Blog : Indian Hills

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

It’s well known and generally accepted that anyone with a lakefront budget will wish for lakefront. There were some people who lived up the road from my parents’ lakefront house in Williams Bay. Those people would tell me how they were glad they didn’t live on the lake. Too much noise from the boats, the waves, the sound of all that enjoyment. They preferred, they said, to live away from the lake, where it’s quiet. Where the lapping or crashing of the waves cannot find them. I remember that even as a young child I knew those people were lying. No one would prefer to be off the lake, and if a budget allows and the aim is true, then lakefront is the result. Or is it?

The upper end of our lake access market is unique in the flexibility such a budget might afford. A lakefront buyer with a budget up to $2MM might very well, and usually will, choose lakefront. But what will that lakefront be? Will it usually be nice? Will it be large? Will it afford privacy? Well, no, not usually.  The concept applies to those with lower lake home budgets as well. If you’re a $1.2MM buyer, I can typically find you lakefront. But will that lakefront be a beautiful house with two car garage and a pool? Of course it won’t. It’ll be a cottage, with some questionable structural supports and tight neighbors. But for $1.2MM an off-water buyer can find something quite unique. They can find a boatslip, maybe a view, maybe privacy, maybe a pool, maybe five bedrooms. This is why even when market segments overlap within the same price boundaries, many buyers will opt off water in order to gain something the on-water home cannot offer.

In 2017, the upper bracket lake access market experienced a strong influx of buyer traffic and closed the year with a significant volume total. 2017 closed 27 off-water homes priced over $500,000. That’s a huge number, but what’s most remarkable is the presence of liquidity in the $900k and above segment.  This lofty segment closed nine homes, including two in the $1.5MM range.  During 2016, the same segment closed 22 properties, with just five selling for more than $900k.

Thirteen of those 27 homes sold with transferable boat slips. Two of the sales were in our co-op communities, one in the Congress Club for $1.53MM and one in Belvedere Park for $564k. There were no public sales in the Harvard Club for 2017. Associations with volume in this segment included Geneva Oaks, Cedar Point Park, Country Club Estates, Indian Hills, Oakwood Estates, Black Point, The Lindens, Knollwood, The Loch Vista Club, Sybil Lane, Oak Shores, The Lake Geneva Club, Forest Rest, Maytag and Sylvan Trail Estates. That’s some widespread activity, and the market should be pleased for producing such strong volume.  Oddly,  there wasn’t a single residential MLS sale in this segment in Glenwood Springs last year.

Most of these sales made good sense to me. I was involved in six of these 27 sales, which means that at least six of the sales made perfect sense to me. Of the other sales, I was surprised at a few of them, including an off-water home with no slip that sold north of $1MM. Another shocker, at least to me, was the sale of a hilltop home in Fontana that closed over $1.5MM and was subsequently torn down.  That property lacked a slip, but the lake view is, as a point of fact, one of the best off-water views I’ve ever seen.

I was asked this week what I thought would be the better buy with a $1MM budget: an on-water cottage or an off-water home. I admitted I’d always look lakefront first, but I would consider a larger lot off-water, so long as I had a boat slip and was located in a high quality neighborhood (think Black Point, Lindens, Glen Fern, Loramoor, 700 Club). In those settings, I would happily consider off-water to be a near equal trade off. This segment today is light on inventory, as is the rest of the vacation home market. Just 16 off-water homes are available priced in excess of $500k. Of these available properties, my favorite is the modern home (my listing) on  South Lakeshore Drive that’s been reduced to $1.095MM. This is a lot of house in a rare location, and while it’s off-water it feels like a private lakefront home. It’s unique, but it’s a winner.

This particular segment is heavily influenced by overlapping lakefront inventory, which is, at the moment, similarly low in inventory. If entry level lakefront properties continue to be difficult to source, and the off-water market in the $900k-$1.8MM range provides some nice options, expect this market to benefit. If you’re a buyer in search of a lake house around the million dollar mark, I’m here to help.

Above, an idyllic cottage I sold this summer in the Lake Geneva Club.
2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

That’s a mouthful. I’m sure there’s a better way to say it for search engine optimization, but the market is best defined in that way.  The market isn’t particularly flashy. It won’t make any headlines. It won’t be in Crain’s or in Architectural Digest. But the entry level lake access market is the market that’s as important as any other here. These are the homes available to people who have enough fiscal power to make a vacation home a reality, but don’t have lakefront budgets.  For the purposes of this post, this segment remains at $500,000 and under.

All of these 2017 market reviews are going to tell similar stories. It’s all about inventory. About volume. And about how the inventory is either going to build and feed the market or shrivel and starve it. Today, there are just 12 homes priced under $500k with access to Geneva Lake. Remember, these are not municipal access homes- these are private, club style access points.  These are the associations you know, the associations that can offer a path to the lake, a park, a pier, a diving board, maybe some summertime geraniums in pots.

Those 12 homes vary wildly, just as this market varies. A $200k cottage in Country Club Estates is not at all like a $500k home in Country Club Estates. A small cottage in Oak Shores with a slip for $450k isn’t much dissimilar to a small cottage without a slip in Cedar Point Park, except that the Cedar Point cottage will be 50% cheaper. This is a market that I’ve gladly served for two decades, and it’s a market that hinges on a very important question: Do you want a nice house or do you want to be close to the lake?  You cannot choose both.

For the year just ended, we sold 61 lake access homes of all makes and models, priced under $500k.  The 2016 total was 56, so we’re heading in the right direction.  Just three of those homes had transferable boat slips, proving how hard it is to find a slip in this segment. Perhaps best of all, I personally sold all three of those homes. Why did I sell those homes? Well, because I know how valuable a boat slip is. I know owning a home here is wonderful, but if all you really want is to hang out on a pier and boat, then you’re going to be miserable in your off-water slip-less home, even if it has some stone counters and a master bathroom.

The key to understanding this segment comes back to that bold question about proximity. That drives this particular market more than anything. You can buy a nice house in Country Club Estates for $500k. It won’t be remarkably close to the lake. Or you could buy a small cottage in Knollwood for $500k that might be 900′ from the water. Which do you value? Do you want to walk down to the pier in the morning to cast your line a few times, motivated by the hope that something might bight? Or would you rather sit on your screened porch, reading a book thinking about where fish fry will be on Friday night? Answer those questions, and you’ll have a clear direction for your pursuit.

2018 should be just like 2017. Inventory is terrible now, yes, but it won’t be that way forever. This market might be more sensitive to the new tax law, but if inventory builds there’s nothing stopping 2018 from falling in the 2016/2017 volume range. Prices are increasing, albeit modestly. Value still exists here, and I’ll be here to help you find it.

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. 

 

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

The year is young now, but not so young that we can’t judge it.  One year old children are young, so young that we shouldn’t judge them. But two year olds? Judge away. The market is now in its second month, and with a lifespan of only 12, our market is as a 7 year old, and we know very well that we can judge 7 year olds. If a kid is fantastically smart and sweet as a 7 year old, chances are that behavior will stick through his or her life. If the 7 year old is horrible, mean and ornery, we can, sadly, assume that this 7 year old will grow to be a horrible, mean and ornery adult.  The 2016 Lake Geneva real estate market is old enough now that we must judge it.

January was not a kind month to my biotech heavy portfolio, in fact, it was ruthless and homicidal. The year started with big index declines, and continued in this most miserable lower for longer pattern. The good news might be that the bottom seems to have held for now, so buyers have not been scared away in the same way that they would have if we remained in that free fall. Most segments are doing just fine today, with individual markets performing better than others. Remember, cheap oil means your portfolio looks awful and you won’t be retiring on time,  but never underestimate the life affirming power of $1.49 gasoline.

I had a closing last month in Geneva National. GN, as you may recall, had a fantastic 2015. The carry over has not yet been evident. Today, GN has the rare condition of owning 71 market offerings (single family and condominium) but not a single showing as under contract. I have little doubt that something is under contract there, but the MLS isn’t yet reflecting that. That’s rare, that’s odd, and it’s not good. Sellers in GN who entered 2016 thinking that things have been completely healed should rethink that supposition. The market is better, yes, but if a particular seller has not yet succumbed to the pricing realities that cemented in 2015, then don’t expect buyers to be rewarding GN with liquidity in the way they did last year. GN, pay attention and don’t get smug just yet. YTD Grade: D

Abbey Springs has somewhat high inventory at the moment, with 36 offerings. The good news for AS is that they also have at least five of those properties under contract. If GN boasted a similar ratio, we’d see 10 GN properties under market at the moment and everyone would proclaim the market as hot, hot, hot (Disclaimer: Many agents do this regardless).  Abbey Springs has just one single family home under contract, that of a reasonably nice home on Saint Andrews listed at $699k. It’ll be interesting to see if 2016 delivers some upper bracket buyers in Abbey Springs. That didn’t happen in 2015, but we’ll see if ample inventory provides a few of those rare $800k+ buyers to Abbey Springs. YTD Grade: A-

The lakefront condo market on Geneva has, since its heyday of 1998-2006,  stalled. Spurts of volume here and there do not heal a market particularly well. But alas, prices in this segment never cratered in the way that the residential lakefront market did, which always perplexed me. If you’ll remember back then, I was perpetually wondering why there weren’t more foreclosures in the lakefront condo segment. I was happy there weren’t, but still surprised. Today the lakefront market has some nice movement, with a bit of aged inventory in Fontana Shores under contract and a townhouse in Somerset that just closed this morning for $725k. Inventory remains light in this segment, which is good. The lakefront condo market chokes on inventory. So far, so good. YTD Grade: B

The lake access market surrounding Geneva is off to a quick start, with five properties pending sale today. A few new ones- a contract with buyer of mine on a Glenwood Springs property, and a new contract on an off-water home in Cedar Point. That home is listed for $825k. It’s a charming home, but off-water with no slip and a somewhat limited cottage design. It had sold previously in 2007 for $1.15MM. That was a peak price, and then some. Other pending properties are in the lower reaches, including on in Indian Hills in the $400s, and three more under $250k in Country Club Estates and Cedar Point Park. YTD Grade: B

Lastly, the king, the lakefront market itself. Inventory is tragically low, with just 23 true lakefront homes listed (and four vacant lots, including two that are my listings- Loramoor $2.34MM and North Shore Drive $4.475MM). Of those 23, six have contracts. That’s really quite remarkable, so let that sink in for a bit. Out of 600 or so lakefronts on Geneva, just 17 homes are for sale. If you think you’ve found an exclusive market somewhere in some mountain town, I assure you we belly laugh at your exclusivity. Pending today is the small odd home in Knollwood ($1.125MM). That home is proof that if you just wait forever and keep dropping your price, you’ll sell. Dartmouth Woods is pending ($1.35MM), and that’s a nice little place that I like quiet a bit. A newer build on LaGrange is pending just over $2MM. If you don’t know the house, it’s the one that sits in the shadow of Vista Del Lago.

Bonnie Brae has a pending sale in the low $2s, and once that closes we’ll have seen a rather significant turn over on that Snake Road street. In the past several years, the market has closed three other lakefronts on that short road, with this pending ranch about to become the fourth. That’s nice to see, as new owners generally undertake some level of beautification of the home, and the market benefits.  In the upper reaches, the old brick home in Williams Bay formerly known as Towering Elms (until Dutch Elm Disease killed them all) is pending with a $3.85MM ask. Expect that home to be knocked down once closed. Finally, I have my sale on Lackey Lane in the mid $4s pending to  buyer whom I’m proud to represent.  YTD Grade: A-

One small lakefront closed last month, that of the skinny lot on Outing, just to the West of George Williams. For $800k, a buyer snuck onto the lake. It’s a curious property sure, but it’s $800k and that, is that. The lakefront market won’t be making an encore of the 2015 volume totals if this inventory stays low.  I have some exciting lakefronts coming to market in the near future, and I expect other agents have their own off-market properties on their radars.  The South Shore Club continues to be absent a single offering, which means that club won’t be lending too much to our inventory totals unless there’s a sudden influx of inventory, which I’m betting there won’t be.

For now, so far, so good. No after school tutoring or behavioral sessions necessary for our little seven year old.

 

It’s Lake Geneva’s Winterfest Weekend, so please do come to the lake if you like cool things, like snow sculptures. It’s a really great weekend. If you’re planning on waiting in line for brunch tomorrow, you can do so much better.