I doubt it would be possible to find someone to openly admit that there are “bad” areas on Geneva Lake. There is no such thing in my mind, as any sliver of land- no matter how insignificant or challenged- that allows someone access to private frontage on this ethereal lake could never be considered anything but precious. Insofar as private frontage, no matter where it’s located on the lake, gains an owner access to the entire bounty of clear water, there is no such thing as a poor location. That said, we can still easily identify quality locations versus ho hum ones, and in identifying that distinction there is real estate enlightenment, Lake Geneva style.
If you look back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when many of the estates were being developed on the shores of Geneva, a vast majority of them were being built off of Snake Road and other north shore locations. The reasoning behind this selection is a simple issue of temperature. The north shore, and western shores for that matter, are shielded from the hot afternoon sun that so easily and unapologetically bakes those on the south and eastern shorelines. Snake Road wasn’t just an ideal location because of the forests and prairies that flank that winding lane; it was ideal because an owner was less likely to sweat their way through late afternoons during July and August. But it’s not just the earlier shade that brought tycoons to the north side of Geneva, it had a lot to do with wind as well.
Prevailing Lake Geneva winds will blow over the south shore on an angle and drives waves from an origination point in Glenwood Springs on a journey north and east, ultimately arriving at the eastern shore of Cedar Point Park and the north shore of the lake. These winds and their resulting waves create a bit of a rough shore on many afternoons, but if you think about the sailing preferences of early vacationers, the north shore indeed seemed to be a better location. Those winds also brought cooler, lake swept air, and the combination of lake breezes and later afternoon shade made the north shore the place to be. The eastern shore of Lake Geneva (think Stone Manor, Expect a Miracle, etc) doesn’t share the same benefits of early shade, as that shoreline obviously lingers in sun longer than any other shoreline on Geneva, but by the time prevailing breezes reach that far shore of the lake, they’ve had 7 miles of open water cooling them. For this reason, you’ll also see several of the large lakefront estates lining up along South Lakeshore Drive as it extends south from downtown Lake Geneva.
The ideal location on the lake is primarily a matter of personal preference. One buyer just purchased a home on the north shore, and they instructed their agent that they will only be looking at areas on the north shore. My buyer who closed on 1014 South Lakeshore Drive last month wanted expressly to be located on the south shore, near Fontana. People love the north shore, and as many love the south shore, and in that, it’s like a progressive’s dream: everyone is a winner.
But it’s not just estates that long ago preferred breezes and shade that form a structural ring around the twenty-one miles of shore line that embrace Geneva. There are many areas that were built in the 1920s through the 1950s that were intended all along to be the most basic summer cottages. Small shacks that served as launching points for weekends spent swimming and fishing, where luxury appointments were not required, or even contemplated. These cottage areas on the lake remain, and some of the most basic cottage markets on our lakefront have been the last locations to fully gentrify at a pace with the broader lakefront market. These areas can currently provide some of the better values on the lakefront, but I look at them with a wary eye.
Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay is one such cottage strip. The stretch from Gage Marine north to the Bay Shore condominiums plays host to perhaps a dozen small cottages, most of which remain similar in form and function to what they were originally built as. Cottages are great. I love them dearly. But I don’t know if I’m looking for lakefront on Geneva I necessarily want to be surrounded by them. I’d rather be the smallest house on the block, not a small house on a block of similarly small houses. The Lake Geneva Highlands on the south shore, just east of Black Point is another such stretch of cottages. Again, it’s fantastic to be on the lake, but if I’m a buyer, I either want a significant discount to be in a cottage-y area, or I want to seek out a cottage in a location that can easily support higher values. Like where? I’m so appreciative that you asked.
There are small cottages in locations that can easily support higher values. Cedar Point Park is one area where small, entry level lakefront homes exist in harmony with homes that are valued in excess of $3MM. The same is true for Glenwood Springs and Indian Hills (Sauk), where small lakefront cottages co-mingle with recent tear downs and stately turn of the century homes. It’s smart for even the most altruistic buyer to seek out a location that offers room for improvement and ample room for appreciation. In hemming yourself into a cottage neighborhood on the lakefront, there’s a good chance that broader, long term market appreciation will not be so kind to the areas that have as of yet experienced wide spread gentrification. If I’m a buyer in search of an entry level lakefront, I buy the smallest house on the block, knowing that a rising tide ultimately raises all ships.