Blog : Lake Geneva

Summer Night

Summer Night

There is some thought, rampant among those who cannot yet know, that a night is a night is a night. The night it dark here, just like there, in fact like every night. Night.  Those who love the night take great pride in this universal truth, that night is dark and it’s dark everywhere. In the daytime everything can be different. Every place its own, each unique. Some places with high mountains and cold rivers, others with wide plains and low, wet marsh. Some other places teeming with dark leafy trees and little dotted lakes, clear perhaps. Daytime, now that’s different because it looks different. But in the night when there’s nothing to see, each place is the same: dark and quiet.

But that’s not at all true. The night is filled with sounds, each season its own, each place its own. A winter night under a brilliant cold sky is something to behold. The deep, snowy still of a leafless and seemingly lifeless field contrast under the brilliantly bright stars.  But it’s not something one can savor. It’s too cold to dwell, and in, and so a winter night is something gulped in deep breaths and left alone. It’s still night outside, but inside with the wood fire and the warm lamp light is much more comforting.

A fall night is a noisy night, a windy night, some rain maybe. But that’s not entirely true. A fall night can be as alive as a summer night, or as still as a winter night, or it might be anything in between. There’s no rule for fall, nothing it must do. What it will do is build to a colorful crescendo just before it ebbs and falls silent. Fall is like winter without snow, unless it isn’t.

But those summer nights. In our memories, they all sound the same.  Crickets and hoppers, chirping and singing their redundant tune. Softly fading as the night wears on, only to be replaced by the chirping of song birds once the morning light is near.  This is what night at my house sounds like. My house, surrounded by prairie and distant trees, alive with the casual rhythm of so many field bugs. An occasional rustle in the grass, a rabbit hiding from a fox. A coyote clinking through the wooded edges, thinking about which chicken it will steal. There are other characters in this prairie night, but the stars are those bugs that I cannot identify, crudely scratching out the sound that I’ve come to love. Summer days can wear on me, but the sound of a summer night has yet to grow old.

I spent a few hours last week on a lakeside screened porch. The sounds were those of my childhood, a slow churning boat pushing through the night, returning its guests after dinner. Or the other boats, the large boats with parties aboard, spinning around the lake and clearing each point,  the dull murmur of the happy crowd reaching across the window and to my childhood bedroom. But what struck me wasn’t the familiar sound of a few slow boats. It was the quiet of it all. It was the distinct sound of a Geneva lakefront porch.  The steady but louder pitch of the cicadas, a sound I know well but one that I don’t hear at my prairie house. The quiet hush of leaves flittering in a late night lake breeze.  Next time you think a summer night is a summer night, spend one in a screened porch next to Geneva Lake. You’ll soon be like me, well aware of the privilege of a summer night anywhere, but equally aware that there is one place where that night is better. At the lake.

 

700 South Lakeshore Sells

700 South Lakeshore Sells

When I listed this property last August, I knew exactly what it was. It wasn’t the most perfect house on the lake. The kitchen wasn’t exactly the current style. But it was 4 acres and 162 of frontage with so much square footage and so many resort-style amenities. The house had been listed off and on for what felt like ages, as if anyone really knows exactly what an “age” feels like. Still, the property was repositioned with the help of a fresh perspective and some fresh marketing efforts and I was pleased to work for that seller to get that property sold.

Last Friday, I sold 700 South Lakeshore in the city of Lake Geneva for $5,900,000. The sale is the fifth over $5,000,000 since the start of last year. Of those five sales, I’ve represented the seller in four of them. I’m not really sure now what else I can do to help convince the upper bracket market that I’m the man to handle these luxury listings. Perhaps the secret will be unlocked after I sell five out of the last six…

While I’m happy for the seller who now gets to move on to the next chapter of her life, I’m exceptionally pleased for the buyer. This is a new lake owner, with a new reason to look forward to the weekend. There’s something extra rewarding about selling a lake house to a first time Lake Geneva owner.  They don’t yet know what they’re in for, but I do. We do.  A very special thank you to this seller and buyer who allowed me to help bring this sale together.

Colors

Colors

By now, we all know that things haven’t been going our way. We started out with that winter, so intent on enjoying it and skiing it and sledding it, scraping and shoveling it, too. But what happened wasn’t anything like that. We skied, a bit. Shoveled, a bit. Scraped, some. But the winter had come and the winter has left and nothing really happened. It was a winter without. We knew what would come next, and we waited and we waited and in February it came. Bright spring. Sunny spring. Warm and soft, spring.

That was a few days, maybe four, and it was February and no one thought it was really spring. Winter returned, but it was easy winter, annoying winter, just enough winter to ward off spring.  That winter relapse was quickly forgotten and there have been days of spring, days of warm, soft sun, and days of wicked wind, biting cold. Then the rains came, so many rains with so much water, sheets and sheets and buckets and buckets. No one thought it could last, but it did, and it washed our streets and soaked our lawns and filled our lakes.  The season isn’t so much spring, it’s just a rainy winter.

There are barns between my house and this desk. Many barns. Most are clad in metal, some form of sheet paneling either vertical or horizontal, typically in fleshy tones of white, gray, or brown. In the winter landscape, these barns blend in, offering no excitement, no allure, just utilitarian usefullness. But there is one barn painted the brightest of reds, and in the winter it is a beacon on my drive, a visual reminder that color exists even in the dullest of dark winters. In the spring, too, when the ground is gray and what isn’t is brown, and the tans of the cut corn stalks and the dull olive of the roadside grass means everything is quiet and stark, that barn shines bright and vivid, a reminder of color in an otherwise colorless world.

But these rains and this sky and this gray and this brown, it’s not all bad. My eyes can rest under this sky. There’s no strain here, no squint to see beyond the glow, because there is no glow. It’s just March in Wisconsin and things are easy on the eyes. The north side of Geneva Street is greening this morning.  The grass is greening and the bulbs are shooting and the crocus is blooming. The dull wrens of winter are being crowded out by the orange breasted robins of spring, and soon, the elusive Orioles will coast in on a southerly breeze in search of our fresh cut oranges and our purple grape jelly.  The piers are falling into place, now dulled and chipped by the winter but soon scraped and painted and bright again. The water is warming, slowly, but it’s warming and it’s still blue, even in the face of so much gray it is still blue. The grass is greening and the flowers are awakening and the sky is brightening and soon it’ll be the spring we’ve seen in our minds all winter. Prepare your eyes, the color is coming.

 

Photo courtesy Kirsten Westlake

 

Walworth County Market Update

Walworth County Market Update

When you’re a Realtor, you’re supposed to want to do everything you can to sell anything you can. You’re supposed to pay attention to every segment within your market, to the goings on in the rental world, to the commercial things, to vacant land and to that cute bungalow in town. The one near the school.  Realtors are told to be experts. In the next breath, they’re told to be always available, always present, always here for whomever it is that requires service. This is all a terrible mistake, and not coincidentally, this desire to do all things is the reason that most agents can’t achieve success.

Now, take this guy on the other hand. I don’t really want to do any business that isn’t the sort of business I want. If you own a wonderful apartment building in Elkhorn, I’m super happy for you. But I don’t know enough about the rental market in Elkhorn and the desired returns of that particular investor community, so I can’t (and won’t) successfully work with you. I’m not a commercial guy. In the same way, I don’t know anything about the single family housing market in Darien. I heard it’s okay. Taxes are high. That’s all I know, and as such, you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favor if you were to wish for my services in Darien.

The benefit of this narrow focus is as obvious as the detriment. I am not all things to all markets. I’m all things to one market. That’s my goal, and that’s my life, and I’ve made a decent little living serving only one master. But today isn’t about me, no matter how well I’ve done so far to leave you with that impression. Today is about the broad Walworth County market. Today isn’t about Lake Geneva, it’s about everywhere else. The markets in these other areas are thriving. Absolutely, positively, thriving.

Want to buy a little cottage on Cherry Street in Williams Bay for less than $200k? So did someone else. The house is pending. Want to buy a vinyl ranch in Lakewood Trails? Yeah, so does everyone else. Feel like a little starter house in Delavan for $69k? Too late. It sold. How’s about a late 80s raised ranch, complete with some sort of brown brick and a mismatched brown roof? Pending.  Delavan is doing well, except on the lakefront, where there appears to be just one home pending sale today. Earlier, I meant to say everywhere is going fantastic, except Delavan Lake.

Want to find a reasonably decent house on 3-5 acres in the country somewhere? Nowhere in particular, just somewhere around here-ish?  Ideally under $400k. Good luck! Those homes are selling at a feverish pace, and inventory is low.  Darien has 14 homes available, five are under contract.  Elkhorn has 34 homes for sale. 18 of those are under contract. Nine others are pending sale.  That’s absolutely remarkable if you think about it. Amazing, really. Well done, sub-$250k buyer. You’re buying, and you’re smart.

Why is the primary market here doing so well?  It’s thriving today because the prices are still modest, still reasonable, still affordable. The interest rates are low but rising, and this market is super sensitive to rates, and to the threat of increased monthly costs. The primary market is performing well, but over $350k that strength dries up. Consider the city of Lake Geneva, where 40 homes are available today. Of those 40, 25 are priced under $350k. Of those 25,  ten are under contract. Another four are pending.  Over $350k? Not a single under contract or pending sale.

And all of that makes solid sense. The primary housing market is driven by those people who work here, and most of the jobs in a resort market are the sorts of jobs that can support home ownership on a modest level. A nice Walworth County job can buy a $275k colonial on a lot that was home to corn not so long ago, but most Walworth County jobs cannot support purchases over $350k.  But this isn’t about jobs and it isn’t about interest rates and it isn’t about me. It’s just about the primary housing market, and today I tip my hat to a vibrant market segment that I have absolutely nothing to do with.

 

Photo courtesy Kristen Westlake.
Peace

Peace

In the stillness of an anywhere field, there’s a stream that babbles and weaves and spills. The stream is loud.  There are birds both quiet and noisy, some fiddling about to themselves and others calling in friends, mates, or warning others to steer well clear. A deer in the distance makes no sound, slowly chewing the most tender blades of fresh spring grass.  Two rabbits hop as rabbits do, barely crunching the dried winter leaves they bound over. There’s a soft quiet hum to this distant field, a peaceful way in which every noisemaker plays their part in this unintentional orchestra. The sounds of this field on this day are the sounds that anyone can hear in the background of whatever their noisy present might be.

The lake on that July Sunday is so blue. The waves are pushed by so much wind, starting in the southwest and blowing to the northeast, breaking all the way. These winds are steady, eight or nine knots, the sailors would guess. The steady crash of the waves against the shore provide the unexpected percussion.  The trees sway, so many maples and oaks and walnuts rocking back and forth. The white noise of the day, some others would say. Something you can hear but easily ignore.  There’s a quiet bass of a distant Streblow, or is it a Shepard?  Children splashing at the pier two doors down, the soft squeals of city children as they find confidence in jumping off the outer horse post.   Fishermen ply the waters, flipping their silly jigs towards the piers and under the buoy tied boats. Those boats, they click and they clack when their buoy chain bumps the clasp of their bow. A couple walk the shore path, no words are spoken.   The day wears on, the boats change, the shore path leads the way, and the wind slowly falls as the sun dips low.

Is one of these two scenes more peaceful than the other? Is the sound of a stream in a wildflower field any more serene than a steady parade of waves marching from one end of this big lake to the other?  Does a breeze blown tree in a lakefront lawn make for a different background than a breeze blown tree in the middle of the darkest, loneliest woods? Is a stream-side lunch any different than a lakeside lunch, eaten over wicker table in the cool porch shade? Is there any difference in quality between peaceful solitude and peaceful company? Is the sound of a distant car making its way down a gravel road somehow preferable to the sound of a Cobalt heading West towards the setting sun?

I love Lake Geneva, but good luck finding any peace and quiet. I love Lake Geneva, but there’s no solitude. I love Lake Geneva, but there’s no place to just rest.  These are the comments of those who visit our lake but have not yet found the time to understand our lake.  The magic of this place is not in its tourist-centric downtown, nor in the way boats can clog the outer ring of the lake on any given weekend. No, the magic of this place is in its ability to make a lakeside porch,  pier, or patio, complete with the background noise of lapping waves, rumbling boats, and children splashing in the shallows, one of the most peaceful places to read a book. To nap. To eat a summer lunch. To be still.  There’s no trick to making a place void of people peaceful. Even Michigan can do that.  The real trick is making a place so full of company a place where solitude is simple to find. Where rest comes easily. Where peace comes not with complete silence, but with the lovely hum of an unmistakable summer soundtrack.

Lake Geneva Market Conditions

Lake Geneva Market Conditions

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was just myself, no one else. I wasn’t able to fly, or able to breath under water; nothing terrific like that. I was just a Realtor in this dream, going about my Realtor business. I was in a living room, someone else’s living room, not a room I had been in before. It wasn’t a very nice living room, but it was okay, I guess. In dreams, decor rarely matters.

The seller was someone I knew. A kid I knew a few years ago, he couldn’t be more than 22 now, as he was in the dream. He was sitting in his house, except in real life it is his parent’s house, but not in dreams. It was his house and he wanted to know how much it was worth.  He kept repeating three million dollars. He was intent. Three million dollars. Maybe three million five hundred thousand dollars. He wasn’t sure.

I was uncomfortable in the dream. I wanted to hear him out, to listen to the myriad reasons his house was worth this much money, and so I sat on the couch as he pointed to comps. The comparables were indeed nice homes, lakefront homes, big ones and fancy ones and I had sold many of them. I nodded along with his charismatic plea. Three million dollars.

When it was my turn I explained that those homes were large lakefront homes, and that his home was a small A-frame located two blocks from the lake. He sat back in his chair, feigning disgust at my lack of enthusiasm. I used the example of the Knollwood house that sold two years ago for $2.2MM, and said that the only reason that home sold for such an incredible number was because the home was so amazing. It was perfect, I said. Luxe Magazine, I said. Three million dollars, he said.

When I sensed I was making some progress with him, I asked what he had into the house. He said $300k. I said, “you mean your parents had $300k into it”. He smiled and acknowledged that yes, it was his parents’ money and their investment, not his. I told him he’d be lucky to get $400k for the house, but that he shouldn’t be so upset because that’s a lot of money for a kid his age. The dream ended without any further commentary. I’m uncertain if I got the listing, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t want it anyway.

This was a dream, but this is my life today. The market at Lake Geneva is filling with competition, I should say, with other agents whom, no matter their lack of knowledge or prior success, are intent on telling the world of their proficiency. The competition isn’t that, but it looks like it when you drive around and see names on signs that you’ve never seen before. It’s a market chock full of agents, of open houses, or letters and websites and Instagram hashtags. Experts are everywhere. Things are changing, and it’s the competition in the business of real estate that’s often bad for the consumer.

And that comes back to my dream. Sellers know the market is hot. They know it because all 500 some agents in Walworth County are telling them. Hot. Hot. Hot. And so agents are bidding up the listing prices of houses, especially lakefront houses on Geneva Lake, and sellers are feeling flattered by all the attention. The dream I had was just that, a dream, but it’s based on the reality of this season. Sellers, a note of caution. A hot market means there are market buyers for your house. Someone might even pay 5-10% more than the market value if they love it enough. But if we take the bait and price homes too high just because there’s a slight chance we’ll get away with it, we’re going to damage the market by filling it with overpriced homes that will, ultimately, drag on the market and put downward pressure on the unrealistic listing prices.

Buyers, work with an agent who knows the market because they’ve proven that they sell the market. Sellers, work with an agent who knows the market because they’ve proven that they sell the market. This isn’t really that hard.

Lake Geneva News

Lake Geneva News

I try my best to avoid involving myself with the municipal governments in this area. I care deeply about what happens here, about the future, about the way the whole thing seems to be turning out. That’s why I fight development, because it’s unnecessary and it’s evil and I wish Chicago developers would worry more about Chicago developments than rural ones. I shy away from fighting with the municipalities over things I feel are wrong, because the fight here is skewed and largely unfair. That’s because the tax base is large, owing that entirely to the vacation home set and their weekend homes, and yet the voting and decisions are carried out solely by those who live here full time.  The residents vote to spend the tax money of their neighbors who don’t have a say in the matter. That irritates me, and so I generally let sleeping, bloated, tax ladened dogs lie.

But sometimes it’s all too much, and I need to say a few words about the local happenings. And so here it goes. First up, more rumors and innuendo and hushed threats over the Geneva Inn. This is the old hotel on the southeast corner of the lake that used to be known as the Shore Club. This restaurant/hotel is in Linn Township, but the city of Lake Geneva covets it, and the development groups who eye it routinely wish to annex it to the city of Lake Geneva so that they can obtain city water and sewer. There’s much to discuss here, but there’s only one thing that matters. Development in this corner of the lake would be bad for the area. We do not need more development here, no matter what shape it takes, and we certainly don’t need some circus on that end of the lake. If you care about the lake and you like things the way they are, email the City of Lake Geneva and tell them to deny any annexation requests or development requests for the Geneva Inn.

Speaking of the city, there’s a new restaurant being built next to Popeye’s. Oak Fire Pizza, it might be two words not three, bought their building a few years ago. They renovated the building. They opened and they served me pizza that was decent, but soggy in the middle. Then they tore the building down and now they’re erecting a new building, to serve pizza. It’s a big gamble, a huge expense, but this is a good thing for the area. I don’t like development, this is obvious, but re-development of existing things should be encouraged, always. Lake Geneva is at a bit of an intersection these days. On one hand, rents are too high and certain marquee locations are sitting empty, an obvious sign of landlord/tennant disputes over reasonable rental rates. On the other hand, renovation and expansion is occurring, which cannot be anything but good so long as that expansion is simply replacing the tattered with the shiny, and not inventing new locations to cram the shiny.

Williams Bay likes money. They like it a lot. That’s why they several years ago approved an auto repair shop to be built on their main drag, just a few hundred feet from the lake. Any reasonable town with a reasonable eye towards the future would have denied this request, but Williams Bay is eager to play with the big boys like Fontana and Williams Bay and so they approve things that shouldn’t be approved. Like when the Williams Bay School Board pulled a fast one on the town and was allowed to collect tax dollars to fund the demolition of the old school building but then decided, instead, to sell the school building and pocket the dedicated funds. Williams Bay now wants to build a fire house. A new, shiny fire house. The fire house will cost a couple million because why not? We need a new fire house because the old one is too small for $500k fire trucks, and there aren’t even sleeping rooms in the old fire house. I can’t figure out why a volunteer fire department who battles fires on such an infrequent basis would need to sleep at their fire house. Baby, don’t treat me bad, indeed. Tell the Village of Williams Bay to knock it off, fire houses are for cities, silly.  On the heels of building a $20MM grade school, it takes a significant amount of gall to expect tax payers to fund a new firehouse of such royal proportions.

Speaking of easy tax dollars, a massive TIF grant was awarded to the new owner of the Geneva Theatre. Geneva 4, it’s called. I watched Hot Shots there from the front row, my neck crooked skyward, because it was 1991 and we rode our bikes there and we were late. The theatre has been in disrepair for ages, and so a new buyer surfaced last year and the city handed out bushels of tax dollars to aid in the renovations. The theatre now looks interesting,  art deco ish, but interesting. It was supposed to open on March 1st, but it didn’t. It’s supposed to open today, but who knows if it will. I asked the theatre manager for a tour of the property this week but was ignored, so perhaps they don’t want me to write nice things about their efforts.  I can’t tell you if they’re opening or not, but judging by the number of construction trucks outside the theatre yesterday it appears as though they’re giving max effort. The theatre will be open by summer, that we can be sure of, and it would be nice of you to visit it. I’m happy something was done here, and I’m happy the theatre remains a theatre and not a handful of t-shirt shops.

The biggest threat to the Lake Geneva market is not from outside forces. It’s not from greedy developers. The biggest threat is from within. It’s from the boards that run these small towns, the board members who so badly wish to matter. They want to make a splash, for the children they say, for the future. For this and for that, but the efforts are almost always guided by cliche and misunderstood standards that are rarely, if ever, challenged. Development does not make a community better.  Fire houses with sleeping quarters are not necessary. Hotels should be hotels, not water parks with carnivals surrounding them. The county and municipalities need to protect this lake, to protect the interests of those who make their living here at the same time as they protect those who fund all of this with their generous tax dollars. The best path forward is always one of caution, and when markets get hot caution is the narrowest of paths.

March

March

There’s a thing about March. It is, without any question, the worst month of the year. If you disagree, that’s fine, but I know deep down inside that I’m right. This is the key to winning arguments.  It’ll probably snow in March. It might snow today. It’ll probably be 65 in March, maybe 70. There is no ice left, that’s true of this March but not a typical March. What’s typical? March doesn’t know. March has no idea what it is, just that it came in like a lion and so it must go out like a lamb. March has no choice but to be the in between. Not winter, not spring, just something. A month, a space filler, a void. Ugliness, it will be at home here in March.

February, that’s winter all the way. Except this last February, where it was only a bit of winter but really none at all. It was spring. February showers bring May flowers, because in March, what could grow? February showers do nothing but wash some of the grit from the road and leave us wondering if we should rake out the fall leaves that accumulated behind our summer bushes, or if we should just put the rake away and prepare the shovel. It must snow again, right? It has to. It will. March, that’s when it’ll snow.

But this is the commentary of the weather obsessed, a troop I once belonged to, a long, long time ago. I broke free from those chains, from the chains that held my poor grandmother hostage for so long, in fact, right up to the moment of her death. I no longer live and die on weather, and when I see others proclaiming their misery simply based on the color of the sky I have to wonder why they, too, haven’t yet sought the salvation that comes from skyward ambivalence. I won’t care today that it’s gray and raining, and so I won’t care that March will be lots of that, with a bit of snow, or a lot of snow, who could say?

See, I don’t care about the weather anymore, not one bit. And it has led me to a place where things are much better. Wintery weather is just a reason to own skis. Rain is just a reason to own a house with a sturdy roof. And the summer sun is just a reason I must visit the dermatologist with increasing frequency. See, completely and entirely unconcerned about the weather. That’s why I can look to March not as an ugly month of the in-between, but rather as a month to prepare.   March isn’t spring, but the month sounds like spring, and when spring comes then summer follows. This is how it all works.  March is for preparing.

And what better time to prepare than when the skies are gray and the temperatures not cold enough to snow sport and not warm enough to do anything productive under the sun? There is no better time to prepare, and that’s why those who own lake houses shouldn’t sit around and wait for March to be over. They shouldn’t rest, contented in knowing that summer is still months away. I’m continually amazed by the lack of March motivation amongst the lake set. May, now that’s when they feel the burden of preparedness. But in March they don’t care. Must I remind you that last May we had summer that began as  early as the 20th of that month? How on earth can you enjoy instant and immediate summer if you spent March in the malls and on your couch?

If you’re a lake home owner, March is for getting ready. March is for buying a new grill because we all know your old grill is terrible. And why are you buying a Weber when we all know you can do better? March is for cleaning the gear room, where the life vests and the fishing poles and the paddle boards were hastily crammed last October. March is for doing the things that will make May so much better. But what about for those who don’t yet own lake homes? What about those who sit in the city or lounge in the suburbs, wondering what week long road trip they might take to pretend they enjoyed their summer? Well, March is a forgiving month for those people. March is a month for shopping. March is a month for buying. Yes, you should have been thinking about this last October, but you didn’t, because the Cubs were on their way to the World Series and you are forgiven for being obsessed. But now, this March, you’re running out of time but you still have plenty.

March is for getting ready. March is for looking. March is for contract writing, and then April is for closing.  Then May is for preparing and June is for enjoying your weekends in an entirely different way. If you haven’t even begun your search, that’s fine. Let’s get together this month. Let’s drive around and find something perfect. Let’s do this now because it’s March and there’s really nothing else to do.

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.

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

That headline is clunky. But it’s only clunky because it has to be. Lake Geneva is the general term for our market. Unfortunately sometimes it’s too generic, like when people borrow the term to describe a listing near Pell Lake. Lake Geneva Area Home! That sounds better than “It’s Super Close To Pell Lake, Folks”. As for me, I don’t even know where Pell Lake is because I’ve never looked for it. There’s a chance it’s wonderful, but I’m betting against. Anyway, Lake Geneva is the market, it’s the city, and Geneva Lake is the lake. So when I say “Lake Geneva Lake Access” I’m describing the homes within the city limits of the City of Lake Geneva that possess lake access to Geneva Lake. That’s all. Onward.

I heard that the weekend Winterfest festivities were a bit crowded. As in, way too crowded. And this is the problem with Lake Geneva just as it’s a reason that people like it. If you like the scene, no where can it be found so easily. There are restaurants and shops and shops and restaurants, and we used to have like fifty coffee shops and now we only have a couple. Lake Geneva is the epicenter of this market, it’s important and it’s necessary. A fantastic lake and beautiful homes only take you so far, because when it rains or when it’s winter you have to be able to visit a town to buy things to eat and things to wear. Lake Geneva might be everything to our local economy, but in terms of our lake access housing market it actually matters very little.

That’s because for all of the real estate in the city, there aren’t loads of lake access homes. Much of the market functions like a lake access market as that area behind the beach and the library often trades from one vacation home owner to another even though that market (Maple Park) lacks specific lake rights.  In this segment, the homes immediately along Geneva Street, those homes that face the lake, they have been increasingly popular for the vacation home set. The homes lack private lake access but they have that view, and nowhere else can a vacation home owner so easily wake on a Saturday and stroll along the lake into town for breakfast. That’s pretty nice, but sorry Sorta-Lake-Access-Maple-Park-District, you’re not included today.

For 2016, just seven lake access homes within the City of Lake Geneva printed. They ranged in price from $568k to $1.35MM.  The lake access market there consists primarily of Geneva Manor (two sales for 2016). This association on the West side of town is fine, but the off-water homes lack boatslips and nearly all of them lack views, and so you’re buying a home in a neighborhood that affords you a private park and swimming piers, but no slip. It should also be mentioned that you’re buying into a tax-heavy environment, as an offer water home in Geneva Manor that prints in the $800k range will soon receive a tax bill in the $18k range. That’s rough, and while the lakefront market generally absorbs the city taxes much more easily, the lake access market there suffers a bit for it. Then again, most buyers don’t even think about that before they buy, so perhaps it matters very little.

 

Further away from the city but still within the city limits, Geneva Bay Estates. This association had two sales last year, both of rough homes in terrific locations, both possessing a boat slip. These homes sold for $575k and $825k, respectively. Geneva Bay Estates is off of Snake Road, and it’s highly desirable. Low density, low overall house count, and a pleasant lakefront park and pier system make for a high quality lake access association.

On the other side of the city there are several associations that offer its owners private lake access, but they are lesser known because they’re not very large. Maytag Estates and Somerset are the largest here, and one off-water sale did print in Maytag for $1.35MM. That was a decent home with a slip and some views. Somerset had some inventory last year but no MLS sales. To the North, Pine Tree Lane had a sale with a bit of a view and no slip for $545k.  One other home sold, but it was technically a condo on Wrigley Drive. That home sold off-water with a slip for $1.030MM. It was a nice house, but with limited outdoor space, no lakefront park, and a pier shared by three owners.

Today, just two off-water lake access homes are available in the city. Our low inventory theme plays no favorites, as every association and municipality is plagued by a lack of inventory at the moment.  Plenty of buyers want to be near to the city of Lake Geneva, and there are good reasons for that desire, as the scene there is difficult to beat. The convenience of walking into town for a Sunday morning breakfast or a Friday night fish fry is meaningful. But along with that convenience and activity you have to consider the throngs of vacationers that arrive in that city on the weekends. It can, at times, feel like too much. Like at Winterfest, when the bars are full and all you really wanted was a Badger Burger.

Lake Geneva’s Winterfest

Lake Geneva’s Winterfest

I admit when it comes to events that I lack enthusiasm when compared to some of my enthusiastic competitors. Chili Cook Off Dinner This Friday Night! I can’t bring myself to care about that. Elkhorn Rotary Club 23rd Annual Pot Luck Dinner This Sunday!  That means nothing to me.  I can’t even feign interest or enthusiasm or concern.  That’s part of what makes this blog somewhat difficult at times. I don’t really want to write about things I don’t care about just for the sake of being an involved member of this community. That’s because the community, as I see it, is different from the way it looks on Facebook, because that’s a particular lens that I don’t own. Not everything is fun, not everything is interesting, and not everything is something you should attend.  SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY MOVIE NIGHT AT SHOWBOAT IS “JUMANJI”!!!!

It’s because of this that I have shied away from telling you about every little goings on in this market. I don’t really tell you about things in the way that I used to, because it seems insincere to me if I tell you to do something that I don’t want to do myself.  Do you care that this Sunday you can go to Pier 290 and watch the Super Bowl? Neither do I, because I can watch that game at home and since I write this to my Illinois clients I’m guessing that very few of you (none) want to stay at Pier 290 until late Sunday night when you likely have to work on Monday morning. So I’m not going to tell you to watch the Super Bowl there, because I don’t really need the content and I’m aware that such an invitation is likely to be ignored anyway. That said, there is something worthwhile this weekend.

Lake Geneva’s Winterfest is this weekend, and it’s important not because of what it is, but because of what it represents. Yes, there will be snow sculpting on display and those displays are worthy of your attention. The competitors are skilled and they slave away to create something that is only valued until it melts, which, according to our forecast, should be sometime around Tuesday of next week. This work is akin to a famous chef making the best of meals, the fanciest of meals, the most expensive of meals, and you’re lucky enough to score an invite to the dinner table. But like a fine meal that won’t hold up well to microwave re-heating, the snow sculptures are best enjoyed fresh, before the dolphin’s nose melts and renders the once vibrant animal a lowly manatee.

The sculptures are one thing, perhaps the main thing, but there’s the ice bar at the Baker House, helicopter rides for those uncertain they care about making it to Monday, and other fun things as well. There’s a scene here, and it matters because the scene plays out during the first week in February. We all know what the scene looks like in July, because it’s a summer scene that has likely been seared, pleasantly, into each of our minds. That scene is so very lovely. But this is a winter scene, and it matters because Lake Geneva isn’t just a place for summer. It’s a place that thrives in all seasons, in the spring and summer and in the fall, yes, but also in the dead of winter. The scene is alive, this town in action, never taking time off, always here, open, ready.

And that’s why it matters. Many resort towns, especially in the Midwest, fail at one season or another. The Northwoods will gladly allow you to be mosquito bitten in the summer and frostbitten in the winter. This is what the Northwoods does.  Door County will sell you ice-cream in the summer and show you their roof-goats with great pleasure. But in the winter Door County is closed, the lights dimmed, the scene on hold until June. Michigan, well, I’m not sure about Michigan in the winter because I visited Harbor Country once in late June and their season hadn’t yet started, so I cannot be certain exactly how terrible that place might be in February. But Lake Geneva is the same in summer as it is in the winter, it’s thriving, it’s bright, and it’s ready for you.

This weekend, come up for a visit. Walk the downtown. Take pictures next to the snow dolphins. Have a drink in an ice bar. And then come over and visit me at N1561 East Lakeside Lane in the South Shore Club. I’ll be holding that new listing open from 1-4 pm on Saturday, and it would be a shame for me to have to sit there all by my lonesome. See you at the lake this weekend,  when the scene will be on full display even while our Midwestern “competitors” hibernate.

 

Photo courtesy Lake Geneva Country Meats
Ski Towns

Ski Towns

When you grow up in the Midwest, you are taught certain things. You are taught that the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings or the Detroit Lions are your team. They’re your team through the bad and the good, whether you want them to be or not. If your son comes home one day and tells you that he likes the Seahawks, no matter if their quarterback went to Wisconsin or not, this is a terrible, awful day in the history of your family. You’re taught these things and you’re also taught one other thing that’s less blatant but nonetheless present. The Midwest is not as good as the other places.

The other places can be the coasts or they can be, as they tend to be, the mountains. It doesn’t matter which mountains, because they’re all better. See, in the mountains it snows and then it’s sunny and sometimes it’s sunny and then it snows. It’s not cloudy there. It’s not cold, either. It’s snowy and warm and sunny and still, super snowy. Wisconsin children cannot fathom how it can be all of those things at once, and so the desire to experience it grows. Should we all move to the mountains? It’s better there. This is what we grow up thinking, and then, one by one, the children of Wisconsin grow and leave this place, they leave to be bartenders and lifelong ski rental fitters, but none of that matters because oh, the snow.

This week, I worked in Lake Geneva on Monday and then I hung out at a fancy hotel in a little mountain town on Tuesday. I stayed there with my wife until Thursday, and now I’m back in Lake Geneva, working. The town I visited was less a town and more a resort, a shiny log hotel in a little draw called Bachelor Gulch. It was nice, this place, except when we had to evacuate because the hotel was on fire. It was burning slowly, they assured us. No need to panic. Throw this vintage wool blanket over your shoulders and sip this hot chocolate near this outdoor fire, it’ll be fine. The hotel was nice, the time spent worthwhile, the mountains as tall as I remembered them.

But this isn’t about these mountains. It’s about the parallels drawn from some time in the mountains and the rest of my time here. It’s about Lake Geneva, as it should always be, and it’s about the Chicago families I spoke with who were wearing the same patterned wool blankets and drinking the same ritzy hot chocolate. It’s about the search for something that can interject some excitement into an otherwise pattern plagued existence. That, after all, is why people board planes and fly to that place. For something different. There are no mountains in the Midwest, though I’ll happily substitute the Wisconsin Driftless for the Colorado Rockies, but that’s just me.

Because I’m me, and I’m fascinated by the real estate markets in unique locations, I had to ask about condos and houses and condotels and terrible, awful, embarrassing fractional ownerships. I asked a Realtor, a friendly enough fella who seemed to know what was what. I asked about this hotel and that condominium, about this small mountain town and that small mountain town. I asked about appreciation and decline, about the number of sales here and why such an astounding absence of sales there. I asked the things I know to ask. Because that’s what you do when you go somewhere and like that somewhere- you seek to own some of it.

After some time at that resort we left to ski out of another resort. Then we went to town in another town to shop, then to another place. This place looked like that place, except this place had a Starbucks in a house and not in a strip mall. The other places were similar to the place we started. Then to Breckenridge and Frisco and Edwards and Avon. Eagle and Vail and Copper Mountain. To all of them to look, to explore, to see what they have to offer.  Places to buy ski boots? Check. Places to buy hats and gloves? Check. Places to get a coffee? Check. Places to buy marijuana? Check. Places to buy those communist inspired Colorado logo t-shirts and hats and stickers? Check. A ski hill somewhere looming over it all? Check.

These were just some of the towns we visited, and with that exploration the pattern was revealed. The towns, each unique, sure, but each the same. The mountains all tall, the snow all white, the sky, contrary to what the brochures and my childhood told me, gray and heavy. To be a buyer in one of these towns is to be a buyer in each of these towns. To seek real estate in one is to seek real estate in them all. And I hadn’t driven north or south or particularly far west. I was just on a highway making stops and detours along the way. If I were a Chicago buyer seeking something in this place, how do I choose which place when the places are all the same?

This is the same way I felt when exploring the gulf coast beach towns 20 years ago. If Anna Maria Island was okay, would Longboat be better? Why buy in Longboat when Siesta Key is close? What about Port this or Royal that? And if those are fine, what about Captiva? Sanibel is the same, so there? Fort Meyers seems okay, along the beach anyway, but Naples is so close. Marco is close, too. All of these towns possessing similar things- shops to buy shells and shops to buy t-shirts and sunscreen. The ingredients are all the same, so how to choose which place?  How can I buy in one when another one that I haven’t  yet seen might be better? This was my coastal problem and this was my mountain problem. Vail is nice, sure, but it feels too fake for me. Frisco, now that’s more like a real town, but my wife made us eat Himalayan food there and it wasn’t any good.

The way I feel when I go to these places is likely the way Chicago families feel when they visit this place, Lake Geneva. Why buy in Lake Geneva when Delavan is close? If Delavan is in contention, Lauderdale should be, too. Beulah isn’t far, neither is Mary, and if Mary is being considered then Browns should be, too. After all, each town has some places to buy t-shirts and cheese and you can get summer sausage at the gas stations in every one of these lake towns. This is why buyers here can find themselves confused, and as someone who visits other regions and feels that confusion, I’m here to help clear up any Lake Geneva confusion.

Lake Geneva is better than all of the other lakes. Plain and simple. It’s way, way better. Like a trillion times better. So don’t be confused here. Don’t look around as thought there might be a better lake around the corner. Don’t think you’re going to find something that we haven’t already bested. Lake Geneva wins, so stop your search. Just buy here. And if you think a mountain town is a better option, you’ll be shocked to learn that I don’t disagree. As long as you can jump in the car on a Friday afternoon and drive to that mountain town in 90 minutes, go for it. Otherwise, don’t be silly.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

The entry level lakefront market is a perplexing little market. On one hand, it’s obvious that a cheap lakefront on Geneva will always find an audience. This is unavoidable. On the other hand, the inventory is slight in this segment and yet there have been two entry level lakefront homes toiling under $1.4MM for much of this year and nearly for all of last. In the same segment, a new lakefront was listed last week and has since gone under contract (I’m not involved in the transaction). Not only is the new home in the same segment, it’s on the same street, and it sold without much ado even as the other two sit. This bothers me, but it proves the market absolutely loves new inventory and at the same time finds something distasteful about aged inventory, no matter what benefits the aged inventory can offer. New inventory good, old inventory bad, or so the market proves.

Last month the wide frontage on Basswood closed for $3.55MM. Lest you think this was some amazing, full depth Basswood lot, I assure you that it wasn’t as ideal as it first sounds. The property was wide at the lake, beautiful indeed, but the lot angled back to a sliver as it headed towards Basswood. Compare this to my listing on Basswood (more money, granted) that runs a complete rectangle from lake to Basswood, full of old deciduous growth. Still, the lot that sold is nice and the house could very well be renovated. I’ll be curious to see if there’s a sizable renovation there, or just a lipstick renovation, or if the structure follows the well worn path towards demolition. Time will tell.

That sale was the seventh lakefront this year to print at or over $2.75MM.  Not coincidentally, of those seven sales, I represented either buyer or seller in five of them, including the three highest priced sales of 2016. Last year at this time we had closed just four lakefronts at or over $2.75MM, so there’s little doubt that the market at the higher end has much more strength now than it did before.  As I wrote last week, what this upper bracket markets wants now is more inventory. We can’t sell what we don’t have available, and so there are buyers on the hunt and increasingly less game in the field. My large lakefront in Fontana is under contract, leaving just 11 lakefronts priced over $3MM for sale. Of those, two or three of them are in no danger of selling, perhaps ever.  The highest priced listing to grace our lakefront this year has just been reduced from $16.45MM to $14.5MM.

And that brings us back to the entry level market and the lesson of the week.  In this lower inventory environment, new inventory will always be met with excitement. Sellers who are thinking of waiting until next spring to list their lakefront home are doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of the market conditions that exist today. Why trade the relative certainty of today for the complete uncertainty of some time far into the future? The thing is, even with this low inventory environment, there are deals to be had. There are aged bits of inventory that look appealing to me, but that’s because I’m value driven and I know that just because the market hasn’t been excited by a property that doesn’t mean there isn’t value hidden under all those days on market. Below and above, my Basswood estate listing.

700 South Lakeshore

700 South Lakeshore

There are homes that you know. Stone Manor. You know this place. You know the Driehaus property and the Wrigley cottages. You know where the Pritzker’s live at their Casa. You know lots of houses, and you know this house, too. It’s big and it’s white and it’s by Stone Manor and if you’ve walked the shore path, well then you know it. There’s nothing wrong with knowing houses, because we all know them and we all pride ourselves on that knowledge. It’s hard for me to break this to you, but I know more houses than you. And I know this house, because I’ve been in it and I’ve seen it and it’s been for sale before. That’s why I’m not going to introduce this new listing to you today as a house that you don’t know. I’m introducing it to you as a house that you already know, but you likely don’t understand.

To be fair, I didn’t understand it either. It’s a huge house, massive, really. Too big for most, but somehow probably too small for some. The lot is big, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s just under 4 acres, with 160′ of frontage, so it’s large enough to be estate sized but not so large that you’re left wondering what to do with all that land. It’s close to town, so close you can walk there without first considering your footwear, but not so close that you hear the busy hum of the tourist choir. It’s private. Exceedingly so. Terrifically so. Yet it’s close. The sun sets in the West, this we know, and this house faces west, this we still know. The pool is lakeside, facing west, which is how a photograph like the one above can happen. The thing is, it’s not a rare picture. It’s not hard to take or hard to time. You just need spend any old evening at this house and wait for the shadows to grow long and the sun to dip over that western shore. 700 South Lakeshore doesn’t have to try very hard to be unique, it just is.

But of the house, past the gate and past the tennis court and not yet to the pool and the pier, the house. It’s a big house, big enough. It was built in 1996, and judging from my Senior Year yearbook the style in 1996 wasn’t exactly what you see today. The house is somewhat dated, with cherry where there would now be oak, and tile where there would now be marble. The thing about this house is that someone could buy it today and move in tomorrow and be remarkably happy. Or, someone could buy it today and do a surface remodel tomorrow and by next summer they’d be even happier. Would you rather remodel an old house, or a newer house? The question is as most of the questions here, not specifically meant to be answered.

This is a special property in a special location, and I know it now more than I ever did before. I know it because I spent three hours at the house last week with the videographer, making this video that you see here and watching that sun fall to the west. I sat on the covered porches, which are among the finest covered porches on this entire lake. I lounged on the poolside chairs, delighting in a pool that faces the lake in such an unavoidable way. I thought about how that walk into town is so short, so easy, and how the pier is sturdy and white and the landscaping a mirror of perfection. I thought of the gate and the tennis and the densely wooded grounds, and how the privacy was equal to the privacy I might find off some skinny drive in some middle section of Linn Township. And then I thought about this house, how I thought I knew what it was all about but that I really had no clue. It’s $6.495MM, it’s light years below replacement cost, and it’s available today as my newest lakefront estate listing.

Manhattan

Manhattan

I generally agree with the concept that what happens on the coasts will someday find its way to Lake Geneva. This is the case with both good and bad. New York has fantastic pizza. Lake Geneva will someday also have fantastic pizza. Washington had a Starbucks, and then a couple of decades later, we have a Starbucks.  This is good. In the same way, when something trendy happens on a coast, it’ll also soon happen here. But there are limitations to this, and that’s why the current correction of sorts afflicting Manhattan doesn’t mean there’s a correction coming swiftly to the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Here’s why.

My knowledge of the Manhattan real estate market is limited, obviously. If it weren’t, you could question my dedication to the Lake Geneva market. See, when Ryan Serhant opens offices in Miami and LA,  he’s not doing so because he’s somehow a Miami expert. He’s doing so because he’s a businessman and he’s smart enough to know his name will mean something to people even when it likely means nothing. Anyway, I don’t know anything about Manhattan real estate aside from what I read and what I see on television. What I see on television is that new developments are coming online all the time, and those new developments are not loaded with $400k condos. They’re filled with $4MM condos and $7MM condos and $14MM condos.

Lake Geneva is filled with $200k cottages and $300k condos and $800k houses and $3MM lakefronts. It’s a mix of things, with no particular segment requiring a tremendous amount of liquidity annually. This is one of the problems with Geneva National, as you’ll recall. It’s simply too big to maneuver through years of low volume without causing a price adjustment in the process.  The lakefront market on Geneva functions differently, as low volume is generally a result of low inventory, which in turn creates a market where prices escalate. So if you’re a buyer on Geneva you’re wishing for inventory and if you’re an owner on Geneva you’re wishing against it. This isn’t very difficult to understand.

But it’s back to Manhattan and those buildings and the sheer volume required to keep that market moving forward, appreciating and rare. What’s the number? I don’t know, because I’m typing from Williams Bay this morning. But the simple reality is that markets in forward motion require more buyers than sellers. Turn the tide and the market will stall. Turn it for long enough and the market will decline. If Manhattan is experiencing a decline, that’s too bad, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Lake Geneva. There will be a decline coming to our markets within a few years, this you can be sure of. But until the sellers outpace the buyers, that won’t be the case. I’ll be sure to let you know when it is. For now, I need to run home to snap some aloe open and lather it on my bright red nose and cheeks. The Lake Geneva sun was benevolent yesterday, and my face carries the proof.

Lakewood Estates

Lakewood Estates

I was the first broker to try my hand at selling the new Harbor Watch condominiums on downtown Lake Geneva’s waterfront.  I believe the year was 2002, because I was at that building for an open house when my wife called to tell me she was pregnant, and my son was born in 2003. So let’s assume it was 2002. The market back then was humming, the sky, some wondered, was it really even the limit? The market was ready for new things, for bold things, and with condominiums listed in the million dollar range, we were offering both. I hung on to that listing for a year, maybe less, maybe more, and I didn’t sell any of them. Buyers wanted fireplaces (we had none), they wanted more privacy (we had little), and they wanted to pay less (not happening). We offered a product that the market wasn’t ready for.  During the two or three years that followed my listing tenure, the building sold out, at prices less than we had originally wanted but still, sold.  The market caught up with the product, and the product made some price adjustments to hurry up the union.

Last year, I introduced Lakewood Golf Estates to the market. There was some initial interest, some slight interest along the way, and then, over the winter while the project sat off market, some more tepid interest. There was interest, sure, but no one bought anything. In that, I failed the development because the market didn’t respond. Late last year, just before the listing was to drop from the market to refresh, we made a bold price shift. Lots that were $450k would now be $250k, and in that, the developer listened to what the market had been telling us all season. We were priced too high, too soon, it was just too much of a gap between the market’s expectation and our price point.

Today, I’m bringing Lakewood Golf Estates back online. The prices are reflecting those huge discounts to last summer’s ask. The development is one year older now, the trees one year stronger, the gate now nearly completed.  When you ask a buyer to envision something there is always a risk. The buyer might envision something different than the developer, different than the agent, and in that interpretation of what might be, a sale can be lost. Now, we’re back, we’re done, and we’re ready to sell these lots. There are just 16 lots in total, which you’ll recognize as being a reasonably low total. I’m anti- mass development, as everyone by now knows, which is why this development fits my eye so well. It’s small, it’s exclusive, and it’s representative of the type of properties that vacation home buyers wish for at Lake Geneva.

To recap what we have here, it’s a development on a golf course, but that’s where the similarities to golf course developments begin and end. The golf course here is the private, member’s only Lakewood, where there will be a maximum of just 50 members allowed (per current membership information). The course is a full 18, and it’s complicated and simple at once, with the 75 acre private lake playing a large role in many of the golf holes. I’ve played the course often, and have set a course record for most balls lost, which is better than not owning a course record at all. The golf is good, but that’s not all we have. There’s a private, member’s only clubhouse, and access for owners to board horses in the on-site barns. We have pastures galore, and one needn’t be a horse lover to appreciate the way a grazing horse swooshes his tail on a summer afternoon. The lake itself is an attraction, too, with 75 stocked acres that kids and adults alike will find pleasure in fishing. It’s a great lake for practicing sailing in small scows, and for paddle boarding and kayaking and canoeing, etc and etc.

If you took a flier on this last year but didn’t like our pricing, come back for another look. It’s a unique development minutes from downtown Lake Geneva, and I’m of the opinion that the prices are finally correct. If you’d like a private tour that includes a round of golf on the house, let me know as I’m happy to oblige.

Barron’s Top 20 Second-Home Resorts

Barron’s Top 20 Second-Home Resorts

When the Chicago Tribune talks about vacation homes, it likes to talk about South Carolina. And then also about Uruguay. If not those, then Arizona, maybe Florida. Sometimes, Michigan. Other times, Door County. Once in a while Green Lake. Other times strange lakes in strange places that I’ve never been to. If the Chicago Tribune is doing the writing, then the elephant in the room is Lake Geneva. It’s so close and so known, they’d rather just ignore it. For their shame.

Barron’s is headquartered in New York. That’s a far distance from here when measured in miles, but really it’s farther than that.  I subscribe to Barron’s for no other reason than I once subscribed and I now subscribe annually when I notice they’ve billed my credit card again. I should probably cancel my subscription, but I can’t now. I can’t because the fine New Yorkers at Barron’s like Lake Geneva.  They like like us.

Last week, the Barron’s Top 20 Second-Home Resorts was published. Never mind that the title is clunky and actually  makes very little sense, we’ll just accept the accolades and bask in our nationwide importance. In this report, the super-intelligent, savvy folks at Barron’s compiled 20 top vacation home markets, and they ranked them based on something that’s not entirely clear. Some proprietary combination of something with another something, divided by a few, averaged and then stacked in order.

Number 1 on the list, Austin, Texas. Austin sold 568 homes priced over $1MM, which is incredible and should be congratulated. But Austin is also being overrun by Californians, so we know that Austin won’t be weird for long, it’ll just be strange. Next on the list, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We’re runner up really, silver medalists on a national stage.  Here we were, just minding our own business, when New York decided that this little town in fly-over country is worthy of their list.

The snippet on Lake Geneva explained that our market is hot, up 10% over the past year. They told the country what we already know, that our market is exclusive. That’s it’s rare and it’s hot and it’s only for the discerning.  Then they talked about other, lesser markets, like Park City and Vail and Hamptons and Lake Tahoe. But these are all the unimportant places in the country. Perhaps they could all try harder next year to dethrone us from second place.

I wish they would have interviewed me for the article, but they didn’t. They might have called, but if BARRON’S shows up on my caller ID I’m going to assume it’s related to the subscription that I’ve forgotten to cancel for 10 years, and I wouldn’t have answered it anyway. They did mention the $6MM Stone Manor unit, which is my listing, so in a round about way I was mentioned.

The author accurately noted that our sales volume was up 30% from 2014, and that there’s roughly 2 dozen lakefronts for sale is correct (the actual number is just 19 today). But in that there is a common mistake made. Stating that our market appreciated 10% over the past year is simply incorrect. It’s incorrect because in low volume markets there’s nothing accurate about averaging any given year’s worth of sales and assuming that the resulting tally is somehow an indicator of appreciation, or depreciation. That’s because low volume markets offer too many variables to be constrained by the simple math of averages.

Last year, Geneva printed 11 sales over $2.4MM, including five sales over $3.79MM. In 2014, we closed just 3 sales over $2.4MM, and 2 over $3.79MM. That 10% price appreciation you’ve heard about? It didn’t actually happen, we just sold more higher priced homes relative to the year prior. Sure, the market was up, and I’ve guessed it was up around 5%. Why is the number a guess and not an accurate reflection of the data? Because the data is too easily skewed, and my guess is based on the nuance that makes this market what it is. What is it? The #2 resort market in these United States.

Michigan failed to make the list, but if Barron’s would just agree to do the Top 10,000 Second Home Resorts, I’m confident Michigan will make the cut.

For Sale Lake Geneva

For Sale Lake Geneva

When you sell a car, you can sell it one of two ways. You can either sell it because you’ve already bought another car, one that you now love very much. When you have a new car, the old car is no longer important. Who could want two cars unless one is a truck and another is a go-fast sports car? Or perhaps if one is a bumbling SUV and the other a sedan, that might be okay. But for this purpose we have one car that’s older and another one that’s newer, and they’re the same sort of car. No one needs two Dodge Intrepids. No one.

And so one is sold. It’s put out at the road with a sign in the window, or it’s put online, with some pictures and a short description:  I bought a new Intrepid. This is the old Intrepid. No further explanation would be needed. Everyone would understand. And so, because you have tow Intrepids and one is new, you sell the old one. $4200. You let it sit at the road or online for a few weeks. Someone who doesn’t even own one Intrepid offers you $3500. It’s less than you want, but you sell it because you have two and one is old.  This is one of the ways to sell a car.

The other way is to sell a car that you don’t really want to sell. It seems odd, but this sort of sale happens all the time. The car is worth $4500, but you list it for $5900 thinking that if someone is silly enough to buy it, you’ll sell it. And so that car sits and sits but your price stays firm. $5900 OBO. The OBO is only out of habit, because only serial killers write FIRM next on a car window sign. No one bites. No one looks. Your car sits at the road and it rots online, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because you like that car and you’ve decided that it might be nice to have two Intrepids, in case one is in the shop and you have to go out to dinner.

People sell houses in the same manner. They set imagined targets based on once believed values, or based on nothing at all. They wait for someone to call, to drive by, to look in the windows and like what they see.  These are the sellers that we’ve become accustomed to, but these are not the sellers that we wish to find. We want to find the seller who has two of the same thing, the seller who genuinely wishes to no longer own one of them. As the market improves and inventory dwindles, this is our charge. We must find the seller who has what we want, yes, but we must find the seller who has decided to sell because she has to, not just because she sort of wants to.

 

Have a wonderful Easter Weekend.

Deadlines

Deadlines

I think about the days when I won’t write on this blog. I think about how admitting that is to somehow run afoul of the unwritten rules of a real estate professional. I cringe at the word professional. Cringing at the word is also running afoul of those unwritten rules, though I’ll bet they are written somewhere. New agent materials, written. Trade magazines, written. Written by people who tell you what to do and how to be successful. Wear a crisp shirt. Don’t be yourself. Don’t talk about safe neighborhoods and whatever you do, don’t say anything that might be construed as being somehow offensive.  Don’t tell people that you fished Delavan Lake yesterday and you were, for the first time in more than a week, happy to have a cold.  Um, Dad, what’s that horrible smell?  I don’t know son, I have a cold.  I think it’s the lake. See, don’t say anything offensive, and don’t let your hair be messy and don’t ever talk about how you look forward to the day when you don’t sell real estate.

I think about those days in the future, and I think I’ll try to write stories or articles or blog posts or something, and with the meager scratch I’ll earn I’ll just live on that. I’ve written for some magazines already, and it doesn’t seem that hard. Just sit here, think about something not related to real estate, and write it. Then, send the written thing in to the magazine and have them brutally reject your written thing, and you.  I sent a bit into Gray’s Sporting Journal once. I received the courtesy of a rejection email, and it stung. But I’m a glutton for things that sting, (see, Real Estate Profession), and so I emailed back. I asked what about the piece was wrong. Was it the topic or the style or the fact that I always put periods inside the quotation marks?  I was expecting a blistering critique, a sharp dagger to slice through my dreams. I braced myself for the reply.

The writing is not up to the Gray’s Sporting Journal standard. 

That’s all he said. He didn’t thank me for my thoughtful question. He didn’t even soften the edges.  He didn’t say one thing was wrong, he said it was all wrong. And so I’m happy to write for the Drake Magazine (pick one up at your favorite bookstore), where they let me write about fishing with my wife (I hate it), and fishing with friends (hate that, too), and they let me make fun of Iowa. See, when it comes to real estate, Michigan is the one who deserves my ire.  I never wanted to hate Michigan, but any state that produces a commercial aimed at romanticizing Escanaba is a state that has earned my spite. In trout fishing, Iowa is the embarrassing one. Wisconsin has glorious trout streams. We have so many that you don’t dare try to count them without your favorite quant nearby to assist. But Iowa, they have streams stocked with silly trout that don’t spook when you cast your line over their heads. They have hatchery fish that are more likely to eat a Dog Food Emerger than a Pale Morning Dun. See, this is why I have to write for a fly fishing magazine, because you don’t even know what I’m talking about.

In January, the publisher of that magazine emailed me with an assignment. An assignment. I’ve never had one since high school English, and those were assignments I could cheat on (the internet wasn’t available yet, but Cliff Notes were). This assignment was different, and I’d be getting paid for it, and so I had to focus.  I was to write about the early season opener in Wisconsin, which again, is meaningless to you if you’re not interested in fly fishing. But the early season opener is a big deal, and this year it was earlier than in every year that has come prior. This winter, Wisconsin anglers could fish for trout, so long as they released them. I gladly accepted the assignment, which was due by March 1st. I had more than a month to write this piece, and it only needed to be 800 words or so. Cinch. My career was blossoming.

And then the month of February passed, and my assignment went as most of my prior assignments. Unfulfilled. I couldn’t write. I sat at this desk, stared at this screen, typed words on this tiny keyboard, but a story never materialized. The month was a failure because the deadline only reinforced my writer’s cramp. I couldn’t think of anything, and when I did think of something, I wrote it and quickly realized it was the wrong thing. I stared at my office fireplace, hoping the flames would give me inspiration. They didn’t. I watched a fly fishing video or two on that office TV, hoping something would kindle in me an angle. It didn’t. I fished once that month, hoping that the snowy solitude would show me the way.  The fish ate my fly, and snow felt right under my boots, but I had no angle. The deadline was looming.

And I had nothing. But when the deadline was just a day or two away, an idea. I hurriedly plunked it down, read it once, fixed a few words and eliminated a few commas (I do love the comma), and sent it in. I waited for the reaction of the editor. Would he know that I had written this in haste, because the deadline was so near? Or would he reject it because it was, in the words of Gray’s, not up to the standard? When his email arrived in my inbox, it took me a few minutes to open it. I didn’t know if I could stand the rejection, the humiliation. I didn’t want to fail at my first assignment in the field.   If I flunk my first test, how would I someday retire early to while away my days on a Geneva plying sailboat or in those cold clear Wisconsin streams?

He said the angle was different, the tone not what he expected, the outcome unpredictable. But then he said he liked it, and looked forward to running it in the Spring issue. And with that, a deadline made. A dream intact. But the deadline almost paralyzed me, and I nearly missed the prize. You might not realize it, but you have a deadline, too, and it’s rapidly approaching. It’s Memorial Day Weekend 2016, the weekend that should be your launching point for your first Lake Geneva based summer. You see the gray of today, you see the possible snow of tomorrow, you see the calendar and you think you have time. But you don’t. You’re as me, pressing your luck, not willing to do the work required to obtain the reward.  You have 55 days to get this right, now don’t blow it.

 

South Shore Club at Lake Geneva

South Shore Club at Lake Geneva

The South Shore Club at Lake Geneva is old now. It’s been here for a long time, or for a lifetime, assuming the life is young and the long time isn’t viewed in any historical context. It’s not new, but it’s not old like the Chicago Club, or the Harvard Club, or the Lake Geneva Club.  But there’s nothing misunderstood about it now, nothing curious, nothing that needs so much explaining. The market was created, the market stumbled, the market found its footing and now the market is doing what’s best for the Club. It’s resting.

Last year, the last two pieces of aged inventory sold. That was my listing on Forest Hill Court, and the vacant lot immediately to the West of it. Those two properties, one build and one vacant, had been for sale for years. Literally, years and years. Then last fall they sold. Both at discounts, both at prices that represented significant losses for the sellers. But they both finally sold and with those sales, the South Shore Club removed the last piece of stubborn resistance.

Over the winter, nothing has happened in the South Shore Club, and that’s exactly what needed to happen. Then, a couple of weeks ago, an old bit of inventory made new again. A home that was built on spec near the tennis court on Forest Hill came back to market. That home had sold for $1.6s but was then improved, so the $1.9MM ask wasn’t out of line with market expectations. That home sold quickly and somewhat easily. Today, if you were only watching casually over the winter, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know about that sale (it hasn’t closed yet).

The market is quiet now, but it’s only quiet if you’re not on the inside. On the inside, there is at least one home privately offered for sale, though it isn’t listed. Inside, there aren’t any lots on the open market but there are two that might be sold if the price is right.  Outside, it looks as though the SSC has finally found its balance, and so long as the market there continues to release bits of inventory slowly, one at a time, the market will continue to improve. That’s what it looks like on the inside, too.

If we rewind to the spring of 2012, the South Shore Club at Lake Geneva was a total market disaster. It hadn’t printed a sale in forever, and vacant lots hung heavy on the MLS at lofty prices. When I took over the marketing of the club that year, the sale for $3.575MM on Lakeside changed everything. That sale showed the buying public that there was liquidity in the SSC, and that if you watched a property for too long it was likely to sell to someone more motivated than you. That sale begat another, and before 2012 had turned to 2013 we had a handful of sales, both lots and homes, and the market was on its way to correcting itself. But the full correction hasn’t been apparent until now.

That’s why that little off-market sale for $1.9MM matters so much. It means a buyer who just joined the club found immediate and easy liquidity to leave the club. It means the market is functioning as it should, and it means that sellers of SSC homes are no longer signing up for a lifetime of open houses and fruitless showings. It means the market is strong and the recover is complete.  If you’re a seller, you have an opportunity now. If you’re a buyer, work with me and I’ll get you into the South Shore Club even though there appears to be nothing available.

Spring

Spring

The trees in my front yard are budding. The trees in my back yard are budding. The trees at my office are budding. I’d be willing to bet most of my things and some of yours that the trees in your yard are budding, too.  The streams run high today, high with runoff from the thundery rain that fell on Sunday and again last night. The worms that will dry and die on my driveway today are the same worms that will dry and die on your driveway. Is it better to be those worms that must wait for the drying death or better to be the worms that washed into the trout streams where they will be eaten by the hungry trout that spent all winter wondering where the worms went? I’d prefer the stream worms, because at least they have an option. That’s more than we have.

The silence of winter has been replaced with a most boisterous cacophony of birds. Song birds, little birds, big birds. In fact, birds so big that they swarm overheard in such great clouds, headed from the south and to the north, stopping here to breed, or to rest, or to eat our worms and rile up our dogs. The Sandhill Cranes are the superior Crane, making the Blue Heron look like a silly thing, like a small thing, like an unimportant thing. The Sandhill announces its arrival with such a great squawk that even the song birds and the Robins seek shelter.

The ice of winter is generally quiet. The expansion booms and echoes are loud, but the rest of it is quiet. That quiet ice is all gone now, replaced with wind whipped waves that crash into shore and loudly announce their return. They’re here now, the waves, and the water is anything but quiet. On Sunday, it was quiet, still, flat and smooth. The rare birds flew high over head and the song birds hid in the bushes that we’ll only know to be lilacs once they bloom, which is around the time the smallmouth bite heats up and the morels push free from the soil. It’s not quiet anymore.

But in the quiet of winter there are things we can do. I skied this winter for the first time since childhood, and I skied so much that you’d think I enjoyed it more than I did. I made fires this winter, so many that it would be foolish to attempt a count. There were morning fires and evening fires, and yes, afternoon fires, too. There were fires upon fires, and when Able Dave comes to clean my chimney he’ll stand back and wonder the age of my house. Who could burn so many fires in such a short period of time, he’ll wonder.

In the winter, the waiting is accepted. There’s nothing to do but burn those fires, ski those slopes, pack that snow, and wait. We wait in the quiet in the winter. But it’s spring now, and we still must wait. Now we wait in the noise, we wait in the wind and the thunder and under the lightening and around those birds. They’re chirping again, even though it’s colder today and it’s windier today and the ice is still gone and those overhead birds have been grounded. The worms are drying and others are being eaten. It’s getting louder, and soon it’ll be summer. The noise is the only sign we need.

New Lakefront Listing

New Lakefront Listing

When I was a kid, I’d walk to Gage Marine. It wasn’t far from my house, and so I’d walk down the shore path, across those green lawns, up those few rail road ties that worked as stairs, and I’d be at Gage Marine. The thing about Gage Marine then is that there wasn’t anything to do there. The pro-shop wasn’t so much a pro-shop as it was a place to buy those little leather pieces that hold together the eye of a buoy lead.

Today, walking to Gage Marine is entirely different. Do I like the food at Pier 290? Not particularly. Do I wish the menu was better, the food better, the burger served on a burger bun? Of course. But for those wishes it would be hard for Pier 290 to be a better place. The restaurant space, the finishes, the scene, it’s all so very nice. And so walking to Gage Marine now is a worthwhile stroll, because there is food that can be eaten and a vibe that can’t be beaten.

New Lakefront Listing Lake Geneva

The other direction, I would walk to George Williams. The camp when I was a kid was old, neglected, uninteresting. There was the ability to order ice cream from some building on campus, as there is today, but that was about it. There was nothing else to do there. My brothers and I would explore the hills of Conference Point camp, digging into the earth that was exposed when the hillside gave way to erosion. We would find gold, or some rocks that were gold in color, which one we were never certain. But George Williams was there and it was boring even though the hills were full of gold.

Today, I can walk to George Williams to listen to the Music By The Lake series, an outdoor lakeside venue where you’re just as likely to hear Some Guy And His Trumpet as you are Tony Bennet or Peter Frampton. The campus has been revitalized, completely and entirely, and I believe you can still get ice cream somewhere.

138 Conference Point New Listing Lake Geneva

My new lakefront listing at 138 Conference Point Road is close to both of these newly reborn attractions, an easy flip-flopped stroll to either, within minutes. Think that’s not important? Try strolling to restaurants and musical venues from most lakefront homes- you’ll  find the task nearly impossible. The house has 103′ of frontage, a large two slip, canopied pier, and a very well maintained three bedroom ranch with a two car attached garage and a walk out lower level. But it’s less about the house here and more about the views. I’ve sold many lakefront homes with fantastic lake views, but the general rule here is that the better the view, the higher the frontage. The reason is obvious. The magic of 138 Conference Point is that the frontage is gently sloping, nearly level, and yet the lake views are absolutely second to none. The views are to Cedar Point, Black Point, Majestic Ski Hill, and points beyond. It’s a peninsula view without the peninsula, it’s tree top view without the hike. It’s a perfect view and the view, house, 103′ of frontage, and the two fireplaces are yours for $2.385MM.

 

 

New Lake Geneva Listing

New Lake Geneva Listing

There are many reasons to frequent this blog. If you wanted to know what my latest hobby is, for instance. How else could you know? You could call me and ask, but what a ridiculous precedent that would set. After all, the internet was invented to connect us without forcing the awkwardness of connection on us. You could read this blog to understand the Lake Geneva real estate market, to know the nuanced movements of pricing and to dispell the concept that every home is a value, every sale a good one.  That’s probably the primary reason to read this blog, though if you’ve been reading along for a while you’ll know that maple syrup season is upon us, which is followed closely by morel season. Still, the markets.

Today, there is no talk of skiing, or of fungus or of fish. Today, just new inventory for you to peruse. One of the terrific things about private frontage is that every variety of private frontage is generally good. Now, there are good spots and bad spots, but even the bad spots on Geneva are better than the good spots everywhere else, so that’s somewhat of a nuance. The other thing about private frontage is that it’s varied. Some lots are wide, others narrow, some deep others shallow. There is no pattern to the frontage until we confine certain types of properties into segments. If we’re talking entry level lakefront homes, we’re talking about smaller lots (60′ or less) and we’re talking about neighbors. Lots of neighbors.

 

Dartmouth Distance

 

Consider the map above. This is Dartmouth Woods. I love Dartmouth Woods. It’s a quaint lakefront association with nice homes and terrific proximity to Fontana and Williams Bay. It’s also tight. The home that just sold last week (a home I really like) for $1.226MM is shown here, with the approximate distance from that home to the neighboring homes. The homes are close, but that’s what entry level lakefront usually looks like on this lake, and that’s absolutely fine. Now consider the map below:

 

South Lakeshore Distance

 

That’s the location of my new listing on South Lakeshore Drive. It’s a five bedroom modern house listed at $1.395MM. It sold for $1.515MM in 2007, and it’s rather nicely updated with new bathrooms and a very flexible layout. It has a slip on a pier that is share by only seven total owners, and this house functions as the lakefront house in the association. But that’s not what’s especially rare here. Consider the proximity to the neighbors, and the quality of the neighbors. To the East, Casa Del Sueno, to the West, a fabulous newer build on a massive lakefront lot. This is a setting that is, quite literally, unavailable to any other entry level home anywhere on this lake. It’s special.

South Lakeshore 2

 

I’ll be available to show this home this weekend, so just ask if you’d like a private tour. I’ll be skiing tonight, but you didn’t read this blog today to find out about that. You read this blog today to find out about this listing before the rest of the world new about it.  You’re welcome.

 

Collect Things

Collect Things

At this age, I have developed many bad habits.  I shamefully subscribe to the theory of food discovery that dictates I eat one piece of pizza to find out if it’s good, and then six more pieces to verify.  At night, I check my phone before I go to sleep. But I check it all day, too, and then again when I’m thinking about going to sleep, before checking again when I’ve decided that indeed,  yes, I will now go to sleep. Then again when I try to go to sleep, and likely again when I’ve gone to bed but can’t fall asleep. My circadian rhythm sounds like third grade band practice.

Last night, when indulging in this last minute phone checking, I saw a little meme on Twitter, perhaps Instagram. These two mediums are useful for different things, but both have become a depository for the sorts of motivational posters that we used to have to visit the mall kiosk to find. Hang In There (kitten with paw outstretched), these sorts of things.  Most of these memes are well intentioned. The one I saw last night said, calmly, Collect Memories, Not Things.  The message was printed over the calm waters of a lake with a pier stretching out into it. It had a lot of likes, or thumbs up, or smiley faces next to it. The people were encouraged.

Because that’s right, we should collect memories, not things. I have some things in the back seat of my car right now.  They’re just things, these new skis of mine that I bought because it was a Tuesday, and they are in my trunk next to the boot things I bought and the pole things, too.  I’ve collected these things, a vast array of them in fact, and they are in my car now hoping for the promised Tuesday snow.

I have some things in my other car today. Fishing things. A few fly rods, glittery gold and graphite models, beautiful examples of the artistic expression that is fly fishing. I love them dearly, these things. In fact, in my collection of other things I would place these particular things near the very top. They are among my most important things, and they’re in my fishing truck just waiting for me to use them. Last night when I was cleaning out the back of that truck, I thought to myself, these are some fine things.

One thing I bought last summer is too big to keep in a car, or inside the house. It’s in my garage, and it’s black and shiny and I slapped an UFF DA sticker on it to honor my grandmother. I did that because they didn’t have any stickers that said “sleep with your socks off so your feet can breathe”, and who could fit a sticker of that size on a Kawasaki jet ski? This thing is in my garage, on a nice little rack that I bought for it. It just sits there now, being a thing, looking at me every day while I look at it. It’s there, ready, waiting for the time that’s coming soon when I might drive that thing to the lake, and fire it up.

Collect Memories, Not Things, the image said. The image supposes that the memories we wish to collect are right in front of us, all around us. The memory of a mall visit on a  Saturday is indeed something you can collect, but only if you’re strange and something is wrong with you, or if the visit is memorable for some bad reason, like they were out of Cinnabons.  That scenery of the pier jutting into the lake, it seems so calm, so normal, so every day. But it’s not, and that’s why it’s a memory. It’s not nothing, it’s something. And someone had to work very hard to buy that pier so that that someone’s family could swim from it, dive from it, lounge on it.

My skis have given me access to memories that I could not have otherwise made. I might have been able to ride the ski lift to the top of the hill with my son, but what would we do when we got there if we hadn’t first collected the things that we strap to our feet? And what of those fishing pictures in my office, the ones with my children grinning ear to ear, holding small trout up for the camera to see? How would we have made that journey if not for the waders and the boots and the packs and the flies and those glistening Orvis rods and reels? How could I remember the nights last summer when I cruised over the waves to meet friends on their piers if I didn’t have that water rocket with the UFF DA sticker?

It’s disingenuous to suggest that things aren’t important. Usually, we must collect the things that get us to the place where we can then collect the memories.  A lake house is among the most precious things, and anyone who already owns one will gladly tell you just how easy it is to collect memories once you’ve collected the house.

Gray Sky Rising

Gray Sky Rising

It’s gray again. It was gray yesterday, too. The same gray as this gray. There is no different variety of gray now. The only change comes later, when the gray twists and builds and puffs dark and mean, wet. This gray today isn’t yet like that gray, the warmer gray, the spring gray that brings the showers which yield the spring flowers that look very little like summer flowers. Summer flowers bloom and bloom, many times, for months even. Spring flowers bloom once, a display that shows what they are and all they can be, hiding nothing, holding nothing back, and like that, gone. The gray builds and the temperatures rise and out West they’ll be saying it’s going to be hot. El Nino they’ll say, but we won’t know what that really means until we’re sweating in our beds at night, wondering why it’s so windy, so wet, so warm and gray. This gray isn’t like that gray.

But this gray is a good gray, because it’s the gray that means things are changing. It might be gray in January, but that gray isn’t like this gray. January is brighter, in my memory anyway, because it’s white and it’s bright and the cold fronts that spell below zero nighttime lows also spell bluebird days. Days so bright and so clear and so cold that there’s nothing to do with them, nothing at all. Squinting is not something.  Who could love a day like that, besides my grandmother? My Norwegian grandmother loved the sunny days of January, because she had nothing to do but sit inside, and if you must sit inside then it might be better to find a sunny sky through those small double hung windows.  I’d rather sit in the warmth of a fireside room with the gray outside because that day can be spent brooding. Who could brood on a sunny January day?  My German grandmother didn’t care about the sun, because she had plates to fire and cakes to build and there’s no reason for the sun to shine when those things must be done.  I don’t like the bright of a winter January because I associate the bright with the cold and the cold doesn’t bother me as much as it used to but I still don’t care for it. A cold sun is a useless sun, no matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise.

But it’s gray again today and it’s been gray since Monday. Friday, gray. Monday, gray. The days in between, all gray. Except at night, when the sun falls so low that it sneaks some light in pink and purple and orange under that shroud.  The end of the day, a twinkle of warmth in the Western sky. That sunset is later now than it was then, it’s light until 6 and soon it will be light until 7 and then we’ll be walking outside without jackets and we’ll put in our boats and we’ll sit on piers and we’ll complain about other things.  The days are warmer now, cold still,  but a warmer cold. A gray cold, the sort of gray and the sort of cold that tells us it’s soon to be spring. Spring. It’s coming soon, and it’s coming next week, because in the fifth grade they told us that we could spend recess outside without jackets on as soon as the temperature hit 60 degrees. Who could play Four Square with a jacket on? Not me, and so we’d take our jackets off and throw them on the ground and hope the teachers didn’t see. It was only 55, but it felt like 60 and no one could argue with that.

So today, it’ll be gray. Tomorrow, sun. Sunday, who could say? It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is that each day is longer, each week warmer. Even when certain days buck the pattern the results are already in. Spring is coming, and it can’t be stopped. The bright days of winter are gone and the dull gray days that mark our slow transition are here. My grandmother is no longer alive to object.

 

Lake Geneva Market Pricing

Lake Geneva Market Pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loramoor Lakefront For Sale

Loramoor Lakefront For Sale

My kids like to make time-lapse videos. Some people make time lapse videos over the course of an entire day. The sun comes up, quickly, then it moves across the sky, quickly, and then it sets, quickly. It’s a full day, quickly. My kids don’t make time-lapse videos like that. They make ones that last a few seconds, that feature them doing such interesting things as standing still, or sitting at the island counter. Their videos are terrible. I’d like to see a time-lapse video of the lakefront on Geneva, say, over the period of the last 20 years. It would be fun to go back 100 years, but also very depressing, as grand old homes were razed to make room for subdivisions and associations. If we did have that 20 year video, we’d see new construction abound. All varieties, some small and some large, others monstrous. We’d see large homes wedged next to small homes, and small homes delicately crammed next to large homes. We’d see all sorts of things, and in the haphazard nature of it all we’d see uniformity.

LORAMOOR AERIAL

The magic of Geneva is found in this mix. Old and new, small and large, alternating along the shoreline. But one thing is certain- if we had our druthers, we’d position like kind homes next to each other. We’d have sections of the lake where estates rule the day, and we have that on Snake Road. We’d have areas where large lots rule, with large homes and estately prices, and we have that on Basswood and North Shore Drive.  We’d also have a tidy, dead end lane where large lakefront homes are spaced well and appropriately, where one new home is not out of place next to another.  We have that in Loramoor, and today, you have an opportunity to join that most exclusive lane. Enter Loramoor Lot 7, the obvious solution for any house hunt that finds a buyer seeking new construction in the $4MM or less price range.

I sold this lot a year ago. There’s no secret in that. I sold these 110 level front feel to a buyer who simply couldn’t find what they desired in our existing home market.  We have a noticeable absence of quality homes in the $3-4MM price range. We have plenty of nice properties, terrific lots with old, bad houses, or terrific houses on sub-standard lots. In this parcel, the buyer found what they wanted in the existing vacant land, and knew they could build the exact lake house that would scratch all of their weekend itches.  At 1.43 acres in size, the lot is larger than similar properties that have sold in the last few years as tear downs, and since it was already vacant there would be no added cost involved with deconstructing an existing home. The property was perfect, and unlike others in this range, it is surrounded by ample homes of newer birthdates, very obviously a secure location to add value in a new build. Compare this to a vacant lot in the $2MM price range that’s located next to smaller, lesser priced properties. It makes more sense to have a $3.75MM house next to other houses of equal or greater value and here, in Loramoor, we have that.

 

Loramoor Lakefront Parcel

 

The buyer set about permitting and planning, but when a childhood home was available for purchase, the pull of that powerful nostalgia was too much to resist. The Lake Geneva dream would have to wait, and it’s for that reason that I offer you this wonderful parcel for $2.34MM, available today and ready to build your own dream home on without delay.  The owner has been working with Scott Lowell to design the perfect lake house, and to the right buyer we can include those plans. A sneak peak of the elevation is above, and while you’d be well served to build this home on this beautiful lakefront parcel, you’re free to design your own if you so desire.

 

Loramoor Survey Shot

 

You can buy 100′ lakefront lots on this lake with some routine between $1.9MM and $2.5MM. These lots will host older, lesser homes, and if you like the older home and intend solely to remodel it, then you’ll be making a wise decision. But all too often these older homes are sold and torn down, and in that we must consider our surroundings. If you build a $2MM home on a $2MM lot, and you’re surrounded by $2MM built homes, do you suppose that’s usually a terrific idea? Of course not.  There’s safety in building in a  neighborhood with a proven tendency to support your target value, and that’s why this Loramoor lot is better than the others in this price range. There is no association immediately adjacent, no shared driveway, no sloped frontage or rough landscaping. There is only a beautiful canvas, grassed and treed and ready to host your lakefront vision. At $2.34MM,  there’s value here, and if you’re a buyer in the $4MM range you owe it to yourself to consider this parcel as your first, and finest option.

Because you’re super smart and reading this blog, you know about this property before the rest of the market does. It’ll be available to the masses next week, but in the mean time, I’m happy to show it this weekend should you desire. dave@genevalakefrontrealty.com

Geneva National 2015 Market Review

Geneva National 2015 Market Review

In 1992, a small one bedroom condominium in Geneva National sold for $92,300. I imagine how happy the new owners were. They’d come up to golf and to swim, to tennis and to walk, to explore the area and when the day was done, return to their tidy little condominium.  It was a slice of heaven, I suppose. In 2005, that small condo sold for the second time, for $129,900. Seems a reasonable ransom for that little bit of Lake Geneva bliss. If you’re worried that you missed out on that deal, don’t worry, the same condo is available today for $69,900.

It’s not easy to offer a property in 2016 for 75% of what it sold for in 1992, but Geneva National can do it.  2015 was a most spectacular year for GN. 81 built homes and condominiums sold. Consider in 2014 only 44 sold. 2013 had 56 such sales. 2012 just 35. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to the peak market year of 2006 to find more annual sales (91). Geneva National found favor last year, and anyone wondering why need only consider the sad tale of that one bedroom condo. Prices are still down, values are still obvious, and as a result, the liquidity is profound.

I’ve written often about Geneva National. Indeed such a large development in such a small overall market deserves considerable coverage. It’s no secret that I really like Geneva National. I like like it. It’s a terrific development, and as a guy who generally despises development Geneva National is an exception. It’s a fantastic development and our market needs it to bridge the gap between lake access homes on and near Geneva and everything else. The only problem with Geneva National is that it’s too big. It requires too many buyers annually to keep it moving forward, which is why it stalls when things in the market go sideways for a while. But its size isn’t its fault, it’s the fault of the developer who saw only dollar signs when he should have been contemplating the long term ramifications of such a large development. Perhaps a certain Geneva, Illinois developer should learn from Anvan’s mistake?

Value today is apparent in GN. There are deals, and there is value, and in that, Geneva National should continue to capture the attention it deserves. I sold two properties  in GN last year, and I have a terrific townhouse pending sale right now.  The sort of condo that you can buy in Geneva National for $200k doesn’t exist in Abbey Springs even up to $400k. If you want to affordably hang your hat and have a quiet launching point for a Lake Geneva weekend, is there anything better than Geneva National?

While the 2015 volume was comprised of plenty of smaller condo deals, it was nice to see some higher value properties print as well. There were 7 MLS sales over $500k, which is a positive for GN.  When I built my home in GN in the mid 2000s, I figured the primary market would take to GN and drive up prices as my generation sought to upgrade and improve their housing situation. I was wrong, of course, but Geneva National should be on the radar of any primary home buyer seeking a Walworth County residence in excess of $450k.  Additionally, a vacation home buyer seeking a $500k vacation home should generally try to be as close to Geneva Lake as possible. If that sort of cottage isn’t  desirable, then a GN home should at least garner a look.

Inventory in GN has dropped, with just 62 homes and condominiums for sale as of this morning. That’s way down from the traditional inventory levels that hover over 100, and I expect this will help GN in the first quarter. The properties that are for sale largely represent value, and low interest rates should help fuel some solid spring sales. I’m not sure how GN will fare over the course of 2016 if this stock market blip turns into a real slide, but I would expect a drop in volume from that most excellent 2015. A return to normalcy would be good for GN, so if the association can print 50-60 sales I would think that to be a fantastic year.

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

The real estate market in 2011 was pretty bad. It was fun, if bad, because sellers wanted to sell and buyers, though fewer than now, wanted to buy. It was a great year, and the Lake Geneva markets functioned as they should. Few buyers, few sellers, plenty of motivation for both sides. What’s not well understood now is that the market is no longer healing. It’s no longer mending. It’s no longer about to be something. It is something. It’s already there. It’s four full years into this new housing boom. To suggest that the recovery is somehow nascent is to either misunderstand the word or the markets, possibly both.

The lake access market on Geneva had a most terrific 2015.   2014 was similarly good, and in that year we sold 61 single family lake access homes near Geneva Lake. This year just ended we sold 70, making the good of 2014 look small and weak compared to the splendor of 2015. Both years saw activity in all segments, as the woes of individual off-lake segments have long been left in the dust of 2011 and 2012.   Both years experienced their share of anomalies, with 2014 printing a parkway home in the $1.5MM range and 2015 trading a Knollwood house for $2.2MM. Outliers they are, but still proof of a market truth: Shiny sells, if the implementer of the shiny is willing to take a bath on their shiny bad investment.

Proving that Lake Geneva can indeed be a market for the masses, we sold 17 lake access homes under $250k in 2015. I would have expected that number to be higher, as interest rates hovered at their lowest levels since Cain asked Abel for a short term loan to buy a very heavy rock, and this market should be especially sensitive to interest rates.  We sold another 48 lake access homes priced between $250k and $1MM.

Of interest in this meat and potato portion of our off-lake market is that two parkway homes in Cedar Point sold just under $1MM. For those who were not feverishly watching this market in the early and mid 2000s, you cannot appreciate the spectacle that is two parkway sales in one calendar year. For a while, during the escalation years of the prior cycle, Parkway homes were mythical. They were sometimes available, most of the time not. They were rare. To catch a glimpse of one on the open market was akin to a Yeti sighting, or to Tim Allen actually vacationing in Michigan. They were elusive, and they were desirable and the market loved them. That affection has returned, and prices up to and just over one million dollars is a reasonable ransom for such a rare property.

In that segment there are two other market tales, both sad tales, sure, but both telling an obvious market story. In 2007, a large log-ish home in Somerset came to market for $1.1MM. Two years later, it was raised to $1.295MM. The years that followed featured a vast array of For Sale signs in the front lawn, including a stint where my sign was there. The price dropped and dropped, as the market didn’t particularly enjoy an off-water home that lacked a slip but did possess a $20k property tax bill. In 2015, the home finally sold. For $600k. The heat of the last three years of bull market didn’t touch that property until last summer, and at $600k one could hardly suspect the transaction gave the seller any warm feelings.

Another sale that tells a similar story, but on the other side of the lake. It is no secret that the Lake Geneva Club is one of my favorite lake access associations. I like the street, I like the feel, I like the aesthetic. A home came to market there in 2007 for $829k, hoping to ride the coattails of a sale I had just closed for $790k in the same association. My sale was of a cottage one home from the lake, this offering was much, much farther away from that water epicenter.  This property came to market at various prices over recent years, on and off again, under contract at least once, then back to market after a failed deal. That home mercifully sold last summer for $500k. What was it likely worth in 2007 when it listed for $829k? Around $500k.  Medicine is often best taken quickly and without hesitation, because the longer you dwell on the smell and texture the less likely you will be to swallow it.

I’m not sure how I feel about 2016 in this segment. In theory,  market returns for 2015 will not make anyone feel particularly paper rich, especially if they went long TWTR with me in April. Interest rates will be rising, sure, but slowly, and anyone with any historical perspective will not be too upset by 4.75% interest rates. I expect the market to remain solid, and there will be outliers in 2016 just as there have been in recent years. Brokers love to whip markets into a frenzy, and all it takes is some shiny photographs of a Wolf stove and voila, some naive buyer will pay a lakefront price for a lake access home. Want to avoid that sort of amateurish buying behavior? Work with me, because I know the difference between an outlier and value.

2015 Lakefront Condo Year In Review

2015 Lakefront Condo Year In Review

I’m just going to say that it makes sense. It makes sense that the lakefront condo market remains stuck in neutral. It doesn’t make sense because of some large demographic shift, and it doesn’t make sense because of some market dynamic that isn’t explainable. It makes sense because entry level lakefront homes are also stuck in neutral, and as long as prices on the low range of the lakefront market remain soft, there’s no reason that the lakefront condo market should succeed.

The thinking here follows very simple principles of market demand, and the reactionary pricing that exists when one market is closely tied to another. If a buyer can spend $600k on a lakefront condo, that’s tremendous. There are many buyers that would find that to be their upper limit, which is a lofty limit by any standard. But many in that range can sneak upwards, they can reach to $1MM, or $1.1MM, maybe even $1.2MM. If they could spend $600k easily but $1.1MM with a stretch, that’s the sort of buyer that would generally be well served to stretch to private frontage, and that’s likely what’s been happening within the lakefront condo market. It isn’t that there aren’t buyers, it’s just that the buyers are being tempted by single family homes that are competing for their vacation loving dollars.

It’s not just lakefront, mind you, it’s off-water single family stealing the condominiums’ thunder as well. If you could spend $550k for a lakefront condo with a slip, I like that idea. But what if you wanted a yard of your own because your dog is super obnoxious and you don’t want to bother condominium neighbors? Well, then you could drive down some road here and find a lake access cottage with a slip for similar dollars. The condo market isn’t flawed, and it isn’t dying, it’s just facing stiff competition.

In 2015, nine lakefront condominiums sold per our MLS. That’s a nice number, and it included condominiums of all shapes and sizes. Someone paid just $187k for a one bedroom lakefront condo at Fontana Shores, and a customer of mine paid $1.195MM for a fabulous lakefront condo at Eastbank with finely appointed finishes and furnishings, a lake view and a canopied boatslip. Other notable sales this year included a couple at Vista Del Lago, a couple at Fontana Shores (including one I sold for $335,500), one at Bay Colony, and a couple at Geneva Towers. It should be noted that one developer’s plan to upgrade Geneva Towers into a building bursting with $1MM+ condominiums didn’t really work as planned. They sold some units, but the initial pricing goals were not met.  All in all, it was a fine year for the lakefront condo market on Geneva.

Currently, there are 13 lakefront condos available on Geneva. My fabulous Stone Manor unit is still available in the high $5s, and my lovely two bedroom condo at the Fontana Club remains unsold in the high $400k range. The market is light on inventory at the moment, which is a good thing. The lakefront condo market functions at its absolute best when the inventory is limited. Too many units available in any one condo development and the market senses trouble, even when there is none. If we can keep the inventory total down in 2016, I’m expecting a similar year to 2015.

Low interest rates should provide plenty of fuel for continued condo sales. Remember, 2014 boasted 11 lakefront condo sales on Geneva, so our 2015 total is sagging behind a bit. I think 2016 will be more in line with 2015, as the market absorbs the remaining aged inventory at somewhat discounted prices. If you’re a $500k buyer and you want your own yard so your horribly loud dogs can bark away, I understand. But if you’re a $500k type buyer and you just want an easy place to hang your hat on the weekends, the condo market deserves a look.