Blog : Lake Geneva Lakefront

Lake Geneva Water

Lake Geneva Water

I see the world in black and white. I see it in wrong and right. I see the people who dwell in the gray and I wonder why. Packers fans see Bears fans and wonder why. Bears fans feel the same. Some people saw that dress as being gold and some saw it as blue. Some think the President is good and some think he’s bad. These are binary situations with predictable outcomes. It’s one or the other. Black or white. Blue or Gold. Orange and Blue or Green and Gold. Capitalism or Socialism. Two choices, nothing in the middle. No gray to be found, anywhere.

My lack of gray awareness extends to the Lake Geneva lakefront, as do most things in my life. In this case, there are once again two sorts of people. Two types of buyers. Two positions that can be adopted, each a religion, one of conviction and one of ignorance. There are really only two types of buyers on this lake. An easy play here would be to assume that I’m talking about the smart buyers who work with me, and the other buyers that don’t. But this is the low hanging fruit and we’re not seeking the easy way out. That’s for the other group, the group that we don’t belong to. The two groups? Those who understand that the water adjacent their would-be-lakefront-home is important, and those who are wrong.

It’s true that all of Geneva Lake is divine. While the lakefront homes themselves can vary by make and model, many subscribe to the belief that the lake is the lake. If they’ve found their way here, they know they’ve already eschewed the bad lakes in favor of this, the good lake, and in that they feel as though they have made the correct decision. They would be correct, in a way. But if we dig deeper we can find that not all of Geneva Lake was created equal. This is a lake of good and better, and ultimately best, but there is a misunderstood part of this lake, one that can only be considered to be nothing but bad.

Sacrilege, you say? Heresy? Or is it just the truth, the sort that can only be discovered after a lifetime of walking this path and swimming these waves and casting from these piers? Should it be any surprise that there are good spots on this lake and bad spots? And what exactly does that mean? After all, if you’re a buyer looking for lakefront you’ve certainly already identified that this is the only lake worth buying on, which means you’ve already gained membership into a most exclusive, enlightened group. This is where many buyers stop. This is where they assume the decisions from here on must all be relatively equal. And this is where they are wrong. It’s not nuanced, it’s as binary as anything has ever been. It’s one or the other, either the water matters or it doesn’t, and it does.

The lake is deep. We know this. 150′, give or take. But this isn’t the unique aspect of Geneva Lake that keeps it so remarkable and shimmery. It’s the volume that does that. 70% of Geneva is 70′ or deeper. So this isn’t some spread out mud-puddle in Texas, the sort with swimming tarantulas and brain eating amoebas, this is a sparkling, natural, spring-fed lake of royal proportions. In spite of this magnificent volume, the lake still has its edges, and by default, those edges feature shallow water. It would be forgivable if you viewed a home in the winter without the assistance of an informed agent and you weren’t aware of the quality of the water adjacent that home. But in the summer? In the spring? The fall? With piers in and lawns mowed, this shouldn’t be difficult to figure out.

A proper pier on Geneva should feature end of pier water depth in the 5-8′ range. If you are on Black Point, you might be in 20′ range. But if you’re in a shallow corner of the lake, the sort of corner that might have been a straight up swamp before the property owners of the 1800s filled those corners in with rocks and dirt and tree stumps, then you very well might be in trouble. Full sections of the lake suffer from this shallow-water concern, and I’m positive that the owners of such homes no longer find themselves concerned with the lack of water at the end of their pier. But if you’re a buyer you have a choice, and the choice is simple. If you’re considering a lakefront home on Geneva, be sure you’re buying at a price point that matches the quality of the water. If you’re considering a home search and you’re uncertain what sort of water might be good or bad, don’t sweat that detail. Just ask me.

250 Circle Parkway Sells

250 Circle Parkway Sells

Last year, about this time, I sold the home at 254 Circle Parkway in Williams Bay, up on the tip of Cedar Point. The home was lovely, with newer updates and a marvelous boathouse. That home was listed and sold by me in the span of one day, and on October 30th it closed for full price, $2,595,000. Earlier this year, I listed the home at 246 Circle Parkway. It was a nice enough home, in need of updating, on a similar lot (more frontage) than 254 Circle Parkway. I sold that home a couple of weeks ago for $1,820,000. At the end of July, I listed the home at 250 Circle Parkway, in the middle of the two previously mentioned sales, and within days I had competing bids. Last week, that home sold for $2,775,000. One year, three sales, all adjacent. There is a story here.

And the story isn’t about how I’m grateful to have represented each of these three sellers, though that is indeed the truth and my gratefulness only grows with each successive sale, though it could be supposed that this would not be the case. The story here is about a market, and in this case, a specific market in a specific location on this very specific lake. If the lakefront is its own market, which it is, then Cedar Point Park must be its own market, which is again, true. Further still, Circle Parkway is its own market, and in this, there are these three sales. As fate would have it, I closed each of these, so I know them exceptionally well, and having had the listings on each, I know the way the market responded to each of them. An analysis follows.

254 Circle was listed and within moments I had two competing bids. As is often my way when negotiating with two bids, I singled out the bid that appeared to me to be the most viable and negotiated that one quickly. This way, if that bid doesn’t come to contract, I still have the other bid to negotiate. If I try to press both bids, I risk losing them both. In this case, I negotiated quickly with one bid and it stuck. This home was very nice, and the sellers had completed numerous meaningful and impressive upgrades, but the home needed some bathroom and kitchen renovation, and in that, the price was capped. $2,595,000 cash closing was the result of appropriate pricing and swift negotiating. The sale made sense.

246 Circle was listed late this past spring, at a price that was easily defined as aggressive. The property was nice, the view divine, the pier recently expanded and improved. But the home itself was basic and needed some level of updating. By my eye, the property was full of opportunity, yet the market, in spite of a quick initial bid, wasn’t as easily convinced. Even as a spec home on a 60′ lot (considerably narrower lakefront than 246) hit the market in the high $4MMs, this home sat. Soon enough, a lakefront buyer with long term goals took aim and purchased the property. $1,820,000 was the price paid this fall, and that sale made complete and lasting sense.

250 Circle, in the middle of the two, was updated. Marvelously, so. New windows, new siding, new this and new that. Nearly everything, new. Perfect landscaping. A perfect view. Perfect cottage style. The owners know perfection, and having traded through many Lake Geneva homes over the years, they know how to execute it. This property came to market and quickly fielded two offers. As with the 254 sale, we pursued the sale that offered us the preferred set of terms, which, unknown to many buyers, include things other than price. Timing. Contingencies. These matter, often times, as much as price. When 250 closed last week for $2,775,000 (and pushed me over $40,000,000 in closings for 2019), the sale made thorough sense.

Three sales. One street. One year. This is the way a market should work. One home wasn’t renovated at all, and it sold for $1,820,000. One home was mostly renovated, it sold for $2,595,000. The other property was entirely renovated, and it sold for $2,775,000. Often times Lake Geneva doesn’t make sense. Homes come to market in $2MM neighborhoods and find buyers in the $4MMs. This doesn’t make sense to me, and in fact, assaults my sensibilities. The way a real estate market should function, even a market within a market within a market, as is the case on Circle Parkway, is to find a baseline and adjust the value from there. Where this falls apart, at least to me, is when new construction is involved. Buyers are wildly overpaying for new, and as long as that trend continues, expect instances like a fully functioning, fully pragmatic, market like 246-254 Circle Parkway to become increasingly rare.

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

Lake Geneva Price Reductions

Now that was a weekend. Sure, we were forced to sweat through the first few days to get to the last few days, but what sort of people are we? Are we soft, like our southern counterparts? Or are we shook, like our western friends? Are we blue blooded like our northeastern brethren? Are we high, like our mountain friends? No we are not. We are tough and resilient, and we know that a few days of sticky sweat isn’t so bad if we end up at the throne of summer perfection. In case you weren’t here, that’s what the latter part of the weekend was: perfection.

But in spite of this perfect spate of Lake Geneva weather, and in spite of the way those waves lap and the summer sun warms, there are realities to embrace. The summer, sadly, is racing by. June, we can now safely admit, was a garbage month. What a terrible thing, June was. I’m generally quite strong, and as you know from my posts, my weather related malaise was heavy and dark. I nearly succumbed to the low pressure. Since June was terrible and July started in the sauna, summer might feel like it just started, but it pains me to remind you that it is well underway. I know this. You know it. Sellers of vacation homes? They know it, too.

While our market features all-year productivity, we still have seasons of particular activity. Summer is one of those seasons, obviously. Sellers who own properties that have endured some length of market exposure are aware that a summer buyer is more common than a winter buyer, and that’s why this is the season of price reductions. Spring sales are over. Summer sales are here. But fall sales are around the corner (sorry to write that) and it’s time to make an aged property more attractive.

I just reduced 246 Circle Parkway to $1.975MM. Pretend you’re in search of a lakefront with a dynamic lake view. Now pretend you’re not just looking for some regular lake view, but you want something amazing. You want to be in Eze, overlooking the Riviera, but you aren’t in France and instead you’re in the Midwest. But that view, man, that’s all you want. Now stop pretending and come to Circle Parkway. It’s the view of a lifetime. Of the century. The view that makes other views wonder what they did wrong. If I can reduce that price to be sub $2MM for 92 feet of frontage and that world class view, then imagine what other sellers are considering.

New inventory will come to market this month. It will. That new inventory will be priced accordingly. But today is about the aged inventory, and it’s about the price reductions. If you’re upset with the inventory choices and the prices, it’s time to reengage. And if you’re going to do that, why not work with the market leader? Why not work with the guy who knows that not every property is a good idea? Why not work with the guy who doesn’t want you to make a market mistake? If you want to be talked into something, work with anyone. But if you want to be talked out of a bad idea, work with me.

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

Lake Geneva YTD Performance

The year is young now, but not so young that we can’t judge it.  One year old children are young, so young that we shouldn’t judge them. But two year olds? Judge away. The market is now in its second month, and with a lifespan of only 12, our market is as a 7 year old, and we know very well that we can judge 7 year olds. If a kid is fantastically smart and sweet as a 7 year old, chances are that behavior will stick through his or her life. If the 7 year old is horrible, mean and ornery, we can, sadly, assume that this 7 year old will grow to be a horrible, mean and ornery adult.  The 2016 Lake Geneva real estate market is old enough now that we must judge it.

January was not a kind month to my biotech heavy portfolio, in fact, it was ruthless and homicidal. The year started with big index declines, and continued in this most miserable lower for longer pattern. The good news might be that the bottom seems to have held for now, so buyers have not been scared away in the same way that they would have if we remained in that free fall. Most segments are doing just fine today, with individual markets performing better than others. Remember, cheap oil means your portfolio looks awful and you won’t be retiring on time,  but never underestimate the life affirming power of $1.49 gasoline.

I had a closing last month in Geneva National. GN, as you may recall, had a fantastic 2015. The carry over has not yet been evident. Today, GN has the rare condition of owning 71 market offerings (single family and condominium) but not a single showing as under contract. I have little doubt that something is under contract there, but the MLS isn’t yet reflecting that. That’s rare, that’s odd, and it’s not good. Sellers in GN who entered 2016 thinking that things have been completely healed should rethink that supposition. The market is better, yes, but if a particular seller has not yet succumbed to the pricing realities that cemented in 2015, then don’t expect buyers to be rewarding GN with liquidity in the way they did last year. GN, pay attention and don’t get smug just yet. YTD Grade: D

Abbey Springs has somewhat high inventory at the moment, with 36 offerings. The good news for AS is that they also have at least five of those properties under contract. If GN boasted a similar ratio, we’d see 10 GN properties under market at the moment and everyone would proclaim the market as hot, hot, hot (Disclaimer: Many agents do this regardless).  Abbey Springs has just one single family home under contract, that of a reasonably nice home on Saint Andrews listed at $699k. It’ll be interesting to see if 2016 delivers some upper bracket buyers in Abbey Springs. That didn’t happen in 2015, but we’ll see if ample inventory provides a few of those rare $800k+ buyers to Abbey Springs. YTD Grade: A-

The lakefront condo market on Geneva has, since its heyday of 1998-2006,  stalled. Spurts of volume here and there do not heal a market particularly well. But alas, prices in this segment never cratered in the way that the residential lakefront market did, which always perplexed me. If you’ll remember back then, I was perpetually wondering why there weren’t more foreclosures in the lakefront condo segment. I was happy there weren’t, but still surprised. Today the lakefront market has some nice movement, with a bit of aged inventory in Fontana Shores under contract and a townhouse in Somerset that just closed this morning for $725k. Inventory remains light in this segment, which is good. The lakefront condo market chokes on inventory. So far, so good. YTD Grade: B

The lake access market surrounding Geneva is off to a quick start, with five properties pending sale today. A few new ones- a contract with buyer of mine on a Glenwood Springs property, and a new contract on an off-water home in Cedar Point. That home is listed for $825k. It’s a charming home, but off-water with no slip and a somewhat limited cottage design. It had sold previously in 2007 for $1.15MM. That was a peak price, and then some. Other pending properties are in the lower reaches, including on in Indian Hills in the $400s, and three more under $250k in Country Club Estates and Cedar Point Park. YTD Grade: B

Lastly, the king, the lakefront market itself. Inventory is tragically low, with just 23 true lakefront homes listed (and four vacant lots, including two that are my listings- Loramoor $2.34MM and North Shore Drive $4.475MM). Of those 23, six have contracts. That’s really quite remarkable, so let that sink in for a bit. Out of 600 or so lakefronts on Geneva, just 17 homes are for sale. If you think you’ve found an exclusive market somewhere in some mountain town, I assure you we belly laugh at your exclusivity. Pending today is the small odd home in Knollwood ($1.125MM). That home is proof that if you just wait forever and keep dropping your price, you’ll sell. Dartmouth Woods is pending ($1.35MM), and that’s a nice little place that I like quiet a bit. A newer build on LaGrange is pending just over $2MM. If you don’t know the house, it’s the one that sits in the shadow of Vista Del Lago.

Bonnie Brae has a pending sale in the low $2s, and once that closes we’ll have seen a rather significant turn over on that Snake Road street. In the past several years, the market has closed three other lakefronts on that short road, with this pending ranch about to become the fourth. That’s nice to see, as new owners generally undertake some level of beautification of the home, and the market benefits.  In the upper reaches, the old brick home in Williams Bay formerly known as Towering Elms (until Dutch Elm Disease killed them all) is pending with a $3.85MM ask. Expect that home to be knocked down once closed. Finally, I have my sale on Lackey Lane in the mid $4s pending to  buyer whom I’m proud to represent.  YTD Grade: A-

One small lakefront closed last month, that of the skinny lot on Outing, just to the West of George Williams. For $800k, a buyer snuck onto the lake. It’s a curious property sure, but it’s $800k and that, is that. The lakefront market won’t be making an encore of the 2015 volume totals if this inventory stays low.  I have some exciting lakefronts coming to market in the near future, and I expect other agents have their own off-market properties on their radars.  The South Shore Club continues to be absent a single offering, which means that club won’t be lending too much to our inventory totals unless there’s a sudden influx of inventory, which I’m betting there won’t be.

For now, so far, so good. No after school tutoring or behavioral sessions necessary for our little seven year old.

 

It’s Lake Geneva’s Winterfest Weekend, so please do come to the lake if you like cool things, like snow sculptures. It’s a really great weekend. If you’re planning on waiting in line for brunch tomorrow, you can do so much better.