Blog : Fontana Club

2017 Lakefront Condo Market Review

2017 Lakefront Condo Market Review

By now, everyone knows the Stone Manor story. Not the Otto Young story, mind you, because he’s old news. The new news is the news we like, because we’re Americans. The news is, as you know, that a buyer has bought up Stone Manor, that famed limestone manse on our eastern shore. The building has been lots of things since it was first built some 120 years ago, but most of us know it either as an old French restaurant or as the condominiums that it has most recently been. Today, it’s still a  condominium, but not really. There are seven units in the building, and all but one are under the same ownership.  The volume created by those 2017 condo sales is not something we’ll count in our year end figures, because the sales were direct, and the circumstance obviously unique. Stone Manor, we hardly knew you.

Now that the Stone Manor bit is out of the way, let’s consider the real lakefront condo market.  That is, those two and three bedroom condominiums that measure between 1200 and 1500 square feet. Those are the meat and potatoes of this market, and really of every condo market everywhere. Vacation condos follow similar designs- two bedrooms, maybe three, a small kitchen and open living room. Maybe a balcony, or a deck, which are the same thing except one feels like it has to be made out of wood, the other out of stone, concrete or steel. Still, condominiums are similar here and they’re similar there, and in fact they’re similar everywhere.

Lake Geneva condominiums have, as you well know, been lagging the overall vacation home market. I’ve suggested many theories as to why this may be, but I admit I’m not particularly sold on any of them. The lakefront condo is simply not as prized as it once was. But that’s not to say it doesn’t matter. For 2017, we sold 12 lakefront condominiums ranging in price from $302,500 for a Geneva Towers two bedroom, to a four bedroom at Eastbank for $1,212,500. I should add that I blew that Eastbank sale by sending the prospective seller emails to the wrong email address. This is my shame. Of these 12 condominiums, I sold just one of them- the two bedroom at the Fontana Club that printed $390k.

The 12 sales are fine. There’s nothing fancy about these sales. But there’s nothing lacking, either. They’re just sales. The prices have stalled, this is undebatable. Consider the Fontana Club unit that I sold for $390k was originally sold (by this kid) for $393k back in 2001. I was so young then, so healthy, so full of optimism. So was the Fontana Club. Then, at the height of the condo market a mere five years later, this two bedroom unit was likely valued around $600k. Fast forward to December when the unit sold again for a price below that of its original sale in 2001. That’s awful, but it’s a sign of the times for the lakefront condo market.

In all, five units sold at Geneva Towers, one in the Old Boatyard Condominiums ($689k- behind Harbor Watch in Lake Geneva), one in Vista Del Lago ($350k), one in Fontana Shores ($510k), one in Fontana Club ($390k), and two in Bay Colony ($550k/$476k). That’s a fine sales tally, ahead of the eight sales of 2016, and ahead of the 2014 and 2015 totals as well, if only modestly so. And that brings us to the current state of the market, and what’s next.

Inventory is low in the lakefront condo complexes, and this is a good thing. While I worry that the single family market won’t have enough inventory to spur activity, I’d prefer to see limited inventory in the lakefront condo market. That’s because the prices have sagged, and the only way to pull those priced upward is to limit supply.  The best possible scenario for the lakefront condo market is that 2018 features a handful of sales- no need to match or beat the 2017 sales total. Sell a few condos, keep inventory scarce, and see if demand increases. If the $500k-1.5MM single family vacation home market stays light on inventory, this will likely drive some buyer traffic to the condo market. And if that condo market is even lighter on inventory, this very well may help increase valuations.  That’s exactly what I think will happen this year, and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered for our slowly improving lakefront condo market.

Above, my delightfully stylish lakefront condo at Bay Colony, listed for $899k.
Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

The problem with market updates is that they require some movement in the market before they’ll really make sense. It’s like being a beat writer for a baseball team. If the team plays on a Monday and they lose, you write about the loss. The pitcher was terrible, the star outfielder always hits into double plays, and the fans were generally unhappy. You can say things like the crowd was unruly, or if they were so distraught that they were simply quiet and stunned, you can write that. Then, on a Tuesday the team wins. You can write about redemption, about the struggle of the star outfielder who finally found a gap, and about the pitcher who threw enough strikes, but not too many. The crowd roared and squealed, delighted by the victory. When the game was over and the players had left for the locker room, the crowd sang. It would be fun to be a beat writer for a baseball team.

But I’m not a beat writer for a baseball team, I’m just a beat writer for the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Sometimes, the market soars and we get to delight in that. I like writing about things that are happening, or will soon happen. For instance, my beautiful North Lakeshore estate property ($4.295MM) is selling this week. That’s terrific fun to write that statement. The South Shore Club home that I listed last week is under contract already, and that’s also nice.  But much of the time I’m expected to write about something that is happening, even when nothing is. Certain segments are active today- the lakefront especially so- but certain segments are absolutely terrible. And as long as we’re talking about terrible market segments, let’s spend a few minutes on the Lake Geneva lakefront condo segment.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how great the market used to be. I’m not going to slouch low in my chair and sigh just because I used to be the king of the lakefront condo, and now that title both doesn’t apply and wouldn’t mean anything even if it did.  No one would proclaim to be something that no other person would care about. If someone told me they were the king of lawn chair sitting near the basement entrance to their office, it wouldn’t bother me, but I would question their sanity. So I won’t be telling you about how great the market once was, nor will I be telling you that I was the king, nor will I tell you that I am the king. I’m just a kid who feels sorry for the lakefront condo market on Geneva Lake.

It isn’t that the market is terrible, because it isn’t. It’s just that the market isn’t as active as the similarly priced single family segments that surround it. The condo market has printed four lakefront sales this year. One at Vista Del Lago, one at Fontana Shores, one of a shore sale at Somerset, and one in Geneva Towers. Four sales isn’t horrible, but it certainly isn’t dynamic.  As the single family lake access market in the $300-$700k price range has thrived, the condo market has simply managed to tread water. Perhaps that’s as good as we can hope for, to maintain. Inventory is low, with just a handful of units available today. Some in the usual suspects- Bay Colony, Vista Del Lago, the Fontana Club, Geneva Towers, etc and etc. My fabulous unit at Stone Manor is still available, so if you’re in the market for unique and irreplaceable, I’m your guy. The king of Stone Manor maybe? Or certainly the king of Eastbank, but these are condominiums that play more like single family, and so the market senses that and responds with increased interest.

Perhaps the condo market is being mistreated. Perhaps all of this just isn’t fair. The lakefront condo does, after all, offer a buyer the best opportunity to be on the water, with a view and probably a boatslip, and from $400-$600k that’s something that a single family home cannot offer. Ease of ownership, ease of use, views and slips and no lawn to mow. It all seems quite perfect. But the market isn’t producing lakefront condo buyers like it used to, and until it does, we’ll lament the state of the market until the momentum changes and we can once again find cause to celebrate.