Blog : General

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Sadly, the big story this morning is that of a kayaker who died in Geneva Lake yesterday. This sort of story isn’t nice to write about, but every unfortunate occurrence is an  admonition for the rest of us. Lakes in the spring are cold. The sun may be warm, the wind still. But the lake is still icy cold. I’d guess the water temp in Geneva today is around 52 degrees. Maybe 55. That’s cold enough to take your breath away, and if you lose your breath when you’re in the middle of the lake, your life cannot be far behind. I don’t know if this poor man had a life vest on, but remember to always use a life vest if you’re out on this lake in a vessel as unstable as a kayak.   It’s a sad story today, for sure.

The shore-path-race seems to be as unpopular as anything has ever been. It’s as unpopular as suburban style housing developments proposed for our cornfields. It’s unpopular. The city alderman who approved this race should remain ashamed, and hopefully they’re being bombarded by angry letters and calls from lake residents who wish to see their path left for the dreams and the wanderers. Several local groups have taken action against this stupid race, and with any luck it’ll be called off before the first ankle is sprained.

It’s my birthday this weekend, which is nice for me. But it’s also terrible because I’m getting old and my beard is graying and my temples have completed the process. I sat through my son’s spring music concert the other night.  As a proud parent and school alum, I had every reason to sit still and marvel at each squeak from the flute and eat off-key solo. But I have found, that even at my advancing age, I still lack the maturity to sit still for 90 minutes while high schoolers sing Disney songs. Perhaps this means I’ll never grow up. Perhaps it means I’ve failed at this game. But as Mark Hoppus once said, No one should take themselves so seriously. With many years ahead to fall in line, why would you wish that on me?

My Morel season was another bust this year. I didn’t have time to look as much as I should have, and when I did I didn’t really find many. A few dozen, perhaps. I know morel season waits on no man and yet I expected it to wait on me. It didn’t. And now I’m another year older and have scant few morels to show for it. This is something I’ll have to live with until next May, when I’ll try to right the wrongs of 2017.

Lastly, if you were in the Lake Geneva Starbucks this morning at 7 am I did spill that entire cup of coffee at the cream station. Everything was going fine until I looked up while putting on the lid. The entire cup poured onto the counter, the floor, even into the little container where the Splenda reside. I felt sort of bad about this, but quickly used one hundred or more napkins to tidy up my mess. I apologized profusely to those around me. But if you were me, and it was your birthday this weekend and you hadn’t really found any morels,  are you trying to tell me you wouldn’t have also spilled your coffee?

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and my wife and all of the other mothers.

On Markets

When a real estate market is slow, the fundamentals matter. The price per front foot, price per square foot, of the land, not house- this isn’t Beverly Hills- it matters. The prior sales price, the current list price, the expected discount to ask and the all time highs against the current cycle lows. This is the sort of research that matters in a down market. This sort of thing mattered in Lake Geneva, at one time, back in the good old days of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, back when market context and market forecasting was everything. RIP, days when things mattered.

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Don’t get me wrong, they still matter to me, to those among us who seek value in times good and bad. All of those things will always matter to me, which is why I’ll likely spend the remainder of my working days loving tumultuous market times and tolerating times of hyper lift. It’s easy for Realtors who lack a greater degree of curiosity to see a rising tide and throw everyone into the sea. Leave your fancy math behind and jump into the water! Quickly, we haven’t much time! This is what they say, and this behavior is an insult to my intelligence but mostly to yours.

Delavan Lake this year has performed remarkably well. There have been no fewer than 11 lakefront sales, which is nice, but most impressive is that six of those have closed at or over one million dollars. Nice job, Delavan. I hope that most of those sales occurred in the winter, early spring, or the coming fall. Those are the times when the water rests a bit, and if you weren’t a student of water clarity (I have my PHD) you’d be forgiven for thinking the water is fine there. The sales mostly make sense, and even the outlier that closed last week makes some sense. But this is before you consider the prior sales activity- the peaks at the high and the supposed valleys at the low. Things look fine, until we dig a little.

If we throw out the highest lakefront sale at $1,599,000 and consider the other 10, the average lakefront sale this year printed at 84.4% of the ask. The top sale, the one mentioned prior, closed at full price. That’s 100% for the math-hating-market-hypers. I was about to demonstrate the egregious price per foot difference between this top sale and the others, but Delavan Lake is an odd bird and doesn’t really follow any rough price per foot outline that can be trusted. It’s especially difficult on a lake like Delavan, where some spots you can walk on water due to weed growth, and other spots are more lake like.

That property had closed in the fall of 2008, at what was likely very near the top of the market, for $1.425MM. It sold again in 2012, at what would have been the bottom of the market, for $1.3MM. For perspective, the nearest priced sale to that one, a victorian style Delavan lakefront that sold for $1.44MM this year, had sold for $1.657MM in 2012. Some of the other sales on Delavan this year also sold prior in 2012, and some sold then for less than the recent 2015 sale, while others sold for less. It’s this sort of research that should be done for these sorts of sales.

I am not, as you have noticed, a Delavan Lake expert. I don’t want to be such an expert, and I never will be. I’ll leave that to the agents who are actual experts on that lake, of which there are several. I’ll stick to Geneva, and I’ll do that because this is the market that I know and understand, and this is the market where most pricing makes some level of sense. The two full price off-water sales near Geneva this year, one at $1.475MM and one at $2.2MM aren’t included in that prior statement.

Today, there’s a very serious admonition. Pay attention to the numbers. Pay attention to the market cycles. Pay attention to prior sales, prior failed marketing attempts, and future downside. Just pay attention. If you have an agent that’s not from this market, one that wishes to be part of the market solely because our prices are nice and rich, then suggest to that agent that they keep your best interests in mind and refer you to me. That’s a terrific way to pacify your city agent and gain exposure to some high caliber local knowledge. After all, we can’t be experts in everything, which is why I’ve spent my life trying rather hard to be an expert in all things Lake Geneva and nothing else. Delavan Lake? Why I barely know where it is.

Lake Geneva Market Update

At first blush, it makes no sense. Why, after so many years of a predictable pattern, are homes in excess of $4MM selling so frequently and easily in 2015? The hedge funds had their huge year in 2011, making it reasonable to expect 2012 and 2013 to be high flying years. The same years, the stock market gained and gained, allowing those with large scale equity investments to cash a bit out and buy real estate, if they so properly desired. If this upper bracket buyer was sensitive to interest rates, they’ve had years and years of them. The catalysts have been in place for several years, so why 2015?

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I think it’s private equity. You have Midwestern businesses of varying sizes and industries selling at premium prices. The simple logic goes like this. Mr. and Mrs. Businesspeople own a lake house. Because they’re successful in business and obviously intelligent, well rounded sorts, they own their lake house at Lake Geneva. Their lake house was bought when they ran that business, the one they spent so much time building. They bought that first house with revenue. Private equity found them, negotiated with them, and now our friendly business couple who already loves Lake Geneva just sold their business for many times earnings. They were rich before, revenue rich, but now they’re lump sum rich. Would it be strange to expect them to flip out of a $2MM lakefront and into a $5MM lakefront? Of course not. The lakefront market on Geneva has had a tremendous run at our upper range, and I say we owe it all to private equity.

You’ve likely noticed that I haven’t been writing market updates every day. I haven’t been doing this because the market is hot, and I grow tired of saying that. It’s hot! I say. Everyone else says it, too. They say it with fewer words, sometimes just breathless gestures, othertimes with pictures, but they’re all saying it. The market is hot, it’s active in all segments, and 2015 is shaping up to be a banner year. I think that would be boring to write about three days a week, so I sometimes choose to enlighten you with other meaningless tidbits.

The entry level lakefront has been offering up some tasty deals this year, and up until recently the market has mostly failed to take advantage of the ample inventory. This last week, two entry level homes have gone under contract. One near Abbey Springs, as in not sort of near, but right smack dab on top of it. Listed in the $1.1s, this home was cheap enough and a buyer finally looked past the oddly complicated approach. The other home was another that suffered through a slug of showings and a systematic chopping of the price. This Lake Geneva Highlands lakefront is now pending sale with an ask in the mid $1.3s. Think the market finally caught fire and gobbled these up because they feared they’d never find something quite so good? Think again. The prices came down, and buyers bit.

Other lakefronts under contract include a private listing in Geneva Bay Estates for $2.65MM, my listing on Bonnie Brae for $2.995MM, a lakefront lot in the Elgin Club ($1MM), a shingly thing in Cedar Point in the mid $2s, the bombed out cottage ($879k) shell near George Williams, an old house on the hill in Glenwood Springs in the high $1s, and the large Baywood Heights-ish ranch on Basswood just under $5MM. My listing in the South Shore Club is pending sale, as is the Pickell built home on the hill in Fontana. Expect sales of both within a few weeks. There is an offer on the large Fontana lakefront listed in the mid $4s, so let’s expect that contract is put together. That’s the sort of buyer that would have been better off looking seriously at 1014 South Lakeshore in the $7s, as the all in number for a land buyer in the $4s will likely far exceed $7.

The lake access market is active as well, with buyers reaching back towards off-water homes that lack slips in the $600k range. This isn’t a range I love, unless the house is somehow special. A boring house on a boring lot that lacks a view or a slip in the $500s? I’ll pass, thank you. For all the activity, I still see value in the sub $550k price range. There are some winning properties with slips that can be bought around $500k, and there are some reasonably nice lake access homes in the $300s that look interesting to me.

The lakefront condo market is just okay, with plenty of inventory and plenty of value offered. There’s a pending deal on another Geneva Towers unit, as the developer who wished to transform the condo market there has mostly, by my math, maybe broken even on the effort. Maybe he’s made a fortune, but it looks to this outside as an endeavor that maybe wasn’t worth the effort. Abbey Springs housing is hot, with three single family homes pending sale there priced over $550k, including my listing on Saint Andrews for $765k. Geneva National is similarly active, with loads of interest in the condominiums and single family homes. I have a deal pending on one of my Terrace Court condos, and another contract pending on the GN Saint Andrews.

What to expect this fall? The same. The market is active, deals are plentiful, and buyers have largely pushed aside any concerns over the stock market tumult. If buyers wish to make 2016 a lakeside year, then they’d be wise to begin the process now. Not in January, not in March, but now. Start the hunt. Identify the target. And most importantly, avoid disastrous decisions by letting me be your guide.

Above, my newest listing. An Eastbank townhome with 3300 square feet of brand new luxury. Four bedrooms, four baths, canopied slip, two car garage, lake views, and so much fancy. $1.299MM

Trust

I took my car in to be fixed. The mechanic was nice enough, the dealership shiny and large. Emblems and logos, everywhere. I normally sit in the lounge, where they have a chef that makes sandwiches and soups, one of each per day, as well as some cookies and snacks. I like that lounge. I brought my car in because it made a rattle that I didn’t like, and so I sat in the lounge while the mechanic determined the cause. I wondered if the noise came from the wheel. But it couldn’t come from the wheel because I felt it in my seat when I went over a bump. Maybe it came from the chassis, though a rattly chassis would be much worse than a rattly wheel. I waited. What was taking so long?

The mechanic’s name was Jeff. He had greasy hands and greasy nails, and I thought that there would be no way for him to clean those nails. I thought that some days he must have his hands perfectly clean, and when he does he probably looks at them and makes sure people notice. Like he’s a hand model. But he was under the car, standing there with a flashlight, looking at the various parts and thinking. I know he was doing this because I left my seat in the lounge, threw away the paper plate that my chicken pesto panini was served on, and walked around the parts department to the shop. Then I stood under the car next to Jeff and turned the flashlight on my iPhone and stared at the underside of the car as if I had seen one before.

I had, after all, once almost changed a tire. I had a flat when I was driving to Minnesota, and before calling AAA I had considered changing the tire by myself. I even looked around for the spare tire, but when I realized it was in the trunk, under a bunch of things I had packed for my trip, I decided against the action. I suggested to Jeff that this metal rod might be the culprit, and I reached up and shook it violently. I told him that he needs to consider that the rod is the problem, and that we needed to sit down and have a meeting about it, because I, the person who nearly thought about chaining a tire once, have determined that this is our problem. The tie rod.

Jeff ignored me, even though I shook the tie rod again to remind him that it wiggled when I did so. Jeff said I should leave the shop now, because I “didn’t know what I was talking about”. I told him that this was no way to speak to a customer, and he told me that’s why there are nicer men and women with name tags who work at the computers outside of the shop, the ones who don’t have greasy nails. He said I should leave. I asked about the tie rod. He said it wasn’t the tie rod. I shrugged my shoulders and said it was the tie rod. Then I fired him and took my rattly car down the road to another dealer, where I stood with a mechanic named Brian and shined my iPhone light under the hood with him.

I didn’t really do any of these things. But I do speak with sellers every day, and I am as Jeff, or maybe Brian, and they are me. They tell me that they know better than I do. That the market isn’t really a market, but rather the market behaves in the way that brokers tell it to behave. The suggestion is that if the brokerage community gets together and enforces a strict $5MM minimum list price on all lakefront homes that, in some time, this will be the norm. A 50′ lakefront home will sell for $5MM, and a 200′ lakefront home will sell for $5.5MM. Sellers of unique or otherwise overpriced properties have terrific ideas as to how to accomplish those market defying goals, except that all of their ideas are the equivalent of me, violently shaking that tie rod.

San Francisco Endorsed

There are old maps that were drawn by those important men who lived a long time ago in Nantucket. The maps show these entire United States, and Nantucket encompasses most of the land East of the Mississippi. There are other states and territories on the map, but the map shows Nantucket, large and proud, bigger itself than any other state or territory drawn. This phenomenon occurred because at the time, Nantucket was the center of that particular artists world, and since it was the center, every other geographic location was unimportant and insignificant.

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Lest you think this was purely an old timey phenomenon, if you were to ask someone who lives in San Francisco to draw a map of these Unites States, the map might look somewhat similar in skewed proportion to those Nantucket maps of old. San Francisco would be large, California would be huge. On the other Coast, New York would be gigantic. In the middle, some insignificant states wedged in, the collection of which would barely add up to the size of San Francisco.

Since I am from Wisconsin, and swell with pride at the mere mention of my home state, I would draw my own map. In that map, Wisconsin would make up the entire Midwest, with small allowances made for Chicago, and a small misshapen glove the size of Lake Geneva representing Michigan. The coasts would exist in thin little strips, perhaps the Pacific coast appearing as the size of Fontana, and the Atlantic Coast the size of Williams Bay.

On Friday night, on what was night one of a most epic wedding celebration, I stood near the dance floor, because near is as close to any such floor as I will ever get, and a man who also eschewed the dance walked over to me and we began the sorts of conversation that people have on and near these floors. We shouted at each other, as loudly as possible, while waiving our arms to enhance the communication, and carried on a conversation that likely neither of us clearly heard. He was from San Francisco, and he had never been to Lake Geneva. He asked about the lake, about why it is what it is, and what it is that made this elaborate wedding weekend take place here, of all the other important places that the bride and groom could have chosen.

I yelled back something about the size of the lake, the clarity of the water, the depth. I told him it was near Chicago, but not too near. I told him that it’s just the place to be, and that, was that. There was nothing else I could scream, nothing else that would make sense. He looked bemused, in the way that someone from California would look at someone from Williams Bay, because California is so much more important than Williams Bay and to ever suggest an alternative is to be naive and small minded. We parted ways so I could scream in the ear of someone else.

The next night, at the Lake Geneva Country Club, while the dancing was occurring and while I was watching, this same guy made his way towards me. We screamed at each other to indicate a Hello, and then he shook his head. He didn’t say much this time, and I didn’t scream much back. He just said, I get it now. He had spent 24 hours in Lake Geneva, attending a pre-wedding lakeside dinner. Attending a lakeside wedding before boating to a lakeside reception at a venerable old club. It didn’t take more than that, and a guy from California told a kid from Williams Bay that he had seen all he needed to see, and now he understood.

Ban Photoshop

I admit this morning to being distracted. In front of my office at this moment there is a giant backhoe, digging out random sections of Geneva Street. The bucket first swipes into the earth, pulling up the old street and the shoddy base, into the gravel and then the black dirt. The operator is smooth with this bucket, and he cautiously digs, pivots, and dumps the newly destroyed rubble into a waiting dump truck. This has been going on in this particular hole for the entire morning. I try to look away but I can’t, the hypnotic ease of this demolition keeps interrupting my view. I hope the natural gas lines are clearly marked, otherwise this will be my last entry.

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But every morning I’m distracted, so this isn’t some sort of new occurrence. I’m not distracted when I drive my kids to school, when they either fight loudly or sit quietly, awaiting their daily dose of learning. I’m not distracted when I first sit in this chair and pull it up to this wooden desk. I turn on the computer without any trouble, and every morning after scrolling through emails, I check on the MLS. I look to see what lakefront homes may have been listed. I check out the condos. I look for some land. I look because I need to know what’s happening at every moment of every day. This is when I get distracted.

The images that greet me each morning are getting frightfully cartoonish. The art of real estate photography has come a long way in the last 10 years. Back then, we just took some pictures, loaded them onto a computer, and then loaded them into the MLS. This wasn’t ideal but it worked, and it worked efficiently for quite a long time. Today, the good Realtors (like this one) pay photographers to take pictures for them, knowing that it is in the best interests of our clients to outsource this important task.

The hiring of outside photographers is not the distraction, rather what happens to those innocent photos once they’re loaded into the computer creates my morning discomfort. It’s bad enough that someone, somewhere, thought that what everyone really wants to see is a distorted fish-eye, drone shot photograph of a house. This phenomenon is getting more popular, as agents race to prove that they’re technologically advanced. If I were marketing a 40 acre property and needed to show the width and astounding depth of that parcel, I may entertain the use of drone photography. But it’s getting a bit excessive and odd when drones are used to show unflattering angles of small cottages.

But the fish-eye drone shots aren’t the worst, and they aren’t what throw me off my game very early every morning. It’s the photoshopping. It’s the application of blue to each sky and bright green to every blade of grass. It’s the exposure alterations that make my cones and rods cry for mercy. It’s the camera lens that makes a 12 x 14 den look like a 28 x 40 ball room that insults my intelligence. It’s the twinkly lights in every room, where each shot looks like someone waded through the fog to capture the image. It’s the manipulation of reality that I’m distracted by.

While I am one for limited government involvement in all things, I think the false advertising of such reality altering CGI should be outlawed. Are you turned on by the pictures of homes for sale on Geneva that look as though they are nestled against the azure waters of Eleuthera? Does this manipulation of actual pigments and tones make you want to buy something more than you might otherwise? Far from being an old curmudgeon, I am a young curmudgeon, and now I need a nap, because I just checked the MLS and my retinas ache.

Above, a picture I took of Williams Bay this morning.

Of Loyalty

A marriage can really only work if both parties have some leeway to say things that the other person may not like, without fear of devastating reprisal. For instance. If I told my wife that a certain top makes her shoulders look too big, or she told me that everything I’ve ever tried on makes me look fat, we’d assume that this is okay and won’t necessarily lead to a divorce. We can say these things because there’s some form of engineered commitment here, something greater that will withstand the sort of attacks that come when you take your wife shoe shopping and she doesn’t find the sort of shoes she’s looking for.

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Because of this open-thought policy, marriages are generally more substantial and rigid than casual relationships, the sorts that feature only those immature, early niceties. If I were a single person, and a girl who is not my wife asked me if a certain top made her shoulders look too big, I’d suggest that to think such a thing is pure sacrilege, and that her shoulders are the most perfect example that anyone could ever hope for. In fact, my eyes can see only imperfection in the surrounding world after having finally seen such a set of shoulders. If my pants/shirts/shorts/shoes/hats make me look fat, and I asked her about that, and she weren’t my wife but instead, some lady on the street, she’d tell me to stop being silly, that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, those pants make me look thin, and if I wanted, I could drink Whole Milk and not just two percent.

That’s because initial relationships are heavy on flattery and light on everything else. They are more fun because they are less encumbered with any sort of truth. This preference for superficial fawning is why relationships between people have a tendency to erode, and this same preference is why some of the most outwardly successful real estate relationships are some of the biggest failures. Without any commitment level, there’s only fear of what might be said wrong, which leads to a glossing over of the details and the absence of lasting truth.

Buyers and sellers alike tend to bounce between agents, depending somewhat on competent representation, but mostly on whim and weekend fancy. If a buyer calls me to see houses, I’d like to assume that the buyer is doing so because he or she is remarkably intelligent, and has decided to increase their particular variety of intelligence by combining it with my variety. I’d like to think that a buyer knows my track record, my successes and my failures, and thinks they’d like to partner with someone who has far more of the prior and few of the latter. I’d like to think these things, but the fact is that a buyer might be seeing houses with me because they’re bored, and because their other agent is busy shopping.

A lack of purposeful loyalty is what makes every car dealer ask you what they need to put you in a car TODAY. They don’t ask what you’d like them to keep an eye out for, so that they might call you when that yellow PT Cruiser crosses the auction block in Sometown, Indiana. They ask what they can do to make you drive away in that new car, and they do this because they know if you drive away without that new car, the odds of you ever returning are very low. It’s because of this that they promise the world, promise that the particular variety of car you want is so much better than the other variety that might be available down the road. They tell you what they can when they can because they know you’re not going to come back.

If you’re that car shopper, do you suppose you’ll be getting nothing but the perfect truth from that salesman? If you show up on a Saturday unannounced and drive from dealer to dealer that day, so you think you’ll be getting a single opinion that isn’t entirely and completely self serving, with the dealer being the party served? Of course not. You’ll be hearing mouthfuls of skew, and you’ll be left to decipher fact from fiction later on, when you drive home with the same car you started the day with.

If, however, you develop a relationship with a dealer, that dealer has the leeway to tell you the truth about that yellow PT Cruiser. You shouldn’t buy it, and he’ll tell you that. He’ll tell you that you’d be better off in something different, and while he doesn’t have that something different on the lot at that moment, he’ll get one and he’ll tell you when he has it. The dealer can do this because he’s relatively certain you won’t be running off the buy another car from the neighboring dealer, just because they have a shiny new sign and a guy in an ape outfit spinning a sign.

In the end, this isn’t about the loyalty to that dealer or to your Realtor. It’s about you, the client, being served with accurate assessments of markets, of houses, of what it is that makes the most sense for you. If you’re pin balling between agents, you cannot expect to gain any lasting market insight, and so this isn’t a plea for loyalty for the sake of a business model, this is a plea for loyalty so that you, as the client, can listen to unbiased advice and make the best decision possible. I’d never let you buy a yellow PT Cruiser.

Labor Day Weekend

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Back on Wednesday with all sorts of riveting commentary. For instance, did you know that all the cool people are at Lake Geneva? I spent Saturday aboard a most beautiful boat with those cool people. Then Sunday at the pier of some more cool people, and later Sunday at the same pier for this sunset. Monday? More cool people.

Knollwood Sells

Generally speaking, if a home on the lake hits the open market, I email the listing to someone. Let’s say you’re looking for a lakefront for around $1.5MM. If one comes to market, I send it to you. This is because I sell real estate. In the same way, if I have a buyer looking for a home priced around $500k with a slip and such a property becomes available, I’ll email that information to that buyer. This is not rocket science. Because I have plenty of clients, and am always looking for more, I send information out when I have it, in the hopes that someone will buy whatever it is that I’m sending them.

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This is the way every real estate agent operates. Most set up automated listing reports, so that when you contact them with a question, they add you to their automated list. I don’t do this, because I think it’s rather insulting to send someone properties that really don’t line up with the sort that they’re looking for. This is why when a large home in Knollwood came to market earlier this summer with an asking price of $2.2MM, I didn’t send it to anyone. I didn’t send it to anyone because it was a home off the lake, without frontage, without a slip, without privacy, without and without, for $2,200,000. Got a $20 bill in your pocket? Good. We’ll need to collect 110,000 of those in order to buy this off-water, no-slip-having, no-privacy-affording lake access house.

Earlier in the year, another home like this came for sale. This one was on Academy Lane, priced near $1.5MM. I didn’t send that one out to anyone, either. Because it was an off-water home without a view, but with a slip, but without any lake proximity of any notable, or acceptable, distance. I didn’t send that one out, and just like the one for $2.2MM that I didn’t send out, they both sold rather immediately. The reminder for you today is this: Location, location, location? That’s the old rule, and you’re being naive and old fashioned for even knowing what that means. Shiny, fancy, sparkly? That’s what really sells real estate.

The Knollwood sale is likely the first sale of its kind at Lake Geneva, ever. Never before has an off-water home that lacked a slip sold for this sort of money, with one possible exception being a Fontana home that sat high above the lake on the north shore. But even that home had a unique location, towering above the lake, hanging on the edge of the cliff that separates the lakefront from everyone else. This Knollwood home was just a lakeview cottage location, with a cottage lot, surrounded by cottages, but there it was, $2.2MM, and someone aggressively bit it off and closed on it this week for full price. That’s 110,000 twenties in case you forgot.

What does this new rash of shiny buyers mean for the market? It means very little, really. It means that if you’ve built some giant home as an ode to your importance, and that home isn’t in a location that supports such an endeavor, you still might be okay, as long as you’re okay with losing some money in the quest for liquidity. If you build it exceptionally fancy, they will come. It also means that I’d expect to see some more speculative activity in this market place from here on out. Builders will take notice of this. They’ll see that no longer are they bound by some unspoken vow to only build a home that makes sense in the market. There are, at this moment, two different lakefront spec homes being contemplated and planned for. Perhaps these builders should have just bought a little cottage in some unimportant location and built a home there. Throw in some marble showers and a Wolf range and you just might find a live one.

In other news, the auction house in Lake Geneva closed for $2.7MM Well done to the seller, for selling this shared pier property for that nice number.

Still Summer

Some would say that winter starts when the first snow flakes flutter to the ground. Those who say that would be wrong, because we all know that snow can fall during a rare October, and no snow in October could ever make someone believe that it was winter. Even when snow falls in November, Thanksgiving is still to follow and in no way can winter begin before Thanksgiving. Everyone knows that. But snow in October alerts you to the coming of winter, just as some wayward cold front in August alerts you to the coming, more lasting, fall chill.

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This week at the lake feels very different. The man who stands on the street near my office is back at his post. He stands on the corner holding a mobile stop sign, and when children need to cross the street he walks out half way to meet then, brandishing his sign towards the oncoming traffic. I see him every day during the school year, first during these warm days, then during the rainy days, and then, finally, in the snow. He’s there now, and it feels like he’s early. It feels like he shouldn’t be there yet, but there he is, walking half way to meet the children who are begrudgingly walking to school.

The lake has been calm these last few days, not calm in the way that summer weekdays are calm, but an off-season calm. There are boats, sure, and there are those taking their last gasps of summer vacation right now. The forecast allowed for some flexibility in those who have that ability, and as I drove through Lake Geneva yesterday I caught a glimpse of a boat anchored at the edge of Geneva Bay. I didn’t know who was on board, but I looked over in time to see one of the loungers cannon ball off the bow. No one has yet told him that summer is over.

The street crews in front of my office this morning seem to be in no hurry. There are men walking back and forth, looking at curbs, and looking at the curb in front of my office that was supposed to be an apron. They’re looking and walking, radioing and chatting. They aren’t in any particular hurry. There’s no immediacy to their work, and that’s because it’s 72 and sunny at 8 am. They walk slowly, like the kids on their way to school, wondering why they’d hurry when this summer isn’t going anywhere.

Does it cease to be summer when the kids go back to school? Does it cease to be summer when there is some morning chill, and when the sun sets nearer to 7 than to 8? Does it cease to be summer just because it’s September, and because the aisles at Lowes last night were decorated with the oranges and browns of fall? I thought about this last night as I stood outside under a bright moon. I stood and I listened to the chorus of the crickets and the delightful hum of the hoppers. The night was alive, not at all like fall, but just like summer.

Geneva Lakefront Update

I read an article yesterday about how one Japanese day trader made thirty-four million dollars last week. He had a hunch about the markets, and rode large positions of options to an incredible win. I did not do that. I bought some stocks on one day, lost money the next day. Sensing the opportunity, I bought some more on the following day and then lost more on the day after. I have never made a winning stock trade in my life. In the same way, I have never made a bad real estate move in my life. I should, I suppose, stick to what I know best, and leave the real money making to the day traders who buy and sell options in between playing video games and online poker. That trader made money, I lost money, and I expected the real estate market here to respond to the tumult. It didn’t.

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Showing and offer activity has not slowed down. Maybe it’s because everyone was expecting a correction in the indices. Maybe it’s because the swing was so low, so fast, and then back up, even faster. Maybe people just don’t care like they used to. Our weather has been decidedly lame over the past two weeks. First, the winds blew. They blew so hard for so long that “world class” sailors in large scows decided that it was just too windy for them. In a related development, I’ve decided take today off because I’m too broke. When the wind stopped, the rain came, and with it the fog and the strange, soggy, summery still that I find so pleasing. But while I found the cool, calm to be tasty, those wishing to squeeze more summer out of these remaining weeks were none too pleased.

Yet for the market shake up and the soggy afternoons, the market hasn’t taken notice. There are buyers, so many buyers that in fact it’s quite a spectacle. The lakefront market is leading the charge, with a particular attention on those upper bracket homes priced in excess of four million dollars. As a reminder, this market typically prints one sale over $5MM annually. Today, we have buyers for every segment, though it’s obvious to me that the market is yielding the best value on aged inventory, and most of the entry level lakefront segment. To make this easy on you, and better than just sending you a picture today with some nonsensical motivational quote, here’s the rundown of lakefront activity.

If you read along weekly, which I do hope you do, you’ll know that the auction house on the East shore of Geneva is pending sale. That’s rumored to be around $2.75MM, also rumored to be a sale to a buyer who was new to the market. Not a surprise. A sale is pending next to my Starboard Cottage listing ($2.375MM), that of an old cottage in tough shape listed at $2.175MM. There’s an entry level lakefront in Geneva Manor with no garage and no yard pending for $1.75MM. An off-market home in Geneva Bay Estates with a $2.65MM ask is under contract, having found the buyer easily and quickly without ever listing in the MLS. I showed that home twice, earlier than anyone else. Did you know about that listing? No? You should have been working with me. Continuing our westerly route, I have an offer on my Bonnie Brae listing, though it isn’t yet under contract. A lakefront in Cedar Point priced in the mid twos is under contract, a nice house on a reasonably nice lot that will now sell at what I presume to be a nice market price. The Loch Vista lakefront next to my parents’ home just sold for a bit over two million, so my father now likely assumes his house is worth well in excess of that (spoiler, it isn’t). The little shell of a lakefront on Outing just West of George Williams College is under contract off of an $879k ask.

The Orren Pickell built home on the hill in Fontana is pending sale in the $5s, and an old lakefront in Glenwood Springs with a $1.85MM ask has a buyer. There’s a contract on a For Sale By Owner at pier 511, the $4.5MM ask easily assumed to be value by the market. That’s the rare offering of a nice enough house on a nice enough lot, and $4.5MM is something the market can easily support. And so after two offers last week, that one is under contract. As an aside, I showed that home several times, to buyers that are smartly working with me, which is why they had early looks at that offering. Keep that in mind if you’re working with an agent and you weren’t made aware of that property, or the other one in Geneva Bay Estates for that matter. If you think that waiting for ads in a Chicago newspaper is the best way to find a lakefront home here, that’s how you end up at auctions and not in the living rooms of off-market listings.

The large ranch-ish house on Basswood is pending with an ask of just under $5MM. That house features a nice lot and some normal finishes, but it’s a great spot on the lake so I’m okay with it. I have a contract on my South Shore Club listing priced at $1.649MM, so expect that last bit of aged South Shore Club inventory to be cleared within the next month. There’s also an accepted offer with a client of mine on the last available vacant lot in the South Shore Club, lot 8. Rounding out the lakefront contracts, the small vacant lot in the Elgin Club is pending with a $1MM ask. That’s no fewer than 13 lakefront properties with contracts at the moment, and it’ll be 14 if I can get my other current lakefront contract put together this week. That’s unprecedented activity, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Is it frothy? Yes. Are the prices toppy? Not really. Excepting a few sales, these properties all make some sense at the prices they’re scheduled to sell at. Some are outright deals, others are market prints. Some are outliers, selling at silly prices. If you’d like to know which ones are which, let’s chat.

Summer and Fall

I can’t say that it comes as a surprise anymore. Every season follows this same pattern. When the season is a long ways off, I pine for it. In the dark of winter I wish for those first warm days. I wish for melt. I wish for the return of the singing birds, and I count those quiet days. When those birds do return and the melt along with them, I have little use for that variety of in between. The birds are too loud and the melt too messy. I don’t like spring much when it’s spring, and so I go about wishing for sustained warmth, for heat, for bright skies and white topped waves. I spend too much time and even more energy wishing for what’s next.

There was a time when I thought I might be able to slow this wishing down. I thought I’d find a way to live in the season, to enjoy it so much that I forgot what came next. If I fished and sailed, swam and boated, basked and rested, I might be able to forget what came before and ignore what was to come next. I thought if I made every effort to focus on the present I’d be able to enjoy it more. But instead, all that immediate focus made me realize it was soon to pass, and I felt even more pull towards the next thing, that thing that I tried so hard to forget.

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Instead of wishing for time to slow, for wishing the season to linger, for wishing things to just be still, I then tried to think less. I tried to just let the season come, without much reverence for it, without the wishing for it to come and the wishing for it to stay. I tried to live without concern for the weather, to live each day in the same way, no matter the temperature or the sun or the month or the shade of the leaves. I tried to wake each day and work, in July as I would January, thinking that this focus might allow me to live more fully, to live more contently.

But at this late date in August, it’s obvious to me that this new attempt has also failed. Instead of living more casually, in drinking the sun in sips whenever I felt like it and in doing so finding more peace and equal rest, I find that my purposeful ambivalence hasn’t allowed any more enjoyment than the frantic focus of prior years. If you wish for summer to stay it won’t. If you trick yourself into ignoring it, it’ll pass just as quickly. These seasons start and they end, and the next season comes. Ready or not.

Today, I know there is still summer left. I know next week it will be warm and sunny, and the water temperature will remain in the seventies, as it has every day since sometime in late June. I know that I’ll have time still, time to boat and to swim and to rest. But I also know that I won’t casually enjoy any of it. I know that I love football season, and I love jeans and boots and orchards and fires. I know that I love this, but I love what comes next perhaps just as much. I also know that I love orchards and jeans and the way the fields turn from green to gold, but I, too, love the first snow and the way a wood fire warms a room.

Lake Geneva: Auction City, USA

I read an article a while back that profiled the lives of those fortunate people who had made the decision to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. These people were fortunate because in spite of their desire to kill themselves by jumping from that bridge, they survived the fall and swam to safety. One memorable line from a survivor detailed how at the point of the jump he realized that every single thing in his life that he was upset about was something that he could fix. Everything except the fact that his feet had just cleared the railing of that bridge.

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Even though this gentleman, and many like him, jumped from that bridge and lived, that doesn’t make jumping from the bridge a good idea. Sure, you get to share your story at high schools and corporate learning sessions. And you get profiled by the New Yorker, or maybe the Atlantic, which would be pretty neat I suppose. But just because he lived doesn’t mean that I, too, will make that jump.

Last week, the second and third auctions of lakefront property on Geneva Lake occurred. The first such auction was held back in May, when a buyer paid the equivalent of $5.8MM, give or take, for a fine home on the North Shore. That auction worked, and so the sellers of two other lakefront homes went to auction with the same outfit, during the same season. One of the homes was a nice enough lakefront, with a shared pier and a shared driveway. The other a unit at Stone Manor.

The auctions were advertised as ABSOLUTE auctions, with NO RESERVE!!!! The auction house advertised the homes all over, and even the Wall Street Journal took the bait and featured the home. The auction for the Stone Manor condo was first, and that auction failed. I do not know the details, because you’d assume an ABSOLUTE AUCTION could never fail, but it did. The seller of this NO RESERVE AUCTION HIGHEST BIDDER WINS decided not to sell, after the bidding came in light. This is rumor, but unless we see the unit close in the next thirty days, we’ll assume the rumor was correct.

The other home did sell, and a buyer was whipped into a frenzy by the bidding process and paid what I presume to be an above market price for the home. The buyer may have been aware of the limitations of that particular home, or they may not have been. They likely figured the market context was close enough, and so they bought. They bought because ABSOLUTE AUCTION NO RESERVE is a very enticing concept. Never mind that for buyers the only two auctions this year will have been successful at what I believe to be above market prices. This is the equivalent of shopping the clearance section hoping for a deal, only to walk out of the store having paid full price for an item that was inadvertently placed on the sale rack.

For sellers, they’ll see this and assume that the process works, if indeed I’m right in my believe that both auctions from 2015 achieved the goal of getting a buyer to pay a bit over retail. But at what risk did they succeed? Where does the seller of the failed auction go now? Back to another auction? Or back to a traditional brokerage model, one that allows a seller flexibility in price and in structure? Yes, two out of three auctions this year worked. But that one guy also jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to tell about it.

Geneva Inn Expansion Plans

If you’ve been to the Geneva Inn lately, you know it could use a little tender loving care. Maybe that TLC comes in the form of a wrecking ball, or maybe in a simple coat of paint and some new carpet, but either way, it needs some attention. The building and grounds have aged rapidly over recent years, and if it is to remain some form of shining hillside retreat then some heavy maintenance must be completed, and soon. Service has declined, the food is just okay, and the demand for oak trim and green carpeting has plummeted.

There’s a big meeting tonight in the town of Linn. They’ll be discussing the obnoxious new fire boat, and the obnoxious little pier that the obnoxious boat is tied to. They’ll be talking about how foolish it is to allow volunteer firemen to drive around in that boat on weekends and shoot their little water cannon into the sky. They’ll talk about how gasoline does cost money, and how it makes no sense at all to allow a boat to burn up so much gas in the pursuit of lunacy.

Just kidding, they’ll be talking about the Geneva Inn, and the proposed plan that would require a rezoning of the two adjacent single family properties. The plan is not entirely clear to me, because it doesn’t need to be. The simple truth is that the owners of the Geneva Inn want to incorporate the two adjoining properties into their commercialized zoning. They already own these properties, and they’re now seeking permission to act on what has been their obvious plan all along.

A recent article in the Lake Geneva Regional News painted the community response to this proposal as mixed, with some in favor and some against. There are many signs out near the Geneva Inn, all denouncing the plan. There are flyers being circulated, in opposition. There are whispers and hushed tones, mostly against the expansion. The community, by my guess, is wildly opposed to this plan, and Linn Township will be keen to listen to their constituents.

I’m not sure yet where I fall in this debate. In general, I am opposed to all commercial developments on the lake. All and any. I don’t like most of the ones that already exist, and I’m certainly not in favor of creating any more properties that lend themselves to lakeside density. That said, I know something must be done with the Geneva Inn. I know they already own these adjacent lands, and I know that this has been their plan all along. This is not a surprise. There is a group that proclaims this expansion to be a violation of long standing deed restrictions, but every commercial project- condo or otherwise- has already broken this old timey restriction. Oh, and every association that came about only after the destruction of a lakefront estate has already done more damage to this ideal than any slight modification of an existing hotel ever could.

The question here is not what is in the best interests of the owners of the Geneva Inn. This entity is wildly wealthy and in no danger of running out of money. This is not a last ditch effort to save a family heirloom. This is simply a profit play, and while I will never begrudge a profit, I will find some error in the execution of this plan. The main piece of this proposed alteration is the addition of an outdoor wedding tent so the Geneva Inn can capture more of the highly lucrative Lake Geneva wedding industry. Neighbors decry the noise that will be generated from such a venue. Has anyone heard the tour boats at night as they churn through the dark waters with thumping sound systems that broadcast YMCA to every lakefront home?

There are wedding tents of this variety during the summer season at George Williams, Abbey Springs, The Lake Geneva Yacht Club, The Lake Geneva Country Club, The South Shore Club, and various private homes around the water. Weddings, whether we like it or not, are a major driver of this local economy. If the Geneva Inn needs to add a tent to make more money, and if the Geneva Inn, in conjunction with the addition decides to renovate and remodel their existing space, does this mean we will have sold our souls for their pursuit of money?

I don’t think so. But I also don’t think I’m in favor of the expansion. I think, as with most things, there are overblown concerns and there are unconsidered ramifications. I think in the balance there is a solution, and in this case, there will likely be posturing on both sides that will ultimately allow the Geneva Inn some increased presence on that section of lakefront. I don’t want the neighbors to be disturbed. I really don’t. I don’t want this lake commercialized more than it already has been. But I do want the existing properties to be well maintained and successful, and this appears to be the Geneva Inn’s time to attempt to become just that.

If you’d like to speak your mind, the Linn Township meeting is tonight, August 24th. Linn Township: 3728 Franklin Walsh St, Zenda, WI 53195
(262) 275-6300

Honey Bees

When you buy a lake house, you should be prepared to buy the things that need to fill that lake house. I’m not talking about couches, or end tables, beds or lamps, because those are optional. I’m talking about boats and tubes, skis and life jackets. I’m talking about front yard bocce ball and back yard volleyball nets. I’m talking about trampolines for the water and wake boards for the wakes. Just as I consider bread a vehicle for butter, a lake house is simply a vehicle for the accumulation of water based toys.

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You could accumulate these water toys if you live in the city. You could store them in your garage, or in your mechanical room, and you could go look at them from time to time. You could even put those toys into the back of your SUV and drive to some lake, where you could indulge those toys in their preferred habitat. But you wouldn’t do that, because that’s ridiculous, and we all know that lake things belong at the lake just as city things belong in the city.

When I moved to the country, I rather immediately found out that I would need country toys, and country things. I bought an ATV within days of buying the land. I bought a water tank for the back of that ATV, so I could water the flowers that I planted on that land. Then I bought a shotgun so I could shoot intruders and wild animals, but really just so I could shoot in the general, vague direction of thrown clay pigeons. I bought a tractor, a big green one with a bucket and a tiller on the back, and during the negotiations with the dealer I tried very hard to act the part. I stared at my shoes and spoke with a drawl, like Hillary at a Kentucky fundraiser.

Once I had the ATV, the shotgun, the John Deere, things seemed country complete. Then my wife wanted chickens, or perhaps another baby, so I bought her a new dog instead. He’s a fine dog, handsome even. But that wasn’t enough, because when you live in the country you have options available to you.

It is no secret that honey bees are dying. They’re dying for various reasons, depending on who you ask. The environmentalists would have you believe it’s the fault of Big-Ag. Big-Ag would have you believe it’s the hippies fault. People in the country think it’s the fault of people in the city, and people in the city think it’s the fault of the unsophisticates that reside in the country. The United States thinks it’s Mexico’s fault, and Mexico blames Arizona. There’s blame to go around, to be sure, but my wife decided that it was up to us to fix this bee dilemma.

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I was told this endeavor would cost around $500. I thought it was a nice idea, to single handedly solve this bee problem. After the first $500 was spent on some wooden boxes, there was another $500. Oh, you wanted bees, too? The bees arrived in a box, many, many thousands of them. They were dumped into the wooden boxes that my wife had since painted a pleasing light green, and then we waited to see if the bees would like their new home. We planted wildflowers everywhere, so many that I’m almost embarrassed to share with you this picture of the bounty. The bees were happy with their light green boxes, happy with their wildflowers, happy with the sunflowers that came after.

There was another $500 that needed to be spent, maybe for some gloves or a special crow bar, or maybe for a tin smoker. I tried to avoid involvement, as these were my wife’s bees, not mine. Once, I walked sort of close to the bee hives (we have two), and I was promptly stung. There are apparently two different sorts of bees in the two different hives. One sort is calm, the other is aggressive and antagonistic. One of the two filled their honey supers (expensive painted boxes that are stacked on top of the other expensive painted boxes), the other hasn’t really made much honey, which is likely the fault of Big-Ag.

Last week, my wife rented the devices necessary to extract honey from the boxes. I was not present for this, partly because I was working but mostly because I knew I shouldn’t be around for the process. When I returned that night, my wife was rightfully proud of her good work, but nearly every surface of the house was covered in honey. Some of the honey made it into glass jars, and that honey is now stacked proudly in my house. It’s good honey, minimally processed, pure, beautiful, delicious, sticky honey.

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Because you’re reading this, you have a very distinct opportunity. You can buy some of this honey. It’s $10 for a 16 ounce bottle. The cost per bottle is approximately $95, so you’re getting this honey at a rather impressive discount to actual cost. These bees were minimally handled, and we made sure that the flowers on our property were not treated with any chemicals or fertilizers. The end result is pure honey that came from very happy bees. The bees are happy because we only stole some of their honey, not all of it. My wife is happy because she has successfully navigated her first season as resident beekeeper. And I’m happy because my property is still chicken free.

Lake Geneva Venetian Fest

The Fontana fireworks are on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts. As they are the first real fireworks of the summer they capture much attention. Children are excited, but children are always excited around fireworks. Adults are excited, too, having waited through the long hard winter and the cold, wet spring to arrive at this celebratory time. My neighbors celebrate this weekend with booming fireworks, but this isn’t really any surprise at all since they celebrate every summer weekend with booming fireworks.

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Once the Fontana fireworks are exploded, there are other fireworks that follow. Some of the resorts light off fireworks around that same time. The Lake Geneva Country Club does the same. Later in July, perhaps in early August, Richard Driehaus throws his summer party and sets off his own private reserve for our public enjoyment. After that happens, Williams Bay waits until the last corn is consumed and the last brat grilled, and then they set fire to their assortment of exploding rockets.

The first firework display matters, because we’ve been waiting so long for it, but all of those middle displays are really unimportant. They’re just fireworks, after all, and though my neighbors have an unquenchable appetite for fireworks, most of us tire of them after some time, and the Driehaus fireworks might as well be the Williams Bay fireworks. But this weekend, our firework desire must be rekindled, because the fireworks this coming Sunday are the last such fireworks of the season.

That’s a fateful sentence, and I didn’t mean to write it this early in the summer. It’s just that this weekend is Venetian Fest in Lake Geneva, and the fireworks that will launch from the Lake Geneva beach (barges, really) represent the opposing bookend to the Fontana fireworks that set this whole thing in motion. I am too reasonable to suggest that the season is somehow over, because we know that summer will linger now for many, many weeks, but if the season is that of the firework, that season ends Sunday.

Venetian Fest isn’t something that I regularly attend. That’s because I prefer my summer enjoyment to take place on and in the water, not nearish the water. I also have a phobia of things involving tokens. Venetian Fest starts Thursday, or maybe Wednesday, but for sure Thursday, and it runs through the Sunday evening fireworks. Shooting fireworks on a Sunday night is not something that happens often, unless you’re my neighbor, because most of our resort towns understand that people need to head home Sunday night, in order to work on Monday morning. The City of Lake Geneva knows you can drive home on Monday morning, and they insist that you try it.

If you’re reading this and you already know about Venetian Fest, then that’s good. If you’re reading this and you’ve never heard of this small festival, you should come visit us this weekend. You should drive to town and enjoy the carnival, but only for a little while, until your tokens are used up. Then take a walk down the shore path, sit under the shade of a lakeside tree, take in the sights and listen to the sounds. That’s what a Lake Geneva weekend is all about, so don’t let the festival distract you from the real prize that is any summer weekend spent lakeside.

PS. The ILYA Regatta takes place on Geneva this Thursday through Sunday. This is a big deal for sailors, and it’s hosted this year by our very own Lake Geneva Yacht Club. If you want to watch the races, that’s perfect. Just don’t drive your boat too close to the sailboats and avoid being adrift in their route.

Lake Geneva Vacation Home Market Update

It is mostly true that for every home there is a buyer. There are buyers for the worst of homes. There are buyers for the best of homes. There are buyers for homes on highways and for homes that flooded a few years ago and will flood again in a few more. There are buyers for homes built on fault lines, there are buyers for homes on the sides of active volcanos. Most of these sorts of homes do not have any particular key attraction, but they sell anyway. The opposite sort of home is one that hits on so many levels of perfection that it has no choice but to sell. This sort of home sells because it must, because it’s too unique and too special to otherwise be ignored. This is why I sold my listing at 1606 West Main Street last Friday, and this is why the buyer who paid $940k for the gem of a house should be pleased with her purchase.

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This sale is just the latest on a laundry list of vacation home activity. The market is hot, and that really does apply to the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market right now, and not just a particular segment. The only possibly exception to that statement is the market segment that should be the hottest- the entry level lake access market. There are just three homes (per MLS) under contract priced below $400k at the moment. That’s odd, because interest rates are low and that segment should be the most sensitive to those rates. If you’re a buyer for something in that price range and you just read those sentences, consider this a nice reminder to act on your interest (call me before acting).

There are contracts pending in the $500-$700k range that include a cottage in the Lake Geneva Club, a fanciful house in Country Club Estates, and a modest ranch in Geneva Manor. There’s one other off water home pending sale in Knollwood, but that’s pending at $2.2MM so let’s not talk much about that. That’s an off-water home. Without a slip. But it’s beautiful and overbuilt, which will always attract attention. I have a contract pending on my listing in Abbey Springs ($765k), and there is a contract pending on a Fontana Shores condo listed at $349k. The lakefront condo market is still soft, but there should be some fall buyers that take advantage of that overall weakness. I still have a beautiful four bedroom condo at Vista Del Lago for sale, now reduced to $569k, and a two bedroom penthouse unit at the Fontana Club listed for $489k. Both of those condominiums had offers on them in the past few weeks, but neither deal came together. I’d love to sell those this year, and can promise a buyer that they will be finding value in either property.

While the gyrations of the broad vacation home market matter, the real spectacle right now is on the lakefront. The lakefront market is ripping, and though inventory is approaching all time highs, buyers are keeping up with the supply. There are no fewer than seven lakefront homes pending sale at the moment. That’s impressive, and though the only listing of mine on that list is the South Shore Club home on Forest Rest ($1.649MM), I like the activity anyway. There’s a listing in the Loch Vista Club pending with a $2.45MM ask. There’s home on Main Street in Lake Geneva pending at a $2.175MM ask. The good news about that listing is that I have a better home for sale right next door, and mine is listed at $2.375MM, so it should be deserving of your attention. A listing on Birch Walnut in Williams Bay that first came to market at a laughable $3.5MM ask is now down to $2.499MM and recently received an acceptable offer. There’s an entry level lakefront in Geneva Manor listed at $1.75MM with a new contract as well.

The small, curious listing on Outing in Williams Bay is under contract at a high $800k ask. This will look cheap to the market when it prints in the $800k range, but it’s a market price that makes complete sense. Yes, it’s lakefront in the 800s, which is good, but that’s all this house was worth. There are some big contracts pending on a listing in Fontana in the low $5s, and another fresh contract on a Basswood listing just under $5MM. This is significant activity, and I see in the current inventory at least 7 or 8 more lakefront deals that will be printed yet in 2015. If the pending contracts all close, and if my prediction for additional deals ends up being accurate (which it will), we’ll add 14 or so closings to the 12 deals that have already closed in 2015, making this year a record year in terms of volume. That’s a good thing, but it’s also leading some buyers to falsely believe there’s some bubble forming.

It is true that I don’t love every deal that closes. Some are bad deals. Some are overpriced. Some just make me sad. But most of these deals make sense, and the pricing is still largely under 2008 peak valuations. The best way to avoid purchasing a bubbly home in this market is to work with me. I don’t let my buyers purchase outliers, and we’ll be sure to make smart market decisions even in a hyper market. Remember the post from last week about the reductions, because while this activity is impressive, the sellers who aren’t receiving contracts are going to do everything they can to get the attention of the fall buyers. If this were Beverly Hills we’d be throwing champaign open houses with red carpets that we rented from the flooring store in town. But this is Lake Geneva, and we’re not that gullible, so we’ll just reduce our prices to attract interest, and if you’re a buyer on the hunt, I’m the best guide you could hire.

Above, my listing on Constance. It’s really a great house.

Toys

Before that day I had never known of the word: Revo. I had heard of other words and brands, like the normal ones that you hear when you’re a kid growing up in Williams Bay, but never before that day had I known what a Revo was. Spending all of my life wandering in the Revo wilderness, I had come to the place where my introduction would be made. It was Stone Manor, and the owner of that glitzy condo on that middle floor was wearing his Revo sunglasses inside, during the day, like a rebel. He had at least one giant diamond earring as well, but that wasn’t what I took away that day. That day, it was all about those black matte framed sunglasses and those mirrored lenses. Revo.

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I couldn’t buy that condominium, not then and not now, nor could I buy that giant diamond earring, nor would I, not then and certainly not now. But I could buy those sunglasses. And buy them I did, nearly immediately after my first encounter with them. The year must have been 1999. I wore those sunglasses for quite some time, and the first picture that my wife ever took of me (the first one that I was aware of, that is), I was wearing a blue shirt that I still wear today and those matt black Revos.

This trend continued after those glasses were bought, and it always presented in the same way. I’d see something that I liked, something that someone who had means would own, and I’d buy the bits of it that I could afford. A few years ago, I was checking on a client’s house and noticed a shiny new axe in his foyer. It was a handsome axe, big and hefty, tall and proud. I couldn’t buy that house, or the furniture inside of it, but within a few days I owned an axe just like that one. And I split wood with it in the winter time and I think about how happy I am to have such a pleasing axe.

I visited a friend’s house last summer and he had on display a most beautiful, brand new computer. It was a Mac with a screen larger than that of my first purchased television, which, as a way of mentioning, was a Sharp Aquos that I bought from another customer because I saw it and thought that I should also have it. That Mac was brilliant, and I struggled with the notion of becoming a pure Apple person. I had long resisted the iPhone, opting for the clunky comfort of my Blackberry. Then, I resisted the urge to buy the iPad, because that was simply a bigger iPhone that lacked the ability to make phone calls. Now, I was resisting the Mac, because what is a Mac if not a giant iPhone on a stand? Later that week, I, too, owned a great big Mac, and as I type on it now I feel good about the purchase.

When I was 19, I owned a jetski. It was a Kawasaki 550, and I liked it quite a lot. After some time of this machine, I bought another, a 650 this time, and I zipped and zoomed around the lake with my two stroke toy. After some time of this, the phenomenon dulled, and for a few years I didn’t even bother with that jetski. One summer, many summers after I had first ignored the machine, I took it to a mechanic to repair it. I needed to ride it again, to feel the waves and the water, and so I dropped it off and asked that it be made whole. A couple of weeks later I picked it up, paid the $1100 tab, and raced to the lake.

In short order it was obvious that the repairs were not correct, or at least they weren’t the right repairs. The ski didn’t work then any better than it had years before, and so in haste I gave it away to a friend, and told him I didn’t want to see it again. This was at least 10 years ago. A few years after I parted ways with the Kawasaki, my back gave out and I had decided that my jetskiing days, like my Revo days, were over.

Last week, a friend who is also a client asked me to come over to help him with the launching of two new waverunners. Waverunners bore me, but I was willing to help. When I pulled into his driveway I was met with a new trailer and two new toys. One was indeed a waverunner, big and fat and boring. But the other wasn’t waverunner at all, it was a brand new Yamaha Superjet. It was the jetski of my youth, and at that moment, before we launched it and before I fired up that smokey two stroke, and before I ever rode on it, the decision had been made. I needed to have one.

It took a while to get my head around such a superfluous purchase. It took longer to convince my wife that it was an acceptable purchase. That last part is still a work in progress and will likely always be a source of contention. Grown men look stupid on jetskis, she said. How will we buy groceries this month, she added. Where will you keep it? If only one person can ride it, how is this not a ridiculously selfish purchase? These are the unimportant questions that could only be asked by someone who has not tasted the unique brand of freedom that only a Japanese made jetski can offer.

Now, if only I could find my old sunglasses I’d really be on to something.

August Market Update

This time of year things should be forced to slow down. The sun has been shining for weeks on end, and the water is clear and warm, but not too warm. We should be swimming and playing, boating and sailing. We should savor these days. But we don’t. We don’t because that’s just not how we’re wired. If we did try to savor these days, the result would be a frantic race from one savoring to another. We’d rush through leisure so that we might fit them all in, and in doing so, we’d ruin the whole thing. This is our curse.

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While the summer is in full swing and fall is just a troubling thought that lurks in the back of our minds, the market has turned its eyes towards fall. While summer is apparent and obvious, there is fall in the crunch of freshly fallen leaves, in the advertisements on television, in the school items at the ends of the shopping aisles, in the promise of an arriving football season. While we bask under this summer sun and we swim through these refreshing waves, fall is closer now than it has ever been before.

The market knows this, and the market has begun its preparation for this fall market. Buyers ask me often if the fall or winter is the best time to buy. They wonder if they should wait out this sun and warmth, and buy when the leaves litter the ground and the wind blows from the north. I tell them that it is possible to get a great deal in the fall, but that the Geneva market thrives or withers based on inventory, not on seasons. If you wish to land a terrific deal in the fall, you must be willing to chew off aged inventory, opting to swoop in and relieve a lethargic seller of his aged offering. This is optimal for securing value, but it’s not as sexy as finding a fresh deal and stealing it before the market had a chance to react.

That’s why if you’re a buyer in a particular market that’s full of inventory, you’d do well to avoid the trap of seasonal thinking. If a particular piece of inventory is to your liking, you have two options. You can lie in the weeds and seize the opportunity when the snow first starts to fly, or you can seize the opportunity now. If you wait until this year is older, might you secure a better value, on a percentage basis? Possibly. If there’s another buyer that thinks that particular property is worth more than you do and they buy it in August, then you’re lying in the weeds just for fun, and at some point that’s a bit creepy.

The market has begun to reduce properties in anticipation of securing a fall buyer, and there is perhaps no greater example of this than my listing on Bonnie Brae. That house was listed some time ago by another broker for nearly $5MM. I listed it this spring for $3.399MM, and then I dropped the price to $2.99MM yesterday. This is a reduction that matters, and this is a seller looking to capture a fall buyer. As with my earlier example, if you like this house and you’re waiting to buy it in November, that’s super cool. But there are three showings there this week, which means some buyer might be close to foiling your plan.

There is new inventory coming to market on the lakefront, and some of it is very, very high quality. There are some new offerings in the $2MMs, and some in the $4MMs. There are large numbers of buyers in the market right now, and many of those are move up buyers- those who already have a vacation home here but are looking to upgrade their position in the market. These buyers are wonderful, as their buy side creates liquidity that’s immediately followed with new inventory (their old house). Geneva thrives on this sort of property exchange, and this behavior is on full display right now. As of this morning, there are at least four lakefront homes under contract, and many more offers being negotiated.

All segments of the Lake Geneva vacation home market are impressively active. There are buyers seeking homes with slips, those priced in the $450k to $850k price range, but that market has been increasingly low on inventory this summer. There are buyers looking for entry level lakefront, with showings galore in this price segment. That said, this entry level market is still full of inventory, and I’m expecting several of these aged offerings will be picked off by opportunistic buyers over the next 30 days. On an average weekend, I’m having showings on several of my lakefront listings, and a day like today finds me at three lakefront showings at two different houses. Yesterday I had two lakefront showings at two different houses, and tomorrow I have a showing at a new listing that’s not even on the market yet.

This is the schedule of a vacation home seller, and yet for all the activity and all the papers being shuffled, there must be time to enjoy this month. That’s why I’ll work today and tonight, as that sun sets, I’ll find a moment to watch it. To marvel at it. To know that the next day will bring more of the same, and this is the sort of same I love.

Above, Bonnie Brae with 2.72 acres and 102′ of level frontage. Just reduced $400k to $2.99MM.

The Rusty Cars

The car was rusted. I swear to you as sure as today is Monday the car was rusted. It was new, on the lot, positioned next to the other cars and this one was rusted. Down the aisles, near the rusted car, it was soon apparent that the other cars were also rusted. Some worse than others, but rusted. The dealer had the cars under lights, different lights at different angles, each aiming to present the highlighted car in its best possible light. If one car had a very nice front grill, there was a light shining brightly right on it. If a car had a huge dent in the driver side fender, that side was made to face away from the people, away from the street and away from the light.

The lot went on and on; it was a big lot. On this Saturday, there were people everywhere. The people looked at the cars closely, but never too closely. One family of four saw the car with the pretty grill and stood in front of it, focusing on the light and the dazzling chrome that sparkled like so many diamonds. The salesman saw this interest, and before I could watch more closely on the conversation, the deal was done. The hands were shook. The family loaded into their new car and eased toward the roadway, content with their shiny grill. As they pulled from the lot, the back bumper came into view, or more accurately stated, the area where the back bumper should have been came into view. They drove down the road, oblivious.

I thought this was odd, that someone would spend some money to get from A to B without finding concern in how that trip made them feel. I looked at the crowd mulling through that lot, focusing on the shiny bits that were lit and waxed, I watched the salesman talk about miles per gallon. In the distance, I saw one car with lights on all sides, wax on every piece of exterior, chrome on all of the edges that should have been chrome. This car was beautiful, and everyone knew it. Some thought it was too beautiful, too shiny, too waxed and too bright. Most took a walk by it, and many marveled at it, but just as they’d pause and gawk they’d keep walking down the lines, towards that car on the end, the one with the beautifully curved windshield and the dented passenger door.

I thought it odd that so much attention was being paid to such compromised cars. I thought that maybe, just maybe, it was because the cars with the dents and the mud were cheap, and the one with the perfect everything was just too expensive. I thought maybe the crowd that had gathered simply lacked the financial willpower to purchase the shiny one, which is why they were more attracted to the other ones. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the shiny one, maybe they just didn’t want to afford it, or maybe they couldn’t afford it. I watched and guessed, and thought that this must be the reason that the other cars were selling while the beautiful one sat.

One couple pulled up in a car that was as shiny and beautiful as the one that sat at the aisle end, positioned so that all sides were on display. The couple walked directly through the litter of dingy cars directly to that car that so closely resembled theirs. They knew what they were looking for, and as they walked to it I leaned in to listen, to watch, to observe. They walked around the car, admiring each side and angle, complimenting the designer, wishing that they had known of it sooner. They touched the graceful curves, and when the salesman opened the engine compartment they just shook their heads in awe. I saw in the salesman’s eyes the shimmering excitement of an imminent sale.

Just as the couple was about to shake hands on the deal, the wife noticed the car next to the perfect one, she was undoubtedly drawn to it by the fiberoptic lighting that washed reds and then blues and whites against the fine trunk area of this car. It was memorizing, I had to agree. She told her husband that they should at least consider the car with the sharply painted, smartly polished trunk and rear bumper. The husband turned from the perfect car to consider the other, and he asked the price difference between the two. For that sort of savings he could buy the car with the nice trunk and also go on vacation that winter, to those islands that they so like that are so very far away.

They hemmed and they hawed, and I watched the salesman’s eyes turn dim. They decided to buy the other car, the imperfect car, and once the deal was done and they rolled from the lot, I heard the brakes squeak through the next several lights. They had saved money, all right, and subjected themselves to the squeak that may or may not be fixed. The rust that had been hidden from view in the lot was covering the front bumper, and was slowly expanding its reach to include the two front fenders. The car would get them from A to B, the husband said, and he was right.

If A to B is all that matters, rusty cars find their buyers. If A to B is the goal, a dent in the fender is fine, and it will not get in your way. If you simply wish to spend your Saturday jumping from some boat into some water for the purpose of getting wet. Any old lake will do.

Williams Bay Corn and Brat

Busy Friday for this guy, which means you get a reminder of the Williams Bay Corn and Brat Roast and nothing else. It’s this weekend, and you should come visit. Saturday night (8/8) is capped off by fireworks over Williams Bay, viewable from town or from boat. It’ll be fun, and corn is good. So are brats. Please come up for the festivities. Williams Bay, and the Lions Club, or maybe the Rotary, but possibly the Young Jaycees, thanks you.

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Upper Bracket Geneva Lakefront Update

If I spent every breath telling you that the lakefront market is hot, would you always believe me? If, when things were really bad, I told you that things were really good, would I lose credibility? If when we were standing under a bright sunny sky, I told you it was cloudy, but I told you that with such nervous enthusiasm that you, too, thought it was cloudy, would I have been right? I’m asking because it’s difficult for me to understand buyer behavior sometimes, and I’m curious as to how certain buyers believe certain agents when the certain refrain is always the same.

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I think a steady refrain that seeks to identify market conditions as always being the same is nothing more than an insult to your intelligence. More than that, it’s an insult to my intelligence, which I value quite highly. That’s why I’ll tell you when the market is bad, when a segment is bad, and I’ll tell you when a segment is good. Today, there are good segments, just as there are bad segments. I’ve been telling you the entry level lakefront market is currently a poorly performing segment, and yet the advice has fallen on mostly deaf ears. Today, there’s another segment that’s heating up, and it’s not the one you’d expect.

Historically, the Geneva lakefront market prints one sale over $5MM every year. This has not always been true, of course, due to the inflationary demands of real estate pricing, but it’s generally true. There was one sale over $5MM this year, that of a house off Snake Road. That sale was really a trade, and you’d likely be wrong if you assumed that home would have sold to the open market in lieu of the trade deal. That property sold for a reasonable number, but it neither helped a market argument or hurt one, it was just a sale of a house on Snake Road.

There’s a fresh new contract on a lakefront home over $5MM, though the number is not known, and neither is the list price. It’s an off-market property that will soon come to market, with that little yellow C indicating there is a pending contract. It’ll come to market because no agent in the history of the world would ever keep a sale in that strata quiet. It’ll be broadcast for everyone to see, and it’ll be touted as a great success, which it is. Assuming this sale prints in 2015, that will be two Geneva lakefront closings over $5MM in the same calendar year, which is the first time that’s happened since the advent of time.

To add some weight to this discussion, I’m expecting we’ll print an additional two sales over $5MM this year, leaving us with four transactions in 2015 that exceed that benchmark. This is a bold prediction, and it may very well be wrong, but I see more buyers in that $5MM range now than I’ve seen in forever, and I think there will be some new inventory that sells and maybe one of the existing inventory that sells (1014 South Lakeshore, duh).

I’ve often wondered, both privately and here on these pages, if the market can easily sustain an active $5-8MM lakefront segment. If the newer homes, those built in the last decade, come to market with prices that reflect the owner’s all-in-number, will they attract buyers? Even though the lakefront has never shown a particular ability to absorb properties in that price range, I think there is a market in that range just waiting to be tapped. If new builds seek to obtain $9MM+, as several current offerings are attempting, that segment will likely never catch on with any consistency. For every ten buyers that will spend $5MM, is there one that will spend $10MM? Note the absence of the word “can”.

Just as the entry level market lags, the upper bracket will experience a terrific 2015. The mid-market, those homes priced $2MM to $4MM is also active, with two lakefronts pending in that segment and one off-water outlier pending in the low $2s. If you’re a buyer in the $5MM+ range, perhaps you’d be wise to work with the only agent with a pattern of success in this segment. Since 2000, there have been four lakefront sales over $5MM, and I’ve brokered two of them. Let’s find value together, whether that value is found by stealing a $1.2MM lakefront that should be $1.4MM, or by securing a $5MM house that couldn’t be replicated for the purchase price.

Above, 1014 South Lakeshore’s remarkable bunk room.

Dinner Time

The guests had been treated to four straight days of sameness. Blue skies in the morning, blue skies in the afternoon, and blue skies into the evening. A sparkling sunset to the West, just as a bold moon would rise in the East. The sun was hot, but the umbrella shade and the breeze took care of any excess. These days were all the same, and they were leisurely and full. It shouldn’t have been such a big deal to replace that scenery for just a few hours.

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I’ve found that I don’t like to cook for my family anymore. My wife eats some, sure, but more out of duty to remain alive than because she likes the way a particular food item tastes. My kids eat anything, so it isn’t much congratulation to make something that they eat and declare to be good. This is why I don’t like cooking for them anymore. While my desire to cook has waned some in recent years, I still enjoy the process and the outcome.

I wouldn’t have suggested cooking at my house on day one of the visit. My aunt and my uncle and my cousin wouldn’t have been up for such an initial abstention from the lake, and that’s why I waited for those first few days. I let them bake under the summer sun, and swim from the pier. I let them lounge under those umbrellas and boat over those waters. Had the days been iffy and the intended cooking day been delightful, I would have pulled the plug at the last minute, preferring that they soak under a rare sun rather than sit at my house at subject themselves to my dinner plan. But the days were all the same, all bright and blue, and by Sunday evening I figured enough had been enough.

My cousin appreciates the cooking process in the same way that I do, and so we had made a plan to cook dinner on Sunday evening. The family, both mine and the extended, soaked under sun and swam the day away. Because I dislike cooking in my parents’ home, and much prefer the company of my own pots and pans, my own knives and my own grill, I suggested that the cooking and the dining should take place at my house. When I suggested this it was around noon. There would be five hours left at the lake, so the out-of-towners could bask and gobble up that view and float in those waters. I figured that would be enough.

My house is quite delightful. It’s not extra fancy, because I’m in real estate, but it’s nice and new-ish and the flowers are in bloom and the grass mowed in alternating lines, dark and light. My air conditioning is cold and thorough. My parents house is old, and the air conditioning either doesn’t work or my father still won’t let it work, and there’s a musty smell that wafts up from the basement. I only asked that they trade that house for mine for a couple of hours, maybe two and a half, tops. It shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but my house is in the country, surrounded by flowers and trees and that striped lawn. My parents’ house is on that lake, with a lakeside porch and pier-kept boats and chairs of varying makes and models littering the pier.

When I suggested that the dinner be at my house, it didn’t go over well. Why would we go there? How far away is it? Will we be safe there? What if we just went to buy groceries and cooked them down here, at the lake, in that musty house up there? Confusion was everywhere. I didn’t think it would matter, because of the long days that preceded that one, those days where the sun and the pier and the boats and the water were everything. Wouldn’t a break be nice? Doesn’t anyone want to see my sunflowers?

In the end, I had my way, but the dissent was noticeable. My older brother, the one who turns 40 this week, refused to make the difficult five minute drive from the lake to my house. Everyone who did come was disoriented, wondering where the lake was and why I’d live out here. Having eaten dinner, everyone who did come left in a hurry, returning quickly to the lake and the pier, so they might purify themselves in those waters. In the end, they obliged me and my house, but to say they would have preferred leftovers lakeside than fresh fare farmside is to state the obvious. Sure my house is nice, but it isn’t on the lake.

Weekend Buyers

It’s widely understood that the purchase of real estate is typically the most important purchase someone will make in their lifetime. This understanding does not hold up if you’re supremely wealthy and you buy businesses for tens or hundreds of millions, and it doesn’t hold up if you buy commercial buildings of epic scale for a living. But if you’re a normal person living a normal life, the purchase of a home, be it a vacation home or a primary home, is likely the largest single purchase you’re ever going to make. Everyone knows that.

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With that firm notion established, it would make complete sense to approach the decision with a special variety of tact. The decision would be made after some many hours of education about the product you’re seeking, but only after you, as the buyer, thought out the ramifications of the purchase on your finances. Further, given the extremely subjective nature of real estate pricing, and the inconsistencies of valuations in each market, it would make sense to partner with someone capable of strategic guidance.

In this way, a real estate transaction would unfold like this. Buyer thinks about a vacation home. Buyer would like a vacation home, very much. Then buyer works on buyer’s finances, making sure they can afford such a purchase and making sure that the purchase of this new thing will not render their finances fatally impaired. Once the finances are in place, the search for a market can begin. Lake Geneva, being the only vacation home market worth exploring, easily secured the nod. The buyer is able, the market is defined, now the next step begins.

Representation is important, and our buyer friend knows this. So the buyer asks people for recommendations. The names returned to him are varied. Research begins, online at first, which is how it must begin. There is a process of elimination, then a process of interviewing, via phone or email, whichever is the more convenient for our buyer. Then there is the gathering of facts, of sales histories and of anecdotal testimonies. Then, after these steps are completed, there is a choice. The buyer will meet the agent next Sunday for a tour, and if all goes well, this will be the relationship that culminates with the vacation home purchase that this buyer has dreamt of.

But this isn’t at all what a typical vacation home purchase looks like. A few weekends ago, a buyer called me to see condominiums. Like, immediately, condominiums. They were interested, they said, and so they wanted to see those condominiums, ASAP! It was a Sunday, the one that fell after July 4th, and I was both busy with some work and busy with my personal pursuit of leisure, the sort of pursuit that even I, as a lowly Realtor, is actually entitled to. I responded to this buyer, told them of the available inventory, and told them that I could not show them property. I also asked if they were ready to buy, if they had talked with a lender or if the purchase would be cash. After many back and forth emails, they told me that they would no longer require my assistance. Thank God.

Then again, last weekend, a buyer calls on a property. They had to see it. They needed to see it. They must! And so I told them that I couldn’t show the property because it was occupied, and I would need some notice. So a few minutes later, another agent called me to show the same property. The buyer? The same one that had asked me about it barely 20 minutes prior. This agent was told that the showing wasn’t available, but that the buyer could come during the week to see the property. They came to see it, decided against it, and that was that.

The frantic behavior of buyers in a summer market is really rather disingenuous. There is some unnatural rush to see things, to see anything, to spend time with a Realtor in his car. While I recognize that this is a requirement of this vocation, the buyer who behaves this way is not only wasting the time of the Realtor, but she’s wasting her own time as well. Worse yet than wasting time, there is a stronger likelihood of a market mistake being made if the process is undertaken out of order and in extreme haste. Having done this for 19 years, I understand the allure of this lake. I understand how sunshine and 83 degrees makes the buying decision easier. But I also understand that the best decisions are not made on a Sunday morning after thinking about a vacation home on Saturday night.

As a full time, all the time Realtor, I am always willing to entertain last minute requests. In fact, without them, I wouldn’t have much of a business. That’s why this admonition is not just aimed at helping the hectic weekend schedules of Realtors like me, it’s also aimed at protecting the purchase decisions of buyers. Thoughtful, well considered decisions are the best decisions, and when there’s a rush to look at some real estate because the sun is shining and it seems like a nice way to spend an afternoon, I know that’s not going to produce a quality purchase decision. Beyond even that, if you’re looking for a Realtor— any Realtor— who is able to rush out and show you a property, do you suppose that’s the best Realtor for the job?

Entry Level Lakefront Market Update

The one thing that you can be sure of is that if the market has an abundance of something no one will want it. If there is a car lot in Sometown, Wisconsin that has 39 red sedans for sale and just one white sedan, the buying masses will clamor for another white sedan. In fact, they’ll say that they’d buy a white sedan for more money than they’d pay for the red sedan, if only the dealer had a white one to sell. In the same way, in Anothertown, Illinois, if a dealer has 39 white cars and just one red car, the clamoring will be over red. Red, red, red. Everyone wants red. Except in the Wisconsin town, they hate red.

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This is true in real estate as well, which is why today there are 10 lakefront homes on Geneva offered for sale under $1.5MM and no one seems to care. The offerings in this price range represent quality properties at very fair prices, and yet all the market does is clamor for more inventory in the $2.5-$5MM range. If only we had a nice, new home on a nice, wide lot, and if only we had that property come to market in the $4MM range. Then the market would be excited, and willing buyers would rush with fistfuls of dollars. They’d do this because they’ve been wanting it for quite some time and they’ve gone unsatisfied.

And yet there it is, the humble entry level market. The market that offers buyers the lakefront life, where value is not determined by the make of your range but by the width of your lakefront lawn. Entry level lakefront homes are generally limited, either by parking or by size, and often by finishes, but to sit on a white pier that’s all your own is a bit of magic. I’m assuming you’ve learned your lesson and you’re not going to be buying a lakefront house with a shared pier anytime soon. There have been plenty of those mistakes this year to last at least a decade.

No, the entry level lakefront will rarely leave your fancy city or suburban neighbors particularly stunned when they pull in the drive. There won’t be a ton of parking. There won’t be giant plastered pillars that impress those who are easily impressed by ridiculous things like giant plastered pillars. There won’t be long driveways lined with stone and filled with crushed imported granite. There won’t be garages for all of your guests’ cars. There won’t be any of that, so on the surface, your lake house will look humble and simple, unassuming and unimpressive.

But give those guests a weekend stay there, and they’ll leave knowing how privileged that weekend just was. That’s because a small lakefront vacation home beats a large off-water vacation home any day of the week. There is value here as well, as printing a lakefront home at a discount is always nice, but it’s especially nice when a $1.5MM lakefront home sells for $1.175MM. It’s even nicer when money is still cheap and appraisers- even the most rogue among us- will have no trouble justifying the obvious value. This is the golden age of the entry level market, and if you’re a capable buyer and you haven’t taken notice, please smarten up.

So far this year we’ve closed two entry level lakefronts under $1.5MM. Those being the copper top on Lakeview for $1.473MM and my sale on Shadow Lane for $1.4MM. Last year at this time we had closed just one entry level lakefront, that of a $1.4MM sale in the Birches (that was swiftly demolished). 2013 was a busy year for the entry level market, with 6 lakefronts in this segment closed before July 30th of that year. In 2012 there were 3 sales of that entry level nature. This year we’re not far off of that average pace, but the difference this year versus those years is that we have this glut of inventory, and that inventory is the reason opportunistic move-up buyers have a most rare opportunity.

If you need help seizing this opportunity, I’m your guy.

Above, the living room of my listing on Lakeview. $1.485MM. Boathouse with kitchen and bath. Private H-slip pier. Not shared…

A Lake Geneva Weekend

There are reasons that people choose to vacation where they do. Some choose to vacation where they have family. Others choose to vacation where they have no family. Both are understandable. In the same way, some choose to vacation where there are lots of things to do, while others seek out an absence of activities. One of the things that Geneva excels at, among so many others that I simply don’t have the time to articulate them all, is the ability to offer both sorts of vacationers their ideal vacation. Every week and every weekend this is the case, where some can find nothing but activity while at the same time others can find only a comfortable wicker chair in a quiet lakeside porch, but this weekend now past offered up the most glaring display of the remarkable difference between here and everywhere else.

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Last week and into the weekend the Country Thunder music festival happened just a few miles East of Lake Geneva. That event draws the biggest names in country music, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr and Blake Shelton, to name a few. While that was going on each night since last Thursday, Dave Mathews and his band came to Alpine Valley, that winter ski hill/summer music venue just a handful of miles to the Northeast of Lake Geneva. While Dave Mathews was making odd faces and singing, Blake Shelton was talking about anything but his newest ex-wife, and Martin Short was presumably making jokes at the Driehaus lakefront party. This isn’t a party that this local kid gets invited to, but rather it’s a who’s who of Chicago business elite that obtain the invite. After the dinner and entertainment, a private firework display launched from barges in front of the estate were a most public delight. This was Saturday night.

But Saturday during the day there were other things not to be missed. Williams Bay had their annual Art In The Park, which is exactly like it sounds. Part art, part park, you get the idea. Fontana hosted their annual Lobster Boil and Steak Fry, which benefits either the Lions Club, or the Jaycee’s, or the fire department, I can’t be sure. All the while it just so happened to be 83 and sunny, with a few white puffy clouds dotting the horizon but seemingly never interrupting the sunshine. With the various musical acts singing, the artist displaying their wares, the lobsters being boiled, Martin Short being Martin Short, and everything else that created activity if you wished to find it, I was just sitting on a pier, watching my kids swim. It was a private oasis in the midst of a summery throng.

Thursday morning Lake Geneva has a rather impressive farmer’s market downtown in front of the Horticultural Hall. That’s a tough schedule for pure weekend warriors, so Fontana has a Saturday market, downtown on the lawn in front of the Coffee Mill. But these are secondary to Pearce’s Corn Stand, on the corner of Highway 67 and County F, which opened last Thursday and will now be open every weekend through late fall. One weekend, all of these things, options for everyone who wished to be amongst a crowd, and options for anyone who wished for the solitude of their own shady lakefront lawn.

Not to be outdone, Harbor Country, Michigan also had plenty of things to do. For instance, there was a Black Ash Basket Making Class last weekend. If you missed that, you could catch the Cake Decorating Class, but that was only on Sunday morning. The Van Dyke Revue played somewhere on one of the nights, and this cover band from Niles, Michigan may be willing to cover a Dave Matthew’s song, if you ask nicely. I won’t go on and on about the differences between the two vacation home destinations, because these differences are so black and white that it’s unfair to try to contrast the two. A summer weekend in Lake Geneva can give you everything you want, no matter if fun is found in a stadium full of people, or at the end of a white pier surrounded by deep blue water.

The image above, snapped by yours truly, midday Saturday afternoon. For all of the “Geneva is too crowded” people to ponder.

Blues

The weather, they said, was delightful. On a Monday it was sunny, with skies so blue it was difficult, after some time of gazing, to imagine what they might look like in any different shade. On Tuesday, the sun was bright, so bright that people wondered if something had gone wrong. Should it be this bright? On Wednesday, the sky was blue and the sun was bright, which was what they expected. Thursday the same and on Friday, somehow things were bluer and brighter.

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The next week was the same, and the week that followed. They say that out there it’s like that, just sunny and blue, or blue and sunny. In the winter it snows, but it snows only at night, so that the blue skies aren’t interrupted. Children grow to be quite old before they learn what clouds are, and even then they’re uncertain what Cloud Cover means. Cloudy skies are for storybooks and movie screens, not for their out of doors. In the winter it is blue and in the summer it is blue. It’s blue in the spring and blue in the fall, and no one wonders anymore why, they just know it is.

I see this sky today and I see it blue. I see the sun that’s bright and full. I see the water that’s painted with the same brush as the sky, the only thing separating one from the other being a tenuous line of deep green trees. Sometimes, I see a cloud float by. For a while there are many, then few, then, later into the afternoon when the evening sets in, I see none at all. The sun fades away, slowly, teasingly, and we go to bed in the dark unsure of what the next day will bring.

Will it be sunny and blue? Will the clouds puff and dot the sky, or will the build and twist and darken? Will there be wind today, or will the lake rest again, for what might be the third day, or the fourth day in a row? It couldn’t be the fifth day, because even children know the wind here cannot rest for that long. Will the sun return, to warm my skin and to dry my lawn, or will the next morning bring with it those clouds, thin and high, whitewashing the sky and paling the water to silver?

I do not know what it will do, which is why today I must savor what it is doing. These skies are blue now, but they won’t be forever. Forever might be a few days, or it might be just the morning hours, or it might be, as I see sometimes, an hour in the morning followed by an interval in the evening, and solid clouds in between. On these days when the sun shines and the sky stuns blue, I know I need to pay attention.

They say that we should move to where the skies are always blue, and the sun always bright. They say it’s better there. They say that it’s too cloudy here, or too cold, or the summer is too short and too hot, but sometimes too cold and too wet. They say that this place isn’t as good as that place. I say they’re wrong. I want to live where the right days aren’t something I count on. I want to live without expecting, and when I see a blue sky and a bright sun I want to drop the cloudy day things and rush do something that matters, to do something that I cannot do when the blues are gray and the sun has lost its way. Without so many clouds, these days couldn’t mean so much.

Vegemite

A long time ago, I frequented a chiropractor who hailed from Australia. He was a good chiropractor, as far as that goes. Looking back, I’m not so sure that he was Australian, and maybe instead it was his wife who hailed from down there. They may have met at chiropractic school, that one in some heartland state where every chiropractor goes. Or they may have met somewhere else, I can’t be certain now. But I am certain that one time I was at their house, because later, after the chiropractic part of our relationship was over, I sold their Lake Geneva home for them. It was at their house that I first tried Vegemite.

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Even then, I’m not sure if I tried it, or if I merely smelled it, because to do the latter would be enough to deter the prior. I watched as his children greedily ate the brown paste on their morning toast, and I thought to myself that I had entered some sort of parallel universe, where what was wrong is now right, and where what is awful was somehow not. I thought about the small clicking device that he would place against my shoed feet and click it, thinking that I was being cured of a fundamental spine issue, and I thought that if that was indeed the accepted sorcery, then perhaps it made sense why vegemite was the preferred breakfast smear.

I didn’t need to have that experience with Vegemite to know that I didn’t like it. I didn’t need to be presented with a slice of toast, smeared with that brown semi-solid in order to judge it and dismiss it. A yeast extract, dark brown in color, with the consistency of gritty, stiff molasses? With that I know that it’s not for me, whether or not I had seen it in person and smelled it with my own nose, held it in my own shaking hands.

This is why when I found myself at another area lake last week, showing homes there because not enough of you are calling me to see homes here, I didn’t really need to walk down the pier to understand what the water was all about. I could see it from the house, from up the lawn and through the trees. I could see water that wasn’t the color of the water I prefer, and I knew that I would need to bite my tongue and pretend that the water was water, and because it was water then that would be enough. Also, I cannot bite my tongue.

Another lake was on the tour, and this lake was well known in this area, having boasted several expensive home sales over the years. The lake had nicer water, not as soupy as the other lake, but still not like the water I know here. I walked to the end of the pier, wobbling over that metal-posted structure of questionable stability, and when I got there, I looked down at the water, and at the bottom of the lake. The distance from the top of the dock, (this sort of structure should not be called a pier, and I apologize for my earlier mistake), to the top of the water was perhaps one foot. The distance from the top of the water to the top of the lake floor was perhaps another two feet. Had I ran down that pier, assuming it wouldn’t break apart like an old rope bridge in an old-timey Saturday morning cartoon, I could dive off the end and still have at least the lower half of my body sticking out of the water. This is unacceptable.

I drove around that lake, and the other, and I found myself repeating the same tired refrain, the one that agents from those lakes must find themselves repeating just as often. It’s close to Lake Geneva, I’d say. This was all I could come up with when searching for superlatives, and I am no stranger to exaggeration. This would be like offering someone a steaming slice of Vegemite toast and telling them that it’s sort of like strawberry jam. Yes, both are spread on toast, but one makes you happy and the other makes you question everything you’ve ever known.

Activity this year on area lakes has been high. Delavan is quite active. Powers, too. Lakes Mary and Elizabeth look alive. Lauderdale is moving nicely. Geneva has a recent spate of activity that looks nice on paper, but it seems to me that the markets on the other lakes are more uniformly fluid. This is why I propose a new set of house-hunting rules. If you are considering purchasing a property on any lake that isn’t Geneva, and it’s within 400 miles of Chicago, this is what you must do.

You must, without delay, jump off the supposed pier that is actually a dock, the one that’s in front of the house you’re considering buying. If you jump off the pier and smash your legs into the mucky bottom, quickly towel off, go home and shower thoroughly and diligently, then come to Geneva for a real jump off a pier.

If you jump in the water, and you’re somehow small enough that you don’t break your legs, you should float in the water for a bit. If the water, at this point in the summer, is over 80 degrees, you should immediately get out of the water, repeat the showering stage from before, and come to Geneva where the water is a delightful 76 degrees. Warm lake water is for Florida ditch ponds, the ones with the brain-eating amoebas.

If you jump in and the water is sub 80, then you must swim a bit. Back and forth and the same again. You must now let some of that lake water into your mouth. You have no choice. Open your mouth and let the water in. Did you like it? Did you taste things in it that you’d rather not taste? If so, do the leaving and showering thing, then brush your teeth and use mouthwash for a few hours before coming to Geneva. Jump in, swim, let some water into your mouth to wash away your earlier mistake.

If you jump in, and the water is cool, and you can swim without scraping your legs on the bottom or being consumed by seaweed and algae, and the water inside your mouth feels and taste okay, then you’ve passed the swim test. But let’s be honest, you wouldn’t actually be able to pass that battery of tests on any lake but Geneva, but I’ll humor you. If the water test has been passed, then you must go rent a boat.

Once you have rented a boat, note I said a boat, not a pontoon because there is a difference, then you should take a cruise around that lake. Did the boat ride end sort of right after it started? Yes? Then take the boat back, demand a refund for your unused hours, and come to Geneva. Our boat rides take a couple of hours, because real boat rides shouldn’t make you dizzy from the continual right, or left, turn.

I could add more things to your list, but there’s no point. If you’ve actually considered the above, you’re already at Geneva, marveling at the importance of it all. Our lake is big, it’s clean, it’s deep and it’s rare. It’s not like other lakes, and that’s not because it’s busy on a Saturday afternoon or because the real estate is expensive. It’s not like the other lakes because it’s better than the other lakes, and I’m telling you that as I guy that almost once tasted Vegemite.

Classifieds

FOR SALE: One Lake House

Lightly used, near perfect condition

Well, that’s not entirely true. We have owned this home for two years, and we’ve lightly used it. We have shared many beautiful moments here, under this roof, which doesn’t leak, not one bit. It used to, back when the prior family owned the home, but it doesn’t now. We spent our first weekend in this house and we were appalled that someone could have lived here in the condition that it was in. The house didn’t even have air conditioning! Imagine spending weekends without air conditioning. We inquired of the last owner, whose family was represented by the eldest son of three, as to why or how they could have spent so much time here without air conditioning and with that slight drip drip drip that came through the porch ceiling during a heavy rain. He told us that when it was hot out they would open the windows and turn the fans on, and they’d go swimming in the morning and then they’d go swimming in the afternoon and when it was late they’d go swimming again. He said the heat didn’t bother them, because their swimming suits were almost always wet. Imagine the inconvenience of sitting in a porch in a damp swimming suit!

Sleeps eight

We did that once. The first weekend after we had the air conditioning installed we invited so many friends and family members to our new lake house. We didn’t yet have the roof leak fixed, so we hoped it wouldn’t rain and if it did rain, we hoped that no one would notice. Could you imagine the embarrassment if someone saw that drip drip drip from our porch ceiling! That weekend things started off well. We had so much fun cooking steaks that we bought at Whole Foods on the way up, and then we had so much more fun sitting in the porch telling stories. That’s not all together true, because we only stayed in the porch for a while until we decided that it was just too chilly to spend another minute out there. The next day it was cloudy, which ruined the day for everyone. We were going to take a boat ride, but the clouds were like mostly blocking all of the sun, and it didn’t even clear out until it was nearly dusk. That night, one dear friend of ours left early, because he had a brunch in the city that he had to attend. He told us later that the croque madame was the best he’s ever had, and he’s had them all over the world.

80 Feet Of Frontage

We bought the house because the Realtor said it was good to have this many feet. We didn’t really care how many feet it had, but the builder told us that it was good because when we decided to tear the house down (we didn’t) it will allow us to build a big house like the one we have on the cul-de-sac back home. We took a family picture on that lawn once, and the men wore khaki and blue and the women wore white. My aunt wore her white Tory Burch shoes and I can remember the look on her face when those heels sunk into the lakeside lawn. She was mortified, and we all laughed, though later I confided to her that it wasn’t a laughing matter. I helped her scrub them clean in the sink, which we replaced with stainless steel because the sink was porcelain, and the old owners hadn’t been careful with it so there was a chip out of the front side. One day, we thought about playing the game the kids call “bags”, so we went to the store to buy the game. We drove all around but couldn’t find a Dick’s Sporting Goods, so we didn’t buy the game. Can you imagine a town without a Dick’s Sporting Goods? My heavens, I feel like I can’t even turn around at home without seeing one!

Close to Restaurants

When we bought the house, we were told that the neighborhood had a summer cookout each July. We were told it was a big event. The first July, we went, and we wore our whites and our khakis, and I even brought a sampling of macaroons from the shop on the corner near our cul-de-sac home. We were excited and nervous for this event, and when we walked up it seemed as though everyone was having a great time. There were children laughing and playing. The adults were gathered around the food, and we set our macaroon’s down next to a bowl of potato salad. The smell of grilled meat was everywhere, but the plates were paper and the meat was actually brats. Back home, we have a neighborhood party where they boil lobsters, and here I was, sitting on a bench with sand on my shoes and a sausage looking hotdog that they called a brat. I ate some of it to be polite, but I thought more about the lobsters and the drawn butter and the way my back hurt front sitting on that wooden bench. There are restaurants in town, sure, and once we went to one and the waitress was slow and the food wasn’t great. Admittedly, when the chef at the cafe down the road from our suburban mansion hails from France, how could I expect to find this breaded and fried fish even palatable?

Immediate Occupancy

We had intended to use our prized lake house this summer, but alas, our daughter is at cheer camp all of July and our son is first in his class and he decided to spend the summer studying for his ninth grade entrance exams. They came to the lake with us often that first summer, but once my daughter stepped on a rock in the shallow water near the pier ladder, and she cried and she cried. Mommy, she said, why are there so many rocks? I told her that I didn’t know, but that it would be okay. We drove home that night so that I could take her to the Cheesecake Factory for her favorite dinner. I knew that would make her feel better, and after that she didn’t want to swim because who could blame her?

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To Renovate

Often, when someone buys something that’s ridiculously overpriced, they point to the price that the seller paid when the seller was the buyer. Or, if the seller didn’t buy the house, and instead built it, they’ll point to what the cost of the construction was. See, I’m buying this house for $2MM and it cost $3MM, that sort of thing. This is what every seller of every oversized albatross mansion will claim is the key to their value. If they built a castle of a house, one that really looks like a castle with moats and guards and boiling oil in giant iron kettles, and that castle cost them $10MM, they’ll offer it to you for $5MM and proclaim it to be an outstanding value. They’ll say, look at what all of this cost me! You, if you’re a gullible sort, will be impressed. You, if you’re a value hunter, will think better of the entire thing. Are there broad market comps that suggest $5MM is a reasonable ransom? Of course not. Besides, who wants to own a castle, anyway?

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In the same but contrarian way, if someone buys something that’s priced far beyond the actual replacement cost, they’ll say that they bought that house with the work done for them because they didn’t want to deal with it. They didn’t want the hassle of construction. They didn’t want to pick their own fixtures and paint the walls in their own color. They’ll say that they didn’t have the vision to accomplish what was already accomplished for them, and so they’ll buy for a price that measures above the replacement components. In fact, the sum of the whole is worth more than the individual parts, because a buyer didn’t want to entertain the effort. This is the opposing viewpoint to the first scenario, and buyers will shape their own justifications for why they paid whatever it is that they paid. There is rarely a consistent approach.

This is why the lakefront at Bayview Road sold last week for $2.75MM. The house was nice, the frontage wide (134), the location within Geneva Bay Estates more than acceptable. The side note to this story is that the home that just sold had received a second floor and complete facelift, courtesy the developer owner. That home sold in 2013 for $1.765MM. The developer then put that second floor on, and fixed what ailed that smallish ranch. While we cannot know what the cost of the construction was, I will venture a personal guess- $550k. I only base that off of having built two homes from scratch in the last few years, and having remodeled four more over that time frame. Perhaps that’s not the right number, because I can’t say for sure what someone else spent on a project that I was not involved in. But it’s a reasonable estimate, and one that’s backed up by a bit of personal history with that particular house.

Whatever the case, whatever the number, this sale should go down as another print that proves my lakefront theory. Buy a property based on the property and location, and figure out the actual house part later. This will not always be gospel, as homes in different price ranges require different approaches, but to consider buying a house for $2MM and putting $500k into it will generally make more sense than buying the same property already dolled up for $3MM. This, of course, will be largely dependent upon your ability to add and subtract whole numbers.

There are variations to this general rule, and those come in the form of finding value within an established market segment that registers less than the replacement cost. For example, my listing at 1014 South Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. That lot is 165′ wide and level at the lake, and 2.8 acres in manicured depth. If that lot were for sale, what would it be worth? Well, 150′ and far less land is under contract in the 700 Club with an ask of $3.15MM. Fontana’s south shore is currently far more desirable than nearly every other spot on the lake, so we’re likely worth far more than that. I think $3.7MM is a fair estimate.

If the land is worth $3.7MM, what’s the cost to re-build a 12,000 square foot home outfitted with the finest finishes money can buy? Add in a three pier and tennis court and two bedroom guest house and landscape the entire thing with perennials, then irrigate and light the entire property. That’s not going to come cheap. If the pier is $100k and the tennis court is $70k (it’s lit), the guest house will be $500k and the landscaping another $500k. The house itself is going to cost $350-450 per square foot. The math encourages a buyer seeking to build a new lakefront to first come to this home, because it’s the right house at the right price ($7.95MM ask). This is an example of when it would make absolute sense to buy built over building new.

The current drought of quality inventory in the $2.75MM to $6MM price range offers up plenty of reason for a buyer to consider land first. By entertaining the concept of a new build or a thorough renovation buyers can look past current asking prices and the current condition of the countertops and the make of the appliances. They can focus on what matters- land and location- and find a way to negotiate a price that will make a renovation not only make sense, but make money.

Lake Geneva Pricing

There’s an art auction. The auction has some art that was painted by a man who is now very dead. The art is expensive, everyone knows that. This art has been sold over and over again over so many years, and increasingly, of late, the art has been selling for higher and higher prices. It seems that there are two rich men from some foreign land that highly cherish this dead man’s paintings. The auction is scheduled, the advertisements (soft i) are placed. The paddles are printed.

The day of the auction arrives, and the auction house is pleased to find forty or more bidders gathered in the room. The two rich guys from the foreign lands are still in their foreign lands, but their representatives are on the telephone with the auction house and their representatives. The last two pieces by this same artist were sold last year for $10MM each. That’s a lofty sum, and the auction house has now placed their pre-auction estimates at $12-15MM, allowing for some appreciation over the year. The bidders at the ready, the auctioneer takes the stage. The room is a buzz with interest, the phone lines quiet except for the nervous breathing of the representatives.

The auctioneer, with his auctioneer tone, asks for an opening bid. He is English, so he asks in a most polite manner, almost as if he’s expecting no one to bid and the auction to be canceled, but one bidder does chime in with a half-hearted bid at $1MM. The room chuckles, the ice is broken. Quickly, the bidding reaches $10MM, then $11MM, then $11,250,000. The room grows silent, the auctioneer inquisitively begs. The phone bidders have not yet bid.

Thirteen Million! the phone representative cries out. Fourteen, says the other. Fifteen. Sixteen! Twenty! The room gasps. The opposing phone representative hushes her tone and implores her foreign, anonymous phone bidder. She whispers, though the begging is apparent. The room is unsettled now, with many heads shaking, eyes cast down, or around the room, whispers fill the space. There is an incredulous feeling owned by all present. The auctioneer is attempting to remain stoic, but he, too, shows some sign of disbelief.

The hammer drops at $20MM, a full 100% over the price that the similar piece sold for last year. Later, the room is strewn with bidders paddles, empty coffee cups, and many tattered dreams of the bidders who wished to pay a price that somehow reflected some version of reality. The next weekend the headline reads, “Kind Of Famous Dead Artist’s Somewhat Famous Piece Sells For A Record $20MM”.

The question for us today is to decide what that all means. Is the piece worth $20MM? If it sold for $20MM, that means it must be worth $20MM, right? I don’t think so. Yes, someone parted with that sum of money to purchase that piece, but what if they needed to sell it again, would it be worth $20MM. There were forty bidders in the room who pegged the value at $11.25MM, and one who thought it was worth $16MM, yet it sold for $20MM. Is the piece worth $20MM? Or is it worth somewhere between $11.25MM and $16MM, the range where the masses found it acceptable?

This is, as you have already surmised, not a bit about art. This is a bit about the Lake Geneva real estate market, and at this point in time I’m seeing a rather incredible difference of opinion between buyers. The market is disconnected, and there are those buyers, a small percentage, that are out buying properties that are not proven by comparable sales, nor will they likely be proven in the near or far future. These particular sales are not sales for the masses, even when the masses are the one percenters considering an expensive lake house purchase. These deals represent outliers in our market, and rarely before has it been so obvious that most of the market has rendered certain properties unsellable, just in time for someone to come and buy it.

I have made a living hunting for value. My buyers are clients who seek value in their purchase, and the buyers that are currently working with me to find value have been experiencing some difficulties in that procurement. This is likely because the few deals that print outside of the realm of sanity cause feelings of uneasiness in the buying masses. The numbers can feel bubbly, too high, too random, and these feelings cause buyers to pull back, to wait for clarity. My perspective today is that the broad market is moving slowly, but purposefully, and the few sales undertaken by buyers that seek no basis for their purchase should have little effect on the psyche of buyers that continue to hunt for value.

If you’re a buyer looking for lasting value, you should be working with me. I know what an outlier looks like, and am wise enough to avoid them.

Fishing Geneva Lake

Last week, while the soft suburban children played on sand beaches within close proximity of their sunscreen slathering, summer-hat wearing mothers, my son and his friend dove from piers and hid near where the horses make their upward rise to meet the stringers. They dove and swam, swam and dove, fighting and playing, hiding and seeking. Swimming under water with his eyes open, my son spotted something that captured his attention. A large bass, carefully guarding the gravel patch that she had brushed bare with her tail.

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My son returned to the pier to tell his friend where the fish was, how big it was, and what they would do next. The plan was to tie on a small jig, a white one with a feather for a tail and big yellow eyes drawn onto a round lead head. They assembled their gear and made casts. The first cast fell short. The second, too. They switched positions, the friend now in the starter slot, casting as far as he could cast. Each effort fell short, there was to be no catching that fish on that day, because the jig was too light and the line too heavy.

The soft beach children would have given up by now, assuming they somehow knew that fish was there, which, of course, they couldn’t have known if they were only splashing in the shallows with small plastic shovels and buckets made specifically for the building of sand castles. Every fisherman knows there is no greater frustration than the inability to catch a fish that has presented itself as a target. This is why bonefish are highly prized quarry, and equally disappointing when they refuse to eat a well-presented fly. There had to be a way.

There was no boat, and eleven year olds shouldn’t be driving those anyway. There was a dingy, but the one oar slot is loose, and when the rower attempts to row, the left oar always pops out of place. The exercise is confounding, and if the desired goal is to row from A to B, there will be circuitous visits to C,D,E,M along the way. No, the rowboat wouldn’t work, but they hatched a plan that would, in theory, work.

The friend was to hold the rod, with the bail open so the line would pull freely. My son would hold the jig in his hand, and swim carefully and slowly out to where the bass was on guard. Once over the target zone, he would release the jig. His friend would know he had released it by the thumb’s up my son would give as he thrust his hand out of the water. Once the jig floated slowly down to the bass, my son would give his friend another thumb’s up, this one to indicate that the bass had eaten the jig and that a swift setting of the hook was in order.

When the bass moved quickly to bite the jig, it was clear this plan had worked. The friend battled the great fish, while my son swam from the scene. On the pier, they held the fish briefly for a photo and released it to the depths. They have been taught many habits by their fathers, habits both good and mostly bad, but to carefully handle a fish and release it immediately is counted as one of the better habits learned. That evening, when my son told me the story of his efforts, I couldn’t help but smile.

Parents ask me about fishing often. They ask the best way to catch fish from piers in Geneva Lake. As I have more experience on the subject than any other Realtor in this market (without any question), I will offer you my sage advice. The fishing rig should be simple. A lightweight rod and reel, no Snoopy emblems allowed. The line should be six pound test. Any lighter and you risk a break off from an ornery fish, any thicker and you look silly. The next key to successful pier fishing involves small jigs. It does not involve worms or other forms of live bait.

I know, I know, worms are a staple of pier fishing worldwide. But they are also messy and once a mess of them die in your refrigerator the smell is as ungodly as any smell could ever aspire to be. The other problem with small children fishing with worms is that inevitably the fish swallows the hook, and then the dad or mom spends a few minutes ripping the hook out of the fish’s throat, rooting around for that hook as though it were made from gold exhumed from the Titanic’s dining room. This is unacceptable. As an aside, if you must fish with worms and the fish swallows the hook, you should cut the line right next to the fish’s mouth in hope that the fish survives the order by digesting the hook over time.

Another key to understanding fish is to understand that they do not breathe well outside of the water. I’ve watched a parent rip a fish apart for a few minutes, then throw it back into the lake. If the fish somehow survived the massive stomach trauma, it certainly didn’t survive the minute or two spent out of the water. Parents, be smart. Don’t fish with worms because worms are for people who don’t understand things particularly well.

So, we have the line and the rod, now the jigs. Buy small feathery looking ones, in chartreuse or white. They should be 1/32 ounce jigs. Not big ones. Once you have the jigs, take a pliers and bend down the barb of the hook, so that the hook will easily come out when the time comes. This is very important if you want to teach your kid to fish on their own, as the largest part of that fishing is the removal of a hook from the fish. The jig should be tied directly to the line, not onto some leader or some metal clip thing. This is horrible, and I see it often and then go wash my eyes with bleach. Rod, line, small jig, ready to fish. But how? Easy, silly. Let the line out near the pier and have your kid jig it very subtly, very slowly, right next to the cribs. The fish hide there, and they’ll come out to eat the jig. Your child will be thrilled.

And since you had the good sense to bend down the barb, you’ll be pleased because your kid can remove the hook without your assistance. In this, the fish should be held gently and the hook removed. My daughter saw a kid step on a fish to get the hook out, and she yelled at him, because she’s smart and this kid was not. Hold the fish carefully, quickly remove the hook, and return it to the water. Don’t put it in a bucket for a few hours to play with it, because you’ll then be like my dog when he plays with a chipmunk, which is to say you’ll kill the play thing.

There you have it. The guide to pier fishing with kids. Follow these steps and you’ll be a star, and you’ll teach your kid some valuable lessons about respecting fish. You’ll also set them up for future independence, and your leisure time will be so much sweeter if you don’t need to constantly monitor and assist in their fishing endeavors.

Above, my son with a beautiful brown trout he caught on a fly this week.

The Starboard Cottage

In 1848, Wisconsin officially became a state. In the same year, the Starboard Cottage was built on the northern shore of Geneva Lake. The home was originally built as a complimentary structure on the Maple Lawn estate, and today it rests comfortably at 1334 West Main Street. The house has most obviously undergone significant restorations and renovations over the years, which is why today it is offered not as an old historical cottage, but as a well kept example of the bygone era of lakefront living.

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The home deserves plenty of conversation, but it’s the yard that captures most of the attention. That yard, it’s 84 feet wide along the lakefront, and dead level I might add, but it’s also nearly one full acre deep, and unlike most lots of that dimension, it’s grassed from house to pier. There is no slippery jungle to navigate between your screened porch and your canopied pier, there is just grass. Lots and lots of grass.

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Inside this well cared for historical home there are five ample bedrooms, most of which boast wide water views over that gentle lakeside lawn. The master bedroom is on the main level, with full bath and fireplace, and if you so choose to open the two french doors you’ll find quick access to the massive lakeside screened porch. The kitchen has been refreshed with new Bosch appliances, the hardwood floors gleam as they did generations ago. There are built ins a plenty, unique nooks and crannies, and three and a half full baths. This is a vintage home, yes, but spend a weekend here and try to act like it doesn’t fulfill every lakefront need imaginable.

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My clients who buy lakefront in the Geneva Manor have always done so with a pricing aim first, and a geographical aim a very unimportant second. They buy there because they find the right house at the right price, and they feel that lakefront living will be accomplished in that setting. After some short time of spending weekends there, I find that they all boast of the advantage that is walking into downtown Lake Geneva, without need for lacing up serious walking shoes and stretching their hamstrings first. Just as they do, this house easily does as well. The walk to town is short, and it’s easy, and if you feel like waking up and walking to town for your paper and a coffee, well then be our guest.

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Beyond that, no designated driver would be needed if you were to walk to town with friends for a weekend dinner. The shopping and dining available to most of us only by car is available to this owner after just a few minutes spent walking the shore path, and in that there is a benefit that can only be truly understood by those who live within similar proximity.

Offered today for $2.375MM, this timeless lakefront home is now looking for the next steward who will take over from the current owner who has spent his weekends here for the past 18 years. The mechanical systems are up to date, the appliances have been replaced, and the house is ready for immediate occupancy. I’m happy to show this and every other lakefront home to you in the event that you’d like to spend your weekends in an entirely different frame of mind.

Longest Weekend

I have a friend who doesn’t sleep. He goes to bed late and he wakes up early, and if you’ve ever been a neighbor to this habitual undersleeper you’d know that the bedtime is midnight and the waking time is just a few hours later. Maybe 4 am. Maybe 3:30. If the sleep is particularly sound and the covers are just right, sleeping in to 4:45 may occur, though this is unlikely. If you were this guy you’d have long days every day, but alas, most of us are not of this nocturnal persuasion. This is why we need our days to last longer.

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Yesterday, sometime around 3:30 pm, I realized that the day felt quite old but was still, as a point of absolute fact, very young. My son turned 12 today, and he likely feels as though at 12 he is getting old. He is getting tall, smart, and handsome. I’d argue his genes afford him little other option, but still. Yesterday, while lounging and working under that Canadian wildfire sky, I thought the day seemed as though it might last forever.

This morning, it dawned on me that there was a reason for that elongated day, and it wasn’t in the way that smoky haze hung high and pale, nor in the way the sun, ablaze in smoke skewed orange and red, set late into the evening. No, the day felt long to me because of the way it started. If summer is short, which we know it to be, then we should seek out ways to make summer feel longer, even if we cannot force it to actually be longer. Aside from waking at 3:30 as my friend does, there is a way to trick oneself into the belief that you have just lived through a very long, very generous summer day.

Knowing the boat traffic patterns of a holiday weekend here does not require some long exposure to the scene. It’s obvious to everyone that the best boating pattern is either early or late, or ideally early and late. Leave the bulk of the weekend day to the daytrippers and boat renters, those who make the lake a tad more dangerous than I prefer. Because it makes no sense at all to elongate a day by boating in the evening, you have already guessed what the most important step is in making a summer day linger: The morning boat ride.

This is not to be confused with a morning ski, or a morning fish, though both would be acceptable forms of boating. Yesterday, I woke at a reasonable time. Perhaps 6:30. I am not yet old enough to keep score by the time at which I woke up (I had a full day’s work done before you woke up, the old timers would say). With an average waking time subscribed to, I had a coffee at home. I skipped breakfast because my diet has been experiencing some technical difficulties of late. I sat on my patio for a bit before driving to the Coffee Mill to pick up a coffee for a friend.

At the Coffee Mill, the line was long, the participants mostly haggard from the night before. Coffee in tow, I drove to Wooddale, to my friend’s pier- my friend who has a very nice boat. Within minutes we were plying the waves, talking real estate and taking in the scene. The time was not yet 9 am.

We had company on this trip, mostly fishermen in boats too small, and water skiers who fought with waves too big. There were sailors out, a regatta pushing from the Yacht Club to Cedar Point, and back again. Some pleasure boaters were already out, enjoying the softer morning waves that would soon be replaced by bruising midday rollers. We headed East first, then North for much longer, before whipping to the South and cruising slowly back to where we started. At 10:30, our boat ride was over.

I went to the lake after that, to watch my children swim from the piers and fish for the rockbass that hide in between the slats of soaked wood that make up the cribs. We ate some holiday leftovers and after some more time, went home. I flipped through the channels for some sporting event of some matter, and found none. Turning my attention back to the outside, I mowed my lawn while my wife harvested snowpeas, strawberries, and raspberries from our garden. My fishing truck was dirty from a late evening session last week, so I cleaned out the remnants of that trip- empty water bottles, some Culver’s wrappings, a mostly eaten bag of chips, and some knotted tippet.

Most of the way through mowing, I thought about my wife’s old cell phone. It was white and shiny once, but lately it’s just been dingy and scratched, a condition that belies its ancient age. Thinking about this phone, I finished mowing and drove to Janesville, to the Verizon store, where I explained the need for a newer phone and bemoaned my ever-rising cell phone bill. Later, outfitted with a new phone for Mrs, I drove back home.

The lawn mower was nearly out of gas, so I strapped two gas cans to the fourwheeler and drove to the gas station. The ATV topped off, the gas cans filled and unfortunately overflowing, I was back home a few minutes later. The patio was dirty, as was the front walk, so I blew them both off, and noticed the bird feeders were empty, again. Feeders filled, gas tanks filled, patio and walk clean, lawn mowed, new phone secured, I went inside to shower. It was 3:30.

At 8, I decided that we should all go out for ice cream. We chose Culver’s because we are from Wisconsin, and as we drove home with Andes Mint Explosion filled cones, the sun set in a most brilliant red over the corn and soybean fields. The day was finally ending, and what a day it had been. It felt like a day that lasted for two, and as I looked back of the things that I had done and the little I had accomplished, I thought of that morning boat ride that felt like it occurred sometime longer ago than just that morning.

And in that lies the key. Make your summer weekend last longer. Milk it for all it’s worth. Start each day with a morning boat ride, and end Sunday with one, too. You’ll return to work on Monday with the knowledge that your weekend was somehow longer than it was for everyone else. Except for my friend who wakes up at 3:30, his weekend was still longer.

Independence Day Weekend

The thing about Holiday weekends is that you shouldn’t really spend them at home. I live in a nice enough house, and I spend pretty much all of my time there. That’s because I don’t have another house, which is because a long time ago I chose to be a Realtor and not something else. But even though I don’t have another house, I like to spend summer holidays elsewhere, namely, near my parents’ house, which is, most fortunately, on the lake. I’d like to wish you a very joyous Independence Day Weekend, but the sad truth is that such a weekend isn’t really possible if you’re spending it at the home where you usually spend Wednesdays. Want to enjoy summer festivities? Let’s get you in a lake house.

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Lake Geneva shines on these sorts of weekends, and though there will be crowds, those crowds will be united in their common goal. Everyone wants to have fun. And that fun is easy to find here this weekend, just as it is on every weekend. We had a 5:30 dinner reservation for Gordy’s last night. It was good, as it tends to be. On the way out, sometime near 7 pm, the rumored wait for a table was an hour and a half. This is because everyone wanted to go there. Want to go somewhere where no one wants to go? The entirety of Michigan probably doesn’t have a wait.

This weekend there are things happening. Fireworks happen this weekend, even though they happen on most weekends if you happen to be my neighbors. They light fireworks without particular cause, presumably because they want to hear things go BOOM POP. I don’t really understand people that set off fireworks just because it’s some Saturday during some summer month, but such is life in the sticks. Tonight, July 3rd, the Grand Geneva will be shooting off their fireworks. It’ll be nice, so if you want a head start on the weekend festivities, the Grand Geneva will oblige.

Saturday morning there’s a pancake breakfast at the Williams Bay lakefront. I don’t like pancakes much, so I won’t be there, but if you love pancakes, you should go. It’s for some good cause, or maybe a rotary club, perhaps a Lion’s Club, I’m not sure, but assuredly the money raised will go to good use, or some use. That’s Saturday morning, and carb loading is a terrific way to make it through a holiday weekend at the lake.

Willie Nelson will be in town on Saturday, at the Cornerstone Shop in Lake Geneva. It’s a shop on the corner, where there used to be a Ben Franklin a few decades ago. Upon closer examination of the schedule, it’s actual William Nelson, and he’s an artist who is of some acclaim. His paintings look very nice, so if you’d like to stop by and meet him, perhaps have him sign something, that’d be great. Just don’t ask him to sing Whiskey River, because he probably gets that all the time and it stopped being funny right before the first time.

These are nice events, the pancakes and the Friday fireworks, and the artist stuff, but everyone knows the real interest is in the Saturday night fireworks in Fontana. These are the fireworks that you should be watching, because everyone else will. There are some keys to these fireworks to consider. First, if you can, please watch them from a boat. Do not let your boat captain be imbibing too much, because it’s a dangerous scene on the lake after dark, when that many boats are clustered on this big lake. Safety first, please.

But assuming you’re safe, then you have to hope that the wind falls flat, or at least that the wind blows soft from the West. The reason for this is that the thundering echo of the fireworks is a special delight, and if there’s an East or North wind, you won’t get the echo. Ideal booming echo conditions involve no wind, so here’s to a calm evening. For my neighbors, ideal booming echo conditions occur usually within a few minutes of my head hitting my pillow.

Sunday there are some things going on, but they don’t really matter. Sunday we’ll just hope for continued beautiful weather. Sunday, as an aside, is one of the weekend days that I’ll be working, the other being Saturday. So if you’d like to see some real estate, or just chat with me about real estate, I’ll make myself available for you. Please be safe this weekend, and please remember that Independence Day weekend is actually about something.


Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
– Thomas Paine

The Invasives

There was a man I knew from the town where I lived. He was old when I knew him, and I never knew what it was that he had done when he was younger. When I would see him in town, he was often driving a small truck, the bed of which was filled to overflowing with bits of branches, small trees, bushes, thorns, that sort of thing. He worked for the conservancy in town, and his goal was to remove the species that he had come to consider invasive. No matter the size or shape of the plant, no matter the proficiency of the bloom or the hardness of the wood; if it wasn’t supposed to be here he tore it up and hauled it away in his truck.

After some time of this clearing, the conservancy began to look less like a woodland and more like a prairie, which is how he said it should have been all along. Once when I was flipping through pages of a local history book at the town library, I saw a whole chapter about the great woodlands of this area, and how when the settlers arrived the woods were dense and deep, and the settlers thought the woods to be so deep that they rumored spirits lived in them, and this made them nearly turned back to the East. I told the old man this, and he shook his head with disgust. He said that before those trees there was just prairie, and that the trees themselves were invasive.

After the obvious invasives were gone, the old man took to his research. It seems as though some varieties of maple were native to this town, but others were not. Maples were not maples, he insisted, and so he cut down the maples that didn’t belong, much to the dismay of the Maple Society. Some oaks were fine to remain, but other oaks were generally only found on the eastern end of this town’s county, so he cut those down, too. When the old man was much older, the wooded land was gone, and only prairie remained.

The prairie was nice, most of the people thought. They would cross country ski over it in the winter and walk through it in the summer. After time, woodland creatures were replaced by prairie creatures, and once someone mentioned that through the early morning fog they thought they saw a bison on the far northern edge of the prairie. Everyone agreed that this was a terrific possibility.

With no more work to do, the man aged more rapidly, and he took up the assist of a walker. He wasn’t found driving around town quite so much, but if anyone wished to see him they could find him on the boardwalk, sitting on the bench that he built atop the stump of the last invasive oak that he felled by himself. He felt his age and his recent lack of purpose accelerated the process that would lead to his end. Recognizing that he needed a new focus, he loaded into his small truck and drove the margins of town, looking for something that he might champion before his light went dim.

People waved as he drove through the neighborhoods, and as he drove down the country roads that hemmed the farmer’s fields. He hunched over his steering wheel and peered out the window, scanning the foliage for something that didn’t belong, when he took note of the incredible numbers of mulberry trees that dotted the edges of those farmer’s fields and that hid in the woods behind the neighborhood houses. How he loved mulberries, and for a moment he sat in the truck and remembered the fine mulberry crisps that his mother made when he was just a child. He remembered greedily eating them straight off the low hanging branches with his grandmother. He remembered his wife making sweet mulberry jam, and he wished that she were still with him to make just one more jar. That night, he went to the old tree in his own back yard and picked mulberries until his fingers were stained and his belly ached.

The headline in the Wednesday paper read, “TOWN DECLARES WAR ON INVASIVES”. The old man saw the headline and prepared himself for a gushing review of his lifetime of work. Satisfied with what he was about to read, he sat and turned to the article. Quickly, he realized that this wasn’t to be an ode to his efforts, there would be no community applause for the hard work that he had done. This was, instead, an article that was written by the newest volunteer at the conservancy, a volunteer who had taken aim at an invasive “weed tree”, as he called it, from Asia. This tree hosted silkworm, which no one liked because the accompanying picture was grotesquely close up. The tree that would need to go was the Mulberry. The black mulberry, the red mulberry, and the white mulberry. They would all need to be cut down, because an invasive is an invasive, and the old man, his belly still full from the night before, grabbed for the last few mulberries from his bowl and shook his head in resignation. The young volunteer was right.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Sometimes, I like to see if I have more money than I had one year ago. It doesn’t matter when I engage this frustrating exercise, it’s just something that I feel as though I should do from time to time. Sometimes, the exercise puts me into a deep funk, when I realize that I am very good at treading water, but less capable at advancing directionally. Other times, I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that I have at least $15 more than I had during the same month of the prior year. Either way, whether satisfied or saddened, the exercise is always enlightening. Let’s be enlightened as to the state of the broad Lake Geneva vacation home market, shall we?

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I have, at current, plenty of lakefront listings. I have large ones and small ones, bland ones and shiny ones. I have great land for sale, regular land for sale, all sorts of things for sale. Because of this, I have a pretty nice gauge on the market activity for these lakefront homes. The activity, at this advancing date in the summer of 2015, feels very spotty to me. One weekend will be great, the next poor. One day showings will be set, anticipation will run high. The next day the showings will occur and the results will be mixed, though I would argue that for results to be mixed that would mean I’d get an offer or two. This has not been the recent case.

This is why we’ll look back over the first half of this year and consider how we’re doing relative to the same period last year. Snapshot broad measure shows we’ve sold 40 lakefront and lake access homes on or near Geneva Lake. That’s not bad, not at all. 2014 YTD had just 35 sales, so we’re advancing. 11 of the 2015 sales have been lakefront, and 11 of the remaining 29 lake access sales printed below $300k. In 2014 we had closed just 9 lakefront sales by this date, and of the remaining 26 lake access sales 14 of those closed under $300k. This makes sense, as buyers who are more sensitive to interest rates have been moving more quickly than the rest of the market.

For my involvement, last year I had sold three lakefront homes by now, and this year I’ve sold two. That doesn’t seem so bad, but it feels bad, so if you’d like to buy a handful of lakefront homes from me this year, would you mind hurrying up a bit? Thanks.

Geneva National has been the king of the head fake over recent years, sometimes rushing out of the gate only to fall off as the year grows old. This year, it sprinted out to a sizable lead. 38 homes and condominiums have traded this year, with three of those printing over $500k. 2014 saw just 22 YTD sales, with only one over $500k. This is a huge improvement for GN, but just as it might be easy to think that GN has completely recovered and things will be wonderful from now on, a huge piece (maybe the entirety?) of Foxwood, a failed enclave within GN on the far northwest corner, is heading to sheriff’s sale. Remember my GN advice? Don’t buy a condo in a sparsely built out enclave, because you’ll regret it. This advice holds is proven yet again with the Foxwood foreclosure.

Abbey Springs has long been a steady performer, and this year looks to be no different. YTD there have been eight sales per the MLS, contrasted with nine over the same days in 2014. This isn’t particularly terrific activity, but it’s plodding along just like Abbey Springs has a tendency to do. I have that beautiful home at 62 Saint Andrews on the market for $765k, so it’s obvious that we’ll have at least one sale in the coming months, assuming a buyer shows up in search of a great home for a great price in a great association.

The snapshot today proves the market has been consistent and that mostly we remain in a growth phase. Volume is increasing nicely, and prices in some segments are following suit. Mostly at this point in the year I’m on the lookout for buyers who want to pick away at the certain segments that are offering potential value. Those segments are mostly lakefront, but there are certain off-water homes that look ripe for the picking.

Building Lake Geneva

There were common themes during the housing downturn. The first theme was that some buyers were able to capture their motivation and seek out value. When they found value, they bought the value. The wonderful thing about this brand of value is that it changes your life, which is better than the sort of value that’s found when you drive across down to save two cents on gasoline. Another theme was that sellers appreciated buyers then, and if a buyer came to their door with a check, the smart ones took the check and handed over a deed. These were common themes back then.

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The other theme on the lakefront was that building of new homes never slowed down. Perhaps there would have been more construction on these shores if the market had never slowed, but a drive around this lake in a boat during the years from 2009 through present has served as a nice reminder that most elite personal economies weathered the storm rather well. There were new builds on the water in each of the bad years, and in every year since. This year we have fewer new builds underway, perhaps just a couple finishing up and a couple currently being built, including the odd palace on South Lakeshore Drive, Fontana. The current conditions appear to be the quiet before the storm, as there are several lakefront builds planned for the coming weeks and months.

The South Shore Club has been awash in a frenzy of dust and lumber. The lots I sold last year have mostly been built on, and three of the four builds from last year have been completed. The last will be the finest of them all. There are a few vacant lots held by private owners now, and if you were late to the South Shore Club party but wish you had an invite, you’d do well to email me and ask about privately available parcels. Or, you could stay on that ridiculous automated email list you get from some agent you met at an open house once, either way.

I know of at least three new lakefront builds that are coming to our shores in the next few weeks, and as I play the cherished role of advisor to many of these new builds, I find there is a common theme running through all of them. There is a desire to position a property at an all-in price that reflects actual value. This has not been the case in most of the builds on these shores in the last 10 years. The mistake onlookers make is that they see a new build and assume that owner is in for some huuuuge sum of money, like maybe $4 or 5 million. The reality is that many of these new builds are actually $10MM type numbers, with some being much, much more. The desire to adhere to a market structure might be a hallmark of my clients, and if that’s a hallmark I’m beaming with pride.

But in this desire to stick to budgets there can be something missed. The overriding goal of each build is to create something that will provide unmeasurable joy. This is the goal, no matter what. Does a coffered ceiling, a Wolf oven, and a marble shower increase enjoyment of a lakefront home? Would you be upset if I said of course? I know, I know, that goes against everything I’ve ever said, but really it doesn’t. I don’t want purchase decisions to be made based on the shiny and the slick, because that undermines the goal of finding lasting value. But once the lasting value is purchased (the land, the neighborhood, the setting), why not increase the comfort level to the highest limit possible?

I’ve had this conversation recently with a beloved client of mine, and my advice for lakefront owners undertaking the build process is based on my own building history. I have never, ever, finished a project and been upset about money that I spent. I have never looked at a finish and thought that I wished I had made it less nice. I have never looked at a Viking range and thought it to be a stupid indulgence. I have never looked to a marble shower and wished for it to be tile. I have never looked at hardwood floors and thought they should be carpeted. But I have looked at a bathroom and thought I should have made it bigger. I have looked at a trim element in a room and wish I had made it bolder. I have lamented the money I didn’t spend far more than I ever lamented the money I did spend. In fact, it can be disastrous to underspend if the end product is someday supposed to fit the eye of a high end buyer.

This, of course, is advice within reason. If the indulgence pushes the build price beyond the scope of the future market value, then this particular item might be a mistake. But if the difference is between great windows or reasonable windows, go great. If the decision is between a fancy oven and a bad oven and the savings represent a few thousand dollars, go great. If a roof is to be cedar shingles and the budget really calls for asphalt, go cedar. Maybe borrow a litmus test from Ben Stein. If the purchase will lead to you eating dog food for dinner, don’t make it, otherwise, spend away.

Currently there are several vacant parcels available on the lake. There’s a small lot in the Elgin Club, and a big lot in the 700 Club. These are only clubs in the loose sense of the word. There are some possible opportunities in the South Shore Club, as I mentioned earlier, and there is one possible lakefront parcel in Fontana. There are several tear downs on the lake that represent potentially tremendous land value at the right discount to ask. If you’re interested in one of these parcels, let’s chat. We’ll first buy the right land at the right price, then we’ll talk some more about that marble shower that is absolutely, positively worth the price.

Above, the no expense spared living room of 1014 South Lakeshore Drive ($7.95MM).

Parenting

I do not remember having any bit of input into any singular plan during my youth. This was true whether the decision should have involved me, even if the decision should have involved me only in theory. I took piano lessons for ten years that would have been easier if served at Rikers. When the lessons began, I do not recall sitting down with my parents to discuss the merits of me taking piano lessons. I only remember complaining about the lessons. I remember going to the lessons, first with Miss Marie then with Mr. Mark. I remember how silly I must have sounded when I told the teachers that I had been practicing, because my stumbling fingers proved my lie. I remember the intense nerves of piano recitals, where I would breathe deep and the air rushing over my teeth felt like a dentist’s drill. These are my experiences of piano playing, and no where in my deepest memories can I pull forward a conversation where my parents asked me if I wanted to play. It’s because they were my parents and I was their son, and if they wanted me to play, I played. This is how it all used to work.

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In the summer, I mowed lawns. At the time when I turned 12, maybe 13, I do not recall any parent meeting wherein I was asked if I felt I was ready to mow lawns. I was not with when my dad bought a very used, very orange Simplicity tractor. I did not have breakfast with him where we talked about which lawns I should mow, which ones I thought might be too big for me at that tender age, and which days of the week I wanted to have off to play with my friends and ride my bike around town. I was simply told which lawns to mow, and the expectation was unspoken but clear, so I added more lawns to my route and emblazoned my name and number on the side of the small trailer I pulled behind that tractor. One summer, I decided that I wanted to spend the semester abroad, learning at those temples to academia in foreign lands. My parents considered the idea, and after several family meetings they agreed to fund the trip, because I really wanted to go. Just kidding. I mowed lawns.

Family vacations were singular, annually. We went to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for two weeks each summer. This, as I’ve come to learn, had two purposes. One was to vacate the house so my dad could rent it and use the money to help pay his taxes. I cannot remember what the second reason was. I jest, it was so we could spend time together as a family, with my parents napping and then with the kids napping tortured, forced naps. We went there on vacation because we all liked it, and we had fun and I fished and met girls, including one who is now my wife. But at no point did we sit down over an Olive Garden lunch and plan our summer vacation together. We didn’t each write our preferred trips on a scrap of napkin, and we didn’t then add them to an upturned hat, and then no one picked the winning destination, and no one was then surprised. We just went to Detroit Lakes because that’s what my parents said we were going to do.

We went to Disney World once. It was 1985. I was 7 years old, and in this old dim I cannot recall much of the event. I was exposed to the ocean for the first time, to that kelp-filled angry sea. I rode Space Mountain and have never ridden a roller coaster since, not even a teacup at the fair. When we planned the trip, I wasn’t around. My brothers weren’t either. My parents planned the trip, and we were pulled from school to go. We had a great time, but we didn’t discuss which rides to go on and which day we’d go to the beach to see the kelp. We just rode in the back seat of that rented Lincoln, and we took it all in. We were passengers in the truest sense, along for the ride that was engineered to create memories that we might one day recall 30 years later when typing at a computer far more futuristic than anything Epcot Center could have imagined.

Today, I see things differently. I see my life, and I see that I plan vacations with my kids’ input, even if I listen and don’t act on that input… I tell them now that we’re going to go out to dinner, and I hear them whine. They wanted to go somewhere else. I still tell my son to mow the lawn, but at the age of almost 12 I cannot imagine he’d be able to ride a tractor around town and mow lawns for strangers. On vacation, they tell me where they want to eat dinner, and they tell me when they want to leave because they miss their own beds. I ask if they want to fish with me and they tell me that they are too tired. They tell me what they want to do during their summer days, and when I interject that the lawn must be mowed I feel more like a peer asking them to please consider the chore, rather than a parent directing the chore to be completed on time and under budget. Things today have changed.

We are coddling our children, maybe too much. When my kids jumped and swam from the piers on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about customers that ponder a vacation home purchase and pause, thinking about their children. If we buy this home, where will my little princess swim? This is what they wonder. With no beach, and no pool, how will they learn? How will they survive? Or it’s the other problem, of little Jimmy’s baseball practice, and then his games. We can’t come to the lake this weekend, because Johnny has that baseball game on Saturday morning, and then another one on Sunday afternoon. I’m sure I missed some things when we went on vacation every summer. I’m sure piano lessons were skipped or baseball practice was missed. But none of that mattered, because my dad was in charge and we did what he said we were going to, without debate. Perhaps we need to add a bit of old school parenting style to our playbook. Our kids will someday look back and appreciate that we made then swim from piers, and skip Saturday morning baseball for Saturday morning boat rides. Besides, your princess needs to learn how to swim better and little Johnny is horrible at baseball, everyone knows that.

Lakefront Condominium Update

I spent Sunday lakeside, mostly. It’s always good to spend a beautiful day by the water, assuming that water is 5400 acres worth and not in a kidney shape in your back yard (see Friday’s post), and yesterday was no exception. The newest generation swam and splashed their way through the piers and around the shallows, and I was reaffirmed in my belief that kids who swim off of piers are vastly superior swimmers to those who swim off beaches. My kids are incredible swimmers, and for that I’m thankful. While the kids splashed, the adults of my age talked work, golf, money, boats, money some more, boats a bit more, jobs some, and then money again. The old folks talked about whatever it is they were talking about, inside that porch, sitting in those white wicker rockers. It was a good day, but not one that was spent without observations.

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The lake was busy yesterday. There were pleasure boats of all makes and models, a Riva that came in close to pick up some friends from a nearby pier. Streblows and Cobalts as far as the eye could see. But also some horrible rental boats, and pontoons. Too many pontoons. I saw a pontoon pulling some kids on a tube, right in the lane of traffic, which we all know to be stupid at best, highly dangerous at worst. The kids fell from the tube, and instead of that unwieldy floating living room making a wide turn back to pick them up, the “boat” just killed its outboard engine and waited for the kids to swim back to the tube. That tube was some 100′ away from the kids that were swimming in the water, and the forward momentum of the ‘toon kept pulling the tube further from the kids’ reach. All the while other boaters whizzed by the kids, the tube, the pontoon. I watched this unfold and thought that I should have some form of authority on this lake, to go out and commandeer the boat and pull it from the water before escorting both the highly stupid adults and their highly offensive boat to the state line. Alas, I have no such power.

But if I did, I’d also remove that absurd LINN FIRE boat from the lake. It’s becoming exactly what I knew it would become: A sideshow. That boat, no matter what anyone says, looks ridiculous. It’s ugly, hideously so, and instead of staying quietly out of view until it is needed (which will be nearly never), that boat spent Sunday afternoon ripping around the lake, and at one point I saw what I believe to be the spray from its water cannon. To put this in context, have you ever seen a fire truck just cruising around on a Sunday? Stopping once in a while to shoot some water aimlessly into the sky? Cranking the music while it rolls through a downtown city center where the drivers can gawk at the beautiful women? I’ve never seen it, until Sunday anyway. The fire boat turns this classy lake into a carnival scene, and I dislike carnivals for the obvious reasons. Linn should really put the adults in charge of this boat, and it should remain out of site until such a rare time arises that it is needed. Until then, I don’t want my Sunday view interrupted by the sight of a 40 mile an hour sprint by a cartoonish red metal boat.

Enough about that, let’s talk about condominiums. The lakefront condo market on Geneva, to be specific. The market is, unfortunately, not great. How badly I wish it would be, but just as I wished for that pontoon boat to leave my view alone, I am not able to wish things into being. There is, according to the MLS, one lakefront condo pending sale. That unit is my listing at Fontana Shores, and it’s a nice unit for $369k. I have other units for sale, including a two bedroom at the Fontana Club for $489k and a four bedroom at Vista Del Lago for $569k. Both of those sellers are ready to sell, both are ready to be bought absolutely right. Yet both still pine for a buyer. At least they have company in their pining, as not a single unit is under contract at either Bay Colony building, Vista Del Lago, Geneva Towers, Somerset, or Stone Manor. I have the ground floor anchor unit available there, and it’s marvelous beyond description, but all that really matters is that I haven’t sold it yet.

The lake access market in the $300k-$750k price range has had a very solid year. That price activity should carry over to the condo market, in theory, yet it obviously hasn’t. There are quality offerings, reasonably accurate prices, and some highly motivated sellers. This, in conjunction with high stock market indexes and low interest rates should allow for a growth year in the lakefront condo market. That isn’t the case, yet. Far from this being a negative post on the condo market, this is actually a positive post for buyers who are even loosely considering a lakefront condo purchase. There are deals to be had, and while the market in general is not brimming with value (entry level lakefront sure is), the lakefront condo market is poised to give up a few deals yet this summer.

Note I said “Yet this summer”. Yet implies that it’s not obvious that there’s still much time left. After all, yesterday was the longest day of the year, and it’s all downhill from here. Except that yesterday was also the first day of summer. Not the last, not the middle day, the first day. There is summer splayed out before us, and any motivated buyer could buy now and still spend all of August and September lakeside. I know, I know, why spend the summer here when you could spend it in your backyard? Why go through the trouble and expense of purchasing a place where your family and friends can spend time together in a different setting and in a different way? Well, because that sunset up there was taken last night, by a client of mine, from his pier. That sunset happens every day of the year, and that’s reason enough to gather some motivation.

Suburban Insanity

Certain things bother me. For example, when my contacts are blurry, even though I’ve properly rinsed and stored them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Maybe it has to do with my eyes, not my contacts, but the gentleman at ShopKo whom I presume is indeed an eye doctor of some variety tells me my eyes are fine. Fine or not, if I have anything blurry in my way, I’m bothered.

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But blurry vision pales in comparison to other things that bother me. The larger of my dogs had to get a haircut the other day. As is the case with most dogs of this genetic concoction, he had to be shaved all the way. He looks horrible now, part anteater part giraffe, with bits of deer intermixed. When I come home and this dog with this buzz cut greets me, I’d rather he not. I’d rather he spend some time alone, focusing on growing out his hair as quickly as possible so that I, his owner, can find it in my heart to acknowledge him again.

But this isn’t really what bothers me, either. What really bothers me is when I’m cooking dinner for friends and I’m in the middle of things, in the weeds as it might be, and all I really need is a dish towel. A rag, as we call them at home. We have one drawer dedicated to these towel rags, and if I’m in the midst of a culinary emergency there is little question that this drawer will be empty. The other day this happened, and when a dish was on its way to burning in the oven, all I needed was a towel to protect my grip. The primary drawer was empty, so I checked the back up drawer, the one you can’t count on. That drawer was empty, excepting one glove made out of scratchy metal with the word POTATO written across the palm.

But I’m kidding at this point, because what really bothers me is when someone talks about putting a pool in their suburban backyard. Whether this is spoken as a threat by customers that cannot quite find what they want on these near shores, or if it’s spoken in jest, I cannot be sure. What I do know is that the mere mention of a backyard suburban pool makes my eyes blurry, my hands sweaty, and my heart weak. It bothers me.

Even slightly considering bailing on a lake home search and deciding on spending untold sums on a backyard pool is something I cannot abide. This would be similar to a car search. You’re looking for a car, but not just any car. You want a murdered out Porsche 911, the turbo sort, and you want it in a particular year, with a particular mileage count, because you’re particular. You search and you search. You look online, offline. State lines are blurred in this hunt. You search and you search, sometimes passionately other times with bored curiosity, but your incredibly precise requirements have made the search so far fruitless.

After some time of this search, you decide that you cannot wait any longer. You call the dealer, place the order, and when the deal closes you have bought a very nice, very white Toyota Carolla. This gets you from A to B, you figure, and it’s just as good as that blacked out 911 from that particular year that you were lusting after. You wanted that Porsche because you knew how you’d feel when driving it. You knew how it’d look when you park it outside your favorite restaurant. You knew how you’d look when you drove it on a summer Sunday. But you couldn’t find it, so you bought a Toyota, because it’s also transportation.

Swimming in a pool will make your skin wet, just in the same was as swimming in the lake will make it the same. This is where the comparison between a backyard pool and this brilliantly blue lake ends. Maybe, if our Porsche-craving-friend had simply decided to consider a different year 911, in a different color, with slightly different miles, he’d have that car sitting outside his favorite coffee shop right now, and we all know how that would make him feel.

The suburbs are killing us. I include myself in the slaughter because of the damage that hearing about backyard pools inflicts on my sensitive ears. Ben Rector wrote a song for everyone, and while you don’t have to listen to all of it, just know the line that matters the most: Don’t let the suburbs kill my heart and soul.

Perhaps in this context, the cause of death would be chlorine.

Above, the pool at 1606 West Main. If you must own a pool, it should be at Lake Geneva.

Shadow Lane Sells

Shadow Lane is really just a lane. You take it to cut directly from South Lakeshore Drive to the lake. That’s pretty much the only reason you’d ever have to drive on Shadow Lane.Buy chance, if you’ve visited the South Shore Club over the last decade, you may have driven in and around the club and then exited stage West, which would take you to Shadow Lane. You’ve driven on this lane and you didn’t even realize it. The road is a mix of good and bad, of nice homes and basic homes. Of lakefront and everything else. There is a modern day archeological site towards the end of the road, where rubble lies strewn where a house once burned. This is what you will drive past if you’re trying to get to the lake, which is where a house has stood for a very long time.

I sold that house this week, to a lovely family from Chicago who first dipped their toes into this market and this lake a decade ago. The story is about the house, sure. It’s about the lane, obviously. It’s about a boat pier that houses a huge metal, entirely superfluous water-spraying fire boat. It’s also about negotiating strategy, and the realization that most strategies are thrown out the window when another bid comes in from left field. It’s about that rubble from that house that once stood proud. It’s about a seller and her family and their great lakefront run that spanned many decades. But it’s mostly just about this buyer, and about how buyers here have a tendency to sample the market before indulging their true aim: Lakefront.

This house came to market on a Friday, I believe. I had heard about it before then, which is why lakefront buyers should basically, effectively, obviously only work with me. My buyer had a tour on a Thursday, before the MLS knew of this property, and on that Thursday we caught both a glimpse of this old house and of the gross Linn Township metal posted pier that was being installed at that very moment. We toured the house, talked about the pier, and then we made an offer. The house went to the broad market the next day, and by Saturday there was another offer. Once that other bid came in and disrupted my well-designed negotiating strategy, we played defensively and secured the house. There’s a very easy test that any buyer in my buyer’s position should consider. If the negotiations go awry and another bidder ends up being the owner of the house that you’re hoping to own, will you be upset if you walk by that house every weekend for the rest of your days and see another owner grilling out on the deck and diving from the pier? If the answer is yes, you buy the house.

And so we did, which is why we closed on Monday for $1.4MM. The house is a fine house. It’s a good house. It’s an older house, sure, but it appears to be solid and well looked after. There are many bedrooms, some baths. There is an old basement that had some water in it this week. There is a garage, some level lakefront, and a beautiful pier. The last sentence makes the sentence before completely and utterly irrelevant. If you’re a lakefront buyer and you’ve identified where you wish to live on this great lake, and a home presents itself in that immediate, narrowly defined vicinity, a little water in the basement and some sagging trim on a garage window does not matter. Remember that, please.

But that’s the deal, and I’m proud to have represented this buyer in their quest. I’m happy that we were successful. I’m happy that, after a decade on these waters, they found the path to the lakefront. Some houses I sell and then I wonder. I wonder about the owner, if they’ll truly be happy there. I wonder if the new owner has what it takes to live lakeside, to fully enjoy what it is that they’ve captured. I wonder if the house will become part of their family for decades, or generations, or if they’ll just fall away like so many of our new toys. This owner leaves me no question. They’ll anchor this fifty feet of level south shore frontage for as long as I’ll be paying attention, and in that, the market can rejoice. There’s a great chance this home will become a generational retreat, and that brings me more pleasure than any quick spin ever could.

Because that’s the goal here, after all. It’s nice to churn through properties, to see buyers upgrade and downgrade, to see them create liquidity with their whims. I love helping owners sell and buy, buy and sell. It’s a strong data point to consider if you’re a nascent buyer. These owners buy and rarely leave. They may change addresses, they may move from an association to the lakefront, or from the lakefront back to an association, but they rarely leave. That’s because once you let the lake get its talons into you, shaking free is not easy to do without inflicting upon yourself an unnecessary level of pain. These new lakefront owners long ago acquired the taste for this lake, for spending their weekends this way, and now they get to live as everyone with any house near this lake wishes to: front and center, on the water. It’s another dream fulfilled.

Forecast Insecurity

The rapids twist away from the road, but only briefly, before twisting back, cutting against the bank and throwing riffles and bubbles down the rocky slope. The run spills into a pool, a large glassy pool that looks, at least to this trained eye, as though it easily holds an abundance of trout. There are feeder streams, those that flow from different hillsides, bubbling and babbling their way down to the main branch. They bring nutrients and oxygen and cold, clean fresh water that the trout need. There are many runs and riffles and pools like this near my home, and they follow the road all the way from that home to this office, it’s just that they’re only rainwater, and there are no trout. It’s raining here, again.

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Yesterday, while I was diligently mowing my front lawn, a patch of blue sky appeared in between the varying colors of clouds. The blue sky was over my house, as if it were a sign of something, and while I watched that blue patch come and then go, I thought it to be a beautiful section of sky. Bright and blue, cheery and fresh. It wasn’t like the clouds at all, with their dark and darker still mood, their ability to generate rain without even a moments notice. I thought of that blue patch and thought of a land where that blue patch wouldn’t be just a patch at all, but the entire tapestry filling the sky. I thought about how great it would be to go through my day without a single concern as to what the weather might be like. I thought about the freedom it would give me both in thought and in action, if I didn’t need to wait for a patch of blue to indulge me. I thought about how my son would be home soon to mow the back yard, and how he would complain and plead with me. He’s too tired from swimming all day, he’d say. I kept mowing, the clouds kept their interval of dark and bright, of sunny and cloudy, of pleasure and pain.

The front lawn done, my son not yet released from his arduous schedule of pier swimming, I didn’t want to mow the back lawn. It’s much bigger, this back part, and it’s daunting. No one knows this better than my son, because it is always his part of the chore. When I tell him to mow it, I act like it’s no big deal. Like it won’t take any time at all with that walk behind Gravely PRO-500 lawn mower, the same one I mowed lawns with when I was in high school. Like it’s a breeze. But I know the truth; it’s a miserably large lawn. I decided, instead, to take my bike out. This is the bike I bought, but not the first bike I bought this year. I took that first bike back, because of incessant ridicule from a friend who decided that my bike wasn’t up to the standard, that it didn’t have nearly enough carbon fiber. The new bike hasn’t any of that either, but it was more expensive, so presumably it is better. I latched on my helmet, strapped on my gloves that I bought because I felt like I should, and pedaled. It was sunny, ish.

I dislike riding bikes. I reminded myself of that yesterday while pressing against a seat that could only be made more uncomfortable if it were made of broken glass and drywall screws. After the ride, an invite. Tennis was to be played, and it was to be played now. I didn’t waiver in my immediate commitment, but I decided that I shouldn’t have gone for the bike ride first, nor should I have mowed the lawn, even if it was only the front. My son wasn’t home yet, the sun was still sort of shining, the tennis court and my friend beckoning. I played tennis for the next two hours. The sky was bright, the court hot, the humidity making it difficult to hold on to my grip. It wasn’t raining.

In fact, it wasn’t even sorting of raining. It was clearing, and when I wondered how that could be possible after the deluge of earlier, and the dark sparked cloudiness of the afternoon, I remembered that it was, after all, Sunday evening. Sunday has a way about it, that sort of way. If there is a day you can to see the spectrum of Midwestern weather, that day is Sunday. In the morning yesterday, it wasn’t raining but everything was wet. After that, a downpour that lasted 15 minutes or more. After that, most people had decided that Sunday was a wash out, and that it would be prudent to get an early start on the work week by making the Sunday drive home an earlier one. Then I mowed my lawn and the hope began, and by the time the tennis was over the skies were clear, the lake having long ago fallen soft and quiet. The darkness and gray of earlier replaced with the soft pastels of a summer evening, the fulfillment of a blue sky made that much better by the gray that preceded it.

Forecasts can do lots of things. They can make farmers plant on a Tuesday because it’s going to rain on Wednesday. They can make you informed, educated, aware. But mostly they make you timid, unwilling to embrace the fact that the forecast just might be wrong. They can make you miss mowing your lawn in the afternoon. They can keep you from a horrible bike ride. And they can keep you from playing tennis late into the afternoon. They can keep you from a Sunday evening that was as nice as any Sunday evening has ever aspired to be. This summer, let’s forget the forecast. Let’s just be. My son was home by the time I returned from tennis, and he was tired from his difficult day spent swimming. He said he’d mow the lawn on Monday, just as soon as it stops raining.

Lake Geneva Fire Boat Update

The good news for whomever might be buying the lakefront house next to my parents’ house is that Christmas lingers there. Long after the presents have been opened and discarded, long after the wrapping paper has been burned in the fireplace, long after the last of the orange rolls have been left in the porch to freeze in their tupperware container, the Christmas lights remain. The soft Christmasy glow from the garage icicle lights endures. This is a benefit of living next to my parents, assuming you love all-year Christmas decor.

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With that, it should be obvious that there is a contract on the modest lakefront that rests at the end of Upper Loch Vista Drive. Listed at $2.425MM just a few weeks ago, it was a nearby owner who decided to upgrade to private frontage, so the market will absorb a sale and sellers will point to what appears to be a very strong sales price for limited frontage. I’d argue that nearby owner upgrade sales shouldn’t really count the same as an outside buyer arriving at the scene and purchasing it, but what do I know? The house will be sold, the Christmas lights will dimly light their summer windows, and all will be well.

A lakefront on the south side of the lake closed this week. That lakefront was owned by the broker of a large local real estate company, and that brings up an interesting concept. Does it matter to you where the broker of your chosen brokerage lives? Does it matter where they vacation? Does it matter where they place their treasure? It should, because it’s difficult to serve two masters. That’s why it’s nice that my father lives on Geneva Lake, and that the owner of the other large real estate company here also lives on the lake. I wonder where the owners of a new brokerage spend their vacation time? Just kidding, I know. It’s Michigan. Michigan is not in Wisconsin.

Anyway, that property sold last week for $3.25MM. It was a very nice home, even if the exterior color scheme was subject to debate by anyone who had an opinion on house color, which is everyone I’ve ever met. The home was high end, and so the sale shouldn’t be a surprise. There was a shared pier here, which doesn’t matter to me in the same way that the shared pier of the Rainbow Point sale bothered me. That’s because this setting was designed to have a shared pier, so the current shared status was intended. It was not a piecemeal arrangement, it just was. The sale is nice for the market and proves that Fontana + Shiny = Sold.

There are 138 active lakefront and lake access homes on the market. No fewer than 10 of those are pending sale according to the MLS. There are pending properties galore priced under $310k, but nary a few scattered in the segments over that low price point. There are two homes in the seven hundreds pending, and one fanciful ranch on Academy Lane pending at an eye popping ask of nearly $1.5MM. My buyer is still awaiting close on the $1.55MM Shadow Lane lakefront, the one next to the Linn Township fire boat.

Of that fire boat. It’s disgusting, and it has no place in a residential neighborhood. Linn Township should be ashamed of itself for giving its residents such an insulting visual. I like the idea of a fireboat, because I was once a young boy who liked to play with firetrucks and remote control boats. I am not a grown man, sort of, so I understand that a fireboat with a giant water cannon is a good thing, in total theory. I also think that such a fireboat should be kept somewhere in an institutional setting, not in a residential neighborhood that has never before been forced to see such a grossly unnecessary municipal toy. If my lakefront house were burning and the comical metal fireboat showed up, I may wave it off, preferring instead to see a pleasant unmarred view while my house burns. Linn Township, put that boat by your boat launch, not at the end of Shadow Lane.

It would be nice if they listened, but likely they won’t. It’ll take some court action to decide that the pier was not permitted, that the riparian setbacks have not been met, should that be the case. Either way, get ready for a nice dose of tax payer funded blight on your next boat ride around the south shore. Thanks, Linn Township, for elevating my blood pressure.

The market looks fine to me right now. It might be a bit soft in segments, particularly in the $3MM+ range. There are buyers, but they seem to be content to wait, to while away their weekends in cities or suburbs, to grow old before they enjoy their weekends. This is their prerogative, and we cannot change that. As for me, if I were able, I’d trade one weekend living lakefront for a hundred in the suburbs. And yes, I know you have a trampoline and a fire pit and still I stand by my statement.

Lake Geneva Best Restaurants

Lake Geneva has some grocery stores. We do. We have plenty of them, actually. It’s just that they’re not really all that great, even though you can accomplish all of your needed shopping at any one of them. While I think it’s convenient to do your shopping at one store, the true epicurean experience here lies in sourcing individual ingredients from those shops that specialize in those particular items. As a point of fact, you would do well to source your cheese from the Brick Street Market in Delavan. You would do better to source your meat from Lake Geneva Country Meats. Along those lines, you would show extreme shopping sophistication if you went to the Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy to buy your Yuppie Hill chickens. What were you going to do, just buy your chickens from the grocery store? So pedestrian.

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With that theme in mind, we must apply it similarly to our restaurant scene. We have lots of restaurants, as do all resort towns. We have more than we need, really, but we have varying levels of quality. Unlike normal restaurant ranking systems, we do not have restaurants, excepting Medusa in Lake Geneva, that do most things well. Instead we have a stable of restaurants that excel at one thing or another, but rarely at all things at once. This is why if we want the best chicken we must travel to East Troy, to Delavan for cheese, to Lake Geneva for meat. This is why dining success is not found in subscribing to one particular restaurant, but rather in finding the best of some dish and traveling to where it is found. I am here to spare you the trial and error.

BEST BREAKFAST DISH

Remember, that did not say BEST BREAKFAST PLACE. Even though this dish may be at the best breakfast place, this is best dish, and that best breakfast dish is unequivocally the Turkey Brussel Sprout Hash at Simple in Lake Geneva. It consists of what the name implies, plus pine nuts, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, butternut squash, and some potatoes, too. Top that with an over easy egg, and what you have there is the best breakfast dish in the county. Perhaps the world. Go eat it.

BEST SANDWICH

This is using sandwich loosely. However, yesterday I ate a panini at a local restaurant that was actually in no way a panini, so loose interpretations are allowed. I have no doubt there are good burgers in the area, but despite my All-American life, I am not a huge burger fan. That’s why I go to Gordy’s and order the Yacht Club Chicken Wrap when I want a sandwich, and I get it with fries because I don’t want to appear emotionally soft, only physically so. The wrap is solid, with nothing attempting to be special, which is why it’s good. If you want to steal one of my moves, when you order it, pronounce yacht phonetically. The waitresses either like that or find it thoroughly annoying, I can’t yet tell.

BEST ELK MEAT ON AN ENGLISH MUFFIN

Pier 290 has a complicated menu. Unfortunately, it’s unnecessarily so. Also unfortunately, there will be no change in this unnecessary menu because change is not necessary. They built it, and we will come. We can’t help ourselves. I ate their yesterday, that whole non-panini thing, and I felt then as I always do. My tastebuds were ambivalent, but the scene is so terrific everything seems fine. So go less for the food and more for the atmosphere which is absolutely and positively second to none.

BEST FISH FRY

I have had tremendous fish fries at many local restaurants. I had a great fish fry once at most of the local establishments, but this is not about where I had a good meal once, this is about consistency, which is why if you’re looking to eat fish, you should take the scenic drive to Rushing Waters and the Trout House, just north of Elkhorn at the southern end of the Kettle Moraine. I have for years traveled this short distance to procure smoked salmon and trout, more of the prior and far less of the latter. But the restaurant is new as of 2014, and it’s a delight. Go on Friday night, eat the fish fry, thank me later.

BEST PIZZA

I write this with great hesitation. I do not in actuality know where the best pizza is served. I know there are lots of pizza places, and if I had to default I’d just tell you to go to Gino’s East in Lake Geneva. However, why travel from Chicago to dine as if you’re still in Chicago? This would be like using a Chicago real estate broker when you’re in Lake Geneva, which we all know to be a ludicrous proposition. There’s a new pizza place in the old Scuttlebuts location, and that pizza place has a great pizza oven. But so do I (see above), which is why the best pizza in the county is likely in my back yard, however, I am not yet properly permitted to allow diners, and my liquor license has been held up because I apparently lack proper county certifications. The new pizza place is quite good, but the center of a pizza should not be a soggy mess, so we’ll give some time for that to be sorted.

This is why you should eat your pizza at either Pino’s in Walworth or the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva. Both forms of pizza are not pure, as they are loaded with too much cheese and too much everything else. However, they are both tasty, both local, both able to satisfy.

BEST COFFEE

Coffee is not food, but it is the one thing most can agree on. Except for the tea drinkers. As for me, I do not find flower petals soaks in water to be appetizing, so I’ll stick to coffee. And I do like cream with my coffee, half and half is fine unless you have heavy whipping cream available, then I’ll have that. There are lots of coffee shops, which is easy to assume until you travel to somewhere like Door County and wish for quality coffee. I think the best coffee is somewhere that serves Collectivo, which is the ridiculous name that the folks who bought Alterra assigned to it. Simple serves this coffee, as does their bakery.

BEST CROISSANT

This is the Simple Bakery, without any question about anything. The danish is delightful as well, though the heading was very narrow- best croissant. The fact of the matter is that everything baked is terrific at this bakery, and we are spoiled for having it in our midst. I have to avoid the bakery due to what my doctors have called a little bit of a weight problem, but if I were skinny I’d eat there until I wasn’t. Get the danish, or the croissant, and you’ll be pleased, and soonly obese.

BEST BAGEL

This is a bit of a trick category. We have only one bagel shop, and if this were winter I wouldn’t tell you to go there, because if I did, it might not actually be open. My good friend Jeff owns Boatyard Bagel, and in the summer it is a terrific place to frequent. The ingredients are high quality, local when possible, and the culmination of his efforts is presented simply; a strong cup of Intelligentsia Coffee paired with a cinnamon and sugar bagel ladened with strawberry cream cheese is a sensory treat.

BEST FRENCH FRIES

A few years ago, Gordy’s tinkered with their french fry. It was a disastrous tinker, one that they quickly fixed by reverting to the old fry. That’s good for them, and for me, but the best french fry in the area is not even a french fry, it’s a waffle fry, which, according to the Herbie Beard Foundation falls under the broad category. Harpoon Willies is not well known for fine dining, even though their pizza is rather good and their fish sandwiches are standouts. However, the waffle fries at Harpoons are the best fries in the county, bar none. Go there and eat them.

BEST PRETTY MUCH EVERTHING

Medusa on Broad Street in Lake Geneva. If you were a kid in the 1980s and you liked to smoke and listen to the Violent Femmes, you’ll remember this as Hanny’s. Chef Greg makes things taste good, so go there if you’re looking for a high quality dining experience that can hold its own against any of the trendy Chicago restaurants.

There are others to list, but you’ll be well fed and happy all summer if you follow my lead.

Vacations

The vacation is an odd creature. When I packed my bags last Tuesday night, I initially packed neatly and diligently, orderly and smartly. This was the first bag. The bag that came after the first neat one was less so, but still orderly. Then the fly rods were hung from the straps that adorn the interior ceiling of the fishing truck, which is really just a silver Lexus SUV that I call a truck in a futile attempt to bestow more masculine qualities upon it. The bags that followed the first and the second, the ones that came after the fly rods were set in their traveling spaces, those bags were less packed and more thrown together, with different bits of content no longer organized by size, shape, or theme. They were just bags, filled with cell phone chargers, boxer shorts, fly boxes, graham crackers and marshmallows. The chocolate would be purchased later. This is how my trip began, and like any vacation, the preparations had actually begun far prior to that Tuesday night.

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Wednesday morning, we left at about the right time, but only after the dogs were sufficiently walked, the instructions for the dog-sitter thoroughly and annoyingly detailed. The house was cleaned, I yelled about it not being clean enough, the back of the truck filled to overflowing. The feminine SUV pointed West, but a bit North, the cruise control set at a rate of speed that would only later prove to be too elevated, at least according to the kind Swedish officer in Richland County that let me off with only a warning. I explained to him that I might have been speeding, but that if he were in my shoes, in that car with the bags and the graham crackers and the toxic mix of children then he, too, would be speeding in a futile attempt to outrun those problems in the backseat. He bought this, and I was thankful. The trip was not deterred, even if it was delayed while plates were run and I quietly pondered if the officer would come back to the car and arrest me in front of my children for outstanding warrants that would only be recognized as being against a different David Curry far after the damage that would be me cuffed and hauled away to the station in front of my wide-eyed children was done.

What followed was a few days of relaxation, I suppose. We were there in the small cabin that we have come to rent a few times a year, indulging in farmer’s markets and clear trout streams. We were happy to eat breakfast in a place where no one knew our names, to wander streets where our faces were not familiar. I had brought along a handful of cash that I had carefully planned where each bit would be spent. After one day, that plan lay in tatters in the center console, coin change and single dollar bills littering the area where a stack of diligently assigned twenties had resided. I watched the weather with conflicted interests, wishing for sunshine for my view, but clouds for my fishing desires. I wished for this weather, and I wished for my kids to behave, and I wished for my wife to stop wishing that her dogs would be with us.

Mostly though, I fished. I took my son with on that first outing, and as is my selfish habit I took him with me to a stream that I like for its technical difficulty, for its wary wild trout and its heavily wooded setting. This is not ideal for any novice fly fisher, let alone an 11 year old novice. The tangles were many, the long casts required were made mostly by me, and though I tried my best to set him up for success, I failed. We fished the afternoon away, crawling over logs and through the stinging sort of nettle. We caught many fish, he practicing what he long ago learned; to handle fish carefully and with respect, to release them back to the stream that they call home. When I hooked one fish that ate the fly too aggressively and it was apparent that the fish might not survive, we released him anyway and said a prayer on his behalf. Later, we ate chicken wings that were really just globs of chicken covered in aggressive batter. After that, we slept in our small beds in the same room, the screen door and windows open to the night sounds.

By Friday afternoon, it felt as though we had been gone for a very long while. I had showings scheduled for Sunday, an open house, too, and so by Friday late my mind had turned to those activities. I tried my best to mix a desire to relax with the necessity of work, and feel this morning as though I failed at both. Saturday night, with one night remaining on our scheduled vacation, we drove home. By Saturday midday, it was apparent that in order to make a success of Sunday I would need to wake up in my own house, in my own bed. I would need to shower in my own shower, the one where I can turn to grab the soap without knocking my nose on the shower head. We drove back East and a bit South, back home.

In that cabin on one of those short days of vacation, I hung up three different jackets on three different metal hooks. The hooks were on the wall under the open staircase, and I had brought so many jackets with because I feared rain, and without a dryer available, I would need a dry jacket to wear while the wet one air-dried. As this was only a vacation, an engineered attempt to be part of a different scene, these were not my hooks. They belonged to someone else, and I had merely rented access to those hooks for a few days. As I looked at those hooks, I decided that vacations cannot pretend to compete with pure vacation home ownership. I wanted to own those hooks, just as I want you to own the Lake Geneva hooks that you long for. I had an email yesterday from a client that I hope to someday sell a house to. He asked about a rental for a week in July. He likely didn’t understand when I responded by saying that he needs to buy his own set of hooks, so his jacket can hang there as long as he wishes.

Gone Fishing

I have never really taken a vacation. I doubt most working people ever have. I leave town, sleep in a different bed, eat breakfast at restaurants, but this is not a vacation. Even so, I try. My son will turn 12 next month, which sounds young to those of you that have older children, but it is, as a point of fact, an old age in comparison to all of his prior ages. He is old, and I am older still. This is why we’ll spend a few days wading through small streams, working on our casts, trying not to spook the trout. We’ll do this for a few days, and I’ll talk on my phone while in that stream, unless it’s one of the streams where my phone won’t work. It’s cute to put out a “Gone Fishing” sign, cuter still if it says “Gone Fishin”, but most of the time those signs are just signs and the people who hung them aren’t really fishing. I will be gone fishing until Saturday, and I’ll do these things while I can, before my boy is too old, before his schedule is too much like mine.

Meet Lakewood Estates

Vacation home seekers that find themselves in Walworth County, due to blind luck or strong recent discernment or long ago instilled nostalgia, generally find that lakefront on Geneva Lake is the goal. This is not just true for those vacation home owners that occupy the summer homes found off the water, near Geneva Lake. This is true for those owners on other lakes, those Delavan and Mary or maybe Elizabeth and Buelah. They wish for this lake. They won’t admit to it, mind you, but if given the choice, price considerations rendered completely unimportant, they’d find themselves in a large lakefront home on this lake, front and center. If they say this isn’t true, and they say that they love their lake, they aren’t be entirely genuine. Lakefront on Geneva is the goal, and if it weren’t for the value considerations, everyone would be clamoring for a house of their own.

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But the reality of lakefront on Geneva Lake is that it’s expensive. Whether your aim is an entry level $1.2MM house or a lavish $8MM spread, this is still expensive. You’ll never find me saying that the expense isn’t worth the transformative qualities that accompany such a purchase, but still, expensive. This is why buyers seek other options, on these other lakes or in far away fields. They say Denny is attempting to hide from his shame at his home in Wisconsin. He’s not in Lake Geneva. He’s in Crawford County, that Driftless region where one can buy most of the county for the price of a 50′ sliver of lakefront here. Buyers buy where they can afford, and over time, they convince themselves that the Lake Geneva scene isn’t for them, never was for them. They tell themselves that Geneva is too rough, too big, too crowded, too polished, too nice. What if we could engineer property that was beautiful and expensive, but inexpensive compared to the lakefront and lake access values? What if we could find a property that was part of the Lake Geneva vacation home market, indeed just a couple of miles from the water, but one that doesn’t command we pay the retail price for admission?

Enter Lakewood Estates. The name is generic sounding, but the property is anything but. I’ve often talked developers out of large scale developments here. The reason for my denial of my own future business is because our market is famously unable and unwilling to absorb heavy doses of new inventory. This is why Geneva National is stuck in the mud. This is why it was a blessing that the city of Lake Geneva didn’t allow that large development on the Huml property just South of town. This is why Mirbeau and friends being denied the development rights to the Yerke’s property was a win for everyone. Lake Geneva does most things very well, but large scale development is usually a disaster here. The developer considering the re-development of the Hilmoor Golf Course should pay close attention to this, and then dwell on these words: Don’t do it, unless bankruptcy is indeed the development goal.

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Lakewood Estates is a 330 acre property just East of the lake. It’s off Bloomfield Road, which is a road that most will never have cause to wander down. There has, for decades, existed a full 18 hole golf course that only those connected to the owner through business or clout have had the pleasure of playing. There is a 75 acre lake, a pittance when compared to the bountiful waters of Geneva but an unexpectedly large treat when dropped in the middle of a 330 wooded oasis. This has been, up until now, a retreat for a Chicago executive and his family. Now, it’s an exclusive 18 lot development ready to compete for the hearts and weekends of vacation loving city-dwellers. Of the 18 lots, 2 are already occupied by lavish existing homes. A third is under contract. A fourth will be sold shortly to allow for a new spec home. This leaves 14 vacant lots, priced from the mid $400s, giving the market some inventory to absorb but not so much that we defeat the intended exclusivity.

The magic of this community is that we don’t need any one particular sort of buyer. We have horse stables and pastures on property, so if you’re a horse-lover and you’ve always wished for the ability to ride a horse on the weekends, through the ample trails of the property and onto the 1000+ acres of adjacent DNR land, then you’re in luck. Bring your horses, or if you’ve spent your life horse-less, buy one and ship it here. Did I mention we have an indoor riding arena? Unlike other Chicago area brokerages, these are not Getty images that have little to do with the target property, these are real live horses, on the property that I’m talking to you about. Look at how happy these horses are.

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But this isn’t just a horse development, because if it were, we’d be searching for a very elusive buyer, one that values horses and nothing else. That’s why this 75 acre lake is here. Is it Geneva? Of course not. Can you boat on it for a whole afternoon? Don’t be absurd. Can your kids practice their sailing here, on our small Opti’s and Lasers? Of course they can. That’s why being here doesn’t mean not being at the lake, it means being at the lake some of the time, and honing your water skills here in the mean time. I love Geneva more than anything, but only a fool would send a 9 year old in an Opti into the wave fest that is a Saturday on Geneva. If you think it’s a nice idea to lounge on your lakeside patio while your son or daughter tacks back and forth on your own private lake, that’s what Lakewood does best.

Maybe sailing isn’t your thing, maybe fishing is. This lake is stocked with bass and pike, and panfish abound. Practice your fly-casting, slowly retrieving poppers on a calm weekend afternoon. Bring your kids out in a small row-boat, let them soak worms under bobbers. There won’t be any boats throwing wakes at you, maybe just a sailboat or two fluttering in the distance. It’s rather ideal, as you can imagine. We’re looking into adding a dedicated ski boat to the property, and allowing only a small daily window where that boat can be operated. The lake appears perfect for a slalom course, so if you’ve ever cursed weekend waves on Geneva as you try your darndest to get in a few runs, Lakewood has you covered.

You can do lots of things in Lincoln Park. For instance, you can do shopping. But you can’t shoot shotguns, or at least you really can’t shoot one more than once. We have plans at Lakewood to add a trapshooting course to the property, so your grandfather’s 20 gauge will no longer need to reside in a locked cabinet in your basement. Bring it to the lake, and shoot it on weekends with your friends, with your dad, with your kids. Teach them the sorts of things they can’t learn in the city. We have horses, riding/walking trails, pastures, that private lake for sailing and fishing and probably water skiing, and SUP cruising, we have trap shooting and that adjacent DNR property to do all sorts of outdoorsy things on, and we haven’t even talked about the golf. That’s because it’s not THE thing here, it’s just one of the things.

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The 18 hole golf course is quite nice, as is the new Scott Lowell built clubhouse. It’s fancy, really, and if you like the idea of all of those aforementioned weekend activities combined with your own private 18 hole golf course, well, then it’s time to visit. The golf course is beautiful, but so are local private/public courses. Geneva National is very nice, and there are 54 holes there compared to our 18. The difference? If you wanted to take your wife and kids out for a Saturday round on Geneva National, you’d need to make a tee-time. Then, you’d need to keep up the pace of play so as not to make those groups in front of you and behind you ornery. Then, you’d need to make sure you completed all 18 holes, because you’d be paying a lot for the privilege. Geneva National is a wonderful course, but it’s not exactly the place to teach a novice golfer to love the game. Big Foot Country Club is also a great course, but don’t break the dress code or you’ll be faced with sanctions. Lakewood has no such stuffiness to accompany our course. It’s just your private course, to play as you wish, and if you’d like to motor on your cart out to the course to play your favorite three holes after dinner, be our guest. We won’t chastise you.

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Where else could this vast array of activities exist? Where else could you do all of that and still be five minutes to downtown Lake Geneva, where you can still be part of this entire vacation home scene? To help you understand the property, I’m happy to provide private tours, and they’ll be unlike most property tours. Unless, of course, most of your property tours involve me taking you around the property, while we play a few holes of golf, and then lounge at the private clubhouse (above) to discuss the details. We have a spec home scheduled to be underway by the end of this month, and the plan is a Jason Bernard masterpiece. And that brings us to why you’d be here and not on the lake. These homes will be absolutely beautiful, with high end finishes and lakefront settings. They’ll be stylish, and high end, and when the dust settles you’ll be able to have your brand new vacation home, nestled against that private lake and behind our new granite-gated entrance, beyond the pastures where the horses spend their days munching grass and swishing their tails, for an all-in price between $1.5MM and $1.9MM.

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To consider the market context, look to the off-water homes that have sold in recent years. Consider properties on Stearns in Fontana selling north of a million. Consider the home up the road from the lake in Academy Estates listed at nearly $1.5MM, which is already pending sale. Consider your options, sure, but consider them and then let me introduce you to Lakewood Estates, because it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.

Lake Geneva Vacation Home Market Update

The thing about real estate, the thing that we’ve discussed at great length, is that the valuations within a market are subjective, but the assessment of performance is not. This is why I can disagree with another agent when it comes to how egregious a particular list or print price may be, but I cannot argue with that agent if he says there were four sales on that street in the prior year. Likewise, if an agent says they’re number one, they should probably be number one. If they run an ad that says they were voted number one by two independent labs, and then the ad shows a picture of the agent with their two dogs, then they should immediately be banned from selling real estate, forever and ever. This is why if a new broker says they’re at the head of the class in the market, they should be at the head of the class in that market. They should be number one if they say they’re number one. Such liberal advertising claims might be something we’re going to have to get used to. We are, after all, just simple country folk, and so insulting our intelligence is just a nice way of telling us that we matter.

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Anyway, about those statistics. The vacation home market at Lake Geneva is super crazy hot. Just look at the ads in the paper, the ads in the magazines, the social media. Hot, hot, hot. Had I been carefully reading the playbook, I would have known to capitalize all three of those h’s, but I haven’t subscribed to that book for years. The market is hot, the buyers motivated, the agents breathless. But this is just the marketing side of real estate, which cannot be confused with the statistical side of real estate, which, in turn, should never be confused with the fiction of ads. You might be able to subjectively claim you’re at the head of the class, but a market cannot subjectively proclaim itself hot, when it’s tepid at best.

The market has buyers today, plenty of them. But as I scan the MLS all day every day, I see particular pockets of activity surrounded by calm. The lake access market priced under $300k is absolutely on fire. That’s true, so if you read that in an ad this weekend, believe it. There are no fewer than seven lake access homes pending sale priced $310k or less. This is an active segment of the market, and if you’re contemplating such a simple vacation home purchase I would encourage you to gather your motivation and act on it. Interest rates are low, prices are stable, and the inventory is somewhat plentiful. The homes that follow that range, those from $310k all the way to $1.4MM, feature exactly two pending properties today. How does that strike you? Super, insanely busy? If I stand under a crystal chandelier with my name in titanic, sparkling letters, will you ignore the statistics and just buy something, please? What if I put a picture of a little girl on my ad, a little girl that’s quite obviously not anywhere near Lake Geneva, and I tell you that you should FaceTime me? Then will you think that two homes pending out of 70 is a performance worthy of a breathless pitch?

The two homes pending in that range include one in Country Club in the upper $400s, and one with a small pier in Glenwood Springs in the mid $700s. Both are fine properties and will be fine sales. There’s a large off-water home in Academy Estates pending for $1.475MM, which is fine, I guess. It’s a very nice house, a long ways from the water, with a slip. That’s not a market that I’d like anyone to bet on, but it is a market that exists in fits and starts and we can all agree that this sale is either a fit or a start. Probably a fit.

The lakefront market, on the heels of an active five year span, is only showing one pending sale. That sale is to a cherished buyer of mine, and that property is the simple lakefront at the end of Shadow Lane listed at $1.55MM. That’ll be a fun story to tell when it closes next month, but for now, it stands out as the only pending lakefront on the MLS. There are others pending, at least two that are off-market, and a third if you count the auction house in the upper $5MMs. Unlike the rest of the vacation home market, the lakefront market continues to lag in 2015 purely because there is not inventory that matches the position of the buyers. We have tremendous inventory over $4MM right now, but only a handful of buyers. We have a swarm of buyers in the $1.8MM to $3.5MM price range, but the inventory is aged or otherwise unimpressive to that buying group. Still, some of these homes will sell this year, that’s a fact that you can stand on, next to the giant letters that spell your name and under a huge crystal chandelier. It’s just that we’d sell a whole lot more lakefronts if we had some new inventory that was priced nicely in that $2-3MM range.

The entry level lakefront market is one that will yield value this summer. I expected entry level to rise this year, and I admit that my projection was wrong. Inventory can nullify any projection of price gain, and the entry level inventory has swelled to a point where we have five or six sellers competing for that entry level buyer. Buyers should pay attention to this jockeying, as some of these entry level offerings are going to sell in the $1.1-$1.25MM range. Those will be solid value propositions in that range, and I do wish that any lakefront buyer seeking an affordable waterfront option would contact me quick-ish. Until then, I’ll be standing here next to this huge chandelier, or maybe I’ll be leaning up against giant gilded letters that spell my name, either way. I’ll be here.

Above, my incredible lake access home in Lake Geneva listed at $995,000. Buyers with tremendous style only, please.