Blog : Market Updates

Vista Del Lago Sells

Vista Del Lago Sells

After a market downturn occurs, we must set our aim towards the goal of complete and thorough recovery.  If that goal is to return a specific market segment to full health, then there are several steps that must be followed. There is no shortcut to this health, and you cannot out-volume a market issue any more effectively than I can out-lift my horrible, no good diet.  If the market was bad and we wish the market to be good, then the steps must be followed.

The first step is to weed out any weak hands. Financially troubled owners have a tendency to drag on a market, negating any market gains with the constant, worrisome threat of foreclosure. If volume is printing but prices are still falling, this is generally acceptable, and will, over some period of time, work out in favor of the ownership. But if there are pieces of weak ownership that have the ongoing possibility of some form of distressed sale, this creates market drag that volume alone cannot overcome. This scenario occurred in the South Shore Club in the early years of this current decade, and the only way the SSC moved forward was by eliminating those trouble spots, which unfortunately only occurs after an owner has lost their home to the bank.

With the weak spots identified and fixed, then we need volume. Plenty of volume. We need sales in all price sectors within that segment. Some prices will be low, and we cannot be too concerned about this. If an average price in the segment is $500k, and over a particular duration there are two sales around $400k for every sale around $500k, that’s not a big deal. It’ll feel awful, but remember, the goal is not immediate health but rather a path towards it. It’s painful to watch low sales print when you know they’re creating an issue for those who wish for higher sales, but  I never said this path was going to be fun.

With the weak owners flushed and the volume on the rise, the third step is bright spots of higher valuations. A sale here and there over the expected average of the segment. If we’re in this $500k range, then we’ll need to see some sales print higher- $525k, $550k. There will still be lower sales, sure, but the momentum is achieved by raising the expected ceiling.  Higher sales beget higher sales, and all it takes is one or two of these sales to move a market higher.

Step four is the strengthening of volume. We need more sales. More and more sales. New listings, shorter Days On Market. Movement, that’s what we need now. Liquidity is important to both establish the market pattern and introduce new, energized ownership to a segment. The reason new owners matter is because they tend to make improvements. Remodel the kitchen, update the bathrooms. New appliances, new tile, new paint. This shows a potential buyer that they’re surrounded by neighbors who value what it is that they own. Increased volume is vital to return a market to health.

The last step is a tightening of inventory.  True price gains cannot be realized if there is ample, sufficient inventory. We need limited inventory, tight conditions. We need buyers asking about product in that particular segment, be it a specific association, condominium, or price range. Without this last, crucial step, a market cannot return to full health. If you doubt these steps, consider each and every step has occurred in sequence within the South Shore Club over the past eight years. The good news for the local condominium market is that Vista Del Lago appears to be following the same, successful path.

Last week, I closed on another four bedroom unit at Vista Del Lago. I sold one in May for $520k, and I sold this recent one for $515k. Both sales represent meaningful volume for this association, and both sales prove that Vista is on the path towards full health. If you’re a condo buyer on Geneva, you generally have options with two bedrooms. Some association have three bedroom units, and some have four bedrooms. But the four bedroom condominiums tend to be pricey, located in higher-end associations like East Bank. Vista offers four bedroom units for $520k, and as long as families want a view of the lake, a slip, and a place to sleep, Vista will have a market.  Speaking of the market, there are only three available units at Vista this morning, and none of those are four bedroom units.  Vista isn’t yet finished with this plan, but as you can see, it’s well on its way.

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

I’m not sure if there’s a more interesting segment in our market than the entry level lake access market. While other segments exist because particular homes move in and out of that defined value range, the entry level market is truly the only range for which their is no defined price structure. When times are good, entry level might mean $1.5-2MM. When times were bad, we learned that entry level meant $800k-$1.2MM. If we look over any particular decade in our past, there’s nothing consistent about the pricing of this segment. In that, it’s a curious segment, but beyond that, it’s also our most important lakefront segment.

Yes, yes, we know liquidity at the top end is the most unique attribute of our market. We know our liquidity makes every other vacation market in the Midwest look like a low quality timeshare rental. But still, in spite of that robust upper bracket strength, the entry level market is the market that matters to more people. The goal of vacation home buyers, if the budget affords, is to find lakefront.  Knowing that the entry level market is directly connected to the upper-end off water market, we know that if the entry level market struggles then the off-water market struggles. If the off-water market is strong, then that must mean that not only is the entry level market strong, but it’s light on inventory. These two markets are connected, and 2018 has proved that once again.

This isn’t about the off-water market, even though it is remarkably strong and liquid as a direct result of the low inventory and sales patterns of that entry level lakefront market. This is about the entry level market itself, and what 2018 has done to it, and for it.  This year, there have been four lakefront homes sold between $1.1MM and $1.25MM.  All four of those properties had around 50′ of frontage, and three of the four were on Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay. If you’re familiar, Walworth Avenue is the road to the North of Pier 290. The other sale was in the Elgin Club.

The fact that there have been four sales in this segment isn’t surprising. It is somewhat surprising that the prices, in spite of the spectacular market activity of 2018, have been somewhat stagnant in that tight, low buck range. While the homes that sold were certainly habitable, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that they are all in need of some additional attention. Whether that comes in the from of wide-scale renovations or surface improvements, that is up to the new owners. Will any of these four be scraped to make way for a new home?  No one, except the owners, can answer that question.

Walworth Avenue hasn’t shown any real strength over the mid-million dollar market. There’s a giant newer home on that road, one that represents a significant investment, but is that an individual pursuing what is best for that individual, or is that a market market-minded play? Will Walworth Avenue soon be home to more tear downs, to more new construction? And if so, will that new construction find favor in the market?  I honestly don’t know the answer to my own questions. I’m inclined to suggest that new construction in that location wouldn’t be a wise play. But I know the tight inventory markets on the lakefront between $1.8MM and $2.5MM, so it wouldn’t be crazy to suggest an owner could pursue new construction here, even though the neighborhood hasn’t shown the ability to support it.

There have been a few other happenings in the entry level market this year, notably a pending foreclosure in the Lake Geneva Highlands and a private lakefront sale on Outing Drive. You’ll remember the Outing house, as I had it for sale earlier this year, and another agent had it for sale for a spell as well. The home sold in what appears to be a private sale for a price (as shown in the transfer rolls) of  $1,525,000. That’s a reasonable price for that house. The Highlands lakefront is one that was on market last year and under contract (per MLS), but failed to close. That home is likely valued in the mid $1s, and I’ll be curious to discover if it comes back to market as REO, or if someone takes a stab at it through the sheriff’s sale.

Today, the entry level market is once again void of inventory. The lowest priced home with frontage is over in Trinke’s, a property with the lagoon in front of it, priced at $1.85MM.  The next available lakefront is to the East of there, priced just over $2.2MM. This is a tight market, and a difficult one for would-be lakefront buyers.  What’s interesting here is that the lack of inventory and consistent sales really hasn’t translated into valuation gains in this segment. I’d expect that’ll change if the market stays tight for too much longer. Maybe it won’t change at all until someone breaks the pattern on these entry level streets and builds something new. Something that seems out of place, something that doesn’t make sense. Or at least it’ll feel that way until everyone else does it, too.

 

Black Point Sells

Black Point Sells

One of the many benefits of this strong vacation home market is that I get to test my theories on a daily basis. These theories were first penned when the market was in rough shape, which was just a few years ago in reality but so much farther away in the minds of 2018 buyers. The theory relating to the off-water lake access market over $1MM was simple. If lakefront homes were plentiful in the $1-2MM range, then off-water homes in same range would suffer. Why buy off water when the same price put you in the front row? In the same way, if $1-2MM lakefront homes were scarce, then off-water homes in the range would attract buyers. Lake Geneva real estate can be quite simple.

Simple as it may be, the theory was difficult for many off-water sellers to understand. During those dark years, most off-water homes that sought to capture a $1-1.5MM sales price ultimately languished on the market and fell victim to the price erosion that is a hallmark of lengthy market exposure. Most of those homes ended up selling, but rather than finding buyers in that $1MM+ range, most of these homes sold between $900k and $1MM. Buyers rejoiced, sellers wept.

Over time the entry level lakefront inventory dried up, leaving available only true cottages on small lots in modest settings. As that inventory shrunk, buyers turned their attention to the off-water homes that meant something. A slip, a view, a pool, some privacy. Maybe a combination of all of those. In the fall of 2016, I printed the sale in Loramoor for $1.625MM. Then another sale in Glenwood Springs for $1.1MM. Then, in 2017, a super high priced print with no slip in Oakwood Estates north of $1.2MM.  In 2017, another in Maytag Estates in the same range. Then a sale in Fontana north of $1.3MM. The market was moving, and buyers were once again looking for off-water properties simply because the on-water options were so scarce.

Last month, a new offering in this range. This one on Southland, or Black Point, as the tax records would show. $1.699MM for a few acres of wooded bliss, some terrain, a pool and a slip, a large home with pedigree, outbuildings and more. This was a property that the market rarely offers, mostly because it has no true rival. There are locations where off water homes will sell upwards and north of $2MM, but those associations are rare and historically light on inventory. The Lindens, Black Point, The 700 Club, Loramoor, Glen Fern. These are the rare associations, made that way by decades of low inventory and highly polished homes. These are the associations that matter to this segment, and this particular home was among the most rare inside even unique settings.

That’s why a buyer whom I was pleased to represent jumped. We closed on the house last week for full price, which is nothing to be ashamed of. In this context, full price was required, and full price was still less than the seller had paid for the home in the fall of 2011 when the market was in awful condition.  To further prove the strength of this off-water market, consider the home that would come to market just a few weeks ago in the 700 Club. That home hit the MLS at $1.495MM and promptly received multiple offers before finally settling at a contracted price that is rumored to be far over the ask. The market doesn’t always love off-water homes over $1.5MM, but if you give the market something unique in a highly desirable setting, the buyers will find it.

To this buyer who let me guide them through this curious segment of our vacation home market, I thank you. There’s an opportunity at this property to transform it into something without equal in our market, and I’m hopeful that the end reality matches your unique and exciting vision.

New Subdivisions

New Subdivisions

In the morning I wake up, clean up, dress up (down), drink the espresso that my wife kindly makes me, take my kids to school, and go to my office. I do this five days a week. On the other two days,  I skip the part where I drop the kids off at school. When I get to the office, I turn on the lights, sit down at this desk, and check the MLS. I check the new listings and the sold listings, the reduced listings, too. I think about what to write about. I think about the weather and the scenery, the lake and the sky. I think about the trees and the tinge of whatever color might be deepening or fading.  I think about the lakefront market, the lake access market, the vacation home segments in their pieces and as a whole. And then, when I sit back and consider everything I just say, “man, people are paying lots of money for really basic subdivision houses.”

Most days, I ignore those primary market thoughts, and write instead about lakefronts and the sort of real estate that interests me and my clients. But today, the primary market interests me, because this trend is established and it’s serious and I can no longer ignore it. The primary market is hot, all segments, all prices, so long as we’re talking about less than $400k. Some of the primary neighborhoods are selling for more than $400k, but not with particular regularity. Those primary home subdivisions that I wrote about with fervor a few years ago have come to life, and buyers appear to be content to purchase their own version of vinyl perfection.

When I wrote about the state of the primary market, the subdivisions were mostly idle. Some construction, but not much. In the three years that have followed, the construction market has boomed. New homes are being built with frightening speed, slapped up in a matter of a couple months. Efficiency, claims the builder. Haste and synthetic materials, counters this Realtor. But still, the market is hot and I’m curious to see what, if anything, today’s buyers have learned from the past market cycle. That cycle, in case you forgot, was especially hard on neighborhoods for the simple reason that platted neighborhoods tend to function as their own specific market. If there are four comps on the road you happen to live on and all of the homes were built to a similar standard at a similar time, you can bet your value will be seriously impacted by the sales of those nearby homes.

To check on the market, let’s look at a few random, recent new home sales in the new home subdivisions on the west end of the village of Williams Bay. I won’t identify the owners or the addresses, but let’s look at sale price ranges and mortgages pulled to gauge the strength of this homebuyer. That strength is important simply because the market isn’t going to appreciate forever (too bad, OpenDoor), and once the market stalls, those with the smallest percentage of equity are the most likely to face difficulty. The first sale was well over $400k- a price threshold very rarely surpassed in the primary market.  A check of the mortgage reveals the buyer only financed around 80% of the purchase. Good for them, and good for this subdivision.

Down the road, another sale. This one also over $400k, this one to a buyer who appear to have financed around 85% of the purchase. Another winning data point for this subdivision, as another strong buyer has entered the fold. The next sale was a bit under $400k, and that buyer looks to have put less than 4% down.  Another sale in a different subdivision, this one in the lower $300k range, this one to a buyer who put around 5% down. Another sale, this one just over $300k, the new owner putting around 4% down.  There are other examples, some with 20% down, others with less, but the concept here is simple. If you’re buying into a hot subdivision, paying hot subdivision 2018 prices, and your neighbors are, perhaps 40-50% of the time buying their homes with less than 5% down, is this is a solid model for sustainable values if we head into a down cycle within the next 4-6 years?

Personally, I don’t think it is. That’s why I wish primary home buyers would exercise caution as they rush to these newly drywalled homes. I understand the desire to be in a new home, but I’d rather be in an older home in an existing neighborhood than be surrounded by a constant cloud of low-money-down-construction-dust. An interesting side-note from my market studies of 2015 and 2016 is the desirability of subdivisions that are close to schools. If kids can walk/bike, or otherwise easily get to a school, the subdivision tends to be fairly hot. If the subdivision is outside of town, without a nearby city center or grade school, the subdivision is still somewhat stagnant. If you’re a primary buyer considering a new home priced $450k and under, please be cautious. I say that fully knowing caution doesn’t play a role in a hot market, no matter how badly I wish it would.

 

 

Buena Vista Sells

Buena Vista Sells

It’s a curious thing to watch buyers as they watch the market, and the houses that exist inside of that market. Buyers are attracted to various things, to shiny, for sure.  They like marble and they like glitz, and even the most staunch defenders of Location First cannot help but be dazzled and drawn by the varying shapes and sizes of housing perfection that exist here. But beyond those things, there are locations that speak to buyers in different ways. One buyer might find a location to be busy, dense.  One buyer sees that scene and they decry their lost privacy, their potential involvement with their neighbors, their exposure. And yet another buyer comes to that same scene and feels at home. They feel at peace with those same surroundings. They thrive off of the activity, the proximity, the scene. To each his own is just a saying, until you come to these shores, at which point it becomes a most steadfast rule.

This week I closed 274 Sylvan in Buena Vista for $2,775,000. The house was special not just because it shared that glamor of sparkly hardwood and expensive appliances. It was a vintage home made to live like a modern one, but still filled with the original touches that made it feel rooted on that shore.  Buena Vista isn’t an association for everyone, but that’s only because there wouldn’t be enough houses to go around. There are tennis courts, an ample lakefront park and pier system, and then these scant few lakefront houses. A dozen, perhaps. These few lakefronts on this Northwest shore of Fontana Bay offer a classic lake experience combined with dynamite views of the lake and an easy stroll to Fontana’s lakefront scene.

To speak to the unique nature of this now sold offering, consider the last MLS sale to come to market here was this same house, when I sold it in the spring of 2011. Who can know when the next Buena Vista lakefront will come to market?  Like every lakefront sale on this lake, once a property is under contract or sold there are numerous buyers who wish they had bought it, and this home had its fair share of regret filled buyers. That’s because it wasn’t just an old cottage on the lake. It was an old cottage with a recent addition and important updates, but it still oozed that vintage appeal. That appeal isn’t easy to find on this lake, especially if you’d like to find it in Buena Vista. To the owners who allowed me to represent them in this sale, I thank you. To the new buyer who gets to enjoy their weekends in an entirely different frame of mind, congratulations.

Abbey Springs Market Update

Abbey Springs Market Update

There’s a simple thought relating to markets like ours that supposes a specific pricing segment should prove active in different market segments. The theory would say that if $300-500k condos are selling, then those condos should be selling whether they’re on Geneva Lake, in Geneva National, or Abbey Springs. In the same way, if a $400k lake access home in Loch Vista Club is in demand, then a $400k lake access home in Cedar Point Park should also find an audience. The theory isn’t very difficult to understand, but markets don’t always behave in the most obvious ways.

Consider the lake access market on Geneva Lake right now. There are 34 active homes priced under $700k. Of those 34, no fewer than 12 are pending sale. That’s a very active market segment, with offers flying and summer contracts set to close next month. If that market is supremely busy with buyers seeking a reasonably priced vacation home experience, then the other specific vacation home segments in a similar price range should be similarly active, right?

Abbey Springs currently has 19 available condominiums and single family homes. Of those 19, the MLS shows not a single pending contract. Year To Date, Abbey Springs has closed 18 condos/homes, which isn’t awful, but it certainly pales to the 24 such sales for 2017 YTD. If there weren’t inventory, I’d understand the difference in activity, but there is inventory, even if it is a bit light.

In the same way, Geneva National has 57 available condominiums and homes priced under $700k. Of those 59, twelve are pending sale. That’s a decent amount of activity, especially for Geneva National, which has had its fair share of ups and downs over its lifespan. If the lake access market has approximately 35% of its under $700k inventory under contract, and Geneva National has 20% of its under $700k inventory under contract, then what’s eating Abbey Springs?

The answer, likely, is nothing. It’s just the unique nature of the Lake Geneva vacation home market.  That’s why I write this blog as often as I do. Markets here hinge on such low overall volume that a good weekend can right any listing ship. If there were three or four new contracts written in Abbey Springs last week that have yet to show in the MLS, just like that we’d see Abbey Springs marching in lockstep with the remainder of the vacation home segment.  If you’re trying to figure out the exact rhythm of sales at the lake, don’t.

Basswood Lake Geneva

Basswood Lake Geneva

A Wednesday reminder that my listing at W4396 Basswood Drive is still available. I just reduced the price of this home to $8,495,000, and it’s now offered at an extreme discount to replacement value. Consider the pending sale of a home in Lake Geneva listed at $14,500,000. Now consider buying this home, renovating it, and being all in for far less than the sale price of that nine year old home. It doesn’t take a genius to make the right moves in this market, it just takes a bit of effort.  Contact me for a private tour of this most lovely estate.

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

It might seem strange to even mention the term Price Reduction during this remarkable summer run. With sales popping and records breaking and everyone in the Midwest clamoring for a vacation home in Lake Geneva, why would we even bring up such a thing as a price reduction? It’s a wet blanket, really. It’ll throw off our momentum, ruin the buzz from this Kool-Aid fest.  The agents who vie for your attention don’t want you to think about price reductions, they want you to think about how you can buy that home NOW! Need help figuring out how to win a bid on a Lake Geneva area home? You’re in luck, some agents are holding seminars to teach you (YES YOU) how to win the bid.

But this is all ridiculous, really. The truth of our market is that it’s hot, yes. All price segments are hot. All categories and sub-categories. Except vacant land in Geneva National, of course. A lot just sold there last week for $4000. That’s the price I paid for a 1986 Saab 900 with a questionably service history and 130,000 miles, which, in Saab miles, is at least 1,000,000. Every other market is hot, every home in demand. So why talk about Price Reductions? Well, silly, because ’tis the season.

See, smart sellers know that while our market is active for each of our 12 months, there will be a dip in overall activity once school starts. Knowing this, sellers with relatively aged listings are faced with a decision. Reduce now or reduce later? If they’re smart, they’ll reduce now, while there are a few extra buyers in the market. Something I’ve heard often this summer is a buyer’s plan to wait until the off-season to buy. Prices will be lower then. This is the position of the uninformed, as Lake Geneva doesn’t cycle based on seasonality it lives and dies on inventory. If inventory presents in August and it’s right for you, then buy it. If it presents in January and it’s right for you, then buy it. Don’t base decisions on the color of our leaves.

Still, sellers recognize the market will ebb and flow, and if a reduction is in the cards, now’s the time to make that move. Recently, I’ve been applying this to some of my listings, because I’m smart, and my sellers are smart, too. I dropped the price of my W4396 Basswood listing $500k to $8.495MM. That home, by the way, offers value far and away better than the pending listing in Lake Geneva priced at $14.5MM. Far. And. Away. Like with Tom Cruise, but different. I just reduced my incredible Bay Colony offering to $879k, even after we came close with several different interested buyers over the past few weeks. Why reduce in the face of activity? Because activity only counts when the result is sold.

Around the lake, there have been reductions. A new home on the north side of Fontana dropped its price not so long ago, as did a newer home on the south side of Fontana. I dropped my Clear Sky Lodge listing $120k. A home in Cedar Point Park that came to market earlier this year has been reduced several hundred thousand dollars, as that seller searches for a buyer.  Off water, a home in Academy Estates has endured a series of micro-reductions this year, and a listing in Shore Haven just dropped in price last week.  For all of the buyers claiming this is purely a seller’s market, have you considered any of these properties that are bleeding from self-inflicted chops?

It’s August, and it’s still summer. In fact, this past weekend was one of the more active, glorious weekends of the entire year. In spite of this, sellers are making moves, and if they’re serious about selling this year they’re going to be adjusting their prices a bit. Consider the market this month, consider the aged inventory, and be on the look out for price reductions.  And as always, let me know if I can help.

 

Above, my Bay Colony Condo, just reduced to $879k. 

Woodstone Sells

Woodstone Sells

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that we’re in the middle of another Lake Geneva summer.  August is the peak of summer, sure, but it’s not exactly the middle. You could argue that it’s the end. School starts soon. The sun sets earlier and earlier each night. We’re no longer building toward summer, we’re doing our best to hang on to a summer that’s rapidly fading. In spite of our dwindling summer, the real estate market at the lake has given us something to talk about.

June and July were fantastic months for our lakefront and lake access markets. That late June through early July heat and the supporting sun pushed this market into hyperdrive, with contracts piling up like so many rock bass in my Uncle Joe’s five gallon pail. June and July saw five lakefront closings, and ten more lake access sales. The lakefronts that closed included a few bits of aged inventory as well as some new to market listings.

At the top end, the old Born Free Estate closed for $5.35MM. The new owner then promptly sold off a 100′ lot on the East side for $2.75MM.  I’d expect to see a significant renovation of the existing home in the near future.  Another high priced sale occurred on Basswood, that of the Woodhill Estate, which printed at $3.9MM. That’s a reasonable price for that property.  The market had a hard time figuring out if that home was a tear down, but the rumor is the new owner plans to renovate the existing structure.

On the lower end of the lakefront, a home in the Elgin Club closed for $1.245MM, likely a tear down or significant remodel candidate.  In Williams Bay, another home closed on Walworth Avenue where those thin 50′ lots rule the day.  That street featured two sales this year, both in the $1.2MM range, both side by side. I sold those homes back in the very early 2000s. This time around, both homes have sold to the same owner, leaving speculation that both homes might be torn down to make way for one new home. While that buyer is not my client, I’d offer up this unsolicited advice: Don’t do that.

Pending contracts on the lakefront as of this morning include a listing for $2.4MM in the Geneva Manor, a piece of aged inventory in the South Shore Club ($2.795MM) and my listing in Buena Vista on Sylvan ($2.875MM).  I’m guessing the Geneva Manor property will print at a meaningful discount to that lofty ask. With buyer activity at all time highs (far exceeding the activity during the 2005-2008 run), I’d expect to see many more contracts this month on the 17 active lakefront homes.

While these are nice sales and nice new activity, the property that’s on track to shock the market is the lakefront home at 590 S. Lakeshore Drive in Lake Geneva. This listing came to market earlier this summer for $14.5MM, with 210′ of frontage and above grade square footage of 9862 according to the assessor’s office. The property, as of yesterday, is pending sale. I’ll repeat, that property, listed at $14,500,000, is under contract.

I’m betting the property is going to close somewhat close to its asking price.  That’ll make it the highest sale in Lake Geneva history, which will be the third time in the past 24 months that this benchmark has been raised. This magnificent upper bracket run started in the fall of 2016 with my $9,950,000 print of this fabulous Pebble Point home.  The home at 590 has a current assessed value in the $5.75MM range, with a $117k tax bill. Assuming a print in range of the asking price, it won’t be a surprise to see the new owner receive a tax bill in the $250k range. So that’ll be something.

At first blush, this sale is terrific for our market. It further proves that this market has no rival in the Midwest. Other resort markets will gladly take your millions of dollars in exchange for a second rate vacation home experience. Geneva will take your millions and then, when you’re ready for another chapter, give you those millions back. Likely with interest.  Clean water and beautiful homes might be the obvious allure of this area, but liquidity is our greatest asset here, and this sale proves it once again.

But this sale also showcases the premium that our market places on newer construction. This home was not new, but with a completion date of 2009, at least one buyer figured it was new enough. Older homes on the lake that have not had recent updates are punished here, as buyers prefer to either buy new, or build new. That preference opens up a value play for buyers looking to make their mark on these shores, if only they’d be willing to undertake a remodel of an outdated home.

The market is in the middle of a most epic run, but I still see value out there. It’s not found in spiffy fixtures and Wolf ranges. It’s found in the land, in those piers, under that ugly carpet and behind that stupid basement powder room. It’s not obvious to the uninitiated. That’s why I’m here. To help guide the discerning. Consider the text message that I received last Saturday night (I posted this on my Instagram genevalakefrontrealty, which you should be following):

Tonya and I just said… Thank God Dave Curry talked us out of buying all those other stupid homes. Love this place. Hope summer is going well for you and your family.

If you’re in the market, you’ll know it isn’t hard to find a Realtor to talk you into something. That’s what everyone does. The real value that an experienced agent brings to the transaction is not in his or her ability to walk you through a house. My 12 year old daughter could do that, and she’d be terrific at it. The value is in finding an agent who cares enough about your purchase to talk you out of a property. If you need some better advice, let’s talk.

Lake Geneva Condotel Update

Lake Geneva Condotel Update

At this point, we should have all learned a few things. If we were paying attention during the last market cycle, from slow rise to raging boom to crushing collapse, then we should have taken some things away from that decade long episode. In the same way, from that collapse to the nascent recovery to this now active and vibrant seller’s market, this should be teaching us something as well. I suppose in that there is a difference. Have we learned anything or have we just observed it all from afar?

What I’ve learned, mostly, is that housing markets do not rise and fall based on the math of it all. Sure, low interest rates and stable stock markets might kick off a resurgence of housing haste, but that isn’t what propels a market. What pushes a market from Tidy Recovery to Raging Bull is confidence. Confidence is what makes a family of 4 making $90k annually purchase a new vinyl box in a cornfield for $410k. This is the same thing that makes the same family drive to the car dealer and sign for a 0% loan on a $70k Tahoe. Interest rates and unemployment figures are sweet, but what pushes a market into hyperdrive is nothing more than individual consumer confidence.

Most of the things that happened during the last cycle are happening in this one as well. FHA loans are way up. Like sky-high, as a percentage of new loans. These are US Taxpayer backed mortgages that are given out with very little money down. When a market is appreciating, these mortgages are fine. But when the market stalls and reverses, these homeowners who were given those house keys with as little as 3.5% down will be the first ones to run for the hills. But if we continue our learning from the last cycle, then we shouldn’t panic sell our house unless circumstances (job loss, illness, etc), mandate it. If you bought a house in 2008, then 2012 was a difficult time to consider your negative equity. But if you’ve hung on into 2018 you’ve more than likely made a full and complete equity recovery. That, and you’ve had a place to live for the past decade.

But these are not market specific lessons. For those, let’s turn to the Lake Geneva condotel market. Condotel is a silly way of describing the sort of housing unit that is sold as a condominium, but operates like a hotel room. You buy the unit, you pay taxes and dues and extraordinary fees to the hotel, and they give you a percentage of the rental income generated. In theory, it’s a tidy idea. In practice, it can be either great, reasonably acceptable, or downright horrible.

The Lake Geneva market has a handful of these so-called condotels. Notably at the Grand Geneva (Timber Ridge),  The Cove, The Bella Vista, The Abbey Resort, and a few others.  Understanding the context that our broad market is hotter than a pistol, let’s consider the current market for these sorts of properties. I won’t delve into each development, but I’ll sample a few to give you an idea as to how I feel about them as an “investment”.  Crud, those quotes likely gave me away already.

Timber Ridge is at the Grand Geneva. It’s a waterpark. It’s nice enough. There used to be a rib joint inside the waterpark hotel, but I haven’t been there since my kids were last invited to a birthday party there. Today there are nine units available at Timber Ridge priced from $99k to $189k. None are pending sale.  Normally someone dissecting a condotel market would look at the net income and compare that with the purchase price. Not me. I don’t care if the units print 3% or 5% or 7% annual return on the most recent run of numbers. That’s because that’s not the issue with these sorts of units.

I care about the value of the real estate. Let’s look at the $99k unit. First sold by the developer in 2001 for $160,400. Nice. Then sold once or twice. Then sold in 2003 for $206k to the current owners. After 15 years, their investment has declined more than 50%. Another unit listed at $102k sold previously for $181k. Another unit listed at $189k previously sold for $305k. And the beat goes on.  Rather than view these units as an opportunity that the market has beaten up, I prefer to view them as a painful lesson of what happens when consumer sentiment shifts. Take away the free steak dinner and boat cruise; would anyone ever buy a timeshare again?

Let’s check on the Cove in downtown Lake Geneva, the place with that absurd blue roof. A little unit for sale for $109k. Prior sale? A 2008 print at $170k. Here’s another unit listed at $134,900. Initial sale by the developer in 1996: $135,400. 22 years, negative equity.  Let’s move to Fontana, and check on what is likely the best of this bunch, the Abbey Hotel. Here’s a unit listed at $150k. Prior sales price? 12 years ago for $254k.

It’s not that I enjoy beating up on a particular market segment, it’s just that I don’t know as though I’d be a buyer of something like this. Yes, they might turn a small profit on an annual basis. But what of the initial investment? What about that crushing loss?  These properties are relatively illiquid, intensely sensitive to overall market conditions, and reliant on a consumer that just might have learned their lesson.

If you’re a buyer searching for an economical condo that you can rent out to generate some income, I’d opt for the lower priced condominium units in non condotel properties. I’d look at lower priced listings in Geneva National, Abbey Springs, and the Abbey Villas. I’d consider those options 99 times before I’d consider anything else. If you’re in the market for this sort of thing, email me and I’ll set you up with my assistant Vicki who can help guide you through this particular market segment.

 

 

Loramoor Sells

Loramoor Sells

Most of the players in this game are endless and unflappable cheerleaders.  I did this! They say. I’m amazing! Others chime. Such is the business of self promotion. Without this promotion, no one would know anything about any of these players.  Aside from a news article once in a while, no one will spend much time considering your success. In the real business world, this is fine. To quietly go about mining dollars is the preferred way, but alas, the rules of this game do not allow quiet success.

I engage in this self congratulation often. I write this blog to educate and entertain, but also to make sure the reader knows which player in this game is indeed the most meaningful.  Heck, I write a whole magazine dedicated to this market, and as a fortunate aside, this player. Some pose with their real estate signs as though they’re prom dates, others plaster their names on their cars, while others still want to watch you while you grocery shop. No matter the platform, we’re just playing by the rules.

But sometimes, there’s no praise to be given, no praise to be asked for. There’s just a sale and a seller and a buyer, and that’s that. This is what happened last week when I finally closed on my aged listing off of South Lakeshore Drive. I first listed this home two years ago, and throughout that time I asked for listing extensions and price reductions more than I’d like to admit. I worked to sell this house, and ultimately I did sell this house, but I did a miserable job at it.

The market is, by all accounts, back to the prior market peak. In many instances, prices have pushed above that peak. Now consider this house that I just sold. It previously sold during the prior market escalation for $1.5MM and change. I just closed on it last week for $925k. That’s a terrible thing, and while I feel relieved that the property is no longer on the market, I know I was rather unsuccessful in selling this home.

The issue with the home was a complicated one. It wasn’t one issue at all, really. It was the perfect storm of trouble. First, a high prior print to chase. Second, an initial and subsequent list price (with another broker, by the way) that was sky high. After that initial list, the market was lost and the owner spent the next several years chasing buyers in the only way that actually makes a material difference: price reductions.  By the time I took over the market had written the property off, and while I thought I might be able to put some shine on the listing I ultimately failed at doing so. The price of $925k was a reasonable market price, but in this case, the buyer won.

I closed on another property last week, also somewhat of an aged piece of inventory. This was my vacant land listing in Loramoor. The lot was quite lovely, just one home from the water with slight views and proper lake rights through the East Loramoor Association. That lot was on the market for a year or two before closing last week for $625k.  In this market, that sale makes perfect sense. It was a nice market rate, with seller and buyer both doing well for themselves. Why would a buyer buy a home in a cottage neighborhood only to significantly renovate or rebuild it, when they could buy this lot in a high end neighborhood and be surrounded by high priced homes? Expect a new home to be built there soon, one that will likely make proper market sense.

These sales prove one important thing about the state of our market. As the lakefront inventory dries up (the lowest priced true lakefront home available today is my listing on Bluff for $2.145MM), buyers will look off water for reasonable values. If the cheapest lakefront is $2.1MM, it only makes sense that buyers in the low buck range will seek alternatives to sparse lakefront inventory. Expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future, as off-water homes in the $900-$1.7MM range find favor with inventory hungry buyers.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t written as much about individual market segments of late, you’re perceptive. I haven’t.  It isn’t that I haven’t had thoughts, or that the market isn’t doing things I’m noticing and feel like sharing with you, it’s just that the market isn’t really all that fun right now. To be a buyer with some level of contemplative thought isn’t fun. To be a seller who sees the market ripping and roaring excepting your individual house, that isn’t fun. And to be an agent who has to deal with all of this, well, that isn’t fun either. It’s summer and we’re supposed to be having fun. But I’m not, and if you’re a buyer then you’re not. And some sellers aren’t either. This is the summer of our discontent.

The issue is that the inventory is limited. This we know. We knew this last year and we knew it was going to be an issue this year. And it is. Showings on lakefront homes are at all-time-high levels, and it’s not uncommon this summer to see four or five different lakefront showings a week on a lakefront listing.  Offers are plentiful, and just this past week there’s a new contract on an aged bit of South Shore Club inventory listed in the $2.8MM range, and a new contract on an entry level cottage in the Elgin Club in the $1.2MMs.  The other pending lakefront is of the Woodhill property on Basswood listed at $4.5MM. That’s a home that the market perceived to be a tear down, but rumor has it the soon-to-be-owner has chosen to renovate it.

For all of this new activity, there has been just one lakefront closing in the past six weeks. That closing occurred last week when the old Born Free estate on the north shore of Geneva closed for $5.35MM. That property last sold in 2011 for $3.5MM. There were no significant changes made to the property between 2011 and 2018. That’s real appreciation. To further that story, the new owner of that parcel tried in vain to cut the piece into three lots. Thankfully, the township struck that concept down, and the new owner was only able to get 2 lakefront lots out of the 200′ parcel.  When the piece sold last week, the new owner turned around and sold off the vacant 100′ of that lot to a new buyer for a rumored price in the high $2s.

There were six other lake access sales over the past six weeks, including the large stable home in Loramoor. That large property closed for $1.37MM. On a price per square foot measure, which our market doesn’t typically have interest in, that property sold for an unbelievable bargain. But in real life the price was about right for an off-water home (with slip)  in need of some final finishing touches. As with any aged piece of inventory, it’s terrific to see that property no longer on market.  I have several properties pending sale, including my modern off-water home on the south shore, a vacant lot in East Loramoor, and my Woodstone listing that I brought to market just a few weeks ago.

I’ve personally had several lakefront listing appointments in the past month, but all have ended with sellers either choosing to hang on to their homes, or other delays for unknown reasons.  The last several weeks of hot and sunny have provided powerful momentum for buyers who were possibly ambivalent about their purchase before. It’s one thing to be hot and bothered at the lake. At least refreshment is close. It’s another thing entirely to be hot and bothered in the city or suburbs, and that’s brought buyers to the lake in tremendous numbers.  Oh, and there’s a new listing on the lake for $14.5MM. It isn’t my listing, which is unfortunate and terrible. That will test the high end up here, which last printed an $11MM+ sale for 415′ of frontage and 19 acres on Snake Road.

If you’re a buyer in this market, I sympathize with your plight. Low inventory is making for a difficult process, but in spite of this there are still deals to be had. Some sellers are motivated, even while most of the others are not. Find aged inventory and pick at it. Needle it. Consider it. If you’re jumping around from agent to agent you need to stop doing this. Email me. Let me help you understand this market. Let me help you discover patience. The market won’t stay this tight forever. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

(No Fish Fry Review today. I went to the Lake Geneva Yacht Club on Friday night and the fish was overcooked and the potato pancakes blah. This reflects my recent disappointment during my return visit to the Abbey’s Waterfront.)

On Average

On Average

A lack of inventory is a curious thing. On one hand, lack of inventory typically leads to pricing increases. This is obvious. If I have one of something and three people would like to buy it from me, I get to raise my price. Simple. But lack of inventory has an uglier, less talked about side. Like your uncle who isn’t allowed to attend family gatherings. Sure, you see him once in a while and pretend everything is fine. The weather fine, your job, fine. But you know. You know.

That other side of low inventory is that it has a nasty tendency to choke out market momentum. Imagine a particular market segment is like a fire. A nice, tidy, fire. Sometimes it’s crackling and blazing and other times it’s just smoldering, but it’s always burning so long as you add a bit of wood to it now and again. The key isn’t the strength of the fire, it’s your supply of wood. Keep feeding that market some inventory and it’ll keep burning. But limit the inventory for long enough and that fire is going to go out. Lack of inventory is all fun and games until your market decides to quit.

It’s not exactly like that, but it’s sort of like that. And in my world, sort of still matters.  We know our issue for 2018 has been a thorough lack of lakefront and lake access inventory, but without checking the actual statistics it’s just chatter.  The year is now old enough that we can measure it against another year. It’s time for 2018 to be judged.

From the first of January through yesterday, the MLS shows 28 sales of lakefront and lake access properties (Geneva Lake). Of those 28, 11 have been lakefront. That feels like a low tally, to be sure. And low it is, when compared to the 45 homes and sold during the same period of 2017. Of those, 11 were lakefronts. Looking farther back, 2016 printed 38 sales, eight of which were private frontage. 2015, the last year that could be considered some reasonable semblance of a buyer’s market, we closed 34 sales, nine of which were lakefront.

With those numbers in mind, it’s obvious that our broader lake access market is short of supply and therefore short of closings. But what of the lakefront, what of that king of all markets, that mighty ruler by which all other things are rendered unimportant? Well, the lakefront market, with 11 YTD sales, is obviously doing just fine. It has matched the 2017 production and exceeded both of 2016 and 2015. Maybe our inventory problem is one of perception?

There are a few things that are going to happen this summer on the lakefront. There will be more inventory. I’m certain of it. There will be more to choose from and there will be buyers intent on changing their boring weekend lives who make the right choice. The key isn’t to flood the market with inventory, rather to keep introducing pieces of it, slowly but surely. We don’t need to light the whole forest on fire, we just need to toss a log on every once in a while. And I’m fixin’ to throw some oak in the coming weeks (let me know if you’d like to know when I do).

South Shore Club Sale

South Shore Club Sale

As recently as last year, it wouldn’t have been easy, perhaps not even possible, to fetch $2.1MM for a vacant lot in the South Shore Club.  That’s not because the broad market wouldn’t have appreciated an offering of a rare, lakefront lot in the Club. Nor is it because the market hadn’t yet appreciated to such a wonderful extend that the sale price would have been possible.  That price wouldn’t have been possible one year ago because the supporting sales that prove that particular value hadn’t yet printed.

There’s something interesting about what’s happened in the South Shore Club over these past several months. First, a lakefront listing, last August. I closed that listing for $4.175MM, making it the first sale in the SSC to exceed $4MM. Plenty of owners have investments in their homes that exceed $4MM, but never before had the market validated those outlays. Following that sale, another owner sensed the timing might be right for his family to make a move and he listed, also with me. We closed that sale this spring for $4.6MM (plus $100k for personal property). With those sales cemented, it was this vacant lots turn.

I listed this lakefront lot last month for $2,195,000. I didn’t feature it on this website, in large part because the buyer presented quickly and was ready to roll. The lot closed last Friday for $2,100,000, making it the highest vacant land sale in the SSC, ever. But was it some unique marketing spin that I employed to sell this property? Other agents might have you semi-convinced that they have some proprietary blend of marketing wiz-bang, but they don’t. And neither do I.  It’s not hard to place an ad in a newspaper and have no one call you from it. But it is hard to print two sales within 10 months that successfully prove a segment’s market value and then introduce a piece of inventory that falls nicely in line with that newly affirmed market.

And that’s the real secret to this recent SSC success. It’s not in the marketing, though if I’m involved that’s pretty nice stuff, indeed. It’s in the timing of it all. It’s in understanding how a certain piece fits into the greater SSC puzzle. Yes, an owner can list his property whenever he or she feels like it. But is this approach smart? Or is it better to understand the process, to understand the inventory and the competition, and apply a rare dose of sensible timing to the process?  This seems simple, but timing an offering within the greater context of an association market is anything but common. Thankfully, these past three properties sold because the sellers listened to me, and the result was perfect.

To the seller of this most recent property, I thank you. To future buyers and sellers of properties within the South Shore Club, work with me. Since 2012, when I was hired by the developers of the SSC to represent several of the homes and remaining lots there, I’ve closed on 8 of the 13 single family home sales (including the top two sales), and 11 of the 13 vacant lot sales. If your aim is the South Shore Club, you’re in luck. The market couldn’t be healthier, the future more secure, and your choice in agent more clear.

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Geneva Lakefront Market Update

The curious thing about Lake Geneva is that the market would potentially be fine even if another new customer never followed his roads to our roads and purchased a lakefront house.  No new buyers, no problem. Never, ever, a new buyer who needs figure out our scene in order to buy it. If no one ever came here again, we’d still have a market.

That’s obviously not entirely true, but at times it sure does seem like we needn’t another new buyer. We have enough, and they’re the people who are already here. One of my favorite transactions to assist in is the buyer who is new to Geneva Lake looking to capture something ideal. That buyer, someone with no prior experience here, hasn’t yet been confined to his developed tastes. He’s a blank slate, a clean canvas, and that buyer can look at this market without geographic bias. That’s a terrific sort of buyer, one that I highly value.

But that’s not the traditional buyer here. That buyer exists, of course, but that buyer isn’t what keeps this market humming. What keeps this market on the move is the lakefront ownership group. Those 600 or so discerning lakefront owners; that’s our market. One year they might wish for a big estate, with 800 hydrangeas and no fewer than 375 rose bushes. But three years later they may long  for the simplicity of a lakeside cottage, still with a slate roof, of course, but a cottage nonetheless. A pure lake experience, tidy and controlled. Who could tend to 800 hydrangeas?

Yesterday, a new sale on this Great Lake. The last time Clear Sky Lodge sold it was my listing as I represented Bank of America in the liquidation of that valuable asset that they came to own by way of court proceedings. That sale in 2012 was for $3,700,000.  Clear Sky sold again yesterday, this time without my involvement, which has put me in a sullen mood for such a lovely Friday.  The price? $5,715,000.

That’s a lot of money for this old log house, but I won’t say it wasn’t worth it. The house is rare and intensely magnificent. The location desirable, the views sublime, the logs super loggy. I like this sale for the market, but it’s a bit of a loss leader. The appreciation from 2012 of more than 50% isn’t reflective in the broad market. Some homes have appreciated this much, others have not. This is why it’s difficult to take individual sales and suppose that they are meaningful to the broader market segment.

If you’re sad that you missed out on this house, I have the next best thing available at Clear Sky Lodge, with tennis court, swimming pool, canopied slip, and beautiful privacy listed at $2.99MM…

The trend of lakefront owners swapping homes is nothing new. It’s a common theme here, but it appears to be on the rise. When the markets were bad I encouraged would-be-sellers to sell low and buyer lower. I argued it was, in fact, a better situation than it would be to sell high and buyer higher. Very few people listened, but those that did have found the new market to be rewarding.

The key for the lakefront market now remains inventory. We need more of it. Ready made inventory, easy houses with large lots. Others with small lots. We need all of it. If you’re a buyer on the hunt, let’s hunt together. If you’re a seller considering a move, you know who to call. (It’s me. Call me. Or Email, that’ll be easier. Text is fine, too.) 

Abbey Ridge Sells

Abbey Ridge Sells

When shopping for a car, most shoppers narrow the search at some point. What started out as a search for a mid-size SUV with all-wheel-drive, has turned into a search for a BMW X5, the one with the 5.0 engine, black on black, with the 21 inch wheels, because the stock 19 inch wheels look like they belong on a rental car at the Akron Airport. This is the way a search evolves. Initially it’s just about accomplishing some general goal, like transportation, but it ultimately turns into a fine-tuned search for personal perfection. Housing searches are like this, too.

I spent the past two years with a buyer in search of something unique. Well, it’s unique now, but it wasn’t always unique. A general lakefront house, in a general location, nothing too fancy, with budget aplenty. The search had ups and it had downs, far more downs than ups, really.  After so much time searching for something specific, the search arrived at a crossroads. Should this buyer continue searching for what they really wanted, or should they acquiesce to this tight market and buy something that, at least, gets them here? They wanted to be in this place in a certain variety of home, but maybe just being in this place would suffice, for now.

This week I closed on a three bedroom condo at Abbey Ridge. It was a homecoming of sorts for me, as I used to spend considerable time in this condominium development listing and selling these two, three, and four bedroom condominium units. The condo was a nice enough three bedroom with a bit of a harbor view and a generally pleasant disposition. $560,000 was the ransom for this space, and we secured it in turn key fashion, down to the bottle openers and fake bird statues near the fireplace.

Abbey Ridge, for those who haven’t been paying attention, is hot again. Hotter than hot. Infrared. I sold a unit there last December (off-market), and didn’t bother to write about it. That unit sold for $555,000.  A four bedroom unit overlooking the pool sold last October for $485,500. A three bedroom unit listed at $635,000 is pending sale. The only available unit at Abbey Ridge today is a two bedroom first floor unit listed at $360,000. Abbey Ridge is bucking the soft condo trend and printing peak numbers, and for this, we should stand and applaud.

But what of these buyers, what of this particular condominium bent, of this desire to find a condo in Fontana without any particular form of lake access? Are these buyers that have only aspired to this form of vacation home ownership? I’d say yes, some are, and a nice condominium in a nice lakeside village in this nice place is a very nice thing. But I have a feeling that several of the other recent buyers aren’t here because they desperately want to be. They’re here because there’s nothing available that truly fits their eye. Abbey Ridge might be benefiting from the tight housing market on the lake and just off, and as a result, sales are printing and prices are escalating.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about buyers making hot-market-mistakes.  This was a bit about the buyers who find the bread and butter vacation home segment to be too hot, too scarce, too expensive, so they retreat to areas where prices are lower and value seems evident.  They’re often making mistakes by buying vacation homes in non-vacation home settings, which sets them up for crushing price declines should the market one-day adjust downward. A safer play for these sorts of buyers is to do what my buyer just did. Find a place in Abbey Ridge. In the Villas. In Willabay or Bayside Pointe. Find a condo that might not be what you really want, but it’ll help you live your best life this summer.

Vista Del Lago Sells

Vista Del Lago Sells

It isn’t easy being a large condo association. In fact, a seat on a board at such an association is the worse sort of punishment, the sort for which you volunteer. Geneva National knows this pain, and it knows it well. Large associations have different problems than do the small associations, owing mostly to the scale of it all. Lots of land, lots of amenities, lots of structures, and unfortunately, lots of owners. Vista Del Lago, the largest condominium association on the lake, knows these problems all too well.

There’s been a learning curve of sorts at Vista.  New ownership flooded in during the 2000s condo boom, and unlike the average of the previous ownership, these owners were more affluent and as a result, more demanding. Expectations soared, and along with it, the request for improvements. This should be better and so should that. New retaining walls here, new roofs there, new landscaping around the corner.  The property was old enough by then to need some serious attention, and as a new group of owners settled in, the attention was paid.

There were some management concerns, so management changed. There was some maintenance concerns, so maintenance changed. There were reasons to improve Vista, so the improvements were made. But that makes it sound like there wasn’t a struggle, because there was. Whenever a large group needs to make decisions in unison, there is a struggle. But today, the smoke is clearing and Vista, with those improvements made, has once again found favor in the market. It’s a good time to be at Vista Del Lago.

The market hasn’t fully recovered, mind you, but it’s finally gaining some ground. This week I closed on a sale of a four bedroom condo for $520,000.  Currently, there are two other units at Vista pending sale, with just two others active on the market. There was a time not too many years ago when it wasn’t uncommon to have six or more units available at the same time. These recent sales and this lack of inventory is just what the doctor ordered, assuming the doctor was ordering Vista Del Lago to return to form.

Today, there are only eight available lakefront condominiums on Geneva Lake. That’s a low total, to be certain.  The most amazing of them all? Obviously my Bay Colony unit in Williams Bay. First floor unit, boat slip, perfect lake views and a stunning interior. For real, stunning. You’ll be stunned. Actually.  I wouldn’t ever use that word out of context.  For now, let’s celebrate the Vista sale. It means a lot to the market, and I expect the lakefront condo market to continue its long recovery throughout the coming summer. If you’re looking for a ready-made lakefront experience and your budget doesn’t allow for single family, there’s no better way to indulge in the lakefront scene. If you’re wondering who to work with towards this end, email him here.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written a broad market update. It had also been a while since I felt the warmth of a bright sun on my skin. But yesterday fixed that latter absence, and today I’m sporting a proper spring sunburn. Sunburns are generally understood as being bad. Bad for your health, bad for sleeping. But an early spring burn, with just a slight sensation of sting, well, that’s something that everyone of our winter condition needs. It’s an event. A ceremony. A wonderful happening that signals the passing of winter with the emergence of spring. I don’t like sunburns, not one bit. Except in April.

The Lake Geneva vacation home market has endured quite a winter. Winter was fine, I suppose. It snowed a bit and it was cold a bit, but it didn’t snow a ton and it wasn’t cold all that often. That was winter. But March and April, the two months to which we generally assign some spring tendencies, they didn’t cooperate. The weather was awful. It was. Terrible, really. Rainy and windy or snowing and windy. Early ice out means nothing if the ice is replaced with snow. And so we endured. Showings were made and showings were canceled. Who could drive in this snow and that rain?  The market faced obstacles, mostly from the clouds above, and yet here we are. The market triumphed over so-called-spring, and is, today, poised to do some serious selling.

Because we’d be remiss to fail to recognize that the weather has indeed had an impact on our market. The market has performed valiantly, don’t be confused, but I can only imagine how much stronger the market might be today if not for the desperate grip of a belligerent winter. We’ve had sales, closings, showings, galore.  If I’m a buyer today, I’m worried. The market performed well in spite of the weather.  Can you guess how much better it might do if it were able to excel because of it?

Current vacation segment activity knows no limit. The entry level lake access market is active, with pending deals in Country Club Estates and Cedar Point Park. Country Club has had the hot hand of late, with buyers greedily gobbling up any bits of inventory, with few exceptions.  Further up the price scale, there are three off-water homes pending sale between $800k and $1.5MM. Those homes include one in Wooddale ($899k), one on Hunt Club Lane ($1.3MM), and the long-listed, renovated Loramoor home ($1.499MM). These homes are all fine in their own right, and each sale will ultimately make plenty of sense to me, and to the market.

There was a time back during the prior market cycle when the least expensive listing on Geneva Lake was right at $2MM.  If you liked that market, you’re in luck, because today there are just two true lakefront homes available priced under $2MM. The bulk of the lakefront inventory today is priced between $2-3MM, with several fine offerings in that mix. Some of those properties have been listed for quite some time, others are fresh to market this season.  My predictive qualities are quite refined, and as of now I’m going on a limb and guessing we’ll see two or three new accepted offers out of those nine lakefronts in that particular price range by Memorial Day Weekend.

There are two lakefront spec homes being built in Cedar Point Park. Both of those homes are listed at $3.85MM and both have been under contract since last summer. The first one is now finished, and just closed for full price. I’m not going to elaborate on these sales publicly (you should be working with me if you want to know what I think about them), but I’ll just state the obvious: this market craves new construction. It loves it. It needs it. It cannot live without it.  $3.85MM x 2 proves it.

The top end of the market has been quiet in terms of new inventory, and just two long-contracted deals remain to be closed. Those are of the Born Free property on the North Shore of Geneva ($5.75MM) and Clear Sky Lodge ($6.5MM) on the South Shore. Sometimes I randomly capitalize the shores to make them feel more important.  Both of those sales will be fine, though both feel somewhat pricey given their prior, recent sales prices. That’s $3.5MM for Born Free in 2011 and $3.7MM for Clear Sky in 2012 (I represented the seller in that sale).  Still, the market is hot and these two properties prove that appreciation over recent years has been, in some cases, quite impressive. The best remaining upper bracket offering is my Basswood listing.  Watch the video here   to remember what summer looks and feels like.

Inventory remains the biggest concern as we transition into the summer market.  This concern isn’t limited to the lakefront market, as there are lots of buyers in search of a reasonably priced ($500k-$1.3MM) off-water home with either a lake view or a boat slip. But the lakefront is the market that generates the headlines, and the lakefront could also use an injection of new inventory. What segment has buyers waiting? Um, all of them? There are active buyers right now in every price range, from $200k cottages in Country Club to $10MM lakefronts. If I’m a seller today I consider the market and wonder if I should sell (maybe). If I’m a buyer I consider the market and wonder if I should jump (probably). But if I’m me, I’m just concerned about hanging on to this new spring-time tan (unlikely).

Above, sunrise from my 274 Sylvan listing in Fontana’s Buena Vista.
Lake Geneva Prices

Lake Geneva Prices

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

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

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

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

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

Hillcroft Lake Geneva Sale

Hillcroft Lake Geneva Sale

It’s fun to see the media make a fuss about a sale on Geneva Lake.   First up, please know that the media itself doesn’t pay such close attention to these lakefront sales. Once a sale is completed, the brokerage involved has a representative reach out to numerous media outlets to generate some buzz. This happens at large firms that need to hang on to their market share.  This is why, on the fresh heels of the Hillcroft sale, you’ve read so much about it and from so many different sources. Local news sources fawn all over Lake Geneva, largely because our market is so much different than that of the rest of this great state.  Lots of places in Wisconsin have large homes. Lots of places have high valuations. But at Lake Geneva, we not only have high valuations we also have high prints. You can own your expensive home anywhere in Wisconsin and that’ll be nice for you. The difference at Lake Geneva is that we can actually sell that house when you’re done with it.  It’s good to be king.

In spite of the media attention and the well known nature of this story, there is still work to be done. There is analysis that must be considered. The Hillcroft property was immensely large for this lake. 415′ of rare, mostly level frontage, situated on a small point. The frontage was spectacular. The location on the lake, just West of downtown and off of Snake Road, pretty much ideal. The overall property is 20 acres. That’s an obscene amount of property on this lake. Don’t forget, for the purposes of our local definition, 200′ of frontage and 3 acres constitutes a reasonable estate.  Hillcroft is off the charts in terms of land mass, and it should be applauded for simply being.  Consider the 2017 average for price per square foot of overall lakefront land mass was $58.09. Applied to Hillcroft, that would place the valuation over $50,000,000. (Compression doesn’t allow for this, of course).

There has been much fawning over the home itself. Over the size of it, the bedrooms, the baths. The dining room and library.  I always loved this home from the lakeside. The way the structure follows the curve of the lakefront is rather divine. But as an agent who showed this home when it was available I can say this: The house, while beautiful on the exterior, was average.   The layout compromised, the finishes mostly dated. Any praise this property receives should be dedicated to the property, to the old Wrigley buildings that still exist, and to the history of it all.

The average price per front foot of lakefront settled at $27,193 for 2017. Typically, larger properties are unable to achieve that average, as compression once again rears its ugly, insistent head. But in the case of the Hillcroft property, the price held up. At 415 feet of frontage, the average would have yielded a print at $11,285,095, which is nearly identical to the actual print of $11,250,000. That’s a surprise of sorts, given the structure was so meh, but when you factor in that overall value of land mass, the lakefront average makes perfect sense.

Is this the highest priced sale in Lake Geneva history? Yes.   Was the sale a surprise? Not at all. It makes perfect sense, and the only issue in our marketplace now is that we won’t likely have another Hillcroft to sell for a while. But that brings us to an important concept regarding this lakefront market. Is Hillcroft a rare property? Obviously. Will it remain as the top dollar sale for a long time? Not likely. Consider the previous high sale was the property that I represented at W4449 North Lakeshore in Linn. I closed that property for $9,950,000 in late 2016. Hillcroft surpassed that sale by only 13%.  The North Lakeshore sale was of a gorgeous house on reasonably nice dirt. The Hillcroft sale was of legacy dirt with a reasonably blah house. What the market has yet to see is the ultra rare combination of a gorgeous, newer house built on top of rare, meaningful dirt. Yes, 200′ lots with beautiful homes on them exist, and they exist plenty. Yes, those prices could easily be in the $7-10MM range. But those prices won’t dethrone Hillcroft. What will dethrone Hillcroft, and likely soon, will be the combination of that perfect house on that perfect dirt.

Don’t blink, it’s coming.

(I wasn’t the listing or sale agent for Hillcroft, which is a terrible and embarrassing shame. If you’re a buyer or seller of such a property, you should be working with me. This sort of top sale without my involvement can never, ever happen again).

Aged Lakefront Inventory

Aged Lakefront Inventory

There are several unavoidable truths involving the Geneva lakefront market of 2018. The market is frustrating for buyers. It’s awful, really. Limited inventory, quick sales, more buyers than sellers to the tune of five or more to one. This is an unfair fight, and the sellers are winning.  In the end we know it’s the buyers who win, the buyers who pay the ransom to receive a lifetime of change. But for now it doesn’t feel that way. The market is tilted heavily towards sellers, and we know this. We understand this. It wasn’t always like this, but from 2010 through 2015 you were too timid to buy. This is what happens, this is what happened, and this is the overriding truth of the market.

A lesser known and seldom understood truth is that the aged inventory on Geneva Lake isn’t just aged because no one wants to buy it. As a buyer, this is the easiest conclusion to make. That house has been for sale for a long time, no one wants it, I’ll be able to steal it.   This was the conclusion that I came to and lived in from 2010 through 2015,  and that conclusion helped me close the most volume of any agent in the county over the last eight years. That conclusion also helped those buyers smart enough to work with me score tremendous value on lakefront properties. Today, that conclusion is still made, but it’s no longer accurate.

Lakefront buyer activity is at insane levels. It’s not insane that so many families and individuals wish to spend their time on our shores, actually, it’s insane that so many people choose to spend time on other, inferior, faulty, embarrassing shores.  The sheer numbers of buyer traffic is somewhat overwhelming. Last Sunday I showed lakefronts, which I tend to do every weekend. But last Sunday I showed three different lakefronts to three different buyers. Back in 2007 I used to work with three different lakefront buyers, too. It was called an entire summer.  This market is buzzing, but what exactly does that mean for a buyer, and does that mean value still exists?

What it means for a buyer is painfully simple. If you like that house and you like the number enough, then you’re going to have to move swiftly to buy it. The number isn’t going to initially feel all that good.  There are deals to be had, in spite of this activity, but for every deal there are five sucker deals, those homes that will sell to buyers who either don’t have skilled lakefront representation, or those buyers who are working with agents who lack discernment in this marketplace. If you think selling real estate is easy, you’re right. If you think selling the real estate at the right price is easy, you’re wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and this isn’t about me it’s about buyers and that faulty conclusion regarding aged inventory.

When a buyer keeps seeing a lakefront for sale, the buyer might be tempted to think the seller is getting desperate. You can’t hold out forever, seller!  Buyers sense a seller’s wariness and assume that a screaming deal is going to be possible. That the aged inventory has fallen out of favor with the market?  That there is a deal just waiting to be made! That the buyer will win.  An asking price of $5MM and a couple of years on market? That sounds like a $4MM print to me!  This was how I thought a few years ago, but this is no longer the typical outcome. The painful thing that buyers must realize in this market is that sellers are receiving offers. Sellers are generating showings. Sellers are seeing activity. And those sellers who are on the receiving end of activity and offers are simply holding firm. The market hasn’t forgotten these properties, it’s just that the sellers aren’t playing ball.

I see several pieces of aged inventory on the market today, and if I look through my old lenses I see opportunity. But I know those aged bits of inventory have had offers that exceed the price I’d be willing to help a buyer pay. These properties that look idle on your computer screen, with Days On Market piling up and dust collecting in the corners of the photos, those are properties that are only still for sale because sellers are too confident. The properties aren’t sitting because no one wants them. They’re sitting because of sellers who are negotiating from  a position of strength, and confident sellers are poison for a buyer looking to score value on aged inventory.  I see that old inventory, and I’d love for you to steal it. You see that aged inventory and you know you’d like to steal it. The problem is the seller sees his aged inventory and has a hunch that someone is going to pay him his number, even if it takes another year.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It feels like it wasn’t so long ago that I wished for more snow. For more cold. For more winter. Shortly after wishing, all of that came true. Briefly. Since then the weather has been a mix of spring and sort of winter, the dreaded in between that will come to define the next six weeks of our existence. But fret not, for February is nearly over. With it we leave behind the Olympics, and with that, we leave behind the nightly disappointment of a country with so many participants, but so few medals.  It’ll be March soon, and then we can lament the weather in March and wish for it to be April. Once April starts, we have just one more month of wishing for May. Soon, it’ll be nice out.

Even though the weather is haphazard, the real estate market doesn’t really care.  New inventory has been introduced to market, much of it by yours truly.  Pending sales have printed, and new contracts have been written. Some have been accepted. My lakefront in Loramoor closed late last month for $4,950,000, placing that property in what will be a short-lived position of first. Like when a US skater is in the gold medal position before anyone else has laced up their skates. Another lakefront in the city of Lake Geneva closed recently, that of a small hillside home listed and closed at $1.799MM.  I’ll be expecting to see that home torn down or significantly remodeled. A home in the Birches on 105′ of elevated frontage closed for $3MM.

A new lakefront came to market with 150′ of frontage and a $3.975MM asking price. I sent it around but didn’t think too much of it, and then it sold. The market doesn’t always care what I think, which is probably good, since I tend to be conservative in my valuations. A small lakefront in Williams Bay listed just over a buck is pending sale, but there’s nothing more I feel like adding to that one. A level lakefront in the Narrows is under contract recently, listed in the $2.3s.  Rounding out the lakefront activity, there are three remaining 2017 contracts left out there waiting to close, those of lakefronts listed at $3.85MM, $6.5MM, and $12.5MM. It’s going to be a terrific 2018, and we’ve only just begun.  For a full list of available lake access and lakefront homes, CLICK HERE. Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who also might appreciate an accurate list of inventory.

I’ve added some new lake access inventory this month, including a large home in Indian Hills.  Listed at $675k, it will give the new owner an opportunity to engage in the Fontana scene, with very little effort. The home is spacious, with two story foyer, main floor master bedroom, and five total bedrooms. There’s also a two car garage, along with those private Indian Hills lake rights.  I added another home in the lower price ranges this month as well, that of an off-water home in Geneva West. This is about a mile north of the lake in Williams Bay. That home, pictured above, offers a charming spread for a buyer looking for a primary residence in the Williams Bay School District, or perhaps a vacation home owner looking to find privacy at an affordable price.

A particular sale of note involves a large condo in Fontana at the Fontana Club.  I sold this unit to the original owner, when I represented the developer back in 2001. The first sale was of a single unit, then the buyer bought an adjacent unit and remodeled the space into one large residence. I sold that combined unit for him in 2006 for $1.125MM, at the time that would represent the obvious peak in the lakefront condo market. That new owner  has offered the unit for sale off and on over recent years, while the price steadily eroded. That double unit closed this month for $685k. That’s a terrible thing.  The good news for the Fontana Club is that with this sale, and that of my single unit that closed last fall for $390k, the aged inventory has finally and mercifully been cleared from the market. The best situation for the Fontana Club would now be to withhold any inventory from the market so that demand can slowly build.

Overall, I like the way the market is behaving so far this year, but I’m increasingly wary of over confident sellers. I’ve often told you how I personally behave when I’m a seller of my own home. I recognize the fact that I need that buyer more than that buyer needs me. My particular home is the only home I need to sell, whereas that buyer has several different homes he can choose. Sellers so far in 2018 are negotiating from a position of strength, which they have understandably earned.  There are some buyers, as evidenced in the market today, that will pay a seller’s price, no matter if it’s 15% too high or not. But most of the buyers are still smart, even if they choose to work with an agent they found on Zillow, because Premier Agent’s must be amazing! (or willing to pay huge sums of money to buy leads) But these buyers are still reasonably concerned about their investment, and they’re not pushing prices quite as high as sellers would like. I’ve heard of and been part of several negotiations over the last six months that featured buyers and sellers in odd standoffs over insignificant amounts of money.  Should buyers come up? Maybe. Should sellers come down? Maybe. Should you stop working with any agent who isn’t David Curry? Duh.

Above, my listing in Geneva West. $499k.
2017 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

2017 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

Several of our vacation home segments finished 2017 without a particular narrative. They were nice markets that had a nice year. Nothing more, nothing less. No major breakthroughs, no particular oddities. The other markets have been on a roll, and we have no choice but to pat them on the back and tell them they did well. The lakefront market, too, had a nice year. It built on volume and built on price as inventory disappeared. But this is where the lakefront market says goodbye to the other markets and wishes them well. The lakefront market is on to bigger and better things. The lakefront market has a different story to tell.

That story, in case you’re new to this blog or new to the Lake Geneva media mentions, is a dramatic increase in upper bracket sales activity.  This is the story that needs to be told. This is the difference between Lake Geneva and all other Midwestern vacation home markets.  If this sounds like a common refrain coming from this site, that’s because the refrain is historically rare and is worthy of this praise. Consider the prior market peak. That peak was between January of 2007 and January of 2009. During those months the lakefront market on Geneva printed three sales in excess of $4MM. The top sale for that period closed for $4.95MM. Now consider the current market cycle and the sales that have occurred between January 2016 and January 2018. For those 24 months, the lakefront market printed 10 sales in excess of $4MM and three sales over $7MM. The top sale was $9.95MM.  For my part, I represented either the buyer or seller in seven of those ten sales, and each of the top three sales.

Currently we have five more properties pending sale over $4MM and one pending sale over $12MM. This is no longer a market that struggles to provide one or two sales over $4MM annually. That’s the old Lake Geneva, and this is the new Lake Geneva. Increased upper bracket activity, a stronger overall buyer, and a top end that has been completely and thoroughly redefined. While there are questions about the long term strength of this particular segment, I think there is one nagging question that has been answered. Can Lake Geneva provide liquidity to owners who have homes justifiably valued in the $10-15MM range? Yes. A follow up question with more devastating results: Are buyers buying lakefront houses for too much money, in part because they don’t seek qualified counsel in the decision? Also yes.

For the year just ended the lakefront market closed 26 single family properties (MLS). These sales registered $27,578 per front foot, up a bit from the $27, 193 from 2016. In total we sold 2455 front feet on Geneva, down from the 2882 front feet sold in 2016.  I’m finding the traditional price per front foot metric to be increasingly antiquated, even though the market still likes to point to that number as the best and easiest way to identify value.  I’ve started to add in a price per square foot of structure ($560.96) and price per square foot of land ($58.09) so that buyers have additional means by which to understand the value of a particular property.  There is no particular means to measure value, but these three metrics combined with nuanced understanding of desirable locations and attributes can help narrow down the valuation range.

Entry level lakefront traded with some vigor in 2017, and I did find it curious that this segment offered strong value even as the broad market accelerated. Five lakefronts traded under $1.325MM last year, including two under $926k. Those sales represented a nice entry point into this lakefront scene, and I continue to believe that we will find ourselves in a position where the market runs out of sub $1MM homes. These sort of basic cottages only exist on the lake is certain areas, and with each sale these are properties that are typically transformed via renovation or reconstruction. If you’re an entry level lakefront buyer, you’d be wise to move on properties and not miss out on  purchases over small negotiation points and percentages.

The story for 2018 will be inventory. Today, there are just ten Geneva lakefront homes available (private frontage, without offer). If the stock market maintains this incredible level (note, it doesn’t need to keep moving higher, just not correct significantly), Geneva will see another terrific year. Heck, the way buyers are buying in January, maybe we don’t even care about the stock market anymore.  New construction is rampant at the moment, and while the upper end values currently support these builds, it’ll be interesting to see if this upper bracket market hits resistance in the coming years.

For now, expect inventory to remain low, and cary-over sales from 2017 to close during the first quarter 2018.  The market is clamoring for inventory in each segment, including that lofty $6MM+ range. New construction in any price segment will be of interest to current buyers, so long as the parcels match up with the price. That’s a key.  I’m expecting inventory to build over the coming months, as opportunistic sellers see a market rife with activity. Some brokers are telling sellers to name their price, but that’s ridiculous. The market is hot, but buyers and sellers still need to understand basic fundamentals of market valuations.   If you want an agent to tell you every house is the right house, then I’m not your guy. If you want an agent to help guide you through this increasingly active and competitive market, I’m here to help. 

Above, the lakefront at my Loramoor listing. Pending sale at $5,950,000
2017 Geneva National Market Review

2017 Geneva National Market Review

Do people still golf? It seems to me that they do, even though I don’t. Previously, I enjoyed golf. I enjoyed getting to the course a bit early and hitting some range balls. I enjoyed a sandwich on the patio. I enjoyed the scramble for par, the thrill of a birdie. I once almost had a hole-in-one and that was almost super fun. But the game of golf no longer fits into my ideal day. I enjoy it still, if the course is green and the company prime, it’s a nice way to spend a morning, or an afternoon, or an entire day. But increasingly, my schedule doesn’t allow for a long round on the links, and when time does allow my distractions have taken other forms. Still, I used to like golf and I understand why other people still do. Geneva National has some incredible golf courses, but you needn’t love golf to consider ownership there.

This has come up often in my long history of Geneva National sales. New buyer asks for nice vacation condo at the lake. New buyer doesn’t want to spend lakefront money, and new buyer doesn’t want to buy one of our standard issue two or three bedroom, 1200-1500 square foot off-water condo units. I suggest Geneva National, knowing that there’s tremendous bang for the buck inside those gates. Buyer says she doesn’t golf. This is the Geneva National flaw, the common refrain, the reason some people dismiss this place without ever considering it. News Flash: You needn’t have a desire to golf in order to live in Geneva National. If you hate manicured lawns and rolling, forested terrain, then you should hate Geneva National. But if you like those things and you hate golf, then you should like GN. It’s really that simple.

Geneva National is huge. It’s a monstrosity in our small overall market.  That size is what makes it so susceptible to momentum swings. Those market swings have occurred with some frequency since GN first bulldozed their first roadway sometime around 1990. The good news is that the last several years have featured a solid combination of strong sales and diminishing inventory, and that recent trend continued throughout 2017. For the year just ended, GN closed 84 single family and condominium units. More likely sold- private sales, direct from builder sales, and new construction. But the MLS number is 84.  There were 71 sales in 2016 and 82 in 2015. The market strength today is obvious, and the trend supportive of a strong market. But GN isn’t without an issue.

The top end in Geneva National is remarkably weak. Consider in 2017 just two homes sold for more than $560k, and the top sale registered $750k. In 2016, there were four sales over $560k, and the top end printed $795k. 2015 closed six over $560k, with the top at $1.050MM. Now that you understand the pricing history, look to the active inventory. While there are just 43 active homes and condominiums (four more pending), there are five properties priced over $1MM.  Given the last three years of history produced just one sale over the million dollar mark, Geneva National currently has 15 years of upper bracket inventory on its books. If I’m a seller in GN and I’m looking for a number north of one million dollars, I’m not pleased.

The issues that plague the housing stock in GN are varied, but all come down to dollars and cents. GN still has ample vacant parcel inventory. Currently, 44 vacant parcels are listed for sale. Many more exist off-market.  Last year, 10 vacant lots sold. Of those 10, six sold for $13k or less. For all of 2016, the MLS registered two vacant lot sales in GN.   Geneva National has lots of vacant inventory, and a housing stock that is aging. It might come as a surprise to some owners, but a house built 15 years ago needs to be remodeled already. A 20 year old house definitely needs to be remodeled. And sadly, your eight year old house likely needs some refreshing. The problem with existing inventory in GN is that it cannot compete with the availability of easily sourced vacant parcels.  If you’re a buyer in GN seeking single family and you like a vacant lot listed at $50k, are you going to hire a builder to construct a $650k home for you (one where you get to pick the colors and materials and design), or are you going to go shopping for a 15 year old house that looks like it needs a new roof?

That’s why the single family market in GN is difficult and may remain difficult for a while. The association should do everything in its power to eliminate vacant inventory, and the easiest, most simple way to encourage that absorption is by allowing existing homes to buy vacant, neighboring parcels and be allowed to own those without incurring another monthly association fee. If the association enacted this policy, perhaps more vacant inventory would be removed from the market, and that would be the start of price appreciation for the single family homes. Until then, or until the market slowly absorbs this inventory, expect stagnation.

The condominium market in GN is much healthier at the moment, and I’d expect the low inventory to benefit this segment especially.  If you’re a buyer looking to spend $150-350k on a vacation home in the Lake Geneva market, I cannot see a better option for large square footage at a discounted price.  While the property feels like a country club, you can either enjoy it as such or just enjoy it for the natural beauty it so easily displays.  Just remember, if you hate golf, Geneva National might be perfect for you.

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

2017 Upper Bracket Lake Access Market Review

It’s well known and generally accepted that anyone with a lakefront budget will wish for lakefront. There were some people who lived up the road from my parents’ lakefront house in Williams Bay. Those people would tell me how they were glad they didn’t live on the lake. Too much noise from the boats, the waves, the sound of all that enjoyment. They preferred, they said, to live away from the lake, where it’s quiet. Where the lapping or crashing of the waves cannot find them. I remember that even as a young child I knew those people were lying. No one would prefer to be off the lake, and if a budget allows and the aim is true, then lakefront is the result. Or is it?

The upper end of our lake access market is unique in the flexibility such a budget might afford. A lakefront buyer with a budget up to $2MM might very well, and usually will, choose lakefront. But what will that lakefront be? Will it usually be nice? Will it be large? Will it afford privacy? Well, no, not usually.  The concept applies to those with lower lake home budgets as well. If you’re a $1.2MM buyer, I can typically find you lakefront. But will that lakefront be a beautiful house with two car garage and a pool? Of course it won’t. It’ll be a cottage, with some questionable structural supports and tight neighbors. But for $1.2MM an off-water buyer can find something quite unique. They can find a boatslip, maybe a view, maybe privacy, maybe a pool, maybe five bedrooms. This is why even when market segments overlap within the same price boundaries, many buyers will opt off water in order to gain something the on-water home cannot offer.

In 2017, the upper bracket lake access market experienced a strong influx of buyer traffic and closed the year with a significant volume total. 2017 closed 27 off-water homes priced over $500,000. That’s a huge number, but what’s most remarkable is the presence of liquidity in the $900k and above segment.  This lofty segment closed nine homes, including two in the $1.5MM range.  During 2016, the same segment closed 22 properties, with just five selling for more than $900k.

Thirteen of those 27 homes sold with transferable boat slips. Two of the sales were in our co-op communities, one in the Congress Club for $1.53MM and one in Belvedere Park for $564k. There were no public sales in the Harvard Club for 2017. Associations with volume in this segment included Geneva Oaks, Cedar Point Park, Country Club Estates, Indian Hills, Oakwood Estates, Black Point, The Lindens, Knollwood, The Loch Vista Club, Sybil Lane, Oak Shores, The Lake Geneva Club, Forest Rest, Maytag and Sylvan Trail Estates. That’s some widespread activity, and the market should be pleased for producing such strong volume.  Oddly,  there wasn’t a single residential MLS sale in this segment in Glenwood Springs last year.

Most of these sales made good sense to me. I was involved in six of these 27 sales, which means that at least six of the sales made perfect sense to me. Of the other sales, I was surprised at a few of them, including an off-water home with no slip that sold north of $1MM. Another shocker, at least to me, was the sale of a hilltop home in Fontana that closed over $1.5MM and was subsequently torn down.  That property lacked a slip, but the lake view is, as a point of fact, one of the best off-water views I’ve ever seen.

I was asked this week what I thought would be the better buy with a $1MM budget: an on-water cottage or an off-water home. I admitted I’d always look lakefront first, but I would consider a larger lot off-water, so long as I had a boat slip and was located in a high quality neighborhood (think Black Point, Lindens, Glen Fern, Loramoor, 700 Club). In those settings, I would happily consider off-water to be a near equal trade off. This segment today is light on inventory, as is the rest of the vacation home market. Just 16 off-water homes are available priced in excess of $500k. Of these available properties, my favorite is the modern home (my listing) on  South Lakeshore Drive that’s been reduced to $1.095MM. This is a lot of house in a rare location, and while it’s off-water it feels like a private lakefront home. It’s unique, but it’s a winner.

This particular segment is heavily influenced by overlapping lakefront inventory, which is, at the moment, similarly low in inventory. If entry level lakefront properties continue to be difficult to source, and the off-water market in the $900k-$1.8MM range provides some nice options, expect this market to benefit. If you’re a buyer in search of a lake house around the million dollar mark, I’m here to help.

Above, an idyllic cottage I sold this summer in the Lake Geneva Club.
2017 Abbey Springs Market Review

2017 Abbey Springs Market Review

I owe Abbey Springs something. Not money, I don’t think. It’s never paid me very much, so I shouldn’t feel obligated to pay it back. In the mid 1990s, I was a kid with a new, disastrous real estate career, and a desire to play tennis. I don’t know why I wanted to play tennis. I had never played when I was a kid.  We’d sneak down to hit a few balls at Conference Point Camp, on their cracked and heaved courts, but that wasn’t really playing tennis.  I couldn’t afford the Grand Geneva, with their shiny courts and wood lockers. So I played at Abbey Springs, under the tent they’d blow up over their outdoor courts in the winter. It was cold in there, dimly lit, and loud.  The inability to properly relay the score, on account of the noisy blower fan, suited me just fine. Thanks, Abbey Springs.

But that’s the end of the thanking. Abbey Springs the real estate market is really quite a spectacle. It’s a machine, finely tuned, running without a miss, or a knock, or a sputter. The market is perhaps the most unique and widely varied here, with vacation condominiums starting in the high $100s and single family homes reaching or exceeding a million bucks. Remember that sentence.

For the year just ended, Abbey Springs closed 28 built properties including condominiums and single family homes. For all of 2016,  there were 40 prints. Now, if I were were a headline writer for AP,  I’d right this in a way that would appear negative: SALES DROP 30% AMID MARKET TURMOIL. But I’m not AP, I’m just a kid from Williams Bay, and even I know that shrinking sales totals are natural and normal in a market with shrinking inventory.  We cannot sell what isn’t for sale. The sales total for 2017 is fine, the inventory today, at just 19 active properties (four of those under contract) is low. The market at Abbey Springs is in fantastic, healthy condition.

But that’s not really the whole story here, as much as Abbey Springs wishes it were. Consider the upper bracket sales from last year. There were four sales over $800k in Abbey Springs, with the highest sale reaching $885k. That’s nice.  For the last five years, the two top sales in the market registered the same amount: $885k. Nothing higher, and over those five years just five sales over $800k. Seems fine, right?

The prior market top was mid 2007 to mid 2008. We know this.  Abbey Springs, from 2005-2008 sold a lot of product, but where was the top end back then? For those years, Abbey Springs closed four sales over $900k, with the top sale at $1.3MM.  If the markets today are as strong as they were then, why can’t Abbey Springs push over $900k anymore? Where did the $1.3MM sales go?

There’s no particular mystery in this. The market is strong today, yes. But the top end has obviously been redefined, and that new definition falls short of $900k. There has been some inventory over $900k to press that theory, but those homes have failed to sell. The prior market peak found buyers in this range with relative ease. It’s apparent to me that this higher level buyer is still in the market, but has found his or her way outside of Abbey Springs and instead wants a traditional lake home experience. That buyer wants a slip. Maybe some privacy. A smaller association where the beach isn’t so crowded. The buyer who once purchased $950k homes in Abbey Springs has proven elusive in this current cycle.

But maybe that doesn’t really matter. Abbey Springs might not be a million dollar market anymore. Or perhaps there just haven’t been any million dollar homes listed for sale.  Either way, expect Abbey Springs to push forward yet again in 2018, and expect inventory to stay low. If you’re a buyer in search of a lake house experience with added country club style amenities, Abbey Springs is likely your best bet.  Condominiums from the $200k range and single family from $500k. Beach, pool, golf, clubhouse, and tennis courts, though the bubble is no more.

2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

2017 Entry Level Lake Access Market Review

That’s a mouthful. I’m sure there’s a better way to say it for search engine optimization, but the market is best defined in that way.  The market isn’t particularly flashy. It won’t make any headlines. It won’t be in Crain’s or in Architectural Digest. But the entry level lake access market is the market that’s as important as any other here. These are the homes available to people who have enough fiscal power to make a vacation home a reality, but don’t have lakefront budgets.  For the purposes of this post, this segment remains at $500,000 and under.

All of these 2017 market reviews are going to tell similar stories. It’s all about inventory. About volume. And about how the inventory is either going to build and feed the market or shrivel and starve it. Today, there are just 12 homes priced under $500k with access to Geneva Lake. Remember, these are not municipal access homes- these are private, club style access points.  These are the associations you know, the associations that can offer a path to the lake, a park, a pier, a diving board, maybe some summertime geraniums in pots.

Those 12 homes vary wildly, just as this market varies. A $200k cottage in Country Club Estates is not at all like a $500k home in Country Club Estates. A small cottage in Oak Shores with a slip for $450k isn’t much dissimilar to a small cottage without a slip in Cedar Point Park, except that the Cedar Point cottage will be 50% cheaper. This is a market that I’ve gladly served for two decades, and it’s a market that hinges on a very important question: Do you want a nice house or do you want to be close to the lake?  You cannot choose both.

For the year just ended, we sold 61 lake access homes of all makes and models, priced under $500k.  The 2016 total was 56, so we’re heading in the right direction.  Just three of those homes had transferable boat slips, proving how hard it is to find a slip in this segment. Perhaps best of all, I personally sold all three of those homes. Why did I sell those homes? Well, because I know how valuable a boat slip is. I know owning a home here is wonderful, but if all you really want is to hang out on a pier and boat, then you’re going to be miserable in your off-water slip-less home, even if it has some stone counters and a master bathroom.

The key to understanding this segment comes back to that bold question about proximity. That drives this particular market more than anything. You can buy a nice house in Country Club Estates for $500k. It won’t be remarkably close to the lake. Or you could buy a small cottage in Knollwood for $500k that might be 900′ from the water. Which do you value? Do you want to walk down to the pier in the morning to cast your line a few times, motivated by the hope that something might bight? Or would you rather sit on your screened porch, reading a book thinking about where fish fry will be on Friday night? Answer those questions, and you’ll have a clear direction for your pursuit.

2018 should be just like 2017. Inventory is terrible now, yes, but it won’t be that way forever. This market might be more sensitive to the new tax law, but if inventory builds there’s nothing stopping 2018 from falling in the 2016/2017 volume range. Prices are increasing, albeit modestly. Value still exists here, and I’ll be here to help you find it.