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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. 
Lake Geneva’s Winterfest

Lake Geneva’s Winterfest

I admit when it comes to events that I lack enthusiasm when compared to some of my enthusiastic competitors. Chili Cook Off Dinner This Friday Night! I can’t bring myself to care about that. Elkhorn Rotary Club 23rd Annual Pot Luck Dinner This Sunday!  That means nothing to me.  I can’t even feign interest or enthusiasm or concern.  That’s part of what makes this blog somewhat difficult at times. I don’t really want to write about things I don’t care about just for the sake of being an involved member of this community. That’s because the community, as I see it, is different from the way it looks on Facebook, because that’s a particular lens that I don’t own. Not everything is fun, not everything is interesting, and not everything is something you should attend.  SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY MOVIE NIGHT AT SHOWBOAT IS “JUMANJI”!!!!

It’s because of this that I have shied away from telling you about every little goings on in this market. I don’t really tell you about things in the way that I used to, because it seems insincere to me if I tell you to do something that I don’t want to do myself.  Do you care that this Sunday you can go to Pier 290 and watch the Super Bowl? Neither do I, because I can watch that game at home and since I write this to my Illinois clients I’m guessing that very few of you (none) want to stay at Pier 290 until late Sunday night when you likely have to work on Monday morning. So I’m not going to tell you to watch the Super Bowl there, because I don’t really need the content and I’m aware that such an invitation is likely to be ignored anyway. That said, there is something worthwhile this weekend.

Lake Geneva’s Winterfest is this weekend, and it’s important not because of what it is, but because of what it represents. Yes, there will be snow sculpting on display and those displays are worthy of your attention. The competitors are skilled and they slave away to create something that is only valued until it melts, which, according to our forecast, should be sometime around Tuesday of next week. This work is akin to a famous chef making the best of meals, the fanciest of meals, the most expensive of meals, and you’re lucky enough to score an invite to the dinner table. But like a fine meal that won’t hold up well to microwave re-heating, the snow sculptures are best enjoyed fresh, before the dolphin’s nose melts and renders the once vibrant animal a lowly manatee.

The sculptures are one thing, perhaps the main thing, but there’s the ice bar at the Baker House, helicopter rides for those uncertain they care about making it to Monday, and other fun things as well. There’s a scene here, and it matters because the scene plays out during the first week in February. We all know what the scene looks like in July, because it’s a summer scene that has likely been seared, pleasantly, into each of our minds. That scene is so very lovely. But this is a winter scene, and it matters because Lake Geneva isn’t just a place for summer. It’s a place that thrives in all seasons, in the spring and summer and in the fall, yes, but also in the dead of winter. The scene is alive, this town in action, never taking time off, always here, open, ready.

And that’s why it matters. Many resort towns, especially in the Midwest, fail at one season or another. The Northwoods will gladly allow you to be mosquito bitten in the summer and frostbitten in the winter. This is what the Northwoods does.  Door County will sell you ice-cream in the summer and show you their roof-goats with great pleasure. But in the winter Door County is closed, the lights dimmed, the scene on hold until June. Michigan, well, I’m not sure about Michigan in the winter because I visited Harbor Country once in late June and their season hadn’t yet started, so I cannot be certain exactly how terrible that place might be in February. But Lake Geneva is the same in summer as it is in the winter, it’s thriving, it’s bright, and it’s ready for you.

This weekend, come up for a visit. Walk the downtown. Take pictures next to the snow dolphins. Have a drink in an ice bar. And then come over and visit me at N1561 East Lakeside Lane in the South Shore Club. I’ll be holding that new listing open from 1-4 pm on Saturday, and it would be a shame for me to have to sit there all by my lonesome. See you at the lake this weekend,  when the scene will be on full display even while our Midwestern “competitors” hibernate.

 

Photo courtesy Lake Geneva Country Meats
New South Shore Club Listing

New South Shore Club Listing

There was nothing like it in 2002 just as there is nothing like it in 2017. A lakefront community engineered to attract high end buyers, in a high end setting, on this, our high end lake. It was a fresh take on lakefront living, combining the traditional layout of the Congress Club, albeit on a much more impressive scale, with the sheer size and quality of a true lakefront estate. The South Shore Club might have been a bit before its time in 2002, but by 2013 its time had come. The market saw this development and recognized just how special it was. Buyers who might otherwise buy a $3MM piece of dirt on Geneva were instead inclined towards buying a $3MM house with all of these rich amenities and so much style. Today, a blast from this short-term past.

The Original Vacation House, or so it was then called, was built by Orren Pickell to encompass all of the best that the South Shore Club could muster. The lot was special, set into the woods on that East side, but still prominent and capable of delivering a unique lake view. The style was lighter, brighter, more intricate, more involved, and as time wore on there was one house that kept looking new and ideal. It was this house, the Vacation House, the house that had all of the toys and all of the upgrades. The house was sold originally as a spec home, and enjoyed from that day until this day by the current owner. Alas, the property has run its course and the family has decided the time to move on has arrived. Today, I offer you the Original Vacation House, as wonderful now as it ever was then.

But it’s better now than it was then. The market has enjoyed consistent sales over the last five years, and so the faith that the initial buyer displayed way back in 2002 is no longer required of a new buyer. It’s just a beautiful house and fits the market, and it fits the style and it’s ready to be sold. The home has been lovingly maintained, and as the construction on either side of it is complete, there will be no disruption to the new buyer’s summer caused by backhoes or nail guns. The finishes as what you’d expect, with Wood-Mode cabinetry, Sub-Zero and Wolf kitchen appliances, Rohl fixtures, Lutron whole-house control, and more. The South Shore Club is complete, it’s functioning as it was intended, and it offers a lakefront buyer a luxurious retreat at a fraction of what such a home would cost on private frontage.

That’s really what the South Shore Club is about, by the way. It’s not about an association home with association home amenities. These homes were built and the association was designed to stack up against private frontage competition. If you have $3.275MM to spend on a lake house, you cannot buy anything of any reasonable scale or quality possessing a good amount of private frontage for that number. To put it another way, this new listing in the low $3s, if given a 1.5 acre lot and 100′ worth of frontage, would easily sell in the $5.5-6MM range today. You’re not paying lakefront prices for a South Shore Club home, you’re paying a discount to that cost and you’re achieving a much easier vacation home experience.

What’s easier? Well, all of it. Boats are included, no need to buy, maintain, and depreciate your own. The pool is there, included, a lifeguard as well. The tennis is there, ready, green with clay and ready for you. The lawns are maintained, the snow is plowed, and in the winter, if we have a winter with some normalcy, there’s an ice rink, too. The South Shore Club doesn’t just give you a lakefront experience, it gives you that experience at a discount, and it allows you, the owner, a much more convenient and leisurely weekend experience.

For today, consider this new offering. It’s wonderful and it’s available and I’m ready to show it this weekend. If you or anyone you know might be interested, please do let me know. Sometimes I list homes that I know require a tremendous amount of creativity to sell. Other times, I list a home that I know will make my job considerably easier and just sell itself.

Entry Level Geneva Lakefront

Entry Level Geneva Lakefront

My body is slowly succumbing to the course of time, to the insistent, constant force that seeks to whittle and pry and break and bruise, to the inevitable process wherein these ashes will find their way back to ashes. It’s sad, really, at such a tender age to be falling apart. I didn’t intend for it to be like this, but this is my first time in this aging process, and I’m no longer in control. I’m just a guy with creaks and cracks, and while others put up a most impressive facade, I’m nothing, really. I feel this way mostly because of my trip last week, a trip that started fine, included some wonderful skiing and the smiling faces of my children, and ended with my ear pressure being locked somewhere around the Vail Summit.

After driving deep into the far away horizon where the Denver International Airport hides, my ear pressure was the same.  Likely comfortable around 10,000 feet, but now I was at 5,000 and the pressure of those 5,000 feet was constant and unavoidable, ringing and pounding and bullying my inner ear. The flight would cure this, I figured.  When I landed at Milwaukee it was obvious then that my previous attempts to calm my worry were in vain. The pressure built,  my right ear finding some form of normalcy at 900 feet, but my left ear still stuck in the mountains. Certainly it wouldn’t last the night, but last it did. And the next day it would subside, obviously. But it didn’t. For sure the following day things would be fine and my 10,000 foot ear would slowly slip down to 900 feet. No. Such. Luck.

And so I write this morning, contemplating who might be my Gaugiun, but also contemplating the state of the entry level lakefront market on Geneva Lake. That market is one that I’d like to call our most interesting, our most confusing, our most obvious. But none of that is true, because all lakefront segments are that way, they are at once easy to understand and overtly complicated. They are nothing at all but everything, easy to dissect and explain until they aren’t. The entry level market, however, has some unique intracacies that are on display today. Notably, is there a top for this particular market?  Is the land worth what the land is worth and then the house might be worth whatever lofty price someone, someday, assigns to it?

Let’s consider a few things first. Not all entry level properties are created equal. A 50′ lakefront lot in Cedar Point Park that might be 300′ deep is not the same as a 50′ lot in the Lake Geneva Highlands that might only be 180′ deep. I could sell a 50′ lot in Cedar Point right now for more than I could sell a 50′ lot in the Highlands. That’s not anything but the obvious and simple truth. That’s because Cedar Point has proven the ability to sell re-built (whether remodeled or new construction) homes far above the cost of the dirt and the Highlands has not. In fact, fantastically improved homes in the Highlands rarely sell in excess of $1.5MM.

Another example of this is on Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay. This street is a nice enough street, with some condominiums and some entry level lakefront homes with very deep lots. Yet for all that depth, the market there has always struggled to sell anything over $1.5MM. In fact, a 100′ lakefront lot sold there for $1.2MM a few years back, at a time when a 50′ lot in the Highlands would have sold for similar dollars. If Walworth Avenue offered you a $1.2MM lakefront house you might think you’ve found something rare and incredible, when in fact, you’ve found something at nearly the top end of that individual market. Why is that the top end? Because you really can’t buy a tear down or supreme fixer upper on Walworth Avenue for $1.2MM and expect you have any margin in your all-in investment.

The same theory applies to most locations on the lake, excepting Glenwood Springs. In Glenwood Springs, the lakefront homes aren’t even true lakefront homes, yet an entry level home will sell for $1.2-$1.5MM and then the buyer may indeed tear it down. Does this make any sense? Well, actually, yes. Homes in Glenwood Springs have sold in excess of $2.5MM, and such a sale is not an anomaly. At the same time, a 50′ lakefront lot in the Highlands or on Walworth Avenue with actual, real, private frontage, would struggle mightily to achieve even $2MM, let alone $2.5MM.

As I was showing lakefront homes yesterday I thought about this market. I thought about the top end. I thought about where these prices might be able to go. And then I realized there’s likely a disconnect between what I think is reasonable and what a few individual buyers might think is reasonable. If I’m buying a tear down in a market that I believe to be capped in the mid $1s, I know that I’d want to have some margin for my effort. I don’t want to spend $1.5MM and a year of my life stressing out over a project that in the end will perhaps be worth $1.5MM. I want to spend $1.3MM to get to the finish line where a $200k equity bonus might be awaiting me. But perhaps that’s just me. And perhaps that’s just this 10,000 foot ear talking.

 

Summery Things

Summery Things

I’m out of the office for a few days this week on a short family vacation.  In my absence, focus on summery things, like this video from July.  As you know, this house sold for full price in September.  Another summery video will follow on Wednesday, and I’ll be back live on Friday. If you need anything from me before then, please reach out to me via email or cell 262-745-1993.

 

 

Summer Homes For City People 2017

Summer Homes For City People 2017

January bothers me. It’s a month of clean starts, of new pledges and attempted changes. It’s a month where things seem possible, sure. But it’s also a month where the pressure to perform is the greatest. If the year recently ended was a bad year, January is a terrific thing. We can wipe the slate clean, start over, act like this year will be different, better, clean. But if the year recently ended was a great year, January just feels like anxiety. It feels like a month where things must start fresh, even though we don’t want them to.  January is a busy month for me, and as I plot and plan I have another problem that starts in January. January is magazine month.

Summer Homes For City People should be credited with at least one award. The award should be titled “The Magazine That Made The Other Lake Geneva Magazines Try Harder”. The trophy is large, to fit all the text. In 2010, the world of Lake Geneva real estate magazines was one where the magazine was printed with thumbnail sized images of each home that the company had for sale. Headers like “Lakefront” and “Vacant Land” jazzed up the content. The magazines were boring. Then Summer Homes For City People was printed and everyone else decided that content was more important. Other Magazines, you’re welcome.

But this magazine thing isn’t easy, and I don’t enjoy it. It’s a grind, a chore, a labor of love, sure, but mostly of dread. I dread the inevitable errors that will make it through multiple proofs and into print. Did you notice the binding of the last issue? I did. It said SUMMER 2015. Strange, because that’s what the SUMMER 2015 issue said, too, except this was on the SUMMER 2016 issue. I printed the address of a large lakefront listing wrong. I printed the address wrong. I must have read the address more than 100 times before print, but I only noticed the error once there were  15,000 copies of that error in the spare room at my office. The magazine is difficult, but important.

It’s important because it showcases the best of Lake Geneva. I sell ads to make the money work, but the ads aren’t open to just anyone. In fact, every year I turn down would be advertisers because their product or service doesn’t align with lakefront market. The magazine features some of the finest properties to ever come to market here, and I’m proud of that. And yes, each year the magazine features some nonsensical writings of mine that many readers say are “too wordy”.  Too wordy, indeed.

But this year will be different and better but also the same. That’s why I need inventory, and I need it soon. If you’re a lakefront owner and you’re thinking of selling this year, please let me know. I want to work for you. I want to showcase your lakefront home. I want to write nice things about it and make you proud to own it, and then secretly sad when I sell it. I want to work for you, and if you want your home in the 2017 issue of Summer Homes For City People, we really need to start talking about this soon. The magazine is underway, and I don’t want to run out of room before I gush all over your property.

If you’re a business owner with a high end product or service, perhaps a magazine ad should be discussed.  Chicago companies with high end products would do well to contact me, as there’s no better way to put that product in front of the affluent Lake Geneva set than through a simple ad in my publication.  If you operate a bowling alley in Niles, please don’t ask me to place an ad. But if you own a high end something-or-other in a similar market, I’m all ears. For now, please excuse me, as I have some ads to sell.

 

Above, the magazine cover by Neal Aspinall from the 2016 issue.
Gray Again

Gray Again

What, exactly, are we supposed to do with this?  We wake to the dim light, not because it beckons us but because we must, we sleep with the pitter and the patter of ice and water against our window sills.  We slip over the day, uncertain if the next step will be slushed or wet or frozen, and we return to our homes in the fog of evening, waiting until we can sleep and repeat the day again. Is it Wednesday or Tuesday? It doesn’t matter. Not now, anyway.

I hurt my back the other day doing nothing in particular. It hurts today and it hurt yesterday, and without something changing it’s going to hurt tomorrow. But I’m used to it, like I’m used to this suffocating gray, like I’m used to the days blending and the night coming early. I’m used to all of this, and none of it bothers me anymore. There is nothing important to do today, but there are important days to come, and it’s so easy to prepare under this gray. The gray days are important days because they want nothing from us. They urge us to do nothing. They don’t distract, they don’t consume, they don’t ask. They just are and they leave us alone.

But we need the prodding of a sunny day, and we expect to be rushed and to be hurried and when we are we complain that we have too much to do. There are too many places to be, too many people to see, too many bills to pay. Too much of this and too much of that, and we want to rest. We need to rest. Under the brightest sky we have things to do and those places to find, and when we wish we could just rest. We wish we could find our house in the early evening with nothing to do and no where to go, to build a kindling fire and watch it burn. To eat a slowly prepared meal slowly because there’s no where to rush to, nothing to hurry about, no where calling. We hurry and we race and we wish we could slow down until we can, and then we don’t.

I wish it would be colder and sunnier and I wish the snow would build and the ice would skim and the fishermen would auger and the sailers would affix blades to their boats. I wish these things would happen in this season, but today they won’t. Tomorrow, nothing. Later in the month something might happen, the ice might return, the snow might fall, the men might reel in their tiny fishing poles and boast to the passersby of their pile of flopping food. But none of that is happening today, because today we get to move more slowly. We get to make that fire and eat that dinner and watch that game. We get to do these things and we shouldn’t complain, because these gray days are a gift that expect nothing in return.

Geneva National 2016 Market Review

I write lots of things on this site. I write about birds and trees and lakes and streams. I write about how much I like certain things, like trout and fish, but mostly trout. I write about how much I love this place, how this place is better than the other places, how the more places I visit the more I like where I’m from. But I also write about things I hate, like Michigan and Northwoods houses and Door County and Michigan. I write plenty that might cause  some to feel triggered. But of all the topics, of all the good and the bad, the love and the hate, I get more commentary directed at me when I write about Geneva National. Geneva National, you’re up.

2016 was a good year to be both buyer and seller in Geneva National. Sellers found buyers and buyers found value. Mostly, it was a good thing and a good year for this large association on the North side of Highway 50.  Last year, 71 homes and condominiums sold in Geneva National priced from $59k for a one bedroom condo to $795k for a large single family home. Six single family homes and condo units closed for more than $500k.   This morning there are just 61 total homes and condominiums available in GN, with five more pending sale. That’s really quite positive for GN, as the one thing that plagues this association more than anything is excess inventory.

The 2016 volume trailed well behind the 82 units sold (MLS) in GN during 2015, but both 2016 and 2015 absolutely crushed 2014, which recorded a rather miserable 44 total sales. If there’s any issue with the existing inventory in GN it’s that the top end is far too heavy. There are 20 homes and condominiums priced over $500k available today. If you recall the prior graph, there were only six $500k+ sales in GN all of last year. That means we have at least three years worth of inventory at the top end, and that’s not good news for any upper bracket seller wishing to leave GN.

Even worse is the vacant lot situation. There are, in case you haven’t noticed, loads and loads of unbuilt, vacant lots in Geneva National. Currently, there are 57 available, priced between $7k and $260k (there are a few others that are zoned commercial).  That’s a lot of lots, but don’t fear, because with TWO vacant lot sales in 2016, that means GN only has a scant 28 years worth of available inventory. Even if we average in the 2015 sales (11), there’s still nine years worth. The vacant lot situation at GN is especially troubling for owners who would like to be sellers, because the monthly fees keep coming even as the prices drop. I owned a few different lots in GN over the years, and I must admit I’m happy that I don’t own one at the moment.

The relationship between vacant, available lots and available single family homes is somewhat troubling, given that they are bound into the same market. Too many available single family homes drags on the prices, which leaves less and less motivation for a buyer to buy a vacant lot and build from scratch. If I can buy a nice house for less than I can build it, why would I build? But along those same lines, if the lots are free ($7k for starters), why wouldn’t I build when the cost of the land is essentially zero?  The good news for the GN housing stock is that construction prices are on the rise, perhaps up as much as 20% over the past few years by some accounts, so this might help deter buyers from building. The hope then is that they’ll buy an existing house instead.

2017 looks to be a decent year for GN, and for once the large association is going into a selling season without too much inventory. I’d expect a fair year, but as with the rest of the vacation home market, if the inventory doesn’t build then neither will the sales tallies.  Interest rates should be stable through the first part of the year, but buyers will feel some motivation as rates are higher than they were last fall by a reasonably meaningful margin. GN continues to have too many homes and too many lots and too many condominiums under development. The dues are higher than I’d like them to be. There are issues with all of these factors. But if you’re a buyer looking for newer square footage in a country club environment and you just so happen to like playing golf, then Geneva National just might be your best option.

Abbey Springs 2016 Market Review

Abbey Springs 2016 Market Review

There’s a common theme amongst these 2016 market reviews. Yes, the markets we’ve reviewed so far all preformed quite well in the year just ended. And, yes, each market is low on inventory to start 2017. But beyond that, we have a very similar ratio of performance to inventory in each and every one of the markets we’ve reviewed to date. Abbey Springs had a tremendous 2016, which is not something especially rare. Abbey Springs tends to have good years often, and if you’ll remember when the broad market stalled it seemed as though Abbey Springs kept churning forward.  Abbey Springs has a way about it, and that’s because it’s the only association of its kind in our market. Country Club amenities with resort features and actual frontage on Geneva Lake. It’s rare, it’s special, and the market knows it.

There were 40 (per MLS) sales in Abbey Springs during 2016.  Lest you think that’s somewhat normal, 2015 featured just 20 sales. That’s double the volume year over year.  In 2015 there were five sales over $500k, and in 2016 there were seven such sales. As we enter 2017, inventory is low, with just 19 active listings and one pending sale.  The top end inventory is a bit heavy, with nine homes over $450k available this morning.   Current inventory starts in the $150k range and runs all the way up to $1MM. It’s a unique association that can function and thrive with such a diverse grouping of condominiums and single family homes.

With 40 sales last year and just 19 homes available, those numbers mirror the lake access and the lakefront supply ratios. In all of these markets we have approximately six months of inventory. That’s a healthy ratio no matter the market, though I’d really prefer we have 8-10 months of inventory so that buyers can feel a bit better about their choices.  I think it’s a testament to our broad Lake Geneva vacation home market that we can have such solid activity across all price ranges and all ownership types. Why did Abbey Springs have such a dynamic 2016? Was it because of interest rates or inventory choices or all that summer sunshine? It’s likely due to all of that, but the simple truth of Abbey Springs is that it is without equal in our market and rare inventory will always find an audience.

Abbey Springs will follow the same path as the rest of our local markets. If inventory allows, sales should be solid. If inventory stays low, there’s no way we’ll have a repeat of 2016. That seems obvious, but most markets cannot push their volume totals higher just because inventory exists. It’s a healthy market that can effectively consume as much inventory as it is dosed. Next up, Geneva National, which won’t feel nearly as good about itself after Monday’s post.

Entry Level Vacation Condominium 2016 Market Update

Entry Level Vacation Condominium 2016 Market Update

That’s a clunky headline, to be certain. But clunky it must be, because there’s really no other way to describe this segment of our market. It isn’t Abbey Springs. It isn’t Geneva National (those two updates will be this coming Friday and then Monday). It’s just the secondary vacation home condominium markets that cater to the secondary homeowner. The sorts of folks who buy into these developments are those who seek a piece of this scene, but they wish to join for a fraction of the membership fee required by the other market segments.  When swimming in the lake on a hot July afternoon, there is no distinction between the lakefront owner who paid $5MM and the Abbey Hill condo owner who paid $200k.

I consider this market to include the following condo associations: Willabay Shores, Bayside Pointe, Abbey Villas, and Abbey Hill. There are other such condominiums, but these are the developments that I find most appealing for the vacation home buyer seeking to spend somewhere around $200k.  These are the associations that I would be considering if I were a buyer in that range. We know that 2016 was a year with incredibly low interest rates and a mostly stable (excepting the first 60 days of the year) stock market. Because of those conditions, this entry level condo market should have had a very solid 2016. And that’s exactly what happened.

Bayside Pointe is in Williams Bay. It’s nice, and it’s walking distance to the lake, and the units have small attached garages and there’s a swimming pool. You can also walk to Bell’s store, though I’ve never heard that written in a description as an amenity that carries any particular weight.  Five units sold here last year, with closings at $185k on the low end and $260k on the high end.  There wasn’t a single sale in this complex for 2015 (per MLS), and as of today there is just one active ($184,900). While I generally find myself concerned about inventory at the higher ends of our market, the best possible scenario for current owners in these sorts of associations is to see very little inventory.  These markets exist in a vacuum of sorts, as sales at Bayside Pointe really only matter to Bayside Pointe, just as Willabay sales only matter to Willabay. There is little crossover here.  The inventory is now low, which is difficult for buyers but fantastic for current owners.

Willabay Shores is just down the road, closer to the lake. It’s walking distance to the water, and it’s walking distance to the little stream that pushes through the Williams Bay beach where I first discovered Snapping Turtles. Willabay sold 11 units in 2016, nearly double the 2015 production of six. Currently, there are just three active units per the MLS, which again, creates a fantastic climate for current owners. In all, a remarkable 2016 for Willabay. Prices ranged from $130k to $217k, which is the typical range here, though some units with slight lake views can push upwards of $275k.

In Fontana, Abbey Hill has long been one of my favorites. It lacks the proximity to the lake that these other developments can claim, but the architecture is unique and I find it to be rather engaging. There were two sales in 2016, down from four total in 2015. But this isn’t a problem, it’s just a function of lower inventory. Currently, not a single Abbey Hill unit is offered for sale on our MLS. Again, that’s not wonderful news for buyers looking to consider Abbey Hill,  but it is the perfect climate for existing owners to discover some appreciation.  Don’t forget about Abbey Hill- if you’re a buyer in the $200k range seeking some sort of Lake Geneva vacation home, you should be asking me about Abbey Hill.

If you like Fontana but need to be closer to the scene, then the Abbey Villas are for you. The development doesn’t allow dogs, so that’s tough on some people, but the development is close to the beach and you can walk to your morning coffee, and that’s something.  10 units sold here in 2016, with closings occurring from $165k to $255k. No harbor front units sold in 2016. The 2015 volume stalled at six total sales, so 2016 is a win no matter how you look at it. Today, the inventory is following the same pattern as our other market participants, with just two units available in the MLS, and one more pending.  The Abbey has the highest association dues of any of these properties, so that’s something to consider if you’re looking to vacation on a relative budget.

Vicki Hansen is my assistant who handles all of these associations for me, and if you’re a buyer or a seller, there’s no better choice for representation.  Buyers tend to shy away from Lake Geneva if they find their budget doesn’t match up with our lofty lakefront prices, but those who wish to find themselves part of our scene for $200k or so would do well to discover these four associations. Expect 2017 to be a solid year, but as with our current prediction theme, if inventory doesn’t build then we’ll see more appreciation this year, and less overall volume.

 

Image courtesy Matt Mason Photography, a Lake Geneva wedding photographer. 
Geneva Lake Access 2016 Market Review

Geneva Lake Access 2016 Market Review

The most economical lakefront home to sell in 2016 was an odd little house in Knollwood. $1,075,000 was the required minimum price for 50′ of frontage on Geneva Lake. Farther up the road in Knollwood, the most economical lake access home of 2016 sold for $69,000. Those two entry points won’t let us assume that Knollwood is a lower end association, because that’s not at all the case. Knollwood is a beautiful association that boasts what I believe to be the nicest large association lakefront park on this entire lake. But in 2016 if you were looking to eek onto the lake, Knollwood was in focus, and if you wanted to eek into the lake access market, you had no choice but to keep your eyes on Knollwood.  This post isn’t about Knollwood.

The lake access market had a solid 2016, though in comparison the lakefront market itself fared much better. In total, there were 77 lake access homes sold in the MLS, the most economical being the $69k Knollwood cottage, the most expensive being my off-water estate in Loramoor with 3 acres, pool, slip, large house, detached garage with studio, water feature, gated entry, etc and etc, at $1.625MM.   The lowest price paid for a home with transferrable slip was in Wooddale, that of a brick Arlington Heights-esque ranch that sold in August for $330k. The highest price someone paid for a lake access home  home without a slip was $800k in Geneva Manor. In total, 12 homes with slips or private piers sold last year. I sold four of those.  A few more with available ramps or buoys sold.   2015 recorded 68 lake access sales, so by any measure our 2016 was a fantastic year.

Of the 77 sales, five closed at $1MM or more.  In that upper bracket lake access market, some things were made obvious not because of what sold, but because of what didn’t. This year offered ample, rare inventory in that segment, with homes available in Glen Fern, Black Point, The Lindens, and Academy Estates. These homes lasted through 2016 and closed the year unsold, or expired. The inventory in these associations was in the low million range, and the availability of these homes was something that the market wouldn’t typically take for granted. A home one off the lake in the Lindens would be desirable, no matter the condition. Yet the market pushed back and these homes failed to sell. What is the takeaway from this? Well, for starters, if buyers are going off-lake in the million and over range they’re expecting something pretty special. Like the Loramoor property, with a slip and a pool and big lot and big, newer house. Or something unique like my immaculate, gem box on Oakwood that I sold in Glenwood Springs for $1.1MM. Give the buyer something unique and rare and they’ll buy it. Give them a $1.3MM fixer upper built in the 1970s and they’re going to take a pass, unless the lot is somehow so incredible that a tear down is warranted.

That 2016 sold inventory included two entry level cottages in our lakefront cooperatives. A small home in the Harvard Club sold for $510,500 and a cottage in Belvedere Park sold for $411k. The Harvard Club had a slip, but Belvedere Park has all-year municipal water and sewer service, so you can pick which one you’d rather have. Nothing sold in the Congress Club, though inventory existed there for most of the year.  Foreclosures were not common in 2016, but at least two homes did sell as REO,  though both were crappy and smaller and sub-$150k.  I don’t suspect foreclosure to play any sort of starring role in 2017 either.  Of note, 25 of the 77 sales were marked as Cash closings, which I find a bit surprising. Rates were remarkably low during 2016, and I would have expected more buyers in this range to take advantage of those rates. Instead, 1/3 opted to pay cash, which proves the strong position of many Lake Geneva buyers.

For 2017, we’re low on inventory. There are just 36 lake access homes available as of this morning. That’s a low tally, especially when you consider that seven of those are priced in excess of $1MM. Our core lake access market is the $450-750k home with a slip, and of those there are just three available.  Because of this inventory condition, the lake access market will follow the lakefront market for 2017 and find itself heavily dependent on adding quality inventory. If we can add inventory in the first quarter, we’ll have a solid year. Interest rates are rising but they aren’t rising enough to squelch the desire of city families to spend their weekends in a different state of being. Expect the lake access market to have a quality 2017, but volume will not reach 2016 levels. Much of the remaining inventory is now aged, so there is plenty of value lurking in the available homes. If you’re hunting for value, I’m happy to be your guide.

 

Geneva Lakefront 2016 Market Review

Geneva Lakefront 2016 Market Review

29. It might sound like a lot, or it might sound like nothing at all. If we have 29 quarters, we don’t really even have enough money to buy a lunch at Culver’s. But then again, I’m currently battling towards the world’s most amazing physical transformation, and so I’m unable to go to Culver’s. This is difficult. If we have 29 electoral college votes, we still have nothing. But if we have 29 cars, we’d be considered to be a collector, because who, if not a collector, has so many? If we have 29 children, we’d have lots of children and we’d have a television show. But if we have 29 cousins, no one would really care. A show called “29 Cousins” wouldn’t really raise an eyebrow. But we don’t have 29 of any of those things, we have 29 lakefront sales on Geneva Lake in 2016 and we should all be very proud of that total.

Those 29 sales (that link won’t include the vacant land sales) represent a slight decrease from the remarkable 2015 tally of 31, but the reality is that both years represent about as much volume as this market can potentially muster. The 29 sales from 2016 included one home in the South Shore Club ($2.75MM), and three vacant lots. For the purposes of this morning, we’ll include the vacant lots as we average out the increasingly antiquated Price Per Foot metric. I dislike this method of valuing properties, but that’s only because I feel it fails to properly account for the compression that exists when frontage increases beyond 100 feet. The results are skewed by a larger number of entry level sales as those properties with 50 or so feel tend to sell $25-30k per front foot, while 100′ lots with barebones homes tend to sell around $20k per foot. Even so, let’s consider the PPF.

In total, 2919 feet of lakefront sold this year. That’s roughly 2.5% of the entire frontage on Geneva Lake. That’s no small number. We sold a total of 2713 feet of frontage in 2015.  During 2016, we sold $72,372,000 worth of lakefront proper, bringing our price per foot to a whopping $27,193, or an 8% increase over the 2015 average of $25,161. That number is high, but it’s not reflective of the actual value of a foot of raw frontage. The number is bloated this year for two reasons. First off, we sold seven lakefronts under $1.55MM, and those entry level properties tend to sell at a higher PPF. Secondly, we sold four properties over $4.25MM this year, and those four properties alone averaged $40,298 per front foot. They averaged this lofty number because three of those four were fantastically beautiful homes that carried a premium for their quality.  If you were to ask me for the value of a 100′ lot of reasonable size, I’d point you to the two sales on Lackey that prove out a value closer to $20k per foot than $27k per foot.

Of the 29 sales, I closed 10 of them. To put it a different way, of the $73,172,000 worth of lakefront that changed hands this year, I was directly involved in nearly 50% of that volume. I bring that up as I see some other agents’ advertising and it seems as though there’s still some confusion as to who leads the lakefront market. Anyway, the simple reality of 2016 is that it was a complete and utter success for the lakefront market. Most notable in the volume is the activity at the very top end of our market. The two sales, both my listings, that closed for $9.950MM and $7.35MM, proved that we have strength in our upper bracket, but it also proved that in order to find those buyers the product must match an incredible home on an estate sized parcel of land.

I also found the existence of entry level inventory to be curious. After several years of strong sales in this segment, we printed another six sales under $1.55MM. The lake proves that just as soon as we think we’re going to run out of a particular type of inventory, we don’t. When we think the last 100′ lot with a junky house has been sold, we see more 100′ lots with junky houses come to market. When we think the last 50′ lot for $1.25MM has sold, we sell another 50′ lot for $1.25MM. The market has a way of letting people catch up to it, so long as the buyers are patient and wait for the inventory that matches their desire. 2016 was a terrific year, but it wasn’t necessarily unexpected. I thought the year would be solid as long as inventory presented, and that’s exactly what happened.

For 2017, we’re facing higher interest rates and severely limited inventory. The rates should have some negative drag, but gains or stability in the stock market will offset that. Inventory will be the problem of 2017, as we start the year with just 13 true lakefront homes for sale. Of those, I have an offer being negotiated on one of them.  The result of this low inventory will be higher priced listings, as sellers who don’t really care to sell will likely price their homes at prices that reflect their lack of motivation. This could be a problem for 2017, but I’m guessing we’ll add enough inventory to see volume totals in a  reasonable range once this year ends. Will we sell 28 lakefronts again? Not likely. But can we get to 20?  You bet. The key in this market is for buyers to understand that even though prices have escalated, there is still value to be found. Much of the inventory that remains is now aged and buyers may have the ability to negotiate sold value. That is, assuming, they’re working with the right agent, and if you’ve just finished reading this, then you already know who that is.

Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2016 Review

Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2016 Review

Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll discuss how 2016 treated the various segments of our vacation home market.  We know the year to have been a good one for these markets, but we’ll avoid the vagaries and dig into the details.  If you wanted vagaries, you could just visit the Facebook page of your favorite Realtor, assuming that I’m not your favorite Realtor, and if not, when what have I done to deserve such a low level of favor?   The markets we’ll cover will include the following segments:  Lakefront Condo, Lakefront Single Family, Lake Access Single Family, Geneva National, Abbey Springs, and the secondary condo markets comprised of Willabay Shores, Bayside Pointe, Abbey Hill and the Abbey Villas. Let’s get started.

The lakefront condo market has been covered in depth here. Unfortunately, even as I grasp the other markets with remarkable clarity, I have been routinely dumbfounded by the behavior of the lakefront condo market. I don’t know, exactly, why the market has stalled even while the adjacent markets have excelled.  I’ve speculated that perhaps it’s due to a shift in demographics. Younger buyers, more city buyers, those who don’t want to come to the lake to share a hallway.  Even today, eight years after the start of the last housing crisis, I’m not entirely sure why this market has failed to find favor.  With 2016 now closed out, it’s clear to me that the lakefront market has remained an enigma, and the market remains stalled.

Perhaps it’s inventory that creates the problem. After all, if nice things come to market they generally sell, whether they’re condominium or single family in nature.  I sold a beautiful condo at Eastbank for $1.2MM in 2015, but that condo was recently renovated and  absolutely, entirely turn key.  So is it purely a condition of the condition? If a unit is beautiful will it sell?  Does this buyer pool just detest the thought of renovating a confined space?  If we look to the 2016 condo sales, maybe there’s a clue.

In total, the lakefront condo market closed 8 units. That’s not terrific, but it’s not the worst thing, either. A unit at Vista Del Lago sold for $362,500. That’s troubling for Vista, as the development offered several nice units throughout 2016 and yet the only sale was in January of 2016, meaning that likely wasn’t even a 2016 contract, rather a carryover from 2015.  Geneva Towers had one sale at $644,500, a fine number for a reasonably decent condo there. Somerset, a small condo association just south of downtown Lake Geneva had two sales last year, one of a short sale for $725k (though I’m assuming the buyer had additional costs associated due to the way the MLS details are written), and another unit for $1,085,000. That was an upgraded unit, and any buyer considering entry level frontage would do well to consider available inventory at Somerset and at Eastbank.

Working West, Williams Bay had two lakefront condo sales, both at Bay Colony. One of a wonderfully renovated unit, one of a unit with more basic, older finishes. The upgraded unit had sold for $600k back in 2005 when it was in original condition. That buyer then renovated the unit and sold it, after years on market, for $510k in early 2015. That same unit sold for $525k in the fall of 2016 and that, in a nutshell, is the situation with most condos on Geneva Lake. Even in terrific condition they aren’t able to sell for their 2005 valuations. The other unit in that building sold for $415k to a buyer represented by yours truly.

In 2002 I sold a three bedroom condo in Fontana Shores for $427k. That was, at the time, a nice sale for the building and a nice sale for me. That same unit just sold in 2016 for $421,750.  The last owner kept that condo for 14 years and lost money on it. During the same period, a private lakefront home may have appreciated by as much as 50-75%. Lastly, my sale at Stone Manor. At $5,995,000, it was the most expensive condo sale in our market, and likely the most expensive condo sale in Wisconsin, ever. But it’s less condo and more residence, so I won’t dwell on it here. You know it sold. I know it sold. And that sale has no effect on the remainder of the non-Stone Manor condo market here.

12 months, 8 sales.  2015 fared only slightly better, with 9 prints for that year.  There were 11 sales in 2014. But none of this particularly matters. The take away is that the market remains in a difficult way, and I don’t see any catalyst that will change that. If entry level lakefront prices rise, and that entry level inventory remains low, then perhaps the condo market will benefit.  But what I think we’re seeing is a shift away from the condo model and towards single family, and the only thing that might interrupt that shift is rare value or rare inventory.   2016 should be a solid year for the lakefront condo market, but in this context I think sold would mean 7 or 8 sales in total. To expect more would be to expect a change from the status quo, and the condo market hasn’t proven it’s capable of anything but.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I hate Luke Bryan. First of all, he has two first names.  A better name would have been Luke Bryant. Like Kris Bryant, without the ring and with the T.  I hate him because he sings ridiculous songs, songs that I cannot name and songs that I cannot hum. Bro-Country songs. I don’t know any of his songs. He throws his voice when he sings, like he’s trying to be someone else, like he’s trying to sing anonymously.  He’s a country Elvis, which is not to take any shots at the real Elvis who also sang a bit of country. I hate him because of his name and because of his voice but mostly because I don’t like the way his album cover looks whenever when of his songs cycles into my Pandora. I can’t Thumbs Down fast enough. So there, I hate Luke Bryan for no real reason, but for all of the other ones. Ceasing pettiness was not one of my 2016 resolutions.

But Luke Bryan has a song on the radio where he tells us that 60 seconds felt more like 30, and that is something I can agree with. 2016 is over and it flew by.  This year, the year that was so hated by the media, so hated by Memes, so difficult for so many reasons, was a pretty good year to be Dave Curry in Lake Geneva. It wasn’t without difficulty and stress, and there’s a headache that I now get that doesn’t let go for a few days at a time, but on balance the year was a terrific year. For all of the celebrity deaths in 2016, every member of my immediate or extended family made it from the first day to this, nearly the last day.  Perhaps this was because the year passed so quickly, in record time, and because of that no one really found the time to die.

On the business side of 2016, it could not have been better.  A good year in real estate is wonderful, but it’s so fleeting it’s hard not to find some discouragement in the face of all the delight.  I started selling real estate in 1996 when I was just a kid.  While my friends went off to college, I just drove a half mile from home to a real estate office and sat there wondering what I should do. I was intimidated by the sound of a ringing phone.  Once I decided that on fall Sundays there would be women shopping at the store next to my office, and the men must be sitting in their cars impatiently waiting for their wives to buy something with Lake Geneva written on it or carved into it. I thought the men would be bored and might want to watch the Bear’s game. This was back when people wanted to watch the Bears play. So I found a half sheet of plywood and scratched “BEARS GAME ON INSIDE” onto it and faced it towards the road. I turned on the tube television and adjusted the rabbit ears to get the least snowy signal I could. No one ever came inside, and that was a terrible, awful idea.

From those days in 1996 until the end of 2009, I sold around $50MM in real estate. All the while I had a family and houses and mortgages and insurance payments and bills for ads in local newspapers that never worked.  That tally matters, because those were the years where I learned what to do and how to act. I learned what to say. I learned how to fail. I learned the market and the roads and the associations and the way the water looks in the morning as it laps against the rocky point where Fontana meets Williams Bay. Those were the years that mattered more than these years. I’m humbled to write it, and uncertain as to why it happened and sheepishly proud that it did:  My 2016 sales volume was in excess of $62MM. Over the last 12 months I sold more real estate than I did in my first 14 years.

I became so accustomed to working from behind, to thriving as underdog, to wishing for some success that I had no business expecting, that now I feel a bit awkward here. I hear the praise from people I know and from others I don’t, and I don’t know exactly what to make of it. $62MM, after all, is a Walworth County all-time record, and a number that leaves my nearest single agent competitor with less than half of that volume.  I was thrilled to represent either the buyer or seller in 10 of the 26 lakefront closings during 2016, and sold 5 of the 6 lakefronts that closed over $3.9MM.  Per MLS (1/1/16-12/30/16 Walworth County sales), my personal volume was more than the 37 agent @Properties office in Lake Geneva, nearly double the production of the entire Rauland office, roughly quadruple the production of the entire D’Aprile Fontana office, and more than any individual office in Walworth County excepting one. I kind of hate writing all that, but I spent fourteen years being told that the small office can’t be as effective as the large office, so I can’t really waste this opportunity.

Does this mean I’m somehow at the top of this game? Does this mean I have no where to go but down, to slowly fade away as someone who was once pretty good at something but no longer subscribed to the process that brought him there? It seems as though this could be the case, that I might indeed just stall here at this lofty height and realize I never learned to land. But the reality of it is I know this success has very little to do with me. I know I’ve been blessed. And I know that without clients and customers trusting me for their Lake Geneva decisions I would mean nothing to the Lake Geneva market.

So today I thank you for your loyalty. I thank you for reading this drivel. I thank you for recognizing that many days and weeks I have nothing really to write about, but I try to do it anyway. I thank you for trusting in a kid from Williams Bay, who never aspired to do very much but always wanted to matter. I thank you for helping my business grow. Where it goes from here I can’t say, but I know it’s a struggle to stay at the top of anything, no matter the profession and no matter the year. I’ll keep trying, I’ll keep working, and I’ll be here if you need anything. If I’m your agent already, a most sincere thank you. If I’m not your agent yet, this is me begging.

Here’s to us, to Lake Geneva, and to a new year with more time spent at the lake.

640 Linden Sells

640 Linden Sells

Earlier this year, I sold a house on Harvard Avenue in Glenwood Springs. It was a decent old house, but more old than decent. It was the sort of house that one family loved for generations, the old bathroom and tiny kitchen quaint reminders of a time long since passed. But new buyers lack the nostalgia that makes old carpeting and small kitchens seem desirable, and so the house lingered on the market for quite some time. Eventually, the house sold because the price succumbed to the market. I sold that charming old house with the small kitchen and  private pier for $535,000 in May.

Yesterday, I sold another old house with private pier on Harvard Avenue in Glenwood Springs. This address was on Linden but the house faced Harvard, and the lake, and so it was more Harvard than Linden no matter what the address rigidly insisted. The house had been lovingly embraced by the same family for generations, much like the other house.  This house had a high pedigree, original old floors, a huge fireplace in the great room, an ample and right screened porch. When I first toured that home with the owner, I saw that fireplace and I saw that porch and I knew that the home would sell.

I listed it for $899k in the fall, and then I told you about it and I told you it would sell. Yesterday, I sold the house for $871,250. The sale, nice for the market, nice for the seller, nice for the new buyer. It’s a nice house, and a terrifically rare example of a well kept vintage home. It was a house that I was proud to market, proud to show, proud to close. The buyer of the other Harvard house, the one I sold in May for $535k, well, he liked the price, too.

Glenwood Springs is a fun association, and for all of its cramped nature and congested lakefront, there’s a feeling that accompanies a summer visit to that old association. It’s a feeling that you can’t quite explain, one you can’t quite understand. It’s a feeling of something old, something trusted, something that feels unique and rare because it is. Glenwood Springs isn’t the only lake access association that evokes that feeling, but it’s one of the associations that accomplishes that with the least amount of effort. In that, a lake house in Glenwood Springs is something that we can all appreciate.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I heard a radio commercial this morning. “The Holidays are for making memories with friends and family”.  I believe the commercial was for AT&T, but I wasn’t really paying attention after I heard that initial statement. That’s because that statement that most would take as being acceptable and perhaps even warm, is objectively false.  I may have been the only person to hear that message and take offense to it, but that’s because I live in a world where we have plenty of opportunity to make memories with friends and family, and the Holidays isn’t one of them.

Am I supposed to fondly remember my grandfather stumbling into a support pole in my uncle’s basement? Ah, Christmas! Or do I need to remember my father falling asleep in his chair while reruns of A Christmas Story play on TNT? Or do I cast my memory back to sitting on my Grandma May’s green patterned carpet while watching the Bulls play the Lakers on Christmas Day? These are not the memories I will hold dear.

I’d rather remember my Grandpa Curry holding up a largemouth bass on the front lawn of my parent’s house. Smiling with his catch, holding the bass high for all to see, even though through this memory I now see that the bass was merely 14″ and was hardly a trophy at all, let alone a legal fish to keep and eat. I’d rather remember the rare occasion when my Grandma May would sit on the pier with her large sunglasses and marvel at the scenery. How different it was for her than the farm in Princeton, and how rare it was for me to see her in a place that was at once so familiar to me and unfamiliar to her.  That’s where I differ from the ad writers for AT&T. I don’t make memories on Christmas, I recount the memories that were made at the lake.

For now, a most Merry Christmas to you and your family. A Happy Hanukkah if that’s the applicable celebration. I’m supremely grateful that you read this gibberish as often as you do, and even more grateful to those buyers and sellers who trust me with their Lake Geneva real estate decisions. This weekend you can try to make memories with your friends and family, and if you don’t have a lake house, I suppose that’s really your only option. But if you have a lake house, then use this weekend to remember the fantastic times you had last summer, and anxiously anticipate the better lake times that are yet to come. I’ll be off Friday and Monday, back next Wednesday. Starting in January, I’ll recap each individual market segment with a year end review, so we both have that to look forward to. Have a wonderful weekend.

Eagles

Eagles

The Eagles don’t belong to us. They fly here, they fly around, and then they fly away. They don’t visit while we boat, and they don’t visit while we swim. They never get to see the green shore and the smallmouth when they crash through the surface feeding on Emerald Shiners. They never see the carp splash in the shallows while they spawn against the rocky shore. They miss the fields turning from green to gold, from gold to tan, from tan to gray. They miss the sweetcorn sending out their tassels, and they miss the harvest. The planting, missed, too.

The Eagles come with the cold, riding down from the north, from those lakes where they fish and those rivers that they watch. They fly in on the cold currents and they circle overhead for most of a season. They circle my office, they circle your house, they circle the water and they wait. They’re cold and they’re ruthless and it’s minus ten this morning and they don’t even care. They’re waiting for the ice and they’re hoping it hurries. They don’t want to stay here for long, though if they were more discerning they’d wait to see what the piers look like and what the boats do and how the sun rises and sets on a summer day.

But they won’t be here and they don’t care, because they’re here to eat and they’re not our friends. The Coots visit now, too, and like so many arctic birds that stop here for a spell, they stay longer than they probably should. We can’t blame them, these small running-on-water-birds, because they stay longer when they like a place. Just like us. And so the Coots stay and the lake freezes and the Coots huddle into tighter and tighter circles. It’s when they huddle and the Eagles know the timing is right, that they’ve finally found what they’ve been waiting for. That the ice has formed and the Coots have huddled and the air is cold and the piers are stacked, each on their lawn, waiting.

The Eagles see the birds and they see the ice and they know it’s time, and so they circle overhead and they dive down like fighter pilots on a strafing run and they eat and they eat. They rip the Coots from the water, one by one, plucking them off like me milling around the waiter with the chilled shrimp tray at a party where no one feels comfortable enough to eat too many. No one but me, and the Eagles. They grab a small arctic bird and fly to the nearest Oak, or Walnut, or Maple, and they rip it to pieces in a hurry. Then, once the feathers and the bones have fallen to the ground the Eagle goes again, circling and circling before diving. The feast will last as long as the Coots huddle in whatever open spot of water might be left.

It’s that time again, and the Eagles are here. The Coots came first, but the Eagles will be the last to leave. And then it’ll just be us, the sturdy ones who don’t mind the winter, the ones who know that after winter we’ll get to put our piers back in and then everything will be alright.

Lackey Lane Sells

Lackey Lane Sells

At one point earlier this year, there were three homes for sale on Lackey Lane. Lackey, in case you haven’t the pleasure of wandering down that lane before, is a dead end street with a handful of homes on it to the west of the Birches. The street is unique in this market. It’s a dead end, which is always a positive here as it makes it more awkward for strangers to commit to a wandering, gawking drive.  The lakefront is level, the location on the lake creating a slight bay that keeps aggressive boaters at bay. There is little I don’t like about this street. Little not to celebrate. And that’s why there were three homes available earlier this year and as of today there are none, and I’ve sold them all.

First, the beautiful home at W3818 Lackey. I sold that home in June for $4.275MM, and what a home it was. The new owner is happy there, which makes me happy, and the street, though it possessed a history of selling in the threes, had a print in the low $4s that it needed. This print is important as it shows there is a path to value in that range, and the few tear downs that remain on the street now had an angle. Buy one for $2MM or less, build a new home for $2MM or so, and you’ll be secure in your value. This seems easy to do, but it’s not as easy on this lake as you might think.

Next, I sold the small brick ranch on 100 level front feet at W3846 for $1.91MM. Again, the value makes complete and utter sense, and not only when you consider that price per foot is just $19,000. The street can support built value, and if you’ll drive down that lane today you’ll see the foundation of a new build where the old Arlington Heights ranch had previously stood.  That was a nice sale, a  terrific value, and a new place on the lake for a long time Lake Geneva family.

Yesterday, I knocked over the last Lackey domino of 2016. W3852 Lackey closed for $1.925MM, to a delightful young family who saw what the prior family saw: opportunity to grab rare land at a very attractive price. The street now will do one of two things. It’ll either quiet down while the new owners make their mark in that dirt and along that shore, or it’ll see another offering or two as existing owners who may have an eye towards a someday sale see the value and demand that is obvious on their quiet little lane.

Coincidentally, two other lakefronts closed yesterday. One in the dead center of the Narrows, that of an older house with unremarkable attributes and a 100′ lakefront lot. That closed for $2.485MM. The other closing was in the same neighborhood as these others, but this home was immediately adjacent to a very busy boat launch. I can change out an old sink if I don’t like it. I can buy a new range if I want a shinier model. I can lay hardwood where there is now carpet. I can nail on shingles where there was vinyl. I can do lots of things to my new lakefront house, but something I can never, ever do is move a boat launch. $2.899MM was the print for a home with shiny finishes and a municipal launch for a neighbor. These sales bring the lakefront sold tally (MLS) to 25 for 2016, and I’m proud to say I’ve been involved on either the buy or sell side (or both) in 10 of those 25. That’s not bad for a kid from Williams Bay.

To the new owners on Lackey, a big congratulations. I’m never unaware of the reality of my business. I can sell lots of homes one year and very few the next. I could do this work for another decade and find success, or I could be cast aside as an insignificant blowhard who writes about Christmas trees and my grandmothers and pontoon boats. I understand that buyers and seller alike have myriad choices for representation in this market, and I’m always grateful to those customers and clients who choose me as their agent. I’d like to think I’m a bit more fun to work with, and I’d like to think I have better insight into the market (I’m actually certain of it, but humility), but mostly I’m just happy that my sale yesterday represented incredible and lasting value, and in that, I’m content.

Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees

In the 1980s, Christmas trees were not especially easy to find. They had trees at the wood boat shop on Highway 50, and then some more trees a ways down that same road, near the cemetery. But we couldn’t go there because those trees were too expensive. The trees were from the north, maybe Canada, and they were pricey. Thirty-five dollars or more.  When my friends would put their Christmas trees up just after Thanksgiving we were not always so fortunate.  The trees were too expensive then, my dad knew that. Why buy a tree when they’re in demand when the real deal only comes to those who wait out mostly all of the season?

And so often we’d wait, wait for the prices to fall. Wait until November 1st to carve a pumpkin, wait till Thanksgiving morning to buy that turkey, and wait until Christmas was nearly here to buy that tree. The tree sellers would know, after the fifteenth of December, that the regular folks who valued trees and tradition would have already chopped, hauled, and decorated their trees. After the fifteenth, the trees must be discounted, because when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve, those thirty-five dollar trees are nothing but firewood. But worse, they’re the sort of firewood that you have to haul away before burning.

Some years, we’d get that tree early. Twenty dollars for the six footer from the Boy Scouts, but rarely from them because that was retail and retail wasn’t our thing. Mostly we’d wait, and we’d wait, and when it was nearly Christmas we’d go get that tree. A thirty-five dollar tree for fifteen, now that’s the way to make a Christmas cheery and bright. Some years, a twenty-fiver for free. My mother would decorate the tree and my father would put his expensive German train around the base of his nearly free tree,  and my brothers and I would feel the relief of a Christmas saved.

This year, I bought my tree where I have for the past three. The tree farm down the road from my North Walworth house. This year, I drove my Gator into the field, surveyed the live inventory,  selected the finest Frasier Fir I could find, and unceremoniously sawed it down. My son and I loaded the tree into the undersized Gator bed, and drove it down the road, the top of the tree brushing against the pavement, the base of the tree narrowly missing the streetside mailboxes. $105.50 for that fine specimen, and just a week after Thanksgiving.