Blog : Inventory

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that we’re in the middle of another Lake Geneva summer.  August is the peak of summer, sure, but it’s not exactly the middle. You could argue that it’s the end. School starts soon. The sun sets earlier and earlier each night. We’re no longer building toward summer, we’re doing our best to hang on to a summer that’s rapidly fading. In spite of our dwindling summer, the real estate market at the lake has given us something to talk about.

June and July were fantastic months for our lakefront and lake access markets. That late June through early July heat and the supporting sun pushed this market into hyperdrive, with contracts piling up like so many rock bass in my Uncle Joe’s five gallon pail. June and July saw five lakefront closings, and ten more lake access sales. The lakefronts that closed included a few bits of aged inventory as well as some new to market listings.

At the top end, the old Born Free Estate closed for $5.35MM. The new owner then promptly sold off a 100′ lot on the East side for $2.75MM.  I’d expect to see a significant renovation of the existing home in the near future.  Another high priced sale occurred on Basswood, that of the Woodhill Estate, which printed at $3.9MM. That’s a reasonable price for that property.  The market had a hard time figuring out if that home was a tear down, but the rumor is the new owner plans to renovate the existing structure.

On the lower end of the lakefront, a home in the Elgin Club closed for $1.245MM, likely a tear down or significant remodel candidate.  In Williams Bay, another home closed on Walworth Avenue where those thin 50′ lots rule the day.  That street featured two sales this year, both in the $1.2MM range, both side by side. I sold those homes back in the very early 2000s. This time around, both homes have sold to the same owner, leaving speculation that both homes might be torn down to make way for one new home. While that buyer is not my client, I’d offer up this unsolicited advice: Don’t do that.

Pending contracts on the lakefront as of this morning include a listing for $2.4MM in the Geneva Manor, a piece of aged inventory in the South Shore Club ($2.795MM) and my listing in Buena Vista on Sylvan ($2.875MM).  I’m guessing the Geneva Manor property will print at a meaningful discount to that lofty ask. With buyer activity at all time highs (far exceeding the activity during the 2005-2008 run), I’d expect to see many more contracts this month on the 17 active lakefront homes.

While these are nice sales and nice new activity, the property that’s on track to shock the market is the lakefront home at 590 S. Lakeshore Drive in Lake Geneva. This listing came to market earlier this summer for $14.5MM, with 210′ of frontage and above grade square footage of 9862 according to the assessor’s office. The property, as of yesterday, is pending sale. I’ll repeat, that property, listed at $14,500,000, is under contract.

I’m betting the property is going to close somewhat close to its asking price.  That’ll make it the highest sale in Lake Geneva history, which will be the third time in the past 24 months that this benchmark has been raised. This magnificent upper bracket run started in the fall of 2016 with my $9,950,000 print of this fabulous Pebble Point home.  The home at 590 has a current assessed value in the $5.75MM range, with a $117k tax bill. Assuming a print in range of the asking price, it won’t be a surprise to see the new owner receive a tax bill in the $250k range. So that’ll be something.

At first blush, this sale is terrific for our market. It further proves that this market has no rival in the Midwest. Other resort markets will gladly take your millions of dollars in exchange for a second rate vacation home experience. Geneva will take your millions and then, when you’re ready for another chapter, give you those millions back. Likely with interest.  Clean water and beautiful homes might be the obvious allure of this area, but liquidity is our greatest asset here, and this sale proves it once again.

But this sale also showcases the premium that our market places on newer construction. This home was not new, but with a completion date of 2009, at least one buyer figured it was new enough. Older homes on the lake that have not had recent updates are punished here, as buyers prefer to either buy new, or build new. That preference opens up a value play for buyers looking to make their mark on these shores, if only they’d be willing to undertake a remodel of an outdated home.

The market is in the middle of a most epic run, but I still see value out there. It’s not found in spiffy fixtures and Wolf ranges. It’s found in the land, in those piers, under that ugly carpet and behind that stupid basement powder room. It’s not obvious to the uninitiated. That’s why I’m here. To help guide the discerning. Consider the text message that I received last Saturday night (I posted this on my Instagram genevalakefrontrealty, which you should be following):

Tonya and I just said… Thank God Dave Curry talked us out of buying all those other stupid homes. Love this place. Hope summer is going well for you and your family.

If you’re in the market, you’ll know it isn’t hard to find a Realtor to talk you into something. That’s what everyone does. The real value that an experienced agent brings to the transaction is not in his or her ability to walk you through a house. My 12 year old daughter could do that, and she’d be terrific at it. The value is in finding an agent who cares enough about your purchase to talk you out of a property. If you need some better advice, let’s talk.

Loramoor Sells

Loramoor Sells

Most of the players in this game are endless and unflappable cheerleaders.  I did this! They say. I’m amazing! Others chime. Such is the business of self promotion. Without this promotion, no one would know anything about any of these players.  Aside from a news article once in a while, no one will spend much time considering your success. In the real business world, this is fine. To quietly go about mining dollars is the preferred way, but alas, the rules of this game do not allow quiet success.

I engage in this self congratulation often. I write this blog to educate and entertain, but also to make sure the reader knows which player in this game is indeed the most meaningful.  Heck, I write a whole magazine dedicated to this market, and as a fortunate aside, this player. Some pose with their real estate signs as though they’re prom dates, others plaster their names on their cars, while others still want to watch you while you grocery shop. No matter the platform, we’re just playing by the rules.

But sometimes, there’s no praise to be given, no praise to be asked for. There’s just a sale and a seller and a buyer, and that’s that. This is what happened last week when I finally closed on my aged listing off of South Lakeshore Drive. I first listed this home two years ago, and throughout that time I asked for listing extensions and price reductions more than I’d like to admit. I worked to sell this house, and ultimately I did sell this house, but I did a miserable job at it.

The market is, by all accounts, back to the prior market peak. In many instances, prices have pushed above that peak. Now consider this house that I just sold. It previously sold during the prior market escalation for $1.5MM and change. I just closed on it last week for $925k. That’s a terrible thing, and while I feel relieved that the property is no longer on the market, I know I was rather unsuccessful in selling this home.

The issue with the home was a complicated one. It wasn’t one issue at all, really. It was the perfect storm of trouble. First, a high prior print to chase. Second, an initial and subsequent list price (with another broker, by the way) that was sky high. After that initial list, the market was lost and the owner spent the next several years chasing buyers in the only way that actually makes a material difference: price reductions.  By the time I took over the market had written the property off, and while I thought I might be able to put some shine on the listing I ultimately failed at doing so. The price of $925k was a reasonable market price, but in this case, the buyer won.

I closed on another property last week, also somewhat of an aged piece of inventory. This was my vacant land listing in Loramoor. The lot was quite lovely, just one home from the water with slight views and proper lake rights through the East Loramoor Association. That lot was on the market for a year or two before closing last week for $625k.  In this market, that sale makes perfect sense. It was a nice market rate, with seller and buyer both doing well for themselves. Why would a buyer buy a home in a cottage neighborhood only to significantly renovate or rebuild it, when they could buy this lot in a high end neighborhood and be surrounded by high priced homes? Expect a new home to be built there soon, one that will likely make proper market sense.

These sales prove one important thing about the state of our market. As the lakefront inventory dries up (the lowest priced true lakefront home available today is my listing on Bluff for $2.145MM), buyers will look off water for reasonable values. If the cheapest lakefront is $2.1MM, it only makes sense that buyers in the low buck range will seek alternatives to sparse lakefront inventory. Expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future, as off-water homes in the $900-$1.7MM range find favor with inventory hungry buyers.

Not The Same

Not The Same

I don’t really know exactly how Hamburger Helper works. I assume it’s just a powder mix, with some starch to bind and some salt to flavor. Maybe a dash of onion and garlic powder for good measure. I’m guessing you brown some meat, strain off most of the fat, and then stir in this powder. Give it a bit of time on some heat and it thickens and becomes Hamburger Helper. Maybe you add in macaroni or other noodles, I can’t be sure. But whatever you’d made you can eat it, and if you’re not a snob you can recognize that in spite of its name it tastes ok. It’ll satisfy your hunger, much in the way that a fine Porterhouse steak cooked on the dying embers of a wood fire will accomplish the same. Both are food, both come from a cow, and both will allow you to push away your pangs of hunger. In this, they are the same.

When I eat fish fry and tell the world about it, I get mixed reviews on my reviews. Some people like them. Good one, Dave. Other people shake their head because I just insulted their favorite restaurant. Others still tell me that fried fish isn’t good at all. That it’s not really food.  Unless you’re grilling a fine piece of line caught Tuna or a fat sliver of a Swordfish steak that you’re not really eating fish at all.  But that’s where they’re wrong, because I am eating fish, and it did taste fine, and my hunger was satiated. Would a nicely seasoned, seared piece of fresh Tuna be a finer option? Of course it would, but I was just looking to eat an easy dinner with $14.

This market of ours is causing buyers significant pain, as you know. It’s causing strife and anguish and terrible, terrible bouts of regret. Should you have listened to me and bought that lakefront home in 2013? Obviously. Increasingly, as buyers find little to pick over in this Lake Geneva market of ours, they’re turning to other ideas. To other lakes. Other places. Other states (shudder).  Michigan is better they say. Michigan has antique stores! Michigan has more nuclear power plants and more beach syringes!, they plead.  Do you know what Michstakegan also has? Inventory at lower prices. No one will admit this, but inventory and price drive decisions, and if water is water and a tree is a tree, then some water and a tree anywhere will do.

Maybe it’s not in Michigan, maybe it’s here. Another lake, perhaps. Farther away where the dollar stretches a bit.  Beaver Lake, that’s a nice place. Look how clear the water is! Yes, it’s clear and you just might have two or three feet of it off the end of your brown wooden pier. Maybe Pine Lake, where the water is clear and the shoreline green, where you can sit on your dock (they don’t get piers there, these are ours) and watch nothing go by.  If you’d like to sit in the woods by yourself, Pine Lake is fantastic. If you’re hungry and you want to go to dinner but you’re a recluse now and you’ve forgotten to renew your driver’s license you could shoot a deer and eat it. No one will notice.

There are other options. Lots of them. Anywhere you want to go, options.  If your standard for a lake house involves just a house and a lake, this can be accomplished anywhere. Want to save some money? Go to Tennessee, there are loads of lakes there and wonderful, plucked banjos to provide the soundtrack of your float. Or drive to the Northwoods, like so many do. It’s nice up there. Just plan to leave by 5 pm so you can roll in around midnight. Rainy on Saturday, oh well! You can go take your picture next to a giant wooden fish.

As I stood on a pier last night with the last few bits of sun peaking out around the Observatory’s iconic dome, I breathed the scene in. Soft waves, a gentle breeze, a boat or two slowly plying past heading to their nighttime piers. In the shallows, a Huron plucked around the rocks looking for the minnows that couldn’t escape his beak. In the distance, a sailor sitting stationary, hoping for a few last gasps of wind to bring him back to the pier. There’s something about this place that the uninitiated cannot fully grasp. Something rare. A blend of action and solitude, of peace and motion.  Something unique that other lakes simply cannot attain. You could leave this place in search of a lake that will more generously offer you inventory. They’ll give you nice homes for much less money. They’ll give you some water to swim in, no matter if your bathing suit will slowly turn green from the exposure. You could go to these places. But please don’t you ever mistake their Hamburger Helper for our Porterhouse.

Valley Park Lake Geneva

Valley Park Lake Geneva

My large lakefront offering in Valley Park is still available, though it probably shouldn’t be.  Compare this property to the newest lakefront listing on Geneva, priced at $14,500,000. That listing has 3.46 acres.  Valley Park has 6.9 acres. That listing, for $14,500,000, has 210 feet of frontage.  Valley Park has 211 feet.  That listing has a City of Lake Geneva tax bill. Valley Park has a Linn Township tax bill. If you’re a buyer in the upper reaches of our market, you’d be well served to consider my listing in Valley Park. It’s large, it’s ideal, and it’s ready for the next owner. Best of all, with the $9.3MM I’m saving you, the new house you could build would be stunning, and you’d have several million dollars left over.  Why buy someone else’s lake house when you can build your to own your exacting specifications for less?

On Average

On Average

A lack of inventory is a curious thing. On one hand, lack of inventory typically leads to pricing increases. This is obvious. If I have one of something and three people would like to buy it from me, I get to raise my price. Simple. But lack of inventory has an uglier, less talked about side. Like your uncle who isn’t allowed to attend family gatherings. Sure, you see him once in a while and pretend everything is fine. The weather fine, your job, fine. But you know. You know.

That other side of low inventory is that it has a nasty tendency to choke out market momentum. Imagine a particular market segment is like a fire. A nice, tidy, fire. Sometimes it’s crackling and blazing and other times it’s just smoldering, but it’s always burning so long as you add a bit of wood to it now and again. The key isn’t the strength of the fire, it’s your supply of wood. Keep feeding that market some inventory and it’ll keep burning. But limit the inventory for long enough and that fire is going to go out. Lack of inventory is all fun and games until your market decides to quit.

It’s not exactly like that, but it’s sort of like that. And in my world, sort of still matters.  We know our issue for 2018 has been a thorough lack of lakefront and lake access inventory, but without checking the actual statistics it’s just chatter.  The year is now old enough that we can measure it against another year. It’s time for 2018 to be judged.

From the first of January through yesterday, the MLS shows 28 sales of lakefront and lake access properties (Geneva Lake). Of those 28, 11 have been lakefront. That feels like a low tally, to be sure. And low it is, when compared to the 45 homes and sold during the same period of 2017. Of those, 11 were lakefronts. Looking farther back, 2016 printed 38 sales, eight of which were private frontage. 2015, the last year that could be considered some reasonable semblance of a buyer’s market, we closed 34 sales, nine of which were lakefront.

With those numbers in mind, it’s obvious that our broader lake access market is short of supply and therefore short of closings. But what of the lakefront, what of that king of all markets, that mighty ruler by which all other things are rendered unimportant? Well, the lakefront market, with 11 YTD sales, is obviously doing just fine. It has matched the 2017 production and exceeded both of 2016 and 2015. Maybe our inventory problem is one of perception?

There are a few things that are going to happen this summer on the lakefront. There will be more inventory. I’m certain of it. There will be more to choose from and there will be buyers intent on changing their boring weekend lives who make the right choice. The key isn’t to flood the market with inventory, rather to keep introducing pieces of it, slowly but surely. We don’t need to light the whole forest on fire, we just need to toss a log on every once in a while. And I’m fixin’ to throw some oak in the coming weeks (let me know if you’d like to know when I do).

Aged Lakefront Inventory

Aged Lakefront Inventory

There are several unavoidable truths involving the Geneva lakefront market of 2018. The market is frustrating for buyers. It’s awful, really. Limited inventory, quick sales, more buyers than sellers to the tune of five or more to one. This is an unfair fight, and the sellers are winning.  In the end we know it’s the buyers who win, the buyers who pay the ransom to receive a lifetime of change. But for now it doesn’t feel that way. The market is tilted heavily towards sellers, and we know this. We understand this. It wasn’t always like this, but from 2010 through 2015 you were too timid to buy. This is what happens, this is what happened, and this is the overriding truth of the market.

A lesser known and seldom understood truth is that the aged inventory on Geneva Lake isn’t just aged because no one wants to buy it. As a buyer, this is the easiest conclusion to make. That house has been for sale for a long time, no one wants it, I’ll be able to steal it.   This was the conclusion that I came to and lived in from 2010 through 2015,  and that conclusion helped me close the most volume of any agent in the county over the last eight years. That conclusion also helped those buyers smart enough to work with me score tremendous value on lakefront properties. Today, that conclusion is still made, but it’s no longer accurate.

Lakefront buyer activity is at insane levels. It’s not insane that so many families and individuals wish to spend their time on our shores, actually, it’s insane that so many people choose to spend time on other, inferior, faulty, embarrassing shores.  The sheer numbers of buyer traffic is somewhat overwhelming. Last Sunday I showed lakefronts, which I tend to do every weekend. But last Sunday I showed three different lakefronts to three different buyers. Back in 2007 I used to work with three different lakefront buyers, too. It was called an entire summer.  This market is buzzing, but what exactly does that mean for a buyer, and does that mean value still exists?

What it means for a buyer is painfully simple. If you like that house and you like the number enough, then you’re going to have to move swiftly to buy it. The number isn’t going to initially feel all that good.  There are deals to be had, in spite of this activity, but for every deal there are five sucker deals, those homes that will sell to buyers who either don’t have skilled lakefront representation, or those buyers who are working with agents who lack discernment in this marketplace. If you think selling real estate is easy, you’re right. If you think selling the real estate at the right price is easy, you’re wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and this isn’t about me it’s about buyers and that faulty conclusion regarding aged inventory.

When a buyer keeps seeing a lakefront for sale, the buyer might be tempted to think the seller is getting desperate. You can’t hold out forever, seller!  Buyers sense a seller’s wariness and assume that a screaming deal is going to be possible. That the aged inventory has fallen out of favor with the market?  That there is a deal just waiting to be made! That the buyer will win.  An asking price of $5MM and a couple of years on market? That sounds like a $4MM print to me!  This was how I thought a few years ago, but this is no longer the typical outcome. The painful thing that buyers must realize in this market is that sellers are receiving offers. Sellers are generating showings. Sellers are seeing activity. And those sellers who are on the receiving end of activity and offers are simply holding firm. The market hasn’t forgotten these properties, it’s just that the sellers aren’t playing ball.

I see several pieces of aged inventory on the market today, and if I look through my old lenses I see opportunity. But I know those aged bits of inventory have had offers that exceed the price I’d be willing to help a buyer pay. These properties that look idle on your computer screen, with Days On Market piling up and dust collecting in the corners of the photos, those are properties that are only still for sale because sellers are too confident. The properties aren’t sitting because no one wants them. They’re sitting because of sellers who are negotiating from  a position of strength, and confident sellers are poison for a buyer looking to score value on aged inventory.  I see that old inventory, and I’d love for you to steal it. You see that aged inventory and you know you’d like to steal it. The problem is the seller sees his aged inventory and has a hunch that someone is going to pay him his number, even if it takes another year.

Lakefront Inventory

Lakefront Inventory

It feels like an epidemic. Each day starts full of hope. Each day passes choked with despair. New inventory should be here by now. But it isn’t. Why isn’t it? This is what the people want to know. The smart Lake Geneva buyers are working with me, and I’m working for them, trying to dig up shreds of inventory so that I might offer it to them on this silver platter. Despite my efforts, the silver platter remains empty, carrying only the dust from a desperate summer.

Buyers are active on the lakefront, this we know.  Lots of agents have buyers at the moment. Lots. They’re asking me for inventory. David, what do you have that I might sell? This is sweet of them to ask so nicely, but what they don’t know is that any inventory that I uncover will be inventory that I offer to my buyers first, and to everyone else last. This is why buyers should be working with me, among all of the other reasons, but still, the market persists and summer moves along and there’s no inventory.

But that’s not entirely true. There have been seven new lakefronts brought to market from June 1st through August 1st. Of those seven, I’ve presented three of them under my brokerage. The thing is, five of those seven are listings that were previously on the market. Of the two new ones, I sold my listing (Jerseyhurst, closing next month), and the other listing is an entry level home seeking a buyer (visionary).  While I do see several of these new listings selling this year, it’s obvious to admit to you that our inventory is light at best. Anemic at worst.  But how does it stack up to a typical Lake Geneva summer?

Last year there were nine new lakefront listings 6/1-8/1.  For the sake of this historical reflection I won’t be deciphering which listings were “new” new, and which were  regurgitated new.  The same two months in 2015 brought 10 new listings to market. 2014 saw 12 new, and 2013 gave us 10. For the sake of averages, the market has produced 9.6 new lakefront listings between June 1st and August 1st. If we’re trying to be dramatic, that means the 2017 inventory production is 25% off the pace.

Still, in spite of the lighter 2017 listing volume, we’re still faring much better than the 2007 market. Those buyers were truly up against it, with just 3 lakefronts listed over those two summer months. And back then, the “cheapest” new listing was $2.2MM.  So yes, our inventory is constricted. Yes, that makes it tough on buyers. But don’t for a second think it’s some sort of historical anomaly.  It’s just a bit behind the running average, and I’m confident that August and September will bring some new inventory that will satiate the market.

 

Above, the master bathroom at my pending sale on Jerseyhurst.
Mid-Summer Markets

Mid-Summer Markets

This would be much easier if we weren’t here. If we were in some other absurd little Midwestern vacation home market, everything would be different. We’d have our season, and it would consist of ice cream and t-shirts and six or eight weeks of hustle. Some bustle. Then we’d have our off season, which would make up the remainder of our year. We’d have in season, off season, and that would be that. Our fingers would be sticky from all that ice cream and our t-shirts would be stained so that you could barely make out the location of that miserable little Midwestern vacation home destination.

But we aren’t there. We are here. We’re in the middle of our season now, but what is this season, exactly? Is it July and August, as some would suggest? Or is it Memorial Day through Labor Day? Is it Memorial Day through Columbus Day?  That’s a common thought, and it isn’t a terrible one. But really our market doesn’t turn off, our season doesn’t end, it just changes. We don’t close the doors, we don’t turn off the lights. We just enjoy this place with different goals in mind. The season, it’s upon us.

But this is the generic consideration of “season”. What about the market version? What about this season, this cycle? Where are we now, on this tenth day of July?  Agents are scrambling, screaming about activity and offers and counter offers and amendments. They’re excitable, this group. And there are more of them now, more than ever.  It’s easy money, so they start and they spout and they tell people things that they have no actual way of knowing. Yes, your house is worth X. I would know, I’ve been selling real estate since 2016. 

I would call this current position in our market the Mid-Summer-Pause. Sure, there’s activity. Lots of it. But it’s also taking a bit of a breather. The spring sprint has ended.  Inventory is low and refuses to grow. What inventory is present is either under contract, about to be under contract, or somehow fatally flawed and needing price reduction. I have two new listings coming to market this week, one you’ll learn about on Wednesday and the other on Friday, but I haven’t brought two lakefronts to market in one week for what feels like years.  Will buyers pay attention to the new offerings? Perhaps.

There are buyers, after all. Many of them. Lakefront buyers, lake access buyers, condo buyers, land buyers. And the sellers who have been in the market for some time now fully understand that the summer is fleeting. Even now, with summer so young, it is escaping us little by little. The days are shorter now. Shorter today and shorter tomorrow. Winter is coming. Sellers know this, and in spite of the measurable buyer traffic there are deals to be made. Sellers, in this mid-summer pause, will be reducing their prices.  Why reduce in the fall when you know the market is stronger today than it might be then?  Sellers will be considering their position in the market and reacting accordingly. At least the smart ones will.

Today, there are five lakefronts under contract. One is my listing on Jerseyhurst. Others are in the $1.4-2.8MM price range.  There are just 18 lakefronts available as of this morning, which is consistent with the inventory for most of 2017. It’s low, and we know it. But there is value in that list, even if it isn’t apparent based on the present list prices. Expect to see some reductions in the coming weeks, even as the market remains hot and buyers snap up new inventory.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being a seller who sees the activity in the market and knowing your home isn’t benefitting. These are the sellers that will reduce, and if you’re a buyer, these are the sellers you should be watching.

For now, it’s mid-summer. My arms are tired from superjetting. My nose is sunburned. And all is well.

Lake Geneva Club Sells

Lake Geneva Club Sells

There are certain things that I know without the slightest inkling of doubt. I know that summer days are best spent lakeside. I know it, you know it, remote villages in Africa know it. I know that pick up trucks should not be lifted as high as the pick up truck at the gas station right now is lifted.  You can’t know this, but you’ll need to trust me on this one. It’s just too high. I also know that when a charming cottage in the Lake Geneva Club is listed for $600k it’s going to sell pretty quickly. These things are all different but all the same. They are summer-time truths.

You knew I’d sell this cottage. It wasn’t just my intuition. It was obvious. Yet, the first few buyers who looked at it didn’t find it to be an ideal fit. So the property sat on market for a bit longer than I would have thought, and last Friday it sold. $592k for cottage perfection, a boat slip, a large double lot, and easy access into the Lake Geneva scene. The property doesn’t require much explanation, it’s just an easy cottage in mint condition with a transferable slip and membership to a fantastic lakefront association. Beginning, middle, and end of story.

But the property does give us some insight into the broader market, and that insight should be shared. I sold this cottage in 2013 for $525k.  If you’ll recall, our markets in 2013 were in decent shape, but activity was much less intense than it is today. The price recovery had begun, but only modestly. I’d guess that by the summer of 2013 the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market was 10-15% above the cycle lows.  With a fresh sale at $592k, we can ascertain that the market has risen roughly 15% since that date in 2013. If we assume that the market was perhaps 15% better in 2013 than it was at the bottom of 2011, then we’re looking at a 30% increase from the bottom of our market to where we find ourselves today.

If we go a step further and remember that our market was knocked off 30-40% between the high of 2008 and the bottom of 2011, then it’s not a stretch to say we’re within 10% of our prior cycle highs. That’s not a universal truth, but it’s a pretty decent data point considering the history of this individual sale.  The reason this particular sale is a decent indicator is because the cottage, while maintained, was not significantly upgraded over those years. If I show you a sale from 2013 of an old house and then show you the same fully remodeled house selling in 2017, that’s not a very good data point as the property itself was not merely riding the market wave, it was forcing an increased valuation due to the work that was completed.

Today, there are only two homes for sale priced under $748k with transferable boatslips.  That’s remarkable, really. To make matters worse, both of those slips are far from ideal. So what’s next? What does this segment of our market do now? Well, likely nothing. Entry level lakefront inventory is light, which means the owners of a lake access home with slip don’t really have any immediate upgrade option tugging at them. Without that option to upgrade, the only people selling will be those who are no longer wishing to own a Lake Geneva vacation home.

A big thank you to the seller who let me represent them both in this sale and in their upgraded home purchase. And a big congratulations to the new buyer, who finally gets to look forward to the weekend.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Wow. That’s really all there is to say. Wow. Maybe Wowzers. The lakefront market on Geneva Lake is as heated as it has been since the summer of 2007.  I was a player in the market then, but I wasn’t a large player in the lakefront market like I am today, so my view of that prior frenzy wasn’t from the front row. Today, with this front row seat underneath me, I find the market to be breathless. How I pine for the darker days when buyers had a few moments to gather themselves before making a lakefront decision.  For those buyers who had lakefront opportunities during 2011-2015 and failed to act, this post should be sung slowly as a dirge.

Today there are 21 lakefront homes available in our MLS. There are an additional four pending sale. At least two others have offers in negotiations.  At first blush, you won’t find this all that rare. In fact, our inventory has actually risen over the past three months, as for one period there were just 16 lakefronts available. There are two primary points of interest that have presented in this new market cycle. Yes, it’s no surprise that buyers still want 100′ of frontage and they want it now. Yes, buyers still love Viking ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators. Yes, Calcutta marble remains in high demand. The things you know are still correct, but there are two new drivers of interest that have never, ever fared particularly well in the history of our market.

Buyers have shown that they love being near downtown Lake Geneva. They don’t just sort of like it, they love it. I sold 700 S Lakeshore earlier this year in large part because of its estate qualities and its proximity to downtown Lake Geneva. The two lakefront homes on Main Street just West of Library Park are both pending sale as of this week (mid $2s), and that’s significant as both of these homes have endured some lengthy market times over recent years. Buyers found motivation to snap up these two homes, and I’m betting large amounts of your money that the interest was driven primarily by the proximity to downtown. In prior years, such proximity would have often been viewed as a negative feature. The noise and commotion, the tourists, the higher taxes. Yet of late, buyers love downtown and so buyers are buying downtown. It’s super interesting to me.

The other curious aspect of this new market cycle is the liquidity at the top end of our lakefront. Homes over $5MM have never sold with particular ease. During the last bull run here, from 2000-2010, just three lakefront homes sold in our MLS for a price that exceeded five million dollars. Since 2010, eleven lakefront homes (and a vacant lot, making it twelve) have sold over that benchmark. Of those eleven, I’ve sold seven of them, including three of four to close over $7MM, but that’s not the point (actually, it’s always the point). This increased liquidity is being viewed by the owners as some new stable trait of our market. Something that has finally manifest, and should stay in place forever. I’d question that theory, and would encourage any owner in this range who might be considering a sale to hurry up and sell. This liquidity is beautiful, but cycles are cycles.

And that brings us the concept of a lakefront market cycle. How long will this cycle last, and where are we in the cycle? Obviously it’s impossible to know this, but we do have the benefit of history to look at as a guide. The last cycle began in the late 1990s and ran up through 2008. The cycle lasted around 10 years, with gradual price increases occurring each year during that cycle, including in the years immediate following the 2000 dot com bust. If we look at our down cycle as occurring from 2009 through 2012, we’ve been building towards a new bull market since 2012. Yes, extreme value existed up through 2015, but for the most part our market was in full recovery mode (increased liquidity and increasing demand) by mid 2012. With that in mind, it’s easy to say we’re about five years into our current bull run.

How much is left in the tank? Well, judging by the market conditions today, I’d say plenty. Does it last two more years? Does it go five more? That’s impossible to guess. Keep an eye on the stock market and on our inventory if you’d like a clue as to where the market is going. If the indices stay high and our inventory stays low, you have the makings for a continued bull run. If markets melt to any extreme level and our inventory swells, that would likely mark the end of these conditions that favor our sellers. For now, look at the market. Watch it. And don’t do as many buyers are doing right now and make a mistake. Let me be your guide. Not only will we have a lot of fun with your house hunt,  you also won’t end up buying the wrong house in the wrong location.

 

Above, morning at my 412 Harvard listing. 
Expectations

Expectations

By now you know I have a problem with cars. I like cars, but I don’t like the process of buying a car. I don’t even like thinking about cars. I’m young enough to see a car I like and think, “I really like that car”. But I’m old enough to not pursue the purchase of such a car.  Men tend to track their lives by the cars they drive. I remember when I met my wife I drove a black Cadillac (don’t ask). Then, later, when my girlfriend became my wife, I drove a black Volvo. It was a nice car. Later, my wife almost decapitated our dog by sideswiping a telephone pole in a red Jeep Grand Cherokee. Life is most easily tracked when the memory places you behind the wheel.

The problem with these nice cars is that they’re expensive. Super expensive. And so earlier this spring I found my way to a car dealership and before my timid financial self could win the internal argument, I agreed to purchase a car. I negotiated for this car as best I could. I feigned the walk away. I stood up and paced. And when all of that was over I had raised my price by dollars and the dealer lowered theirs by pennies. I decided I wanted the car and so I had to pay for it. To walk away meant to repeat the process at a later date, and I was weary from so much anxiety. Later, when I think back about the spring of 2017, I’ll remember driving home in the rain with my wife who pretended not to like the new car until the seats started massaging her back.

This experience relates quite closely to the home buying experience.  The desire. The negotiation. The decision.  The decision, after all is said and done, is what this is really all about. I desired to buy that car of mine for about $1000 less than I paid for it. I could have stood my ground and hoped they called me the next day to accept my price. I could have done that, but I didn’t, because what I wanted to pay and what I had to pay were two different numbers.  This is the situation at Lake Geneva today. If you’re a buyer, there is likely the price you want to pay, which is likely the price I want you to pay, and then there’s the price the seller is going to make you pay. You know which price is more important.

This lake is rife with stories of would-be-home-buyers who stood on principle and stood until they were the only man left standing. The buyer who looked at that lakefront in 1998 and said, no. $575k is just too much for that lakefront. Or the buyers who stood with me on properties in  2011 and 2012 and said, no, the price won’t work. These are the buyers who today look at this market and wish they had the conviction needed at the time they needed it. It’s easy to harness buying conviction when it’s too late. I would have paid X! They say. But it’s too late, because someone already paid it. The practices that helped my buying clients purchase lakefront property at significant discounts to the market five years ago are, for the most part, no longer working.

That’s because we know what we’d like to pay, but the seller knows what they’re going to take. That’s why these last few months I’ve stood on many properties with many buyers and discussed the price I’d like them to pay and the price they’re going to have to pay if they actually want the house. Would I want you to pay $1.9MM for the house? Of course. Are we going to try to pay $1.9MM but realize, after a heated and skillful negotiation that we’re going to have to pay $2.1MM? Again, of course. Because in this low inventory environment sellers have the upper hand, and this is an undebatable fact.  There are some properties that have accumulated enough market time that they will succumb to our negotiating pressure but these sellers are the outliers today, not the standard bearers.

This summer, approach the market with caution. Certain properties are wildly overpriced. Others are not. Know the difference. Don’t approach the market with reckless, fevered abandon.  But when the time comes and you find the house you want, just remember not to get too hung up on a few percentage points.  Those few points will be long forgotten when you’re lounging lakeside, blissfully unconcerned with the slightly larger hole in your bank account.

Aged Lakefront Inventory

Aged Lakefront Inventory

So much excitement, so early on. New pictures, new mulch, new signs. This is going to be it, this is going to be the year. The month. No, the day. Will it be today? It might be tomorrow. Certainly by Saturday. Sunday, well that’s a day off for many. Monday? Could it be? No, it’s not. A few days later nothing. Weeks, nothing. Months, nothing. A showing next Friday! That’ll be the one. What took so long? The showing is a bust. The buyer’s daughter had the sniffles and so they decided against the arduous trip up paved roads from so far away as Barrington.   There was once so much optimism, so much hope. So much blind faith. And now, nothing. Days to months and months to years.

To be a seller today is to be confident. The markets are hot, mostly hot anyway, or so the newspaper says. Certain markets are slowing, the Hamptons, Manhattan, Beverly Hills. But are they slowing because they were recently too active? Are they only slowing now relative to the torrid pace of the last half decade? Are they slow, or just less magma than we’ve recently been accustomed? Even so, those are those markets and this is this market. Sellers at Lake Geneva are, for the most part, bursting with enthusiasm.

And that’s fine, for a while. Initial enthusiasm is life affirming, and it’s important. Sellers should be proud of their house, proud of their mulch, proud of the photos. Proud of that real estate description (see my prior post). Lake Geneva is a market filled with nuance and irregularity, and for those reasons alone, every seller has hope. That house sold for that much, so my house HAS to be worth at least this much. Oh how much fun it would be to sell in a market that makes complete sense. A ranch on a street is worth the same as the ranch on the same street. Here, the ranch can be worth more or less depending on so many factors, all of which are not entirely clear.

This is the new seller situation, but what of the aged seller? What of the property that hit the market with speed and has since, over time, dulled to a fruitless crawl? How does that seller feel bout so many mentions of a “hot” market? The initial emotion is anger, not at the market or at the house, but at the broker. This is the problem during times of these active markets. If a house isn’t selling while everything else is, then the blame must lie solely on the shoulders of the guy or gal whose name is on the sign. It’s their fault. And often it might be, but let’s assume you didn’t hire a bad agent, because you’re smarter than that. Then whose fault is this delay?

It’s the price, silly. Hot markets can only overcome so much. An active market might allow a seller a 10% premium over a calculated value, but 20%? 30%?  Where does it end?  The low inventory condition at the lake is one reason lakefront sellers are so confident.  If I have a 1960 Corvette fuelie and I live in BumbleTown, Wisconsin, population 184, do I get to ask  $150k for a car that’s only worth $90k?  But I’m the only 1960 Corvette in town! The absurdity here is the same as a seller who thinks any price is attainable simply because the competition is nonexistent, or slight at best.

That brings us to the market today, and the confident seller of last year. Last year’s confident seller is this year’s weary seller, and those weary sellers are just who aggressive buyers should be targeting.  New sellers are too optimistic. Old sellers are growing tired, and an ambivalent seller who has let their hope diminish is the best sort of seller for a value minded buyer. Let’s get out soon and find a few of these sellers. Let’s find properties that have been overpriced for so long the seller has no choice but to accept the reality of our lower offer.  Sure the market is hot. Sure new inventory won’t be easy to buy without paying a market rate. But in spite of this, there is opportunity if only you’ll throw your attention towards the sellers that the market has forgotten.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

This is the weekend we need. This is the weekend we deserve. This is the weekend that starts it all, really. There’s a long standing believe that Memorial Day Weekend is the kick off to summer. That’s nice that people still think that. I don’t. I think what I know, which is summer starts just as soon as the weather warms enough to turn our thoughts to it. A warm weekend in February doesn’t accomplish this. We enjoy the warmth but we know it won’t last. A warm weekend in April, now that’s the start of something. This is the weekend that starts it all. Seventies and sun, here we come.

The low inventory theme continues on the lakefront, though several “new” listings have come to market of late.  Of course most of these aren’t new at all, they’re just recycled inventory from last year that might have a better shot at finding a buyer now. On the lake there are at least six pending contracts, and three of those are deals in which I’m involved. I like that ratio, though 100% would be far more preferable than 50%.

I have a new contract on an entry level lakefront in the Highlands (my buyer, not listing). That’s a fixer upper and it’ll sell for a fixer upper price next month. My Park Drive lakefront with 60′ of level frontage is under contract with an asking price of $1.299MM. That’s a nice little house with a big view of the water. A listing on Constance in Williams Bay is under contract with an asking price in the low $2MMs. That’s a listing that I had a couple years ago but failed to sell. This is for my enduring shame.

The modern in Williams Bay for $3.4MM is still pending sale, as is the new construction on Sidney Smith in the high $3MMs.  New and of note is the pending contract on my listing at 700 South Lakeshore Drive in Lake Geneva. I listed this home last fall and told you that I would sell it. I wasn’t lying. It’s under contract now and will hopefully close this spring. If and when it does, that’ll be my sixth sale over $5MM since 2010.  The thing about being a luxury broker is that everyone can call themselves one, but it’s a lot harder to actually be one.

In spite of some new inventory,  we still have only 19 true lakefront homes (including the South Shore Club) on the market today. That’s remarkably low inventory, and it has left the market wishing for two very different things. Sellers love this environment, and hope it stays for the remainder of this year. Buyers are frustrated by this limited inventory and find themselves in foul moods as a result. I’m somewhere in between, hoping for new inventory but appreciating the environment for what it is today. The danger now is for sellers to not be too emboldened by the situation, and for buyers to not disengage from their searches just because they don’t initially see what they like. Sellers, stay smart, stay rational. Buyers, stay engaged, pour over the aged inventory and look for value while at the same time being ready to pounce on something new and exciting.  Buyers and sellers, work with me, and have a terrific first nice weekend of 2017.

 

Above, sunset at 700 South Lakeshore Drive, Lake Geneva.
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.

Inventory Alert

Inventory Alert

What we need now is something to sell. We’ve sold it all. We had a basketful of things, some with deplorable structures, others with superlative structures, and then we’ve spent our summer working and we’ve sold them all. There’s nothing left in our basket. We wobbled for a bit in the spring, then we steadied ourselves, and now we’re standing here and it’s September and our basket is empty. The cycle is complete, the inventory spent, the basket nearly or fully empty. It’s September and it’s summer but we know it’s fall and we’re out of inventory and so we’re out of luck.

The lakefront market wants inventory. It wants it really, really bad. It wants nice 100′ lots around $2MM and it wants built homes on those lots around $4MM, and then it also wants estate type lots in the high $3s. This is what the market has wanted for quite some time, so these bits are not new nor are they exciting, even if they aren’t currently nestled inside of our basket.  But what’s rare now is that the market wants big inventory. It wants perfection and it’s ready and willing to pay for it. There was a time when if your $7MM house was beautiful and stunning, no one particularly cared. Oh, sure, your friends would comment about how terrific your house was, and your family would fawn and your neighbors would look towards your house with a jealous sneer, but when you came to market the buyers yawned. Sure, it’s a nice house, they’d say, but it doesn’t have a private elevator to the lower level craft room so what difference does it make? 

Buyers in that range have been, prior to this year, seeking perfection. On Geneva, we can offer you that perfection, but every piece of it will have some nuance that can be interpreted as a lack thereof. A beautiful home near a condominium complex. A huge lot with elevated frontage. Too many steps. Too level, too moist. The house, too white or too dark or too blue or not blue enough. Buyers will come to me with requests and a one million dollar budget, and then I’ll set their expectations towards compromise. Sadly, with a $7MM budget the same is true. Compromise has been necessary, and buyers have found reason to pause based on the slightest bit of compromise.  David, the powder room is painted green! 

Right now things are different. Perfection isn’t necessarily required. The market wants beautiful, newer homes in the $5-9MM range, and it has multiple buyers on the hunt. If you’re a seller of such a home, you’ve never found a particular abundance of liquidity. Today, you have it. I can’t say how long this bump in activity will last, but it’s likely not forever and ever. If you’re an owner of a pricey home and you’ve been thinking about selling, I can unequivocally say that now is the time. The market is ready to absorb some pricey inventory. This week, my estate listed at $9,950,000 will sell. That will give the market a print that it’s been looking for, and that should help give buyers the confidence to know that they’re not alone in their pursuit for pricey lakefront perfection.  If you’re a seller,  we’re well past the point where I need to tell you who to call for representation. It’s cute that other agents want to compete in this segment, but there’s only one guy whose worthy of your time.

That’s me. I’m that guy.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It’s getting late. The greens are no longer bright. The grass is beginning to fade. The corn is drying as it should, first at the bottom and then, slowly, eventually, all the way to the top. The beans will start turning soon, from green to gold. Vast fields of gold. The lake is warm now, as it has been all summer, but it’s really warm now. This is peak summer, and much like peak anything, it can’t last forever. Soon the kids will walk past this office on their way to school, solemnly marching up this hill on their way to learn something. Today they’ll ride their bikes down the hill, down to the beach and to the ice cream shops. Today it’s still summer, but everyone can hear then ticking of the clock and it sounds like nothing but inevitability.

Sellers hear this clock, too, and they’re anxious. The August lull is here. It starts right about now, and it lasts a month, maybe a bit more, sometimes a bit less. It’s the back to school pause. The first two weeks of August are prime vacation weeks, and so the lake is full and the kids are smiling and the boats are gassed. The last two weeks of August are prime school return and school prep weeks, which is to say that they’re terrible but necessary. The market here will pause while this reorientation occurs, but once the kids are settled at their various schools near and far, the parents will look around and realize that September might sound like fall, but it still looks like summer. By the middle of September the market will spark once again, but not until sellers feel the uncomfortable weight of winter on their shoulders and consider reducing their price just one more time.

And this is the issue today, sellers who have been sellers for longer than they’d like are faced with doing something, with doing anything. The price reductions of fall have already begun, but they’ll accelerate over the coming two weeks. That’s because it’s Beverly Hills that sells houses by rolling out red carpets and hiring mermaids to swim in pools, and it’s the Midwest that sells houses by offering those houses at better prices. We’re sensible here. But in the fall reduction cycle there is opportunity for both buyers and sellers. Buyers know the market will slow over the coming months, and they know what I’ve just written: some sellers really do want to sell. But this situation also creates opportunity for new sellers. At this point in the season the aged inventory is just that- aged. It’s picked over and dismissed for one reason or many others. New inventory is always sexy, and fall is prime time for new inventory to come to market and in doing so, quench the thirst of desperate buyers.

The market has been moving this month, with new sales aplenty. I have a deal on my vacant lakefront lot in Loramoor, as a buyer recognized just how nice 110′ of level frontage backed by 1.43 acres of rolling land just is. That deal will close this fall. There’s another fresh deal on the finest listing that I’ve ever been tapped to represent. My wondrous estate on Pebble Point that I listed in July for $9,950,000 is pending sale to an excited new buyer. This sale will be the highest sale since the Pritzker family purchased Casa Del Sueno several years ago. This sale will also show the market that there are buyers over $8MM if, and I mean to write IF, the house and property are befitting the asking price. This should bring new hope to the multitude of owners who are currently $8-12MM deep into the newer builds of the past decade. While Geneva is still primarily a $2-4MM market, the new norm may very well become fewer but higher sales, as the $5-10MM range proves it has buyers.

For now, sellers of aged inventory should be looking at their position in the market and considering reductions. I just reduced my lakefront on Marianne Terrace from $2.475MM to $2.195MM, as a seller recognized the market context of his home. More sellers will follow suit in the coming weeks. New sellers would be keen to list soon, to take advantage of the limited inventory and considerable buyer traffic. And buyers would do well to consider all of the above. Pick off the aged inventory for value, and quickly focus on the exciting new inventory as there will be a handful of properties whose owners wanted to have just one more summer at the lake.