I started selling real estate in the summer of 1996. With all due respect to my young self, I see now that I had no idea what I was doing. The business of real estate, as I would learn, isn’t about filling in blanks on state approved contracts, not is it about pointing out where the kitchen is or reciting the number of baths. If it were about those things, what an incredibly awful business that would be. Being an effective real estate agent isn’t about either of those things, it’s about all of the rest. It’s about understanding value, understanding markets, understanding trends and outliers. It’s about an acceptance that not every home is worth selling. Not every lead worth pursuing. It’s about understanding that every seat may indeed have a rear end, but sometimes the seat is awful and you should make sure none of your clients sit in it.
From that fateful day in 1996 through some day in 2019, the market behaved with some predictable pattern. All but the most ignorant of buyers recognized that certain neighborhoods supported certain values, and that top end value wasn’t something that could be challenged. There were decades of statistics to support these stances. If we were talking about entry level lakefront neighborhoods, we were talking about Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay, Park Drive in Linn Township, Harvard Avenue in Fontana, and Lakeview Drive in Linn. These streets were similar, even if Harvard Avenue had better upper end potential due to buyers’ infatuation with the Fontana lakefront, and in their similarity there was uniformity of pricing. For ten years or more, prices on these streets ranges typically from $1MM to $1.5MM. There was very little activity outside of that core entry level price range.
In 2019 we began to challenge that well established price range, and slowly we started to see sales in this segment creep up to and over $2M. The onset of Covid removed supply from our market, driving prices up considerably more. When we found ourselves turning the page from 2020 to 2021, inventory was still lagging and buyers were still surging, which pushed prices even higher. A sale this year of a spec home on Park Drive, next to a public boat launch, topped $3MM. Homes are small lots on Walworth Avenue have been torn down to make way for new homes. Two lots were combined to one. Investments that were once seen to be risky became the norm. In 2016 you would have had to be a damned fool to tear down a $1.5M house on a $1.5M street and build new. Today your absurd move makes you look like a visionary. Gentrification is like that. It smooths out the mistakes of the otherwise rash.
Last week I closed on an off-market home in the Lake Geneva Highlands, on Lakeview, that street that once didn’t feel like supporting value over $1.6MM. The deal was struck this spring, and when the dust settled a very nice couple sold their long-time lakefront home to another very nice couple, with $1.9MM proving to be the required ransom. In light of my pending sale on Lake Shore ($2.695MM), the recently closed property on Bluff ($2.3ish for a tear down), and the aforementioned spec home sale on Park in the $3s, how can we say that Lakeview shouldn’t be worth $1.9MM? We can’t, and so it is.
A side note on the attitude of our lakefront sellers. Very few are selling joyfully. Yes, prices are high, but have you noticed inventory continues to lag? Sellers are aware of the windfall that awaits them, yet they stay. Those that do sell don’t do so happily, they do so because life dictates a different geography. Usually there is no other motivation. What a great data point for a market. What a young summer. What a scene. What a market. Congratulations to the buyer and seller of this charming lakefront cottage as they both seek to enter a new and exciting chapter of their lives.