Those are the homes that hide behind high steel and concrete walls. Those are the walls that were erected to keep the traffic from that interstate and the noise that the traveling generates from the ears of those homeowners who live in those houses. Behind those walls they live, like everyone else, throwing footballs in the fall and mowing lawns in the summer, indeed tending to gardens in the spring. They live there for reasons that I have never, ever understood. Housing is, after all, a most free expression, and a capable home buyer can choose to live anywhere that his budget affords. I could go online this morning and search for a home in some town in Idaho that I have yet to discover and within a few weeks I could own that home, with no overriding authorization needed. This is freedom, and while we are no longer free to express our thoughts, the freedom to live where we wish is still a most guaranteed right.
This is why living directly behind a concrete wall makes little sense to me, but I needn’t be in an urban or suburban area to find curious the real estate moves of others. For those who would counter with mention of price driving some to live on top of heavily traversed roadways, I’d argue that a home with an interstate for a neighbor can be no less expensive than another home in another suburb. Geneva Lake too, and this prized woodsy ground that borders it, is home to many of the most lavish homes in the country. Owners of shameless fame and shameful infamy have considered this boundary land home, and today buyers of all sorts find their way here through the exercising of their own housing freedoms.
But the curious decisions in the city are mirrored by curious decisions in the suburbs and they are mirrored here on these shores in remarkable similar, head scratching fashion. There is new construction on this great lake, lots of it. New construction has been the norm here over the past decade, as owners buy and tear down, buy and tear down, completing a cycle of gentrification with a healthy dollop of both the cream and the clear. The home building is mostly good, though some have chosen to abandon restraint and build things that wouldn’t be comfortable on a 10 acre site let alone a 1.3 acre site. This sort of oversized building is not welcome here, but it is impossible to zone it out of existence, so it continues and some homes are built with 20 car garages while others are built with master bathrooms capable of entertaining all of your friends and mine. At the same time.
The building doesn’t bother me, and in fact it makes for excitement along these shores, but some of it makes absolutely zero sense. It’s as if some owners have their eyes so narrowly focused on the prize that is a new vacation home that they forget a very simple truth: The model number of your Sub Zero doesn’t matter nearly as much who, or what, your neighbors are. If we’re building new on this lake, we should be content with the market context of our soon-to-be-built home. If we have a site that we purchased for $2MM and it can support a $5MM home, then by all means, build away. I’ll even allow ridiculous indulgences, and if your builder sees fit to install an oak floor before he installs a marble floor over it, then so be it. But for some reason, this isn’t what happens on this lake, in spite of ample inventory that will, at all times, satisfy a buyer who wishes to build new.
This absence from value consideration is why we have a home being built in between two giant condominiums, and another being built right next door to a boat launch. This is why we have a beautiful home for sale for a lot of money that fronts mostly on a lagoon. This is why we have magnificent homes built on the teensiest of lots, and this is why some build new and fancy in an area filled with old and humble. This is, I suppose, the purest form of muscle flexing- the building of a home in a location that makes no sense for no other reason than we can. We are free, after all, and while we don’t dare say what we think, we can build where we want, what we want, no matter the dire financial consequences.
Most vacation homes here are bought with the intention of keeping them forever. This is noble and it is a generational goal that I think we all strive to achieve, but this isn’t what happens. Homes are bought, then homes are built, and then, for one reason or many, they are sold. We buy with the thought of selling, and we should be thinking of the sale at the same time that we contemplate the buy. If you must build on a launch or in the shadow of a towering brick fortress, you’re free to do so, but we are also all free to go boating and swimming today, and I’d rather not.
Above, another great photo by Matt Mason Photography.