Blog : Summer

Summer’s End

Summer’s End

The streets are quiet now. The excited conversations of summer are now just a murmur, fading like the green in all of these leaves. There was life back then, so much of it that it needed to be discussed. The green of the trees was bright, full, deep and overwhelming. It’s still very much green, but it’s duller than it was. Our conversations are quieter, the trees are duller, the waves are softer. The streets are quiet. This thing is nearly over.

Oh sure, we’re trying to act like that isn’t true. The gas station is full of boats this morning, their empty tanks being filled again. There’s still time, the boaters say. This day will be the best day. There won’t be many more like it, but this day. This will be the best.  The beer will be cold and the fish might bight.  When the fish ignore then we’ll tube and we’ll toast our skin and we’ll snack and we’ll drink. Today will be the best day of the summer. These are the lies of late August.  We know they’re lies, but we tell them anyway. We have no choice.

We know, deep down inside our summer selves, that the only way to enjoy summer is to engage in it without a clock. The only time that summer is truly bliss is during early summer. The sort of summer that has so much left in the tank that we wouldn’t even think of anything else. An 80 degree in late June will always thoroughly beat an 80 degree day in late August. That’s because in June there are more coming, so many more that who could count? There isn’t anything ahead but more summer, better summer, tons and tons of summer.

It’s not like that now.  There is football on my television, no matter if I click past the programming quickly or not, it’s still there. I looked at the stack of wood on my porch and thought that the stack should be taller. The wood is dry now, lighter than it was. It’ll be easier to stack higher and deeper, and I should start doing this soon. It won’t be long before I burn that maple. I cut and split the limbs in late winter, which is to say it was early spring, which feels now like it was forever ago, but not really. It was just a few months ago, before the spring really took hold, before the heat of June and the deluge of July and the niceness of August. It’ll be that way again soon. I should start chopping wood.

Yes, there are a few weeks of this thing left, but are there? If you’re lying in bed dying of something, is it great to be thinking that there might be a couple of weeks left? Is that life? Is that really, truly living? Or can you only really live when you aren’t thinking of dying? I always tell my parents that life doesn’t change when you’re on your deathbed. Life changes when you’re sitting in the doctors office swinging your feet back and forth off the end of that elevated bed when the doctor knocks at the door and enters the room. Life changes when the doctor tells you you’re sick. It doesn’t change when you feel sick, when you grow weak, when you’re nearly done. It changes right then, when she tells you what you have and why that’s bad. In the same way, is summer over when it’s October and the Sunday temperature barely touches 60 and we feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to wear our boots and visit the orchard?

I say no, that’s not at all when summer is over. Summer’s over when we start to think about fall, and I’m starting to think about it already. I don’t want to, I really don’t. I wish I didn’t have to rush through this season to discover the next.  I already know what fall is like. But that’s exactly what I have to do, because I have no choice. I’m from Wisconsin, proudly, and we can’t linger in any season for too long. I know there are boat rides still to come, swimming and superjetting and sweetcorn. But there’s also wood to chop and jeans to patch and cider donuts to eat.  I don’t want to do those things on purpose, it’s just that I can’t help it. The streets are too quiet for me to pretend any longer.

 

Photograph “Sweet Wheat” by Kristen Westlake.
Of Agents and Inuendos

Of Agents and Inuendos

This is serious. You’ve been having the pain in your knee for quite some time. It bothered you during your junior year, but what could really, truly bother you then? Some tylenol and a creatine laced protein shake is all you needed to make that slight twinge of pain fade into the background. It was the championship game, after all. The pain now is different than the pain then. It’s more permanent. More achy. Less a twang of pain and more a deep constant, like something has taken hold in that joint that cannot and will not give up.  You wait nervously in the doctor’s office. The smell of the receptionists microwaved lunch turns your stomach. Your knee is getting worse by the minute.

The doctor is friendly, you found him online. He has a billboard on the highway near the Walmart,  “satisfaction guaranteed”. The guarantee is figurative,  because there can be no guarantee with this sort of work. The knee doesn’t react the same each time. The doctor knows you know this, but his insurance company remains steadfast in their demands that he remove the writing from the billboard. He will, he says, but not until the contract is up. To change it now would be costly, and the state is behind in their payments for the elderly care he provides, and so things are tight.  Your knee offers some financial redemption. You hope he looks as he does on the billboard. Capable, confident, full of guarantees.

He enters the room. He’s confident. His office, he says, is among the best in the entire country. He’s number one in his group. The group over which he reigns is unclear, but he’s number one, that he’s sure of.  He’s been doing this for a while, years, in fact. How many is left out.  He does this all the time he says as he looks over the file. Nothing to be worried about. His knee is bouncing, nervously.  Your knee aches. He asks what the problem is. You tell him it’s your knee. He glances towards your leg. I see, he murmurs while furiously scribbling on his notepad, nodding the whole time as if asking himself questions and answering them quietly. Now let’s have a look at that knee.

His chair wheels over to you and he picks up your leg and rests it on his lap. His fingers prodding your achilles, pushing and waiting for your reaction.  He turns your ankle to the left and to the right, no reaction. He pushes your toes away from your heel, up and down, back and forth, all the while watching your face for any sign of discomfort. There is none. Satisfied with his work, he wheels away and looks toward his clipboard.  Good news, he says. It appears as though your knee is, as a point of fact, 100% healthy.

This may seem to be an absurd way to contrast a doctor with a Realtor, but it’s all I have for you this morning.  This market has me concerned, as buyers and sellers alike flock to agents who don’t know the difference between an ankle and a knee. Agents who see pictures of sunsets and ask if the house is on a shore of the lake that would never, under any circumstance, offer a sunset view. Agents who drive to listings and call for directions. Agents who ask if association frontage is private. Agents who don’t know the difference between a slip and a private pier. Agents who show on Powers Lake on Sunday and Geneva Lake on Monday and condominiums in Whitewater on Wednesday.  Incompetent, uneducated agents who find success because the work for a company that has some credibility.  This hot market has been a breeding ground for inexperienced agents, and sadly,  the market is falling for it.

In that, there is a real estate story.  Consumers see a brokerage, and they think the brokerage to be good. Or at least capable. They then approach the brokerage, looking for an agent. The assumption is that the agent, if aligned with a  large brokerage, is somehow an expert in their field. I would suggest to you that expert status is not attained by aligning oneself with a large firm. Now, if you’re in search of an attorney and you find one who is a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, you can reasonably assume that this partner is indeed a capable and competent attorney. But that’s because there’s a barrier to entry to such a firm. Only the best of the best gain membership. The barrier to entry to real estate is the ability to robustly fog a mirror, and if the test is completed without much difficulty, the agent is awarded a set of business cards and a gold jacket. You, the consumer, wander into the office the next day looking for a lake house. This is all a terrible, terrible mistake. Thankfully, there is a way to avoid the mistake. Looking for Lake Geneva real estate? Look with me.

 

Lakefront Inventory

Lakefront Inventory

It feels like an epidemic. Each day starts full of hope. Each day passes choked with despair. New inventory should be here by now. But it isn’t. Why isn’t it? This is what the people want to know. The smart Lake Geneva buyers are working with me, and I’m working for them, trying to dig up shreds of inventory so that I might offer it to them on this silver platter. Despite my efforts, the silver platter remains empty, carrying only the dust from a desperate summer.

Buyers are active on the lakefront, this we know.  Lots of agents have buyers at the moment. Lots. They’re asking me for inventory. David, what do you have that I might sell? This is sweet of them to ask so nicely, but what they don’t know is that any inventory that I uncover will be inventory that I offer to my buyers first, and to everyone else last. This is why buyers should be working with me, among all of the other reasons, but still, the market persists and summer moves along and there’s no inventory.

But that’s not entirely true. There have been seven new lakefronts brought to market from June 1st through August 1st. Of those seven, I’ve presented three of them under my brokerage. The thing is, five of those seven are listings that were previously on the market. Of the two new ones, I sold my listing (Jerseyhurst, closing next month), and the other listing is an entry level home seeking a buyer (visionary).  While I do see several of these new listings selling this year, it’s obvious to admit to you that our inventory is light at best. Anemic at worst.  But how does it stack up to a typical Lake Geneva summer?

Last year there were nine new lakefront listings 6/1-8/1.  For the sake of this historical reflection I won’t be deciphering which listings were “new” new, and which were  regurgitated new.  The same two months in 2015 brought 10 new listings to market. 2014 saw 12 new, and 2013 gave us 10. For the sake of averages, the market has produced 9.6 new lakefront listings between June 1st and August 1st. If we’re trying to be dramatic, that means the 2017 inventory production is 25% off the pace.

Still, in spite of the lighter 2017 listing volume, we’re still faring much better than the 2007 market. Those buyers were truly up against it, with just 3 lakefronts listed over those two summer months. And back then, the “cheapest” new listing was $2.2MM.  So yes, our inventory is constricted. Yes, that makes it tough on buyers. But don’t for a second think it’s some sort of historical anomaly.  It’s just a bit behind the running average, and I’m confident that August and September will bring some new inventory that will satiate the market.

 

Above, the master bathroom at my pending sale on Jerseyhurst.
Mid-Summer Markets

Mid-Summer Markets

This would be much easier if we weren’t here. If we were in some other absurd little Midwestern vacation home market, everything would be different. We’d have our season, and it would consist of ice cream and t-shirts and six or eight weeks of hustle. Some bustle. Then we’d have our off season, which would make up the remainder of our year. We’d have in season, off season, and that would be that. Our fingers would be sticky from all that ice cream and our t-shirts would be stained so that you could barely make out the location of that miserable little Midwestern vacation home destination.

But we aren’t there. We are here. We’re in the middle of our season now, but what is this season, exactly? Is it July and August, as some would suggest? Or is it Memorial Day through Labor Day? Is it Memorial Day through Columbus Day?  That’s a common thought, and it isn’t a terrible one. But really our market doesn’t turn off, our season doesn’t end, it just changes. We don’t close the doors, we don’t turn off the lights. We just enjoy this place with different goals in mind. The season, it’s upon us.

But this is the generic consideration of “season”. What about the market version? What about this season, this cycle? Where are we now, on this tenth day of July?  Agents are scrambling, screaming about activity and offers and counter offers and amendments. They’re excitable, this group. And there are more of them now, more than ever.  It’s easy money, so they start and they spout and they tell people things that they have no actual way of knowing. Yes, your house is worth X. I would know, I’ve been selling real estate since 2016. 

I would call this current position in our market the Mid-Summer-Pause. Sure, there’s activity. Lots of it. But it’s also taking a bit of a breather. The spring sprint has ended.  Inventory is low and refuses to grow. What inventory is present is either under contract, about to be under contract, or somehow fatally flawed and needing price reduction. I have two new listings coming to market this week, one you’ll learn about on Wednesday and the other on Friday, but I haven’t brought two lakefronts to market in one week for what feels like years.  Will buyers pay attention to the new offerings? Perhaps.

There are buyers, after all. Many of them. Lakefront buyers, lake access buyers, condo buyers, land buyers. And the sellers who have been in the market for some time now fully understand that the summer is fleeting. Even now, with summer so young, it is escaping us little by little. The days are shorter now. Shorter today and shorter tomorrow. Winter is coming. Sellers know this, and in spite of the measurable buyer traffic there are deals to be made. Sellers, in this mid-summer pause, will be reducing their prices.  Why reduce in the fall when you know the market is stronger today than it might be then?  Sellers will be considering their position in the market and reacting accordingly. At least the smart ones will.

Today, there are five lakefronts under contract. One is my listing on Jerseyhurst. Others are in the $1.4-2.8MM price range.  There are just 18 lakefronts available as of this morning, which is consistent with the inventory for most of 2017. It’s low, and we know it. But there is value in that list, even if it isn’t apparent based on the present list prices. Expect to see some reductions in the coming weeks, even as the market remains hot and buyers snap up new inventory.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being a seller who sees the activity in the market and knowing your home isn’t benefitting. These are the sellers that will reduce, and if you’re a buyer, these are the sellers you should be watching.

For now, it’s mid-summer. My arms are tired from superjetting. My nose is sunburned. And all is well.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Wow. That’s really all there is to say. Wow. Maybe Wowzers. The lakefront market on Geneva Lake is as heated as it has been since the summer of 2007.  I was a player in the market then, but I wasn’t a large player in the lakefront market like I am today, so my view of that prior frenzy wasn’t from the front row. Today, with this front row seat underneath me, I find the market to be breathless. How I pine for the darker days when buyers had a few moments to gather themselves before making a lakefront decision.  For those buyers who had lakefront opportunities during 2011-2015 and failed to act, this post should be sung slowly as a dirge.

Today there are 21 lakefront homes available in our MLS. There are an additional four pending sale. At least two others have offers in negotiations.  At first blush, you won’t find this all that rare. In fact, our inventory has actually risen over the past three months, as for one period there were just 16 lakefronts available. There are two primary points of interest that have presented in this new market cycle. Yes, it’s no surprise that buyers still want 100′ of frontage and they want it now. Yes, buyers still love Viking ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators. Yes, Calcutta marble remains in high demand. The things you know are still correct, but there are two new drivers of interest that have never, ever fared particularly well in the history of our market.

Buyers have shown that they love being near downtown Lake Geneva. They don’t just sort of like it, they love it. I sold 700 S Lakeshore earlier this year in large part because of its estate qualities and its proximity to downtown Lake Geneva. The two lakefront homes on Main Street just West of Library Park are both pending sale as of this week (mid $2s), and that’s significant as both of these homes have endured some lengthy market times over recent years. Buyers found motivation to snap up these two homes, and I’m betting large amounts of your money that the interest was driven primarily by the proximity to downtown. In prior years, such proximity would have often been viewed as a negative feature. The noise and commotion, the tourists, the higher taxes. Yet of late, buyers love downtown and so buyers are buying downtown. It’s super interesting to me.

The other curious aspect of this new market cycle is the liquidity at the top end of our lakefront. Homes over $5MM have never sold with particular ease. During the last bull run here, from 2000-2010, just three lakefront homes sold in our MLS for a price that exceeded five million dollars. Since 2010, eleven lakefront homes (and a vacant lot, making it twelve) have sold over that benchmark. Of those eleven, I’ve sold seven of them, including three of four to close over $7MM, but that’s not the point (actually, it’s always the point). This increased liquidity is being viewed by the owners as some new stable trait of our market. Something that has finally manifest, and should stay in place forever. I’d question that theory, and would encourage any owner in this range who might be considering a sale to hurry up and sell. This liquidity is beautiful, but cycles are cycles.

And that brings us the concept of a lakefront market cycle. How long will this cycle last, and where are we in the cycle? Obviously it’s impossible to know this, but we do have the benefit of history to look at as a guide. The last cycle began in the late 1990s and ran up through 2008. The cycle lasted around 10 years, with gradual price increases occurring each year during that cycle, including in the years immediate following the 2000 dot com bust. If we look at our down cycle as occurring from 2009 through 2012, we’ve been building towards a new bull market since 2012. Yes, extreme value existed up through 2015, but for the most part our market was in full recovery mode (increased liquidity and increasing demand) by mid 2012. With that in mind, it’s easy to say we’re about five years into our current bull run.

How much is left in the tank? Well, judging by the market conditions today, I’d say plenty. Does it last two more years? Does it go five more? That’s impossible to guess. Keep an eye on the stock market and on our inventory if you’d like a clue as to where the market is going. If the indices stay high and our inventory stays low, you have the makings for a continued bull run. If markets melt to any extreme level and our inventory swells, that would likely mark the end of these conditions that favor our sellers. For now, look at the market. Watch it. And don’t do as many buyers are doing right now and make a mistake. Let me be your guide. Not only will we have a lot of fun with your house hunt,  you also won’t end up buying the wrong house in the wrong location.

 

Above, morning at my 412 Harvard listing. 
Expectations

Expectations

By now you know I have a problem with cars. I like cars, but I don’t like the process of buying a car. I don’t even like thinking about cars. I’m young enough to see a car I like and think, “I really like that car”. But I’m old enough to not pursue the purchase of such a car.  Men tend to track their lives by the cars they drive. I remember when I met my wife I drove a black Cadillac (don’t ask). Then, later, when my girlfriend became my wife, I drove a black Volvo. It was a nice car. Later, my wife almost decapitated our dog by sideswiping a telephone pole in a red Jeep Grand Cherokee. Life is most easily tracked when the memory places you behind the wheel.

The problem with these nice cars is that they’re expensive. Super expensive. And so earlier this spring I found my way to a car dealership and before my timid financial self could win the internal argument, I agreed to purchase a car. I negotiated for this car as best I could. I feigned the walk away. I stood up and paced. And when all of that was over I had raised my price by dollars and the dealer lowered theirs by pennies. I decided I wanted the car and so I had to pay for it. To walk away meant to repeat the process at a later date, and I was weary from so much anxiety. Later, when I think back about the spring of 2017, I’ll remember driving home in the rain with my wife who pretended not to like the new car until the seats started massaging her back.

This experience relates quite closely to the home buying experience.  The desire. The negotiation. The decision.  The decision, after all is said and done, is what this is really all about. I desired to buy that car of mine for about $1000 less than I paid for it. I could have stood my ground and hoped they called me the next day to accept my price. I could have done that, but I didn’t, because what I wanted to pay and what I had to pay were two different numbers.  This is the situation at Lake Geneva today. If you’re a buyer, there is likely the price you want to pay, which is likely the price I want you to pay, and then there’s the price the seller is going to make you pay. You know which price is more important.

This lake is rife with stories of would-be-home-buyers who stood on principle and stood until they were the only man left standing. The buyer who looked at that lakefront in 1998 and said, no. $575k is just too much for that lakefront. Or the buyers who stood with me on properties in  2011 and 2012 and said, no, the price won’t work. These are the buyers who today look at this market and wish they had the conviction needed at the time they needed it. It’s easy to harness buying conviction when it’s too late. I would have paid X! They say. But it’s too late, because someone already paid it. The practices that helped my buying clients purchase lakefront property at significant discounts to the market five years ago are, for the most part, no longer working.

That’s because we know what we’d like to pay, but the seller knows what they’re going to take. That’s why these last few months I’ve stood on many properties with many buyers and discussed the price I’d like them to pay and the price they’re going to have to pay if they actually want the house. Would I want you to pay $1.9MM for the house? Of course. Are we going to try to pay $1.9MM but realize, after a heated and skillful negotiation that we’re going to have to pay $2.1MM? Again, of course. Because in this low inventory environment sellers have the upper hand, and this is an undebatable fact.  There are some properties that have accumulated enough market time that they will succumb to our negotiating pressure but these sellers are the outliers today, not the standard bearers.

This summer, approach the market with caution. Certain properties are wildly overpriced. Others are not. Know the difference. Don’t approach the market with reckless, fevered abandon.  But when the time comes and you find the house you want, just remember not to get too hung up on a few percentage points.  Those few points will be long forgotten when you’re lounging lakeside, blissfully unconcerned with the slightly larger hole in your bank account.

Let’s Play Ball

Let’s Play Ball

To be the Dodger’s lead-off hitter is to be the invisible man.   That first at-bat is a thankless at bat, no matter the outcome. The vendors are still loading their trays with refreshments, the fans still waiting in the longest of lines at the last highway exit. The television broadcast knows you’re batting, but they don’t care. They pan the crowd, to show the empty seats, to show the mountains in the horizon and the brilliant color the smog turns that early evening air.  If you crack a thrilling solo home-run to lead off the game but no one is there to see it, does it still count as a run?

Likewise, when the team of large men in the NBA finals races off to a large first quarter lead but later melts under the pressure of a steady barrage of 30 foot foists, does that shimmering start mean anything at all? To the fans who saw it, I suppose the answer has to be yes. What a move!– the dad will say to his son. WOW! Some old lady will say to someone next to her. That lady has been to every NBA final since 1919, the announcer with the purple suit will say during half time.  But your team raced out to that lead and you were in line waiting on the nachos, and you only returned to your seat in time to see the other team drop so many threes from such great distances.

Today at the lake, we are in the first inning. It’s perhaps still the top of the first, but there are no runners on and two outs. The pitcher has been flawless, effortless, really. His slider is sliding and his heater is heating. The third base coach looked towards the dugout and said he doesn’t think he’s ever seen better stuff. The NBA game has started, and your team is up big on the visitors.  They’re throwing lobs and dropping threes and the coach crouched down in the huddle and told the players that he’s never seen them play better. And he’s been the coach for along time.

It’s early here, yes, but it’s phenomenal. Summer has started, whether you were ready for it to start or not. Last weekend, a client of mine decided to stay in the city. There were errands to run, things to do, a birthday party that begged attendance. The Lake Geneva forecast called for rain, and so the decision was made. The family would spend the weekend at home, in the city. Except then on Saturday the weather wasn’t foul at all, it was hot and sunny and bright. It was summer.  Weekend plans to sit idle were thrown aside and the family woke up Sunday morning not in their Monday house, but in their Sunday house. Who could push away summery things when summer is already here? This is like saying you’re skier and you’ve made a plan to ski in January.  When it snows 24 inches in two days in December, shouldn’t you go skiing?

Today it’s summer. Yesterday it was summer. Tomorrow? Summer.  Summer does many things to a soul; things delightful and refreshing. But summer can also torment, and summer can be cruel.  Summer isn’t going to wait for you to be ready, because if you’re not ready by now there’s a good chance you never will be. Don’t get caught in traffic when the first pitch has already been thrown.  The grass is green and the sky is bright and the home team is belting homers left and right.

Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend

Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend

And away. We. Go.  That’s best if read in the Joker’s voice, right before he ignites a bomb that has the power to destroy one thousand Gothams. But alas, we are not igniting a bomb, though we are ready for this slow burning fuse to hurry up and give us a show. It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and with this weekend we commence the first summer of the rest of our lives. What a summer it might be. It could be. It should be, probably. The issue today is that last summer was just so nice. Last Memorial Day weekend was delightful, full summer, instantly. This summer looks to be off to a rockier start, or at least a wetter one. Still, after some driving, it’s time to live it up like it’s the weekend.

I’ve written it before, but it should be mentioned again. This weekend is not a summer weekend. No matter how badly we wish it were, it isn’t. It’s a spring weekend. It’s May, for crying out loud.  If the weather waxes summer, terrific. But if it doesn’t, let’s not get all bent out of shape. I can envision the text messages now… “What a crappy weekend”.   “Are you building your ark?” Etc and etc. Yes, the weather might let us down this weekend, but that’s okay. This is just a dress rehearsal for summer. It’s the last full pads practice before we take the field. This isn’t the big show, it’s just the dry run. Or wet run, depending.

What does matter this weekend is the intent of the weekend. Yes, we’ll light our grills. Yes, some will go swimming. Yes, I’ll have my Superjet in the water. But this is about remembering those who died in awful places so that we can live here, in this place, where our biggest concern is whether or not it’ll rain on our cookout. What an embarrassing bunch of people we are.  My kids can’t swim in the pool this weekend, so everything is ruined! No it isn’t. We’re alive. We’re free. We’re living in this place. We aren’t just existing. We’re living.

And so this weekend here’s what you should do. Pick up my 2017 Summer Homes For City People magazine. It’s out on newsstands now, and it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think it’s the best, either, but that’s just between us. At least I didn’t put the wrong date on the spine like I did last year.  Please grab the magazine and bring it home with you and leave it on the doorstep of your wealthy neighbor who doesn’t understand that weekends are not for the 6000 zip codes. Please do that, I’ll be thankful and my kids will, too.  Now that we’ve discussed the things you can do for me, here’s what we can do to show our respects to those who made all of this possible.

There are parades everywhere this weekend, but since you’re reading this on this site we’re going to skip all of the things happening in towns that don’t matter. There are parades on Monday in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, and Fontana. Men will march. Women, too. Kids, sure.  The Lake Geneva parade is downtown at 10 am, the Williams Bay and Fontana parades are in their respective downtowns at 10:30 am. I recognize you cannot attend each parade, but try to attend the one closest to your lake house. If you try, I’ll try. It’s so easy to get caught up in the superficial worries of this weekend. Is the lawn fertilized? Are the annuals planted? Is the mulch done? Why isn’t the irrigation watering in the far west bed?!  Who cares. Some famous philosopher once said, “It’s the superfluous things for which men sweat”.   Let’s stop sweating and give a salute, and then we can go back to sweating.

Here’s to a most enjoyable Lake Geneva Memorial Day Weekend. And remember, if it rains don’t be sad. It’s not really summer, anyway.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I think we know each other well enough that we can cut through all the nuance. It’s time we had an honest discussion about me, about you, and about what it is that we’re doing here. I’m here because I get to be, because I have to be, but because I want to be. I’m here for those reasons, and many more. I’m here because it’s what I know, it’s what I love, and it’s what I prefer. I like this place more than the other places. I’m here because I’ve always been here. But this isn’t about me, so in that, I’ve lied to you. This isn’t the first time I’ve lied to you, I’ve lied before. Like once when I said I was going on vacation for a week but I was really only gone for 48 hours because I’m a slave to this keyboard, to this desk, indeed to this place.  I apologize for the lies.

But why should I? Because this isn’t, as I’ve already mentioned, about me, it’s about you. It’s about August 26th and how late this is. It’s about the end of summer, because we all know what I’ve said a trillion times: September is still summer. Ah, but that’s another lie, because it isn’t. September is fall because when kids go back to school and the first fallen leaves get ground into the city sidewalks, that’s fall. It might feel like summer if you let it, but that’s the sensory part of September, not the emotional part. In fact, summer isn’t going to last through September, it isn’t going to appear sometime in October, for some of it or most of it or maybe none of it, because summer is already over. It’s August 26th and it’s not summer anymore. Anything I’ve ever said to the contrary is a lie.

I can tell it isn’t summer because my kids went swimming yesterday and so did my wife, with her ridiculous goggles, and then I played golf and I was sweating because it was still hot.  The sun was high, the haze summer-like, and when it was all said and done I thought that it was a nice summer day. But it isn’t summer anymore. The town was busy and the cars were everywhere, but they weren’t everywhere like they were two weeks ago, they were just some of the places that they were before. The lake was busy, but no it wasn’t, not at all. There were some boats, but hardly any. Lots, sure, but few when compared with before. The lake was quiet the town was empty and the sun was high and the water was warm but it was fall and not summer.

The leaves are green, which looks like summer, just like summer. Except now the leaves are dull, they’re dying. They look fine but they’re dying. Like me and like you, we might look fine, but we’re dying. All of us, dying. Just like the leaves and just like the empty stalls in front of the ice cream shops and just like the clothes rack at your local back-to-school-shopping-place, withering and emptying because it’s not at all summer, it’s fall. The dull leaves are dropping, they’re dropping because they’re dying and they’re dying because it’s not the middle of summer, it’s fall.  My cone flowers in front of this office window are beautiful, but that’s only if you look quickly. Look more closely and some are already dead, drying and offering up their seeds to the wrens and the other yellow birds that pick and pluck and leave the seed casings on my sidewalk. The squirrels are running across that sidewalk now, cheeks stuffed full to overflowing, because they know it’s fall and winter comes next and if they don’t pack enough nuts into their nests they’ll be like us and our leaves, dying.

So here we are, on this day when I finally admit to you what I know to be true. It’s August and it’s already fall. It feels of summer on my skin, but I’m far past the point in my life where I judge things based solely on how they feel. I imagine a skunk has soft fur. Delightfully soft fur. But I know that I won’t ever pet one, because my brain is smarter than my fingers. It feels like summer and I’m going to sweat today like it’s summer, but my brain knows what my eyes have seen. It’s fall, and it’s too late. If you were planning on doing something meaningful this summer you’ve already blown it. But Labor Day Weekend! Labor Day Weekend is for rookies.

It feels good to admit my lies to you. I no longer feel bound by them, I know longer feel that I need to tell you it’s still summer because we’re already agreed that it isn’t. The kids are in school and the ones that aren’t will soon be. You can swim off a pier this weekend and it’ll feel like summer, but when you dry off and sit on the pier you’ll look around and no longer view summer as something that’s happening around you, you’ll view it as something you were happy to have participated in. Unless you spent the summer in the city or the suburbs, busily tending to a summer of pools and shopping malls, then we all know the biggest lie today is the one you keep telling yourself: You had a great summer. No you didn’t, you blew it, and now it’s too late to fix your mistake.

Rain

Rain

There’s a front to the north and it’s high and it’s deep and it’s dark and it’s nearly here. I can see it from this window, and I saw it from my car window on the way to this window. I saw it from my house. It’s dark and it’s gray and it’s smooth. It starts in the West and it lasts through the East. The North, that’s where it mostly is. There’s no wind yet, but soon there will be. It’ll push and it’ll bend and when it’s here you’ll know it.  Cars drive by, but they’re driving faster than yesterday. Faster than they will tomorrow. They’re driving with their lights on, to somewhere, to a garage or an underpass or the faux safety of a roadside ditch. The storm is coming.

It’s dark now and I can hear the rain hitting the top of the metal chimney that carries the winter smoke from my office fireplace. The wind is blowing. And the cars are driving, faster still. It’s a summer storm, and if it’s like the scant few other summer storms we’ve dealt with it’ll be here and then it’ll be gone, and the old men of the world will look at their rain gauge and tell us it rained a half an inch. Maybe more, maybe less. It’s raining now, but barely. I don’t think we’ll get to a half an inch, maybe a quarter, but I haven’t a rain gauge because the woman at the hardware store told me that I’m not yet old enough to buy one. That I could have someone older purchase one for me, but that’s the best I could do.

It’s still darker to the north but it isn’t raining anymore. Those were just a few drops, not really rain. To rain is to pitter and to patter and to last for more than just a bit. We’ve had bits of rain this summer, full on deluges at times, but what we haven’t had is a day off. A day of dark and rain, a day where it seems completely fine to sit in front of a computer screen and not find distraction out each window. We haven’t had those days during this summer of sun, and how I’ve missed them. A reset is what they offer, and a reset is what we haven’t received.

When storms come, they rarely last. They build and they twist and they look like they’re going to deliver a knock out blow, but they hardly ever do. Instead they just come and they shake and they make a mess of the lawn with early fall leaves that have no business falling in August, but fall they do. The wind is dying now. The sky is brightening. The thunder sounds more distant. The cars are still racing with their lights on but I think they might always drive like that. The edge of the storm isn’t smooth anymore, it’s rough and it’s jagged and it looks like it’s lost most of its push. This isn’t a storm at all. This isn’t a rainy day at all, it’s just a day with some rain.

 

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It’s getting late. The greens are no longer bright. The grass is beginning to fade. The corn is drying as it should, first at the bottom and then, slowly, eventually, all the way to the top. The beans will start turning soon, from green to gold. Vast fields of gold. The lake is warm now, as it has been all summer, but it’s really warm now. This is peak summer, and much like peak anything, it can’t last forever. Soon the kids will walk past this office on their way to school, solemnly marching up this hill on their way to learn something. Today they’ll ride their bikes down the hill, down to the beach and to the ice cream shops. Today it’s still summer, but everyone can hear then ticking of the clock and it sounds like nothing but inevitability.

Sellers hear this clock, too, and they’re anxious. The August lull is here. It starts right about now, and it lasts a month, maybe a bit more, sometimes a bit less. It’s the back to school pause. The first two weeks of August are prime vacation weeks, and so the lake is full and the kids are smiling and the boats are gassed. The last two weeks of August are prime school return and school prep weeks, which is to say that they’re terrible but necessary. The market here will pause while this reorientation occurs, but once the kids are settled at their various schools near and far, the parents will look around and realize that September might sound like fall, but it still looks like summer. By the middle of September the market will spark once again, but not until sellers feel the uncomfortable weight of winter on their shoulders and consider reducing their price just one more time.

And this is the issue today, sellers who have been sellers for longer than they’d like are faced with doing something, with doing anything. The price reductions of fall have already begun, but they’ll accelerate over the coming two weeks. That’s because it’s Beverly Hills that sells houses by rolling out red carpets and hiring mermaids to swim in pools, and it’s the Midwest that sells houses by offering those houses at better prices. We’re sensible here. But in the fall reduction cycle there is opportunity for both buyers and sellers. Buyers know the market will slow over the coming months, and they know what I’ve just written: some sellers really do want to sell. But this situation also creates opportunity for new sellers. At this point in the season the aged inventory is just that- aged. It’s picked over and dismissed for one reason or many others. New inventory is always sexy, and fall is prime time for new inventory to come to market and in doing so, quench the thirst of desperate buyers.

The market has been moving this month, with new sales aplenty. I have a deal on my vacant lakefront lot in Loramoor, as a buyer recognized just how nice 110′ of level frontage backed by 1.43 acres of rolling land just is. That deal will close this fall. There’s another fresh deal on the finest listing that I’ve ever been tapped to represent. My wondrous estate on Pebble Point that I listed in July for $9,950,000 is pending sale to an excited new buyer. This sale will be the highest sale since the Pritzker family purchased Casa Del Sueno several years ago. This sale will also show the market that there are buyers over $8MM if, and I mean to write IF, the house and property are befitting the asking price. This should bring new hope to the multitude of owners who are currently $8-12MM deep into the newer builds of the past decade. While Geneva is still primarily a $2-4MM market, the new norm may very well become fewer but higher sales, as the $5-10MM range proves it has buyers.

For now, sellers of aged inventory should be looking at their position in the market and considering reductions. I just reduced my lakefront on Marianne Terrace from $2.475MM to $2.195MM, as a seller recognized the market context of his home. More sellers will follow suit in the coming weeks. New sellers would be keen to list soon, to take advantage of the limited inventory and considerable buyer traffic. And buyers would do well to consider all of the above. Pick off the aged inventory for value, and quickly focus on the exciting new inventory as there will be a handful of properties whose owners wanted to have just one more summer at the lake.

Eternal Summer

Eternal Summer

In the middle of my living room is a large fireplace. It’s made of bricks and stone, mortar and sweat. Next to the fireplace there’s a basket of sorts, a large wooden container that spiders like to web behind, between the stone and the wood. In the container is the cut and split wood, the firewood. It’s oak and maple and sometimes ash. Increasingly, ash. Opposite the wood is the axe. It’s a handsome axe, a big axe, and it’s worn and dented and scratched. I see this fireplace and this pile of wood and these spider webs and that axe every single day. I see these items in the morning and again at night. In time, my dear fire friends, in time.

And that time will come, but it won’t be here soon. It’ll be here in October, late October, on that first Saturday when the sky turns dull and dark, when the rain spits and a lonesome walker can see her breath outside for the first time since April. On that day, the wood will be stacked in the stone fireplace, a match will be lit, and the fireplace will crackle and roar to life. Then the process will repeat, not during an Indian Summer, but during the later months, those cold November afternoons and the still snow of early December. The fireplace for now is decoration, but then it will be for heat, for moods and for satisfaction and for passing the time.

It’s been summer for a while now. Summer blossomed in May and then it stuck during June, then July and now August, too. June wasn’t like June, and July was like July. August, well for a while it’s been feeling like too much. How many times can I sweat through a Wednesday shirt before I say that it’s all too much? The summer has been here and the summer will stay here, and for the rest of August we’ll sweat and then we’ll swim and then we’ll swim and soon after we’ll sweat. September will be the same. The summer that came early will stay late, and we’ll all be happy for it and yet, deep down inside, we’ll all think a little about football and a little about leaves and a little about how nice it will be to wear jeans without feeling suffocated by the denim.

This is what it’s like to live here. To live in this place where our summer is summer and our fall is fall and when winter comes, it’ll be winter. Imagine a life where summer was summer and fall was summer and winter was summer. Spring? Summer. The excitement of it all would be lost on us then, when we wish for the days when 98 might be 82, so we can wear our light jacket to dinner. What a boring life it would be to live where the seasons are the same. The people who live like that tell us how great it is. They mock our winter. You have a little something on your hat, and on your boots, they say. They’ll think they’re being funny, that they’re better than us because their sunburn is the same in December as it is in June.

I lived for a while where I thought that might be nice, to ignore winter and spend the season in some other summer. But today, in the middle of a most righteous summer I think of how much I love the sun and the waves and the breeze in the trees, but I also love my fireplace, and that stack of wood.

 

Above, “Sweet Wheat” by Kristen Westlake
Summer

Summer

I remember the days when I would travel to the country to our north and engage my distant relatives-in-law in debate. I argued once against their odd brand of socialism by using the example of a dozen eggs. I was Milton and the eggs were my pencil.  Without knowing the exact numbers, let’s say at the time a dozen eggs in the United States cost $1.69. At the same time, a dozen eggs in Canada cost $4.19. The US has 320MM people, give or take, while Canada has 35MM people, give or take. Canada, though it seems larger because of the precarious way it looms above us, is roughly the same size as the US. They have lots of chickens. Loads of chickens. The best chickens! But for all their land, all their chickens, and so few people, their eggs were 250% more expensive than ours. I explained to my young cousins-in-law that they were foolish socialists, and their government is the reason they are both taxed to death (single payer isn’t free, FYI) and also have to overpay for eggs. It’s the government in their way. But that night, no matter how hard I tried, I could not spark a revolution.

That’s because the in-laws were tired. They were weary. It had been a hot day around that backyard deck, and the sun baked and the mosquitos sucked and the teriyaki steak was overcooked. The lethargy from a summer day had dulled the conversation, and so the revolution could not take hold. Looking back, I can’t blame them. A sultry summer day spent without a backyard oasis of fresh, cool water, is a summer day that would leave me unwilling to overthrow my oppressive, sneakily socialist government that forces higher the prices of my eggs, too.

On Wednesday, I took my family to the Cubs game.  I’ve mentioned this before, but as a child I was able to attend a game or two, only if my dad had a chance to get tickets (free, likely) from a neighbor up the road. The tickets were treated as gold, but much more rare. We would load into the car, pick up my grandpa in Arlington Heights, and head to the game. I’m not sure, but I’ll bet we packed a brown bag lunch. Because money was tight, except that it wasn’t, and so we attended games perhaps twice, on the barest of budgets. When I now take my family to a game, I feel as though we are no less of a spectacle. We are most obviously a family from Wisconsin driving down to the big city to watch a game. We are tourists in that city. And when I took the waitress’s advice and ordered the macaroni and cheese pizza, I felt as though I had already been exposed. No local would ever consider such  ludicrous order. The waitress had obviously been told to up-sell that pizza because the macaroni and cheese had been sitting in the walk-in for a week or longer, and it needed to go. Oh look, a family from Wisconsin!

The game was delightful. Tom Ricketts was all class as he walked the aisles and handed baseballs to the kids, my daughter being one of the lucky ones. The stadium felt better, the grass just as green as it always is, my son curious how they make the lines so straight. Practice, I told him. But the game wore on and the heat suffocated. The breeze was blocked by the grandstands, the smell of spoiled, spilled beer filling the air, the vendors hawking hotdogs and lemon ice. We ordered two of the latter, only to find out we had inadvertently ordered the Extra Tart variety. It was refreshing, nonetheless. Sweat slowly soaked through our clothes. The women next to us drank all of the beer, and by the seventh inning we were ready to stretch. The singer was Some Guy From Espn That No One Watches Anymore, and so after that we left, secure in our 6-0 lead. When we took the photo below the marquee, it was obvious some of my father’s less annoying habits have seeped into my subconscious. I listened to the last two innings of the game I had tickets for on the radio.

The fishing truck, as I’m want to call it, doesn’t have air conditioning. It was built with it, but sometime between 2003 and 2016 the air ceased to blow cold.  In that north bound lane, with the sun lowering to the West, I baked in my driver’s seat. The sweat that found me when I left the house at 7:30 was still with me. The humidity unbearable. In traffic we were approached by a man who looked to be high on most of the drugs, and he asked for a ride in our canoe. I explained to him that we hadn’t a canoe, but we had a boat, if only he’d ride with us 80 or so miles and then we’d go for a ride. I joke, because I’m from Wisconsin and so I pulled out in front of a bus and strained all eight cylinders of our fishing canoe.

Even though no one said it, we were all thinking it. We were thinking it from the moment we jumped in the truck that morning. We thought it when we nibbled on the pizza. We thought it again when the snow cones melted into my children’s hands and stained their shorts. We thought it every time the women next to us had to leave the aisle, presumably to grab three more beers ($26.75) and use whatever the women’s version of the trough is. We thought it when we stood under the marquee when that stranger took our photo. We thought it when we were asked for a ride in our canoe. We thought it again on the interstate. We thought it in Skokie. We thought it in Kenosha. We thought it when first saw the lake. We thought it when we felt the temperature drop when that lake breeze blew through our open truck windows. We knew what what we had to do, and so we drove to the lake and we jumped in the water and we found our salvation. We washed the city sins off of us, and with it the stains from our melted snow cones and the stickiness on my arm from when the women sloshed her beer on me.

In the summer, in this intolerable heat, there’s just one thing to do. You must get to the lake. You must. A hot summer day that doesn’t end in a swim in crystal clear water might as well be a summer day that didn’t happen. If you don’t want to curl your toes over the edge of a sturdy white pier, you might as well live in Steinbach, Manitoba and pay $4.19 for a dozen eggs.

It’s Time

It’s Time

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit this. I didn’t do it on purpose, nor did I expect such an incredible, showy display. I didn’t mean for this to get so public, so unavoidable. When my wife and I planted so many seeds from a mix that I bought online, this was never the intent. But no matter how hard I tried to keep this just between us, between our family and our lot lines, this just happened. Nature cannot be stopped. This is why I now have a front yard riddled with cone flowers. You say, But David, I also have cone flowers. You may, but if you drove by my house today it’s obvious that I have all of the coneflowers. Every last one of them. In my yard, just blooming and blooming, unaware of the attention they draw even while I hide in the house, embarrassed by this display that puts Holland and their scant tulips to shame.

But it isn’t just my house and my property, as much as I wish it were, it’s everywhere. Drive Wisconsin today. Do it. Just get in your car and drive here. If you’re looking for high quality water in an elite level vacation home market, then, of course, you must come to Lake Geneva. But if you’re just looking to take a drive, drive here, drive anywhere, just come to Wisconsin. In the summer, the margins of Florida roads look like they do in the winter. Alligators, terrible, terrible alligators. And some garbage blown from open car windows, and some swampy water. That’s Florida. Unless you’re inland Florida, which is more like a desert plagued by skinny cows, the sorts that look like we should take up an offering and send our Wisconsin missionaries to offer them some aid. These cows are ridiculous, so if you’re driving through Florida today you’ll see alligators and/or skinny, sickly cows. What’s the fun in that?

That’s why you should be driving here, down these country roads, past fields and forests and lakes and rivers. The flowers in my purposeful patch might be amazing, and you’re welcome to drive by, but the sides of every road in this state are now on display. There are white flowers, someone knows what they’re called. Some blue ones, too. Lots of blue ones. Some are pink and some are orange.  The clover is blooming, and it’s pink and sometimes red. Other times it might be mostly pink with some white, delicate little flowers that cows munch on because we love our cows so much that we let them eat our beautiful flowers. We have so many, we can spare a few.

We live here because we work here. We live here because this is our home. But if we live here and don’t appreciate just how beautiful this place is, then that’s sad. In the Midwest, we all possess some variety of shoulder chip. It’s there, sometimes large and sometimes small. The people in the mountains tell us it’s flat here. The people by the sea tell us the lakes are small. The people in New York don’t know where the Midwest is. And the people in Switzerland sometimes email me because they’ve confused my lake for theirs. The apology for bothering me, little insignificant me with my little insignificant lake, is remarkably humble and overwhelmingly condescending at once. But this place isn’t inferior to all of those places. It isn’t something less. It’s something more. It’s seasons and fields and forests and lakes, and in the middle of a Wisconsin summer, it’s the most beautiful flower display blooming profusely on the sides of our roads. We didn’t plan it that way, we’re just lucky like that.

 

The Summer Of Our Lives

When it rains now it only rains for some of the day. When the clouds come, they never stay. When the sun warms in the morning it stays warm in the afternoon, into the evening, the moon rises without much mystery. It’s just up there, and we can see it. We needn’t wonder where it is because we can see where it is, hung up there around those stars in that dark sky. The lake blows blue most days. The light pours through my morning windows bright, and it’s early, and when I wake up and I think about the day I don’t really wonder what it’s going to be like, I just know it’s sunny and if it isn’t then it will be soon. This is the summer of 2016, and it just might be the summer of our lives.

But then again it might not be. If you’re not here and you don’t see this and feel this then what is it about this summer that can make it any different from the summers that came before? What will make it different from the summers yet to come? When my son fly fishes for bass from the piers once the sun has dipped enough to leave the Western piers shaded, how could this matter to you? Do your kids know about this sort of thing? Do they know that later in the day the sun settles somewhere to the west and once it does the bass decide that they might like something to eat? Do your kids know that when you throw the fly line with your five weight it’s best to double haul with your left hand to speed the line up and soften the delivery? Do they know that a mouse fly is effective even though mice rarely, if ever, fall from piers and into the water? Do they care? Do you care? Does anyone care?

My son cares, and so he fishes and he double hauls and when he doesn’t think I’m around he grabs a spinning rod because he blames the fly rod when the fish won’t bite. He’s officially the worst fisherman in the world, or so he told me last Friday night. He fishes all day and then some of the night, and when I join him I try so very hard to catch a bass or a northern pike for him, so that he can see how it all works. He missed a fish off the municipal pier on that last Friday night, the fish rose to his fly and then missed his fly and he was both angered and invigorated at once, but recharged in his purpose nonetheless. He hurried his line back in and up into the air, false forward and false back, enough to feed the line into the cast, enough to let the momentum push that line and carry that fly away from the pier to the spot where the fish had tried, and failed, to eat. That cast sent his fly into the air, his line unattached. He scoured in disgust, he was the most unlucky fisherman in the world. Tears filled his eyes.

There are certain days when I must leave this town, travel to another town where another pursuit is slowly plodding forward. On those rare days my son rejoices, because without parents near he can fish all day. Last Friday was to be one of those days, but really just the afternoon, and he knew that with his mother and me out of this town that he could fish, uninterrupted, for the entirety of the afternoon. When we turned around a mere 45 minutes into our trip because of a traffic jam straight out of the most fiery hell, he wasn’t happy to see us. In fact, he walked from one pier to the next, putting distance between his pursuit and us, his pursuers.  That’s why I took him to the municipal pier later that evening, to make up for the inconvenience of returning home before I was scheduled to.

My son, today, will fish. He’ll go to the piers and he’ll fish. He’ll look for bass and pike, and when they won’t bite he’ll look for bluegills that will gladly and greedily sip a dry fly presented to the shallows. Later today, I’ll fish with him, if only for a bit, trying to catch something to show him that there’s more life under this surface than he could ever imagine. But imagine he does, and he dreams and he fishes and he spends his days under that sun and on those piers. He wouldn’t have it any other way, because he doesn’t know it any other way. It’s the summer of his life, and he wonders how someone could ever spend it doing anything else.