I placed a renter in a South Shore Club home once. The renter was actually a buyer, but he needed a bit of convincing, and so a house he was looking to buy became a house he decided to rent. A short time later, he bought that house, and owns it to this day. The lakefront rental is an odd creature, but mostly due to the fact that this market isn’t like other vacation home markets. Whenever the Chicago Tribune decides to grace us with their generic commentary on vacation homes, it tends to revolve around rentals. The author admonishes future buyers to be sure they understand the rental rules of the area they’re buying, and to be sure they understand what the rates will be, and how many weeks or days or months they can expect to rent it for. The articles are all like this. Buying a vacation home? Better understand the rental rules! Lake Geneva is different because we don’t really care about rentals, not one bit.
To understand why you must understand that most markets love rentals because they allow the owners financial flexibility. Lake Geneva scoffs at that concept, so much so that our county put in place a 30 day minimum rental ordinance. Whether this ordinance is still in place is something that other people can debate at another time, because all that matters today is the intent. Lake Geneva (and our surrounding municipalities) didn’t want this area to turn into Door County, where the only thing more common than closed antique shops are FOR RENT signs in front yards of in-town cottages. We didn’t want to be that sort of community, and so we made renting somewhat hard. I don’t mind the 30 day rental minimum, because the intent was to preserve the quality of life for all who choose to own vacation homes here.
But still, the lakefront rental is necessary and there are some available. There are brokers with bits of inventory, there are mass portals with inventory, even airbnb has inventory. But inventory in this context means a few homes here and there, and they are difficult to find. It’s for this reason that I would like to skip all of the rental talk and make a guarantee. If you’re thinking about buying a Lake Geneva vacation home and you feel the need to rent one first to see if you like it, I assure you you’ll like it. There. I saved you a considerable sum (generally between $20-50k per month). I saved you that uncomfortable phone call when you tell the homeowner that your son threw a baseball through the front window. Which window? Not one of the little ones. The big one. The giant picture window that so wonderfully frames that view of the front yard and the lake beyond. That’s the window your son plans to break, but not now, because I saved you the rental fee, the window replacement fee, and that inescapable knowledge that you’re sleeping in someone else’s bed. You’re welcome.
Because that’s really all this is: It’s a trial. It’s a test to see if you’ll like this place, this vibe, this scene. This would be like setting your sites on a brand new, luxury sedan. You know you like the BMW, in fact, you might love it. And so you go to the dealership, you trace the curves with your hand, and at one point, you kneel down to look into the wheel, as if you know what it is you’re looking for, and at. You pop the hood, never mind the inside of the engine bay no longer features anything but a large plastic cover, emblazoned with mention of twin turbos and Castrol. You look and you think, and while the price is stiff, who could look at this car under those showroom lights and decides against it? You ask for a test drive, thinking that it’s best you drive this thing before you buy it, but the buying decision has already been made. The test drive just confirms what you already knew. This is the car for you.
To be fair, there are some people who will rent a Lake Geneva lakefront home and decides this isn’t the place for them. They’ll spend some time here and think, nah. These are the sorts of people who dislike large bodies of perfect water, where no matter the tumult of the afternoon before the morning water is clear, pure, filtered and ready to do it all over again. People who hate sunsets and sunrises, these people will hate Lake Geneva. If you hate walking down an ambling path, in front of and next to some of the most beautiful homes ever built, then you, too, will dislike this place. If screened porch book reading is something you abhor, then please save your money and skip Lake Geneva. If the thought of casting a lure from your private pier just as the sun sets that the lake falls flat and everything washes pastel, then you should stay away. If you think any old lake will do, then you’ll be better served finding any old lake to vacation at, because this lake is anything but.
I don’t have any lakefront rentals available this year. I’m sure someone does. If you find yourself looking for a summer rental, my advice to you is sound. Just skip it. No one has ever test driven the new 750 and opted to buy a Chevy. In the same way, no one has ever delighted in this place and then decided in favor of some place else. Save your money, don’t rent. Buy.