My father, a school teacher by profession, opened Geneva Lakefront Realty in the summer of 1977. At the time, he operated by renting a desk inside of the Hotton and Sons real estate office that is located across the street from my modern day office in Williams Bay. He would eventually move out of that office and into an adjacent space, where the office would stay until he moved it onto a desk in the living room of his house. It would reopen for me in 1996 in a building right next door to the previous Geneva Street offices. That old building is also right across the street from my current office, which is located immediately to the east of a vacant swath of grass that will hopefully be playing host to yet another Geneva Lakefront Realty office come next spring. In the circular world of real estate, what began as a move east turned south and ultimately will turn west again to form a near complete clockwise motion of real estate symmetry. But geography wasn’t my angle this morning.
My father built a business from a single desk inside of another real estate brokers office into a one man shop that would be selling lakefront estates and lake access cottages within just three years. The times were different then, but even with crippling 18% interest rates and technology that consisted of, well, of nothing, my father was a success. And his success came early and often. Perhaps he was a better salesman than me, or perhaps this was a time when people were more willing to give the small guy a shot. Whatever the case, when my father landed both sides of a $1.5MM lakefront sale in what was just his 7th year in the business, that sale would become real estate legend for my family.
Though I was just seven at the time and cannot remember the day well, the events that followed were told again and again throughout the following years. Stories that would have my mother taking a check for $70k down to the bank to pay off the mortgage. Stories of my father driving back from Milwaukee with a new (used) Southcoast sailboat in tow. How the bottom was originally green, and he had it painted blue. These stories stuck with me as a kid. Stories of success and hard work and the rewards of both. I admired my father’s skill and success, but I have to admit now that his success warped my view of the real estate profession in much the way that watching Million Dollar Listing can do the same.
The height of my misconception was on display during one brief exchange with a friend’s mother, when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. She asked what it was I’d like to do when I grew up, and I told her that real estate always seemed fun to me. I told her that I’d sell real estate, and the next part is not a lie or exaggeration of any sort, I uttered something like this appalling phrase: I want to sell real estate, because it’s cool to think that someone can walk into your office one day and buy a house and you’ll make like $100k. Yes, I really said that. And yes, that mother probably burns with hatred towards me to this very day. I was naive, and my naivete was obvious to me after I actually started selling real estate in 1996. No one would come into my office to buy houses of any size or sort, particularly not the sort that rendered the aforementioned paydays. While I was successful, the big sale that I thought would so easily be my birthright was no where to be found.
Then Josh and Madison and Chad came along. And the girls from Selling New York and puffy lipped Jeff Lewis. They lit up my television screen with staggering sales figures that I had once dreamed of, but never accomplished. Madison might not be a very intellectual guy, but boy could he squeak and giggle his way into some big fat transactions. And Josh might have been accused of stealing art from his customers homes, but he could dazzle buyers and sellers into buying and selling multi-million dollar homes by convincing them that the price meant very little in the presence of all that Beverly Hills inspired fabulousness. I watched these shows, and I thought of my father and his early success, and in moments of selfishness, I bemoaned my own. Selling vacation homes is a serious business for me, and I’ve sold too many to count. But I dreamed of the big sale that seemed to come so easy to others. Fortunately, with the loyalty of one amazing customer, my itchy patience that spanned 14 years was rewarded.
The latest member of the Lake Geneva vacation home club has completed a purchase that, in my humble opinion, is one of the best deals this market has seen in the last several years. The sale that I’ve been working on since early spring has been completed, and the property at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana has closed for $5.885MM. I represented the buyer in the sale, and feel both blessed and humbled beyond compare. The property is stunning, with 165′ of level lakefrontage, a deep lake-to-South Lakeshore lot, two bedroom guest house, garages for seven cars, a tennis court, and a home that is so impressive that I routinely shield my eyes from the glare when I so much as drive by it. The location is ideal, with easy and quick access to Fontana, and city water and sewer as opposed to the well and septic requirements of Linn Township. While the location is private and quiet, it affords privacy without being isolated, and the south shore location enjoys sheltered waters relative to the north shore waters that grow choppy when the prevailing southwest winds blow.
The home is a shingle style masterpiece, built just five years ago in the style and form of an old lake house, executed masterfully and appointed with so many bells and whistles that it’s impossible not to gloss over them for fear of running out of ink. The 12,000 square foot home (+/-) is a showpiece; a symbol of lakefront perfection in both its impressive size and quality, and in the way that it properly fits the lakefront without appearing too gaudy or attention grabbing. If ever a lakefront mansion on Geneva could be gracious and attention deflecting, this home is easily both. While some lakefront homes scream for you to look at them, this home has a cool confidence that is difficult to capture in new construction.
The sale is the highest priced lakefront sale (excluding the vacant parcel that sold last month for $6.050MM at Alta Vista) in nearly four years, and it’s significant for the trend that it bucked. The larger money on Geneva has, of late, chosen to build new rather than buy existing. This is an exciting trend for the market, but it’s not always the best of possible scenarios for those choosing to build. There are several homes being built on the lakefront at the moment, and these homes are largely being constructed at prices ranging from $3MM to $7MM for construction alone. If you consider that the lots are worth anywhere from $2.5MM to $6MM, this is putting owners in an all-in situation where the outlay is between $7MM and $10MM. These are huge numbers, and when you consider that my buyer just purchased a home and estate sized parcel for around $6MM that would cost as much as $8MM to replicate, it’s obvious that buying existing was the better strategy. Perhaps best of all, while those who build must endure the joys of construction- and the delays that accompany it- this home can be enjoyed immediately, with costs that are fixed and lack the mysterious nature of new construction on this scale.
Enough about the numbers for now. I’m thrilled for my customer beyond words. Well, that’s not really true. I can always come up with the words. But the property is magnificent, and for a quick moment in time, I was able to imagine that it was mine. While waiting to meet the customer at the home last week, I took the long walk up the driveway to inspect the tennis court. The tennis court was, as I suspected, just fine. I turned to walk back towards the house, and with the sprawling manse splayed out before me, the stream winding through the manicured lawns, the garden in harvest mode, the perennial beds in full late summer bloom, and the guest house tucked off to the east, I ambled down the drive. I kicked a few acorns off the drive, presents left by the many oak trees that provide a suitable, but not overwhelming, level of shade. I strolled towards the home, and imagined that it was mine. I couldn’t think of anything finer. I thought that if there ever was some scenario in life where I could accomplish such a purchase, I would do it without hesitation.
I also thought that of all the dumb reasons people play the lottery, a reasonable reason would be to do so in order to purchase a home like this. A special thanks to my buyer who trusted me with this transaction, as my gratitude will never be able to be sufficiently expressed. See you at the lake.