Whether you spent childhood summers camping at Covenant Harbor, weekends away at your friend’s cozy Buena Vista cottage, or annual family vacations at Lake Lawn, you have something in common: those sand-in-your-sheets, beach-hair-don’t-care, lake life memories. Why not make more of them?
That’s where the quest for a second home begins. It starts innocently enough with a scroll through the online listings and inevitably lands in Lake Geneva because, simply said, there is no place like it.
Lake Geneva is just over an hour’s drive from the Chicago or Milwaukee areas. It offers homes at many price points, and the cleanliness of Geneva Lake and the surrounding lakes provides for an amazing experience. Just jump in the water and you’ll see.
Even if you’re not ready to take the plunge, it’s never too soon to plot your future purchase. As the local agents mention, this is a strong second-home market and many people don’t resell. If the agents do their job and the client is happy, they keep these vacation homes in their families for generations.
Often the million-dollar question is the cost to entry. “Don’t be put off by the price tags on the multimillion- dollar lakefront estates,” says Tom Keefe, president and CEO of Keefe Real Estate. “With a wide range of prices and surprisingly lots of lakes, there are many ways to get to the lake life.”
Sense of Place
While the 5,000-acre, world-class Geneva Lake initially draws most vacation home buyers, they don’t always land on these exact shores. There are several lesser known lakes all within 30 miles of Lake Geneva, and each has its own vibe and value. According to Keefe’s agents, the key is to listen. One must first figure out why a buyer wants a second home, then introduce the opportunities.
For lake views, a popular prerequisite for part-time residents, will often point to the pristine Geneva Lake. With 60 different associations providing lake access, buyers can likely find the right mix of amenities and views within their budget. Others seeking a camp-like Northwoods feel without the up-north drive time may prefer the heavily forested Rice Lake along Kettle Moraine, or the spring-fed Pleasant and Beulah, all of which enforce no-wake curfews. Around dinnertime, the pontoons, sailboats and fisherman come out, and the echoed giggling and splashing can be heard from the youth camps.
Love water-skiing? A skilled agent’s first stops likely will be Geneva, Delavan, Lauderdale, Twin or Whitewater lakes, which all permit skiing until sunset. (A bonus: Lauderdale, Whitewater, and Twin Lakes boast ski teams with shows rivaling those of Wisconsin Dells.) Would-be and seasoned sailors seeking that Vineyard Vines ambiance and a packed regatta schedule often steer toward Geneva, Delavan, Beulah and Powers, each home to active yacht clubs with sailing schools. If you’re just in it for the lengthy cocktail cruise, cheers! Lauderdale, Beulah and Geneva each have 15-plus miles of shoreline that takes hours to imbibe in and explore.
Sometimes, however, buyers can’t quite hone in on what they want in a lake house. In that case, drenching oneself in the various lakes’ lifestyles is thoroughly recommended. Keefe Real Estate agents advise jump in to experience it all, and to keep an open mind.
Perhaps you’ll start at the crystal clear, 440-acre Powers Lake and pull up to one of its beloved little sandbars, enticed by the music and revelry of fellow boaters. Perhaps you’ll take a trip to the sandy shorelines of the 948-acre Twin Lakes, a two-lake chain connected by a narrow channel navigable by kayak or canoe. Pick up a starter cottage around $200,000 and walk to everything – downtown shops, on-water restaurants, or the public beach and adjacent Lance Park, which is home to the twice weekly Aquanut ski show.
Similarly, the glassy three-lake-chain, Lauderdale Lakes, hosts biweekly ski shows along with sailing regattas, a shoreline tiki bar and lakeside 9-hole golf. It is not uncommon to see power boats and pontoons linked together for a pop-up party in this low-key community, where homes start at $250,000 and climb up to $3 million. Those seeking the ultimate retreat might converge on a cottage on one of Lauderdale or Beulah’s residential islands, accessible by pontoon. A sailor’s delight, the spring-fed Beulah boasts big winds, a rugged shoreline, and six camps that protect the lakeshore from development.
Ringed by Kettle Moraine’s forest, the Canadian-like Whitewater and Rice lakes lure anglers, swimmers and boaters alike, with evening ski shows at Scenic Ridge Campground’s beach and a shoreline dog park. A favorite of fisherman and families, Delavan Lake offers several associations with lake access along its 18 miles of shoreline, a popular Yacht Club, and Lake Lawn Resort with 18 holes of golf, restaurants and an airstrip. Here, an entry level three-bedroom, two-bath home with boat launch and pier goes for about $175,000, while a four-bedroom, three-bath with 100 feet of private lake frontage starts at around $1.5 million.
Chart Your Course
While the Geneva Lakes area plays host to many skilled fix-and-flip design teams, chances are you’re looking at a cottage, condo or estate in need of a refresh. When homes aren’t move-in ready, partnering with an experienced Realtor is key. Often their job involves matching people with a local contractor who can get the work done while also introducing them to construction costs and zoning limits. Local Keefe agents have noted that it’s a valuable 3-D education.
Agents can also provide advice on area rental regulations, should you wish to maximize your return on investment. It’s surprising how easy it is to cover your taxes and mortgage, while still leaving ample time to enjoy your vacation home personally. The demand for attractive rentals far exceeds the supply. Keefe makes the process easy, offering a full rental service for vacation homes that takes care of bookings, payments, cleanings and property inspections between guests.
Another option is to purchase a condo-hotel unit. Condominiums at Lake Lawn and Delavan Lake Resort include amenities like pools, tennis, and lake frontage, and can be rented as a hotel room when vacant. These types of condos on Delavan Lake range from $89,000 for a one bedroom to $300,000 for a two-bedroom loft with a boat slip.
Some Illinois buyers choose to invest in their Wisconsin vacation home and simply rent back in Chicagoland. According to Keefe agents, buying in and around Lake Geneva is a solid investment, as this area has long been a vacation destination since Chicago moguls built up its shores in the late 1800s, calling it the Newport of the West.
A lake house is the best investment anyone can every make, and the benefits are seen both financially and in quality of life. In the end, the main reason people want a second home is for connection – connection to a place and to one another. A vacation home is meant to be shared with family and friends, making lifelong memories.
You can’t put a price tag on that.
If you would like to connect with one of Keefe’s lake experts, please reach out to us at:
Natali Grgas | firstname.lastname@example.org | 262.475.0882
By: Barbara Karabas