Blog : Market Updates

Vista Del Lago Sells

Vista Del Lago Sells

It isn’t easy being a large condo association. In fact, a seat on a board at such an association is the worse sort of punishment, the sort for which you volunteer. Geneva National knows this pain, and it knows it well. Large associations have different problems than do the small associations, owing mostly to the scale of it all. Lots of land, lots of amenities, lots of structures, and unfortunately, lots of owners. Vista Del Lago, the largest condominium association on the lake, knows these problems all too well.

There’s been a learning curve of sorts at Vista.  New ownership flooded in during the 2000s condo boom, and unlike the average of the previous ownership, these owners were more affluent and as a result, more demanding. Expectations soared, and along with it, the request for improvements. This should be better and so should that. New retaining walls here, new roofs there, new landscaping around the corner.  The property was old enough by then to need some serious attention, and as a new group of owners settled in, the attention was paid.

There were some management concerns, so management changed. There was some maintenance concerns, so maintenance changed. There were reasons to improve Vista, so the improvements were made. But that makes it sound like there wasn’t a struggle, because there was. Whenever a large group needs to make decisions in unison, there is a struggle. But today, the smoke is clearing and Vista, with those improvements made, has once again found favor in the market. It’s a good time to be at Vista Del Lago.

The market hasn’t fully recovered, mind you, but it’s finally gaining some ground. This week I closed on a sale of a four bedroom condo for $520,000.  Currently, there are two other units at Vista pending sale, with just two others active on the market. There was a time not too many years ago when it wasn’t uncommon to have six or more units available at the same time. These recent sales and this lack of inventory is just what the doctor ordered, assuming the doctor was ordering Vista Del Lago to return to form.

Today, there are only eight available lakefront condominiums on Geneva Lake. That’s a low total, to be certain.  The most amazing of them all? Obviously my Bay Colony unit in Williams Bay. First floor unit, boat slip, perfect lake views and a stunning interior. For real, stunning. You’ll be stunned. Actually.  I wouldn’t ever use that word out of context.  For now, let’s celebrate the Vista sale. It means a lot to the market, and I expect the lakefront condo market to continue its long recovery throughout the coming summer. If you’re looking for a ready-made lakefront experience and your budget doesn’t allow for single family, there’s no better way to indulge in the lakefront scene. If you’re wondering who to work with towards this end, email him here.

2017 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

2017 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

Several of our vacation home segments finished 2017 without a particular narrative. They were nice markets that had a nice year. Nothing more, nothing less. No major breakthroughs, no particular oddities. The other markets have been on a roll, and we have no choice but to pat them on the back and tell them they did well. The lakefront market, too, had a nice year. It built on volume and built on price as inventory disappeared. But this is where the lakefront market says goodbye to the other markets and wishes them well. The lakefront market is on to bigger and better things. The lakefront market has a different story to tell.

That story, in case you’re new to this blog or new to the Lake Geneva media mentions, is a dramatic increase in upper bracket sales activity.  This is the story that needs to be told. This is the difference between Lake Geneva and all other Midwestern vacation home markets.  If this sounds like a common refrain coming from this site, that’s because the refrain is historically rare and is worthy of this praise. Consider the prior market peak. That peak was between January of 2007 and January of 2009. During those months the lakefront market on Geneva printed three sales in excess of $4MM. The top sale for that period closed for $4.95MM. Now consider the current market cycle and the sales that have occurred between January 2016 and January 2018. For those 24 months, the lakefront market printed 10 sales in excess of $4MM and three sales over $7MM. The top sale was $9.95MM.  For my part, I represented either the buyer or seller in seven of those ten sales, and each of the top three sales.

Currently we have five more properties pending sale over $4MM and one pending sale over $12MM. This is no longer a market that struggles to provide one or two sales over $4MM annually. That’s the old Lake Geneva, and this is the new Lake Geneva. Increased upper bracket activity, a stronger overall buyer, and a top end that has been completely and thoroughly redefined. While there are questions about the long term strength of this particular segment, I think there is one nagging question that has been answered. Can Lake Geneva provide liquidity to owners who have homes justifiably valued in the $10-15MM range? Yes. A follow up question with more devastating results: Are buyers buying lakefront houses for too much money, in part because they don’t seek qualified counsel in the decision? Also yes.

For the year just ended the lakefront market closed 26 single family properties (MLS). These sales registered $27,578 per front foot, up a bit from the $27, 193 from 2016. In total we sold 2455 front feet on Geneva, down from the 2882 front feet sold in 2016.  I’m finding the traditional price per front foot metric to be increasingly antiquated, even though the market still likes to point to that number as the best and easiest way to identify value.  I’ve started to add in a price per square foot of structure ($560.96) and price per square foot of land ($58.09) so that buyers have additional means by which to understand the value of a particular property.  There is no particular means to measure value, but these three metrics combined with nuanced understanding of desirable locations and attributes can help narrow down the valuation range.

Entry level lakefront traded with some vigor in 2017, and I did find it curious that this segment offered strong value even as the broad market accelerated. Five lakefronts traded under $1.325MM last year, including two under $926k. Those sales represented a nice entry point into this lakefront scene, and I continue to believe that we will find ourselves in a position where the market runs out of sub $1MM homes. These sort of basic cottages only exist on the lake is certain areas, and with each sale these are properties that are typically transformed via renovation or reconstruction. If you’re an entry level lakefront buyer, you’d be wise to move on properties and not miss out on  purchases over small negotiation points and percentages.

The story for 2018 will be inventory. Today, there are just ten Geneva lakefront homes available (private frontage, without offer). If the stock market maintains this incredible level (note, it doesn’t need to keep moving higher, just not correct significantly), Geneva will see another terrific year. Heck, the way buyers are buying in January, maybe we don’t even care about the stock market anymore.  New construction is rampant at the moment, and while the upper end values currently support these builds, it’ll be interesting to see if this upper bracket market hits resistance in the coming years.

For now, expect inventory to remain low, and cary-over sales from 2017 to close during the first quarter 2018.  The market is clamoring for inventory in each segment, including that lofty $6MM+ range. New construction in any price segment will be of interest to current buyers, so long as the parcels match up with the price. That’s a key.  I’m expecting inventory to build over the coming months, as opportunistic sellers see a market rife with activity. Some brokers are telling sellers to name their price, but that’s ridiculous. The market is hot, but buyers and sellers still need to understand basic fundamentals of market valuations.   If you want an agent to tell you every house is the right house, then I’m not your guy. If you want an agent to help guide you through this increasingly active and competitive market, I’m here to help. 

Above, the lakefront at my Loramoor listing. Pending sale at $5,950,000
Market Test

Market Test

By now, we all know the last two decades of market conditions at Lake Geneva. We understand the cycle. The market rose steadily from 1997 through 2008. Then the market fell from early 2009 through mid 2012. Today, we know we’re in year four or five of the latest bull market run. How long this run lasts is something we cannot yet know. I’ll let you know when it’s over. For now, we know the history and we understand it, but the biggest test for the market is beginning now.  Not now in terms of September 2017, not now in terms of Autumn.

Every market runs in these cycles. Some cycles are longer. Some are shorter. Some are less aggressive on the way up and less considerate on the way down. What lies ahead is the interesting bit.  I can guesstimate the percentages of appreciation and decline, with relative accuracy. I can tell you that at the bottom of our market cycle in 2011/2012, lakefront prices were off around 30% from their prior peak highs (2007/2008). I can tell you that since the market bottom we’ve regained perhaps 20% of those losses. In some cases, properties today are worth more than their 2008 market highs.  Try telling that to a lakefront home languishing on market in the Highlands for a price that’s not dissimilar from what it would have fetched in 2012. This is the anomaly of Lake Geneva. The market does not rise and fall with uniformity.

But that’s not the test. That’s just the set up. The real test is in the actual prices paid for properties that sold perhaps at the prior market peak, then again at the market bottom, and now again in 2017.  Today Lake Geneva is testing itself. It’s self inflicted, like volunteering to take a difficult exam even though the teacher is on vacation and the other students are still catching up on their week old homework.  The test is to prove, not with my theoretical statistics, or with some silly Price Per Foot averaging game, just how far the market has come since 2012. The only way to really know is the look to the lakefront houses that sold in 2012 and see what they’re selling for in 2017.

We know there have been some resales that roughly align with this timing already. I’ve sold a few homes in the last few years that sold during the market bottom once and then again as the market improved. Many of these have sold under unique circumstances. I sold a home on Folly Lane several years ago at the market bottom that has since resold. But the property resold at a higher price to a  neighbor because the neighbor had to have it. In the same way, the lakefront sale from last fall on the south shore of Fontana. The house that Matthew McConaughey was rumored to have bought (he didn’t). That home sold for a fat premium just one year after it originally sold. Was that a sign of the market appreciation? No, it was just an interested party pursuing a specific property. That sale looks nice in the MLS, but it isn’t a sign of broad market interest, nor does the PPF mean anything.

In order to really look at the gains since 2012, we need sales that have occurred at an arm’s length, under normal marketing conditions. We need an average sale. Moreover, we need several of these sales if we’re going to consider the outcome to be representative of the market. Thankfully, there are a few such sales, but for the sake of our concept, we’re going to need to cast a wider net. Let’s look at lakefront properties that have sold in the past 12 months that also sold between 2010 and mid 2013. In a low volume environment, which Geneva is in good times and bad, we’ll need to open the view to capture a larger sample size. Those MLS sales that match the stated criteria are as follows:

These are the handful of sales that follow our pattern.  The sales are not exact, since transfer prices can fluctuate based on allowances for furniture and other personal property, and the sales are not particularly equal since a sale in 2010 was of a property that likely still depreciated through 2012. Additionally, at least one of these properties was remodeled and updated in between sale dates (1014 S Lakeshore). But this is all we have to base our estimates on. These sales point to an average increase of just 10%.

Is that it? Is that the answer to the question? Well, not really. This is just a small sample size. We sell on average around 23 houses a year on Geneva Lake and this is just a snapshot of five of those sales. I would guess the market gains across the board have been somewhere around 20% since our market bottom of 2011/12. The market hasn’t yet printed enough volume to draw attention to that gain, but that’s my estimate and my eye is fairly keen. The market today is testing that 20% theory with several current listings that had previously sold during that recent market bottom. On average, these sellers are seeking 30% or more over the prior sale prices. The test today is to see if a market that is as robust and active as our lakefront market can indeed support that large increase over such a short period of time.

Do we know the answer to that question? Nope, but the good news is that the question has been asked and the market will answer soon.

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.