Blog : Market Review

2017 Geneva National Market Review

2017 Geneva National Market Review

Do people still golf? It seems to me that they do, even though I don’t. Previously, I enjoyed golf. I enjoyed getting to the course a bit early and hitting some range balls. I enjoyed a sandwich on the patio. I enjoyed the scramble for par, the thrill of a birdie. I once almost had a hole-in-one and that was almost super fun. But the game of golf no longer fits into my ideal day. I enjoy it still, if the course is green and the company prime, it’s a nice way to spend a morning, or an afternoon, or an entire day. But increasingly, my schedule doesn’t allow for a long round on the links, and when time does allow my distractions have taken other forms. Still, I used to like golf and I understand why other people still do. Geneva National has some incredible golf courses, but you needn’t love golf to consider ownership there.

This has come up often in my long history of Geneva National sales. New buyer asks for nice vacation condo at the lake. New buyer doesn’t want to spend lakefront money, and new buyer doesn’t want to buy one of our standard issue two or three bedroom, 1200-1500 square foot off-water condo units. I suggest Geneva National, knowing that there’s tremendous bang for the buck inside those gates. Buyer says she doesn’t golf. This is the Geneva National flaw, the common refrain, the reason some people dismiss this place without ever considering it. News Flash: You needn’t have a desire to golf in order to live in Geneva National. If you hate manicured lawns and rolling, forested terrain, then you should hate Geneva National. But if you like those things and you hate golf, then you should like GN. It’s really that simple.

Geneva National is huge. It’s a monstrosity in our small overall market.  That size is what makes it so susceptible to momentum swings. Those market swings have occurred with some frequency since GN first bulldozed their first roadway sometime around 1990. The good news is that the last several years have featured a solid combination of strong sales and diminishing inventory, and that recent trend continued throughout 2017. For the year just ended, GN closed 84 single family and condominium units. More likely sold- private sales, direct from builder sales, and new construction. But the MLS number is 84.  There were 71 sales in 2016 and 82 in 2015. The market strength today is obvious, and the trend supportive of a strong market. But GN isn’t without an issue.

The top end in Geneva National is remarkably weak. Consider in 2017 just two homes sold for more than $560k, and the top sale registered $750k. In 2016, there were four sales over $560k, and the top end printed $795k. 2015 closed six over $560k, with the top at $1.050MM. Now that you understand the pricing history, look to the active inventory. While there are just 43 active homes and condominiums (four more pending), there are five properties priced over $1MM.  Given the last three years of history produced just one sale over the million dollar mark, Geneva National currently has 15 years of upper bracket inventory on its books. If I’m a seller in GN and I’m looking for a number north of one million dollars, I’m not pleased.

The issues that plague the housing stock in GN are varied, but all come down to dollars and cents. GN still has ample vacant parcel inventory. Currently, 44 vacant parcels are listed for sale. Many more exist off-market.  Last year, 10 vacant lots sold. Of those 10, six sold for $13k or less. For all of 2016, the MLS registered two vacant lot sales in GN.   Geneva National has lots of vacant inventory, and a housing stock that is aging. It might come as a surprise to some owners, but a house built 15 years ago needs to be remodeled already. A 20 year old house definitely needs to be remodeled. And sadly, your eight year old house likely needs some refreshing. The problem with existing inventory in GN is that it cannot compete with the availability of easily sourced vacant parcels.  If you’re a buyer in GN seeking single family and you like a vacant lot listed at $50k, are you going to hire a builder to construct a $650k home for you (one where you get to pick the colors and materials and design), or are you going to go shopping for a 15 year old house that looks like it needs a new roof?

That’s why the single family market in GN is difficult and may remain difficult for a while. The association should do everything in its power to eliminate vacant inventory, and the easiest, most simple way to encourage that absorption is by allowing existing homes to buy vacant, neighboring parcels and be allowed to own those without incurring another monthly association fee. If the association enacted this policy, perhaps more vacant inventory would be removed from the market, and that would be the start of price appreciation for the single family homes. Until then, or until the market slowly absorbs this inventory, expect stagnation.

The condominium market in GN is much healthier at the moment, and I’d expect the low inventory to benefit this segment especially.  If you’re a buyer looking to spend $150-350k on a vacation home in the Lake Geneva market, I cannot see a better option for large square footage at a discounted price.  While the property feels like a country club, you can either enjoy it as such or just enjoy it for the natural beauty it so easily displays.  Just remember, if you hate golf, Geneva National might be perfect for you.

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above, an idyllic cottage I sold this summer in the Lake Geneva Club.
2017 Abbey Springs Market Review

2017 Abbey Springs Market Review

I owe Abbey Springs something. Not money, I don’t think. It’s never paid me very much, so I shouldn’t feel obligated to pay it back. In the mid 1990s, I was a kid with a new, disastrous real estate career, and a desire to play tennis. I don’t know why I wanted to play tennis. I had never played when I was a kid.  We’d sneak down to hit a few balls at Conference Point Camp, on their cracked and heaved courts, but that wasn’t really playing tennis.  I couldn’t afford the Grand Geneva, with their shiny courts and wood lockers. So I played at Abbey Springs, under the tent they’d blow up over their outdoor courts in the winter. It was cold in there, dimly lit, and loud.  The inability to properly relay the score, on account of the noisy blower fan, suited me just fine. Thanks, Abbey Springs.

But that’s the end of the thanking. Abbey Springs the real estate market is really quite a spectacle. It’s a machine, finely tuned, running without a miss, or a knock, or a sputter. The market is perhaps the most unique and widely varied here, with vacation condominiums starting in the high $100s and single family homes reaching or exceeding a million bucks. Remember that sentence.

For the year just ended, Abbey Springs closed 28 built properties including condominiums and single family homes. For all of 2016,  there were 40 prints. Now, if I were were a headline writer for AP,  I’d right this in a way that would appear negative: SALES DROP 30% AMID MARKET TURMOIL. But I’m not AP, I’m just a kid from Williams Bay, and even I know that shrinking sales totals are natural and normal in a market with shrinking inventory.  We cannot sell what isn’t for sale. The sales total for 2017 is fine, the inventory today, at just 19 active properties (four of those under contract) is low. The market at Abbey Springs is in fantastic, healthy condition.

But that’s not really the whole story here, as much as Abbey Springs wishes it were. Consider the upper bracket sales from last year. There were four sales over $800k in Abbey Springs, with the highest sale reaching $885k. That’s nice.  For the last five years, the two top sales in the market registered the same amount: $885k. Nothing higher, and over those five years just five sales over $800k. Seems fine, right?

The prior market top was mid 2007 to mid 2008. We know this.  Abbey Springs, from 2005-2008 sold a lot of product, but where was the top end back then? For those years, Abbey Springs closed four sales over $900k, with the top sale at $1.3MM.  If the markets today are as strong as they were then, why can’t Abbey Springs push over $900k anymore? Where did the $1.3MM sales go?

There’s no particular mystery in this. The market is strong today, yes. But the top end has obviously been redefined, and that new definition falls short of $900k. There has been some inventory over $900k to press that theory, but those homes have failed to sell. The prior market peak found buyers in this range with relative ease. It’s apparent to me that this higher level buyer is still in the market, but has found his or her way outside of Abbey Springs and instead wants a traditional lake home experience. That buyer wants a slip. Maybe some privacy. A smaller association where the beach isn’t so crowded. The buyer who once purchased $950k homes in Abbey Springs has proven elusive in this current cycle.

But maybe that doesn’t really matter. Abbey Springs might not be a million dollar market anymore. Or perhaps there just haven’t been any million dollar homes listed for sale.  Either way, expect Abbey Springs to push forward yet again in 2018, and expect inventory to stay low. If you’re a buyer in search of a lake house experience with added country club style amenities, Abbey Springs is likely your best bet.  Condominiums from the $200k range and single family from $500k. Beach, pool, golf, clubhouse, and tennis courts, though the bubble is no more.