January is an interesting month. On one hand, it’s winter, so everyone likes to pretend that it’s too difficult to do things. Drive to the lake on a Friday night? What, in winter? Go out for dinner next Wednesday with friends? And risk the possibility that it might snow, or be otherwise mildly uncomfortable outside? The Midwest is soft in the winter, and yet we pretend to be sturdy and steadfast. In mountain towns they eat outside in January, and if you think it’s cold, they just throw some faux animal fur blanket over the chair. Yet we think of the mountain towns as being prissy and soft and we maintain that we’re the tough ones. Want to know how tough we are? Schedule a showing for Saturday and watch the cancelation filter through once the forecast calls for a couple of inches of snow. Pfft.
It’s because of this inconsistent view of winter and the January real estate market can be odd. The month can be dull and quiet, and if so, we’ll expect that. It’s winter, after all, and if we must find some time to rest, both personally and as a collective market, then January should be that month. Heck, I was in Maui not resting last week and you didn’t even know it. Other times, January can be active. Full of closings and contracts and showings, albeit some showings that are canceled because of a few inches of fluffy precipitation. In this, January is binary. It’s good or bad. It’s rarely just acceptable. No matter which condition it finds itself owning, there is one truth about the month: it is often a harbinger of the entire year. If that’s the case, then 2020 is about to be significant.
I knew there was something to this January when we had a surplus of showings between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s not typical, and in the case of the month that just ended, it proved there were handfuls of motivated buyers intent on fixing their miserable, boring, city or suburban weekends. But we have that one really fun restaurant we always go to on Saturday night! Yes, I know you do, and it’s boring and lame. The market showed remarkable strength during January, punctuated by my new Geneva Manor listing that I shared with you last week on these pages.
That home was listed in the MLS on Wednesday night. By Sunday, I had fielded three offers and negotiated an acceptance of one of them. The market reaction to the listing was curious to me, but telling. Of the showings that were held, most buyers had interest. One buyer bowed out after two showings. Other buyers asked questions through their respective agents, and they were the sort of questions posed by typical January buyers. A typical January buyer, by the way, is one that feels some level of motivation but still believes that summer 2020 is a long distance away. Like a 31 year old funding his IRA, it seems like something that should be done but it doesn’t necessarily take priority over more immediate concerns. There were other buyers, the ones that made their offers. These were the buyers that understand the market to be active, that understand inventory to be light, that understand the chance of something similar at a similar price point coming their way in the coming 60 or 90 days to be slim. It’s only January, but the buyers of Lake Geneva remain the buyers of Lake Geneva. Some want to buy, others sort of want to buy, and some just want to know why the spray faucet in the kitchen doesn’t work and if, indeed, the seller intends to replace it soon. That buyer is going to spend their Sunday mornings in a brunch line, for deep and terrible shame.
For the month that just ended, I closed one lakefront, the listing on the north shore of Fontana that I told you about here. That was the only lakefront to close last month. A park-front home in Indian Hills closed for a smidge over $1MM, but that home had a one-time transferable slip which made the market feel slightly pensive towards it. (Attention Grammar Police: I will continue ending sentences in prepositions because I don’t really care enough to rework a sentence to avoid IT). The remainder of the lake access closings during January were limited to a few sub-$500k properties here and there, including one in Knollwood and one in Country Club Estates.
But those are the closings, not the new contracts, so they speak more of the mood during late 2019 than the new mood of 2020. New contracts around the lake include properties in Country Club Estates, Trinke’s, Alta Vista, and Knollwood. Lakefront contracts include my aforementioned property in Geneva Manor, and the property with shared frontage at Westgate ($3.195MM). That property has languished on the market for over a year, and after several price reductions it finally has its buyer. The house, while beautiful from the exterior, suffered from a wonky floor plan and some dated finishes. Still, it’s a fitting lake house in a marvelous setting, and the sale makes total sense to me.
Given the interest in my Manor listing, it’s obvious to me that 2020 buyers are prevalent. They are seeking value, sure, but they’re placing equal parts value on their time. More on this to follow, during my 2019 year end review that I’ll write later this week or early next week. If you are a lakefront or lake access buyer looking to make sense of this hyper-active market, you should probably talk to me. Some buyers will find this market activity to be off-putting, but those are the same sort of buyers that won’t make ever eat dinner at the best restaurant in town because they can’t stand the idea of having to make their reservation so far in advance. With buyers of all makes and models currently considering this market for their vacation home aim, one thing is certain. The buyers who understand the market will make the best decisions and the buyers who don’t understand the market will make the biggest mistakes. The best way to avoid membership in the latter group is to educate yourself before you start looking at property, and there’s no better way to begin and further that education than by subscribing to this blog. As a bonus, you’ll know where to find a good steak this summer.
Above, a casual summer sunset from my lakefront at 614 Sauk Trail, $1.99MM.