The first house I ever bought was an old house with questionable framing and a double lot on the East side of Clover Street in Williams Bay. The next home I wanted to buy was a little cottage at 521 Wilmette in Cedar Point Park. There were occasions, perhaps three of them, when the owner of that little cottage verbally agreed to sell it to me. There were price adjustments between those tentative agreements, from $75k to $120k to $225k, but my interest never waned. The cottage was perfect for me, and minor price adjustments that ultimately represented a 300% price increase did not dissuade my motivation.
When the friendly old owner passed away a couple years ago, my opportunity that spanned more than a decade was lost. The property was, at the time that it was finally available for actual purchase, too expensive for me. When I first laid my lustful eyes on this cottage, I was single. When the property was made available two years ago, and my dream had the potential to be fully realized, I was (and am) a married man with two children and a dog. The cottage was no longer on my radar, and in a cruel twist of irony befitting a Lifetime movie, when the cottage was finally ready for me I was no longer waiting for it.
I listed that cottage on behalf of the seller two years ago for a considerable sum of money. I had hoped that the stellar location and lake view would offset the structure that demanded significant work. I had hoped that buyers would see the value in location first, and understand that the interior and exterior could be fixed, either through strokes of the pen to a check, or through hours of sweaty labor. I had hoped these things, but my hopes were out of line with the market that is comprised of my cherished Lake Geneva vacation home buyers. As much as I love this market, the lack of vision that the market displays is a touch annoying to me. And by a touch, I mean heaps and heaps of annoyance. Buyers desire clean interiors and freshly painted exteriors. They demand immediate gratification, and even price drops that totaled nearly $150k did little to distract buyers from the glare of peeling paint and missing trim. Location, location, location? It’s a cute mantra, but it only exists in our market in theory. If I were to correct this age old axiom, I would prefer it to be a new triumvirate of “Viking, Sub Zero, and Marble”. Preferably Carrara.
While this Cinderella of a cottage languished on the open market, and price drops occurred with alarming frequency, the market continually rewarded other properties with fancy finishes in less than outstanding locations. If a buyer was looking for a property with a lakeview, even if square footage wasn’t a major concern, they would gladly overlook this cottage in favor of others with less view, but more polish. Value, sadly, has not been readily available in homes that lack improving, as buyers, particularly those in the lake access segment, race to reward homeowners for their ability to call contractors and pen checks. Fortunately, after a long hunt, a buyer with vision emerged, and our darling, if dirty, little cottage sold last Friday for a buyer pleasing price of $280k.
While I do feel a bit bad that I wasn’t able to get a higher price for the seller, it’s important to know that a home in this condition would not qualify for most loan programs. As such, I required a cash buyer. Not only did the buyer need to present cash, but the condition of the home dictated that the buyer also be prepared to undertake a considerable and possibly lengthy renovation, a renovation that will count dollars spent in the tens of thousands until they cumulatively exceed six figures. Lake Geneva, for all of the intelligent, value minded buyers that circulate on any given weekend, is not a market that easily understands the value of a lake view if that view is wrapped in a dusty wooden package.
Congratulations to the buyer of this fantastic cottage. If you’re a neighbor or a casual observer, take a drive by this cottage in a few months and you’ll see what a little vision can do for an old property. If you’re a value minded buyer, let’s do our best to find value in location first, even if it’s masked by the patina of old age and peeling paint.