Blog : Liquidity

Lake Geneva Liquidity

Lake Geneva Liquidity

Increasingly, I’m a fan of all things Wisconsin. This has been difficult on one of my sporting allegiances. I’ve been a Bears fan since birth, but how can I actively root against the team that means so much to the economy of the state I call home? In this, I find myself pulling for a team I used to aggressively hate, for the benefit of my state.  This state has been winning lately, in case you haven’t noticed. Our budget crisis was circumvented by a willingness to tackle the problem head on. Our job numbers continue to increase as our Governor lobbies for, and on behalf of the working people of Wisconsin. Business is growing, the state is thriving and the leaves are turning. In Wisconsin, life is pretty, pretty, pretty, good.

While I root for Wisconsin at all times, unless the Brewers are playing, I find it obvious that the real estate market in this great state is not at all uniform. There are hot markets here, to be sure. Milwaukee’s Third Ward is growing. The collar communities of Brookfield, New Berlin, Elm Grove, etc, are bustling.  Things are good here, but things being good in the state have very little to do with things being good in the lofty segments of the Wisconsin vacation home market. The upper bracket real estate market in Lake Geneva is on fire, so I decided this morning to do a quick check of how that particular segment is faring in the rest of our wonderful state.

I only have access to the MetroMLS, which is not necessarily the MLS that the entire state uses, so my statistics here are more representative than they are bulletproof.  Today in the MLS, excluding Walworth County, there are 27 homes for sale in Wisconsin priced in excess of $3,000,000.  The only home in that segment under contract is on Crooked Lake, listed just over $3MM. To be fair, that is a very nice looking house that someone is buying. Good for them, and good for Crooked Lake, wherever it may be. Over the past 12 months, there are two MLS sales over $3MM in the entirety of the state, again excluding Walworth County. Of those two, one was an off-market direct sale that was entered into the MLS after the fact. If we’re going to be super basic here, 26 available homes and two sales over the past year means we have 13 years worth of upper bracket inventory in the state.

Now consider Walworth County, home to the reigning king of luxury real estate, Geneva Lake.  On Geneva Lake, we currently have 15 available lakefront homes priced over $3MM. Of those, nine are under contract this morning. Looking back over the past 12 months, we’ve closed nine lakefront sales over $3MM. That means while the rest of the state has 13 years worth of upper bracket inventory on the books, Geneva has just 12 months worth. Geneva Lake, take a bow.

Other markets in Wisconsin (and Michigan, for that matter), will gladly sell you a house in excess of $3MM.  That’s really not that difficult. The trick is, can you ever sell that house you just bought? Geneva will sell you that upper bracket house, and then when you’re ready to upgrade or simplify, Geneva will sell it for you again. It’s called liquidity, and while our water clarity and our lakeside scene is what we like to think sets us apart, it’s actually upper bracket liquidity that is our best, and most unique attribute. We like to seek out liquidity in most of our investments. Shouldn’t our vacation home investments demand the same?

Above, my lakefront sale from last fall. $9,950,000, closed.
Inventory Problems

Inventory Problems

What is a healthy real estate market? Is it a market with plenty of inventory so that every buyer has an opportunity to buy whatever it is that they want?  This would be the generally accepted position of most. Yes, we should have inventory for all, available at all times, with low interest rates and sunny skies. Also, hopping, happy white bunnies.

The problem is that it is impossible for a market to exist that pleases buyers and sellers equally.  Even if you’re a seller and then an immediate buyer, you don’t have things exactly the way you’d like them. Unless you’re selling something into a hot segment and buying something in a slow segment, you’re likely selling high and buying high. When the markets were bad, sellers were selling low and then buying low. As I was advising then, this felt terrible but was, in fact, really quite smart. The trick then was simply to sell low and buy lower, just as the trick today is to sell high and buy less high. I admit the clunky phrasing will never catch on.

Today the market is active in all segments. Unlike the initial improvement we saw from 2012 through 2015, where certain segments were left out in the cold even as others advanced, today the entire market is humming.  There are 19 lake access homes priced under $400k at the moment. Of those, 8 are under contract. There are homes with slips priced between $400k and $900k pending sale,  and even our off-lake $1MM-$1.5MM range is churning out volume. There are two pending sales in that category, one in Lake Geneva priced in the $1.3MM range and one in Fontana priced near $1.5MM.  This is the range, in case you forgot, that has been struggling over the past 18 months.  Today it is fluid and potentially as liquid as any other individual market surrounding the lake.

The entry level market on Geneva is still giving up some inventory, with two lakefronts priced under $1.5MM.  Beyond that there is a pending lakefront in Lake Geneva priced at $2.195MM (my listing), and a recent sale in that same category of a house in Williams Bay on the north shore of Fontana Bay. That property closed for $2.125MM. I had that home for sale a couple of years ago and failed to sell it.  The house didn’t bow to the market, the market came up to that house.  Around the other side of Fontana, a house that had been for sale off and on for years has gone under contract with an asking price of $4.65MM.  That’s a nice property in a nice location. It makes sense that it sold quickly this time around.

In our upper bracket ranges, I have a new deal on a lakefront priced at $7.95MM.  That’s the biggest story of the last 24 months- the improved liquidity at our market’s very top end.  We used to sell a lakefront over $5MM every other year. Now we can sell five or more per year. When this sale closes that will make six sales over $5MM between June 2016 and June 2017. Of those six, I’ll have closed five of them, leaving little doubt as to which agent best understands the highly nuanced upper bracket here.  This increased liquidity is good for the lake, but it will have a cap.  Over $8MM the numbers get a bit more sticky, and we still haven’t ever printed a transfer at $10MM or over. Expect this to be tested this year, both with some of the current inventory and with new inventory that’ll likely leak to market over the coming months.

So is this a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Is the market healthy? Well yes, it’s healthy. It’s active and it’s dynamic.  But as for who’s in control of this whole thing, that depends on specific properties. You can sell into a hot segment right now and buy into a cooler segment. That is still possible, and that’s the best possible outcome for those seeking to upgrade or downgrade without leaving these shores.  The trick now is for buyers to remain patient (and seek out the proper guidance, from me), and for sellers to resist the urge to indulge in overconfidence.  Either way, if inventory remains low we might have a slower summer than any of us want.