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Lake Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2018 Market Review

Lake Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2018 Market Review

When we entered 2018, we knew we had some inventory problems. This was widespread throughout the vacation home market, from entry level cottages to lakefront estates. What we also knew was that buyers rarely find the patience to stand back and wait for the perfect piece of inventory, instead they tend to wait for a bit, and then default to the next best thing.  If you were looking for a lake access home with boat slip last year, you know how difficult the hunt was. The good news is that we can now test our theories: If  there weren’t ample offerings with slips, then the market should have shifted towards condominiums as buyers looked for similar attributes and price points in a different ownership model.

The good thing for 2018 is that our model held up. Low inventory in the single family lake access market propelled sales of lakefront condominiums to a multi-year high.  During 2018 we closed 15 total lakefront condominiums, up from 12 in 2017 and eight in 2016. If we look deeper into the trend, we know that buyers have shown an increased desire to be walking distance to downtown Lake Geneva. If they want a slip and want to be close to downtown and they have a typical condominium budget of less than $800k, then Vista Del Lago should have had a stellar year. Guess what? It did.

There were seven sales in Vista for 2018, priced from $355k to $580k.  I personally sold two four bedroom units (the largest in the complex) for $520k and $515k, respectively.   Those sales were off-market, as buyers looked for inventory that didn’t exist, and their smart agents contacted me to find out what might have been available privately (you should do the same). Vista has had some tumult over the past decade, but the best possible thing for any association that’s on the rebound is volume. Vista, congratulations on 2018.

Around the lake we had two sales at Geneva Towers, both lower priced sales sub-$400k. There were no sales at Somerset, Harbor Watch or East Bank, those three higher value condominiums on the eastern shore. Working around towards Williams Bay, Bay Colony closed two units at $565k and $530k, and there weren’t any sales at Bay Shore or Bay Colony South.  Fontana Shores, that brick condo north of Gordy’s, closed two units. A two bedroom for $494k and a one bedroom for $405k.  At the Fontana Club, over in Glenwood Springs, there were two sales, though the sales were of the same double unit. The combined unit (that I had sold previously) sold in early 2018 for $685k. Then the owners renovated it, and put it back for sale in the fall. It closed late in the year for $835k, likely representing a meaningful loss for the seller.

It’s fun when a market allows you to prove a theory, and in 2018, the mid-range vacation home market did just that.  Some buyers, if faced with a lack of inventory in their target segment, will reach up. That’s common here. In fact, I can’t tell you how many buyers I’ve worked with started with a a target of $500k and ended up spending $900k. Lake Geneva can do that to a person. But what’s more likely, is for a buyer to look around at his desired price range, and in the absence of inventory,  she’ll look away from single family homes and to the lakefront condominium. Prices have lagged in the lakefront condo market even as the single family homes have appreciated. That creates some value, and when you combine value with inventory, you have the makings of a terrific year.

 

Above, my amazing offering at Bay Colony, $799k

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

That headline is clunky. But it’s only clunky because it has to be. Lake Geneva is the general term for our market. Unfortunately sometimes it’s too generic, like when people borrow the term to describe a listing near Pell Lake. Lake Geneva Area Home! That sounds better than “It’s Super Close To Pell Lake, Folks”. As for me, I don’t even know where Pell Lake is because I’ve never looked for it. There’s a chance it’s wonderful, but I’m betting against. Anyway, Lake Geneva is the market, it’s the city, and Geneva Lake is the lake. So when I say “Lake Geneva Lake Access” I’m describing the homes within the city limits of the City of Lake Geneva that possess lake access to Geneva Lake. That’s all. Onward.

I heard that the weekend Winterfest festivities were a bit crowded. As in, way too crowded. And this is the problem with Lake Geneva just as it’s a reason that people like it. If you like the scene, no where can it be found so easily. There are restaurants and shops and shops and restaurants, and we used to have like fifty coffee shops and now we only have a couple. Lake Geneva is the epicenter of this market, it’s important and it’s necessary. A fantastic lake and beautiful homes only take you so far, because when it rains or when it’s winter you have to be able to visit a town to buy things to eat and things to wear. Lake Geneva might be everything to our local economy, but in terms of our lake access housing market it actually matters very little.

That’s because for all of the real estate in the city, there aren’t loads of lake access homes. Much of the market functions like a lake access market as that area behind the beach and the library often trades from one vacation home owner to another even though that market (Maple Park) lacks specific lake rights.  In this segment, the homes immediately along Geneva Street, those homes that face the lake, they have been increasingly popular for the vacation home set. The homes lack private lake access but they have that view, and nowhere else can a vacation home owner so easily wake on a Saturday and stroll along the lake into town for breakfast. That’s pretty nice, but sorry Sorta-Lake-Access-Maple-Park-District, you’re not included today.

For 2016, just seven lake access homes within the City of Lake Geneva printed. They ranged in price from $568k to $1.35MM.  The lake access market there consists primarily of Geneva Manor (two sales for 2016). This association on the West side of town is fine, but the off-water homes lack boatslips and nearly all of them lack views, and so you’re buying a home in a neighborhood that affords you a private park and swimming piers, but no slip. It should also be mentioned that you’re buying into a tax-heavy environment, as an offer water home in Geneva Manor that prints in the $800k range will soon receive a tax bill in the $18k range. That’s rough, and while the lakefront market generally absorbs the city taxes much more easily, the lake access market there suffers a bit for it. Then again, most buyers don’t even think about that before they buy, so perhaps it matters very little.

 

Further away from the city but still within the city limits, Geneva Bay Estates. This association had two sales last year, both of rough homes in terrific locations, both possessing a boat slip. These homes sold for $575k and $825k, respectively. Geneva Bay Estates is off of Snake Road, and it’s highly desirable. Low density, low overall house count, and a pleasant lakefront park and pier system make for a high quality lake access association.

On the other side of the city there are several associations that offer its owners private lake access, but they are lesser known because they’re not very large. Maytag Estates and Somerset are the largest here, and one off-water sale did print in Maytag for $1.35MM. That was a decent home with a slip and some views. Somerset had some inventory last year but no MLS sales. To the North, Pine Tree Lane had a sale with a bit of a view and no slip for $545k.  One other home sold, but it was technically a condo on Wrigley Drive. That home sold off-water with a slip for $1.030MM. It was a nice house, but with limited outdoor space, no lakefront park, and a pier shared by three owners.

Today, just two off-water lake access homes are available in the city. Our low inventory theme plays no favorites, as every association and municipality is plagued by a lack of inventory at the moment.  Plenty of buyers want to be near to the city of Lake Geneva, and there are good reasons for that desire, as the scene there is difficult to beat. The convenience of walking into town for a Sunday morning breakfast or a Friday night fish fry is meaningful. But along with that convenience and activity you have to consider the throngs of vacationers that arrive in that city on the weekends. It can, at times, feel like too much. Like at Winterfest, when the bars are full and all you really wanted was a Badger Burger.

Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2016 Review

Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2016 Review

Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll discuss how 2016 treated the various segments of our vacation home market.  We know the year to have been a good one for these markets, but we’ll avoid the vagaries and dig into the details.  If you wanted vagaries, you could just visit the Facebook page of your favorite Realtor, assuming that I’m not your favorite Realtor, and if not, when what have I done to deserve such a low level of favor?   The markets we’ll cover will include the following segments:  Lakefront Condo, Lakefront Single Family, Lake Access Single Family, Geneva National, Abbey Springs, and the secondary condo markets comprised of Willabay Shores, Bayside Pointe, Abbey Hill and the Abbey Villas. Let’s get started.

The lakefront condo market has been covered in depth here. Unfortunately, even as I grasp the other markets with remarkable clarity, I have been routinely dumbfounded by the behavior of the lakefront condo market. I don’t know, exactly, why the market has stalled even while the adjacent markets have excelled.  I’ve speculated that perhaps it’s due to a shift in demographics. Younger buyers, more city buyers, those who don’t want to come to the lake to share a hallway.  Even today, eight years after the start of the last housing crisis, I’m not entirely sure why this market has failed to find favor.  With 2016 now closed out, it’s clear to me that the lakefront market has remained an enigma, and the market remains stalled.

Perhaps it’s inventory that creates the problem. After all, if nice things come to market they generally sell, whether they’re condominium or single family in nature.  I sold a beautiful condo at Eastbank for $1.2MM in 2015, but that condo was recently renovated and  absolutely, entirely turn key.  So is it purely a condition of the condition? If a unit is beautiful will it sell?  Does this buyer pool just detest the thought of renovating a confined space?  If we look to the 2016 condo sales, maybe there’s a clue.

In total, the lakefront condo market closed 8 units. That’s not terrific, but it’s not the worst thing, either. A unit at Vista Del Lago sold for $362,500. That’s troubling for Vista, as the development offered several nice units throughout 2016 and yet the only sale was in January of 2016, meaning that likely wasn’t even a 2016 contract, rather a carryover from 2015.  Geneva Towers had one sale at $644,500, a fine number for a reasonably decent condo there. Somerset, a small condo association just south of downtown Lake Geneva had two sales last year, one of a short sale for $725k (though I’m assuming the buyer had additional costs associated due to the way the MLS details are written), and another unit for $1,085,000. That was an upgraded unit, and any buyer considering entry level frontage would do well to consider available inventory at Somerset and at Eastbank.

Working West, Williams Bay had two lakefront condo sales, both at Bay Colony. One of a wonderfully renovated unit, one of a unit with more basic, older finishes. The upgraded unit had sold for $600k back in 2005 when it was in original condition. That buyer then renovated the unit and sold it, after years on market, for $510k in early 2015. That same unit sold for $525k in the fall of 2016 and that, in a nutshell, is the situation with most condos on Geneva Lake. Even in terrific condition they aren’t able to sell for their 2005 valuations. The other unit in that building sold for $415k to a buyer represented by yours truly.

In 2002 I sold a three bedroom condo in Fontana Shores for $427k. That was, at the time, a nice sale for the building and a nice sale for me. That same unit just sold in 2016 for $421,750.  The last owner kept that condo for 14 years and lost money on it. During the same period, a private lakefront home may have appreciated by as much as 50-75%. Lastly, my sale at Stone Manor. At $5,995,000, it was the most expensive condo sale in our market, and likely the most expensive condo sale in Wisconsin, ever. But it’s less condo and more residence, so I won’t dwell on it here. You know it sold. I know it sold. And that sale has no effect on the remainder of the non-Stone Manor condo market here.

12 months, 8 sales.  2015 fared only slightly better, with 9 prints for that year.  There were 11 sales in 2014. But none of this particularly matters. The take away is that the market remains in a difficult way, and I don’t see any catalyst that will change that. If entry level lakefront prices rise, and that entry level inventory remains low, then perhaps the condo market will benefit.  But what I think we’re seeing is a shift away from the condo model and towards single family, and the only thing that might interrupt that shift is rare value or rare inventory.   2016 should be a solid year for the lakefront condo market, but in this context I think sold would mean 7 or 8 sales in total. To expect more would be to expect a change from the status quo, and the condo market hasn’t proven it’s capable of anything but.

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

The real estate market in 2011 was pretty bad. It was fun, if bad, because sellers wanted to sell and buyers, though fewer than now, wanted to buy. It was a great year, and the Lake Geneva markets functioned as they should. Few buyers, few sellers, plenty of motivation for both sides. What’s not well understood now is that the market is no longer healing. It’s no longer mending. It’s no longer about to be something. It is something. It’s already there. It’s four full years into this new housing boom. To suggest that the recovery is somehow nascent is to either misunderstand the word or the markets, possibly both.

The lake access market on Geneva had a most terrific 2015.   2014 was similarly good, and in that year we sold 61 single family lake access homes near Geneva Lake. This year just ended we sold 70, making the good of 2014 look small and weak compared to the splendor of 2015. Both years saw activity in all segments, as the woes of individual off-lake segments have long been left in the dust of 2011 and 2012.   Both years experienced their share of anomalies, with 2014 printing a parkway home in the $1.5MM range and 2015 trading a Knollwood house for $2.2MM. Outliers they are, but still proof of a market truth: Shiny sells, if the implementer of the shiny is willing to take a bath on their shiny bad investment.

Proving that Lake Geneva can indeed be a market for the masses, we sold 17 lake access homes under $250k in 2015. I would have expected that number to be higher, as interest rates hovered at their lowest levels since Cain asked Abel for a short term loan to buy a very heavy rock, and this market should be especially sensitive to interest rates.  We sold another 48 lake access homes priced between $250k and $1MM.

Of interest in this meat and potato portion of our off-lake market is that two parkway homes in Cedar Point sold just under $1MM. For those who were not feverishly watching this market in the early and mid 2000s, you cannot appreciate the spectacle that is two parkway sales in one calendar year. For a while, during the escalation years of the prior cycle, Parkway homes were mythical. They were sometimes available, most of the time not. They were rare. To catch a glimpse of one on the open market was akin to a Yeti sighting, or to Tim Allen actually vacationing in Michigan. They were elusive, and they were desirable and the market loved them. That affection has returned, and prices up to and just over one million dollars is a reasonable ransom for such a rare property.

In that segment there are two other market tales, both sad tales, sure, but both telling an obvious market story. In 2007, a large log-ish home in Somerset came to market for $1.1MM. Two years later, it was raised to $1.295MM. The years that followed featured a vast array of For Sale signs in the front lawn, including a stint where my sign was there. The price dropped and dropped, as the market didn’t particularly enjoy an off-water home that lacked a slip but did possess a $20k property tax bill. In 2015, the home finally sold. For $600k. The heat of the last three years of bull market didn’t touch that property until last summer, and at $600k one could hardly suspect the transaction gave the seller any warm feelings.

Another sale that tells a similar story, but on the other side of the lake. It is no secret that the Lake Geneva Club is one of my favorite lake access associations. I like the street, I like the feel, I like the aesthetic. A home came to market there in 2007 for $829k, hoping to ride the coattails of a sale I had just closed for $790k in the same association. My sale was of a cottage one home from the lake, this offering was much, much farther away from that water epicenter.  This property came to market at various prices over recent years, on and off again, under contract at least once, then back to market after a failed deal. That home mercifully sold last summer for $500k. What was it likely worth in 2007 when it listed for $829k? Around $500k.  Medicine is often best taken quickly and without hesitation, because the longer you dwell on the smell and texture the less likely you will be to swallow it.

I’m not sure how I feel about 2016 in this segment. In theory,  market returns for 2015 will not make anyone feel particularly paper rich, especially if they went long TWTR with me in April. Interest rates will be rising, sure, but slowly, and anyone with any historical perspective will not be too upset by 4.75% interest rates. I expect the market to remain solid, and there will be outliers in 2016 just as there have been in recent years. Brokers love to whip markets into a frenzy, and all it takes is some shiny photographs of a Wolf stove and voila, some naive buyer will pay a lakefront price for a lake access home. Want to avoid that sort of amateurish buying behavior? Work with me, because I know the difference between an outlier and value.