Blog : Lake Geneva Highlands

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

I’m not sure if there’s a more interesting segment in our market than the entry level lake access market. While other segments exist because particular homes move in and out of that defined value range, the entry level market is truly the only range for which their is no defined price structure. When times are good, entry level might mean $1.5-2MM. When times were bad, we learned that entry level meant $800k-$1.2MM. If we look over any particular decade in our past, there’s nothing consistent about the pricing of this segment. In that, it’s a curious segment, but beyond that, it’s also our most important lakefront segment.

Yes, yes, we know liquidity at the top end is the most unique attribute of our market. We know our liquidity makes every other vacation market in the Midwest look like a low quality timeshare rental. But still, in spite of that robust upper bracket strength, the entry level market is the market that matters to more people. The goal of vacation home buyers, if the budget affords, is to find lakefront.  Knowing that the entry level market is directly connected to the upper-end off water market, we know that if the entry level market struggles then the off-water market struggles. If the off-water market is strong, then that must mean that not only is the entry level market strong, but it’s light on inventory. These two markets are connected, and 2018 has proved that once again.

This isn’t about the off-water market, even though it is remarkably strong and liquid as a direct result of the low inventory and sales patterns of that entry level lakefront market. This is about the entry level market itself, and what 2018 has done to it, and for it.  This year, there have been four lakefront homes sold between $1.1MM and $1.25MM.  All four of those properties had around 50′ of frontage, and three of the four were on Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay. If you’re familiar, Walworth Avenue is the road to the North of Pier 290. The other sale was in the Elgin Club.

The fact that there have been four sales in this segment isn’t surprising. It is somewhat surprising that the prices, in spite of the spectacular market activity of 2018, have been somewhat stagnant in that tight, low buck range. While the homes that sold were certainly habitable, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that they are all in need of some additional attention. Whether that comes in the from of wide-scale renovations or surface improvements, that is up to the new owners. Will any of these four be scraped to make way for a new home?  No one, except the owners, can answer that question.

Walworth Avenue hasn’t shown any real strength over the mid-million dollar market. There’s a giant newer home on that road, one that represents a significant investment, but is that an individual pursuing what is best for that individual, or is that a market market-minded play? Will Walworth Avenue soon be home to more tear downs, to more new construction? And if so, will that new construction find favor in the market?  I honestly don’t know the answer to my own questions. I’m inclined to suggest that new construction in that location wouldn’t be a wise play. But I know the tight inventory markets on the lakefront between $1.8MM and $2.5MM, so it wouldn’t be crazy to suggest an owner could pursue new construction here, even though the neighborhood hasn’t shown the ability to support it.

There have been a few other happenings in the entry level market this year, notably a pending foreclosure in the Lake Geneva Highlands and a private lakefront sale on Outing Drive. You’ll remember the Outing house, as I had it for sale earlier this year, and another agent had it for sale for a spell as well. The home sold in what appears to be a private sale for a price (as shown in the transfer rolls) of  $1,525,000. That’s a reasonable price for that house. The Highlands lakefront is one that was on market last year and under contract (per MLS), but failed to close. That home is likely valued in the mid $1s, and I’ll be curious to discover if it comes back to market as REO, or if someone takes a stab at it through the sheriff’s sale.

Today, the entry level market is once again void of inventory. The lowest priced home with frontage is over in Trinke’s, a property with the lagoon in front of it, priced at $1.85MM.  The next available lakefront is to the East of there, priced just over $2.2MM. This is a tight market, and a difficult one for would-be lakefront buyers.  What’s interesting here is that the lack of inventory and consistent sales really hasn’t translated into valuation gains in this segment. I’d expect that’ll change if the market stays tight for too much longer. Maybe it won’t change at all until someone breaks the pattern on these entry level streets and builds something new. Something that seems out of place, something that doesn’t make sense. Or at least it’ll feel that way until everyone else does it, too.

 

Lakeview Lakefront Sells

Lakeview Lakefront Sells

Buyers are not generally pleased with the way this market is performing. Buyers want to know when the market will shift in their favor. When the inventory will increase. When the skies will clear and the sun will shine on them, not on the seller. To be a buyer today is to assume the seller has the upper hand.

Last November a small house in the Highlands came to market for $1.2MM. The house was about what the market expected for this price. 45 feet of frontage, some basic things like a sort-of kitchen and some bedroom-ish spaces. It was fine, this house. And the market was hot, especially on the heels of my closing of the lakefront down the road on Lakeview right around that same time.

But the house didn’t sell, because it didn’t have any sort of sizzle. Buyers looked at it, often, because it was, at the end of every day from then until now, cheap. But was it cheap enough? After all, the house down the road closed at $1.26MM and had a bit more frontage, a boathouse, better finishes and it was clean and easy. This house wasn’t clean nor was it easy, and so, in spite of this dynamic seller’s market, the house sat.

I was working with a young couple last summer and fall, a couple who, in spite of their newness to our market, felt compelled to pull something off. They didn’t want to spend a lot, though in Lake Geneva even our little is a lot, so we targeted the entry level lakefront market, looking for value even as sales printed all around us. Patience, even in an escalating market, would prove to be the right practice.

We bid low in March, or maybe it was April. Pretty low. Quite low. The seller responded. We negotiated some more. A bit more. Just a tiny bit more. We closed that purchase on Monday for $925k. The new buyers are into a lakefront home for the lowest amount that anyone has paid for 45 or more front feet on Geneva since January of 2013, and that, no matter how terrible the kitchen, is a value.

There’s something especially rewarding about placing a new Lake Geneva owner into a lake house. This sale was not the largest, nor was the house the fanciest. But the house allows a young couple an opportunity to experience the lake for the first time, in a way that will be completely and utterly new to them. To this new buyer, a big congratulations and many thanks for letting me help with this lakefront purchase.
To the buyers who claim this is a seller’s market, what of the sale here on Lakeview? If you liked your down market in 2010-2013, that’s fine. I liked it quite a bit, too. But the market today is robust and healthy and yet still discerning buyers with enough vision can still secure lasting and permanent value. Don’t let the headlines get you down. Every seller has their own circumstance, and every home its own unique set of challenges. Our job is to discover those homes and those sellers and do our best to print value.

Entry Level Geneva Lakefront

Entry Level Geneva Lakefront

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

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

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

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

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

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

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