Blog : Wisconsin

Lake Geneva Liquidity

Lake Geneva Liquidity

Increasingly, I’m a fan of all things Wisconsin. This has been difficult on one of my sporting allegiances. I’ve been a Bears fan since birth, but how can I actively root against the team that means so much to the economy of the state I call home? In this, I find myself pulling for a team I used to aggressively hate, for the benefit of my state.  This state has been winning lately, in case you haven’t noticed. Our budget crisis was circumvented by a willingness to tackle the problem head on. Our job numbers continue to increase as our Governor lobbies for, and on behalf of the working people of Wisconsin. Business is growing, the state is thriving and the leaves are turning. In Wisconsin, life is pretty, pretty, pretty, good.

While I root for Wisconsin at all times, unless the Brewers are playing, I find it obvious that the real estate market in this great state is not at all uniform. There are hot markets here, to be sure. Milwaukee’s Third Ward is growing. The collar communities of Brookfield, New Berlin, Elm Grove, etc, are bustling.  Things are good here, but things being good in the state have very little to do with things being good in the lofty segments of the Wisconsin vacation home market. The upper bracket real estate market in Lake Geneva is on fire, so I decided this morning to do a quick check of how that particular segment is faring in the rest of our wonderful state.

I only have access to the MetroMLS, which is not necessarily the MLS that the entire state uses, so my statistics here are more representative than they are bulletproof.  Today in the MLS, excluding Walworth County, there are 27 homes for sale in Wisconsin priced in excess of $3,000,000.  The only home in that segment under contract is on Crooked Lake, listed just over $3MM. To be fair, that is a very nice looking house that someone is buying. Good for them, and good for Crooked Lake, wherever it may be. Over the past 12 months, there are two MLS sales over $3MM in the entirety of the state, again excluding Walworth County. Of those two, one was an off-market direct sale that was entered into the MLS after the fact. If we’re going to be super basic here, 26 available homes and two sales over the past year means we have 13 years worth of upper bracket inventory in the state.

Now consider Walworth County, home to the reigning king of luxury real estate, Geneva Lake.  On Geneva Lake, we currently have 15 available lakefront homes priced over $3MM. Of those, nine are under contract this morning. Looking back over the past 12 months, we’ve closed nine lakefront sales over $3MM. That means while the rest of the state has 13 years worth of upper bracket inventory on the books, Geneva has just 12 months worth. Geneva Lake, take a bow.

Other markets in Wisconsin (and Michigan, for that matter), will gladly sell you a house in excess of $3MM.  That’s really not that difficult. The trick is, can you ever sell that house you just bought? Geneva will sell you that upper bracket house, and then when you’re ready to upgrade or simplify, Geneva will sell it for you again. It’s called liquidity, and while our water clarity and our lakeside scene is what we like to think sets us apart, it’s actually upper bracket liquidity that is our best, and most unique attribute. We like to seek out liquidity in most of our investments. Shouldn’t our vacation home investments demand the same?

Above, my lakefront sale from last fall. $9,950,000, closed.
Home

Home

My wife has adopted a particular driving habit. No, not the way her car crowds mine in the garage. They just want to be together, she says.  And not the way her foot lacks the ability to slowly and responsibly adjust the pressure to the gas pedal. It’s a road trip habit, but really whenever we’re driving, anywhere. A license plate from Manitoba. She spots them from miles away. Then she accelerates (see earlier note) to catch a glimpse of the truck, or car. Does she know the driver? She must, or so she thinks. She’ll wait outside restaurants for the plate owners to finish their meals so she can find out if, by some chance, she knows them.

The truck had a Manitoba license plate. It was southbound, as most plates from Manitoba tend to be, on that wide interstate. Traffic was hustling, but alternating between the hustle and a crawl with a complete stop thrown in now and then for good measure. The plate was affixed to a truck, a big truck, but not a semi. It was a dually, not unlike the truck my friend Eric’s dad drove in the early 1990s, but this one was newer, bigger, with dirt dried onto the paint around the wheels, up the tailgate, on the hood. The driver was going somewhere in a hurry. I sped up to see if I recognized the driver. I didn’t.

A horse trailer had 11 stickers of horses on the back of it. Five on one door and six on the other. The sticker horses were bucking, jumping, kicking.  11. I figured there must have been 11 horses in the horse trailer. Who would put 11 stickers on if there were only two horses in the trailer? The number seemed arbitrary, which means it must have been specific. The trailer was from Oklahoma, presumably as was the truck towing it. I couldn’t catch a glimpse. Just as I intended to accelerate the traffic turned to a crawl. All four lanes in either direction, crawling on a road meant for supreme and uninterrupted speed.

Feet on the dash. This isn’t something I’ve ever done. I’m too tall, I think. I did sit in the passenger seat once with my feet out the window, but that was when driving to a new fishing spot from an old fishing spot. My waders leaked something awful.  My socks were tucked into the outside of the backseat windows, flapping in the wind to dry. My feet outside the front window felt rare, like some sort of treat, born of necessity but also pleasant and curious.  After the interstate drive, I felt less special, less unique. Everyone drives with their feet on the dash, even if the truly brave (like me) go fully out the window.

The plates were mostly from Illinois. Trucks, cars, SUVs, campers even. Lots of trucks towing things. Bikes, both the motorized and regular kind. Fishing boats, some small, mostly smaller. But also four wheelers, loaded with mud, empty gas cans strapped to the front of the trailer. The various automobiles whipped past me, as I screeched along in the left lane, my rear calipers recently having decided that they had had enough of the squeezing and releasing.

But where were all these people going? I knew were I was going, but that was the only puzzle I could solve. Some answers were easy to guess. Arlington Lexus, the license plate holder said. Perhaps that driver with his wife blabbing in the front seat and his children glued to their individual screens in the back; perhaps he was headed to Arlington Heights. White Oak and Vail, maybe, somewhere near where my grandma lived for all of her best years. Other plates weren’t so easy to guess. Ah, but there’s a Cayenne with The Exchange written on it. North shore, for sure.

Traffic stopped again. Why would it stop now? Out of nowhere, with no construction tonight, as the flashing signs clearly stated Monday-Friday Road Work. It wasn’t one of those days, so why now? I thought of my brakes and imagined smoke pouring from the metal on metal grind. It was a truck, Illinois plates, pulled over on the shoulder, which wasn’t very wide, to re-position two kayaks on his roof.  Probably a weekend trip to the Wisconsin river, I guessed. Maybe the Kickapoo, but the Kickapoo is still high and dirty from the two weeks ago storm.

My exit. A couple of roundabouts and I found my way back onto a two lane county road, the sort that leads from the wide road and to my narrow gravel driveway. Turn right at the gas station, left twice and one more right.  Corn fields and soybean fields as far as the eye can see, or at least until the next tree line of Mulberry and Boxelder. The last turn onto my slow driveway, chickens on the lawn, eating whatever it is the chickens eat. I was home.

But where were the other drivers headed? Where were those Illinois plates going? John Kass told me most are leaving, most unable to accept a tax increase that puts them in an elevated tax bracket still far below mine in Wisconsin. If this mass exodus required the last carload to turn the lights out, where were these Illinois plates traveling in those southbound lanes so late into the fading Sunday sky?  The were going to the same place I was.  Home to the place where the roads are familiar. Home where the sporting team wears our favorite logo. Home, just past the school where their son bench sits with the football team and their daughter starts volleyball soon. On a road filled with travelers, only a few were weary. Most were just on their way home.

The American Club

The American Club

I do not believe in putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. Unless tomorrow is pretty open, and today is pretty busy. Then I whole heartedly endorse putting off until tomorrow something that you could, technically, do today. It’s all about pacing yourself, and in the world of real estate where a Realtor could in fact work from 5 am until midnight every single day of their sad lives, this determining of a proper pace is remarkably important. That’s why I went to The American Club.

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I, like most successful Realtors, struggle with the concept of rest. What is this rest? Is it sitting at home on a couch scrolling constantly through emails and texts? Is rest found when you sit on a boat and scroll endlessly through emails and texts? Is rest found when you go fishing, and spend equal time fishing and sitting on the bank scrolling through emails and texts? Is this rest? I have struggled with this notion of rest for a long time, and I believe at this point in my life I’ve accepted that there is no such thing. Rest might come easily for those who punch a clock, but for the self employed there is only the visible display of rest- of sitting on a couch or the bow of a boat, of wading through a quiet stream or flying off to a warm winter vacation- but inwardly, there is never any rest.

This is why I took my clogged up brain and my pretty wife to the American Club on Monday. Not because I needed a break, because I had indeed spent Sunday late afternoon superjetting in 60 degree water, and that constituted a nice break for the sole reason that we have not yet figured out how to tether water-proof phones to our ears. As an important aside, I was superjetting without a wetsuit, while my fancy Illinois friends were superjetting and surfing in full wet-suited shame. They said it was because I had extra padding, and that because of this I was able to withstand the icy waters. We all know it was actually because I’m from Wisconsin and they live in Illinois, but the padding joke made them feel better about their silly suits. Still, the getaway.

The American Club is not far from here. It’s just up the road a ways, through Milwaukee but not as far as Green Bay. It’s in the town of Kohler, which is a town unlike any other town that I’ve ever visited. The town is famous for its plumbing fixtures and its generators, for its Whistling Straits golf course- that epic lakeside links course- and for its billionaire family that made it all happen. The town of Kohler would be like the town of David Curry, if I had many billions of dollars and a plan to create a town around my business and my preferred leisure. This isn’t so much a town as it is a personal village, and in that lies both its charm and its oddness.

Because it is odd. If you’ve visited this place and you’ve left without thinking that something was amiss, then I’m not sure what to say except for you may have watched the Truman Show without understanding the plot. This is a fabricated town, and when you enter it already feeling that way, everything seems even more staged. We walked through the aisles of the grocery store on Monday afternoon and I watched several shoppers shop. They all came to the checkout with barely a handful of things. Who shops at a grocery store on a Monday night with the intent of just picking up a few things? Where are the carts overloaded with edibles? Where are the snotty, screaming children stuffed in the cart seat? Why is everyone staring at me?

We walked by the river to see the salmon jumping and spawning and dying. The river was full of them, which was nice, but the fishermen were all positioned up by the dam, and not downstream where most of the fish were. They just stared at the water, dabbing their lines out into the current for a moment, then lifting and dabbing again. They stared at the water except for the times when they stared at us, wondering if were were buying their roles as “fishermen”. We walked away from them and when we returned they were still fishing, still staring, still waiting for us to leave so they could sit down and have a smoke break.

Later, at dinner, we sat in an old fashioned dining room where the waitress first asked us what brought us to town, then asked us what we’d like to drink. A few minutes later someone else sat down at a neighboring table and the same waitress went to them and asked the same exact questions, in the same order. Coincidence? Obviously not. The dining room was old, not shabby but dated. If it were in Elkhorn no one would go there, even if they had a divine relish tray. But here, in Kohler at this American Club, people go and they dine and they are asked the same questions every night.

The boy that brought the water carafe over was named Brian. I asked him if he lives in town. I said, Brian, do you live in town? He said that he didn’t, that he lived in some town named “Sheboygan”. I asked him if he worked here, which was a ridiculous question that was already answered, but what if he said he didn’t? Then I would have caught him in his act, and known that he didn’t actually work there but he was just assigned to that role on that night. Presumably, after we ate our dinner and shared the creme brûlée, he was hastily driven home to this “Sheboygan” and chastised for almost letting slip that this entire thing was a ruse.

When the valet fetched my car yesterday morning, I could see the relief in his eyes. He knew that my stay was over, and that I hadn’t necessarily figured out what was going on. Never mind that the waiter at the Horse and Plow on Monday was the same person who fixed my espresso on Tuesday morning in the Greenhouse. Never mind that the women were shopping without buying anything. Never mind that the fishermen fished where there were no salmon. Never mind that Brian the water boy was or wasn’t from some town that might be ficticuously named Sheboygan. I tipped the valet and said I knew what this was all about. He said, excuse me? And I just nodded and smiled.