Blog : Bonnie Brae

Bonnie Brae Boathouse

Bonnie Brae Boathouse

For each of us, there is something unique in our story, some important event in our past, or in the past of our parents, or our grandparents, or our great aunts and uncles, that led us to this place.  For the Ryerson Family, the events were rather curious. As the Great Chicago Fire raced through the city, decimating businesses, destroying homes, killing indiscriminately and ruining lives, there was but one large city lumberyard spared from the carnage: The lumberyard owned by the Ryerson Family. When the rebuilding process began, one family was prepared to supply those efforts. And when the ash settled and the city was restored, the Ryerson Family had not only played a major role in those efforts, they were rewarded with lasting riches.

Martin Ryerson was the son of the lumberyard owner, and as a son of privilege he attended CPS before ultimately graduating from Harvard Law School. At age 25, he was married and working his law practice, content in his city life. At age 34, his father died, leaving him the family business and making him one of the richest men in Chicago. His interest in education and civic matters led him to help found the University of Chicago, where he played a key roll in the design of the campus and served for decades on the board. The Ryerson Physics Laboratory still operates to this day. Due to his involvement with the University, he visited Lake Geneva to tour the brand new Yerke’s Observatory. After that visit to the lake he was hooked, and the same year purchased the property that would become known as Bonnie Brae (Pretty Hillside). At one point, the estate measured  nearly 100 acres and possessed more than 1200 feet of lakefrontage on the north shore.  If you think impulse buys are some sort of new thing, created by our impatient generation, Martin Ryerson would quickly disagree.

A year after purchasing the property and initiating a large scale, multi-building construction project, Martin turned his attention to the water and hired the Racine Boat Company to build his 72′ steam yacht.  At the time, the residents of Geneva would take the train from the city to the lake, and board their elegant steam powered yachts which would chauffeur the owners to their lakefront homes.  Hathor, one of a small handful of original steamers still on Geneva to this day, played host to elite society, including Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone, and a fairly well known impressionist painter by the name of Claud Monet.

With the addition of Hathor, Martin was in need of a place to store her, so he built a boathouse at the water’s edge, to the West of the main house, on a remarkably level section of lakefront.   For the next 34 years, the Ryerson’s would spend their fanciful lives traveling, building up the cultural scene of Chicago, and relaxing lakeside at their Bonnie Brae.   It was at the lake where Ryerson would die, at the age of 75.  Upon his death, 90 percent of his wealth was given away to the Field Museum, The Chicago Art Institute, and his cherished University of Chicago. Some time later, the large estate was divided, and one four acre parcel with 185′ of level frontage and a deeply wooded hillside was assigned to his original boathouse.

Over the years, the boathouse was renovated into a single family home. Additions over recent years made for a proper master suite.  An extra garage was built for storage. Bathrooms were updated with marble. Today, the original Bonnie Brae boathouse, with that long wooded drive off of Snake Road,  is offered for sale. $3,895,000 for 185 feet of frontage, 4.3+ acres of fabulous depth, and a 4,742 square foot house that is one of the last remaining boathouses on Geneva Lake. Martin Ryerson was friends with Monet and the Rockefellers. He studied in Paris and London. He founded universities and lasting civic institutions. But most of all he was just a guy who loved spending time at the lake, swimming off his pier and bragging about the speed of his boat. Today,  you can own his boathouse, and you’d be wise to act as quickly as he did in 1897.

 

Lake Geneva Market Pricing

Lake Geneva Market Pricing

One easy way to gauge the strength of a market is to look at those homes that are under contract and consider their market history. Some would look only to the active listings, then to the pending listings, then to the sold listings, and they’d add up the numbers for each segment, divide by 12, carry the 1, and tell you, definitively, that the market is either healthy or weak. This is how Case Schiller works. Look at the active listings, add them up. Look at the sold listings, add them up. Compare those numbers to the year or the quarter before, and proclaim a market on the rise or in decline. This is fine for national sorts, but this isn’t acceptable for those who wish to know more about a local market and to understand it on a deeper level.

This morning, the MLS shows eight lake access or lakefront properties listed as under contract (a few more under pending), though I know it to be nine because I have one under contract that isn’t on the open market. Of those marketed eight, the prices range from $149,000 to $4,575,000. If we’re market glancers, we’ll see this spread and assume that the entire breadth of the market is active, but we’re not glancers, we’re diggers. Let’s consider that $149k house in Cedar Point Park. That’s a a price that seems to me to be reasonable no matter the condition of the house, which is a good thing, because this condition is not terrific.  Did the house just hit the market at $149k and then sell immediately? Nope. It actually came to market in October of 2015 for $189k, and was subsquently reduced until it found its buyer.

The other pending sale in Cedar Point Park is of a lake view home on Bayview. Listed at $825k, it’s a nice looking cottage style home with some significant upgrades, located just one house off the lake with a pleasing water view. It’s a good house, and I like it quite a bit. It’s just to the South of that ridiculously lovely home on Wilmette that I sold a few years ago. This $825k home is pending, but what path did it take to get there? It sold for $1,150,000 in 2007, during our market peak. It came to market in March of 2015 for $995k, and the market yawned. The price was dropped to $825k and there’s a buyer.  This property is important because it proves my burgeoning point about market pricing, and it should serve as a reminder that 2007 pricing is not 2016 pricing. If you were thinking it was, shame on you.

Oriole Lane has an odd little lakefront just East of the Knollwood Park. Listed at $1,125,000, it’s a cheap entry level lakefront. Did it present to the market and sell quickly, without hesitation, because it was cheap and the frontage level and the quirks of the house easily overlooked? Don’t be so naive. It came to market in 2013 for $1,495,000, before facing systematic reductions and settling at the new asking price of $1,125,000 last fall. Now it’s under contract. An entry level in Dartmouth Woods listed at $1,450,000 was brought on in the winter of 2015. It didn’t sell. Then the price dropped to $1,350,000 and the charming lake house is pending sale.

There’s a lakefront pending sale on LaGrange listed at$2,125,000. It’s a nice, newer home, even if it’s in the shadow of Vista Del Lago, and it’s under contract and that’s fine. It came to market in January of 2015 for $2,149,000. The lakefront on Bonnie Brae is pending with an ask of $2,431,000. It came to market in March of 2014 for an absurd $4,300,000.  The large brick lakefront on Conference Point is pending sale at $3,850,000. It first appeared in January of 2015 for $3,950,000.

The Lackey Lane lakefront that I have pending with a buyer whom I’m super happy to represent came to market for $5,275,000 in August of 2015. It’s now priced at $4,575,000 and pending sale. It’s a nice lakefront, pending around replacement value, and it makes sense. Did it make sense at $5,275,000? Did the Bonnie Brae house make sense at $4,300,000? Did Oriole at $1,495,000 look appetizing? Did the little cottage in Cedar Point for $189k interest the market? These are the rhetorical questions that prove our market loves price reductions. There’s a theory floating that says if you list cheap you’ll sell quickly. This is true, but who wishes to list cheap and blow their house out the door within a few days of listing it? Some people do, depending on circumstance and motivation, but this is not the norm in a luxury market. Houses hit the market, then the market responds. Smart sellers listen to what the market is telling them and they adjust their prices accordingly. At Geneva, these eight pending sales offer the proof: If you want to sell you’ll list, listen, reduce, then close.