On a January day in 2018, a pleasant house on the north shore of Fontana hit the market for $4,695,000. It wasn’t a house that was necessarily built to hit the market, but on that cold day during that coldest of months, there it was. Listed (not my listing). The price? Aggressive. But who could blame someone for listing a brand new home for a premium? The market was starved for new inventory, and the home made some sense. It was high quality, high pedigree, and the location, on that northern shore of Fontana Bay was, and is, quite desirable. The home quickly fielded an offer, then a contract, and as quickly as the deal came together it fell apart. Then, the waiting.
I showed the home many times over these last two years. I showed the home to people who wanted something new. The people who wanted something fun. The people who wanted something that was unique but not weird. Each time, the showing would follow a similar path. The buyers liked the home, but. They really liked the view, but. They liked the style, but. If I showed the home ten or more times, imagine how many more times the home was shown by others. Buyers came and buyers went, and the home sat unsold.
This fall, I was contacted by an existing client of mine who was ready for an upgrade. They wanted something unique. Something fun. They didn’t mind the elevated frontage, and in fact, they preferred it. The views, man. The views. The driveway access was a bit complicated here, with an unwieldy slope from the small private road to the home, but this, too, didn’t upset them. After a negotiation, we settled on a price, and last Friday the home closed. $3,730,000, nearly $1MM less than the asking price when the home first hit the market. Of course I’m pleased to have represented this lovely buyer. I’m honored to play such a large role in this lakefront scene. But the story of 1905 NLSD isn’t about me, it’s about the house, and the lessons that can be learned about the listing and sale of lakefront homes.
We generally offer two different types of properties here. We offer bad homes on nice lots, and nice homes on bad lots. We love that combo. We have a hard time with anything else. This home was a nice home on a nice enough lot, which automatically made it a rare offering. If this home were wedged onto a 50′ lot on the side of some cliff, it couldn’t have been worth $3.73MM, let alone $4.695MM. It was a 100′ lot, albeit elevated, with terrific views on that west end of the lake. The home itself was a Jason Bernard (Lake Geneva Architects) design, meaning the design was thoughtful and interesting. The build quality was high, with fancy trim work, beautiful masonry, a high end kitchen (Wolf, SubZero, et al), and three finished levels of meaningful square footage. Still, in spite of the positive, the reason this home (in my humble opinion, of course) sat on the market had everything to do with market positioning.
The initial price was too high. We know this now. It was aggressively high, and while we cannot blame any seller for listing high into a robust market, this was an obvious barrier to sale. Still, even at that initial list price, that wasn’t the primary reason the home didn’t sell. It had everything to do with the home itself, and not the pedigree or design or the make of the countertops. When positioning a newer home into the market (in fact, when this home was listed it was brand new), the home must be perfect. It cannot require any level of imagination of its buyer. It can’t have anything unfinished. Landscaping cannot be marginal. The pier must be new. Buyers must be able to see and feel the simplicity of the offering, and if they do, they might reward the seller with a premium. When you’re buying a new home, any buyer in Anytown, USA knows that the are paying some form of premium. It’s obvious. If they know that, and they’re going to accept that, then they need to be wowed by every aspect of the property, not just by the fundamentals.
In the same way, if you’re selling an older house, then a buyer isn’t expecting to be wowed. They are judging the quality of the land. The quality of the location. Perhaps the quality of the core of that particular house, as to whether or not it can hold a suitable renovation. In the case of new construction, sellers need to understand that a buyer expects near perfection. You can have a dynamite fireplace, with big fancy stone, but if pieces of trim are missing from the countertop overhang, that’s not acceptable. If the view is sublime but the landscaping is in tatters, buyers will not be enamored with your offering. If paint is questionable or fixtures are missing, or staging isn’t present, all of this combines to create significant subterfuge for your otherwise ideal offering. Timing is everything, but that doesn’t just apply to the time of year. It applies to the completion of everything, to the perfection of the nuance that nearly always creates the gap between sold and stagnant.
I’m pleased for this sale. It removes another piece of aged inventory from our lakefront market, and it should prove to buyers that there is still value to be had. For the buyers that decided to give their weekends a significant upgrade, I wish you all the best in your new Lake Geneva lakefront home.