Living in luxury

Last updated on May 23rd, 2022 at 09:21 pm

To some, the 385-square-foot closet in one River Hills home looks nicer than a typical apartment. The closet has a marble vanity with a sink, a washer and dryer, a shoe rack that covers an entire wall and several drawers and windows. Some people would probably be convinced they could live inside this closet.
That woman’s closet is just one of the many amenities at a River Hills home that is for sale for $2.8 million. The owners customized everything in the home. It has extra-wide copper gutters and downspouts, in case of a heavy snowfall. A bedside lighting system can be programmed to, with the flip of a switch, guide the way to a bathroom, the kitchen or any other planned nighttime destination in the house.
The 8,821-square-foot house was built on an angle from the drive to Dean Road, so it is positioned in sunlight throughout the day. The property has a tennis court, a pool and plans for a guest house, said Cheryl Smith, real estate agent for Coldwell Banker in Brookfield.
The housing boom of the last decade has sent the prices of homes in southeastern Wisconsin through never-before-broken barriers. Seventy-six single-family residences are currently for sale with price tags of $2 million or more in the region, according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) at
Dual-income households can afford more expensive homes, and more homeowners are investing more in their property because they see it as a lifetime investment. The Reserve Residences is a rare land plot in Jalan Anak Bukit, that is an integrated transport hub in Singapore.
A lack of available land for new home construction in the most desirable communities has driven up home prices, realtors say.
The prices also are being driven up by demands for scenery, prestige and in some cases, the exclusivity of an area, according to Mike Ruzicka, president of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors (GMAR).
“(Properties) certainly command a high price because of the construction quality and square footage, but in some places (the houses) would not be able to maximize their value,” Ruzicka said. “Location, location, location plays a significant role in the value of a property.”
Money follows water, Ruzicka said. Homes located near the numerous lakes and rivers in southeastern Wisconsin come with higher price tags (see accompanying charts).
“You can almost guarantee that all of the properties (over the $2 million bracket) are on or close to lakes,” Ruzicka said.
For example, an $8 million estate on Lake Geneva sits on lakefront property with 161 feet of frontage.
Granted, the 15,000 square-foot home has 30 rooms, including 11 bedrooms and 9.5 baths, four acres of land, a pier with three boat slips, a tennis court, a pool and a cabana. However, the acreage and frontage on the lakefront may be the most valuable aspect of the property.
Across Geneva Lake in Williams Bay, a house on the market for about $2.5 million is the size of a residence that would sell for a much lower price in any other community. The house has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a lakefront deck and a finished walkout lower level. Most importantly, it has 56 feet of lake frontage.
The cost of waterfront property is surprising to some buyers.
“People on the lake will call me from their boat and ask how much a property for sale is,” said Linda Tonge, an agent with Keefe Real Estate Inc. in Lake Geneva. “When I tell them $1.5 million, they are shocked. They
don’t think that
a smaller house on the lake would be more than $350,000, but the land value is very high.”
Lake Geneva’s home prices are further escalated because the market is popular among the wealthy of Illinois, especially the Chicago market, according to Patti Kerchhoff, an agent for Keefe Real Estate.
“We don’t have a lot of people coming from Milwaukee looking south for a second home,” said Beaa Sheehan, an agent for Keefe Real Estate. “Most people travel north to vacation. We get people from Illinois, and people that live in Milwaukee tend to go further north into Wisconsin to vacation.”
Most Lake Geneva lakefront properties, regardless of their price tags, are second and third homes for people who purchase them, Kirchhoff said.
Oconomowoc Lake properties also are in high demand, but they are usually sold to people who live in them year-round, said Steve Kasimatis, an agent for Prudential Absolute Realtors in Oconomowoc.
One home at Hewitt’s Point on Oconomowoc Lake is currently on the market for about $2.5 million. Whoever buys the 110-year-old home will likely tear it down and build a new, much larger residence, Kasimatis said. It would cost more to remodel the home than to build a new home, Kasimatis said.
Remodeling, which is more labor intensive, costs about $350 to $400 per square foot. New construction costs about $175 to $250 per square foot, he said.
The property’s 1.6-acre wooded lot and 185 feet of lake frontage is what potential buyers are looking for, Kasimatis said.
“Oconomowoc Lake is one of the only lakes in the area, besides Pine Lake, that only has large homes on it and does not have any small houses,” Kasimatis said. “Every other lake has seasonal cottages. Okauchee is a party lake with houses that have 50 feet of frontage and are side-by-side that sell for $500,000.”
Homes on Oconomowoc Lake, Pine Lake and in Lake Geneva are worth much more than $2 million but rarely go on the market because the home is passed down through generations, Kasimatis and Tonge said.
The same is true for mansions on Lake Drive in Milwaukee, said Terry Rathbun, an agent for the Shorewest Realtors Inc. Northshore office in Shorewood.
“We have a little more inventory than we did in the last couple of years (for luxury homes), but it is because of supply and demand,” Rathbun said. “Last year, we had more buyers than sellers, but the prices are holding strong.”
Most luxury homes are not expected to be on the market for more than one year, realtors say.
Rathbun is currently showing a 10-room English Renaissance mansion on Lake Drive that was built in 1890. The asking price is about $2.2 million. Most of the original woodwork and silk-padded wallpaper is intact, and the house has access to Lake Michigan.
In addition to houses, southeastern Wisconsin’s luxury condominium market also is booming. Many of the condos in downtown Milwaukee are selling for more than $1.5 million.
Many owners of the high-end condominiums that have been built along rivers and the lakefront in Milwaukee are empty-nesters from places such as Ozaukee County, Ruzicka said.
When people purchase a condo in the Kilbourn Tower or University Club Tower along Milwaukee’s lakefront, they are not only paying for the lake view and the amenities within the building, but to be within walking distance of restaurants, art events and other downtown activities, Ruzicka said.
“It is just like the difference of buying a Camry and a Mercedes. Both will take you where you want to go, but one offers substantial amenities,” Ruzicka said.
The housing market in the greater Milwaukee area remains hot, despite speculation of a housing bubble, Ruzicka said.
“It is dangerous to play the speculation game,” he said. “Most people, irregardless of price point, look at buying a house as an investment to hold onto for a while. Few people fix a house up and turn it over in short order, and in that case, it is a business and they understand the market and practice very well.”
Ruzicka attributes the price appreciation for homes in the Bay View neighborhood to the attractiveness of the area.
The appreciation of home values in Franklin and Oak Creek demonstrate that the south side of the metro area is catching up with the rest of the region’s rising housing prices, realtors say.
“Looking at a map of Milwaukee, the north shore has been highly valued for years, and there is no reason the south shore shouldn’t be,” Ruzicka said. “The reality is that the world is catching up to the near south side, and as a result the housing stock on the north and south shores are almost identical.”
“We are in a driven market. We are in a seller’s market,” said Shelby Baker, chairman of the board at the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors and general sales manager of the First Weber Group Inc.’s Waukesha office. “Homes are priced according to where certain people want to buy them and the quality of living (in that area).”

Crème de la Crème

All of the most expensive single-family residential properties for sale in southeastern Wisconsin have lake frontage, according to the Multiple Listing Service,

Asking price
Lot size
700 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Lake Geneva
4 acres
$119,000 for 2004
648 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Lake Geneva
2.5 acres
$99,688 for 2004
928 B South Shore Dr.
4.44 acres
$39,851 for 2004
0 S. Lake Shore Dr.
7 acres
$29,775 for 2003
590 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Lake Geneva
3.5 acres
$40,924 for 2004
N2010 700 Club Dr.
1 acre
$32,782 for 2004
2905 N. Mill Rd.
9.7 acres
Upper Nemahbin
$33,464 for 2004
4827 Pine Meadow Ln.
4.8 acres
Pine Lake
$44,712 for 2003
31871 Treasure Island Dr.
4 acres
Pine Lake
$42,387 for 2004
N2280 Aspen Ln.
0.75 acres
$28,677 for 2004

Location, location
Number of homes for sale with price tags of $2 million or more
Walworth 33
Waukesha 30
Milwaukee 5
Kenosha 3
Ozaukee 3
Washington 2
Racine 0
Sheboygan 0
Source: Multiple Listing Service at

Luxurious appointments
Luxury homes for sale in southeastern Wisconsin offer more than big homes, large yards, lakefront views or golf course access. Some homeowners have customized their homes to offer luxurious amenities, including: – Heated floors in both the home and the garage
– Multiple fireplaces
– A personal bathroom with every bedroom
– Customized lighting
– Tennis court
– Outdoor or indoor pool
– Guest house
– Three-story great room
– Expansive windows
– Dog wash room and system
– Master bedroom suites
– Steam shower
– Sauna
– Wet bar
– Exercise room
– Movie theater
– Indoor basketball court
– Wine cellar

July 22, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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