It was January, I think. An active lakefront buyer client of mine decided to put the brakes on his lakefront home search. The vaccines were coming, he said. Travel was re-opening. The affluent were going to remember just how much they love the south of France, he boasted. Lake Geneva, he figured, had experienced its day in the pandemic stained sun, and things would return to what he considered to be normal. Normal, he said, was what was coming. It’s September 9th, and when I look around the things I see feel anything but normal.
Inventory presented itself this year, and then I sold it. Off-market deals were prevalent, and if you’re the sort that doesn’t like off-market deals because you prefer to watch the market through the cloudy lens of an automated broker MLS feed, I hate to break it to you: Off-market deals are going to be a major part of all high-end markets for the foreseeable future. The inventory, while present during the summer, never stacked. The market saw the inventory and it devoured it. YTD sales are roughly in line with 2020, which was roughly in line with 2019. Volume is here, but it presented piece by piece and the market consumed every last bit of it.
Today there are three lakefront homes for sale. One in Cedar Point. One in the South Shore Club. And my legacy estate offering on Snake Road. The only listing of those three that should have sold by now is my listing on Snake. Even so, the inventory is nonexistent and my list of lakefront buyers is growing by the week. But back to the summer and what exactly just happened. Had we not had any inventory, the market would have lost a considerable number of buyers. Remember, that’s what happens when Lake Geneva gets tough. The weak buyers leave and pursue some sort of terrible real estate in some sloppy secondary market. There are people who think that lakes are lakes and water is water, and those people absolutely hate when Lake Geneva doesn’t offer them what they want, when they want it. And so it went this year, we lost a few buyers to lesser lakes, or we lost buyers who decided that they want to go to ORD and sit on a covid-charter when it’s time to visit their vacation home. For. Terrible. Shame.
But we didn’t lose everyone, because the inventory trickled to market at a relatively steady rate. This fall I have the expectation of the same activity. I see no coming inventory rush. What I do see, however, is the continuance of off-market transactions and a few new on-market listings. No matter the year, no matter the economic cycle, there are families that decided this would be their last summer at the lake. They didn’t come to that decision lightly, nor are they happy about it, but life is full of changes and challenges and for some, this was the last of the Lake Geneva summers.
In case you haven’t noticed, Covid is back. Because it never went anywhere. And it never is going anywhere. It’ll be here for the remainder of our days, vaccinated or not, it’s going to be an off-key harmony in the background of everything we do for as long as we do it. The West was on fire all summer. We know this because we dealt with their smoke by way of several weeks worth of high white skies. The Southeast had another hurricane, as did the Northeast. A client of mine has a home in the Hamptons and he was no doubt thrilled to visit just in time to batten down his fancy hatches. If Covid hassles air-travel and the West burns and the Northeast gets whipped by the tropical winds, doesn’t that make the Midwest quite attractive in all of its hum drum normalcy? I say it does, and increasingly buyers who might consider far-flung vacation homes, agree.
Prices are front of mind for buyers, as they should be. Prices have become disjointed as old fashioned neighborhood contagion no longer exists. Inventory is limited, buyers are everywhere, and the Nasdaq ticker is reading 15,288. Jumbo loan rates are sub 3 (in many cases, consult your lender) and portfolio loans are measured in double digit basis points. With all of these factors at play, who could suggest that the Lake Geneva housing market doesn’t continue on its current path? I do not love the current pricing, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere. As long as these strong tailwinds blow, the market will react accordingly. If you’re looking for a clue as to when prices might soften, you must look to the inventory. With two true lakefront homes available, prices will stay firm. If we increased that number to a dozen, after a few months of some inventory ripening on market then, and only then, might we see a reprieve on pricing.
Until then, I’ll see you at the lake. If you want to sell quietly and directly, let me know. If you want to be on the buy side of some of those unique options, you should probably let me know that, too.