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2018 Lake Geneva Lakefront Year In Review

2018 Lake Geneva Lakefront Year In Review

The year just ended was, by most accounts, a good year. But that’s a silly way to describe something as diverse and unique as a year. That’s like booking a table at Alinea and after four hours and 20 courses you take to your social media account to describe the meal as “good”. That wouldn’t happen, and that’s just a meal. How much more deserving of proper critique and detail is an entire year of our lives? Now that I’ve built this thing up, let’s dumb it back down and talk about the lakefront market in 2018. The year? It was pretty good.

We started 2018 with light inventory, just ten lakefront homes were available at the onset of 2018, and that limited inventory forced me to worry about what the year was going to look like. I knew there were buyers, plenty. I knew we had pending sales to give us a nice start to the new year. And I knew the stock market looked stable on the heals of a Federal tax cut. But what I didn’t know was how much more inventory we’d add, and how firm the buyer’s resilience would be if we didn’t add enough inventory.

That’s what matters, after all. The buyers.  See, a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer is generally only a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer. But that motivated dedication only lasts for so long. If you have a buyer and they can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll wait, for a while.  They’ll come up to look at a lame new listing, and then they’ll come up again to look at another lame new listing. They’ll stay engaged, because the lakefront life is the life they want to live. But after time, that passion erodes into frustration, and frustrated buyers have a tendency to wander. Why spend so much effort waiting for a perfect lakefront on Geneva when Michigan has a whole state full of average vacation homes?

I know, and you know, and that buyer used to know, that a Lake Geneva lakefront is not like any other lakefront. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I worried that the desperation of 2018 would lead some buyers astray, and no doubt it did. But the year just ended with 23 lakefront sales (24 with the vacant lot included), including two in the South Shore Club and one in Buena Vista (technically not private frontage). That number is down from the 2017 total, but considering the limited inventory, that number is a terrific total.

In all, we printed 2536 feet of lakefront shoreline, up from the 2017 total, but less than the 2016 total of 2882.  That includes one lakefront vacant lot on the North Shore. We sold just over two million square feet of lakefront land mass, and more than 115,000 square feet worth of living space.  Prices ranged from $11,250,000 for a North Shore estate, to just over $1.1MM for a Walworth Avenue cottage.  For my involvement, I ended 2018 as the number one individual agent in Walworth County yet again (per MLS), with more than $35,000,000 in closed transactions, so that’s nice.

The lakefront loves its price per foot (PPF) measurement, that is, the total value of lakefront sales divided by the total amount of lakefront feet sold, this we all know. You should also know that I don’t love this measurement, as it really only seems to apply to lakefront homes in the 100′ range.  200′ lakefront lots experience compression of the number, in the same way that lots under 100′ tend to overachieve. We ended 2016 with a PPF of $27,193. We ended 2017 at $27,578. And after the activity and bustle of 2018, we finished the year at $27,684. For the buyers who think this market has spiraled upward and out of control, consider those numbers. Does that seem like unsustainable, unwarranted price growth?

For 2018, we’re going to look a bit deeper at the numbers. We know our market was skewed by the $11,250,000 lakefront sale, that of 415 feet of frontage and almost 20 acres. We had an average number of entry level lakefront sales last year, closing four lakefronts under $1.7MM.  The remainder of the lakefronts fell into somewhat familiar price categories. Let’s throw out our outliers at the high and low of the market, and pull our 2018 numbers from the remainder of the lakefront transactions.

With that in mind, our PPF figure for 2018 actually goes up, to $27,994.  If you look at the purest way to measure the accuracy of that number, you needn’t look further than the 100′ vacant lot that sold on North Shore Drive last summer. That 100′ sold for $2,750,000.   That’s easy justification of the average. But there’s more to the lakefront than a basic price per foot tally, there’s also the average price per square foot of the structures themselves, as well as the price per square foot of total land mass. For these two figures, we’re going to keep with our habit of throwing out the high and low 2018 outliers, as well as the South Shore Club sales and the Buena Vista sale, as these are not true lakefront sales (even though the market treats them as though they are).

2017 registered an average housing price per square foot of $560. 2018 pushed that average up to $625. For the overall land mass statistic, we had a 2017 average of $58.09, whereas 2018 just printed a $51.66 average. Does that mean the value of lakefront land actually decreased in 2018? Of course not.  None of these metrics individually tell the story, which is why to judge the performance of our lakefront market you need to figure and consider all of them.

Today, there are just nine lakefront homes for sale on Geneva. If you remove the Fontana home that has shared frontage and a shared pier, and you remove the Trinke property that has a lagoon between the home and the lake, then you’re stuck with just seven true lakefront homes on the market. Of those, the least expensive is listed over three million dollars. Not cool if you’re a buyer. But if you’re a buyer, I have some good news for you in 2019.

The recent tumult of the stock market is a difficult situation for the lakefront market. Rising interest rates don’t bother us very much, but a decline in invested assets does. With this in mind, our stable of confident lakefront owners will find a few who dislike what they see, and those few might offer up some inventory that will appeal to the 2019 buyers.  To be certain, there are plenty of buyers still. The low inventory of 2018 didn’t scare away everyone, though I’m sure there’s some guy sitting at his Michigan vacation home this morning what it is that he’s done. Pray for this man, and his family.

I’m anticipating inventory will increase in January, and you’ll see reduced prices in a few of the 2018 carry-overs. Most sellers don’t care if the market slows, but again, if you’re a buyer, you’re not concerned about most sellers. You’re concerned only about the position of the seller who owns the home you’d like to buy. 2019 is going to provide inventory, and for the buyers who have been waiting, the question will be how the seller prices line up with buyer expectations.

I think buyers will be a bit more shrewd in this new year than they were last year, but I have a bold prediction to make: 2019 is going to be just fine. We’re going to sell lakefront homes. The market is going to provide inventory. We’re going to end 2019 somewhat flat in terms of valuations and volume, but flat is just fine with me. Flat, in fact, is good.

The stock market is going to either go up or go down, but one thing will remain.  People want something more. They want a place that means something to them, and to their families. They want to enjoy their wealth.  We can’t buy more time, and while I’m also sad that my Apple stock has cratered, that isn’t going to keep me from wanting to enjoy my family and enjoy this place. And I’m betting I’m not alone, because what you see below isn’t something you can replicate in the city or the suburbs.

2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

That’s a mouthful. I’m sure there’s a better way to say it for search engine optimization, but the market is best defined in that way.  The market isn’t particularly flashy. It won’t make any headlines. It won’t be in Crain’s or in Architectural Digest. But the entry level lake access market is the market that’s as important as any other here. These are the homes available to people who have enough fiscal power to make a vacation home a reality, but don’t have lakefront budgets.  For the purposes of this post, this segment remains at $500,000 and under.

All of these 2017 market reviews are going to tell similar stories. It’s all about inventory. About volume. And about how the inventory is either going to build and feed the market or shrivel and starve it. Today, there are just 12 homes priced under $500k with access to Geneva Lake. Remember, these are not municipal access homes- these are private, club style access points.  These are the associations you know, the associations that can offer a path to the lake, a park, a pier, a diving board, maybe some summertime geraniums in pots.

Those 12 homes vary wildly, just as this market varies. A $200k cottage in Country Club Estates is not at all like a $500k home in Country Club Estates. A small cottage in Oak Shores with a slip for $450k isn’t much dissimilar to a small cottage without a slip in Cedar Point Park, except that the Cedar Point cottage will be 50% cheaper. This is a market that I’ve gladly served for two decades, and it’s a market that hinges on a very important question: Do you want a nice house or do you want to be close to the lake?  You cannot choose both.

For the year just ended, we sold 61 lake access homes of all makes and models, priced under $500k.  The 2016 total was 56, so we’re heading in the right direction.  Just three of those homes had transferable boat slips, proving how hard it is to find a slip in this segment. Perhaps best of all, I personally sold all three of those homes. Why did I sell those homes? Well, because I know how valuable a boat slip is. I know owning a home here is wonderful, but if all you really want is to hang out on a pier and boat, then you’re going to be miserable in your off-water slip-less home, even if it has some stone counters and a master bathroom.

The key to understanding this segment comes back to that bold question about proximity. That drives this particular market more than anything. You can buy a nice house in Country Club Estates for $500k. It won’t be remarkably close to the lake. Or you could buy a small cottage in Knollwood for $500k that might be 900′ from the water. Which do you value? Do you want to walk down to the pier in the morning to cast your line a few times, motivated by the hope that something might bight? Or would you rather sit on your screened porch, reading a book thinking about where fish fry will be on Friday night? Answer those questions, and you’ll have a clear direction for your pursuit.

2018 should be just like 2017. Inventory is terrible now, yes, but it won’t be that way forever. This market might be more sensitive to the new tax law, but if inventory builds there’s nothing stopping 2018 from falling in the 2016/2017 volume range. Prices are increasing, albeit modestly. Value still exists here, and I’ll be here to help you find it.

2017 Market Reviews

2017 Market Reviews

One year ago, I wrote my year end market reviews and worried about 2017 inventory.  2016 had been a terrific year, but without inventory there was no way that 2017 could match that success.  For the year 2016, we sold 103 lakefront and lake access homes on and near Geneva Lake. That was a solid tally. With the inventory concerns heading into 2017, I was uncertain we could come anywhere near that figure, but here we are. 2017 wrapped with 119 such sales, beating the prior year even though the outlook, at least based on inventory, was bleak. So what happened? Was there some rush of new inventory? Was there some development that came online and offered up a large chunk of ready-made sales? Neither event happened. Instead, Geneva was Geneva. We sold new inventory relatively quickly, and the market turned to the aged inventory and decided maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

Today there are just 35 lakefront and lake access homes available on and near Geneva Lake.  That number is a bit artificial as it doesn’t take into account properties that recently expired and have not yet been brought back to market, but the number is still startling.  Making matters worse, there are only 11 lakefront homes available for sale. That number is just awful, but I suppose that depends on your perspective. If you’re an agent, like, say, me, then this is simply horrendous. If you’re a buyer, you feel the same. But if you’re a seller, especially a seller of a property that has experienced a length time on market, then this news couldn’t be better.  Our market, like any market, lives and dies on inventory. Today, there isn’t any. It’s Ground Hog Day in January.

It’s safe to say that the Lake Geneva vacation home market has been on a solid bull-run since the end of 2013. The market recovered volume in 2011 and 2012, but prices didn’t stabilize and find some margin until that later date.  That means we’re entering year five of a rather remarkable run. The market has made price gains, eliminated aged inventory, cleansed a few weak owners from the scene, and generally, completely, forged ahead. The lake is abuzz with new construction, leaving a market that finds a $4MM price tag to be somewhat median.  The market is starved for inventory, each of decent land in the $2-3.5MM range, of entry level offerings sub $1.5MM, and of newer construction in the $4-10MM range. For the first time ever, I believe there’s a market for homes in the $10-15MM range, even though this market has never been properly tested.

While this run has featured buyers of every sort and wealth finding their way to the lakefront, it can most easily be recognized as being the run that delivered higher end buyers to these shores. $4MM is the new $3MM.  $7MM is the new $5MM. The stakes have been raised, and Geneva continues to be set apart not only by the quality of our water and the vibrancy of our scene, but by our ability to produce upper bracket liquidity. I’ve said it often, and it continues to be more true each time I do, but Geneva is alone at the top of the Midwest vacation home segment. There is no market that comes close. Michigan, for all its effort, cannot hold a candle to our inland lake. Door County’s real estate market should be renamed Bore County. The Northwoods? Is that even a market?  Geneva is the king, and with each passing year we become more worthy and the title becomes more and more permanent.

I’m looking forward to providing you with 2017 market reviews, and will do so on the typical breaks in our vacation home market. This year, each market has had plenty of success, leaving the recovery no longer spotty, no longer skewed in favor of one segment over another. As with last year, my primary concern for the new year has to do with inventory. If we feed the market, it will continue to grow.  In spite of tax changes that take away some advantages of second home ownership and limit SALT deductions, I do not believe these will significantly or adversely affect our market. Why?  Because there’s no other market like it, and there’s no better place to spend your weekends. Staying home on a Saturday just so you can have a few extra bucks in your robust bank account doesn’t make much sense to me. I don’t see the new legislation hurting our market, even if it likely will keep a buyer or two on the sidelines. If late December/early January activity is a harbinger of things to come, 2018 looks like it will be our fifth straight solid year.

 

Above, sunset at 700 South Lakeshore Drive, sold by this guy for $5,900,000 in May of 2017.