Blog : Oak Shores

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 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.

Notable November Sales

Notable November Sales

The month of November came in like a lion, or so I remember, and then it went out like a lamb. A tender, delicious lamb. Those early quitters found themselves baking in southern Florida, or dodging scorpions in Arizona. Others went on vacations to tropical locales, to avoid the dull of November.  These people missed out. November wasn’t terrible. November wasn’t awful. November wasn’t even tolerable. November was incredible. A perfect blend of fall and winter, a bit of cold here and some cold there, followed by sunshine and sunsets that would make July blush. November was quite a month at the lake, and like every month, there were sales that we should review.

The most expensive closing last month wasn’t really so expensive. $1.7MM for the house in the Elgin Club. This was my listing, as you’ll recall, but a buyer from a prior listing came back and bought it, so even though it closed my children still need new shoes.  The sale when viewed through a price per front foot prism is high ($34,000), but that’s because smaller properties always look high when judged by this blended average. The sale at $1.7MM was a terrific value. The seller decided it was time to move on, and the buyer took a flyer. The Elgin Club is an ideal spot on the water, and if you’re a buyer under $2MM and can find your way into the Elgin Club, you’re doing very well for yourself.

Next up is a dated modern house on a hill overlooking, at least from the top floor, Fontana Bay. The house on North Lakeshore Drive closed for $1.575MM, and the rumor around town is that this home will be torn down. If that’s the case, I will refrain from comment. No matter how hard it is for me to keep quiet, I won’t say a word. No, in spite of having so many things to say, so many cutting, terrible things to say, I won’t say a word. Not a peep from me, about this sale for $1.575MM. No boatslip here, by the way. But that’s all I’m going to say. Nothing more.

A home in Academy Estates closed for $950k, this one possessing a slip, and a pool, and some deferred maintenance. The price is okay, not great, not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The house was one of those homes that couldn’t aspire to more than this price, so in that, I’d say the market provided a price that the seller felt acceptable, and that, is that. Academy Estates is a nice association to the East of the South Shore Club. If you’re an off-water buyer, there are far worse places you could end up.

The most interesting sale of the month was in the Lake Geneva Highlands. Earlier this year, I sold a small lakefront house for $925k. That was, at the time, the lowest price lakefront sale of the year. The house next door to that one just sold for $850k. That’s a nice price, no matter how difficult the house. I say it often, and I’m not wrong: the lake is running out of sub-million dollar homes. That’s because when one of these homes sells (perhaps one lakefront every other year sells below $1MM), the new owner rarely stands pat. Instead, they undertake some form of renovation. Perhaps a huge renovation, maybe an addition, maybe they tear it down.  No matter the course, a $900k lakefront home is rarely the same home a year or two after that low print. When that home comes back to market improved, it now commands a $1.5MM asking price, which removes one more sub-million dollar home from our lakefront. That’s why these low priced lakefronts are almost always a good idea.

Rounding out the activity that matters, I sold two smaller properties last month. In October I listed a ranch with a boatslip and dynamite proximity to the water in Oak Shores. Last month I sold that home for $610k. The home needs a bit of cosmetic updating, but it was a nice house in a wonderful location, and it made complete market sense.  Last week I sold a large townhouse in Abbey Ridge, near the Abbey Harbor, for $555k. That was a beautiful condominium, offering loads of square footage and upgraded finishes. Abbey Ridge is a unique creation in our market, as it offers two, three, and four bedroom condominiums in a resort setting for a reasonable price.

I was pleased that both of these sellers chose to list with me this fall. In doing so, they made the smart decision to not wait until Spring to list. That’s the common refrain at this time of year. Wait ’till spring. That refrain sounds nice only because it sounds familiar.  Sell to your competition, not to the season. This isn’t Door County. This isn’t Harbor Country.  Lake Geneva doesn’t close just because the temperatures drop. We just put on some sweet boots and play in the snow.

Oak Shores

Oak Shores

When thinking of lake access associations, it’s best to think first in terms of the obvious. Once the obvious is understood, then it’s time to progress to the nuance. With this process in mind, it’s in the nuance where the good and bad decisions should be made. The obvious, in the case of the Geneva lake access market, pertains to location. A good house a million miles away from the lake is not as good as a bad house right next to the lake. This is generally the understanding. But even this understanding has some departures, as a large lot far from the water can indeed be superior to a tiny lot near the water. Still, closer is generally accepted as being better.

In the same way, smaller associations are generally better than large ones. This aligns under the obvious. The reasoning here is that pier systems tend to be similar in size, and so sharing a pier with 25 neighbors is better than sharing it with 125 neighbors. You might love neighbors, but I usually don’t. And so smaller associations are better, and closer homes within those smaller associations are better. These things are simple to understand, even for people who prefer to vacation in Michigan.

Along the nuanced lines, there are things that many buyers fail to take into consideration. Proximity to the lake is wonderful, and meaningful, but in this is a steep walk downhill something that we’d like between our lake house and the water? If you prefer the steep walk downhill, I won’t necessarily disagree with you. But it’s the walk back uphill that I consider an offense.  If closer is better and smaller is better then surely level is equally as important.

And if we’re looking for close and level and small, then shouldn’t we focus our attention on associations that match up with these preferences? Sadly, there are few associations that meet these criteria that are affordable. That’s because these are the more desirable attributes, and desirability leads to pricing power, and pricing power leads to $9handles on lake access homes. That’s not attainable for many, which leads us to the doorstep of my newest listing. Oak Shores. $624,900.

This listing combines these rare lake access attributes, and does so in an easy to understand, easy to manage, easy to improve package. The house is three bedrooms and three baths. It’s around 1940 square feet. It has a two car garage. It’s been well maintained. Best of all, it’s 714 feet from the house to the lake. Those 714 feet are level, making the walk more a stroll, the stroll more a saunter. At the lake, there’s a fully transferable boatslip with plenty of water depth for ease of boat maneuvering. If you squint through some trees, there’s even a lake view. The association is small, the ground level, the only thing between you and the water is a small association road that feels more like a private driveway.

This is an easy house. It’s easy to buy and easy to own and easy to have fun with. The current seller has enjoyed it for decades, and it’s now time to pass the torch to another family who wishes to enjoy this lake in an entirely different way. If you’re a buyer and you understand that countertops can be changed but location is forever, then let’s chat.

Shore Haven Sells

Shore Haven Sells

The single lane associations on the south shore of Geneva are some of my favorite lake access associations. These are not large associations like Cedar Point Park or Country Club Estates, rather they’re intimate skinny lanes with a handful of homes, perhaps 30, perhaps 50, rarely more and rarely less. These associations generally offer one thing that the larger associations cannot- transferable boat slips. Excepting Sybil Lane, the other three in this stretch- Shore Haven, The Lake Geneva Club, and Oak Shores, all offer each home a fully transferable slip. Some slips are larger and others small, some shallow and others deep, but if you’re a buyer on these streets then you’re going to be buying a boat slip, and that is always a good thing.

Some buyers don’t want boat slips. I’m not a boater, they say. I don’t even own a boat, why would I want a slip? Considering I’m a sage old Realtor at this point, I can tell pretty early on if the buyer is the sort who claims to not want a slip but who will, at a later date, wish for one. If a buyer wishes to spend $300k on a lake access home, that’s terrific news. But that buyer won’t be buying a boat slip for that sort of money. The home they can buy will be nice enough, with lake access through an association park and pier system, but a transferable slip will not be possible at that price range. However, if a buyer is looking at $500-600k lake access homes and doesn’t think they need a slip, I’ll always encourage that buyer to consider homes with a slip first. To vacation at Lake Geneva and not have access to a boat is like sitting down for a dinner at your favorite restaurant and not being allowed to order.

Last week, I closed on my listing in Shore Haven for $675k. This was a nice house with terrific proximity to the lake, but that’s not why it sold. It sold because of its wonderfully large and deep transferable boat slip. Today, the home next door to that one is closing to a customer working with me, and that home will be selling because it’s cute, sure, but mostly because of that slip.  Today, buyers searching for sub-$800k homes with boat slips are not going to be overwhelmed with the multitude of options available to them, but they are going to have options. As of this morning there are 6 homes with transferable slips (or pier) for sale priced under $800k, including my rare offering in Ara Glen listed at $775k.

The next home to sell on this list will likely be my painfully cute cottage in the Lake Geneva Club listed at $609k, pictured below. That home has a nice slip, a double lot, and all sorts of cottage charm. If you want to pull up to your lake house and feel a deep sense of contentment, then email me and let’s make a deal.  It’s May 1st, which means summer isn’t some far off thing we’re quietly dreaming about. It’s right here, right now, and before you know it you’ll be sitting in your Saturday suburban back yard wondering where all your cool neighbors went.  The time is short, but there’s still plenty of it. Buy this house, be in for Memorial Day Weekend, then wonder how you ever spent Memorial Day Weekend anywhere else.

$609k, with slip.