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JoJo’s Pizza Review

JoJo’s Pizza Review

There’s a particular scene in Django Unchained that finds a group of men in the midst of preparing for a raid. The reason for the raid is unimportant. It’s dark, and the group of men are riding horses and wearing masks. The masks have two small eye holes cut into them and nothing else. The men are complaining. They can’t see. They can’t breathe. The complaining is colorful and intense. One man is defending his wife, who made the masks, while another man chides, “well if all I had to do was cut a hole in a bag, I coulda cut it better than this!

That’s how I feel about pizza. It’s just a crust, some sauce, cheese and random toppings. There’s not much to it, really. It should be so easy that anyone could make it. My mom makes it, but she’s a good cook. Your mom makes it, and she might not be so good. I make it, my wife makes it, my kids, if given some time, they could make a pizza, too. Someone who doesn’t understand pizza might think this way. When I started this series, I knew pizza was hard to make at home in my wood-fired ovens, but I figured that any restaurant, if given enough time to practice, could master the art of the pie. Each week I’m realizing just how wrong I was.

On Sunday afternoon, I was hungry. This was not unique to last Sunday. This is an affliction that I carry with me every day, no matter the month, the season, the year. I will bring this curse to my grave. I had finished some showings, stopped at Lowes to buy a few bits and pieces needed for my bathroom remodel project, and since I was already in Delavan I decided to round out the Delavan pizza places with JoJo’s. I called on the pizza from the parking lot of Lowes, an extra large pizza called the Favorite Five, to go. The Favorite Five did not contain any mention of olives, proving the intelligence and refined palate of JoJo’s owners. The wait would be about 30 minutes, just enough time to run into Walmart to buy some deodorant and subsequently wait for 10 minutes in Walmart Line Hell while the people in front of me navigated through the futuristic waters of the self check-out.

JoJo’s is a basic restaurant on Highway 50 in the Delavan Inlet. It’s nothing much to look at from the exterior, but pretty much every pizza place in Walworth County, excepting Oak Fire, would be accurately described in the same way. I was early to pick up my pizza, but I wanted to walk inside for the first time to see what this place was all about. I was pleased to see patrons seated at the tables, eating their pizzas. A girl stocked drinks in a glass-front cooler, and I sat down to peruse the local magazines. One such magazine talked about pizzas without actually grading the pizzas, for shame.

Exactly 30 minutes after I placed my order, the pizza was brought out from the kitchen. I appreciated the punctuality. Unlike other pizza places, their extra large pie is an 18″, rather than the typical 16″, so I was excited to have a chance to pack on some extra calories before summer. I paid the tab, $21.40 plus tax and tip (a great price for an 18″ pizza), and retreated to the safety of my car, where the lustily intoxicating smell of a fresh pizza perfumed my interior.

The first thing you notice about this pie is the pepperoni. It’s placed on top of the cheese, like a true pepperoni pizza. The other vegetables of sausage, mushroom, onion, as well as the other meat, sausage, were tucked under the cheese as is a normal tavern style preparation. The flop test was a breeze, as this crust was sturdy but thin, crunchy but soft. It was a relief after the molar cracking episode at Gino’s the week prior. The crust is more like Mama Cimino’s, crunchy but soft, very little chew. Like a Ritz cracker without the buttery sheen. I liked the crust, but it wasn’t necessarily a standout.

The first bite was good. The second bite, too. But something was amiss here. The cheese was fine, the vegetables a bit raw for my taste, but something was off. I ate a few more pieces to see if I could decipher what it was. Perplexed by the delicious looking, yet bland tasting pizza, I drove to a friend’s house for a second opinion. As I sat at a stop light, jamming as much pizza into my mouth as I could before the light turned green, it dawned on me. This pizza had no salt. Once at my friend’s house, I didn’t fill him in on my discovery, but instead asked for his opinion. He couldn’t place it. He said what I was thinking. It’s a fine pizza, but I don’t need to eat it again. A few more pieces and I told him what was missing: salt. He concurred, and with that, the pizza’s fate was sealed.

On Facebook, I made note of my JoJo’s visit, and my astute cousin told me to order the pizza with extra sauce. With that comment I lifted the cheese and toppings layer from the crust and revealed the sin. This pizza had hardly any sauce. Like four tablespoons for the entire 18″ pie. It wasn’t that it lacked salt, it was that it lacked sauce, where the salt should be. A perfectly good pizza rendered average due to nothing more than a light dollop of tomato sauce. As for ordering a pizza with extra sauce, I will not do this, just as I won’t ask the Next Door Pub to cook my pizza well-done. Nor will I ask Culvers to make sure my custard is served cold.

I wanted to like this pizza. It looked terrific. The crust was crunchy and thin, and held up quite well during the ten minute drive from JoJo’s to my friend’s house. But the lack of sauce and salt cannot be forgiven. With a proper dose of sauce and salt I could place this pizza north of 7.0, up near the epicurean leaders. But without the sauce, I must place this pizza where it belongs. Ahead of the bad pies, but below the good ones. I appreciate the effort that JoJo’s brings to their pizza game, as everything showed signs of care and expertise. Even the sauce was good, if only there had been enough of it.

JoJo’s Pizza and Pasta

308 State Highway 50, Delavan

5.3/10

$21.40 for the Five Favorite Extra Large (18″ with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers)

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I brought a new property to market a week or so ago, and if you’re looking for a vacation home with transferable boat slip, then you’re in luck. As you hopefully know, certain price ranges come with certain expectations. For instance, a lakefront home priced at $1.4MM doesn’t need to have a garage to be desirable, but a lakefront home priced at $4MM probably should have one. In the same way, a lake access home with a slip priced in the $600s will generally be marked by what it doesn’t have, as much as by what it does have. These homes are often known by their tight yards, lack of garages, lack of remarkable proximity to the water, and overall condition. In short, they’re usually small cottages that leave all but the most motivated buyers unenthusiastic.

N1525 Oak Shores is in, you’ve already guessed it, Oak Shores. This is the boulevard association along that South Shore stretch that also features The Lake Geneva Club, Shore Haven, and Sybil Lane. This Oak Shores home not only has a transferable slip, but it has a large lot with spacious, level front lawn. It has loads of parking via two driveways and an attached garage. And inside the home, it has something else that most of these association homes won’t have: space. This is a four bedroom, three bath home with more than 2700 square feet of above-grade living space. It might need a bit of cosmetic updating, but this is a property you should consider. $649k and it’s yours.

Around the lake, activity abounds. I have a new contract on my Bay Colony condominium listing, you know, the one that everyone knows is likely the nicest standard condo on the lake ($799k). I have a new contract on the $495k condo offering in the Old Boatyard Condominiums, a small association that you likely only know about if you’ve lived there or also lived there. Other lake access activity is through the roof, as buyers are showing a particular fondness for wildly overpaying for off-water homes without slips…

Speaking of overpaying, there’s an interesting angle in the market this year that warrants discussion. The market is, without any doubt, hot. It’s hotter than it was in 2018. And 2018 was hotter than 2017. You could play that game going back all of the way to 2013, in case you’re bored. Because the market is so active, buyers are doing lots of really dumb things. They’re proving that they value immediate fulfillment above lasting value, and they’re once again back to buying homes For Sale By Owner because they think they’re somehow getting a deal by avoiding a dreaded real estate agent. I’ve heard of several off-market FSBO deals this winter and spring, and every deal I’ve heard about has sold for far over the actual market value. This is tremendous for the sellers, but incredibly terrible for the buyers. Do you, a random buyer, think you know this market better than me? If you answered yes, I implore you to buy a For Sale By Owner. You’ll do great! If you’re a buyer who is also smart enough to know that the answer is a resounding No, then why aren’t we working together? Beware the For Sale By Owner. It’s often listed that way because the agents told the owner that the property was worth $X, but the seller wants it to be worth $X + 20%. And you’re going to be the buyer who waltzes up and pays that premium, all because you think you know the market? For deep and lasting shame.

For now, it’s raining at the lake, and I have an office fire burning. But the snow has melted and the rain is warming the soil and soon it’ll be morel season. After that comes lilac season and after that comes Memorial Day. It might be miserable now, but blink a few times and it’ll be summer. As we prepare for that glorious condition, don’t forget that your choice in agent representation matters. Don’t forget that a For Sale By Owner isn’t automatically a deal. Don’t forget that this market has only one top agent (as considered by total individual agent sales from 2010-present, highest average sales price 2010-present). And don’t forget his name is still David Curry.

Gino’s East Pizza Review

Gino’s East Pizza Review

Monday night found me in Burlington for my son’s baseball game. Since I was in Burlington I asked a few people for their opinions as to the best pizza in their town. The opinions varied. The Waterfront, someone said. Napoli’s, others chimed. Without a clear consensus pick I decided to move on from the city of Burlington and drive to the West and South, back to Lake Geneva where I belong. Burlington may have delivered a beating to my son’s baseball team, but I did not stoop so low as to eat their pizza and pay them back with a blistering review.

Gino’s East is a pizza place in Chicago. There are several locations. It serves deep dish pizza and other sorts of pizza, salads, etc. It may be an institution of sorts, though Malnati’s claims a more audible fan base, but it has only been a part of the Lake Geneva scene for the past several years. This Lake Geneva location is attached to an old hotel, the sort with PVC patio furniture. The restaurant space is fine, with bold views of the lake and a vaulted ceiling. The tablecloths are plastic, checkered in black and white. I’ve been there before, but on Monday night, after the baseball disaster, it was time to judge this institution.

We were led to our seats only after a several minute wait, not because there was a long line, but because the hostess was missing in action. We were seated at a booth tacked to the wall that separates the dining room from the bar area, but it was a nice perch to watch a spring storm roll across the lake. The waiter wandered over a few minutes later to take our order. There was some sort of special underway, so we ordered an extra large (16″) pizza of their supreme, and were told it would be half off, or something similar. This was a nice surprise, coupled with the nice surprise that their Supreme doesn’t come with olives as a standard inclusion. Finally, some good sense being displayed.

We ordered at 6:48. By 7:05, our water glasses were dry. By 7:10, we were telling each other that the pizza had better come out in the next three or four minutes, or there will be an automatic deduction to their score, no matter how good the pizza may or may not be. The water was nowhere to be found. After we had chewed our ice cubes, our tongues began to rattle around our mouths like wooden mallets. At 7:19, the pizza arrived. I don’t need to tell you that a 31 minute wait for a thin crust pizza, on a weeknight in April, with perhaps four other tables occupied, is not ideal. Still, we lustily drank our refilled waters and tore into the pizza.

The crust was slightly misshapen and smelled of yeast, a nice touch to prove its handmade origins. But while the crust was exposed, it was not particularly raised, leaving me to wonder if this is how the crust always is or if this was a bad batch. The crust was hard, like rock hard. Teeth-shattering-hard. The exterior was laced with corn meal, an option I vastly prefer over a floured crust (Harpoon’s should switch to cornmeal). But the interior was thin and held up nicely to the flop test. The cheese was a bit whiter than I prefer, but not as white as the white-out that is the top of a Next Door Pub, medium-rare pie.

The vegetables were adequately softened, with finely diced green peppers scattered about with slices of onion and mushrooms. The sausage was bland, and not particularly well represented in this ensemble. The sauce, was it even there? I couldn’t taste it, even though I saw some red smeared on the crust. Was it bland or just applied with a touch too much restraint? Either way, it wasn’t very good. The first few pieces of this tavern cut pie had me thinking that I’d place this pizza just under the front runners, but ahead of the pack. As two pieces turned to five, I realized that this wasn’t a good pizza at all.

Should a pizza place with a Chicago pedigree be held to a higher standard than a local shop being run by a guy and his wife? I’d like to think the answer is yes. But on this night, Gino’s served me a bland pizza, the only thing memorable was the rock hard crust. I expected better, and I deserved better. Alas, with that mediocre pizza resting comfortably in my stomach, I found solace in the simple fact that I was back in Lake Geneva, and no longer in Burlington.

Gino’s East

300 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva

6.0/10

$27 for Gino’s Supreme (discounted on Monday to $13.50)

North Lakeshore Drive Sells

North Lakeshore Drive Sells

There are certain ways that certain houses charm their way into our pocketbooks. It might be a floor plan. A quirky corner where a staircase shouldn’t necessarily be, but is, and because it is, it’s somehow perfect. Or a set of finishes, the tile in the first floor bathroom. The light fixtures. The trim work, elaborate and fussy or simple and calming. Whatever the case, whatever the house, there might be something there. Something that makes the house better than the others.

Last week, I sold 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana for $6,950,000. This is an important sale for our market, to display once again the dominant characteristic of our lakefront market: liquidity in the upper bracket. That’s our eleventh sale over $5.8MM since 2010, and I’ve been pleased to represent either the buyer or seller in seven of those eleven sales. This is the fifth sale over $6.9MM since 2016, and I’ve closed four of those five sales, as well. Consider now that our MLS, which covers much of the state, but not all of it, shows that outside of the Lake Geneva market, there hasn’t been a single residential sale over $6.9MM in the remainder of the state of Wisconsin over that same tenure. If you want to look at a market with a vibrant top end, you needn’t look any further than Geneva Lake. And if you’re looking for representation at that top end, I can’t imagine you’d want to work with anyone not named David Curry.

This house didn’t sell because of my masterful sales job. It sold because it was the right style house, finished with the right materials, located on a very desirable stretch of Fontana shoreline. Some sales make you wonder about the when and why, the how, really. But this sale doesn’t require any deeper or nuanced line of thought. It’s just a pretty house on a pretty lot in turn key condition and because of that, I sold it. Beginning, middle, and end of story.

For the seller who chose me to represent this fine property, a sincere note of appreciation. And to the buyer who allowed me to work with them to make sense of our upper bracket market, I thank you. Your weekends are never going to be the same.

Just Sold

Vesuvio’s Pizza Review

Vesuvio’s Pizza Review

This is the tenth week in a row I’ve eaten pizza. One week, I ate pizza three times. If you think this is why my shirts are tighter than usual, I assure you that the shirts were tightening long before the string of pizzas. When I started this series, I worried that the pizza would all end up tasting the same. I worried that I’d quickly grow tired of pizza. That the area would disappoint in its pizza options and I’d lament having ever brought up the subject. But alas, ten weeks later I’ve found each pizza to be different, and each week an exciting opportunity to uncover Lake Geneva’s best pizza. Besides, one does not simply grow tired of pizza.

Vesuvius Little Italy is hidden in plain sight on Delavan’s main thoroughfare. There’s a magnificent oak tree on the corner that looms over the sign, over the building, over the entire corner. What a tree it is. On Sunday it was covered in snow, an unfortunate spring reminder that winter routinely plays outside of the lines. Late into the afternoon I realized that my Monday night was complicated, and on Tuesday I had to be in Chicago for meetings. That left Sunday, so in the snow we traveled to that hidden corner, just north of Hernandez and south of the brick road, and we picked up our pizza.

I called ahead to order, as this is a takeout and delivery restaurant, much like Larducci’s in Elkhorn. There may be a dining room here, but if there is, I didn’t see it. Perhaps owed to that large oak tree obscuring my view. As I scanned the online menu I noticed there were some immediate differences at Vesuvio’s. This seems to be mostly a pizza place, but the menu is lengthy and detailed. If you wanted a pizza and, say, some breaded cheddar cauliflower, you’re in luck, Vesuvio’s has you covered. Their large pizza isn’t a 16″ as is the area norm, instead it’s just 14″, but it is priced a bit less to offset the missing pie. The Vesuvio’s Special is their version of supreme, offering sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and both green and black olives. I ordered the large (14″, which was a special for Sunday so it was only $16.95) and asked that the green and black peppers be thrown in the trash prior to assembly. To think a pizza place would serve so many satanic olives so close to a church.

The wait was to be 30 minutes, give or take. When we arrived, a few minutes early, there were two other diners waiting for their pizzas. My daughter told me of her plan to take a trip to California with her friends when she turns 18. I told her she was forbidden. She said I couldn’t do anything about it, since she’d be 18. I told her she will always have to do as I say, no matter her age. She told me this was a lie that I was telling myself. She’s 13 now, full of confidence, quick to reply and eager to assert some level of independence. I considered arguing this to a further detail, but the pizza was ready and we retreated through the dwindling snow and to the car. We agreed to talk about the future another time, sometime after this pizza was sampled.

The fourteen inch pizza looked small to me. Forced portion control is something that only flies in New York City and public school cafeterias, so I admit I lamented this 14 inch pizza in a world flush with 16 inchers. The crust was risen, the cheese nicely browned, hunks of sausage and diced vegetables protruding at predictable intervals. The cheese was good, normal, and as I ate this pizza I couldn’t help but wish this was the cheese that Larcucci’s would use. The pizza was cut square, tavern style, but I have a hard time considering this to be a tavern style, given that slightly raised crust. This looked more like my mother’s pizza, if less doughy, and as of yet my mother’s pizza style is unnamed.

The first bites revealed serious differences between this pizza and the others I’ve had. The crust was thick around the edges, but quite thin in the middle. It held up to the flop test. The crust wasn’t chewy, not at all, and the raised section of the edge was as crunchy throughout as a prepackaged breadstick in a supper club’s relish tray. The sausage was good, the vegetables a bit raw for my taste, and the sauce was considerably sweeter than any I’ve encountered. Was the sauce too sweet? My daughter and I couldn’t decide.

When the pizza was sufficiently sampled and I successfully fished out a wayward slice of pepperoni from the gap next to my driver’s seat, I decided that this was a fine pizza. It wasn’t remarkable, and I don’t think it belongs in the same category as the standouts. But it was better than the bad pizzas and similar to the market average. If I lived in Delavan, I’d have this pizza in my rotation. But I don’t live in Delavan, so I likely won’t make any special effort to have this pizza, in the same way that I would make an effort to order another pizza from Larducci’s. Still, I’m glad Vesuvio’s Little Italy continues to anchor that shady corner in Delavan, and I wish them continued success.

Vesuvio’s Little Italy

617 East Washington Street, Delavan

6.7/10

14″ Vesuvio’s Special $16.95

Park Drive Sells

Park Drive Sells

It’s tax day. There’s snow on the ground. If we look at those two conditions we could all agree that things are terrible. Except out West, they’d all be so happy with some freshie on the ground, but they’ve all lost their minds, a condition publicly proclaimed with little more than a flat brim hat. And I suppose except around here, too, because recent elections show that people love taxes. Crave taxes! They vote for them time and time again. For the children, they say. Yes, things could be terrible today if they weren’t so absurd.

But what was I trying to talk about? That’s right, the lakefront market. Last Friday I sold my listing on Park Drive on the South Shore. That’s a nice little sale for our market, at $2.1MM, a reasonable number for both buyer and seller. The sale came in at $26,582 per front foot, which is behind the 2018 average but close enough. And about that average, $27,994 for 2018. Does this mean this sale on Park was some outstanding value relative to the 2018 average? No, it doesn’t really mean that. Does it mean that the lakefront market has softened, as evidenced by this sale on Park? No, it doesn’t mean that, either. Further, this year there have been 18 YTD lakefront and lake access sales, up from 14 for YTD 2018, down from 25 YTD 2017. Does this mean the market is better than last year but worse than it was in 2017? Don’t be ridiculous.

That’s the problem with the metrics of real estate in a small volume market. They don’t really matter. Sure, there are places and properties where they matter, like a 100′ vacant lot with reasonably level frontage. That sort of property might be worth $2.5MM today. Why shouldn’t it be worth $2,799,400? After all, that’s what the data tells us it should be worth. The reason is simple. Each sale on Geneva is a unique situation, with no two parcels (excepting rare instances where platted lots are identical on a specific section of a specific roadway) being the same. That’s why the data is less a blending of the market’s uneven edges and more a collection of anecdote. What’s 100 feet of frontage worth? Somewhere between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. Is that good enough?

I suppose I know the answer. It isn’t good enough. That’s why your choice in representation, be it sell or buy side, matters so much here. If you’re bopping around Phoenix and you’re just dying for a three bedroom cinder block ranch with a stone yard and a kidney shaped pool, you’re in luck. Zillow might sell you that house. Or Opendoor, or the real estate agent who works in the station next to your aunt in the Great Clips on Rattlesnake Way. You know, the one around the corner from Parched Parkway. But these are desert jokes, and they’re ridiculous, just like the thought that you need special care when you’re buying a ranch in Phoenix.

This isn’t Phoenix. It isn’t Naperville, either. It’s a dynamic market where numbers don’t always justify value, and where value isn’t always justified by comps. It’s a market where a $2MM house with 60 feet of frontage can be wildly overpriced, where another $2MM house with 60 feet of frontage, a half mile away, can be a screaming value. I used to sit at this desk and see this market as you see it. As other agents still see it. With a smirk that was a blended emotion of bemusement and confusion. Today I see it differently. It’s clear to me. And if you want it to be clear to you, we should be working together.

Larducci’s Pizza Review

Larducci’s Pizza Review

On Sunday night I watched a documentary about the ills of an animal based diet. Dairy products are full of puss, the pork industry ruined the state of North Carolina, and chickens, well, chickens are even worse. Processed meats are killing us faster than cigarettes, and if we eat animal products we’re all going to die. The next documentary on my screen was about the perils of grains and beans, because those, too, are killing us. Eat meat, cheese, and full fat dairy, and then you’ll live forever. Regardless, I switched off the documentaries and decided that a plant based diet was the one for me.

But what a ridiculous thought that was, because it was Tuesday night and I was hungry not for grains and carrots, but for cheese and sausage. (For my diet fiends, don’t start lecturing me now, because alcohol is as carcinogenic as sausage, so remove the plank, etcetera and etcetera). I wanted to visit a pizza place farther to the north in Elkhorn, but alas, Tuesday is the day that pizza places like to rest. Besides, my son was playing baseball in Williams Bay and the game was running long and the runs were piling up, so I did what any father with hunger would do: I drove to Larducci’s in Elkhorn to pick up a pizza. This way I could satisfy my need for a blog post, satiate my hunger, and arrive at the end of the baseball game with whatever was left of the pizza. Hero, all around.

Knowing that Larducci’s isn’t a dine-in establishment, I called the restaurant from the baseball field to place my order. Larducci isn’t just the name of the owner/chief pizza maker (presumably) and the restaurant, it’s also the name of their version of a Supreme. But unlike other Supreme concoctions, this pizza boasted pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, red onions, and a smattering of red, yellow, and green peppers. While the menu doesn’t mention it, there was also some canadian bacon thrown in for good measure. My Sunday night self would have abhorred this animal based dinner, but my Tuesday night self placed the order and drove to Elkhorn with anticipation (I called at 6:08 and was told the pizza would take 35 minutes). It should be noted, that’s the third time I’ve ever driven to Elkhorn excitedly. The first time was when I was driven in utero to be born at Lakeland Hospital. The second time was when I was driven to the DMV to take my driving test. This was the third time. Sorry Elkhorn, there have been no other times.

Larducci’s isn’t much of a restaurant space. It’s a small brick building behind Lyle’s Appliance on Some Street in Elkhorn. Open the door, and there’s just a kitchen. Some work stations, coolers, and open air conveyor ovens, the sort Quizno’s used to roast your sandwiches in, back when there were Quizno’s outside of airports. A man met me at the counter, and while he never mentioned his name or his position, I assumed he was the owner and head pizza maker. We exchanged some pleasantries about the coming storm while I eyed my pizza making its way, slowly, through the oven. I paid the tab, $23.21, scribbled in a tip, and waited. But this wait was different than my other waits.

Since there was no buffer between patron and chef, I asked the man how long the pizza needed to bake. Eight minutes, he told me. I asked how long his dough took to make, and if there was a constant starter that he kept on hand, or if each batch was from scratch. He told me that he’d love the dough to have two or three days, but it can be ready after a minimum of one day. He talked about the dough as a baker would, not as a chef who pulls a thin crust from a plastic freezer bag. In the background, a younger man dotted a pizza with hunks of sausage. He said he, too, likes making the dough. The two men were happy to be here, happy to be making my pizza. There was pride in this effort that I haven’t yet seen on this tour. That’s likely because I was essentially in this kitchen, rather than separated by the drywalled line that typically hides chef from patron, but even so. I appreciated this man’s candor, his effort, and his desire to make a perfect pizza.

After checking on the pizza twice, both times saying that it wasn’t quite ready, he pulled the pie from the oven and took it to the box. He asked if I’d like some red pepper flakes or parmesan, I declined, and instead only received a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley. A nice touch. We talked a bit more about outdoor pizza ovens, about the dough, about the difficult but short winter we had just endured. I left with my pizza and felt content to have encountered this pizza maker.

Now, any regular old slob might have opened the pizza box right there in the parking stall in front of the restaurant. I’m not that regular slob, so I had the decency to pretend to drive away, as if I were driving home to deliver dinner, our quarry, to my waiting family. But instead of driving home, I drove to the stop sign and opened the box. This was a beautiful pizza. Easily the most beautiful of this tour. I took a bite. And then a few more. And a couple of pieces later, someone had the nerve to pull up behind me at the stop sign and suggest with a tap of their horn that I should drive forward. Elkhorn, I thought as I shook my head and licked the sauce from my fingers. Elkhorn.

The immediate difference between this pizza and every other I’ve had to date is the crust. This crust smells of yeast, and that’s the sort of smell that a dough can only find by spending a day or two developing. The interior of the pie was impossibly thin, but still gathered the strength to hold up for the flop test. The exterior was a raised crust, uneven, to prove the hand made origins. The dough wasn’t particularly airy, but it had a nice chew, again a result of that time spent proofing. The cheese was well browned and the vegetables (mushrooms from River Valley Kitchen) were adequately softened. The sausage was serious and didn’t suffer from an overdose of fennel. Thanks to the fine folks at Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy for this lovely sausage. Things were looking up, and as I left Elkhorn I delighted in this new to me pizza place, and in this delicious pizza.

But as time wore on, I noticed the cheese was different. It was nuttier, almost like a gruyere, or other alpine cheese. Was that because this mix had mozzarella and provolone? Was there something else to this cheese? Either way, I would have preferred a different cheese, and if this pie had the cheese, say, of Harpoon Willies or Pino’s, I would have raised up Larducci’s as the new standard. I should have asked the chef when the pie came out of the oven what his cheese blend was. It was noticeably browner than a typical pizza, perhaps owed to this different cheese blend?

With the possible caveat of the cheese, this was a most delightful pizza. I was impressed by this chef. Impressed by the care and attention paid to this pizza. This man loves pizza, and as a fellow admirer, I greatly appreciated this encounter and his product. The fact that he sources his sausage and mushrooms from local purveyors is more proof of this passion. Next time you find yourself lost in Elkhorn, or just hungry in Williams Bay, do yourself a favor and get a Larducci’s pizza. It’s a winner. Is it better than Harpoon’s? On this night, no it was not, but it’s darn close, and that earns it a starting position in your animal based diet.

Larducci’s Pizzaria

20 South Washington Street, Elkhorn

7.9/10

$22 for The Larducci

Old Lakefront Homes

Old Lakefront Homes

I wanted to think of a better title. Something clever. Something snappy. Maybe something a little less descriptive and a little more simple. But alas, this really is about old lakefront homes. Not regular old homes, mind you, as an old lakefront home with a 70′ lot that wants to sell for $2MM can do so. An old lakefront home anywhere on this lake can, will, and has sold. There’s a market for the old lakefront home, so long as the lot is reasonable and the setting acceptable. But not all old lakefront homes fit into our market without a time consuming, expensive, depressing effort.

Allow me to explain. Pricing is everything on the lake, and if pricing finds an older home on that aforementioned 70 foot lot, the price should be in line with market expectations. Older homes on lots like this will sell for land value. Newer homes on lots like this will sell for a premium. This isn’t the sort of older lakefront home I’m talking about.

Legacy estates exist on Geneva in magnificent numbers. These are the estates that get talked up on boat tours. The sort that people pause in front of on the shore path and frame in their selfies. These are the Wrigley’s and the Ryan’s and the names that no one knows but the names that sometime, some long while ago, made a fortune doing something that people valued. They took that fortune to these shores and established their lakefront space. Their retreat. Their legacy.

These legacy homes traded with some regularity up until the very early 2000s. Since then, I wouldn’t describe any of the sold lakefronts with this title. Was Hillcroft, those 19 acres along Snake Road that sold in 2018, a legacy estate? Well, maybe. The property certainly fit the description, but this is a post about old lakefront homes, not old dirt, and the home itself was no longer P.K. Wrigley’s manse, but instead a modern manse built in the 1980s. Surely no structure built within my lifetime could be adorned with this lofty descriptor.

The only true legacy estate to sell in the last twenty years is Alta Vista, that Van Doren Shaw home on the North Shore that closed in the year 2000 for a paltry $3.45MM. I’d argue that we need a new legacy listing. Something on this lake that has history that even the most modern among us could not bear to tear down. The trend, in case you’ve missed it, is for Lake Geneva to loudly pay homage to history but then, once history comes to market, we just knock it down and build something shiny. I’d love to represent a true legacy estate someday soon. Everything I’ve sold on this lake is nice, but I’d like to set my aim at selling something that can be preserved and restored, rather than demolished and rebuilt. But today isn’t about the legacy estates, just as it isn’t about the 70 foot lot with an old home on it. It’s about old lakefront homes with large lots that fit somewhere in between these two stated examples.

The market, while light on legacy offerings, has been historically heavy on another sort of offering. The old lakefront home on a large lot offering. The sellers know what they want. They want lots of money and they want you to see the value in their home. It was built in the 1980s, after all, or the 1970s for that matter. Maybe even the 1950s or earlier. These are the homes that aren’t new enough to substantially remodel (as would be the case with 1990s or newer construction), and they aren’t old enough to be considered architecturally meaningful. These are the in between. The large lot having, no architectural pedigree sporting, big old lakefront homes.

And the market doesn’t like them. Not. One. Bit. The sellers force feed the market, saying, come look at my big old home on a reasonably large but not overly impressive lot! And the market yawns. That’s because the market either respects a home or it doesn’t, and as soon as it doesn’t, it’s land value, and land value only. The gulf between land value and a number that shows value for the structure is the issue. Sellers fight this. They scratch and they claw and they switch brokers and they beg you to appreciate their Reagan administration raised ranch. It’s big, after all, and the lot is, too. Look at me! I have two Sub-Zero refrigerators from 1981!

This isn’t a new issue for our market, but it is an issue that’s presenting more frequently as prices increase and large lots because more and more rare. Expect this trend to continue, and the battle between buyers and sellers will persist. As for me, I’ll be here, stuck in the middle, wondering if those old Sub-Zeros might work better if we just get the vents vacuumed.

Siemer’s Cruise In Pizza Review

Siemer’s Cruise In Pizza Review

I was already in Hebron. Hebron, the place where they won that basketball championship so many years ago. The place that’ll be damned if they’re going to let you forget it. I was there for a baseball game, and after my son’s team was dismantled by the Hebroners, as I’ve decided to call them, we knew it was time. Time for more pizza. But where? I had heard good reviews of Red’s Pizza a ways west on 173, and since I was already in Illinois, it seemed like the right decision. Red’s it would be.

But while Red’s, just a bit east of Harvard, had ample open parking in their gravel lot, the sign on the door would tell us that we were not welcome. Cash only, it said. There’s something simultaneously quaint and annoying about establishments like this. On one hand, it’s a throw back. A memory of a more simple time, when people succumbed to Polio and carried cash. On the other hand, it’s actually bothersome. It’s 2019, Square exists. Just pay the 2% to the credit card company and move on with life. Still, in our cashless position we had no choice but to move on. Back to Wisconsin, back to Walworth. Back where the pizza flows like honey. (Note, Red’s announced last week that they’re closing their doors at the end of April. Sad news for Harvard, but Harvard is likely used to sad news by now, which is also sad.)

Siemer’s Cruise In is on the main drag in Walworth, east of the square, but only by a modest stone’s throw. There are some hairdressers, another bar or two, maybe a bowling alley, and at least one real estate office nearby. I parked on the street and walked in, my son still in his baseball uniform, me in my uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. I had been to Siemer’s before, if only once, and I quite liked the lunch I had there. But this wasn’t time for lunch, this was time for pizza, and we were hungry. Thomas was hungry from his baseball game, and I was hungry from this game of life.

A large 16″ pizza would do. There was no Supreme option, no real speciality options at all, actually. Just add on toppings for a fee. We chose sausage, mushrooms and green peppers, to remain consistent in this search for Lake Geneva’s best pizza. The pizza itself was $12.75, and each vegetable topping was $2.25, each meat topping was $2.50. Our pizza, all said and done, was $19.75, or on the low end of the local price range for such a constructed pizza. Since this is a bar first, we had to order at the counter with the bartender. No matter, he was kind and polite, even though it was obvious he was subtly signaling to the other patrons that my son and I were not locals and should be watched, closely. The time was 6:52 pm, but our hunger was nearing midnight.

We sat back at our four-top table and surveyed the scene. Televisions hung from the walls, the Brewers game was on most of them. On another, an NIT game, I think. There were signs on the walls about beer and others about food. Drink Beer, one commanded. The kitchen is half exposed, with the fryers facing the bar and a large double doored cooler doing the same. But this isn’t a sexy kitchen, in the way that some kitchens want you to watch them and admire their culinary ways. This is just a kitchen, some fryers and coolers. There’s nothing here to remember, and that’s fine. The locals didn’t seem to mind, as some nursed drinks at the bar and others wolfed cheeseburgers at nearby tables. The World’s Second Best Burger, according to their website.

The pizza arrived at 7:14, right around my 20 minute preferred wait time for such a thin-crust, tavern style pie. The pizza was pretty, but unfussy. It was flecked with oven marks, the sort The Next Door Pub finds maddeningly elusive. The sausage rose from the bed of cheese, along with a few peppers and mushrooms that poked through in random intervals. The pizza was noticeably light on toppings, with some pieces lacking a hunk of sausage, and an all-around lack of typical topping overload as is common in Walworth County. I couldn’t decide, at least at first, if I liked this restraint. I decided later that I did not, and at $2.25-2.50 per topping I would have expected a heavier hand.

Still, the crust was thin and crispy, the flop test passed with efficient ease. There was nothing initially wrong with this pizza, the topping issue aside. The first bites were crunchy enough, the sauce wasn’t bitter, the cheese fine. But as time wore on and one bite turned to thirty, the crust went soggy and limp. This was likely a frozen bag crust, and it showed. Still, we persevered and finished the pizza like champs. Locals came and locals went, many arriving via a back door that I didn’t even know existed.

This was a decent pizza, but I won’t go back for it again. The crust was too soggy, the toppings too light. The scene was a classic Wisconsin neighborhood bar style, but it lacked any of the age or patina that can make these establishments memorable. This was just a Tuesday in Walworth, and this was just a pizza that I’d only eat again if I found myself as I was that night. Starving, in Walworth, out of gas, and too far west from Pino’s and too far east from Nayeli’s. Then again, I wouldn’t even eat this pizza again, I’d opt for the World’s Second Best Burger, because that sounds promising.

Siemer’s Cruise In

107 Kenosha Street, Walworth

5.4/10

$19.75 for a 16″ with cheese, mushrooms, green peppers and sausage

Market Update

Market Update

It’s April. That means the year is young, but it’s not exactly new anymore. The ice left us over the weekend, and now it’s just soft water and sunshine as far as the eye can see. But that’s not entirely true, because it’s time for those April showers, the kind that are supposed to bring May flowers, but instead, often, only bring angst. It’s the in-between, not winter but not yet spring, and summer? Not even close.

The market, man, the market. Just a few short months ago I was concerned about it. Because that’s what I do, I fret. I want to keep the market momentum moving forward, and if I was put in charge of this market, more so than I already am, I could keep it going for a long, long time. Like Bernanke or Yellen, I’d be able to give the market what it needs, and tell it what it wants to hear. Still, in early January I was concerned about 2019. Today, just three months later I’m still concerned, but the concern has shifted.

When the year was young, I worried that the December stock market melt would negatively impact our markets. I worried that the recent Federal tax reform would hurt our vacation home market. And before I knew the specifics of his asinine proposal, I worried that JB’s envy driven tax plan would hurt us. Hate the man who has more than you, that’s the way that pitch went, and I worried.

But then the market melted back up, and buyers showed no signs of letting up. Contracts flew. Even as this winter threw snow and sub-zero temperatures at us, contracts were written. Buyers, rather than being spooked by any sort of December equity selloff and the rhetoric of a populist governor, pushed forward with their goals. Those goals, by the way, are mostly singular: Enjoy life, while it’s still here to be enjoyed. And if that enjoyment hinges, as we know it does, on spending weekends in a different place where the beautiful people instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano, then so be it.

Today, I see nothing but activity. The market is strong in every aspect imaginable. The upper end of the lakefront flexing its muscles with the pending sale at 389 North Lakeshore Drive ($7.395M). The middle market showing strength with recent offers in the South Shore Club and elsewhere. The entry level lakefront remaining devoid of inventory, excepting my pending lakefront on Park Drive ($2.195M). But beyond the lakefront, the activity is even more significant.

Pending sales are everywhere, homes with slips, homes without slips. Lake access homes that might have been barely $400k a few years ago now pending over $600k. There is activity, ample, generous, sometimes confusing, activity. Abbey Springs is on fire, with 19 available homes and condominiums and at least nine of those under contract. At Abbey Hill, four available units and two of those are pending sale. In another big turn around, there is only one available unit at the Abbey Villas. If you look back several years, you’ll read me lamenting the state of the market there. Lament no longer.

The lakefront condo market is effectively locked down, with just three available condo units as of this morning. The best among those is my $799k Bay Colony listing, but you already knew that. The picture is above, in case you forgot how great it was. There are pending sales at Bay Colony and Vista Del Lago, and a recently closed condo at the Old Boatyard around $800k.

You can see, whatever worries I had in January have been eased with this wild dose of market activity. But don’t think I’m not without worry, because I’ll always find something to worry about. It’s called creative anxiety, in case you didn’t know. Now my worry is placed back on the side of inventory. If we don’t keep stoking this fire, it might burn itself out. The best medicine for our market now is a steady supply of inventory, and with the things I’m currently working on, I think we’re going to be able to feed that need as well. Which will force me to worry about other, more important things, like how on earth I’m going to lose 30 pounds before summer.

Harpoon Willie’s Pizza Review

Harpoon Willie’s Pizza Review

When you’re reviewing pizza in an area of rural Wisconsin that is populated, be it seasonally or annually, by people from Chicago, it’s only natural that you hear the admonitions. Why eat pizza in Lake Geneva when it’s so much better in Chicago? If I want pizza I go to Chicago. Chicago’s pizza is so much better, I can’t even stomach the local stuff. This is what they say.

With those statements swimming in my mind I looked up Steve Dolinsky’s (The Hungry Hound) top pizzas in Chicago. Number one was south of my comfort zone. Number two was in Lakeview, Pat’s on Lincoln. So I did what any Wisconsinite would do, and I drove to Pat’s to taste what a pizza should taste like. I won’t dwell on this review. I ordered pizza. I ate pizza. The crust was super thin. The toppings, fine. The cheese wasn’t right. The sauce was decent. As I sat there eating the number two pizza in that second city I couldn’t help but think that Pino’s in Walworth was better.

On the heels of that Chicago trip, my desire to eat bread slathered with sauce and meats and cheese had yet to be tamped, so I tucked in to a raised booth at Harpoon Willie’s Tuesday night and ordered a pizza. Harpoon’s is a favorite of mine, mostly due to their delicious brisket sandwich and waffle fries, but also due to the proximity to my office and to the lake. It’s a great bar, and nothing will change that. Not even a very disappointing fish fry last year could shake my commitment. But I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t think about that poor review that I gave their fish, and worry that I might have to deliver another blow to one of my favorite places.

It was 5:04 when we ordered. A large 16″ pizza. They have a Meat Lovers but not a supreme, so I eschewed the meatballs in favor of some green peppers and mushrooms. The remaining meat should suffice. The waitress was kind and polite, and refilled our water glasses two or more times while we waited for our pie. The restaurant was reasonably busy, but when the clock struck 5:35 I was beginning to think our pizza might not ever come. Then again, the wait at Pat’s in Chicago approached 50 minutes even though the restaurant was almost entirely empty. At 5:36, the waitress brought out our meatball-less pizza. Advantage Harpoons.

This was a beautiful pizza, and since no one else said it first, I had to mumble it under my breath. The cheese was dotted with battle scars from the heat of the oven. The crust was thin, crispy, ideal. Not as thin as Pat’s, mind you, but what, at this point, does that matter? The green peppers were a bit raw, which was a bit upsetting, and the sausage was relatively heavy on the fennel seed. I like my fennel seed right next to my olives, burning in fiery hell. The sauce was good, not too sweet, not at all bitter. The underside of the pizza was a bit too chalked with flour, which is a rookie pizza maker’s sin that I’ve committed many times. It didn’t bother the pizza, but I did think it to be an area that needed some improvement. The cheese was ample but not overwhelming, and it’s the cheese on our local pizzas that sets them apart from Pat’s. I’m sure the cheese all comes out of the back of a Sysco truck, but the cheese here is just better. Saltier, denser, better.

In spite of these few complaints, the pizza was superlative. It easily beats Pat’s. Easily beats every other pizza on this tour, excepting perhaps Pino’s. My son and I debated this on our drive home. On one hand, the crust here is thinner, crispier. The flop test featured not a single degree of flop. The scene here is better. The view, the style, all better. And I think on this night, the pizza was, too. And just like that, we have a new leader.

Harpoon Willie’s

8 East Geneva Street, Williams Bay

8.0/10

$22 for a 16″ Meat Lovers, sans meatballs, plus peppers and mushrooms

Countdown

Countdown

It’s spring break, and everyone is gone. To the mountains. To the beach. To a different place with its own brand of monotony. In the mountains, it’s snowing again. Powder Day, the flat-brimming locals shout. But it’s more of a lazy shout, if there is such a thing. On the beach, more shells. Here’s one that looks like my dog, says some old lady, as she tucks it into her sack full of other shells that also look like her dog. It’s another place this week for many, a break from the monotony of our early spring, to enjoy the monotony of another place.

But while everyone is playing and traveling, I know that there’s something serious on the horizon. Memorial Day Weekend. It’s nine weeks from this Friday. It’s not going to be a normal Friday, that’s for sure. It’ll be you, your office, your co-workers, and there will be a decidedly pronounced difference in attitudes on that day. Some will have an energy, a desire, optimism. Others will behave the same way they did the week before and the week before. For some, that Friday matters. For others, it means only the turning of a calendar, from one season to another, unofficially.

The decision whether or not that Friday matters is yours, and yours alone. The market today is humming with activity, and while I particularly enjoy the activity on the lakefront, each segment of our market is bustling. There is no segment left behind this spring, each price range and housing category finding buyers and fielding offers. You needn’t be robustly rich to enjoy a weekend at the lake. So long as a $90k condo in Geneva National is in your range, you’re in play.

There are pending sales throughout our market, no matter if it’s a $198k cottage in Country Club Estates, or a lakefront estate on the North Shore of Fontana for $7.395MM. The best news for our spring market is that inventory is increasing, albeit slowly. New inventory in any category is a positive, as this market features considerable in-trading amongst vacation home owners. A new lakefront for $3.5MM is good, because it very well may free up a new listing of a $700k cottage with a boatslip. That boat slip property will be great to list, because an owner of a condo at Vista Del Lago might be looking to switch over to a single family vacation home. Any inventory is good inventory, as it lubricates the gears that churn this market forward.

For now, you have a decision to make. If you’re sitting in your office thinking about summer, this is fine. But if those summer thoughts lead you only to a Saturday rooftop dinner and a Sunday morning brunch line, then you’re not thinking as clearly as I had hoped. Dream of summer. Dream of that Friday, nine weeks from this one, but make the decision to make this summer different. I’m here to help, if only you’ll let me.

Above, the divine porch at 434 Oakwood in Fontana. Just sold last week for $1,150,000.

Wisconsin Kringle Company Pizza Review

Wisconsin Kringle Company Pizza Review

I remember when this place first opened. I had a friend considering putting a donut shop into this odd building on the corner of the Lake Geneva Club and South Lakeshore Drive, just East of Fontana. We liked the idea of a donut shop here. A really good donut shop. But alas, before we could act, Wisconsin Kingle Company moved into the space and while they do serve donuts, it’s kringle first. I stopped after they opened and ate a kringle, for research purposes. It was okay, I suppose. But I couldn’t shake the thought of a dialed in donut shop. My Kringle Kingdom for one delicious donut.

This isn’t a donut review, or a kringle review, it’s a pizza review, so when I walked in the other day I ordered one thing and one thing only. A pizza. There was no Supreme offering on the menu, just some other concoctions (The Texas Tornado?) and a build your own menu. I built my own, a 16″ thin crust (that’s their only crust, plus a gluten free option) with sausage, green peppers, and mushrooms. The nice thing about this process is that I didn’t even have to warn the waitress that I’m deathly allergic to a mere whiff of olives. Good thing, too, because this isn’t really a restaurant. It’s a take-out place, so there’s no waitress so much as there is a lady behind the counter. I placed my order, $20.25 for the designer supreme. It was 3:47 pm and the girl said the pizza would take about 10-15 minutes. Yes, I know it was early, and yes, I’m obese, and yes, I was a bit hungry.

A man wearing a chef’s outfit appeared from the back corner of the kitchen. It was his time now. Time to make the pizza. He reached into a cabinet and pulled out a crust from a clear plastic bag. This was a crust like a Tombstone pizza crust. He wasn’t busy throwing and stretching the crust, he just grabbed it from a bag. With the frozen crust on the table, he began his assembly. Some sauce, the vegetables and sausage, the cheese. It was a decent looking pizza, but I couldn’t help but feel anxious over the bagged crust. I wandered around the small space, wondering if this was all a big mistake.

If normal Lake Geneva pizza shops aren’t high on decorating, this place fell well below that low bar. It’s just a space. Some sections have food items on shelves to buy. Some beverage coolers line one of the walls. A walk-in beer cave, I think I noticed in the back. And there are Kringles, all varieties. Along with some donuts. The tops of the donuts had cracks in the icing, which is a tell tale sign that these were not the freshest of donuts. A cop walked in and bought some snacks. My mind wandered… what a shame it was that we didn’t put a donut shop here.

At 3:58 the pizza was assembled. The man said it would need seven or eight minutes in the oven. The allotted time passed, and the man pulled the pizza. As he transferred it from oven deck to cutting board he looked at it admiringly and softly, lovingly, whispered “this is beautiful” . This was the second bout of pizza-self-congratulations within a week, but I liked it, as I am nothing if not guilty of the same. The man cut the pizza with a few extra cuts in each direction, so this tavern style pizza was cut differently than others I’ve had. Each piece was small, not even two inches by two inches, but that didn’t matter now. It was into the car with my pizza, and it was sampling time.

The crust, as I saw when it was removed from the bag, was thing. Quite thin. The toppings were ample but not heavy, the cheese adequate without being a burden. The sauce was quite bland, with no real punch or sweetness. Writing this now, I cannot even remember tasting the sauce. The vegetables were properly softened. There was nothing here not to like. This was the thinnest crust of the tour, rivaling Mama Cimino’s but without the soft crunch that bothered me at Mama’s place. All in all, it was a good pizza.

But was it the best? No, it wasn’t. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here again. I didn’t like that the sauce was bland and I had a visual disagreement with the crust being pulled from that plastic bag. If you live on the south shore and you’re in the mood for pizza one evening, this would be a fine option. Like all corner stores, this isn’t a destination. This is a store of convenience, and this is a pizza of convenience. If you go, you’ll buy the pizza and eat the pizza and probably like the pizza. But you won’t make a note to go back, you know, unless you’re in the neighborhood.

Wisconsin Kringle Company

W4724 South LakeShore Drive, Fontana

6.7/10

$20.25 for a 16″ build your own supreme

New South Shore Club Listing

New South Shore Club Listing

The South Shore Club is all quite nice. The pool and the entrance, the tennis courts and the piers. There’s nothing like it here, and likely never will be anything like it again. Within the South Shore Club there are nice homes, some better than others. Some new, others older, some by the pool and some near the tennis. But beyond the typical homes in the SSC there are the elite. There are the select homes that do not merely angle over lawn and towards the water, but those that sit right up on the water. The front row. There are four of these built homes that match this description, two of which sold in the past 24 months for prices broke the existing South Shore Club sales patterns.

N1619 East Lakeside Lane was one of those sales. It closed north of $4MM, and the new owners immediately began the process of making a 15 year old home new again. Styles have changed, a possible surprise to some, in the event that you are sitting at home with your feet buried in forest green carpet. The process was thorough. Painstaking. Expensive. But no stone was left unturned and a house that felt very much like 2002 now feels very much like 2019. The finishes are superlative, with Plato cabinetry and Wolf appliances anchoring a stunning kitchen. Where there once was carpet there is now oak. New paint, new trim, new floors, fixtures and stone. The audio visual components and hardware have been updated throughout and a theatre room has been added to the walk-out lower level.


 There’s nothing lacking here. No space concerns, with four levels of living space spanning nearly 9,000 square feet. No quality issues, with the extensive updates and recent repairs. And quite obviously, no location issues. This is the front house. The best house. The lot that faces the water fully, with a slight western tilt to take advantage of the sunsets.  The location on the water is tremendous, opening to the widest section of the south shore, offering easy viewing of the nearby Lake Geneva Yacht Club regattas. And now it also plays like the newest house in the club, and it’s being offered mostly furnished for immediate use this summer.

Offered today for $6.495MM. It will be on the MLS later today and available for tour this week. If you’d like a tour of this home and the remarkable South Shore Club property, I’m here to help.

Pending Lakefront

Pending Lakefront

My newest pending lakefront contract, 389 North Lakeshore Drive, Fontana. It’s a great house on a great lot in a highly desirable location. I’m excited to bring a new family to the lakefront, and to help them make their weekends count. If you’re in the market to buy or sell in the upper bracket on Geneva Lake, there’s no question that I should be your agent.

Nayeli’s Pizza Review

Nayeli’s Pizza Review

In a well known, oft admired scene in The Great Outdoors, Buck Ripley is shooting pool at a local, Northwoods bar. His introduction to Cammie, a local, comes by way of an unfortunate placement of his pool cue. When the cue finds its awkward position, Cammie, the street tough Northwoods girl of John Hughes’ imagination, reacts with disgust, assuming young Buck placed it there intentionally. Later, Cammie is sitting outside the bar, puffing a heater, when she teases Buck, “you don’t know how local I am“.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because until a few weeks ago I didn’t know there was a pizza place in Walworth called Nayeli’s. Some local I am. Aiming to educate my Walworth ignorance, I pulled in for an early dinner at this Walworth establishment. It was Tuesday, it was melty outside, and the restaurant was empty. But it was only 4:45 pm, so the quiet nature of this basic restaurant was understood.

The interior is as the rest of them. Simple. Nothing here to remember, nothing to write down. You will not find any design ideas for your next basement remodel. It’s just a restaurant in a strip mall next to a Subway and some empty storefronts. In the distance, Mecum’s headquarters occupies the old grocery store. It’s just Walworth, and Nayeli’s is just a place to get pizza or a sandwich.

When a friend suggested I try Nayeli’s, the suggest came with a recommendation. Order the Double Dough pizza. There are several varieties of crust here: a thin crust tavern style, the double dough, a hand tossed pan style (somewhere in the middle of those two, I presume), and a Chicago Deep Dish. I would normally have only sampled the thin crust, but with the recommendation, I had to try the Double Dough. One large (14″) Double Dough Cheese pizza, and one large thin crust Supreme with pepperoni, bacon, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. I told the waitress to mail the black olives to Satan. It was 4:49 pm.

We sipped our waters, which my son tasted “dusty”, and waited. The restaurant smelled of cleaning solution, which I find obnoxious each and every time I encounter this restaurant flaw. Locals walked in with some frequency, picking up take out orders and driving away. Business seemed relatively brisk, and I was happy for the Nayeli’s that it appears as though they are holding their own in a town ruled by Pino’s. The waitress brought plates to the table and added that she brought us the bigger plates. Game recognizes game.

At 5:07, under the 20 minute timeline that I find to be a reasonable wait for a thin crust pizza, the Supreme was brought to our table. It was beautiful. Legitimately beautiful. Ample toppings buried in and around nicely browned cheese. There wasn’t too much cheese, which was nice, and more in line with Mama Cimino’s than Pinos or the Next Door Pub, who both apply cheese with a snow shovel. The initial crust test was astounding. This pizza stood at attention with no droop or sag, easily becoming the sturdiest, crispiest thin crust that I’ve experienced on this tour. I was impressed.

But things weren’t all perfect. The vegetables were a tad too crunchy, which wasn’t a fatal flaw, but was less than ideal. The real problem here is the sauce. It was a touch bitter. There was a heavy undertone of dried oregano. It reminded me very much of the pizza sauce at the old Chicago Pizza in Lake Geneva, the space now occupied by the Flat Iron Tap. The pizza was well constructed and well executed, but the sauce let me down. Admittedly I prefer a sweeter pizza sauce, but this sauce just wasn’t to my liking.

The Double Dough pizza was brought out shortly after the Supreme. The waitress said “this is beautiful” as she admired the nicely raised and golden brown crust. The crust was brushed with some oil, or butter, and it glistened under those dining room lights. Sadly, the pizza was mostly for looks, as the crust itself was, well, doughy. There was nice oven spotting on the underside, and it had some crunch, but it was a lot of dough, and the dough was a bit gummy, and not chewy. I don’t know what I expected, since it’s literally called Double Dough, but I’ve had better doughy pizzas. My friend, who is seemingly normal and capable of discerning good pizza from bad, failed me on this particular recommendation.

The pizza at Nayeli’s is good. The crust is superior. The restraint shown when applying cheese is to be commended. But the sauce wasn’t to my liking, and that is the only thing that holds this pizza back from taking the top spot on this tour. Next time you’re up at the lake and you’ve had enough of the regular pizza joints, try Nayeli’s. You just might like it, and if nothing else, you’ll feel like a local. You know, like me.

Nayeli’s Pizza

108 Fairview Drive, Walworth

6.7/10

$17.25 for a large (14″) Supreme, and $14 for a large Double Dough Cheese

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I fished for a few hours last week. Me, the stream and the snow, deep and white, still soft, still clean, and the trout. It wasn’t a big stream, and I didn’t place much concern on the catch, but the sky was clear and the water, too, so I trudged through the knee deep snow and to the pool that ages of water had carved into and beneath that limestone bank. A solitary bald eagle sat in a nearby pine and kept en eye on my effort. I enjoyed that morning. I caught a few trout. It was a beautiful winter day in March, and that day is nothing like this day. Today, I’m ready for the melt.

The market, likewise, has spent this winter ready for spring. But unlike the icy hold on our landscape, the market thawed a long time ago. There’s a question as to whether it ever froze. It’s easy to sit back on a morning like this and feel the malaise of a late winter day. The ice and snow, clouds and wind. It’s all too much. But we aren’t long for it. Soon enough it’ll be spring and then summer and you’ll be sitting at your desk wondering why you let the malaise of March bring you down when you should have found the motivation of March, which is far more rewarding.

Around the lake today there is activity. Ample activity. A nonsensical tax bill proposed by The Billionaire Governor Next Door (that bill that supposes a hard working family earning one million dollars per year owes the same debt to society as a billionaire who made his money through the hard work of inheritance) is a headwind for our market, there’s no sugarcoating that. But in spite of this, the market persists. Activity is rampant in all market segments, from condominiums in Geneva National (at least ten under contract currently), to lakefront homes on Geneva. There is no let down here, just an unavoidable march towards summer, marshaled by those participants who feel like making this summer the best summer of their lives.

The lakefront condo market has had itself a nice little winter, with a rare pending sale over $1MM in Bay Colony, and another pending sale over $800k in Lake Geneva. The real tragedy here is that my Bay Colony unit, that one that’s so nice it’s almost difficult to comprehend, is still available. At $799k it’s being offered far below owner cost, and if you were looking to spend this summer lakeside in luxury, you couldn’t do it for less. Of course you could go to some other lake, but I know you’re smarter than that.

The lake access market is moving nicely, with twelve properties priced from $198k to $1.295MM currently under contract. Included in that list is my fine listing in Glenwood Springs, which remains the nicest off-water cottage I’ve ever seen. While this off-water activity is nice, the real action is once again found on the lakefront. My listing on Park Drive ($2.195MM) went under contract last week, as did another lakefront in Glenwood Springs in the high twos. A property in Shore Haven ($2.949MM) hit the market two weeks ago and was quickly purchased by another lakefront owner, as the trend of musical lakefront homes continues. It’s like musical chairs, but without the music or the chairs.

To round things out, the top end of the market received a nice jolt over the weekend with the fresh contract on my lakefront listing at 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. Newer construction in a desirable location is rarely offered on this lake, (note the desirable location part), so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this lakefront ($7.385MM) find a buyer. If you’re wondering how important it is to offer your home to the market in turn key condition, I’ll point to this sale and give you a hint: it’s very important.

The lakefront market added four new lakefronts in the past month and three of those sold immediately. I’m expecting lakefront inventory to increase in the coming month, which isn’t especially profound. The market will continue to move as the calendar turns, and if we’re experiencing this sort of activity now, can you imagine how much better it’ll be when the ice gives us our big, blue lake back?


Mama Cimino’s Pizza Review

Mama Cimino’s Pizza Review

There’s a thing about making Tuesday pizza night. It’s not a night where you have to contend with lines. Crowds like the weekends. But I think weekends are for rookies, and Taco Tuesday is for those who aren’t yet aware that we’ve replaced all of that with Pizza Tuesday. And if you walk into Mama Cimino’s in Lake Geneva on Tuesday you’re in luck, it’s two for one night.

That’s what the waiter told me when I sat down in the dining room of this Lake Geneva pizza house. Buy one get one, cash only, he said. The cash part was an obstacle for me as my wife had pried from my cold hand the last of my Tuesday cash. I ordered, but I didn’t get the free pizza, because I had to pay with a credit card. I couldn’t help but feel as though this was an unlucky occurrence, that I was somehow deprived of my double pizza destiny. I ordered a 16″ Cimino Everything, which comes with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives. I told him to cast my olives into the depths of fiery hell.

The restaurant was not full. If you’ve never been, it’s wedged in between the fast food row in Lake Geneva, just south of the main drag. The restaurant shares a common wall with a Verizon store. There’s nothing here out of place, but there’s nothing here that will uniquely bring you back. The tablecloths are white and red checked plastic. The tables wobble. There’s nothing else worth noting. But it was 6:06 on a Tuesday and I had already ordered. One other table had some patrons, one of whom leaned in towards me to whisper a hushed secret, the pizza is good here.

At 6:10 my friend joined me for dinner, a local of sorts who told me to eat here. He sat down and we waited. I stared at the ficus in the corner and flipped through the Lake Geneva Regional News to see which real estate agents still think print advertising is a good idea. At 6:25 the pizza was brought to our table. It was big, it was hot, and it looked delicious. For the first time on our tour, the outer edge of the pizza was a bit charred, which I like. It seemed as though our next door table mates might be right.

The pizza was once again tavern style, square cut, with the typical toppings under cheese routine that is common here. The cheese was thick, but not so thick that it bothered me. Both The Next Door Pub and Pino’s pile on the cheese with a heavier hand. The vegetable toppings were cut into smaller cubes, which more than once left me thinking a pale piece of tomato was actually a piece of carrot, which would have been disconcerting. The sausage was delicious and pronounced, but the rest of the meaty toppings faded into the background. Which is a good thing, because I generally find bacon to be a misplaced pizza topping.

The crust here is different. It’s thinner than any of the other pizzas on this tour. The consistency is not crunchy, instead it gives like a pie crust might. The crust behaved like it had butter in it, which I doubt it did. But still, it was thin and it was crunchy, though not like a cracker, and not with any real resistance. The first few pieces were nice, but as the pizza feast wore on, the squares failed to retain any crunch. At first it didn’t bother me, and I thought it to be a reasonable condition, but as I thought about it I found it increasingly unacceptable.

The sauce was sweet, which I liked, and the waiter brought us a small dish of marinara sauce “to dip the crust”. I appreciated that, and I found the waiter to have a friendly edge that I didn’t anticipate. It was clear this man cared about this restaurant, and wanted his diners to be happy with their experience and happy with the pizza, and I was, mostly.

But that crust, man, that crust. The consistency just wasn’t right for me. The soggy ending wasn’t right, either. At first I thought I liked the pie-crust type give to the crust, but thinking about it now, I prefer a crisper crust that takes a more significant chomp to work through. On this night, the pizza was pretty, pretty good. Was it the best Walworth County has to offer? No. But I think you should try it for yourself, and if it’s a Tuesday, bring cash.

Mama Cimino’s

131 Wells Street, Lake Geneva

7.1/10

$23 For Cimino Everything

Lake Houses

Lake Houses

Certain phrases elicit certain reactions. For instance. If I tell my wife to “calm down”. The reaction is something I can predict with startling accuracy. If my son is bothering me and I tell him that he is banned from his xbox, he’ll react in the same apoplectic manner each and every time. And if I read that someone says they don’t “need a lake house”, my reaction will escalate far beyond that of my wife having been told to calm down and my son having been banned from gaming. You don’t need a lake house? Pfft.

The latest round of this profanity was uttered by a well-intentioned homeowner in a recent Crain’s article. The person owns a home in a North Shore suburb of Chicago. The house is for sale. When a house is for sale, the owners grasp at straws to describe just what it is that makes their house more special than the others. Better than the others. Unique and rare, that’s what their house is. In the case of this gentleman he said that he never felt the need for a lake house, because this house, located on Lake Michigan, is his lake house. It’s a primary home and a lake house all in one, with one tax bill and one landscaping bill. It’s tremendous win. Or so he thinks.

Before I blast off into a state of discontent, I must remind myself that this guy means well. He’s just trying to sell his house, and that’s something that I can understand and appreciate. But in trying to sell his house he has reinforced a myth, and it’s the myth that I find unconscionable. The myth says that a house on or near water is a lake house. A lake house is a lake house, a lake is a lake, a view is a view. In this, homes near water are all the same. Be the home near a great big lake, a tiny little lake, or this, our magnificent lake. Homes are homes, lakes are lakes, and this guy has his lake house. For terrible and irreversible shame.

Yes, you could work your way up through the minor leagues and find yourself standing on the mound, about to hurl a heater in the first inning of your league championship game. You could do that. Or you could just buy a ticket in the bleachers and eat popcorn while you watch the game. In this scenario both people find themselves in the stadium on game day, under the same sun and staring at the same green, hatch-mowed grass. Why put in all that effort to be the pitcher when you can just buy a ticket and enjoy the same game?

This is what it’s like to own a lake house on the big lake, on either side of the big lake. And this is the primary and most significant difference between Lake Geneva and that big lake. The big lake is beautiful. It’s nice to look at. I appreciate it for the inland ocean that it is. I look forward to one day holding the Western states ransom as they wish to stick their straws into our big lake. But to ascribe lake house abilities to a home on that lake is simply an error. The difference between Lake Geneva and Lake Michigan? The ability to use the lake.

If you want to tie a boat in a harbor and drive home to your lake house, I suppose that’s up to you. If you’d prefer to have a lake house with a view of water and no means to use that water, that’s again, like your opinion, man. But if you’d like a lake house situated above that water where the water itself is the weekend, then that’s why you come here. If you’d like your boat waiting for you at the end of your lawn, tethered to your private, white pier, then you should be here. If you’d like to see sunrises and sunsets, this is your place. If you want to ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon and fish in the evening, all without leaving your own property, then you come here. A lake house isn’t really a lake house unless it lets you live in a way that indulges in the adjacent lake. Swim, boat, fish, ski, sail. This is what a Lake Geneva lake house will offer you. If you’re only interested in a lake house that offers you a great view and nothing else, you might as well just move to Evanston.

Pino’s Pizza Review

Pino’s Pizza Review

If you went to the Next Door Pub and the Next Door Pub was in Walworth, but instead of being in a restaurant space the restaurant is in the Ben Franklin space, then you’d start to understand. If the pizza that you ordered at that restaurant in the Ben Franklin building was similar to the Lake Geneva restaurant pizza, except that the pizza was just flat out better, then you’d realize that you’re not in the Next Door Pub at all. You’re at Pino’s. And the pizza tastes good.

The night was full of confusion. I had intended to take my family with for pizza, and we had intended to go somewhere in Lake Geneva. Maybe Oakfire, maybe not. But the dog’s grooming appointment ran late due to matting and shaving, so we were left with little time between the grooming and the 7 pm Faith Christian basketball game. With that little time there was no Lake Geneva drive in the forecast, so we settled into a Walworth routine and pulled up to Pino’s at 6:15 pm.

If you’ll recall the fish fry review, Pino’s is in Walworth at the back of the strip mall that houses a library, a Chinese restaurant, a gym, a general contractor’s office, and a medical clinic. If you were looking for a theme here, there isn’t one. The Pino’s building is far in the back, and it’s not a Pino’s building at all as much as it is a Ben Franklin building, assuming you were in the Walworth area in the late 1980s and maybe even the early 1990s. The building is large, so large that it lacks any particular charm. If you want atmosphere, go somewhere else.

But we’re not looking for atmosphere, we’re looking for good pizza. When we were seated at 6:16, there were no other patrons in the dining room. Only a scant few contractor types sitting at the bar, no doubt considering, as was I, that they were sitting in the sewing section of Ben Franklin. The waitress was quickly table side and without delay we made our order. One large cheese pizza ($16.25) and one sort-of large (14″) Traditional pizza. Their traditional comes topped with onions, mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, pepperoni, ham, and olives in two tones, which we requested be mercifully left off of our pizza. The time was 6:19 pm. On the stereo, Tom Delong sang about his first date.

At 6:29 pm, Weezer came on. It was apparent that the person making the music decisions was also nearly 41, and I wondered if they, too, thought it odd that our lives have brought us to this place. At 6:39, the pizza was served. 20 minutes is a nice amount of time to wait for a pizza. It isn’t so fast that it leaves you wondering just how the pizza could cook in that short amount of time, and it isn’t so long that you start to grow impatient. The pies were large, well cooked without being burnt, and looked exactly as a tavern style pizza should look. I’ve had this pizza before, but never under the guise of grading it for the world. This time, there was more on the line.

The first slice made it obvious that we were dealing with a lot of cheese here. Loads of cheese. But this is Wisconsin, and a cheesy pizza is what the locals demand. The flop test, as evidenced above, was passed with ease. The crust was crispy, but it wasn’t cracker crispy. The crust is thin, technically, but not so thin that you could consider labeling it “thin crust” on a menu. There’s very little chew to the crust, and if you were on a search for the worlds best pizza crust you wouldn’t stop here. The vegetables and meat on the traditional were delicious, with properly softened vegetables blending nicely with the generous chunks of sausage and thin wafers of pepperoni. The sauce wasn’t too heavy, and down to the last bite the crust retained at least some crunch. This pizza dinner was a good one.

Was it perfect? No. The scene has to account for something in this series, and the scene here is very, very basic. The service was polite and prompt, our water glasses refilled as needed. The pizza is, for this style of pizza, about as good as it gets. Was the Traditional a bit heavy on the toppings? Sure. Was the Cheese a bit heavy on the cheese? Yes. Would I have preferred a crust that was either thinner and crispier or one with more rise and chew? Of course. But on this cold February night, we were happy to eat a properly prepared tavern style pizza, albeit in the woven basket section of the Ben Franklin.

Pino’s Last Call Pizza Pub and Grill

545 Kenosha Street, Walworth

7.8/10

$16.25 for a 16″ Cheese, $22.25 for a 14″ Traditional

Winters End

Winters End

It’s over. That’s it. There’s nothing left. We made it. No more winter, not here, anyway. Sure, up north there’s still winter, but there’s winter there in the spring and there’s winter there in the fall. Winter is what they do. Winter and bugs. But that’s not how it is here, no sir. Here, winter is done and spring is next. I’m happy to have arrived here, in spring.

Ah, but you say it’s still winter. You say it’s three degrees outside today. You say the wind blew at 50 miles per hour yesterday and last night, and cars wrecked and houses shook. You’re right about those things, they did happen, and they are happening, but what does that have to do with spring?

The forecast, you tell me, and you point to your phone, to the icons and the numbers. It’ll be cold all week, you insist. Snowy, too! Yes, but how much longer can that cold last, now that it’s spring? If it’s spring, I’ll give you your cold temperatures, but there’s no staying power, not now. Days, sure. Weeks, maybe. But months? Years? There’s hardly anything to worry about here in this late winter that’s really my spring. You should see things like I do.

The ice! You insist, albeit in vain. Yes, I know there’s ice. Lots of it. My driveway is impassable, my yard a slick, thick sheet of frozen snow and frozen rain, the lake, deep and dark and thick with ice. I get it. I do. That doesn’t really have anything to do with spring, and you’re right. That’s why I know they’re not long for this place, at this time. How much ice can last through spring, which it now is? With so much spring around us, who can even see the ice?

Still you think I jest. Still you think I’m wrong. Still you sit in your house with the furnace churning and your hands warmed by your coffee and you shutter to think of so much more winter. You’re forgiven for being wrong, but you’re still wrong. In the same way that summer is over once you start thinking about fall, once you start wishing for denim and boots and apples and leaves, it is also the case for winter. Once I’m done with the snow and the ice, which I have now decided I am, there can be no more winter with my mind set forward to spring. Get ready for it, because it’s coming and it’s coming soon, though I admit my definition of soon may be different than yours.

Rosati’s Pizza Review

Rosati’s Pizza Review

More than fifty years ago, in a suburb of Chicago, a member of the Rosati family opened a pizzeria. Years later, a franchise model was born, and Rosati’s Pizza expanded throughout Illinois, the Midwest, and beyond. Today, there are nearly 200 Rosati’s locations. But that doesn’t concern me, because I didn’t even want to eat lunch at Rosati’s yesterday. Oak Fire was my aim, but Oak Fire’s website said they were open, their menu placard outside the restaurant said they were open, the guy inside walking around seemed to indicate that they might be open, but the door was locked. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

I thought of two or three other pizza places after Oak Fire and before Rosati’s, but those places would only open later in the day for dinner service. Pizza, it seems, is seen as a dinner item, which is silly. With the history of my day in place and the history of Rosati’s understood, I pulled into the parking lot and met a friend for lunch.

I had never darkened the door of Rosati’s. Not this one, not any one. The Lake Geneva location is adjacent the Sherwin Williams paint store, just a bit West of the Highway 120/50 intersection, behind the Taco Bell. The location is not ideal, but it works. The interior of the restaurant is decorated like the basement rec room of a Schaumburg tudor in 1996. Chicago Bears and Bulls memorabilia, along with a few token Packers pieces covered the walls. A life size cutout of Michael Jordan and another of a younger Brett Favre kept watch over the dining room.

Don’t confuse Rosati’s with a normal sit-down establishment. This is a fast food restaurant. The tables are covered in wood grain formica. The chairs are the sort you’d stack tall after a church service. There’s nothing here memorable, nothing that sets any sort of mood. This is a place for eating. At 12:30 pm on a Tuesday there were a scant few tables occupied when I walked up to the counter to place my order.

The large cheese pizza was 16 inches, the same size as the large at The Next Door Pub. The menu said the pizza was $16.99. The special, scribbled on a dry-erase board near the entrance, said that a Tuesday large cheese + 1 topping pizza was just $13.99. Their version of “supreme” is called Super Supreme and features opinions, peppers, mushrooms, sausage, pepperoni, and black olives. I ordered the pizza half cheese, half super supreme, minus the black olives because those are disgusting no matter what anyone says. The order-taker struggled with my order.

The way I saw it, she had a few different options for my bill. She could consider my order as the cheese special at $13.99 and add on a fee for the half that was super supreme. Or she could charge me $16.99 and add a charge for the super supreme half. Or she could charge me for the super supreme, and that would be that. The latter option seemed the wrong one, but that’s what she chose. I paid $21.49 for a Super Supreme that was half cheese. I was wounded. But I paid the tab, tipped her for her self-inflicted trouble, and sat down at a table near Brett Favre. It was 12:36.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I thought the wait was too long, especially for a chain restaurant that should, at this late date in their business history, have the art of quick pizza making well refined. I also thought of how I received the Next Door Pub pizza quickly, and that turned out to be fatal speed, so I waited. Thirty minutes after I ordered, the pizza was brought to the table. It was large, greasy, well browned, and cut tavern style. It looked pretty good.

And it was pretty good. The sauce wasn’t super sweet but it had nice flavor, the cheese was ample and spotted with browning from the hot oven, the crust crunchy, at least at first. The crust was thin, but it wasn’t particularly good. There was a school cafeteria vibe with the crust. It didn’t flop as terribly as the Next Door Pub rare crust, but that’s a low hurdle to clear. Toppings were applied with a heavy hand, and the cheese was thick, but not so much that it was a burden. It was good because I was hungry, but was it something unique, something worthy of praise? No, it wasn’t. Still, we ate the pizza and were satisfied.

Will I go to Rosati’s again for pizza? No, I won’t. The pizza was fine. But we’re not trying to find fine. We do fine really well here. We’re looking for outstanding. Rare. We’re searching for a winner, and in a crowd full of pizza, Rosati’s doesn’t deserve any special consideration.

Rosati’s Pizza

240 Edwards Boulevard, Lake Geneva

4.2/10

$21.49 for a half cheese/half super supreme thin crust pizza  (note: there are several styles of pizza available here- deep dish, double crust, etc)

Park Drive For Sale

Park Drive For Sale

Lakefront buyers know that a hunt for a lakefront house can be fun. Can, being the operative word there. It could be fun. Should be fun. But often, in this market, it is anything but. No inventory, stubborn sellers, too much competition amongst other, potentially more motivated buyers. Sometimes, it’s all too much. But in the process there is an education, as buyers come to understand what it is they should expect at certain price points on this magnificent lakefront.

Enter Park Drive. A south shore lakefront with almost 80′ of level frontage with a rare sandy beach shoreline. Lakefront home buyers understand that $2MM or so doesn’t typically allow for such a wide swath of level lakefront. What’s typical in this market now is fifty feet, maybe more, maybe less, on the side of a hill. Park Drive has a three car attached garage, into which you enter off of a private, paver driveway capable of holding several cars. Parking and a three car attached garage? Not common in this market at this price point, but you already knew that because you’re a $2ish buyer and you aren’t finding what it is that you want.

An old cottage, that’s what you’ll find here. Some lipstick, a heavy hand, and voila, that’s the cottage you’ll find for this sort of money. But that’s not what I have here at Park. I have a lakefront home built in 1996 with Viking appliances and multiple fireplaces and so much glass on that lakeside wall. Yes, you can find an old cottage on a hill for this price, with those fifty skinny feet and that little pier, but why would you keep looking for that house when this better house is right here, right now, ready for summer 2019?

Three bedrooms, two baths, a three car garage, private pier, huge lakeside deck and patio, 79 feet of dead level frontage, turn key condition. $2,195,000. Let me know if you’d like to see it.

Lake Geneva’s Best Pizza

Lake Geneva’s Best Pizza

On December 17th, I decided to try the Keto diet. The timing was complicated, so close to Christmas, a holiday revered in my family for its significance, yes, but also for the candies, the breads, the pies. In spite of the temptations, I adhered closely to this diet. No sugar, no bread, no starch. Fruits aren’t even safe on this diet, and so I steered clear. I was proud of myself for enduring the way I did, steadfastly from that day in December right up until a day during the last week of January when I realized that I am nothing if I not a bread eater. If I can’t eat bread, what’s the point of this so called life?

I like pizza. Quite a lot, but maybe not more than the average American, or European. I find it to be a comforting old friend, a safe menu choice, a small pie making for a simple appetizer, or a large pie feeding a family of four for $20 or so. Even when my wife and I traveled through France last spring, we often found our meal of choice in the shape of a circle. It wasn’t only difficult for me to avoid pizza during the six weeks I toiled under the meaty thumb of Keto, it felt wrong.

My mother made pizza on Saturdays. A homemade crust, thick and doughy, sauce, and toppings that generally steered clear of anything exotic. Sausage and pepperoni ruled. Later in my life, I had a wood fired pizza oven built at my house so I could experiment with my own pizza making, the results of which varied wildly from pizza to pizza. Later, I built a fly fishing cabin, and added a wood fired oven to that home as well. My pizza making skills evolved, but consistency still haunts me, even to this day.

Earlier this week, I posted a picture of a floppy slice of pizza on my Facebook page. It was a woeful slice, indeed. I announced the beginnings of a pizza review series, and the response was enthusiastic. In fact, when my wife logs into my account to tell the world that I’ve died, fewer comments will be left. Some warned me against local pizza. Go to New York or Chicago for pizza, they said. This place is the best, some wrote. Try this place, order the pizza well done, someone suggested. Pizza, while not a particular strong suite of the Lake Geneva area, is something that matters.

In preparation of my review series, I decided on the process. I will order one large pizza, half cheese and half supreme (or whatever the establishment calls their pizza with some vegetables and sausage). There’s a popular website where the founder travels from town to town reviewing pizza. “One bite, everybody knows the rules”.   This is what the man says before taking his bite. I know this concept to be preposterous. One bite does not tell the tale of a pizza. What if I’m exceptionally hungry that day, and that first bite is amazing not because of the pizza, but because of my near starvation? What if the first bite is good, but the next thirty-four are mediocre? This will not be a one bite review, this will be a pizza review. I’m not a coward, so I’ll eat the whole stinkin’ pizza. How else can a dish be judged?

That brings us to my first google search. “Best Pizza in Lake Geneva”. This is what I typed into my browser. Tripadviser, Yelp and others told me there was a consistent opinion in our market. The Next Door Pub received top placement on many sites, often followed or proceeded by Oak Fire. With the reviews of the people considered, I made my first decision. It was a snow day, and I was hungry, so at 5 pm sharp my son and I walked into The Next Door Pub.

This establishment on the north side of Lake Geneva is one that I know well. I’ve eaten the pizza perhaps a dozen times before, which doesn’t make me a regular by any stretch. The space is quite basic, nothing fancy. A couple of dining rooms and a bar. It’s modest. But at 5 pm on Tuesday night the place was hopping. The clientele was diverse: construction workers, families, retirees and at least one young couple on a date at the corner table, awkwardly sharing an order of wings. My son and I were seated at a four top near the front door, and then we waited.

And waited. And waited. Ten minutes later, a waitress made her way to the table and took our order. One large pizza, half cheese, the other half being their “famous garbage pizza”, that of onions, sausage, green pepper and mushrooms. We sat and listened to the conversations of the surrounding tables. No one had anything interesting to say.

Ten minutes later, the pizza arrived. It felt like it came out a bit too soon. We had waited more than ten minutes for our waters, and expected to wait another 15 or more for the pizza. But ten minutes later, there it was. A large pizza, half cheese and half garbage, cut tavern style. That style, by the way, is the common style for pizza in the Lake Geneva market. It’s a reasonably thin crust pizza with ample toppings, cut in squares, not slices. This pizza looked fine, but the cheese on top was quite white. There was no evidence of browning, no bits of char. The speed at which the pizza was brought to the table and the lack of browning on the cheese was worrisome, but I’ve had this pizza before and figured it would still be tasty, even if it didn’t look tasty.

But it wasn’t. The crust was limp, as evidenced in that damning photo above. It was soft, soggy, undercooked. When I mentioned this initially on Facebook someone said that I have to order the pizza “well done”. This is silly, and akin to ordering a Coke and asking the waiter to make sure it’s fizzy. The crust was soft and too thick to be considered proper tavern style, the sauce was a touch sweet, which I actually prefer. The cheese overwhelmed the pie, which is a condition that used to plague my mother’s pizza as well, though she never opened a restaurant. The sausage was fine, not too loaded with fennel seed, which is a vile seed that should never again be planted. The vegetables were adequate, not too crunchy, but here they are placed under the cheese and stacked high, which means great care must be made to pull a square of pizza from the plate and not have all of the toppings slide onto the table. Making matters worse, the crust couldn’t even support itself, so this pizza was less a pizza and more a soft, messy casserole.

I recognize people love The Next Door Pub. It’s a fine pub, and I’m sure many people count it as their favorite. But I’m not many people, and I have no allegiance to this, or any other restaurant in the area. I’m just hoping to eat some good pizza, and on this night, I struck out.

The Next Door Pub

411 Interchange North (Highway 120), Lake Geneva, WI

2.9/10

$19.70 for a large half cheese/ half garbage pizza

Lake Geneva Lakefront Inventory

Lake Geneva Lakefront Inventory

Here we are again. In February. The snow is still flying, but we know what we know. Summer is coming soon. With that in mind, buyers are looking forward to maybe, potentially, perhaps, spending this summer in a different place. In this place. Our place. Many are waiting. Hoping. But January is spent and February is aging and the wait continues.

Inventory was a concern heading into this new year, but I was more concerned about the stock market. Concerned about stability. The December market slide has reversed course, leaving my worries to the singular: Inventory. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case at this time of any given year, but this year, this morning, it’s all about the inventory.

Year to date we’ve technically added three lakefronts to the mix. But that’s just a technicality, as those three lakefronts were all available last year, and have only now come back to market after spending the holidays on pause. For all of the inventory concerns I had at the end of 2017, the first 42 days of 2018 brought eight new lakefronts to market, and several of those were indeed new offerings. 2019, you’re letting us down.

And what of the buyer activity this year? What’s the theme in our market at this very moment? Showings, by my eye, seem to be quite high given the difficult weather that we’ve experienced over the last several weeks. Contracts are relatively low, but that’s purely a function of limited inventory. Expect contracts to pick up in February and March as buyers either pounce on new inventory, or realize their options for 2019 are going to remain limited and turn to the existing inventory to scratch their summery itch.

For my part, I’m working on some new bits and pieces of inventory that you’ll know about soon. I’m also starting to work on the 10th issue of Summer Homes For City People, which will hopefully be available Memorial Day Weekend. If you’re in the mood to buy or sell Lake Geneva this year, I hope you’ll let me know.

2019 State Of The Market

2019 State Of The Market

Managing Directors, Those Bored and Successful, My Wife and Children, My Mother Who Reads These Posts, and my Fellow Lake Geneva Admirers:

We meet electronically this morning at a moment of unlimited potential. As we begin a new year, I sit here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for your family, that prized collection of individuals who count on you to ignite their weekend, lakeside dreams. Our fellow Midwesterners are watching us now, hoping that we will not vacation as two parties, some seeking solace on these shimmering shores, and others still wandering blindly towards a great big, unusable lake in a lesser Eastern state, but as one Nation, united in the desire to spend weekends splashing and playing. The contrast I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda, not an agenda for those in Winnetka and another for those in Hinsdale. It is the agenda of the American people, those who have come here, weary of their work and seeking rest.

 There is a new opportunity in American vacation homes, if only we have the courage to seize it. Victory is not winning the bid. Victory is winning the bid on the right house, on the right lake, at the right price. This year, we will recognize an important anniversary that shows us the majesty of this great Lake Geneva mission. This year, we mark 23 years since the start of what I would call a most illustrious Real Estate career. Should I have gone to college and law school? Of course I should have, but that doesn’t matter now. It’s too late to worry about that when the promise of summer is so near.

Today, a mother from Buffalo Grove will log on to her computer, and she’ll stumble upon this website and her eyes will be opened to the possibility of a Lake Geneva vacation home. This is the promise of America, yes, but it’s the further promise of Lake Geneva. And when this mother searches and strives and brings her family to the lake this summer, and oh so many summers after, this is when the dream of my father, and of her father will have been realized. Of course, that assumes her father dreamt of this in the way that my father did, but still. It’s in these people, the city worker and the mother from Buffalo Grove and my father and her father that combine to make the state of the Lake Geneva market strong.

The results of this work, of the street plower dutifully fulfilling his pledge, and of the mother looking and then buying the most perfect lake house, is that our market has never been stronger. We have never been stronger.  We own the Midwest vacation home market, and it is all but assured that the coming year will be as bright as the years that preceded it. No, brighter, as if that could be possible.  We do not shut off our lights, or turn away any weary travelers just because we are content in our own strength, proud of our resilience and upper bracket liquidity. Instead we offer benevolence to the lake weary, to those who toil and labor in cities and in suburbs, and we offer them shelter because that is what we do and this is who we are.  How can we call ourselves Americans if we do not encourage those with the means to lay down roots near our shores? The only wall that Lake Geneva needs is made of Hydrangea, and it blooms as bright as the faces of our sun-kissed children.

The question for us today is actually only for you. It is not for you if you’re content with your vacation home ownership here. If you splash your way through every summer, this is not a charge that you need to consider because you have already passed this greatest test. The question today is for those who sit at their computers, who sit on their couches, who spend Saturday wondering what Sunday will bring even though you know it just brings a long line and then brunch.  Maybe a stroller ride through an insufferable park.  The question is what, exactly, are you doing? Why are you allowing a most un-American complacency to drag down your weekends, when you know that we’re here- the city worker, polishing the streets that we’d like you to drive over, and the mother, picking up corn at the farmer’s market in the morning to cook it lakeside in the evening. We are here, working and playing and living in a most amazing fashion, even while you sit there in that same new chair, obstructing your own path in life simply because you’re scared to venture into the unknown.  Do you not dream our same watery dreams? Do you not wish for your own American dream?

But this isn’t the unknown, my friends, this is America, yes, the most pure version of it. This is America, if the entirety of it would be washed in clean water, surrounded by a lush green shore, where every family gets a boat in every slip and some gas in that boat and a few hours of leisure. This is what we offer, and in the coming months you must make a decision to join us or forever get out of our way. In God We Trust, yes but do we not also trust in blue water and soft summer skies? Do we not trust in weekends that are different than weekdays? In summer that is different than fall?  We can make progress this year, together, but we cannot do this without your cooperation. We can lead you to the water but we cannot make you swim. We cannot simply urge you to join us if you will not make even a modest effort. This isn’t what it is to be an American, to lie and lounge in city apartments and in suburban backyards, this isn’t the sense of adventure that our fore-bearers wished for us. Do you not aspire to join us in our greatness?

But today is for the laborer. The partner and the founder. The director and the vice president.  They rise and they work, and they rise and they work. They wake on Saturday and they pretend that this day is somehow different. They rise and think that a Lake Geneva vacation home isn’t for them, because it hasn’t ever been for them. That this dream is unattainable. They huddle in their darkest corners, holding tight to their money that they’ve worked so hard to earn, and they fear the things that might happen if they let some of it go. They live as though their pedigree is in question, as though they cannot consider Lake Geneva because of its long enduring reputation as a place for the very best among us. I assure you today, as I will assure you again tomorrow, that Lake Geneva is for everyone, for every man, woman and child, for anyone who wakes on a Saturday and says, “I’m bored, let’s go to the lake”.

And so I make this decree, by executive order, under the authority bestowed upon me by myself, I hereby demand every vacation home seeker of some means to at least consider a Lake Geneva vacation home.  Your complacency cannot thrive under this bright lakeside sun, and so this command today by me, your market leading agent, shall be followed otherwise the willing dissenters risk being labeled enemy combatants and foist into the darkness of a Pure Michigan weekend.  We may disagree on the course of value, or on the benefits of one shore over the other, or on which restaurant is worthy of our breakfasting intentions and which restaurants are not, but we can agree that Lake Geneva is the place to be. In fact, it always has been, and it always will be. If we can summon the courage to live in a way that finds our weekends at the lake, then we can achieve a new standard of living for the twenty-first century and beyond. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless Lake Geneva and no place else.

Spring Market

Spring Market

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the week that was. Monday we were roused from our slumber by snow, perhaps six inches of it, and we were glad. Or at least my kids were glad, because snow days are to be celebrated. Then the temperatures dropped, and Wednesday school was called, followed by Thursday. It was terribly cold, but you know this because you were there. Or here.  The week was memorable, and in the dark depths of this important winter it would be easy to forget a very basic truth: Summer is coming.

This is true, whether it feels true or not. There is no way around it. Summer will be here soon. In the real estate sense, it’s right around the corner. January is gone, the boring, tedious Super Bowl is over, and what comes next is easy. Summer.  Yes, there’s plenty of winter left. It will still be cold. There are months worth of fires left to be burned. There is work to be done, wintery work.  Like any season,  much of our time is spent preparing for the season to come, and since Spring isn’t so much a season as it is a petulant in-between that we must suffer, the next thing is summer.  Ready or not.

I have to tell you this now because now you still have time. If you’re a vacation home buyer, you should be aware of your schedule. Looking for a house in February is good if you’d like to be contracted this month and closing in March or April. If you close in late March or April, that gives you a handful of weeks to prepare your new property for summer.  There are sheets to buy and pillows to fluff. There are walls to paint and cabinets to wash. Hardware should be upgraded, because we all know you cannot abide a full summer with those terrible doorknobs.

I like June buyers. They’re nice. Sweet. Showings are easy and weekends are soft. June buyers are simple. To be a June buyer is to be motivated, sure, but motivated for what? To close quickly in July and suck a few extra weeks of real summer our of 2019? How much better it would be to be a February buyer. Time, that’s what this buyer has.  If you’re buying in February you are seeing this market for what it is when the romance is gone. You see behind the veil. There is no clarity of vision in June, there is only the overwhelming urgency of summer. February? That’s the sort of buyer I’d want to be.

The good news for February buyers is that I’m here, and I’m at your service. The weather isn’t great. The lake is frozen and layered with weekend slush. There’s nothing here right now but the business of summer, and it requires your immediate attention.

Lake Geneva Lakefront

Lake Geneva Lakefront

It’s January. Time for snow storms that aren’t really actually snow storms, and lakefront price reductions. Inventory will build over the coming 30 days, and price reductions won’t be uncommon for existing inventory. That’s why I just reduced the price of 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana $500,000. It’s $7.395MM now, and if you had been hemming and hawing over this place, it’s time to come take a look. The driveway is plowed.

Lake Geneva Winter

Lake Geneva Winter

This is the time of year when social media feeds are filled to the brim with mockery. Mockery of our place, of this place, of the cold. The snowbirds are on beaches, toasting to sunsets. Karen guessed the exact time the sun set and she won a free T-Shirt!!  They offer up lip service to their northern friends. Stay Warm! They say, with their feet in the sand.   Another Boring Sunset! They write, implying that it isn’t boring at all.  Why Do I Live Here? Asks someone who hasn’t yet won the ability to spend their winter someplace else.

Me? I was driving home last night in a snow squall, the wind whipping across the road, drifts creeping towards the center line. I drove in my car, my steering wheel and seat warm, my four wheel drive confident. There was no crisis here.  I pulled into my driveway and into my garage. I walked into my house and lit a fire. The night would be easy now. The cold outside of no concern.  The scenery and the excitement of severe weather both to my liking. What’s so bad about winter?

I suppose there are ways that it’s bad. If you park your car outside your primary home at night, every night, that might be pretty difficult. I remember the days of scraping windshields and dead morning batteries, and those times were indeed more difficult than these times.  In the same way, if you live in the north and you lack a fireplace, this would make winter far less appealing. Why would you invite this condition upon yourself? We all make mistakes that we have to live with, but no fireplace in Wisconsin? Really? Remedy this, and you’ll be closer to enjoying the nights when the temperatures plummet and the snow whips.

But this isn’t about why winter is fine. This isn’t about stew and fires and warm hats. This is about you, and your vacation home, and how you can enjoy winter without stressing about your vacation home. I’ve mentioned these things before, but they bear repeating on a morning such as this. Lest you think I’m lecturing without practicing, I have a small cabin 160 miles away from here. I don’t go there super often. But today, with temperatures well below zero, I know my little cabin is just fine.

Because of technology. Cheap technology. I have a single camera in the house, and a single thermostat. Both connected to a single app on my phone. This technology could have been set up by my 12  year old daughter. The total cost of this futuristic set up was around $350.  With this set up in mind, I can look at a live feed of my little cabin living room and know that the temperature outside is -11, but the temperature inside is 63. This is the lesson.

Times were, vacation homes were drained of water, covered in plastic, and turned off. This would happen in October, and the old cabins would sit, freezing and dry, until the following April, or May. That was nice back then, but this is now. There’s no reason to own a Lake Geneva vacation home if you’re not going to visit between October and May.  The days of seasonal ownership are long over, as owners have realized that winter here is enjoyable in its own way.  But even if we’re not going to visit in the winter, we should take care of our houses. The first step? Temperature.

Tempting as it might be to turn the heat down to 52, because you want to save the planet and conserve energy, don’t do it. Just don’t.  Leave your heat at 63 degrees or more. Why would you turn the heat lower than that? To save $50 a month for a couple of months? Don’t be silly.  Leave your heat at 63 (install a wifi thermostat so you can monitor it), and don’t go about the business of draining your water lines with the assistance of a plumber. Just do as I do and turn off your well pump and water heater (don’t do this is you have a whole house humidifier, or consult your plumber),  or turn off the municipal water supply inside your crawl/basement. You do this in case the furnace blinks out, and in doing so you’ll make certain that you won’t have a houseful of water a day or two later. It’s easy and smart.

About that camera. Why wouldn’t you do that? It’s so easy, and you needn’t hire an IT firm to set it up. It can be as simple as a single camera that will alert you to motion or sound. Can it nab an intruder for you, too? No, but I find that just a little peace of mind is better than none at all. In fact, I’d trade no peace of mind for a little every time.   Between the camera and the thermostat, I don’t really see what else you’ll need aside from a local emergency contact if indeed something goes awry.

Next  time you’re tempted to lock your vacation home down tight and give it up for the off-season, rethink your mistake. Keep the heat up, turn the water off. Check in once a day with your app. And if you do come up for the weekend, be sure to have some firewood. Make that fire. Enjoy that house. And remember, it could be worse, your life could have been reduced to watching a sunset and hoping the waitress calls your name.

Major Storm

Major Storm

I’m not sure why you’re spending the time to read this. It’s coming. Can’t you see?  It’s not far away now. Last night, it wasn’t even close. No one cared about it, then. Cars drove and people walked, stores sold goods and life was as normal as ever. Then it wasn’t.  Things changed when the thing found its way onto the radar, close now.  Nebraska, then Iowa. Soon enough, the state line. Cars are driving faster now. Gas stations rationing gas. Five Gallons Per, the sign reads. Women are nervous and in the distance, the sound of a man, gently weeping behind his garage, where his children cannot see his tears.

Emails to check this morning. Trying so hard to find a distraction from the thing. Maybe this email will say something about anything else. Something about the shutdown, about the wall, something about Nancy Pelosi on the tarmac. But no such luck, the topic is consuming. News organizations, once enemies battling for clicks and subscribers, united in this front. United in their warning. A modern day electronic air raid siren. MAJOR STORM COMING. Nothing else matters.

And yet there you are, reading this, wasting time when there’s so little left. We might get snow tonight, so much that it’ll stick to the ground and stick to your boots. If you’re out in it, there’s a chance some of it sticks to your hair, or your hat, if you’re lucky enough to have one. You’re going to need it. It isn’t just all this snow, so much of it that it might rise to the top of your ankle if you’re short, it’s the wind, too. A mighty wind, some would say, maybe the greatest wind ever. Coming off that giant lake, blowing hard, making it difficult to stand. The snow traps your feet, the wind pushes you over. This is how it’s going to happen, the weathermen have foreseen it.

Be safe, dear friends. Cling tight to your loved ones, to your life. The snow is coming, and it isn’t just any snow. It’s a Major Snow. If you don’t believe me, check your email.

Geneva National 2018 Market Year In Review

Geneva National 2018 Market Year In Review

There are few market segments that I find as curious as Geneva National. Under no other particular context does one association make up its own market segment, but here we are, knocking at these gates. The fact that this large association functions as its own market is something that vexes those who live and play there. Why can’t a buyer just be on the hunt for a Lake Geneva area condominium priced under $500k?  Why must a buyer seek out Geneva National specifically if they wish to buy one of those condominiums? Why does a homebuyer who purchases a vinyl corn-field tudor for $500k neglect to first consider his options inside Geneva National? Does that buyer know that Geneva National is nicer, and objectively better?

For the year just ended there were 81 total MLS sales. Those sales ranged from small condominiums priced under $100k, to beautiful newer homes priced over $1MM (two sold over $1MM last year). As we sit just inside the parameters of 2019, there are only 36 available homes and condominiums (ten more properties are under contract),    including two properties listed incorrectly in the MLS as single family homes (these are technically all condominiums). The fact that an agent listed two homes as single family might be a sloppy mistake, or it might just drive home the point I made in the opening paragraph. If you want to sell Geneva National’s single family homes, are you better off pretending they’re not inside Geneva National?

I think the answer is no. Or at least it should be no. Geneva National is back, and it really is better than ever. Sure, there are still homeowners residing inside these brick and cedar behemoths that were built prior to 2006, those with dated finishes that the owners don’t think are dated. Sure, there are still lots that can be bought for the price of a high mileage used Corolla. But the market has mended, and the volume from 2018 is a sure sign that things are back to stable. While I enjoy seeing lots of sub-$200k volume, the true measure of Geneva National is in how it deals with its expensive inventory. Continued high volume years would be nice, but that’s not necessary to continue the momentum that GN has successfully built over recent years.

Over the last six years, Geneva National has averaged 2 sales over $700k each year. 2017 printed just one sale at that level. 2018 closed four sales over $700k, and that might be as good of a sign as any for this embattled association. Sell the higher end inventory and you’ll give buyers confidence to move up in price. You’ll give vacant land buyers confidence that their new build makes some market sense. And you’ll give current owners confidence to update those awful 2003 bathrooms. Broad market activity is terrific, but the real positive out of Geneva National in 2018 was an increase in upper bracket liquidity.

To understand how far Geneva National has come, you need only look back to 2012. That year was likely the bottom of the last market cycle, and during that dark year Geneva National closed just 35 single family and condominium properties.  For each of the last two years, GN has closed over 80 such properties. Current inventory is low, but there are several high dollar properties on the market today that will test the continued momentum of this large association.  Will buyers at the high end appreciate the country club atmosphere, complete with new pools and tennis, to such a degree that they’ll provide liquidity over $1MM? Or will those higher value buyers continue to opt for the lakeside lifestyle that the Lake Geneva lakefront and lake access market provides?  Only time will tell, but if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet against Geneva National in 2019.

Lake Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2018 Market Review

Lake Geneva Lakefront Condominium 2018 Market Review

When we entered 2018, we knew we had some inventory problems. This was widespread throughout the vacation home market, from entry level cottages to lakefront estates. What we also knew was that buyers rarely find the patience to stand back and wait for the perfect piece of inventory, instead they tend to wait for a bit, and then default to the next best thing.  If you were looking for a lake access home with boat slip last year, you know how difficult the hunt was. The good news is that we can now test our theories: If  there weren’t ample offerings with slips, then the market should have shifted towards condominiums as buyers looked for similar attributes and price points in a different ownership model.

The good thing for 2018 is that our model held up. Low inventory in the single family lake access market propelled sales of lakefront condominiums to a multi-year high.  During 2018 we closed 15 total lakefront condominiums, up from 12 in 2017 and eight in 2016. If we look deeper into the trend, we know that buyers have shown an increased desire to be walking distance to downtown Lake Geneva. If they want a slip and want to be close to downtown and they have a typical condominium budget of less than $800k, then Vista Del Lago should have had a stellar year. Guess what? It did.

There were seven sales in Vista for 2018, priced from $355k to $580k.  I personally sold two four bedroom units (the largest in the complex) for $520k and $515k, respectively.   Those sales were off-market, as buyers looked for inventory that didn’t exist, and their smart agents contacted me to find out what might have been available privately (you should do the same). Vista has had some tumult over the past decade, but the best possible thing for any association that’s on the rebound is volume. Vista, congratulations on 2018.

Around the lake we had two sales at Geneva Towers, both lower priced sales sub-$400k. There were no sales at Somerset, Harbor Watch or East Bank, those three higher value condominiums on the eastern shore. Working around towards Williams Bay, Bay Colony closed two units at $565k and $530k, and there weren’t any sales at Bay Shore or Bay Colony South.  Fontana Shores, that brick condo north of Gordy’s, closed two units. A two bedroom for $494k and a one bedroom for $405k.  At the Fontana Club, over in Glenwood Springs, there were two sales, though the sales were of the same double unit. The combined unit (that I had sold previously) sold in early 2018 for $685k. Then the owners renovated it, and put it back for sale in the fall. It closed late in the year for $835k, likely representing a meaningful loss for the seller.

It’s fun when a market allows you to prove a theory, and in 2018, the mid-range vacation home market did just that.  Some buyers, if faced with a lack of inventory in their target segment, will reach up. That’s common here. In fact, I can’t tell you how many buyers I’ve worked with started with a a target of $500k and ended up spending $900k. Lake Geneva can do that to a person. But what’s more likely, is for a buyer to look around at his desired price range, and in the absence of inventory,  she’ll look away from single family homes and to the lakefront condominium. Prices have lagged in the lakefront condo market even as the single family homes have appreciated. That creates some value, and when you combine value with inventory, you have the makings of a terrific year.

 

Above, my amazing offering at Bay Colony, $799k

New Construction Lake Geneva

New Construction Lake Geneva

We know the trend. It’s not just here, but it sure is pronounced here.  It’s not just a trend on Geneva, it’s a trend on our other, secondary lakes as well. Construction. It’s everywhere you look. Delavan is full of construction, Lauderdale, too. Heck, even Lake Como has a strong movement of new construction.  Gentrification, is good, everyone except the hipsters say. Out with the old and in with the new, this is our progress. This is what we were made for. To improve, to manipulate, to grow. Geneva is certainly taking that mantra to heart, and we’ve been building and building, and in fact, we just might build until we can build no more.

I left my office this week in the rain and drove around the lake. Down the roads that lead to nowhere, around the corners where the summer lives. In Williams Bay, there’s a large scale lakefront remodel that’s been in process for well over a year, and there are two spec homes that have recently been completed. Further south, there’s a rumored new project underway, that where two lakefront homes will replace one lakefront home. More on this trend later, but overall it’s a negative trend for our lake. If you care about this scene, fight against density.

In the Elgin Club, there’s a new build that’s just about done. There’s one nice sign in the Elgin Club- a neighbor purchased a home and knocked it down, perhaps to create a peaceful side yard. That’s the sort of trend I wholeheartedly endorse, and I do hope that more lakefront owners take advantage of purchasing neighboring properties when they come to market.  Fewer homes, that’s what we need.

In Geneva Bay Estates there’s a new foundation where a modest ranch once grew. There’s a patch of dirt in Geneva Manor where a home recently stood. That wasn’t a lakefront home, but it was sort of like lakefront, so it matters. $900k or so for a tear down here isn’t something I’d sign up for,  perhaps chiefly because of the tax bill that the City Of Lake Geneva likes to gift to new owners. Speaking of, did you know that the combined Stone Manor tax bill for the majority owner there is now nearly $300k? And the city hassles over permit applications, for shame.

Around that corner of the lake there’s a new build just finished on LaGrange, and a new complicated build underway on Marianne Terrace. That’s a project led by Lowell Management, and that’s a good thing. This site is unique, more like Malibu than Lake Geneva, and I have no doubt that the finished product will be beautiful and well executed. The lakefront in Loramoor is humming along,  looking sharp as it has since it first rose from that dirt (that I sold) in late 2017. At the bottom of Sidney Smith, there’s still the home that’s been under construction for years, looking, well, still unfinished.

On Maple Lane, two new homes were just built, and there’s a new spec home taking shape there along that stretch. Those are easy, deep, 100′ level lots, so it makes sense (in one way) why people are drawn to that spot on the water. In Fontana, there’s a new build on the hill above the lake, but it isn’t lakefront, so it shouldn’t count. No matter, you’ll still see it from your boat this coming summer.

The lakefront has plenty of new construction, this you can see. But I’m not thrilled with much of it. There are large, awkward houses being planted on lots that just can’t support that sort of heft. We don’t have any architectural approval committee for the lakefront, and in some ways, that’s a positive. But in other ways, it sure would be nice to have a panel to look over these builds before they rise. I dislike the trend of splitting lots, perhaps unless those lots are at least 200′ in width. The issue I have is when smaller lots are created out of old plat standards. The houses that tend to be built on the smaller lots rarely fit the neighborhoods. They aren’t cottages. They’re monstrosities looking to maximize living space and minimize neighborhood charm.

Even so, Lake Geneva is continually improving itself, and one day, we’ll look around and have nothing left to improve. If you’re a fan of this lake and wish for it to remain intact long after we’re all gone, you have but one aim. Root for less density. Root for fewer associations.  Fight against keyhole developments (much like the one proposed for Basswood last year).   It’s easier to knock down charm and replace it with mass efficiency, but is that what’s best? I don’t think so.

2018 Lake Geneva Lakefront Year In Review

2018 Lake Geneva Lakefront Year In Review

The year just ended was, by most accounts, a good year. But that’s a silly way to describe something as diverse and unique as a year. That’s like booking a table at Alinea and after four hours and 20 courses you take to your social media account to describe the meal as “good”. That wouldn’t happen, and that’s just a meal. How much more deserving of proper critique and detail is an entire year of our lives? Now that I’ve built this thing up, let’s dumb it back down and talk about the lakefront market in 2018. The year? It was pretty good.

We started 2018 with light inventory, just ten lakefront homes were available at the onset of 2018, and that limited inventory forced me to worry about what the year was going to look like. I knew there were buyers, plenty. I knew we had pending sales to give us a nice start to the new year. And I knew the stock market looked stable on the heals of a Federal tax cut. But what I didn’t know was how much more inventory we’d add, and how firm the buyer’s resilience would be if we didn’t add enough inventory.

That’s what matters, after all. The buyers.  See, a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer is generally only a Lake Geneva lakefront buyer. But that motivated dedication only lasts for so long. If you have a buyer and they can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll wait, for a while.  They’ll come up to look at a lame new listing, and then they’ll come up again to look at another lame new listing. They’ll stay engaged, because the lakefront life is the life they want to live. But after time, that passion erodes into frustration, and frustrated buyers have a tendency to wander. Why spend so much effort waiting for a perfect lakefront on Geneva when Michigan has a whole state full of average vacation homes?

I know, and you know, and that buyer used to know, that a Lake Geneva lakefront is not like any other lakefront. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I worried that the desperation of 2018 would lead some buyers astray, and no doubt it did. But the year just ended with 23 lakefront sales (24 with the vacant lot included), including two in the South Shore Club and one in Buena Vista (technically not private frontage). That number is down from the 2017 total, but considering the limited inventory, that number is a terrific total.

In all, we printed 2536 feet of lakefront shoreline, up from the 2017 total, but less than the 2016 total of 2882.  That includes one lakefront vacant lot on the North Shore. We sold just over two million square feet of lakefront land mass, and more than 115,000 square feet worth of living space.  Prices ranged from $11,250,000 for a North Shore estate, to just over $1.1MM for a Walworth Avenue cottage.  For my involvement, I ended 2018 as the number one individual agent in Walworth County yet again (per MLS), with more than $35,000,000 in closed transactions, so that’s nice.

The lakefront loves its price per foot (PPF) measurement, that is, the total value of lakefront sales divided by the total amount of lakefront feet sold, this we all know. You should also know that I don’t love this measurement, as it really only seems to apply to lakefront homes in the 100′ range.  200′ lakefront lots experience compression of the number, in the same way that lots under 100′ tend to overachieve. We ended 2016 with a PPF of $27,193. We ended 2017 at $27,578. And after the activity and bustle of 2018, we finished the year at $27,684. For the buyers who think this market has spiraled upward and out of control, consider those numbers. Does that seem like unsustainable, unwarranted price growth?

For 2018, we’re going to look a bit deeper at the numbers. We know our market was skewed by the $11,250,000 lakefront sale, that of 415 feet of frontage and almost 20 acres. We had an average number of entry level lakefront sales last year, closing four lakefronts under $1.7MM.  The remainder of the lakefronts fell into somewhat familiar price categories. Let’s throw out our outliers at the high and low of the market, and pull our 2018 numbers from the remainder of the lakefront transactions.

With that in mind, our PPF figure for 2018 actually goes up, to $27,994.  If you look at the purest way to measure the accuracy of that number, you needn’t look further than the 100′ vacant lot that sold on North Shore Drive last summer. That 100′ sold for $2,750,000.   That’s easy justification of the average. But there’s more to the lakefront than a basic price per foot tally, there’s also the average price per square foot of the structures themselves, as well as the price per square foot of total land mass. For these two figures, we’re going to keep with our habit of throwing out the high and low 2018 outliers, as well as the South Shore Club sales and the Buena Vista sale, as these are not true lakefront sales (even though the market treats them as though they are).

2017 registered an average housing price per square foot of $560. 2018 pushed that average up to $625. For the overall land mass statistic, we had a 2017 average of $58.09, whereas 2018 just printed a $51.66 average. Does that mean the value of lakefront land actually decreased in 2018? Of course not.  None of these metrics individually tell the story, which is why to judge the performance of our lakefront market you need to figure and consider all of them.

Today, there are just nine lakefront homes for sale on Geneva. If you remove the Fontana home that has shared frontage and a shared pier, and you remove the Trinke property that has a lagoon between the home and the lake, then you’re stuck with just seven true lakefront homes on the market. Of those, the least expensive is listed over three million dollars. Not cool if you’re a buyer. But if you’re a buyer, I have some good news for you in 2019.

The recent tumult of the stock market is a difficult situation for the lakefront market. Rising interest rates don’t bother us very much, but a decline in invested assets does. With this in mind, our stable of confident lakefront owners will find a few who dislike what they see, and those few might offer up some inventory that will appeal to the 2019 buyers.  To be certain, there are plenty of buyers still. The low inventory of 2018 didn’t scare away everyone, though I’m sure there’s some guy sitting at his Michigan vacation home this morning what it is that he’s done. Pray for this man, and his family.

I’m anticipating inventory will increase in January, and you’ll see reduced prices in a few of the 2018 carry-overs. Most sellers don’t care if the market slows, but again, if you’re a buyer, you’re not concerned about most sellers. You’re concerned only about the position of the seller who owns the home you’d like to buy. 2019 is going to provide inventory, and for the buyers who have been waiting, the question will be how the seller prices line up with buyer expectations.

I think buyers will be a bit more shrewd in this new year than they were last year, but I have a bold prediction to make: 2019 is going to be just fine. We’re going to sell lakefront homes. The market is going to provide inventory. We’re going to end 2019 somewhat flat in terms of valuations and volume, but flat is just fine with me. Flat, in fact, is good.

The stock market is going to either go up or go down, but one thing will remain.  People want something more. They want a place that means something to them, and to their families. They want to enjoy their wealth.  We can’t buy more time, and while I’m also sad that my Apple stock has cratered, that isn’t going to keep me from wanting to enjoy my family and enjoy this place. And I’m betting I’m not alone, because what you see below isn’t something you can replicate in the city or the suburbs.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I’ve been a bit absent lately, in case anyone has noticed.  I guess I just don’t have too much to say right now. I wish you a meaningful Christmas week with your family and friends.

Cool White

Cool White

( A rerun from 2017)

 

The problem with this tradition is that it’s based, at least somewhat, on emotion. On feelings.  Which is why I told my daughter on Friday morning that we would not be cutting down our tree that day. Who could think about cutting a tree down under that blistering sun?  Only a fool would cut down a winter tree on such a warm day. My daughter was distraught by the news, even as we spent some of that morning skiing the melting slush at Alpine Valley. Saturday was colder, but still warm. Sunday was chilly in the morning, and knowing I was running out of time to continue this tradition, we loaded up the Gator and drove down the road to pick, cut, and haul the tree that would become our 2017 Christmas Tree.

Fast forward. I sawed the tree down, we hauled it back on the roof of our UTV, my daughter beamed. I trimmed the trunk, crammed it into the heavy iron base, and in spite of five watchful eyes, the final adjustments to plumb and level left us with a tilting fir. The tote of 2016 lights was pulled from the corner of the basement, and the light checking process began. First strand. Works! At least a few of them did. The first half didn’t, the second half did. The next strand, nothing. And the third and fourth, nothing. A few more half strands, a few more duds. When the lights were all checked there were three sections in the working pile and ten in the garbage pile. The lights that I bought last year, carefully unwound and stored in my lidded tote, were duds.

Walmart could save us from the darkness, but when I stood in the light aisle, jostling for position and staring at the bounty of different lighting options, I felt uneasy. I know not to buy colored lights. I know not to buy flashing lights. The strobe effect is dizzying.  There were LED and green wires and white wires, and larger bulbs and smaller bulbs. Bulbs shaped like teardrops and others shaped like gum balls. Some smooth and others rough like a cheese grater.  I’ve erred before while buying lights, falling victim to the white wire strand when I clearly wanted the green wire. I surveyed the wall of lights. My daughter stood back, silent, knowing this was a decision for a father. For a man.

My wife had mentioned some lights she liked in the RH catalog. But this was Walmart, and so I’d have to match the fancy style with whatever lights were available in Delavan on that day. I settled on some LED lights that promised 25,000 hours of lighting.  The bulbs were shaped, the glass etched, they were fancy. Expensive, considering the other lights on those shelves.  I felt like I was doing the right thing, right by my daughter, right by my wife, right by the planet, on account of the LED.

I’m a big fan of the big reveal, which meant I wouldn’t turn on one section of lights before the entire tree was lit. The six boxes were enough, if a bit light, as I should have bought seven. Maybe eight. But the tree was lit and the ladder was needed to get close enough to the top of the 15′ Fir.  Now all we needed was an extension cord. After scouring the Christmas Totes, we had none, but we did have those left over strands of lights from last year, so we used that twinkly section to connect the outlet to our new, beautiful LED lights.  There was no hurrah, no particular fanfare.  No Griswold moment of delayed satisfaction.  But when I plugged in those lights something awful happened. The LED bulbs turned on. Their eery, cold light pushed through the pine needles, barely. The late afternoon sun was fading by then, but the now lit tree somehow made the room darker.  The lights weren’t white, not really. They looked white on the box. They looked white when we put them up. But now electrified, they were blue. I checked the remnant boxes that were scattered on the floor. Cool White. I bought Cool White LEDs, which are cleverly named because no one in their right mind would buy blue Christmas lights.

The greatest trick the devil ever played was not making people believe he doesn’t exist. No, his greatest trick was labeling blue lights Cool White. Tonight, there’s no need to ask me what I’ll be doing. I’ll be taking down Christmas lights and replacing them with ultra cheap, warm, glowing, green wired Christmas lights. And next year, I’ll throw those new lights into the garbage, because that’s our tradition.

Lake Geneva Inventory

Lake Geneva Inventory

In real estate, you either win sometimes or you lose sometimes. There is no such thing as winning or losing. You’re winning, a bit. Losing, a bit. Both, often, at the same time. That’s because you don’t have one boss, or two, you have dozens. Or more. They come and they go, they’re not your boss forever, usually.  This is why I can be both hero and villain on the same day. In successive phone calls.  Winning and losing, in the same breath. The goal of the real estate agent is to win a couple more times than you lose. To chalk up a few on the good side, to offset all of the ones on the bad. In 2018, I won quite a few, and it’ll mark my ninth straight year of winning more than I’ve lost. But don’t be confused, I’ve definitely lost.

In my case, those losses look like the homes that I haven’t been able to sell-yet. They’re the inventory pieces that didn’t quite work out- yet. They’re the sellers who have likely grown tired of me, but not quite completely tired of me- yet. With that in mind, here’s a run down on the scant few pieces of personal inventory that I haven’t been able to sell-yet.

If you’re looking for a condo on the lake, there’s really no better idea than this Bay Colony unit. It’s on the ground floor, which matters, a lot. You have a private outside entrance, so you don’t need to schlep your groceries through a common entrance and down a common hallway that may or may not smell like re-heated brats and mustard. The unit is fabulous. Obviously, tremendously, unavoidably fabulous. It’s easy to own, easy to use, and as luxurious as any hotel suite, assuming you’re staying at the suite with two bedrooms, two baths, a boat slip, lake views.  Reduced to $799k, far below replacement cost.

 

If you’re searching for a lake house, but need a bit more flexibility than the condo can offer, then this property in Glenwood Springs is for you. This isn’t just some cottage by the lake. It’s the nicest cottage by the lake you’ve ever seen. Fully and outstandingly dialed, this Fontana retreat is finished to the highest standard. Four bedrooms, four baths, private pier (with shore station), lake views, and appointments that you just can’t find in this market in this price range. $1.295MM and your weekends will never, ever, be the same.

You won’t be surprised to learn that horses aren’t really my thing. And equestrian properties West of Walworth aren’t usually my thing, either. But this property was too interesting for me to turn down. 250+ acres. Woods, prairie, pasture, crops, river and hills. Swimming pool, tennis court, two guest houses.  Stables and indoor riding arena, offices and more. This is a world class equestrian facility, yes, but you needn’t be a horse lover to find interest in this property. It’s a sportsman’s paradise, and it offers a rare assortment of features that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in this market.  $2.499MM

My newest listing, 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana, hasn’t sold yet, either. But it will sell. Why is that? Well, because it sits on  a most lovely piece of lakefront right in the heart of Fontana, and the house itself is one that you’d be hard pressed to replicate for the sales price.  The lake loves new construction. It craves new construction. And it also features a host of owners who have spent fortunes in the hunt of that new construction. Why would you entertain the aggravation and time-drain of a new build when you can buy this nearly-new home and move right in? That’s right, you wouldn’t. $7.895MM

Speaking of new construction, my magnificent estate on Basswood is still, as of this moment, unsold. That’s a shame, really. We’ve done the hard work of reducing this price to the point where it now makes sense for an upper bracket buyer. 214′ of level Basswood frontage. Swimming pool, guest house, immaculate grounds. This home was built in the early 1990s and could be used immediately by a new family, much in the way that the current family has used, and loved, this unique property. Or you could buy it and renovate and when the last window treatment has been hung you could be all in for far less than it would have cost to build new, and in far less time. $8.495MM.

Williams Bay Property Taxes

Williams Bay Property Taxes

Tis the season for dreading the mail. There’s something nice about the season, relating to the mail, I suppose. Each day, my mailbox is full to overflowing. Will there be Christmas cards?  Or will there only be pamphlets and magazines, newsletters and postcards, each hailing from a company that I’ve likely never heard of, telling me how their luggage, their sweater, their ski jacket, their fly rod, is indeed the thing that I never knew I needed. There’s more junk mail than ever, and it doesn’t bother me. But weed through that mail carefully because there’s a special Christmas surprise waiting for you:  Your property tax bill.

If you’re lucky enough to own property in the Village of Williams Bay you’ll be happy to see a 6.5% average increase in that property tax bill.  That, in an of itself, isn’t a tremendously difficult situation. It’s just some money, really. On average, I’d guess houses in the village have appreciated similar to that rate over the past year, which makes the tax increase easier to swallow. Plus, the state just voted for Tony Evers to be Governor, so obviously low-ish property taxes are not something that people really care about. Add to that the fact that any municipal spending bill on the November ballot passed, and you’ve got a populace that has sent one clear message to their town boards and capital building: Tax Us, Please.

Contrary to what you’re thinking, this isn’t a post about politics. It’s a post about taxes, and about a specific lie that municipalities repeatedly tell their citizens. Recently, the lie was told to get spending referendums across the state passed. It’s a lie told whenever a developer sets up an easel and turns the page to the first colorized map of a new, shiny development. It’s the lie the aldermen and trustees tell each other when they huddle in secret, or when they debate a proposed development with their community. The lie is complex but so very simple. If we add more residents, we’ll add more people to help pay for the burden of local government, and our taxes will go down.

If you’ve driven around Williams Bay lately, you’ve noticed a construction boom, of sorts. Along our lakefront, at least four new homes were added, with presumably,  fat tax bills. But that growth pales when compared to the growth along the Theatre Road corridor. This is where the growth has been, and this is where the growth makes some sense. These are primary homes, close to the fancy-paints new school, in neighborhoods where kids can ride their bikes and parents can enjoy their own version of small-town living. These neighborhoods sat relatively dormant over the past decade, but have been firing on all cylinders over the past 18-24 months. I confirmed with the village that there were 31 new home permits issued in 2018, with perhaps two more to be issued between now and January 1st.  That’s 31 new homes, paying an average of $4000+ in property taxes each. In an area where growth was once nonexistent. The village coffers should be overflowing with revenue.

But show me what that does for the town. Show me a tangible difference in a town that has growth and a town that doesn’t. In our downtown, we still have a vacant lot rotting on the marquee corner. We have For Rent signs keeping pace with Open signs. We have the same crappy Christmas decorations strung from our telephone poles. Tell me, exactly, what this growth has done to benefit the community? Along those lines, with this growth, shouldn’t our property taxes be kept in check? Isn’t that the sales pitch? Grow or die, they say.  We need more tax-payers to shoulder the municipal burden. This is the pitch you’ve been led to believe, but the results are in. Growth doesn’t mean your taxes go down, it just means your expenses go up.  Merry Christmas from the Village of Williams Bay. Now don’t forget to check your mail.

In Between

In Between

I’m sitting here again. Like Groundhog Day, without the square. Just me and this computer, this desk. This street. A few snow flurries outside, just a dusting I’m guessing. It’s just a guess, because I haven’t heard.  If there was a storm brewing, I’d have heard. You’d have heard. Everyone would have heard. It’s impossible to escape the coming storm, or at least it’s impossible to escape the knowledge of it. It’s coming, alright. But not today, because these are just flurries. It’s a morning like that. Not too much to discuss, really.

That’s because it’s early December in a resort town. It isn’t really winter, yet. It might feel like winter for a while, but this isn’t really winter.  This is just the start. The rain from the weekend ruined the ski hill for a while, at least until they can cover up all of that ice with some smaller pellets of ice. The ice rink in Lake Geneva isn’t opened yet, big surprise. I haven’t driven past the Ice Castles to see what all of that rain did to them. I’m guessing they’re in a state of ruin, but no one is going to admit that. Not now. Not before the season starts.

My wife’s car battery died again. The car isn’t old enough to deal with that fate. The other car battery died a few weeks ago, after I asked my son to move the car from the top of the driveway to the bottom of it. He left the key on and the battery drained. I replaced the battery with a new one, but the idle isn’t right and the car tends to stall, which is why I have to have one foot on the gas and another on the brake when approaching an intersection. It takes some getting used to, but it’s not so hard. I vaguely remember my brother making fun of my mom for driving with one foot for the gas and the other for the brake, so perhaps all we’re doing now is what she’s always done. It can’t be that hard.

I’d like to write about the market, about the season, about the sales, but I can’t. It’s December, and any year to date statistics are ridiculous when viewed so close to the year end. There’s no point in writing a market review now when I have a big year end review to write soon. What if I wrote a nice report only to have something sell in the next four weeks and ruin all of my morning effort? What would I do then? Would I write the same review but change a few of the numbers, maybe adding a paragraph at the end, or at least changing a few of the words so the post looked like its own, new, thing? What would be the sense in that? Am I so desperate for content? No, I’m not.

I think I’ll go check on those Ice Castles, and maybe take a swing past my stream to see if the trout are running.  That’ll give me something to do until it’s time to write these reviews.  What else can I do?  The season hasn’t even started and it’s barely even snowing.

Lake Geneva Boat Slip

Lake Geneva Boat Slip

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the piers are unceremoniously disassembled and stacked along our shorelines. That happened in October, sure, but this morning there are still piers in the water, plenty of them. Covered in snow, surrounded by 38 degree water, still there.  Soon enough, they’ll all be out, all stacked in some haphazard pile, lined up along the shore to remind us why we wait.  There’s more to this time of year than just waiting, mind you. It’s not just the Holiday season, it’s more than that. It’s the time of year when buyers buy houses with bad boat slips.

Is there such a thing? You bet there is. A boat slip is not a boat slip, is not a boat slip. These things appear the same, especially when the components that make up the slip are stacked in a snowy pile along the shore. But they are not the same.  If you’re new to the market, or perhaps working with an agent who might be new to the market, you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference. After all, the MLS distinction for “boat slip” doesn’t specify what sort of slip you’re buying. You want to see homes with boat slips, you look at homes with boat slips, you buy a home with a boat slip. Cool, right?

That depends. A boat slip diagram on a listing sheet might look simple enough. There’s a pier, some slips, a line to depict the shore.  Everything is awesome. Except that you, the winter buyer, can’t quite tell how much water is in that shoreward slip. Is it enough?  Well, that depends on what you’re looking to put there. Is there enough water for your 25′ Cobalt that you desperately want to gift yourself for Christmas, under the guise of it being a present for the entire family? Or is there enough for a 16′ Lund? Maybe a waverunner or two, or a scow, so long as the center board is out? Boat slips can be deceiving.

There are homes in this market that fail to sell simply because of their assigned slips. There are homes with terrific slips that have been bought by neighboring owners only to have the slip switched with their poor slip. That just-bought home goes back on the market sometime later, but instead of being sold with its terrific slip, it now has the miserable, shallow slip.  Later, you peruse the online listings… Oh look, a home with a boat slip!

There are associations with assigned  boat slips. There are associations with boat slips that can only be attained after decades on a waiting list. Other associations have other rules.  The off-water market functions largely on the availability of a slip.  What’s a slip worth these days? Call it $200k and you’ll be safe. Sometimes a slip ads even more value, and sometimes it’s less. Sometimes a slip is good and sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it looks good but it’s still bad.  Whatever the association, wherever the slip, winter buyers should beware. ‘Tis the season where the bad slips are nearly indistinguishable from the good ones.

If you’d like to know the difference, it’s actually rather easy. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you.

Lake Geneva Winter

Lake Geneva Winter

I think it’s cute that the city of Lake Geneva is installing an ice rink this winter. The ice rink will complement the ice castles that are currently being built on the beach. When Winterfest rolls around, the city will be bustling with every sort of wintery thing imaginable. I’m glad for the city that they’ve decided to use some of their enormous budget on things that actually improve the experience that is Lake Geneva. But with that acknowledgement comes criticism, which will be something that they write on my tombstone, assuming I’ve prepaid for the inscription.  In the City of Lake Geneva, it’s amateur hour.

Or amateur season, to be more exact.  We know we do summer well. We have no choice.  Well, we do it mostly well. The ridiculous boat parade that accompanies the Venetian Fireworks might be one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen. It only seems ok if you squint and imagine you’re at Lake of the Ozarks, or the Dells, or some damned up river in Texas.  But aside from that, we do summer well. Fall is also handled with care, and handled rather well. The leaves will turn whether we wish them to or not.

But in the winter, this is when the wheels fall off. We’re making strides, don’t be confused. The ice rink is a nice idea. It is. It reminds me of the good times I had on the Williams Bay ice rink back in the early 1990s. What fun was had down there. We’d play hockey and lose the puck in the snowy walls that made up the edges of the rink. We’d skate and catch a rogue stone with our blades and crash into the ice.  Once, I checked my friend Eric so hard that he walked home and didn’t talk to me for a couple of days. It was a lot of fun, during a simpler time.

This isn’t that time. This isn’t a simple time, not by any stretch. It’s a complicated time with complicated problems that call for complicated solutions. The city is building an ice rink. The rink will have a floor of some sort, some short walls. I’ll bet they’ll string up some lights to make it look pretty, for the two or three days that the ice will be smooth. Once they open up the fire hydrant and flood the rink, they’ll hope the water freezes and cross their fingers that it stays frozen. This is what we did in Williams Bay when we were kids. We had no other choice. The city of Lake Geneva has another choice.

If you want to know where winter is done well, look to the mountains. I’m tired of the mountains, personally, but they know how to capitalize on their seasons. They also know that when you build an ice rink in your resort town, you build a permanent rink and you refrigerate it. Further, you run the zamboni over it once or twice a day. Yes, this sounds like more cost. It sounds like more effort. But what are we if not a destination worthy of some effort? If we’re going to try to make improvements, shouldn’t we really, actually try?  How can you effectively market an attribute if the attribute is only going to function on the whim of the weather?

I’m glad there’s an ice rink coming. I’m glad there are ice castles crowing. I’m just not sure that any of it is going to work, assuming we’ll have a normal winter that features a pattern of freeze and thaw, of snow and rain, of clouds and sun.  I’ve learned some things in my life, and those things have cost me on every level. Don’t try to save money on everything. If you’re building a house, don’t try to do the painting yourself. If you’re remodeling your kitchen, don’t skimp on the appliances. And if you’re building an ice rink, build an ice rink.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

There’s nothing more to write. It’s just Thanksgiving. We should be thankful. I am thankful.  We should also be aware that on our list of things that matter, real estate should barely scratch the first page. It’s unimportant, really. Sell this house. Buy that one. Rent another one.  More money. Less money. More angst, more pressure, more worry.   Whatever the real estate crisis of the day, of your season, it really doesn’t matter.  My life is one crisis after another, but at the end of it, none of these will matter. Not. One. Bit. Have a terrific Thanksgiving weekend with your family, and I’ll do the same.

 

Bluff Lane Sells

Bluff Lane Sells

Bluff Lane is a nice little dead end street on the south shore of the lake. In spite of its small nature, this street has been a near constant source of inventory for our market over the last several years.  My listing at N1939 Bluff has been for sale since the middle of 2017, first with another broker and then with me. It was a nice house, offering the sorts of things that most similarly priced houses in the 2018 market just can’t offer. In that, the house was complete. Five bedrooms, three finished levels, 70+ feet of frontage, a huge pier, perfectly landscaped grounds and a two car garage.  I closed this listing last Friday for $1,950,000, but like all sales, there’s a bit of a lesson here.

When the property was first introduced to the market in the spring of 2017, the price was $2,295,000. That seemed a fair target for a house that offers so much by way of living space and amenities. The market was interested, but after several months the property failed to sell. There was at least one offer during that listing, maybe more. Then, I took over for the prior broker and put my angle on the listing. Another offer, but no dice. The price was adjusted downward in small increments. Then, this fall, another offer. A contract. But that deal failed to close. Finally, a new offer from a new buyer who saw the value in this property, but only at a price that made sense to him.

After 16 months of marketing effort, the property sold for $1.95MM. That’s no unique surprise, since several of the other offers that were received settled in a similar range. Try as we did, we weren’t able to get that sales price to $2MM. That was the goal, after all, to make or beat that benchmark.  In spite of this goal, the property just wasn’t able to push a sales price to that $2MM level. Was it  the house? Was it the interest rates? Was it the stock market? Was it the street?

Nope. It wasn’t any of those things. It was simply the reality of a property seeking to sell for $2.195MM. To understand why this property struggled, you must understand the typical buyer and the different price levels that separate groups of buyers. There are buyers that will pay $1.9MM for a house. Lots of those sorts of buyers, actually, each one successful enough in their regular life to pursue this vacation life. But a $1.9MM buyer is often a buyer who would love to spend $1.7MM or less. A $1.9MM buyer is often a $1.5MM buyer who found a bit more motivation to take on a bit more risk.

On the north side of $2MM, there are very few $2.1MM buyers. There are upper $2s buyers, those who might feel comfortable at $2.4MM but would reach to $2.9MM for the right house at the right time in the right location.  But there are very rarely buyers who place a hard cap on their search at $2.1MM. In understanding the demographics and the price categories that most buyers align within, we can make more sense of the Bluff Lane sale.

Was it worth $2.2MM? Sure it was. But a $2.2MM buyer is often a $2.5MM buyer, and if they spend a little more they often find a property that more closely resembles their weekend dream. When the dust settled and the property closed, it closed as it likely should have. For $1.95MM, to a buyer who found his way to the lakefront at a price that made market sense for both buyer and seller.  To the seller who allowed me to represent this fine lakefront home, I’m grateful.

Shore Haven Sells

Shore Haven Sells

The lake access market at Lake Geneva is not difficult to understand. In order to find this understanding,  one simply needs to be open to the facts. In the instance of real estate, the facts are limited to sold comps. This is the only fact that exists in this business. Current value? Opinion. Future value? Opinion.  Sold listings? Fact. If you’re open to the facts, then you must embrace the sold comps.  If we’re looking at lake access markets, then the first comps to look at are inside of the association itself. If the immediate association cannot provide us those comps, then we’ll have to look at the broad market. In that there is an issue, because comparing associations? Opinion.

Last week, there were two lake access sales that caught my attention. One was important because I represented the buyer. The other was important because it just so happened to close for the same price, on the same side of the lake, during the same week. If there were ever two comps to be examined, these are those.  The sale that I closed was in Shore Haven, this of a home that I have sold in the past. In fact, I sold it just last year for $675k when that seller was in the process of upgrading to lakefront.  The home is nice, with some meaningful upgrades, a very desirable, large transferable boat slip, and terrific proximity to the water. This time around, I brought in the buyer, and the home was listed on a Friday and by Sunday we had it under contract. Did I enjoy negotiating only $5k off of a $720k list? No I did not. But the market, man. The market.

The other sale was in The Highlands, or the Lake Geneva Highlands, that association just to the East of Black Point.  The Highlands has been gentrifying quickly over the past decade, and more so over the past few years. It’s a nice enough association and one of the few remaining on the lakefront where a lakefront home can reasonably be expected to trade under $1.5MM. The home in the Highlands was a cottage style home with limited parking, a scattered tree lake view, and a transferable boat slip. It was updated, quite cute, and in that desirable location just one home from the lake. In this description, you can tell that the Highlands home was closer to the lake than the Shore Haven home, and the view was much better. The homes were both of average size, though Shore Haven had a garage and parking while the Highlands home was more challenged on this front.

That’s the background, and here is how the market works in each association. In the Highlands, there have been five MLS sales per MLS of off-water, non-lakefront homes that have closed over $470k and under $587,500. Per the MLS, the highest sale for a home not located on the lake or on the lakefront parkway, was $587,500. The fact that five homes have all sold in this tight window proves the primary market range for a Highlands home located off-water. The home that just sold closed for $715k, and now that it’s sold we can all agree that it was worth exactly what someone paid for it. But in the context of the market, that sale price set a new upper end in the Highlands.

Looking back to Shore Haven, we see in the MLS has printed 10 off-water sales priced over $500k. Of those, all but one was over $624k, with the most expensive sale being at $1MM, and five over $800k. The sale that I just closed for $715k, looks to fit right into the middle of the Shore Haven range, especially when considering proximity to the lake and size/location of the boat slip.  Was I deeply in love with $715k for this Shore Haven home? Not really. But did it make a load of market sense, particularly during this period of tight inventory and high buyer demand?  You bet it did.

Both sales were fine for our market, but now you have a slightly opened window into the way that I view these lake access associations. Every association is unique, every association is nuanced. Some are capable of printing high numbers that make little sense, and others are range bound, now and perhaps forever.  These two sales showcase the fall 2018 lake access market, and I think they both prove something important. Our market loves boat slips. It loves proximity. It loves a view. And sometimes it looks at historical sales patterns and determines they don’t matter very much.   To the buyer who just allowed me to represent his family in their Shore Haven purchase, a sincere thank you.

Lake Geneva Ski Season

Lake Geneva Ski Season

I write with disappointment today.  Today is opening day at Alpine Valley, the ski hill near Lake Geneva where my family spends considerable time during these coming winter months. Last week Monday was the day that I braved the cold, eschewed the wetsuit, and rode my Superjet from pier to pier and onto that winter trailer. The time lapsed from that day to this day exceeds one week. For the prior two years, the span was one week, no more. Last year it was three days. If you don’t believe me, check my Instagram. Everyone knows Instagram doesn’t lie.  This year I have failed. But I can’t run from it, because it’s something I cannot change. I can look to next year and seek redemption, but for 2018, the dye has been cast.

Alas, in spite of these failings, I know what must be done. I must ski. My son must ski and my wife must ski, and my daughter must board. She’s more of a falling leaf, but she has some terrific stickers on her board, which, as far as I can tell, makes up a significant part of the snowboarding culture.  We weren’t always this way, in fact, this ski thing is remarkably new to us. It was born of winter boredom. One winter not too many ago, my son was whining about there being nothing to do. This was before he had a phone, back when he still wanted to do something other than engage that mind numbing screen. Nothing to do, he’d say.  So I forced him to do something, and we went to the Grand Geneva to ski. He was awful, as was I. But something took and tens of thousands of dollars later, here we are. Skiers.

Those early days at the Grand Geneva were fine, but they weren’t great. The Grand Geneva is a complete resort, perhaps the most complete in the entirety of the Midwest, no matter how the boundary lines are drawn. But the ski hill isn’t much. It’s Wimot Northwest, which isn’t an enviable monicker.  Finding the Grand Geneva to be too small, even for our modest skill set, we were drawn to Alpine Valley. Alpine isn’t much either, but in local context, it’s as good as we can expect, and so that’s where we went. Several years later, that’s our hill, and while it doesn’t compare to any ski experience out west it is still a hill and the snow is still white and the skis still slide.

There are those among us who won’t stoop to the level of skiing our small Midwestern hills. Breck or bust, say the annoying people. But these are the sorts of people who might as well never swim in a pool ever again, assuming they’ve once floated in pastel caribbean waters. These are the sorts who won’t eat a sloppy joe, made with Open Pit and relish, because they’ve eaten at Alinea. These are the sorts that won’t ride in a Ford because they’ll only ride in a Porsche. Yes, the mountains offer better skiing. But can you drive to a Vail on a Saturday morning, ski for a bit, and return to your lake house for lunch and the afternoon football game? In this, we are the kings, and the west seethes with jealousy at our easy proximity.

Skiing makes the winter more meaningful, and I can confidently tell you this because it has changed the way I view winter. Winter is no longer to be abided as if we are long suffering prisoners, held against our will and in a place we dislike. Winter can be this way, and is this way for many. I find this to be a terrible shame. Winter isn’t for existing, winter is for thriving, and skiing, no matter if the hill is only 400′ tall and the cafeteria is maddeningly cash only, is an activity worth pursuing. It’s one of the things that makes your Lake Geneva house worth visiting in all seasons. You can’t ski in the city. But you can spend the weekend at your lake house and toss in a bit of skiing to help make the weekend that much better.  If you’re going to ski this winter, ski here, ski Alpine Valley, and don’t forget my advice: If you’re skiing on the weekend, get there in time for first chair. The midday skiing on a Saturday will make you long for the solitude of a boat cruise on Geneva Lake. At 2 pm on the Fourth of July.

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry Review

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry Review

The full title of this restaurant might be “Ivan’s On The Square Unique Dining”, but there’s a similar chance that it’s actually “Ivan’s On The Square, East Troy House Tavern”.  I can’t be sure. No one can be sure. Ivan, he’d be sure. But I didn’t see him there, and I don’t know if he’s the owner.  Ivan’s is dog friendly, according to the internet, so the odds that Ivan is a dog and that this place is his are strong to quite strong. Still, it was a Friday and a friend said Ivan’s was worth a shot, so I drove myself to East Troy’s small square and settled into a four top near the old-timey bar that guards the north wall of this in-town establishment.

If you’re a snob, then odds are you won’t admit to liking the smell of Burger King. If you look yourself in the mirror and allow your honesty to prevail, you’ll confess to being enthusiastic about that smell. Those smoky plumes rising from the roof of that greasy establishment,  carrying with them the smell of grilled burgers–there’s very little that I find objectionable to that pronounced smell. I would subscribe to the theory that they do this on purpose. They do it to draw your attention. The other day I drove by Burger King in Elkhorn, and the smoke was billowing from the rooftop. There were no patrons inside, no cars in the drive-thru, perhaps two cars in the entire parking lot. Someone had to be working there. Yet the smoke was rising, signaling to passersby that the new burger had indeed been chosen, and it was flame broiled.  The smell, man. The smell.

With that in mind, the smell in Ivan’s was of a particular cleaning agent. It might have been straight bleach, mixed with a bit of water and used to wash the tables and chairs, the bar and the windows.  It was aggressively sterile, and the smell didn’t help develop my hunger, and my hunger needs so very little prodding to develop.  The smell would bother me throughout lunch, and I thought that a terrible shame since the remainder of the lunch experience was delightful.  A note to Ivan’s, stop using the cleaning agent, and if you ignore my request,  then at least don’t use it shortly before lunch service begins.

Once I forced myself past the abrasive smell, I was onto the menu. It looked good. It looked like it should. The restaurant promises a bistro dining experience, and as far as I can tell the only thing that differentiates a bistro experience from a diner experience is nothing. The menu was full of sandwiches and assorted, proper offerings, each of which looked tempting in their own way. But it was Friday, and I am born of Wisconsin, which meant it was a day for fish, and I am a man made for fish. The fish here would be cod or perch, handed breaded and baked or battered and fried. The perch was only available hand breaded and baked. That’s a common theme for perch offerings in this region, perhaps owing to the more delicate nature of perch and its unwillingness to stand up for itself in a fryer.  We hacked the menu with my friend ordering the breaded and I the battered, so we could exchange a piece and sample one of each when the time came.

There would be little time to consider the wait. The fish was out in short order, perhaps less than ten minutes, which I can always appreciate. The plate looked nice, with two pieces of a rye bread, a lemon wedge, small tubs of applesauce, tartar sauce, and coleslaw, along with two potato pancakes and the aforementioned fish. The bread was placed on top of the fish, which warmed the bread nicely. There was no butter here, no foil wrapped rectangles, no generous bowl of soft, beckoning butter. But the two slices were pre-buttered, which is the first time I’ve encountered this method. I can’t say that I didn’t like it.

After swapping fish, I tried the battered first. It was crunchy and well salted. The fish was flaky and moist. The batter may have been beer based, but the beer flavor was muted, which is preferred, and I enjoyed this fish very much. It was also the first fish fry I’ve eaten in several months, so perhaps my bar had reset lower over the summer, and Ivan’s fish easily cleared it. The next piece was the hand-breaded. It was like a shake and bake breading, but it was quite well seasoned, perhaps even salty. The fish was similarly tender, which I thought to be a feat, considering the two fish were treated and prepared differently.

The potato pancakes were smaller and thinner than is my lasting preference. They were crunchy, which was nice, and they weren’t saw-dusty like some of the pancakes I’ve choked down on this tour. But there was something slightly odd in that I detected the slightest hint of ginger in the cake. I have a distrust of ginger, so the ginger bothered me, if only slightly.  I was in the company of one of these apple-sauce spreaders, but I did a fine job ignoring him as he slathered his applesauce on top of his potato pancake, like some sort of masochist.

The waitress was pleasant, if not overly so. My water went dry at some point during lunch, and as I write this morning I cannot recall if it was ever refilled. But Ivan’s does not disappoint, and the issues I had with the lunch, the bleach smell aside, were nuanced. The fish was excellent, the scene fitting, the little square in East Troy on a November afternoon, charming. A big thank you to my friend for the invite, and if two kids from Williams Bay can find their way to East Troy for some Friday fish, then perhaps you should, too.

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry 7.5/10

2087 Division Street, East Troy, WI

$10 hand breaded cod or perch, or fried cod

 

Bonnie Brae Sells

Bonnie Brae Sells

Over the past few years, there have been some Bonnie Brae sales.  Priced between $1.6MM and $3.8MM, these sales have all made market sense. The street is nice, the North Shore location desirable, the approach along idyllic Snake Road hard to beat. Of these sales, three in total, each property that sold has since been transformed by the new owner. One of the homes that sold was torn down to make way for a splendid new lakefront retreat. Another was significantly renovated and expanded, so much so that you’d be forgiven if you thought the current structure was built recently from scratch. The other home that sold has been improved, updated, cleaned and polished. Lakefront owners like to improve their homes, this much we know.

This week I closed my newest lakefront sale on Bonnie Brae,  for $3,800,000.  This one of wide frontage and delicious, dark, deciduous depth. The home was the renovated and remade Ryerson boathouse, one of the last few remaining on this lake, and likely the only one that stands on a large estate sized parcel of land.  You can read about it here, and watch the video below. It was a great house, and it was no wonder that it sold shortly after coming to market in late September. Certain sales befuddle and certain sales confirm what it is that we already understand. This sale was obvious. Beautiful dirt with a charming, historical home, all at the end of Bonnie Brae, which finds its way along Snake Road. What’s not to like?

For me, I remain appreciative and grateful to those clients and customers who choose me to represent their fine vacation homes. This market is loaded with competition. Every agent is the best, the newest, the most amazing. I’m just here in Williams Bay, sitting at this desk that’s really just a few long oak boards bound together by glue and screws. I’m thankful for the chance to assist all of my clients, and this seller was no exception. To the seller, a sincere and lasting thank you. To the buyer, who now gets to experience this place from the front row, congratulations.

November Swim

November Swim

There’s a thing about my dad that you wouldn’t otherwise know. He’s a quitter. Sure, he’s been married for a long time to my mother, and yes, he taught school in the same building for several decades, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking there’s some steadfastness here. He quits. He starts something and then when it’s started he’s worried about the ending. He leaves for vacation thinking about the drive home. He naps on a Tuesday because he’s worried about having to stay up until 8:30 pm four days later. He starts things and then he stops them. He’s worried, alright.

But none of these worries, and none of this quitting are quite as pronounced in July as they are in October. He will enjoy certain things, for certain periods of time. He’ll enjoy a swim now and then, though this is less than it once was and less than it should be. He’ll enjoy a boat ride, every great once in a while, which is also less than it once was and less than it should be. But mostly, he’ll enjoy July just fine. It’s Labor Day when things change, or the week before that holiday weekend starts.  September, the month we know to be one the finest months ever included in a calendar, this is not a month for him. Anticipation builds to a crushing weight, and while the rest of us are frolicking in the midst of a late summer glow, my dad is worried.

September fades to October, and the colors dim before they force out one last dying display. We like it when this happens. But my dad doesn’t.  This display is a head fake, and he knows it. He’s in this for the long haul, and he’s been here before. It’ll be winter soon. He can smell it in the air and feel it on his old skin. October is nothing but warm, colorful winter.  While others think of a trip to the lake or a trip to the cabin, he thinks only of that pier and those boats and why hasn’t the pier guy come yet? It’s October 10th, it’s 70 degrees, and winter is coming soon. There’s nothing else to worry about. Nothing else to think about. Winter. Soon. Repeat. Gaze at the fall colors all you want, youngsters.

When October ends, things get serious. Real serious. The boats the pier, the buoys and the ramp. The things that he worried about in July and thought about in August, and stressed over in September and nearly died over in October, some of them are still there. Still in view. Still in the water. That water that somehow hasn’t turned to ice yet. But it will, soon.  Water always turns to ice here, and he knows it. He can sense it. You know what happens when you don’t get your pier out in time? The ice comes and takes your pier away to the depths. He saw it happen once. Never again. Not on his watch. Winter is coming and he needs to get ready.

But he can control the boats, and so they’re already out. Tucked away in their barns where they spend most of their days. The pier, that’s still there. Still bothering his view and interrupting his winter thoughts with a stubborn summery holdover. But the one thing that really drives him to insanity is my little jetski. Yamaha’s Superjet, to be precise. It’s his white whale. The thorn in his side. His nemesis.  And I know this. Which is why I leave it in the water as long as humanly possible. Long after he thinks it should have been out. Long after everyone else thinks it should have been out. Long after the water has chilled to a level that humans should never experience against their skin. That’s why I wait, and that’s why this week I was left with no choice. I pulled the superjet.

I don’t pull it like you pull yours. I don’t call the company and have then deliver it to a heated storage unit. I wait until it’s November and my dad has nearly lost what’s left of his mind, and then I put on my swim shorts and I strap on the life vest and I coax that cold little engine to life. Then I drive it, near the piers and close to shore, inside the summertime buoys that have no control over my November path. And to the launch. The ride is cold. The ride is wet. To fall is to die, because this isn’t some sit down waverunner with seating for four. This is a water jet, built for those of us who were kids in the 1980s.  My feet lost feeling, allowing me to only notice the cuts left by the mussels and the rocks once I returned to the heated indoors. The ride is difficult, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s the last piece of summer, and I hang onto it as long as anyone ever has. Sure, it’s only to bother my dad, but it’s worth it.

 

Traps

Traps

There are things that I dislike about this business. You know this. I dislike the lack of respect that plagues this career, even while I understand it. I dislike the compensation model, as surprising as that might seem since that model continually supplies softened butter for my warmed bread. But mostly I dislike the markets themselves. I dislike the cycles, the ups and downs, the product that ebbs and flows, and the traps that it all creates.  The problem with these traps is that they always exist, in the good times and in bad. They exist here, there, and in every market in the world. I dislike these traps, and while I understand them I find extreme frustration in my inability to warn everyone against them. Perhaps when I do quit this job I’ll just write a blog wherein I identify market traps, because that would be fun. It would be like a devastating Zestimate, but instead of pushing a secret algorithm I’d actually explain the market and why that particular house, or condominium, or piece of dirt is nothing but a market trap.

Alas, I can’t do that now but I can do some further explaining of how to avoid these traps. I’ve written about this before, but after a couple of million words, at some point everything will be redundant. This morning I perused the new MLS listings and didn’t think much of them. A new ranch here, another condo there. But in the middle of it all, sticking out like a painfully sore thumb, there it was. The trap.  Do I possess some otherworldly knowledge of the real estate market? Of course I do, but that knowledge isn’t important when determining the location and description of these traps.

These traps exist on the lake, just as they exist in the country, but they are difficult to identify in those markets. Why? Because those are nuanced markets that fluctuate based on the whim of the wealthy. This is why you can see a lakefront house listed for a price that doesn’t make any sense, then a few months later you can watch it close. Then, while still in your befuddled state, you can see that house meet the wrecking ball. Lakefront markets often won’t make sense, just as high end off-water vacation home markets won’t.  In the same way, is a house in West Palm Beach worth $135,000,000? Is a spec house in Beverly Hills worth $200,000,000? The answer is not really, until someone buys it.

That’s why we’re ignoring the vacation home or otherwise wealth influenced markets and we’re focusing on neighborhoods where primary homeowners live. These neighborhoods can be in Williams Bay or Wheaton, Elkhorn or Elk Grove Village. For that matter they can be in  Toledo or Topeka. A primary home market that operates without the influence of extreme wealth typically follows the same rules, no matter the geography. The housing traps exist in hot and stagnant markets alike, but they’re far more likely in hot markets. There’s a simple reason for this.

Developers, be they professional or hobbyists, are increasingly challenged to find adequate inventory inside an accelerating market. Knowing this, they look to fringe locations, fringe neighborhoods, areas that aren’t quite there, but certainly might be next. In larger cities, this sort of thing does exist, it’s called gentrification. But in primary markets that are existing without the promise of Google or Amazon moving in down the road, these fringe areas are likely to remain fringe areas for lengthy periods of time. Developers know this, but they’re counting on low inventory to trick you into not knowing it.

There’s a neighborhood you like. There’s even a house you like. But after you looked at the house and before you could get your offer in, that house sold. You made the decision to move, to upgrade. Your loan approval was in place, and you started the mental exercise of moving, but then your house was no longer available. No worries, you’ll look around a bit more and find something else. After some time, there isn’t anything else. Nothing in that neighborhood, nothing nearby. But Zillow showed you a new idea, this one of a similar home in a different neighborhood. Sure, that neighborhood typically sells for $250k and this house is $450k, but in the good neighborhood that house would be $500k. You like the “discount”, and you pursue the new home. Congratulations, you’ve just fallen into a trap that is going to bury you when the markets calm, or worse, reverse.

Today in Walworth County, with limited inventory and a still-vibrant primary housing market, these traps exist in every single municipality. Want to walk into a huge mistake in Williams Bay? That’s possible.  Want to bury yourself in a terrible and lasting mistake in Linn Township? Welcome Home!  I’m guessing the situation is the same in your town, no matter where it might be. What to do to avoid these mistakes?  First off, work with an agent that wants you to find the right house more than he/she wants to make a sale. Once that’s done, question everything. Why should I pay $300k for this vinyl ranch when the three vinyl ranches down the road are $225k?  Most importantly, if you’re in the market for a primary home and you’ve been noticing a tempting home that appears to be overpriced for the neighborhood, just settle down and watch it. If it sells, congratulate the sucker who bought it. If it doesn’t sell, congratulate yourself for avoiding the trap.

Cedar Point Sells

Cedar Point Sells

After some good old fashioned pot stirring on Monday, it’s time to get back to the business at hand. Specifically, the business of the lakefront market. A few weeks ago I listed a home on Cedar Point, right up next to the tippy top.  Like all listings, the work to secure and bring that property to market had been done over the prior six or more months. Now, at this date in late September or early October, the work would show its result. A new listing, $2,595,000 on the outward facing corner of Cedar Point. Photos were scheduled for this property, but the weather was dark and dour and I am not one to impose a false blue sky above one of my listings. Nor am I the sort that would paint our Midwestern water with a Caribbean brush. Because of the weather and my photographer’s schedule, the listing would be held back for a couple of days. Just a couple.

When you’re dealing with lakefront homes, a couple days is often the difference between an available home and a sold home. In the case of 254 Circle Parkway, I ended up selling the home on the very day I brought it to market. A showing, an offer, a contract. A closing at full price less than a month later.  That’s how this business works every once in a while, and in the case of this Cedar Point home, the right buyer was made aware of the property and that buyer didn’t hesitate. Many buyers view this market as one homogenous mass. A home over here is the same as a home over there. A view to the South is just like a view to the North. These buyers have it easy, because geographic preference is meaningless. If you can choose to be a sort of buyer, choose to be this sort of buyer.

But for others, location is everything. It’s the neighborhood they grew up in. It’s the neighborhood they admired, always from afar. It’s the street where grandpa had his cottage, the basic one without fancy that meant everything to that family so many years ago. When you’re a buyer in this market and you are face to face with a buyer who has geographic bias, you should admit your defeat and move towards the next listing. The one that might be here or it might be over there, but it doesn’t matter to you, remember?

With my recent lakefront sale, I’m happy for the seller whom I represented and the buyer I assisted in accomplishing what I believe was a lifelong goal. In the end, a Cedar Point home with five bedrooms and a dynamite boathouse sold to a family with Cedar Point ambitions. In the world of real estate, where much of it is cutthroat, this was a sale that should have happened, and I’m appreciative to the buyer and seller for letting me connect the dots.