Coronavirus is coming for all of us. I mean, it might be. Who knows? I see on Facebook some of my friends who dislike the president seem to be relishing in the stock market decline. They’re blaming the president for this outbreak, which is fine, I suppose. It’s their right to do so. But this new strain of an old virus is hurting our portfolios, mostly those numbers in our head that help us understand if our spending patterns are either justified or reckless. If I lose $100k in a week because Italy shut down, does it mean I can’t buy groceries? No, but it means I probably don’t feel like buying that really nice Defender 90 I’ve been thinking about. If you lose $500k in a few weeks, does it mean you can’t pay your Comcast bill? No, but you might not be in a super hurry to buy a lake house. This is how all of this works.
Except when it doesn’t. Because this virus scare has been in full hype mode for the better part of three weeks and the Lake Geneva lake access market is hotter than I’ve ever seen it. I repeat, hotter than I’ve ever seen it. And I’ve been sitting at this desk for 24 years, so I’ve seen some stuff. Think you’re going to knock off a piece of aged inventory because coronavirus is going to motivate the seller? Good luck! Someone else already bought it yesterday. Think this house on that lane is going to represent some sort of value because it’s a stupid house and the roof is ugly and the kitchen cabinets are awful and the whole property looks wretched? Interesting story, because someone just bought it this morning. If you’ve been thinking you’re going to find value this week because the stock market is bleeding I have a report from the lake: you’re wrong.
It doesn’t bring me joy to tell you this. In fact, I’d prefer a supply-side market that features a bit of fear. I’d like to be able to negotiate some value for my clients and customers. I would have thought that this equity decline would shake loose a few sellers that might otherwise be motivated, but I feel like I’m wrong, at least so far. There is reason to believe if this decline hits deeper levels, perhaps another 10% off from here, this vacation home market has to react to some degree. It has to. Right? Tell me it has to. Because I’d like it to.
In spite of my reality based concerns, the lake access market is on a tear. I was engaged in a multiple-offer situation last week, and lost. I had another property in my sights, and that one sold. Yesterday the same buyer came to look at a new listing, and that was already with offer. There is reason to be cautious, sure, but my cautious approach may be an anomaly at the moment. When this year began I had my concerns, as I have every year. Would the stock market buckle and bring a softening to our vacation home market? Would our low inventory choke out buyer interest, and would those buyers turn to less popular lakes where they have awful water and awful things, but they do have inventory? This happens, by the way. A tight market makes the “all lakes are the same” people do crazy things. Of course, these other terrible lakes in the Midwest rejoice when Geneva is low on inventory, because it means some of our buyers will wander down the wrong lanes and find themselves at Wrong Lake, USA. I’m sure there’s such a lake, but in the Midwest, it’s actually every lake that doesn’t start and end with GENEVA.
I’m approaching this week with the same cautious confidence by which I approach every week. I think there’s reason to be concerned about the stock market taking this meaningful hit. I also think there’s reason to be concerned about the fact that our new inventory is being gobbled up, and along with it the aged inventory, too. I think there’s a bit of a disconnect here. But I also think that interest rates are now, once again, at historic lows and that alone will spur some buyers into action. I also think the ongoing Illinois issue will keep buyers from spending more housing dollars in that state and instead they’ll choose to bring them here. I think there is plenty of reason to think that 2020 is going to be an incredible year for our market, but there is also reason to think we should approach the coming weeks with at least a shred of caution. Then again, I’m not a current buyer and the past week of market activity has told me that no one cares what I think. Risk on.
Above, the shore path and lakeside gazebo at my Clear Sky Lodge listing, $2.69M