pushing the overall number number, there were some notable offerings that didn’t transact. I discussed this at length in my year end review of the lake access market, but as a quick reminder, the market tested that $1.1-1.4MM price range for off-water, older homes that required significant updating and the market responded with a muffled, unenthusiastic, meh.

I don’t think the lake access inventory is going to stay limited for too long, but the lack of available inventory in each segment is causing a bit of gridlock for sellers that would-be move up buyers.  If you own a nice $600k cottage with a slip and you’re looking to upgrade to an entry level lakefront for $1.4MM, that’s really nice. But if you’re that seller who would be a buyer, you need something to buy. If you can’t find something to buy, then you’re not going to have something to sell, and if you’re not a seller then what am I doing here? This is the problem today, as each market needs a carrot waiting for it in the next market higher, and without that incentive to upgrade the market stalls. That’s what it feels like right now.

Linn Township is a wonderful municipality in which to own your lake house. The taxes are low, and without adjacent city-centers, the roads feel more rural, more quaint.  All of Linn Township functions on private well and septic (or holding tank), so that’s something to be aware of but it isn’t something to fear. I live in a home serviced by private well and septic and I’m almost entirely normal.  If you’re looking for a lake access home in Linn Township and your target association doesn’t have any open inventory today, please reach out to me and let me know what you’re looking for. I’ll go find it for you.

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

That headline is clunky. But it’s only clunky because it has to be. Lake Geneva is the general term for our market. Unfortunately sometimes it’s too generic, like when people borrow the term to describe a listing near Pell Lake. Lake Geneva Area Home! That sounds better than “It’s Super Close To Pell Lake, Folks”. As for me, I don’t even know where Pell Lake is because I’ve never looked for it. There’s a chance it’s wonderful, but I’m betting against. Anyway, Lake Geneva is the market, it’s the city, and Geneva Lake is the lake. So when I say “Lake Geneva Lake Access” I’m describing the homes within the city limits of the City of Lake Geneva that possess lake access to Geneva Lake. That’s all. Onward.

I heard that the weekend Winterfest festivities were a bit crowded. As in, way too crowded. And this is the problem with Lake Geneva just as it’s a reason that people like it. If you like the scene, no where can it be found so easily. There are restaurants and shops and shops and restaurants, and we used to have like fifty coffee shops and now we only have a couple. Lake Geneva is the epicenter of this market, it’s important and it’s necessary. A fantastic lake and beautiful homes only take you so far, because when it rains or when it’s winter you have to be able to visit a town to buy things to eat and things to wear. Lake Geneva might be everything to our local economy, but in terms of our lake access housing market it actually matters very little.

That’s because for all of the real estate in the city, there aren’t loads of lake access homes. Much of the market functions like a lake access market as that area behind the beach and the library often trades from one vacation home owner to another even though that market (Maple Park) lacks specific lake rights.  In this segment, the homes immediately along Geneva Street, those homes that face the lake, they have been increasingly popular for the vacation home set. The homes lack private lake access but they have that view, and nowhere else can a vacation home owner so easily wake on a Saturday and stroll along the lake into town for breakfast. That’s pretty nice, but sorry Sorta-Lake-Access-Maple-Park-District, you’re not included today.

For 2016, just seven lake access homes within the City of Lake Geneva printed. They ranged in price from $568k to $1.35MM.  The lake access market there consists primarily of Geneva Manor (two sales for 2016). This association on the West side of town is fine, but the off-water homes lack boatslips and nearly all of them lack views, and so you’re buying a home in a neighborhood that affords you a private park and swimming piers, but no slip. It should also be mentioned that you’re buying into a tax-heavy environment, as an offer water home in Geneva Manor that prints in the $800k range will soon receive a tax bill in the $18k range. That’s rough, and while the lakefront market generally absorbs the city taxes much more easily, the lake access market there suffers a bit for it. Then again, most buyers don’t even think about that before they buy, so perhaps it matters very little.

 

Further away from the city but still within the city limits, Geneva Bay Estates. This association had two sales last year, both of rough homes in terrific locations, both possessing a boat slip. These homes sold for $575k and $825k, respectively. Geneva Bay Estates is off of Snake Road, and it’s highly desirable. Low density, low overall house count, and a pleasant lakefront park and pier system make for a high quality lake access association.

On the other side of the city there are several associations that offer its owners private lake access, but they are lesser known because they’re not very large. Maytag Estates and Somerset are the largest here, and one off-water sale did print in Maytag for $1.35MM. That was a decent home with a slip and some views. Somerset had some inventory last year but no MLS sales. To the North, Pine Tree Lane had a sale with a bit of a view and no slip for $545k.  One other home sold, but it was technically a condo on Wrigley Drive. That home sold off-water with a slip for $1.030MM. It was a nice house, but with limited outdoor space, no lakefront park, and a pier shared by three owners.

Today, just two off-water lake access homes are available in the city. Our low inventory theme plays no favorites, as every association and municipality is plagued by a lack of inventory at the moment.  Plenty of buyers want to be near to the city of Lake Geneva, and there are good reasons for that desire, as the scene there is difficult to beat. The convenience of walking into town for a Sunday morning breakfast or a Friday night fish fry is meaningful. But along with that convenience and activity you have to consider the throngs of vacationers that arrive in that city on the weekends. It can, at times, feel like too much. Like at Winterfest, when the bars are full and all you really wanted was a Badger Burger.

Fontana Lake Access Market Review

Fontana Lake Access Market Review

In Fontana, there is a question. Country Club Estates would have you believe that it is the king of Fontana’s lake access world, while Glenwood Springs feels the same. Which association reigns? And while they’re battling, Indian Hills asks for merely consideration in the conversation.  Fontana, unlike Williams Bay, has three large lake access associations, four if you count Brookwood, which I’m not going to for no other reason than I don’t feel like it. Buena Vista should be included, but Buena Vista, while large in overall size, isn’t an association that likes to turn over very often, so in a market context Buena Vista is actually quite small. No matter the association in charge, Fontana is a supremely desirable municipality with numerous lake access associations, all of which deserve your attention.

Country Club Estates tends to have good years. When the markets are down, Country Club prints volume. When the markets are up, Country Club always seems to have inventory. It’s just a good association with nice scale that buyers tend to like. The neighborhood feels interesting, owing that in large part to the hills and the winding roads and the forested yards.  Country Club printed 27 total sales (per MLS) in 2016, priced from a modest $98,500 all the way to $585k. For those who continue to think that Geneva is only a playground for the rich and richer, consider 18 of the sales in Country Club closed below $300k.  Do you get a boatslip with your purchase there? Of course not. Do you get some lush parkways and a large lakefront park? Don’t be silly. What you do get is simple lake access through a park and beach system that’s not entirely exclusive to Country Club Estates. Still, the access is good enough and buyers find Country Club to be desirable.

In part that’s because of the Fontana location, because of the harbor at the end of the road where a buyer can moor a boat, or because of Big Foot Country Club. There’s a golf course and a tennis court, and it’s close to everything else that Fontana has to offer. Of note is the absence of higher priced sales last year in Country Club. Typically, sales can print in the $700-900k range without terrible difficulty, but last year the highest MLS sale was at that $585k mark even though inventory over that mark did exist. Today there are just eight homes available per MLS, offering less that four months of inventory based on the 2016 production.

If you like Fontana and you want a boat slip with your purchase, you’d be wise to consider Glenwood Springs. Located just to the East of Country Club Estates, Glenwood offers plenty of price points and plenty of frontage.  Unique to Glenwood is the abundance of private piers that accompany off-water homes. I sold two such homes last year, one on Oakwood for $1.1MM and one on Linden for $871k. Both of those homes were off-water, but both had private piers. In addition to these homes with piers, some have slips and most have a buoy available through the association. There are two pier systems for swimming and boating, and members can walk to the sand beach that the Country Club folks use (but don’t use their pier). The association has a way about it that just feels right.

For 2016, there were just seven MLS sales in Glenwood Springs, and I was happy to have sold three of those homes.  Prices ranged from $365k for a funky cedar-y cabin, to $1.1MM for my gem on Oakwood. Today, just four homes are available per the MLS. Something to remember with Glenwood Springs- there is a “good” side and a “not as good” side, as Glenwood is bisected by South Lakeshore Drive. Both sides are fine, but I don’t need to tell you I’d rather walk to the lake with my kids and not have to cross a sometimes busy-ish road.

Indian Hills is adjacent Glenwood. The association there is nice, with a shallow but wide swath of frontage marked by a relatively ugly green fence. 2016 closed sales from $107k to $504k.  Ah, but Indian Hills is interesting because not all homes labeled “Indian Hills” have access to the private association lakefront. Of the six MLS sales last year, only three of those had access to the lakefront park and pier. Just three homes are available in the association today, including a lakefront owned by a baseball player who crushed most of my hopes and all of my dreams in game seven of the 2003 NLCS.

Working to the East, Club Unique is a nice association that didn’t have anything available during 2016, and the Harvard Club printed one sale in the fall ($510k). The Harvard Club is one of our co-op style associations, though during a showing a woman once told me, through her porch screens, that the Harvard Club is NOT a co-op. Sure thing, porch lady. But the association is sort of a co-op in that buyers receive membership stock rather than a warranty deed, and there are rules both tricky and nuanced that apply here. If you’re looking for something in the Harvard Club you should let me know, as I’ve sold three of the past four available homes there.

In my haste to tell you about the robust Country Club market, I skipped over two associations on the North Shore of Fontana. Buena Vista didn’t have a single MLS sale in 2016, cementing its position as one of our most exclusive and elusive associations. If you want to buy there, tell me. I’ll dig for you. Belvidere Park is another co-op style association in Fontana, and it’s really interesting to me. Like the Harvard Club there are rules here, but unlike the Harvard Club, Belvidere Park is serviced by all year water and sewer. The Harvard Club shuts there water off in the winter months, so unless you’re lucky to have an alternative water source, you’re not going to enjoy your winter visits all that much. Then again, the Harvard Club has a slip for every home and Belvidere Park doesn’t, so you’ll need to pick your poison.

Fontana is likely our most desirable municipality. The market respects the strides that Fontana has made over recent years to improve their lakefront and to improve their overall village aesthetic.  Having Gordy’s and Chuck’s anchor your lakefront isn’t a bad thing, and having the best beach on the lake isn’t terrible, either.  Throw in a diverse grouping of condominiums (Abbey Springs, among many others) and you have a market made for every budget. The most expensive home in Fontana was a lakefront I sold in November for $7.35MM. The least expensive was that cottage in Country Club Estates for $98,500. If you’re a buyer at any point in between, Fontana has something for you.

 

Above, the master bathroom at 434 Oakwood, in Glenwood Springs. 

 

Williams Bay Lake Access Market Review

Williams Bay Lake Access Market Review

When a buyer finds his way to Lake Geneva and begins to search for a suitable lake house, he tends to do lots of things wrong. He tends to see Glenwood Springs and think it’s just like Cedar Point Park, or he sees the Loch Vista Club and assumes it’s the same as Sybil Lane. Lake access is lake access, after all, and when you’re just up the road a ways from the lake it doesn’t matter what lane you’re walking. This is a mistake, but you can’t blame our home seeker for his folly. It’s not easy to understand this market, unless you’re just looking for some house on some street, then, by all means, wander away. Or worse yet, stop at an open house and work with that agent who shoved the sign into the snow bank.

The associations that surround this lake operate heavily on nuance, and it’s that nuance that confuses and distracts would-be buyers. Shouldn’t a house in Cedar Point be valued the same as a house in Country Club Estates? These two associations are, after all, the most similar of the large lake access associations, and so it makes sense that a home just up the street from the lake on Shabonna would be worth the same as one just up the street on Glenview.  Our buyer, with his obvious knowledge, wanders up Shabbona and finds a house for sale at $1.5MM, then he wanders up Glenview and finds one for $389k. Things are not adding up.

That’s because of the nuance, of the desirability of one place that might be somehow greater than the other place, even though at first blush the markets look the same. Shabbona homes don’t have boatslips just as Glenview homes lack them. But Shabbona has a harbor adjacent and Big Foot Country Club up the road, and all Glenview has is a beach nearby and Kishwauketoe trails.  That’s why the market behaves differently, because of those things that are not readily noticed. Today, I want to begin a few association specific 2016 market reviews to help better explain these nuanced differences. I won’t spend a day on each association, rather I’m going to dissect these associations into municipality groupings. First up, Williams Bay, because I’m from here and I’m sitting here now and it just seems appropriate to put my town first.

The lake access associatons in Williams Bay proper include only these few: Cedar Point Park, Summer Haven, Oakwood Estates, Loch Vista Club, and Dartmouth Woods. Because Dartmouth Woods is a lakefront association that finds membership in our lakefront segment, we’ll skip that for now. The lake access market, though made up of four associations, is dominated by one: Cedar Point Park. That’s because it’s huge, and it’s interesting, and it has the most diverse price points.  2016 provided sales as low as $142,800 and as high as $775k. The cheap sale was a remnant foreclosure, an REO that was an absolute mess of a house. I looked at it plenty, made an offer on it personally once, and decided that it was a house that was terminally hampered by the layout and overall design. The most expensive sale was on Oak Birch, and I liked that parkway cottage quite a bit. $775k for a cottage without a boatslip sounds like a lot of money, until you realize the setting was immensely special and the views comparable to any off-water view you could find.

In total, 16 homes sold in Cedar Point last year.  Three were over $750k, two of which were on a parkway. The parkways, as I should mention, are large grassy swaths that run from the lake and provide ample community lawn space for the association. If your home is located directly on a parkway, you’re in luck. It’s worth a lot of money, even for a home that doesn’t have a slip.  No homes in Cedar Point Park possess transferable boatlsips, in fact, no association home in any Williams Bay association can offer you a transferable boatslip. Keep that in mind.  Notable in Cedar Point last year was not the number of home sales, rather the low entry price of many of those sales. Nine of the 16 sales closed below $300k, proving that Cedar Point is a budget friendly option for anyone seeking a lake house in an old time association.

Nothing sold in Summer Haven last year, and nothing sold in Oakwood Estates. These two associations flank Pier 290 and Gage Marine, with Summer Haven to the North and Oakwood to the south. Both associations offer nice community piers, a private park, and some sparse parking. Summer Haven has a sand beach, making it one of very few associations on Geneva to lay claim to a sandy patch of frontage.  Of the two, Oakwood Estates is the more valuable, mostly because the lakeside aesthetic is superior and the separation from Gage Marine is greater.

The Loch Vista Club is where I grew up. It’s where I will always feel at home. It’s the pier I learned to swim from, the pier my kids learned to swim from, the place I know better than all of the others.  It’s a quality little association, with two piers and a diving board. There are no transferable slips, and the guy next up on the boatslip waiting list first scribbled his name onto it in the 1970s. If you want a slip, the Loch Vista Club isn’t for you. But if you want an idyllic lake experience, it’s a winner. Typical sales prices range from $300k and up, and in 2016 two off-water homes printed. One for $495k and one for $584k. These two sales are important, as they’re actually quite high for off-water homes possessing no view and no slip.

In total, 18 lake access homes sold in Williams Bay during 2016. Four other vacation homes sold last year with private frontage.  The take away is that if you’re a lake house buying in the Bay, don’t buy a home that doesn’t possess lake rights. That is, those special access rights that afford an owner unique membership to a private lakefront park and pier system.  During the prior market peak buyers would routinely buy off-water homes that lacked lake access and treat them as lake homes. They did this because the lake access prices were so high that the non-access homes seemed cheap in comparison. Today, the lake access homes are still affordable, and if you’re looking to make a solid investment in a lake house you’d do well to consider one of these four associations. The available inventory is sparse, but there is still value available.

Above, my son on the Loch Vista Club diving board at sunset.