Blog : New Construction

New Construction Lake Geneva

New Construction Lake Geneva

We know the trend. It’s not just here, but it sure is pronounced here.  It’s not just a trend on Geneva, it’s a trend on our other, secondary lakes as well. Construction. It’s everywhere you look. Delavan is full of construction, Lauderdale, too. Heck, even Lake Como has a strong movement of new construction.  Gentrification, is good, everyone except the hipsters say. Out with the old and in with the new, this is our progress. This is what we were made for. To improve, to manipulate, to grow. Geneva is certainly taking that mantra to heart, and we’ve been building and building, and in fact, we just might build until we can build no more.

I left my office this week in the rain and drove around the lake. Down the roads that lead to nowhere, around the corners where the summer lives. In Williams Bay, there’s a large scale lakefront remodel that’s been in process for well over a year, and there are two spec homes that have recently been completed. Further south, there’s a rumored new project underway, that where two lakefront homes will replace one lakefront home. More on this trend later, but overall it’s a negative trend for our lake. If you care about this scene, fight against density.

In the Elgin Club, there’s a new build that’s just about done. There’s one nice sign in the Elgin Club- a neighbor purchased a home and knocked it down, perhaps to create a peaceful side yard. That’s the sort of trend I wholeheartedly endorse, and I do hope that more lakefront owners take advantage of purchasing neighboring properties when they come to market.  Fewer homes, that’s what we need.

In Geneva Bay Estates there’s a new foundation where a modest ranch once grew. There’s a patch of dirt in Geneva Manor where a home recently stood. That wasn’t a lakefront home, but it was sort of like lakefront, so it matters. $900k or so for a tear down here isn’t something I’d sign up for,  perhaps chiefly because of the tax bill that the City Of Lake Geneva likes to gift to new owners. Speaking of, did you know that the combined Stone Manor tax bill for the majority owner there is now nearly $300k? And the city hassles over permit applications, for shame.

Around that corner of the lake there’s a new build just finished on LaGrange, and a new complicated build underway on Marianne Terrace. That’s a project led by Lowell Management, and that’s a good thing. This site is unique, more like Malibu than Lake Geneva, and I have no doubt that the finished product will be beautiful and well executed. The lakefront in Loramoor is humming along,  looking sharp as it has since it first rose from that dirt (that I sold) in late 2017. At the bottom of Sidney Smith, there’s still the home that’s been under construction for years, looking, well, still unfinished.

On Maple Lane, two new homes were just built, and there’s a new spec home taking shape there along that stretch. Those are easy, deep, 100′ level lots, so it makes sense (in one way) why people are drawn to that spot on the water. In Fontana, there’s a new build on the hill above the lake, but it isn’t lakefront, so it shouldn’t count. No matter, you’ll still see it from your boat this coming summer.

The lakefront has plenty of new construction, this you can see. But I’m not thrilled with much of it. There are large, awkward houses being planted on lots that just can’t support that sort of heft. We don’t have any architectural approval committee for the lakefront, and in some ways, that’s a positive. But in other ways, it sure would be nice to have a panel to look over these builds before they rise. I dislike the trend of splitting lots, perhaps unless those lots are at least 200′ in width. The issue I have is when smaller lots are created out of old plat standards. The houses that tend to be built on the smaller lots rarely fit the neighborhoods. They aren’t cottages. They’re monstrosities looking to maximize living space and minimize neighborhood charm.

Even so, Lake Geneva is continually improving itself, and one day, we’ll look around and have nothing left to improve. If you’re a fan of this lake and wish for it to remain intact long after we’re all gone, you have but one aim. Root for less density. Root for fewer associations.  Fight against keyhole developments (much like the one proposed for Basswood last year).   It’s easier to knock down charm and replace it with mass efficiency, but is that what’s best? I don’t think so.

389 North Lakeshore Drive

389 North Lakeshore Drive

There are three things that attract people to houses. Yes, there are renters who rent based on price and convenience, those who say they won’t be pinned down, won’t be tamed. But for the rest of us, the regular people, houses simply attract us. The reasons are many, sometimes bold reasons like colors and sometimes nuanced reasons like the way a front door beckons when you first pull into the drive. But really, there are three main reasons that houses either attract us or repel us.

Lake Geneva Lakefront Homes For Sale

First things first, there’s the approach. Curb appeal,  some would say, but that’s assuming you can see the house from the curb. The approach itself matters to homes, which is why homes have gates. It’s not to keep people out so much as it is to provide a visual enticement that something important lies beyond. If I had a gate on my house, no one would stand out front and wonder who lives inside, but they might stop and think there must be something slightly interesting back there.

The lot itself, that property beyond that gate, the trees and the grass and so many boxwoods. How is that lot? Is it wide enough, deep enough? Is it hilly or flat? Does it catch my interest. And if I’m looking towards something, what is it, exactly? Just more trees? Too much grass? Basic landscaping, or elevated landscaping? A path to the lake that feels right, or a path that feels like the owner gave up on the project long before every making her way to the shore?

That lot, where is it, exactly? Is it on the side of a busy road? I was driving with my kids last week and reminded them that under no circumstance shall they ever purchase a home adjacent a busy road, to say nothing of an actual highway. The reasons are obvious, but mostly because there is never an actual reason to do so. The nuance of the front door positioning on the house and the quality of the backyard is meaningless if the house faces that busy road. The lot, the thing that we need as much as a leak-free roof and some hardwood floors, is the single most important part of home.

Lastly, it’s the style of the home itself. Tudor or Cape Cod, Colonial or Mid-Century? What suits your style? Moreover, what suits the style of your market?   A recent plague on construction in this immediate area has no real symptoms except a general lack of consistent style. If the home is to be traditional with a twist towards modern, like Michael Abraham might encourage, that’s terrific. If the home is traditional to the core, with bold, classic finishes, that’s fine as well. There is no error in design as long as the design is consistent. But whether or not that design attracts the interest of buyers and passersby alike depends on the style itself.

With those aspects of desirability understood, I introduce  389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. Where is it? Along the curvy, wooded road that bends and whispers from Fontana to Williams Bay. What’s there? Only some of the most beautiful newer homes on the lake, mixed with some of the traditional homes that effortlessly anchor our scenery to the past. The approach is as it should be: A simple gate with no pretension.  The entrance drive turns through the trees, past a fitting four car detached garage because who would want a lakefront estate without room for a few extra toys?

The home itself is more than 10,000 square feet of turn key efficiency. There’s a main floor master suite, dressed in marble. Upstairs you’ll find five more bedroom suites including a bunk room that’ll hold nearly everyone you know. On the lower level that walks out to the water, there are two more suites, a theatre room and a screened porch that does double duty as a summertime gym.  What’s more, this home is nearly new. Finished in 2013 by Orren Pickell, this shingle style home doesn’t waiver from what it is.

What is it? It’s a shingle style home on 2.4 lakefront acres built recently to exacting standards and elevated for a hassle free lakefront experience by the current owners. Where is it? It’s on the North Shore of Fontana, with views long and wide, a short stroll to Gordy’s and Chuck’s even while the home and property feel tucked away and secluded.  What does it look like? It looks like the sort of house you’d build if you were in the market to build a new house here. But why would you do that when this home is here, now, available and practically perfect? $7,895,000

Woodstone Sells

Woodstone Sells

Woodstone, prior to last week, was a nice subdivision in Linn Township with mostly architecturally pleasing homes and a delightful little wildflower corridor. Prior to last week, the development was in decent shape, though it’s taken more than a decade to fill in the few existing homes that you see. Prior to last week, the top sale in the association was around $670k.  Then, last week, things changed.

I listed a home in Woodstone in June, and then I sold it last week. The price was $900,000, including an adjacent vacant lot that wasn’t included in my initial list price of $845k. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume that lot was thrown in for consideration of $60k or so, leaving the home sale at $840k. This was fine for my seller, fine for the buyer, and fine for me.  Who won here? The market at Woodstone.

With construction prices ratcheting higher and higher, neighborhoods are having a hard time justifying the new built values. If you buy a lot for $50k in a neighborhood that traditionally sells for $325k, that’s fine. But if the new build costs you $400k, then you’re a fish out of water. Neighborhoods need new comps to prove that the increased building costs still allow a buyer margin. That’s exactly what Woodstone just did, and it did it in a big way.

Now consider the new math of Woodstone. Buy a lot for $80k or so. Build a 2500 square foot house for $500k or so. Be all in sub-$600k. Prior to last week, that still made sense. There was a tiny margin. But now? There’s proof that the market has some room to run, and if you build the right house and add a swimming pool, you, too might be able to sell north of $800k.

Speaking of swimming pools, the market loves them now. Craves them. Can’t live without them. If you’re building a new house on the lake or in the country and the market supports the extra investment, add a pool. You’ll thank me when it comes time to sell. Unless you don’t sell until such a time when the culture hates pools, then you can blame me.

Congratulations to the seller who was kind enough to let me represent their lovely property. And congratulations to everyone who lives in Woodstone, or who might one day live in Woodstone. The market just got a whole lot better. Address Thank You Cards to me, at my office address.

Lake Geneva Prices

Lake Geneva Prices

There’s an interesting bit of information available this morning courtesy a recent lakefront sale. The sale was of an older house on a 90′ lakefront lot in the Birches. The property was fine. The MLS description made no mention of it, but I believe the house may have been a Zook.  Zook homes are a lot like Frank Lloyd Wright homes, in that the sellers care about the pedigree of the architect, but the market doesn’t.  This property was initially listed for $3.5MM back in 2008, and after a series of price reductions and listing pauses, the property mercifully sold this week for $2.3MM.  I didn’t have the listing or the buy side, which is pretty awful for me but worse for the buyer and seller.

The parcel of land was reasonably decent, though I don’t count Maple Lane to be among the best streets on the lake. It’s a fine street with fine homes, but it’s not necessarily a street that has a history of selling for elevated prices. Today isn’t about that parcel, it’s about the market context of this sale.  Brokers are clamoring over potential listings to such an extent that prices are being driven up less by market conditions and more by the breathlessness of agents who are new enough to the business that they have no way to be sure of valuations. It’s not their fault, they’re just chasing dollars.  To understand what this sale means to the market we must first look back at some very recent history.

In 2016 I sold three lakefront homes on Lackey Lane. Of those three, two were modest homes, one of which has since been torn down while the other was renovated. Those two properties that sold at land value printed at $1.9MM and change, for 100′ lots on a really desirable street. Geographically, Lackey and Maple are close, so we’ll consider them to be likely comparables for each other, even though I find Lackey to be far more appealing.  Those two sales printed at around $19,000 per front foot. This isn’t some long ago number, this is 24 months ago. Market conditions today have improved, but market conditions in 2016 were still quite good.

The recent sale on Maple printed at $25,555 per front foot. The overall land mass at Maple was larger than Lackey by two fold, but the market pays little attention to overall mass and focuses instead, perhaps at times incorrectly, on frontage.   The Maple sale closed 34% higher than the 2016 sales on Lackey. Does this mean the lakefront market has appreciated 34% in the past 24 months? Of course not.  Does it mean that some properties have appreciated that much in such a short period of time? Absolutely yes.

In 2016, those Lackey sales were not easy sales. Both properties endured some time on market. Both properties were overlooked, even by smart buyers who were working with me.  Today, the Maple property proves out what I knew then: 100′ vacant lots that are selling at land value are becoming increasingly rare. Just as we’ll someday run out of dumpy lakefront cottages that you might be able to buy for $1.2MM, we’re also running out of 100′ lakefront lots with older, modest homes on them.  This scarcity is driving up prices in both categories, though the entry level market remains rather stagnant compared to the 100′ market. Expect this trend to continue as buyers seek out properties that offer them some upward mobility should they one day decide to build new, or undertake a serious renovation.