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.