Blog : Market Updates

Inventory Alert

Inventory Alert

What we need now is something to sell. We’ve sold it all. We had a basketful of things, some with deplorable structures, others with superlative structures, and then we’ve spent our summer working and we’ve sold them all. There’s nothing left in our basket. We wobbled for a bit in the spring, then we steadied ourselves, and now we’re standing here and it’s September and our basket is empty. The cycle is complete, the inventory spent, the basket nearly or fully empty. It’s September and it’s summer but we know it’s fall and we’re out of inventory and so we’re out of luck.

The lakefront market wants inventory. It wants it really, really bad. It wants nice 100′ lots around $2MM and it wants built homes on those lots around $4MM, and then it also wants estate type lots in the high $3s. This is what the market has wanted for quite some time, so these bits are not new nor are they exciting, even if they aren’t currently nestled inside of our basket.  But what’s rare now is that the market wants big inventory. It wants perfection and it’s ready and willing to pay for it. There was a time when if your $7MM house was beautiful and stunning, no one particularly cared. Oh, sure, your friends would comment about how terrific your house was, and your family would fawn and your neighbors would look towards your house with a jealous sneer, but when you came to market the buyers yawned. Sure, it’s a nice house, they’d say, but it doesn’t have a private elevator to the lower level craft room so what difference does it make? 

Buyers in that range have been, prior to this year, seeking perfection. On Geneva, we can offer you that perfection, but every piece of it will have some nuance that can be interpreted as a lack thereof. A beautiful home near a condominium complex. A huge lot with elevated frontage. Too many steps. Too level, too moist. The house, too white or too dark or too blue or not blue enough. Buyers will come to me with requests and a one million dollar budget, and then I’ll set their expectations towards compromise. Sadly, with a $7MM budget the same is true. Compromise has been necessary, and buyers have found reason to pause based on the slightest bit of compromise.  David, the powder room is painted green! 

Right now things are different. Perfection isn’t necessarily required. The market wants beautiful, newer homes in the $5-9MM range, and it has multiple buyers on the hunt. If you’re a seller of such a home, you’ve never found a particular abundance of liquidity. Today, you have it. I can’t say how long this bump in activity will last, but it’s likely not forever and ever. If you’re an owner of a pricey home and you’ve been thinking about selling, I can unequivocally say that now is the time. The market is ready to absorb some pricey inventory. This week, my estate listed at $9,950,000 will sell. That will give the market a print that it’s been looking for, and that should help give buyers the confidence to know that they’re not alone in their pursuit for pricey lakefront perfection.  If you’re a seller,  we’re well past the point where I need to tell you who to call for representation. It’s cute that other agents want to compete in this segment, but there’s only one guy whose worthy of your time.

That’s me. I’m that guy.

Loramoor Sells

Loramoor Sells

It seems to me that what this lakefront market really wants is newer inventory in the $3-5MM range. There are buyers in that range seeking newer homes on reasonably nice lots, and this is what they haven’t been able to find. My sale on Lackey Lane  ($4.375MM) fit that mold. The sale last year on the hill in Fontana for $5.1MM, too. Those sorts of homes are what the market wishes for, and yet that sort of home is what we haven’t been able to offer. Inventory concerns are real, and on Geneva right now the ideal inventory is what I’m describing today.

The curious part of this hole in the inventory is that the inventory has existed, but it hasn’t been built. It’s raw land, or it’s a tear down, but it does exist and it has existed for much of the past two years. There were two sales on Sidney Smith, then a sale on Lackey (of a tear down). Then, the vacant lot in Loramoor that I sold less than two years ago came back to market earlier this year. The key to building a new house and being all-in for less than $4.5MM is in buying the dirt for around $2MM. If the dirt is more, your budget is blown before you put a shovel in the ground. If the dirt is considerably less, you don’t have the sort of property that can support that elevated target price, no matter how shiny your Wolf oven is.

This is why when a buyer asks for an entry level tear down, I question the math of it all. Yes, it’s true that you can buy an entry level tear down somewhere around $1.1MM right now. But what have you bought? Likely the answer is around 50′ of frontage. That’s nice frontage, and if you wanted to buy a tear down for $1.1MM and build a new house for $700k, that might be a good idea. But what if you’re looking to buy $1.1MM dirt and then build a $1.4MM new house (5000 square feet x $300ish/ft)? Then you’ll be $2.5MM into a 50′ lakefront lot and again, I’m not concerned about how terrific your kitchen island is because that price doesn’t make much sense. The investment was a bad idea before it started.

That’s why the market has a sweet spot, that of a $2MM type lakefront lot possessing around 100′ of frontage, and on top of that it’s reasonable to build a $2MM or so new home. The market, with the sale on Lackey and the sale on the cliff in Fontana, has proven it can absorb new construction of a higher level in the $4-5MM range. With this known, if you’re a buying in the $4 range why wouldn’t you just build a new house? The answer is confounding, usually related to a distaste for the building process, or perhaps a lack of patience to wait the 10-16 months to have a build completed.  The thing buyers forget is that the house they’ll end up with for $4something will be exactly and precisely the home they wanted all along. There’s a wait involved, sure, but the outcome is individualized perfection that the market also appreciates.

Last Friday I closed on the Loramoor lot that I brought to market earlier this year. The seller had great hopes for that property, but life changed and focus shifted. That shift allowed a new buyer, a young family with eyes set on the lakefront, to find their way to the parcel that will hopefully be their lake home for decades or generations to come.  They paid $2.075MM for 110′ of frontage and 1.43 acres, and that’s something that will always make sense on this lake. The trick now will be to keep the all-in budget in that $4MM range, and once that happens the buyer will end up in a home that the market simply couldn’t offer. Want to find that $4MM new construction on Geneva? Then it’s time to get a bit dirty and build it.

Abbey Springs Market Update

Abbey Springs Market Update

There’s a truth we need to agree on this morning. Abbey Springs is nice. That’s a truth. Abbey Springs has a golf course, another truth. I have hit many Abbey Springs houses with golf balls that were launched off of a club face under my “control”, super truthful. Also, the Abbey Springs beach on a sunny holiday weekend is less a beach and more a flesh blanket. It’s a flesh blanket. Mind if I lay my head on your stomach, because I can’t find any open spot of sand? Flesh. Blanket.

But this is unfair, because it’s a nice flesh blanket and it’s the only association of its kind that has a beach at all. It’s a miniature Geneva National but instead of being located on Lake Como, it’s located on our Geneva Lake. It’s also just 592 units in size, which makes it enormous but still about one third the size of Geneva National. In this size difference there is a key to the market. Instead of needing to print 60-100 sales per year to keep pace with market demands, Abbey Springs can leisurely print 18-25 sales per year and everything will be fine. Smaller associations are like that, and Abbey Springs has both a holiday beach draped in a flesh blanket and a really solid market. Let’s talk more about the market.

Last year at this time there had been 14 closings in Abbey Springs, with just one of those sales printing over $500k. This year Abbey Springs has closed 28 total sales with five over $500k, including two over $800k.  With that you know this: Abbey Springs is having itself an absolutely terrific year. The condominiums are selling, the houses are selling, the beach has a blanket of flesh and the golf balls are knocking roofs. The grounds are well maintained and the ghosts of large past special assessments all but forgotten. Abbey Springs might be having the best year of any individual association around this lake, and that’s a really good thing.

But the market isn’t without holes. There are issues here, chiefly the market’s relative difficulty in printing sales over $700k. Yes, this year there have been two over $800k, but look back and consider since 2010 there have been just 9 single family sales over $700k in Abbey Springs. That’s a little more than one per year, and that’s not terrific.  There are loads of Abbey Springs homes valued over $700k. Lots and lots of them. Yet the market still has a hard time absorbing that nicer inventory. For an association as strong as Abbey Springs, with the indulgent amenities, I’d expect a stronger market over that price point. For context, Geneva National offers bigger and better homes for the money, but GN has printed 15 sales over $700k since 2010, so GN has finally beat Abbey Springs at something.

I have plenty of buyers who contact me in search of some nice single family home in Abbey Springs priced around $500k. This is hard for me to say, but Abbey Springs around $500k in a single family home situation doesn’t offer much. It’ll give you a reasonably decent house that needs updating. If you’re looking to spend $500k and you want a Viking stove, better check elsewhere. This does create a market for the buyer who wishes to improve a built home, as nice homes with elevated, newer finishes in Abbey Springs generally start at that $700k mark and run upward from there. Looking to create value in Abbey Springs? Buy an older house and fix it up. You know, like they do on TV.

I’ll be working this holiday weekend, so if you find yourself at the lake and in need of some advice, fire away. Unless you want to call me at 11 am Sunday morning and you’re hoping to see seven homes at noon, then don’t call me. Just email me and we’ll see what happens. Have a terrific weekend at the lake.

Luxury Markets

Luxury Markets

If you bought a mountain home in Aspen last year, I don’t quite know what to say. Aspen seems nice, though I’ve never been, and I admit that most of my knowledge of the town comes from a 1990s movie starring Lloyd and Harry. The market in Aspen, according to numerous news stories I’ve read over recent weeks, is not so good. Brokers are on record saying “They’ve never seen anything like this”. Generally, whether coming from a doctor or a Realtor, this is not welcome news. The market in Aspen has paused after a tremendous and breathtaking run with YTD volume off more than 40% from YTD 2015. Over the last decade buyers flooded in from all parts of the world to snag their own craggy piece of mountainside, but recently these affluent buyers appear to have vanished into thin air (altitude joke).

In East Hampton, which I presume to be East of Hampton, which is to the East of West Hampton, things are similarly bleak. Volume is off 53% YTD, and no one in the media is quite sure as to the cause. Is it stock market jitters? New regulations on off-shore money laundering? Zika? The collapse of many South American economies? No one is sure. One article I’ve read does mention the lack of inventory as being a contributing factor, but that’s quickly brushed aside before returning to theories about the petrodollar.

Uber-Expensive condominiums in Miami are off this year as well, with volume down more than 40% for condos priced over $1MM. This isn’t terrific news, and the same worries abound. Zika? Brazil? Knowledge that Miami is awful and filled with disgusting things?  Aspen, East Hampton, Miami, all off their game, all struggling to find volume. While I sit here in the comforts of my Midwestern office, there’s one obvious question to ask: Is Lake Geneva next?

YTD lakefront sales are outpacing YTD 2015 by a single sale, with 14 lakefront sales printing so far this year versus 13 for the year prior. There are three more lakefront sales pending, four if you count one private one, meaning we’ll be on track for a solid volume year. In that, we have already fared better than these other luxe markets. But does that mean we’re in the clear? Does it mean that Lake Geneva is impervious to jitters? If you were with me for the 2008-2013 cycle, you know that we’re not impervious to anything, except leaches. We don’t do leaches here.  We can get the jitters just like any high end vacation home destination, but there are a few things that insulate Lake Geneva better than most other high end vacation home markets in these United States.

For starters, we don’t have any dependency on the foreign buyer. This matters. It matters a whole lot. Aspen, riddled with foreign buyers. Hamptons, same. Miami, obviously. The thing about foreign buyers is that they’re not close to any of our markets, so each market competes for this same group of buyers. Sure there are tendencies for certain foreigners to gravitate towards certain markets, but for the most part a Russian buyer may be as likely to buy in Manhattan as in Miami as in Aspen as in Deer Valley. With no geographic constraints, a foreign buyer can buy anywhere. Lake Geneva, in comparison, requires buyers who live within 2 hours of our shores, of which, as no small coincidence, there are about 10 million people. Our market is small but our potential audience is huge. This matters.

In that lies the next point- the size of our market. Aspen is a two billion dollar per year real estate market. Lake Geneva, as it relates to the lakefront itself, is a $50-80MM per year market. We’re tiny in comparison. In fact, we need just 16-26 sales per year to keep this market operating as it should.  We don’t need some massive influx of new buyers to consume all of our new inventory, and that’s because we don’t really have any new inventory. New developments on the lake in the last 20 years  include the South Shore Club, and the South Shore Club. Also, the South Shore Club. We don’t do development here, so we don’t need to keep growing our buyer base. We just need to keep operating as an exclusive enclave that appeals to the well-to-do of Chicago.

We don’t have Zika here.

We do have Wall Street jitters, and our market is somewhat dependent on the health of the significant hedge fund industry in Chicago. Along those lines, I do see one concern for Lake Geneva moving forward. If the city of Chicago itself chooses to continue to tax its residents into submission, and if crime makes its way into or near the affluent sections of the city, Lake Geneva will inevitably suffer. My theory says that city dwellers are more likely to buy vacation homes when compared to similarly wealthy suburban residents. If you live in Lincoln Park, you better have a Lake Geneva lake house, this is obvious. But if you live in Lake Forest, you’re more likely to convince yourself that a country club will make up for a lack of a lake house. I need the affluent to continue the trend of living in the city because if that trend falters, Lake Geneva may lose a few buyers annually, and that’s not good for anyone.

Is Lake Geneva immune to the macro issues that can affect and afflict all luxury markets? Of course not. Do we have a leg up on our better known brethren because we don’t need a steady and uninterrupted influx of foreign buyers to keep our market moving forward? Most obviously, yes.

South Shore Club Sale

South Shore Club Sale

Last month I listed a home in the South Shore Club. This month, I sold that home in the South Shore Club.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it kind of is. Imagine the South Shore Club of before, of pre-2012. It was a nice place, with boats and green lawns and that pool and a tennis court. It was a beautiful place back then, just as it is today. But back then the market was struggling with the concept, struggling with the idea that something off the lake with so many vacant lots could ever find its place in this lakefront scene. In spite of finished roads and amenities, in spite of fanciful built homes and happy owners, there was a dilemma: Would this place ever hold its own?

The answer, admittedly, was not then known. It couldn’t be known. There were too many vacant lots, too few sales, too much uncertainty. Would the developer go bankrupt? Of course not, but the question was still asked.  In 2012, these question that was the South Shore Club started to find answers. The lots were selling, the houses, too. Inventory was shrinking,  distressed owners were leaving. When I took over the marketing of the SSC it was an uncertain place, but by the end of 2015, when the last bit of old inventory was cleared and the last lot sold, it was obvious that the South Shore Club was on solid ground. Market acceptance is a wonderful thing.

This summer, the first real test. New inventory, new pricing, new product. Would the SSC absorb this quickly, or would the development stall at its first opportunity to show that it has indeed turned the corner? When I listed this home on Lakeside Lane in July, no one was more interested in the answer than I was. Yesterday, that home closed for $2.75MM, and that answered the question. The South Shore Club makes sense, the market understands it, and the woes of prior years are squarely in our rear view mirror. For the South Shore Club, no two sales have ever mattered more than the first sale of 2012 for $3.575MM and the first sale of 2016 for $2.75MM. The 2012 sale kickstarted a nervous market, and the 2016 sale proved that the SSC can compete with lakefront homes for the attention of new buyers.

I was pleased to have represented this seller, and am grateful for the opportunity to continue the momentum that the South Shore Club has worked so hard to gain. I’m always happy for these sales, but some do mean more than others. This sale doesn’t mean more to me than the sales that have come before and the sales that will follow, but to the South Shore Club this sale means the world. If you’re interested in being part of the South Shore Club scene, my vacant lot offering on Forest Hill listed at $598k is your best bet.

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

The first foreclosure I bought was in 2009. January of 2009, to be exact. The home was ugly, the property decent, the list price somewhere around $249k. In January of 2009 there was some sense that the market was bad, but what wasn’t clear yet was just how bad it would get. I bought, perhaps premature in the downward cycle, but I bought because I needed a place to live and had recently sold my primary home in Geneva National. As a broker who writes about vacation homes only, and as an audience that seeks info on vacation homes only, it’s sometimes forgotten that people buy homes primarily so they have a place to live. I admit I tend to think people buy homes so they have a pier to swim from. Anyway, I bought that house, that foreclosure, and I fixed it up.

I bought that home for $177k, put about $60k into a remodel, and sold it for $274k in the summer of 2012.  Had I bought that home in 2011, and sold it in 2014, the gain would have likely been far more significant, due to the lower purchase price and the higher sale price.  Prior to that property, this was the first foreclosure (REO) I had ever bought. Since that property, I have not bought any others. It’s strange to me to think about that, and I wonder why I didn’t buy more real estate when things were bad.  The only answer I can come up with is that I wasn’t interested in the project, because foreclosures here tend to be projects. I love projects, but I tend to only love the next one once I’ve forgotten about the tribulations of the last one.

Even though I haven’t indulged the REO, I have a tendency to watch for these bank owned listings. When one comes to market, usually by one of the brokers that specializes in that sort of thing (I have listed and sold three lakefront foreclosures, but never anything off-water), I pay attention. I look at the details. I look at the pictures. I find myself contemplating the idea. I wrote an offer on a foreclosure last year, a personal offer, and then when the bank didn’t negotiate, neither did I.  Last week, another foreclosure came to market, this one in Fontana, and cheap. I thought about it. I thought I should make an offer. It would need to be strong, at ask or better, and I thought about the possibilities for a while. A few minutes later I decided that it wasn’t for me, and I let the feeling pass.

But this is what foreclosures do, they incite a buying public to action, because even after seven years of seeing foreclosures with some frequency we have something programmed deep inside that assumes a distressed sale is a value. It’s a steal.  When the market was in rough shape, I’d receive emails often wherein the sender asked me about lakefront foreclosures. They were interested, they’d say. Foreclosures, foreclosures, foreclosures. I’d always respond with the same suggestion. What if I can find you a better deal on a better property that’s not a foreclosure? This was typically the end of the email exchange, because for many a foreclosure was the opportunity they wanted even though value was what they purported to be seeking.

Today, foreclosures are not so exciting. They exist, but in small quantities. Some of the foreclosure action around the lake is the same stuff we’ve been talking about for years. The Loramoor lakefront is supposedly foreclosed on and re-sold already, but I don’t know the exact details. The short sale in Williams Bay that’s been for sale for years is scheduled for another sheriff’s sale. There’s a sheriff’s sale pending over by the Lake Geneva Country Club. Another one in Country Club Estates brewing, and one in Country Club Estates that’s available as REO. There’s the large lakefront estate that remains under IRS control, and perhaps that sale will someday occur via public auction. But for now, for the rest of us, the reminder today is simple. Distressed sales do not always mean value, even though we’re programmed to believe that they do. Better value is found in properties that are merely aged on the market, as those are the deals we should be seeking. If one happens to be a foreclosure, so be it.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

August.  It’s August now and it’s too late for you. If you’re at home and your vacation home dreams are there with you, then you’ve already blown it. This August will not be special for you. It might be special for you if you enter into a contract to buy a vacation home during this month, but otherwise it’ll be uneventful and horrible. You went to Lollapalooza over the weekend? Terrific, that also sounds boring. The good news is that while this August is a complete and utter waste, next August can be spectacular. And next July, too. June, sure. May, and its Memorial Day, delightful. And so it goes, a summer still underway but an August already wasted. That’s your upbeat Monday morning message. Enjoy your week!

The market is remarkably active today. The lakefront in particular. A few weeks ago I sold my large lakefront listing on the North Shore near Pebble Point. A buyer paid $3.93MM for 181′ of dead level frontage and four acres of fabulous depth. This lot is likely the best vacant lot to sell on this lake in quite some time. I prefer it over the lot that sold near Alta Vista a few years back for $6MM. That lot is sold, and with it I’m back to where I belong in the MLS rankings for Walworth County- Number One.  Another large lakefront on Basswood is under contract with an asking price just under $4MM. That home had been for sale for quite a while, and finally found a spurt of activity this summer before finalizing a contract last month.  Two hundred feet of frontage with an old house will always find a buyer, assuming the price slowly succumbs to the market’s expectations.

The South Shore Club has had a nice injection of activity, as I listed and then almost immediately went under contract on a large home just to the lakeside and west of the pool. At $2.99MM this was the first home in this sort of location to come to market since I sold a foreclosure two years ago on the east side of the pool. The home sold quickly because it’s a large home, with elevated finishes, and a most beautiful lake view. The other listing in the South Shore Club is farther towards the back, with less of a view, but I expect that home to benefit from my soon-to-print-comp, and that home will sell this year as well. If you’re looking at the SSC and don’t want to swing the $2.7MM+ price to be on the circle, I have my lot on Forest Hill Court available for just $598k, including home plans.

Just last week a home on the Abbey Harbor came to market, and then this last weekend that home went under contract. Do buyers love harbor front? Of course not, but buyers do love new and fancy and if you’re a buyer who loves large boats and new and fancy well then you’ve met your ideal situation. At $2.8MM the seller was rewarded in large part because of the lack of quality lakefront inventory in that price range.  The SSC home is a similar beneficiary. If the lakefront had more inventory in the $2-5MM segment, buyers would absorb much of it with little delay. If you’re a seller sitting on a home in that segment and you’ve thought of selling, now is the time to call me. Actually, email me, since my return phone call habits are terrible at best.

Entry level lakefronts continue to be shown regularly, but are failing to attract contracts. I just reduced my lakefront on Lakeview to $1.419MM, and that’s likely the best entry level property on the market.  With just 27 lakefront homes available, and two more vacation lots (my Loramoor lakefront being the best option there), buyers have few options to choose from. The good news for buyers is that aged inventory is already starting the reduction process. Sellers know that while this market is a 365 day market now, buyer traffic will slow by November, meaning there’s just 90 days of solid market time left for 2016. Smart sellers are evaluating their position in the market and reducing. It’s not a desperate move by any means, it’s just smart business. Watch for the savvy sellers who have experienced significant market time to reduce soon. Of course the smart buyers are the ones working with me to both strangle deals out of this aged inventory and pounce on the new inventory.

 

Above, the boathouse at my W4160 Lakeview listing. Yours for $1.419MM.

 

Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

Geneva Lakefront Condo Update

The problem with market updates is that they require some movement in the market before they’ll really make sense. It’s like being a beat writer for a baseball team. If the team plays on a Monday and they lose, you write about the loss. The pitcher was terrible, the star outfielder always hits into double plays, and the fans were generally unhappy. You can say things like the crowd was unruly, or if they were so distraught that they were simply quiet and stunned, you can write that. Then, on a Tuesday the team wins. You can write about redemption, about the struggle of the star outfielder who finally found a gap, and about the pitcher who threw enough strikes, but not too many. The crowd roared and squealed, delighted by the victory. When the game was over and the players had left for the locker room, the crowd sang. It would be fun to be a beat writer for a baseball team.

But I’m not a beat writer for a baseball team, I’m just a beat writer for the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Sometimes, the market soars and we get to delight in that. I like writing about things that are happening, or will soon happen. For instance, my beautiful North Lakeshore estate property ($4.295MM) is selling this week. That’s terrific fun to write that statement. The South Shore Club home that I listed last week is under contract already, and that’s also nice.  But much of the time I’m expected to write about something that is happening, even when nothing is. Certain segments are active today- the lakefront especially so- but certain segments are absolutely terrible. And as long as we’re talking about terrible market segments, let’s spend a few minutes on the Lake Geneva lakefront condo segment.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how great the market used to be. I’m not going to slouch low in my chair and sigh just because I used to be the king of the lakefront condo, and now that title both doesn’t apply and wouldn’t mean anything even if it did.  No one would proclaim to be something that no other person would care about. If someone told me they were the king of lawn chair sitting near the basement entrance to their office, it wouldn’t bother me, but I would question their sanity. So I won’t be telling you about how great the market once was, nor will I be telling you that I was the king, nor will I tell you that I am the king. I’m just a kid who feels sorry for the lakefront condo market on Geneva Lake.

It isn’t that the market is terrible, because it isn’t. It’s just that the market isn’t as active as the similarly priced single family segments that surround it. The condo market has printed four lakefront sales this year. One at Vista Del Lago, one at Fontana Shores, one of a shore sale at Somerset, and one in Geneva Towers. Four sales isn’t horrible, but it certainly isn’t dynamic.  As the single family lake access market in the $300-$700k price range has thrived, the condo market has simply managed to tread water. Perhaps that’s as good as we can hope for, to maintain. Inventory is low, with just a handful of units available today. Some in the usual suspects- Bay Colony, Vista Del Lago, the Fontana Club, Geneva Towers, etc and etc. My fabulous unit at Stone Manor is still available, so if you’re in the market for unique and irreplaceable, I’m your guy. The king of Stone Manor maybe? Or certainly the king of Eastbank, but these are condominiums that play more like single family, and so the market senses that and responds with increased interest.

Perhaps the condo market is being mistreated. Perhaps all of this just isn’t fair. The lakefront condo does, after all, offer a buyer the best opportunity to be on the water, with a view and probably a boatslip, and from $400-$600k that’s something that a single family home cannot offer. Ease of ownership, ease of use, views and slips and no lawn to mow. It all seems quite perfect. But the market isn’t producing lakefront condo buyers like it used to, and until it does, we’ll lament the state of the market until the momentum changes and we can once again find cause to celebrate.

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Lake Geneva Lakefront Update

Perception is an interesting thing.  For instance, when I’m in front of a mirror with no one around me, I think that things are looking pretty good. When I hang out with certain friends who are more un-fit than I am, I feel pretty good about this, too. But then when I spend time with friends who are extremely fit I think that I shouldn’t spend so much time out in public.  Depending on where I am and who I’m around, things just seem different. The market is like this, without all the shame. If you took a boat ride around the lake this weekend, as I suspect you’ll do, you might think you’re noticing lots of lakefront homes for sale. In fact, you’ll see many with my name on them and you’ll think to yourself that this cannot be good. You’ll think it’s good for me, but then you’ll think that it must also be bad for me, because of so much unsold inventory and so many sellers leaking patience like the back left tire in my fishing truck that has not one, but two screws stuck into it.

But just like my solo mirror perception, your perception of the lake would be wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, there are just 23 single family homes for sale on the lake, including one in the South Shore Club. There are others, homes that aren’t quite lakefront but feel like lakefront- the chief example being my listing for $1.295MM on South Lakeshore Drive. There’s a Congress Club listing playing like lakefront, and a new listing on Sybil that I didn’t think would be valued quite so high (no slip for $1.295MM). But the lakefront itself, it’s limited. There are two lakefront lots available, my listing in Loramoor that you’re only going to be able to resist for so long, and a big property on Black Point.

The activity on the lake has been spotty this year, but that should be expected given the low inventory. There are the three lakefronts that I sold in June, and now there are two more than I have fresh contracts on. The large lakefront property known as Pikewood on North Lakeshore Drive ($4.295MM) is under contract now, as is my beautiful listing at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive ($7.95MM). Of course fresh contracts are not sold properties, but it’s a pretty important step in the closing process. There’s another new contract on a large lakefront property in Fontana that isn’t currently on market. If you look at these sales, it proves there is liquidity in the upper reaches of our market, if only you’ll be patient enough for it to arrive.

There’s another new contract, that on a new listing in Geneva Bay Estates for $2.85MM. I showed this home last week, and while it was a nice home it wouldn’t have blown your mind.  It went under contract so quickly in part because of the market’s newfound desire to be close to town. Downtown Lake Geneva used to be a poison of sorts, and now it’s as a bowl of sweet honey set outside on a hot summer day and we, the bees.  New inventory should be coming to market in the coming weeks, not because I have any secret insider way of knowing this (I do), but because it’s bound to happen. Sellers will notice this lack of inventory and if they’re considering a move up or down in this market, they’ll look for opportunities. Speaking of moving up, there’s a new listing at $16.45MM on Snake Road. What a beautiful property this is, but beautiful alone doesn’t convince someone to part with $16MM (I’m assuming a slight discount off ask).  I’ll be very interested to see if the market can produce a buyer in this strata. I’m guessing it won’t happen.

For now, enjoy the weekend. Be safe. Don’t tow your kids on tubs during the middle of the day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Just don’t do it. If you go out for the fireworks, don’t boat drunk. If you light fireworks, don’t blow off part of your hand. That’s a terrible way to celebrate our Independence.

Another Lackey Lane Sale

Another Lackey Lane Sale

Sometimes, you just want what you want. You want to be on the lake, that’s smart. You want to see a weekend like the one just ended and you want to see it from the front row, up close and personal. You want to be on a road, something of pedigree, something that matters, not just any road.  You want the road to be easy. You want it to be on this shore or that shore, but you want it to be quiet and peaceful and you don’t want the rumble of a wayward motorcycle tour to interrupt your Sunday. You want a dead end, that’s what you really want, but you know it’s not easy to find a dead end. Bonnie Brae is a dead end, and if a car wanders down to your end of the lane home you can be sure it’ll be quickly followed by a many pointed Y turn, but Bonnie Brae is not on the shore you want. You end up looking and looking, content to be patient but wishing it wouldn’t take so long.

Then Lackey Lane comes to life with not one, nor two, but three properties available. On a street so small, an exodus so large. And so you see those 100 level feet and that wooded approach and you say that Lackey Lane is where you want to be. And then last Friday you close on that lakefront, the one with the small brick ranch that would be so much more at home in Niles. $1.91MM for 100′ of frontage, that Lackey Lane location, and a dream that someday soon you’ll have built a new home on Lackey Lane that will compliment but not mimic the newer homes that have already been built on that short little lane.

You’ll remember that last Wednesday I also sold the $4.275MM Pickell built home on Lackey. You’ll also understand now that $1.91MM makes thorough sense. It’s not that easy to find a location on the lake where a $1.91MM land buy can lead to solid, demonstrable value in the $4.5MM range, but on Lackey that’s possible. That’s why this post is about the two sales I just completed, sure, but it’s more about the one property that’s left on Lackey Lane. If you’re a buyer on Geneva right now, you should be letting me lead you to Lackey. The house that’s available is fine. You could fix it up and live in in for a long while. Or you could do the likely thing-  buy it, tear it down, and build at the same time the adjacent, new neighbor is building.  If there are few streets where $4.5MM all in costs are easy to justify (Loramoor is another one), then there are even fewer where you can build a new home next to another new build, at the same time.  The convenience of one singular disruption is difficult to fully appreciate until you’ve spent a summer next door a new build.  Just ask anyone in the 1030 area of South Lakeshore Drive, Fontana.

But I lied a bit, because this isn’t just about the available lot, and it’s not just about a fabulous client who let me help him into the new Lackey property, it’s a bit about me, because real estate requires shameless self promotion. That sale pushes me over $140MM in sales since the start of 2010, including $10MM worth of sales in just the past two weeks.  No single agent (operating without a multiple person team) has sold so much real estate in Walworth County since then, and that’s exceedingly humbling to me. Additionally, no other active top agent has, since that cold day in January of 2010, an average sales price in excess of $1MM. I think those things matter, and they should matter to any lakefront buyer or seller seeking to buy or sell some slice of Geneva Lake.  I’m well aware that these production numbers wouldn’t be possible except for the loyalty of my incredible and growing client base, and for that, I’m supremely grateful.

To the newest owner on Lackey, congratulations and thank you.  The market should be keen to watch a new home rise from that site over the coming months, and I’m certain we’ll all be the beneficiaries of what promises to be a most beautiful new home. If you’re a buyer and you want to have a beautiful new home and a lovely family as your next door neighbor, we need to start talking, like stat.

Lackey Lane Sells

Lackey Lane Sells

It should be no secret that the cool  people are buying at Lake Geneva. It’s not just the people, but the cool people. The kids who live in the city who know that city life is for weekdays. The young affluent set that realize brunch lines are best left for 24 year olds who have yet gained the financial ability to escape the clutches of that tall city for two days a week. This is the group that has learned of Lake Geneva, embraced Lake Geneva, and are benefiting from Lake Geneva. Our market is benefiting from them as well, as there’s a new generation coming to these shores to indulge in the things that make this place so darn special. But while this new generation of buyers is needed and wonderful, the last generation is still active in the market.  Each year there are new faces, new families, new kids jumping into their dad’s arms from white wooden piers for the first time, but each year there are also the others, those who have been here who just felt the need to do something different. Something bigger, something smaller, something on this shore instead of that shore.

This week, I sold W3818 Lackey Lane for $4,275,000. I negotiated that deal on behalf of a cherished client last November, and from that day in mid fall through this day in late spring, the property was under contract. The buyer waiting with nervous anticipation. The seller, presumably, hoping the deal would hold together and close. It did, and the buyer need only sit in a lakeside lounge chair on a day like today to realize the reward of the effort. The seller need only check his bank account balance to see his reward. The deal worked, and for that we can all be pleased.

The lake has a considerable absence of printed sales in the $4MM range. The reason for this is quite simple: There just aren’t that many high quality, newer homes on reasonably large but not huge lots. The trend on this lake has been clear: Buy a beautiful lot between $3-4MM, tear down whatever might have been built on the lot, and build new. The new build costs for these larger homes are safely between $3-6MM.  The lake has gone long on builds with all in costs between $7-10MM, and yet these newer properties, excepting the incredible home on Pebble Point, have not typically come to market. The cliff-top sale in Fontana in the low $5s last year was as close as we’ve come to touching on this particular segment. But what’s less common is a $2MM lot with a $2-3MM house on it. These are the types of properties that the market could more easily absorb, and this is where Lackey Lane fits in.

This sale, for as common as it might look in this market, is somewhat rare. It’s a newer Orren Pickell built home, so it’s of pedigree. And along those lines,  please don’t forget that builders matter here. If you wish to obtain some level of premium when you look to sell your newly built or dramatically renovated home, I do hope you’ve chosen a builder wisely. Pickell, Lowell, Engerman, these are the names that matter to this lake. Don’t think they don’t. And so this home was built properly, with the proper elevated finishes one would expect from a renowned high end builder. The landscaping was ideal. The lot level, 100′ worth. The home large but not too large. The sale making perfect, complete sense.

When this home first came to market last summer, the asking price was $5.275MM. I thought it had a chance to sell in the $5 range, but only because the inventory was low and this was a most beautiful home that the market wasn’t expecting. Alas, it did not sell, and when the price was adjusted a couple of times over the course of the fall, my buyer took notice. That’s why he’s sitting on the pier right now contemplating just how terrific life is on a Friday morning when the water is glassy and clear and the fish swim, dodging only the toothier fish and the plastic baits of the trolling fishermen. The seller of this property was wise to reduce until he found his market. The buyer was wise to wait.

With a decided absence of very recent comps in this range, how do we ascertain value? Well, we look at the land first. 100′ level frontage, $2MM all day. Two more comps on the street for tear downs bear that out. One of those I’m closing on today, the other is available. It should be noted that the other one on Lackey at $2.15MM, along with my Loramoor lot at $2.34MM are the best, easiest options for a buyer seeking a new home on Geneva Lake in the $3.5-4MM range. So if the land is worth $2MM, what’s a 6189 square foot Orren Pickell home going to cost us? Well, it’s probably going to cost between $2-2.5MM. And so there you have it, the cost approach for helping pin point value. In the case of this house, there’s a very real chance that the purchase price is  below replacement cost. If we’re considering a lakefront purchase, isn’t that a pretty nice data point?

For now, the new owner will be content in his new lakefront. I’ll be content to have helped. The market will be content to have printed another high value sale.  The question is, does a brunch line on Sunday morning really make you content? And yes, I know the hollandaise is amazing.

Geneva Lakefront Sale

Geneva Lakefront Sale

We tend to buy real estate based on emotion and sell it based upon fact. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever bought or sold real estate. We buy it because we love it, because we want it, because it makes sense in some ways, sure, but mostly because we just have to have it. We sell it because we still love it, we still want it, but we know there are better ideas or better options, and so we adopt a more pragmatic approach and we move on past the thing that we so dearly loved. The hang up in real estate is when we’re buying something that we don’t truly love, that we don’t really want. Then every hiccup is perceived to be a bad omen, every slight difficulty a catastrophic event. When we sell, if we don’t truly understand that selling is what’s best, we cling to this real estate like grim death, knowing we have to sell but badly wishing against it.  Then we poison the process with emotion, the side of the process that’s supposed to be more fact based. This is real estate.

On Friday, I sold 976 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. I represented one of my favorite clients in that transaction, and the deal came together in the way that we wish all deals might. We listed the house, we showed the house, we received an offer on the house, then another, and then we sold the house for $3,300,000. Just $95k off of our original April ask. That’s a scenario that most sellers dream of, and indeed it is a process of which I’d love to be a consistent participant. For now, we’ll leave aside the part of the deal wherein I represented a fantastic seller as that family pursues the ultimate lakefront arrangement, and we’ll instead focus on the truths of this deal and try our best to learn from them.

I sold this home to this seller in 2013 for $2.95MM. The seller did some improving of the home, but nothing too overwhelming. The property just sold for $3.3MM, representing a 12% increase over the 2013 price. This is Takeaway #1 from this sale: The lakefront market is up around 12% from 2013. Is this a uniform number, benefiting or cursing all lakefront homes? Of course not. Some have risen more, others less, but this is a solid benchmark, proven out not by my own interpretation of the market mood, but by cold hard statistics. Other properties have been bought and resold over recent years, but these properties often have had some form of dramatic renovation between the time they first sold and the time they most recently sold, so those statistics offer simply more proof of a market tendency to overpay for renovated kitchens.

This property, at the time that it hit the market, was the only lakefront home in Fontana listed for sale under $7MM. As a result of that market gap, the seller of this home could have taken a common seller approach of assuming that because he was the only game in town, the market would dramatically overpay for the rights to own his exclusivity. I hear this often from sellers, and when they explain just how rare their property is I tend to daydream about things that don’t make me lose all faith in humanity, like trout streams and the lake on a calm summer morning. The sellers explain, if a buyer wants this particular thing, in this particular location, they’ll have to pay. Unintelligent sellers call this the “price of admission”. It is true that there is a price of admission, but you know I like to compare real estate to cars, so to be a seller offering his rare property for a ridiculous number is akin to me listing my 5 year old BMW for $100,000 because that is indeed the only BMW in Williams Bay listed for sale. If you want that sweet BMW, you’ll have to pay up. Sellers of houses are just as ridiculous, and this seller didn’t succumb to that absurdity. Instead, we discussed the market, targeted a price range, and we listed the home at what the market indicated would be an acceptable price. One month later we had two buyers in line, proving our theory correct.

The lakefront market as a whole is relatively slow right now. There are two other lakefronts closing this week, both to buyers whom I’m pleased to represent, and another in Lake Geneva with a shared pier. Don’t ask how I feel about shared piers. Two weeks ago the older lakefront home on the hill in Cedar Point closed for $1.515MM, representing a reasonable ransom for a house with a tremendous view and approximately three trillion stairs to and from the water.  YTD there have been 9 lakefront sales. 2015 had ten lakefronts closed as of June 13th, with two of those sales being involved in a trade. The market today feels somewhat sluggish, but it’s actually right on track. Last year, from June 14th through December 31st, there were a whopping 20 lakefronts closed, meaning 2016 has some big shoes to fill. The market could very well turn on in a similar fashion to last year, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to do just that. The only difference between last year and this year is that our inventory is tighter, and without enough dry tinder there’s no way to get that fire quite as hot as last year.

 

Affordable Lake Geneva

Affordable Lake Geneva

Take to the highways and county roads this summer and you’ll notice plenty of things. You’ll notice that semi drivers often change lanes with relatively little warning, which is especially rude when I’m in the middle of writing a lengthy email. I’m beginning to think it’s not just texting and driving that’s dangerous, but also emailing and driving. Perhaps the public awareness campaigns will tweak their message. You’ll also notice motorcycles. I’m afraid of motorcycles, I admit it. My dad told me once that a motorcycle driver took a corner too fast near some house he lived in when he was a child. He said he had to go in the house to get towels and sheets to help his mom mop up the blood from the street. I find this to be implausible, completely and utterly so. There’s no way you’d worry about mopping up the street especially if rain was in the forecast. You’ll also notice campers and RVs and tow behind camping apparatuses. The world goes camping, even if we don’t.

There’s something else that’s common on these roads in this season and in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that are towing these camping things: The occupants of the car are generally in a fair mood. They’re going camping, with that pop up camper thing, and they’re happy about it. They’re driving someplace far, or someplace near, but they’re going to get there and then they’re going to set up their camper and they’re going to pop open their folding lawn chairs and they’re going to eat hotdogs around the fire. When night falls, they’re going to sleep in that camper, mom and dad in the bed part that sticks out over the bed of the truck, and the kids somewhere else. I’ve never been in one of these camper things, so I’m just imagining how it all works. But regardless of the cramped quarters, the lack of finesse, these people who do these things are content. They’re content because they’re getting away from their weekday lives and living differently, if only for awhile until the time comes to pay the park attendant the weekend rent and fold the camper back to its traveling form.

I’m never going to camp like this. Odds are, neither are you. But we can do things like this in a more comfortable way, and we can do them affordably. For every $7MM listing that Lake Geneva can offer you, there are 20 $189k vacation condos. For every $800k association home with a  boatstlip there are five $220k association homes with lake access. This is a market for the affluent, sure, but it’s a market for anyone who has a few extra dollars of disposable income and a feverish desire to get out of town on the weekends. Lake Geneva has always been the place, but it’s not just the place for business icons and those of affluence, it’s for everyone who wants to make a few sacrifices and spend their weekends living in a different place, in a different way, just like those happy campers who clog up in the interstate.

Along those lines, consider the economical Lake Geneva vacation condominium. I have some rules for this sort of purchase, and it includes avoiding condo-tels, because those are ridiculous.  You’re also not allowed to buy some condo in some absurd setting, like the condos that were created in the part of Williams Bay best left for lower value housing and commercial buildings. So let’s look at the condo market, and consider where you should be considering. Willabay Shores, this is an easy one. Priced from the painfully low $130s up through the $250s, these are simple two and three bedroom condominiums. They’re not new, so be ready to do some updating, but they’re walkable to the lake and the Williams Bay beach, and they have a pool and tennis courts and one car garages. You’ll feel part of the scene here, because you are part of the scene. Grab a fishing pole and walk across to the piers to fish. It’s terrific fun, and Willabay is still cheap.

Bayside Pointe is just up the road from Willabay, a bit farther from the water but still close. The units are newer, larger, so if you’re looking for newer and larger and you’re in the $200-300k price range, these are worth a look.  You won’t get any lake access with Willabay or Bayside Point, but you’ll be close. Can you tell that proximity matters? Walking distance to the lake is a good thing, and you should want it. Unless you’re considering Geneva National, in which case you’re not walking distance to any lake (Como doesn’t count in this context), but you’re tucked inside a beautiful enclave with what I deem to be the finest golf in the area. You needn’t be a golfer to vacation here, because who could hate beautifully manicured lawns, even if there are small holes with flags sticking out of them every so often?  If you’re a buyer in the $100-$300k range and you’re looking for a Lake Geneva vacation home, Geneva National should probably be the first place you consider. I have two condos in GN in this entry level range pending, and the buyers are making wise decisions. The values are still depressed, so there’s still value to be found. Yes, the market there is subject to some tumult, but you won’t mind so much when you’re living large in a very affordable vacation home.

In Fontana, affordability is nicely intertwined with the extremely unaffordable. In town, you can buy a condo for $700k. Or you can buy an Abbey Villa between $199-$299k. The villas are older, so they’re not huge and they’re not particularly high end (unless you find a renovated unit), but they will get you into the Fontana scene on the cheap. They’re sort of part of the hotel but mostly not part of the hotel, but you have pools to use and the beach a short walk away. You can’t bring your pets to the villas, so if you need to bring Fido each weekend, the villas won’t work. If you need to bring your dog, consider Abbey Hill. A bit farther from the lake, but still close to the scene. The units here are diverse, interesting, and I’ve always liked this place. In the $200-300k range, there’s no better option in Fontana.

Abbey Springs might take offense to that statement, and if they did they’d have a point. Want the whole scene in one development? The tennis, the golf, the pools, the beach, the restaurants, etc and etc? Then Abbey Springs is for you. Units between $140k and $350k offer a bit of everything, including some very odd floor plans.  The designs are a bit haphazard,  but they’re also fun and quite effective. I’d be considering Abbey Springs if I wanted an amenity packed association in the heart of the Lake Geneva scene.

If you’re looking for an affordable weekend retreat, skip the camper and the packing and the cramped sleeping arrangements, and just talk to me about a Lake Geneva vacation condominium in one of these terrific associations.

Manhattan

Manhattan

I generally agree with the concept that what happens on the coasts will someday find its way to Lake Geneva. This is the case with both good and bad. New York has fantastic pizza. Lake Geneva will someday also have fantastic pizza. Washington had a Starbucks, and then a couple of decades later, we have a Starbucks.  This is good. In the same way, when something trendy happens on a coast, it’ll also soon happen here. But there are limitations to this, and that’s why the current correction of sorts afflicting Manhattan doesn’t mean there’s a correction coming swiftly to the Lake Geneva vacation home market. Here’s why.

My knowledge of the Manhattan real estate market is limited, obviously. If it weren’t, you could question my dedication to the Lake Geneva market. See, when Ryan Serhant opens offices in Miami and LA,  he’s not doing so because he’s somehow a Miami expert. He’s doing so because he’s a businessman and he’s smart enough to know his name will mean something to people even when it likely means nothing. Anyway, I don’t know anything about Manhattan real estate aside from what I read and what I see on television. What I see on television is that new developments are coming online all the time, and those new developments are not loaded with $400k condos. They’re filled with $4MM condos and $7MM condos and $14MM condos.

Lake Geneva is filled with $200k cottages and $300k condos and $800k houses and $3MM lakefronts. It’s a mix of things, with no particular segment requiring a tremendous amount of liquidity annually. This is one of the problems with Geneva National, as you’ll recall. It’s simply too big to maneuver through years of low volume without causing a price adjustment in the process.  The lakefront market on Geneva functions differently, as low volume is generally a result of low inventory, which in turn creates a market where prices escalate. So if you’re a buyer on Geneva you’re wishing for inventory and if you’re an owner on Geneva you’re wishing against it. This isn’t very difficult to understand.

But it’s back to Manhattan and those buildings and the sheer volume required to keep that market moving forward, appreciating and rare. What’s the number? I don’t know, because I’m typing from Williams Bay this morning. But the simple reality is that markets in forward motion require more buyers than sellers. Turn the tide and the market will stall. Turn it for long enough and the market will decline. If Manhattan is experiencing a decline, that’s too bad, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Lake Geneva. There will be a decline coming to our markets within a few years, this you can be sure of. But until the sellers outpace the buyers, that won’t be the case. I’ll be sure to let you know when it is. For now, I need to run home to snap some aloe open and lather it on my bright red nose and cheeks. The Lake Geneva sun was benevolent yesterday, and my face carries the proof.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I can feel it. It’s in the air. It’s in the way the grass looks and so many lilacs. Everywhere lilacs. The boats are here, they’re in the water and they’re on trailers and they’re everywhere. The streets are more alive than they were in April, more alive than March. Everything is more alive than February. It’s about that time when the people who know find their way to the lake. Not to any lake, but to this lake. To this place. To the place that’s better than all the other places combined. It’s nearly summer in Lake Geneva, and you’re either ready or you aren’t. There’s no real in between now. A week from Friday is Memorial Day Weekend, and if you’re not ready, you never will be.

The market shows signs that many people understand this coming inevitability. They see summer on the near horizon and they’re trying their best to be prepared. There are deals pending all over the board, with an especially strong showing in the $200-$600k price range. Buyers in this range are paying attention and they’re making their moves to be ready. There are 10 lake access homes pending this morning priced under $600k. There are another 12 condominiums in Geneva National pending under $600k, and no fewer than three pending in Abbey Springs. The market is alive in this pricing segment, and with the only exception being the lakefront condo market. Currently that market is attracting interest, but there aren’t any pending sales to speak of.

And that brings us to the lakefront market. To the big time. The lakefront currently has 28 homes for sale (counting South Shore Club- 1 property, and counting one property that’s only sort of lakefront), with three more vacant lakefront parcels available. That’s 31 lakefront properties available, and of those there are four pending. The four pending include one on the hill in Cedar Point in the mid $1MMs, two on Lackey Lane (mid $4s and $2MM), and a fresh contract on my lakefront listing at 976 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana ($3.395MM). I tried to tell you that the new Fontana lakefront was going to sell, and after a month on the market we fielded two offers within a matter of days and now the property is under contract.  The market loves Fontana, this we all know.

Of the 31 active lakefronts, I have 10 of them listed. That’s significant, because if you’re a buyer looking for inventory, then you’d be wise to talk to the agent that handles the inventory. That’s me. Of the four pending lakefront sales,  three of those are my properties, either on the buy or list side. That’s also significant, because of the obvious. I think at this point there’s been enough beating around the bush. If you’re selling lakefront property on Geneva Lake, I’m your guy. If you’re buying lakefront property on Geneva Lake, I’m your guy. It seems as though there’s very little reason to argue at this point.

The lakefront is going to do one of two things this summer. It’s either going to stall out on new inventory, in which case we’ll see buyers ultimately pick off the inventory (much of it is quality) that’s currently available. If the inventory stalls, there’s no way we come close to matching the 2015 volume statistics.  Prices might tighten up, which will be good for existing sellers, but we just won’t see the same sort of movement that we saw in 2015.  Either that happens, or we add inventory, which will be snapped up by buyers who have already dismissed the available properties. This was the case with 976 South Lakeshore. It came to market at a time when little else was available, and because it’s a unique and special property, it sold quickly. If new inventory presents in May and June, expect July and August to be banner months. That’s the trend from 2015, where the lakefront market was sluggish until the end of June.

Weather does play a roll in this, no matter how much we’d prefer it didn’t. If we have a hot, sunny summer, sales will be good. If we have a rainy summer, with poor weekend forecasts, sales will lag. If it’s 77 and sunny every day from now until Labor Day, this won’t be good for any of us. Because then we’ll be selling entry level lakefronts for $5MM and our buyers will be international sorts and we’ll all be priced out of our own market. So let’s hope for a large percentage of sunny days, but not too many.

 

Geneva National Value

Geneva National Value

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this year in Geneva National. I’ve shown most of the houses that are on the market inside those gates. I’ve generally been underwhelmed.  Many of the houses are older now, in need of kitchens or baths, paint and trim. They have bright shiny brass this and oak that. They’re just not right anymore. Sellers have been a problem, too. They’ve been stubborn, acting like they haven’t a care in the world and that if this buyer fails to come up the minuscule 1.5% to match the seller’s number, well then the seller stands his ground and lets the deal fold. This has happened twice this year, and in both instances the offending seller is still offering his home for sale. Sellers are being foolish in GN, but this is mostly the situation for sellers of the single family homes. They’re unwilling to recognize that their 2006 valuations still have nothing to do with their 2016 valuations. But alas, Geneva National offers redemption.

And it isn’t found by way of the single family homes, it’s found in the lower priced condominiums. Those units at the Lakelands, the Woodlands, the Highlands, yes, the names are repitious and boring, painfully so, but there is value to be found. Consider the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market is, by my keen eye, still between 10-20% off the prior cycle highs. This number is the broad measure, as certain homes have appreciated beyond their highs, and other homes are still off as much as 30%.  Markets are unfair, and a rising tide might life all ships but the truth is that some ships are more buoyant than others. Some have leaks.  In Geneva National, the market has rebounded nicely, and 2015 booked a huge number of transactions, but still, value abounds.

A nice enough Woodland unit sold in 1992 for $119,900. That unit is available today for $136,900. It isn’t a stretch to assume the seller will lose net money on that sale, even after 24 years of ownership. Another Woodland unit sold for $219,900 in 2006, at what would have likely represent the peak for GN in the last cycle. The market in GN started fading before the rest of our market did, with a strange feeling starting in 2007. That same unit is offered today for $149k. Lest you think I’m a Woodland abuser, a Lakeland unit currently listed for $175k first sold for $200k. In 1992. That’s 24 years, a span where something on the lake might have appreciated 400%, and in GN, this unit is losing significant money after such a long period of ownership.

Why does this look bullish to me? Why would I not take the opposite approach and say that GN just can’t hold it together over a long period of time and as such should be avoided? Because of the market conditions that show us which sort of properties are being replaced. See, the reason I’m anti-development is because of what mass development does to the existing housing stock. If you own a $199k vinyl ranch in Elkhorn, congratulations. Your $199k vinyl ranch was likely $199k in 2000 and it’ll probably be $199k in 2020. That’s because they can keep building small $199k vinyl ranches on cheap farm land until the end of time. In Geneva National, they’re no longer building 3 bedroom 2 bath condominiums for $149k. The newer stock, excepting the complicated Cobblestone Court, is generally $250k and up. That’s because it doesn’t make much economic sense to try to flood the market with $169k brand new condominiums. And because of that, your $130-240k condo purchase in GN is likely a very good, rather safe, idea.

Yes, some of the older buildings are GN are subject to special assessments as they repair and replace the cedar siding that has given out over time. This is unfortunate, but it’s a fact of condominium life everywhere. The pure condo model wherein the owner pays a little bit of money each month into a collective fund so that when the roof needs to be replaced they have money; that’s a sweet, tender concept. But what actually happens in most cases is the owner pays in every month and then when  major capital project needs to be completed, the owner is special assessed to pay for it. In that, the condo model is dead. But as long as the condo buyer knows this in advance, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Most specials are amortized conveniently and will not represent too much hardship for the assessed owner.

So today, consider Geneva National. If you like the houses there, terrific, so do I. Except the brass and oak ones, most are offered at or below replacement value, giving little reason to consider a new build there as long as this overhang of housing stock exists. Look to the older condominiums, the ones that need some paint and trim work, and maybe some new counters and appliances. Those are the units that can be bought right, and those are the units that represent value even in this well performing market.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I have lots of brushes. I have small brushes and smaller brushes, medium ones, too. I have huge brushes, trust me, there’s no problem with my brushes. I have great brushes, the best. Other people, not so many brushes, sad. But still, these brushes of mine are varied and I store them not in a wide-mouthed jar labeled BRUSHES, THE BEST, but in my mind. These aren’t real brushes, you see, they’re just the sort of brushes that I use to paint these insights into this market. I use them as I attempt to explain what’s going on here, what you’re part of or what you’re missing out on. If you want to know about my brushes, I assure you there’s no problem. Today, let’s use the yugest brush I have. Let’s talk macro. Other agents can’t use this brush, it’s too big. Sad!

The market today is active. Across the board, active. My development loving friends will say, A HA!, but when the new development market is active that just means there’s a single house being built in that empty subdivision behind Reek School, which means there will be four homes there. Out of 35 total lots. So, no, the development lovers out there are still out of luck even though the market has reached some form of normalcy and activity is widespread. The primary home market is buzzing. A quick glance at neighborhood and towns that I don’t deal with shows an incredible amount of sales activity in the $90k to $250k range, so let’s be happy for that but let’s not be too excited because the primary market here means very little to the vacation home market.

The entry level lake access market on Geneva is performing wonderfully this year. Five of the 23 lake access homes priced under $400k are pending as of this morning. I’m sure there are others that aren’t properly labeled in the MLS. Six of the 34 lake access homes priced from $400k to $1MM are pending as well. That’s not a tremendous number of pendings in that segment, but it’s not terrible.  The market is lacking inventory of homes with boatslips in the  $450k to $850k range, so if you’re a buyer looking for something like that I feel your dissatisfaction. If you’re a seller who owns something like that, let’s talk about it. Overall, there’s a high degree of buyer activity in that range but mostly boring inventory that has been on the market for quite some time. What we could use is some new inventory in Oak Shores, Lake Geneva Club, Shore Haven, and the likes.

The co-op market on the lake has been quiet of late. There’s a single home available in the Congress Club, though that home is priced more like lakefront than association, so it’s a bit outside the bounds of what a typical co-op buyer seeking out inventory in the Harvard Club, Belvedere Park, and the Congress Club might be hoping to find. The other associations haven’t a single available property, though there may be one coming back on in Belvedere Park soonish. The Harvard Club had a private sale last year, so that’s good for them. Remember, if you’re a buyer hoping to find something in one of these clubs, you’d be wise to let me know so I can try to free something up for you. I’m the leading broker in these co-ops over the past seven years, so no one has the inside track like I do if we’re talking co-ops at Lake Geneva.

Last year at this time, the entry level lakefront market was chock full of inventory. Today, that inventory has sold off. There are just two true lakefront homes on the market under $2MM this morning, and that’s a rather shocking situation.  The lowest price lakefront is my listing for $1.475MM on Lakeview in Linn Township, that super-cute cottage owning 50 feet of frontage, a traditional H-slip canopied pier, and a rare boathouse at the water’s edge. The only other home with private frontage under $2MM is on the tippy top of Cedar Point, that listed just under $1.6MM.  This development is good news for listings like my one-off lakefront on South Lakeshore Drive listed for $1.395MM (photo above). That’s a home that plays like lakefront, but isn’t technically lakefront, though you’d be forgiven for repeatedly assuming it is. That’s a home that I feel is poised to sell really right at the moment, so a buyer looking for lakeside fun would be keen to consider that property.

The rest of the market is somewhat interesting. This morning the MLS shows just two lakefront homes pending sale, and both of those are to buyers that I’m extremely happy to represent. Both properties are on Lackey Lane, so there’s just one Lackey Lane opportunity left. The market has some offers being considered, and there are properties that are the object of much attention (my new listing at 976 South Lakeshore, for one), so I’d expect something to pop in the next month or two and we’ll see several more lakefront contracts come together. Last year the lakefront market was very slow until mid summer and then finished with a remarkable flurry that saw our lakefront sold numbers push to record highs. That’s volume, not prices, so if you’re of the “it’s too expensive already so I missed out” opinion, then you’re not looking at the right information.

With that, my brushing is complete. I will return my brushes to their storage container, which I promise you is the best. There’s no problem with my figurative brushes and their figurative storage container. The losers who suggest there’s a problem are just jealous of my many different brushes. Sad!

Lake Geneva’s Lackey Lane

Lake Geneva’s Lackey Lane

Williams Bay is a big bay. Fontana Bay, also a big bay. Geneva Bay, big.  These are the bays we know from maps and from vernacular and because we know this place.  But there are other bays, small ones, nuanced and slight, formed from the most delicate positioning of the shore relative to the water. These bays are all over the lake, but if you travel the lake exclusively in summer you won’t notice them. Piers have a way of dulling the edges and making the lakeshore appear uniform when as a point of fact it is anything but.

These small bays are really nothing more than drawn out impressions in the shoreline. You wouldn’t sit in a boat and nudge your guests to look to the shore while suggesting that this is, indeed, a fine bay.  There is one such barely bay to the north of Conference Point. The point juts out into the depths and as the shoreline recovers from that trauma there is a gradual bay that curves from that point all the way to a place somewhere around the Oakwood pier. Would you know this bay? Probably not.

Basswood is another bay like this, where boats don’t follow tight to the shore because Black Point makes them want to cut away from shore to by-pass the tall, rocky point. This makes Basswood a preferred stretch for owners, because boats don’t clip the Slow-No-Wake buoys. The water tends to be calmer in these small bays and it might be for that reason alone.

Basswood Lake Geneva

Another bay occurs on Lackey Lane, just West of the Birches. That’s because boat traffic rounds Black Point and rarely pushes South quickly, because the next point created by the Narrows is already in sight.  This creates a boat lane that bypasses near shore adventures and spares the Lackey shoreline from that rush of traffic. In this, there is a secret. Find a spot on the lake in one of these nuanced bays, and you’ll be pleased.
Lackey Lane has historically been low on inventory. That’s because it’s a short, dead end lane, a rare piece of the area that combines uniform, level lakefront with a dead end drive. There are just 11 residences off Lackey Lane, and only 9 if you count the lots that measure approximately three quarters of an acre in depth and 100′ of frontage on the lake.  There’s a beautiful Orren Pickell home on that lane that has been pending sale for several months to a client of mine. That property, listed in the mid $4s, will be marching off to closing soon.

Two other properties on Lackey hit the market last fall, both modest homes, both on those easy lakefront lots. As of last weekend, I have a buyer in place on one of the listings. That’s a buyer who sees the value in Lackey, in the nuance that is a dead end, quiet lane combined with a slight bay on the lakeside, mixed with 100′ of level frontage. That home that’s under contract will be razed to make room for a new home, and in that the transformation of Lackey that began with the Pickell home will continue.

Lackey Bay

Luckily for you, there is one home on Lackey left.  I have that property co-listed, and it’s my goal now to find a buyer who appreciates the unique nature of Lackey Lane. Listed at $2.15MM, it might be one of the best values on the lake right now. The home is dated and a bit rough, but it could easily be renovated and turned into something special. Think about what our local spec home remodeler did to the boring ranch at the end of Geneva Bay Drive, and then apply that sort of polish to this home on Lackey. Or, tear it down and be all-in around $4MM on a street that has proven the ability to support that built value.

Either way, Lackey Lane is calling, and if you’re listening, we should be meeting there this weekend.

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

Lake Geneva Foreclosures

Lake Geneva Foreclosures. Those three words were types into search engines with terrifying frequency over the last decade. In the early part of the past decade, the 2006 part, those words were typed because buyers were looking for deals. They were looking for anything that wasn’t on the market, something rare, something unique, something in trouble that might spell opportunity. In the middle part of the past decade, those years of 2009 through 2013, the words were typed more solemnly, with purpose and diligence, seeking still opportunity. And now, the words are typed, but it’s half hearted, well intentioned but wishing more than expecting. There might be some foreclosures still lurking, but there probably aren’t. Still, the words are typed, Lake Geneva Foreclosures, hoping something might still be out there, something that the rest of the market hasn’t been paying attention to.

That’s why I’m here, fighting through this wretched head cold, scouring the lis pendens filings and the sheriff’s sale notices.  In an effort to make this somewhat concise, I kept my sensitive eyes peeled for signs of foreclosure activity in our most foreclosure prone associations. I don’t see a single unit in Geneva National pending foreclosure, according to recent LP filings. I also don’t see anything at GN scheduled for a sheriff’s sale. In the MLS, Geneva National has one short sale listed and one REO, that of a $150k type condo that doesn’t appear to me to be any particular form of value. Geneva National seems to have made it to 2016 damaged but unbroken by the foreclosure trouble that had plagued it from 2009 through 2014. The market has sufficiently absorbed most of the trouble there, though I’d still be keen to avoid newer enclaves so I don’t face a Foxwood type situation. Foxwood, for the uninitiated, was the latest and greatest thing in GN, a beautiful enclave of higher end homes and duplexes. And then the developer lost the project and all of the unfinished lots and now it’s in limbo. It’ll come back, sure, as a newer, better thing,  but we all know it won’t be.

Abbey Springs doesn’t have any foreclosure issues, which continues to amaze and impress me. Abbey Springs combines relatively high association dues with price points that range from the mid $100s to $1MM. That association is large (592 units), and it seems to me that some of those owners would have run into a bit of financial trouble over recent years. Alas, that has proven to not be the case, and Abbey Springs scoffs at your foreclosure interests. Country Club Estates has one sheriff’s sale pending, and that’s of our old friend on Shabonna that has been in and out of foreclosure trouble for as long as I can remember. As an owner, I’d imagine this sort of thing is exhausting. I once fought with Aurora Healthcare over an egregious medical invoice and after like a month of battle, I caved and paid the extortion. I can’t imagine the effort required to continually fight with a bank over a house.

With that theme in mind, the foreclosure in Williams Bay on Conference Point is still there. Still. There. It’s been years, or decades, maybe my entire lifetime, and it’s still there, still on the market, still listed as a Short Sale. I’m sure it still attracts the attention of the uninitiated, because it’s so much house in such a nice spot for a reasonable sum of money. Maybe someday that home will sell, but had we been holding our breath waiting for that day we’d all be thoroughly and completely dead. The same goes for the foreclosure that’s been on and off in Loramoor. It’s no longer worth thinking about. There’s an REO in Cedar Point Park that’s pending sale in the mid $100s, and that’s a home that I once made a personal bid on before realizing that the home, even with a substation renovation, will still be odd, still weird, still unloved by the market.

The IRS seizure of a lakefront house to the East of Cedar Point is still hanging out there, as best I can tell, still awaiting its turn on the IRS auction block. If you’re interested in this property, let me know and I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this interesting spectacle. All in all, there’s very little going on in our foreclosure market.  In 2012, Walworth County had one single family foreclosure sale every 1.3 days. In 2016, we’ve averaged one sale every 3.85 days.  Of those sales this year, the most expensive closed for $210,000, so it’s fairly obvious what sorts of properties remain sensitive to default.

If you fear you missed out on the foreclosure crisis and the buying opportunity that it sometimes presented, don’t fret. I saw several commercials over the weekend (On Wisconsin!) for Rocket Mortgage. Looks to me like you just punch in some numbers on your phone and then you get a mortgage, which sounds completely and entirely fantastic.  If Rocket Mortgage and their algorithms turn you down, you can then check with Sofi, which is another company making loans super duper easy. Or, if you’d like to go the stringent, more traditional route, FHA will still lend you 96.5% of the purchase price, assuming you have a rock solid credit score of at least 580.  So don’t feel left out, it won’t be too many more years before there’s a new foreclosure crisis waiting for cash buyers.

South Shore Club at Lake Geneva

South Shore Club at Lake Geneva

The South Shore Club at Lake Geneva is old now. It’s been here for a long time, or for a lifetime, assuming the life is young and the long time isn’t viewed in any historical context. It’s not new, but it’s not old like the Chicago Club, or the Harvard Club, or the Lake Geneva Club.  But there’s nothing misunderstood about it now, nothing curious, nothing that needs so much explaining. The market was created, the market stumbled, the market found its footing and now the market is doing what’s best for the Club. It’s resting.

Last year, the last two pieces of aged inventory sold. That was my listing on Forest Hill Court, and the vacant lot immediately to the West of it. Those two properties, one build and one vacant, had been for sale for years. Literally, years and years. Then last fall they sold. Both at discounts, both at prices that represented significant losses for the sellers. But they both finally sold and with those sales, the South Shore Club removed the last piece of stubborn resistance.

Over the winter, nothing has happened in the South Shore Club, and that’s exactly what needed to happen. Then, a couple of weeks ago, an old bit of inventory made new again. A home that was built on spec near the tennis court on Forest Hill came back to market. That home had sold for $1.6s but was then improved, so the $1.9MM ask wasn’t out of line with market expectations. That home sold quickly and somewhat easily. Today, if you were only watching casually over the winter, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know about that sale (it hasn’t closed yet).

The market is quiet now, but it’s only quiet if you’re not on the inside. On the inside, there is at least one home privately offered for sale, though it isn’t listed. Inside, there aren’t any lots on the open market but there are two that might be sold if the price is right.  Outside, it looks as though the SSC has finally found its balance, and so long as the market there continues to release bits of inventory slowly, one at a time, the market will continue to improve. That’s what it looks like on the inside, too.

If we rewind to the spring of 2012, the South Shore Club at Lake Geneva was a total market disaster. It hadn’t printed a sale in forever, and vacant lots hung heavy on the MLS at lofty prices. When I took over the marketing of the club that year, the sale for $3.575MM on Lakeside changed everything. That sale showed the buying public that there was liquidity in the SSC, and that if you watched a property for too long it was likely to sell to someone more motivated than you. That sale begat another, and before 2012 had turned to 2013 we had a handful of sales, both lots and homes, and the market was on its way to correcting itself. But the full correction hasn’t been apparent until now.

That’s why that little off-market sale for $1.9MM matters so much. It means a buyer who just joined the club found immediate and easy liquidity to leave the club. It means the market is functioning as it should, and it means that sellers of SSC homes are no longer signing up for a lifetime of open houses and fruitless showings. It means the market is strong and the recover is complete.  If you’re a seller, you have an opportunity now. If you’re a buyer, work with me and I’ll get you into the South Shore Club even though there appears to be nothing available.

Glenwood Springs Sells

Glenwood Springs Sells

I think it’s great when someone comes up to tour some vacation homes on a Friday and buys one on a  Sunday. But I admit to you that in 20 years of selling real estate that’s only happened like once. And maybe that one time I’m remembering is something I’m imagining, like a dream I dreamt so many times that I now believe it to be true. The sorts of buyers that I work with tend to be far more methodical. They tend to be discerning. They tend to be slow moving, sometimes to the point where their deliberations become the reason they miss out on opportunities. Often, being thoughtful can cause buyers to overlook incredible value because they’ve convinced themselves that to be eternally patient is somehow better than being opportunistic.

Last week, I closed on the sale of an old house on Linden in Glenwood Springs. This house is in pretty rough shape, which might be giving it too much credit. It’s a tough old house, but it’s on a double lot with a lake view and a private pier so what difference does it make if a marble dropped in the living room somehow ends up making a visit to each main floor room before it settles?  Like most sales, this one tells a story, and it’s not a story of finding a buyer by placing an ad in the New York Times, or by pulling a full page ad in Mansion for $18,000. This is a story like most Lake Geneva stories.

In February of 2009, this old house came to market for $949,000. For those who weren’t paying attention to the market then, the winter of 2009 was an interesting time. The stock market melted in the fall of 2008, but it wouldn’t stop melting until spring of 2009, and the housing market from late 2008 through late 2009 wasn’t quiet sure what was happening. There were well known local Realtors here telling us, and I quote, “Lake Geneva is Different”. The supposition was that we wouldn’t crash like other markets because we’re better than other markets. We’re stronger, less dependent on leverage, more stable. I admit to finding myself in that camp on some days during that confusing winter.  In February of 2009, the seller in Glenwood Springs was buying that narrative, and so $949k it was.

The market worsened from late 2008 all the way through 2011, and so this house sat. The price was reduced and reduced some more, and then in the fall of 2011 the home sold for $499k. A far cry from the $949k initial list in 2009. Fall of 2011 was likely our market bottom here, but it wasn’t a uniform bottom. Entry level lakefront wouldn’t bottom until mid 2012, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that entry level lakefront still hasn’t recovered from that bottom. The higher reaches of our lakefront market have fared very well since that 2011 bottom, but how has Glenwood Springs done?

The Linden house was sold, but the new owner was mostly buying it because it was there, and at $499k it was cheap. In November 0f 2014, with the markets vastly improved, the old house on Linden came to market for $675k. The owner would make a nice return for the risk they took at the bottom of the market. They would make money, and they would celebrate over drinks. A toast, to the investor!

But last week I sold that home for $465k.  The 2011 risk on owner lost a sizable sum of money. Perhaps $100k when all fees and carrying costs are factored. Now a new buyer, a new opportunity, a $465k price for a double lot with a lakeview and a private pier. Since the 2011 low, two neighboring homes on Linden have sold, both in the $700s, both older homes. I sold one of those homes. The market proved fickle yet again, and the new buyer is the beneficiary of seizing the moment.

But the moment was almost lost, because this buyer had actually looked at the home with serious intent last summer. At that time, the list price was in the mid $500s and we were guessing that a $500k price might get the job done. The buyer decided the timing wasn’t right and we never engaged the seller in a negotiation. Then, in late January, I thought the time might be right, and the buyer bid. The timing wasn’t convenient for the buyer, as a family vacation was already planned and underway, but he found the time and made the bid.  When the dust settled, we had paid $465k- a price well below the 2011 market “bottom” price. The buyer won, and I’m pleased to have represented him.

It would have been easy to watch this property over the years and assume something was wrong with it. It would have been easy to take a pass. Every buyer but one did just that. But the new buyer found the motivation at the right time, and his family now gets to spend summer lakeside, swimming from their private pier, enjoying the Glenwood Springs scene, while the other more methodical buyers remain methodical in their city and suburban homes, wondering when the time will be right.

 

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

The ice is weak. It has been weak all season, since it first formed, just that skim coat at first, then more ice, stronger ice, but still weak. It has proven this time and time again, first with the great car-on-ice-caper of Winterfest Weekend, then again with the unfortunate death of a snowmobiler just two weeks ago. This is ice that cannot be trusted. This is the ice that must melt and leave us alone.

It melted two weekends ago. It melted more last weekend. The wind whipped it open in many spots, and those spots grew and shifted as the massive sheets of ice broke free and floated the way of the wind. The ice this morning is weaker still. It will be gone soon, gone by next week, by next Thursday, to be precise. Then we’ll be free to carry on as though the ice never was, because we never liked it, we never needed it, we never trusted it.

Spring is coming, and it’s coming fast. The days are longer. The nights are shorter. The winter market, once momentarily filled with the sort of fear that accompanies a tumultuous stock market, has soldiered on. Is this market just okay? Just barely hanging in there? Or is it robust, bold, strong and decisive, filled with buyers who seem to know what they want and others who, if given seven suitable choices, couldn’t even agree on dinner? It’s both, all things, both filled with motivation and filled with procrastination. As with all markets, the motivated are reaping the spoils of this market that is, as of this morning, in spite of the weak ice that still clings, alive and well.

This morning there are four properties with lake access pending under $300k. This is never a surprise to me, as it should always be an active, consistent market.  Interest rates are low and this range of buyer always has inventory to pick from. Fixer uppers and finished products alike, the former being in that price range with better locations, the latter being farther from the lake but shinier, prettier, less troubling. From $300k to $1MM, just three properties are pending, one in the Loch Vista Club, one in Country Club Estates, and one to a buyer of mine in Glenwood Springs. This market segment is light on inventory, as buyers are interested in $500-600k homes with slips, they just don’t care much for the limited active inventory.

Over $1MM is where the real action is today. The single family condo home on Wrigley is pending with a $1.1MM ask. I showed that home far too many times to not be the broker with the buyer, but alas, life, like primary season, is unfair. There’s a deal on Forest Rest of an off water home just over $1MM, and the curiously goofy little lakefront in Knollwood is pending in the $1.1Ms. Last week, the Dartmouth Woods lakefront home that I tried so desperately to sell last summer finally closed in the $1.2s, and that buyer did well to join that nice enclave of lakefront homes on the north side of Fontana Bay.

The newer lakefront for $2.125MM that rests in the shadow of Vista Del Lago is under contract, that to a move up buyer from another area property. The Conference Point lakefront with an old red brick house and 200′ of frontage closed last week for $3.2MM, which is now our second lakefront sale at $16k per front foot this year. In case you’re wondering, no, that doesn’t make it a trend. While I love that location on the lake, I don’t know as though I’d be a dirt buyer in the $3s over there. That will make whatever is built on that property the most expensive property for at least a mile in either direction of shoreline, and I’m not convinced I’d want that distinction. If I’m a lakefront buyer, I want to be surrounded by like kind properties. That’s why 1014 South Lakeshore in the $7s makes sense. That’s why my lakefront lot in Loramoor at $2.34MM makes sense. That’s why my beautiful lakefront on Pebble Point for $4.475MM makes sense.  I like to sell properties that make sense.

The Lackey Lane lakefront in the $4.5MMs is still pending to my buyer, and a new deal this week brings a buyer to a high $2s home in the Geneva Manor. That’s a home assessed at $2MM, so it’ll be fun when the reassessment of that property is done by the city, based on the new sales price. I have little else to say about that sale.

I will add that our local market loves it when out of town brokers show up with buyers. They generally buy things that don’t make tons of sense, which is why we love them. If you’re a buyer, read what I just wrote again.

Inventory hasn’t yet built, just in the way that it didn’t really build last year during this typical spring sales period. I expect lakefronts to trickle on to the market over the coming weeks, as I know I have at least three lakefronts coming soon under my brokerage. If you’d like to know about those before everyone else, you should be working with me. It’ll be fun.

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

The year is young now, but not so young that we can’t judge it.  One year old children are young, so young that we shouldn’t judge them. But two year olds? Judge away. The market is now in its second month, and with a lifespan of only 12, our market is as a 7 year old, and we know very well that we can judge 7 year olds. If a kid is fantastically smart and sweet as a 7 year old, chances are that behavior will stick through his or her life. If the 7 year old is horrible, mean and ornery, we can, sadly, assume that this 7 year old will grow to be a horrible, mean and ornery adult.  The 2016 Lake Geneva real estate market is old enough now that we must judge it.

January was not a kind month to my biotech heavy portfolio, in fact, it was ruthless and homicidal. The year started with big index declines, and continued in this most miserable lower for longer pattern. The good news might be that the bottom seems to have held for now, so buyers have not been scared away in the same way that they would have if we remained in that free fall. Most segments are doing just fine today, with individual markets performing better than others. Remember, cheap oil means your portfolio looks awful and you won’t be retiring on time,  but never underestimate the life affirming power of $1.49 gasoline.

I had a closing last month in Geneva National. GN, as you may recall, had a fantastic 2015. The carry over has not yet been evident. Today, GN has the rare condition of owning 71 market offerings (single family and condominium) but not a single showing as under contract. I have little doubt that something is under contract there, but the MLS isn’t yet reflecting that. That’s rare, that’s odd, and it’s not good. Sellers in GN who entered 2016 thinking that things have been completely healed should rethink that supposition. The market is better, yes, but if a particular seller has not yet succumbed to the pricing realities that cemented in 2015, then don’t expect buyers to be rewarding GN with liquidity in the way they did last year. GN, pay attention and don’t get smug just yet. YTD Grade: D

Abbey Springs has somewhat high inventory at the moment, with 36 offerings. The good news for AS is that they also have at least five of those properties under contract. If GN boasted a similar ratio, we’d see 10 GN properties under market at the moment and everyone would proclaim the market as hot, hot, hot (Disclaimer: Many agents do this regardless).  Abbey Springs has just one single family home under contract, that of a reasonably nice home on Saint Andrews listed at $699k. It’ll be interesting to see if 2016 delivers some upper bracket buyers in Abbey Springs. That didn’t happen in 2015, but we’ll see if ample inventory provides a few of those rare $800k+ buyers to Abbey Springs. YTD Grade: A-

The lakefront condo market on Geneva has, since its heyday of 1998-2006,  stalled. Spurts of volume here and there do not heal a market particularly well. But alas, prices in this segment never cratered in the way that the residential lakefront market did, which always perplexed me. If you’ll remember back then, I was perpetually wondering why there weren’t more foreclosures in the lakefront condo segment. I was happy there weren’t, but still surprised. Today the lakefront market has some nice movement, with a bit of aged inventory in Fontana Shores under contract and a townhouse in Somerset that just closed this morning for $725k. Inventory remains light in this segment, which is good. The lakefront condo market chokes on inventory. So far, so good. YTD Grade: B

The lake access market surrounding Geneva is off to a quick start, with five properties pending sale today. A few new ones- a contract with buyer of mine on a Glenwood Springs property, and a new contract on an off-water home in Cedar Point. That home is listed for $825k. It’s a charming home, but off-water with no slip and a somewhat limited cottage design. It had sold previously in 2007 for $1.15MM. That was a peak price, and then some. Other pending properties are in the lower reaches, including on in Indian Hills in the $400s, and three more under $250k in Country Club Estates and Cedar Point Park. YTD Grade: B

Lastly, the king, the lakefront market itself. Inventory is tragically low, with just 23 true lakefront homes listed (and four vacant lots, including two that are my listings- Loramoor $2.34MM and North Shore Drive $4.475MM). Of those 23, six have contracts. That’s really quite remarkable, so let that sink in for a bit. Out of 600 or so lakefronts on Geneva, just 17 homes are for sale. If you think you’ve found an exclusive market somewhere in some mountain town, I assure you we belly laugh at your exclusivity. Pending today is the small odd home in Knollwood ($1.125MM). That home is proof that if you just wait forever and keep dropping your price, you’ll sell. Dartmouth Woods is pending ($1.35MM), and that’s a nice little place that I like quiet a bit. A newer build on LaGrange is pending just over $2MM. If you don’t know the house, it’s the one that sits in the shadow of Vista Del Lago.

Bonnie Brae has a pending sale in the low $2s, and once that closes we’ll have seen a rather significant turn over on that Snake Road street. In the past several years, the market has closed three other lakefronts on that short road, with this pending ranch about to become the fourth. That’s nice to see, as new owners generally undertake some level of beautification of the home, and the market benefits.  In the upper reaches, the old brick home in Williams Bay formerly known as Towering Elms (until Dutch Elm Disease killed them all) is pending with a $3.85MM ask. Expect that home to be knocked down once closed. Finally, I have my sale on Lackey Lane in the mid $4s pending to  buyer whom I’m proud to represent.  YTD Grade: A-

One small lakefront closed last month, that of the skinny lot on Outing, just to the West of George Williams. For $800k, a buyer snuck onto the lake. It’s a curious property sure, but it’s $800k and that, is that. The lakefront market won’t be making an encore of the 2015 volume totals if this inventory stays low.  I have some exciting lakefronts coming to market in the near future, and I expect other agents have their own off-market properties on their radars.  The South Shore Club continues to be absent a single offering, which means that club won’t be lending too much to our inventory totals unless there’s a sudden influx of inventory, which I’m betting there won’t be.

For now, so far, so good. No after school tutoring or behavioral sessions necessary for our little seven year old.

 

It’s Lake Geneva’s Winterfest Weekend, so please do come to the lake if you like cool things, like snow sculptures. It’s a really great weekend. If you’re planning on waiting in line for brunch tomorrow, you can do so much better.

Geneva National 2015 Market Review

Geneva National 2015 Market Review

In 1992, a small one bedroom condominium in Geneva National sold for $92,300. I imagine how happy the new owners were. They’d come up to golf and to swim, to tennis and to walk, to explore the area and when the day was done, return to their tidy little condominium.  It was a slice of heaven, I suppose. In 2005, that small condo sold for the second time, for $129,900. Seems a reasonable ransom for that little bit of Lake Geneva bliss. If you’re worried that you missed out on that deal, don’t worry, the same condo is available today for $69,900.

It’s not easy to offer a property in 2016 for 75% of what it sold for in 1992, but Geneva National can do it.  2015 was a most spectacular year for GN. 81 built homes and condominiums sold. Consider in 2014 only 44 sold. 2013 had 56 such sales. 2012 just 35. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to the peak market year of 2006 to find more annual sales (91). Geneva National found favor last year, and anyone wondering why need only consider the sad tale of that one bedroom condo. Prices are still down, values are still obvious, and as a result, the liquidity is profound.

I’ve written often about Geneva National. Indeed such a large development in such a small overall market deserves considerable coverage. It’s no secret that I really like Geneva National. I like like it. It’s a terrific development, and as a guy who generally despises development Geneva National is an exception. It’s a fantastic development and our market needs it to bridge the gap between lake access homes on and near Geneva and everything else. The only problem with Geneva National is that it’s too big. It requires too many buyers annually to keep it moving forward, which is why it stalls when things in the market go sideways for a while. But its size isn’t its fault, it’s the fault of the developer who saw only dollar signs when he should have been contemplating the long term ramifications of such a large development. Perhaps a certain Geneva, Illinois developer should learn from Anvan’s mistake?

Value today is apparent in GN. There are deals, and there is value, and in that, Geneva National should continue to capture the attention it deserves. I sold two properties  in GN last year, and I have a terrific townhouse pending sale right now.  The sort of condo that you can buy in Geneva National for $200k doesn’t exist in Abbey Springs even up to $400k. If you want to affordably hang your hat and have a quiet launching point for a Lake Geneva weekend, is there anything better than Geneva National?

While the 2015 volume was comprised of plenty of smaller condo deals, it was nice to see some higher value properties print as well. There were 7 MLS sales over $500k, which is a positive for GN.  When I built my home in GN in the mid 2000s, I figured the primary market would take to GN and drive up prices as my generation sought to upgrade and improve their housing situation. I was wrong, of course, but Geneva National should be on the radar of any primary home buyer seeking a Walworth County residence in excess of $450k.  Additionally, a vacation home buyer seeking a $500k vacation home should generally try to be as close to Geneva Lake as possible. If that sort of cottage isn’t  desirable, then a GN home should at least garner a look.

Inventory in GN has dropped, with just 62 homes and condominiums for sale as of this morning. That’s way down from the traditional inventory levels that hover over 100, and I expect this will help GN in the first quarter. The properties that are for sale largely represent value, and low interest rates should help fuel some solid spring sales. I’m not sure how GN will fare over the course of 2016 if this stock market blip turns into a real slide, but I would expect a drop in volume from that most excellent 2015. A return to normalcy would be good for GN, so if the association can print 50-60 sales I would think that to be a fantastic year.

2015 Abbey Springs Market Review

2015 Abbey Springs Market Review

If we had our druthers, we’d be Abbey Springs. That’s assuming we weren’t we, but we were in fact a large association of homes and condominiums. If that’s who we were, we’d do so very well to be Abbey Springs. We’d laugh at our friends, presumably they’d be other large associations as well, because we, as a large association, wouldn’t consider hanging out with smaller, lesser associations. We’d have our friends, those bloated associations just like us, and we’d sit around and talk about life, about associationy things.  We’d laugh about people who stand up and complain about dues, and we’d laugh about the association presidents who desired, for one reason or many others, to be an association president. We would have fun being this massive association, because if we were Abbey Springs we’d be revered among our peers.

That’s because Abbey Springs just is. It’s just the way it is, the way it’s been, and those ways have found reasonably routine favor with the vacation home buying masses that smartly find their way to Walworth County.  In the way that Geneva National has been sexy at times because of its feast or famine nature, Abbey Springs has just existed.  There was a blip when the association decided to spend trillions (millions) of dollars and update the facilities and grounds. That was a battle and in that there was some sizzle. But otherwise, Abbey Springs is just a 592 unit association on the southern shore of Geneva Lake that plods along without a whole lot of market adversity.

When times were really good, in 2006, Abbey Springs sold 28 total units. Of that mix of single family and condominium properties, just one closed under $200k and four closed over $794k, including one at $1.3MM. That was one heck of a year.  When the market re-set in late 2008, what followed was an adjustment that was necessary and needed. Prices corrected, volume slowed, and what wasn’t well known was how deep and how long this particular correction would endure. While Geneva National muddled along in those rough years, Abbey Springs jus sort of was.  There were 17 sales in 2010, 14 in 2011, 17 in 2012, and 22 in 2013. Abbey Springs, even though prices corrected and volume dropped, fared as well as any large association ever has.

2015 was a very good year for Abbey Springs, but it wasn’t remarkable, nor was it special. It was just a year and Abbey Springs was just Abbey Springs. There were 22 units sold last year, with five of those printing over $500k and seven closing under $200k.  In 2014, there were 20 sales, in 2013, 22. This is a pattern of normalcy at Abbey Springs, and the association should be rather proud of itself for producing such a steady and consistent flow of transactions. Geneva National should be envious of that stability (though Geneva National had a fantastic 2015).

While it’s understood that $300-500k buys a pretty nice condo in Abbey Springs, and that $450k-$900k buys a pretty nice house (including one on Saint Andrews that I sold last fall for $746k), the unique part of Abbey Springs is the lower end segment that thrives. If you came to the lake with $200k to spend on a vacation home, I applaud your sense of purpose. Many in that range would opt for a smaller, lesser lake, where they could buy a similarly small, lesser property. This would be their mistake. Abbey Springs will gladly take your $200k and offer you a small condominium with full access to the unrivaled Abbey Springs amenities, which include, as a reminder, the following: Indoor pool, outdoor pool, restaurants, sand beach, basketball courts, tennis courts, exercise facilities, racquet ball court, game room, in/out service, pier system, and 18 hole golf course.

If you’re looking for a vacation home here, and you’re amenity oriented, there’s nothing like Abbey Springs. The market is sound, the volume predictable, the prices easy to understand. 2016 should be a repeat of 2015, which was a repeat of 2014, which, oddly enough, was a repeat of 2013. Expect around 20 sales here, with stable prices. Low interest rates should encourage buyers, and left over buyers from 2015 should be pleased to find new spring inventory coming to the market this month and the next. If we were Abbey Springs, we’d be awfully proud of ourselves, but we’d try to keep it to ourselves for fear of coming across as too smug.

2015 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

2015 Geneva Lakefront Market Review

The real estate market in 2006 was not yet aware of the trouble that awaited it. I, too, was not aware.  The lakefront market on Geneva was firing on all cylinders, performing well on a high octane mix of low inventory and high enthusiasm. The market was on fire. That year, we sold 19 true lakefront homes on Geneva Lake. That was a nice year, though I admit at the time I was less involved in the lakefront market than I was in the whatever-I-could-sell-market. That’s because I was paying my dues, which gave me the education that I appreciate today. Experience is not gained in times of excess, it’s gained when you’re hungry. 2006, 19 lakefront homes.

In 2015, we sold 33 lakefront homes on Geneva Lake. I say we, because the market did that, though I had a less than starring role in those sales. I wrote lots of offers, fielded many more, but when the dust settled I had only sold four lakefront homes. Only a few select agents can boast that sort of tally for 2015, and I am pleased to be one of them, though I felt better in 2014 when I was the top agent by so many millions that the next closest agent wasn’t close at all. Anyway, the sales.  What a year it was.

It was an unrivaled, record year for sales, sure, but it was also a year where the lakefront market changed. It changed because of new players in the market, players that have told us they’re experts, but haven’t proven it. A rhetorical question this morning: If you take a beat up 1991 Chevy Impala and put it in the shiny showroom of a Porsche dealer, what does the car become?  In real life, we know that Chevy is still a Chevy, but in real estate, a Chevy that is pushed into a Porsche dealer is, inexplicably, advertised as a Porsche.  But it wasn’t only new players who told us of their expertise, it was a year of a new model.

Auctions reared their MUST SELL NOW heads in 2015, and Lake Geneva featured at least three auctions on our hallowed waterfront.  The first was an auction on Geneva Oaks Trail, one of a house worth somewhere under $5MM. The house sold for a number that, once fees were paid, exceeded $5.5MM. On that momentum, two more auctions were scheduled. One auction would be at Stone Manor, the other of a home immediately to the North with a  shared pier. The home sold, the Stone Manor residence did not. Auctions, if you just started paying attention, batted 2 for 3, which, if you batted that over your career, would give you three more votes for the Hall than Ken Griffey Junior received.

But 2 for 3 is deceiving, because sometimes you can dribble the ball off the end of the bat and reach first. Other times, you can squeak one past the third baseman, and I know this because of my handful of career little league hits I count both in my repertoire. The two auction homes sold, sure, but to whom? Where did these elusive lakefront buyers come from? Were they dredged up through the slick ads and drone photography? Were they tempted by the shiny signs that pointed the way?  Of course not. Both buyers were buyers who were already in the market. They were already interested in a lakefront home. They were buyers who likely would have bought no matter the vehicle used to complete the sale. Auctions in 2015 looked exciting, but they were boring, providing more seller risk than is worth the market reward.

One lakefront (pier 511) sold as a For Sale By Owner. This was an interesting decision by this seller, as most sellers of lakefront homes have no interest in fielding phone calls from gawkers and buyers and agents, like, all wishing for some sort of angle.  The property ultimately sold, as it should have because it was pretty interesting in the mid $4s, but it sold via an agent who brought in the buyer.  The seller paid nearly a full commission on this deal, and handled the annoyances of the transaction personally. Did the buyer show up at the property because the buyer found out about the listing in some rare way, through some shiny ad in some large glossy? Don’t be silly. The buyer was another lakefront owner who was playing musical homes, which is, as a point of fact, the favorite game of local Realtors.   The buyer of that home sold his lakefront home to a neighbor.

Of the other 30 homes that sold, most sales made sense, but not all. There was a heavy sale of a house on a cliff in Fontana, north of $5MM. A few other sales here and there were excessive, but most did make sense. A nice price for around 100′ of frontage and a reasonably fair house hovered between $1.95 and $2.65MM all year, and that’s a fine range to win lakefront ownership. 2014 ended with an average price per foot of lakefront nestled at $21,144. 2015 ended at $25,161.  Those here who love to explain how data works would tell you that lakefront prices rose 20%. They’d tell you that it was such a hot year that if you didn’t buy you made a huge mistake! But they’d be wrong on all fronts.

The lakefront market did appreciate in 2015, as it’s likely to do some in 2016, but it didn’t move 20%. It might have moved 5%. Might have. But it didn’t move 20% just because we sold some expensive lakefront homes that skewed our averages higher. Want to know what raw lakefront is worth right now? Somewhere around $22,00 per foot. How can I tell you that, when the average shows a much higher number? Because data only makes sense when you understand the context.

2016 should be more of the same, with moderate price increases but no where near the amount of volume. Prior years had us closer to 20 lakefront homes sold, and I expect we’ll fall somewhere around 22-24 total lakefront sales in 2016. The South Shore Club won’t be there providing loads of liquidity, and the entry level lakefront likely won’t have the heavy inventory that it had last year. We enter the year now with a few lakefronts under contract, including my buyer on the Lackey Lane property listed in the mid $4s, and a buyers on a two small lakefronts in Williams Bay.  There’s a deal on the large tear down in Williams Bay listed in the high $3s (another buyer that would likely have done better to explore the built inventory in the $6-8 range rather than build new).  There will be inventory coming, some of it rare and exciting (better call me if you want to know about them before everyone else does). There will be plenty of sales this year, but sellers should glance again at the market indexes before thinking it’s going to be a repeat of 2015.

 

 

Blood Red Markets

Blood Red Markets

Another January morning. Clear pale blue skies, soft low light, index futures off triple digits. It’s been a trend this week, the skies pale blue and the markets in blood red.  It’s alarming, sure. But what does it all mean for the Lake Geneva real estate market? Will this sell-off escalate to such a level that the vacation home market will grind to a halt?  Or will this sell-off be short lived, another 10% correction that is quickly and efficiently erased over the coming weeks and months?  The reason I type in the mornings is because I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that the red start to 2016 will impact the Lake Geneva market.

When markets are oft green, it’s a good thing for our market. This isn’t a surprise to anyone. To understand the stock market and its impact on our housing market, you must understand that people don’t usually buy vacation homes when they feel broke or uneasy. They buy vacation homes when they feel confident, and fiscal confidence is no higher than during a period of inflated paper wealth. Buyers don’t buy just because they have enough liquid wealth to pull off the weekend-changing vacation home purchase. They buy when they feel better about their finances, not just when their liquid finances are better. It’s emotional, this game, and paper wealth inspires confidence in a  way that a 5% pay raise cannot.

This is why there’s a basic chart on my homepage that shows you the price per foot for lakefront homes, and the early January S&P print for that year. When our housing market is up, it’s predictably up on the heels of an increased index. This is just the way it is, and the historical perspective proves the point. When buyers feel good about their position in life, they buy. When they feel uncertain, they stand pat.  This isn’t always a smart idea, as the only economy that really matters is your personal economy. In 2011, when the housing market was feeling an intense amount of pain and uncertainly was everywhere, I sold a lot of lakefront homes. Why? Well, silly, because the buyers felt their own personal economy justified such a life-improving purchase. That’s why.

The benefit of an early red start to this year is a benefit that buyers will feel. Any seller paying attention should see these worrisome signs and adjust their bull thinking. If an autumn 2015 seller thought his $2.5MM house was worth $3MM, perhaps a few days of bloody red ink will make her think it’s really only worth $2.75MM. It’s still high, of course, but it’s not as high. January is the month where Lake Geneva adds much of its spring inventory, which makes prices this month exceptionally important.  If all the numbers come out too high, that’ll set the tone for a slow spring season, excepting the irrational buyers that might work with other brokers who cheerlead them into submission.  If the listing numbers come out a bit more subdued as a result of this rough start to the year, our spring housing market will be the beneficiary.

Mortgage applications for the last two weeks of December fell dramatically. Housing bears will look at this and say “see, I told you, the housing market is weak and couldn’t even withstand a teensy, tiny rate increase”. This is absurd.  In 2014, I was blessed with $37MM in sales. What a tremendous year that was. In 2015, I was blessed with only $19MM in sales.  Does this mean my business is crumbling because I sold only a little more than half of my previous year total? Of course not, it just means in 2014 I put lots of buyers in lakefront homes, and I entered 2015 with a bunch of happy homeowners who were no longer hunger house hunters.  The last two weeks of December was slow for mortgage brokers because the first two weeks (ahead of the rate increase) were so busy. When a car dealer puts a sale on for the last week of June, do you think the first week of July is particularly busy?

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

2015 Lake Geneva Lake Access Market Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Lakefront Condo Year In Review

2015 Lakefront Condo Year In Review

I’m just going to say that it makes sense. It makes sense that the lakefront condo market remains stuck in neutral. It doesn’t make sense because of some large demographic shift, and it doesn’t make sense because of some market dynamic that isn’t explainable. It makes sense because entry level lakefront homes are also stuck in neutral, and as long as prices on the low range of the lakefront market remain soft, there’s no reason that the lakefront condo market should succeed.

The thinking here follows very simple principles of market demand, and the reactionary pricing that exists when one market is closely tied to another. If a buyer can spend $600k on a lakefront condo, that’s tremendous. There are many buyers that would find that to be their upper limit, which is a lofty limit by any standard. But many in that range can sneak upwards, they can reach to $1MM, or $1.1MM, maybe even $1.2MM. If they could spend $600k easily but $1.1MM with a stretch, that’s the sort of buyer that would generally be well served to stretch to private frontage, and that’s likely what’s been happening within the lakefront condo market. It isn’t that there aren’t buyers, it’s just that the buyers are being tempted by single family homes that are competing for their vacation loving dollars.

It’s not just lakefront, mind you, it’s off-water single family stealing the condominiums’ thunder as well. If you could spend $550k for a lakefront condo with a slip, I like that idea. But what if you wanted a yard of your own because your dog is super obnoxious and you don’t want to bother condominium neighbors? Well, then you could drive down some road here and find a lake access cottage with a slip for similar dollars. The condo market isn’t flawed, and it isn’t dying, it’s just facing stiff competition.

In 2015, nine lakefront condominiums sold per our MLS. That’s a nice number, and it included condominiums of all shapes and sizes. Someone paid just $187k for a one bedroom lakefront condo at Fontana Shores, and a customer of mine paid $1.195MM for a fabulous lakefront condo at Eastbank with finely appointed finishes and furnishings, a lake view and a canopied boatslip. Other notable sales this year included a couple at Vista Del Lago, a couple at Fontana Shores (including one I sold for $335,500), one at Bay Colony, and a couple at Geneva Towers. It should be noted that one developer’s plan to upgrade Geneva Towers into a building bursting with $1MM+ condominiums didn’t really work as planned. They sold some units, but the initial pricing goals were not met.  All in all, it was a fine year for the lakefront condo market on Geneva.

Currently, there are 13 lakefront condos available on Geneva. My fabulous Stone Manor unit is still available in the high $5s, and my lovely two bedroom condo at the Fontana Club remains unsold in the high $400k range. The market is light on inventory at the moment, which is a good thing. The lakefront condo market functions at its absolute best when the inventory is limited. Too many units available in any one condo development and the market senses trouble, even when there is none. If we can keep the inventory total down in 2016, I’m expecting a similar year to 2015.

Low interest rates should provide plenty of fuel for continued condo sales. Remember, 2014 boasted 11 lakefront condo sales on Geneva, so our 2015 total is sagging behind a bit. I think 2016 will be more in line with 2015, as the market absorbs the remaining aged inventory at somewhat discounted prices. If you’re a $500k buyer and you want your own yard so your horribly loud dogs can bark away, I understand. But if you’re a $500k type buyer and you just want an easy place to hang your hat on the weekends, the condo market deserves a look.