The State of Madison Real Estate

Beautiful yards, freshly painted walls—even neighborhood water parks—will help speed home sales as the market slowly improves

Greater Madison’s real estate market is a little stronger than in 2010, observes Mark Gladue, broker/associate with Forward Group Associated with Keller Williams Realty, Inc. “We’re seeing that, even though last year’s homebuyer tax credit is gone, Mark Gladue
interest rates remain low,” he says.Jack Gaudion

“That’s the main driver of the first-time homebuyer market in Madison,” Gladue says. “There’s a steady stream of buyers for medium-priced homes, around the $220,000 mark. And the luxury market is starting to come back because prices are now lower than in 2006.”

Jack Gaudion, co-owner of The Legend Clubs, has seen more sales activity in last the last six months than since he purchased The Legend at Bergamont in 2007. “We’re seeing that people are still willing to build homes, so we’re very optimistic. There are 13 homes under construction or slated to break ground in just the newest section of the neighborhood.”

The Legend at Bergamont has been selected as a 2011 Parade of Homes site, and Gaudion predicts the Parade will really generate buzz. “The homes in that section range from 2,500 square feet to roughly 7,000 square feet—there’s a real variety.”

He’s focused on providing choices. Bergamont’s original section—developed before Gaudion bought the property—includes homes in the $350,000-plus range. “In today’s economy especially, there’s a limited market for million-dollar homes,” he says. “We’re looking to match what people are willing to invest. Our developments have some gated areas and some public streets with smaller, more affordable lots.”

A Buyer’s Market

It makes sense to offer variety—in greater Madison, as in many communities. It’s still a buyer’s market. There’s a large inventory of homes available. According to South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service’s statistics, there’s nearly eight months of inventory of homes valued between $200,000 and $225,000, and even more for higher-end homes. More than 30 percent of available homes are distressed properties, usually available at bargain prices.

That means sellers really have to step up their games. “In this market people have so many choices,” says Gladue. “There may be five homes on your street for sale. If your home isn’t primed and ready, looking better than the competition, it won’t sell.”

Rich CarlsonObviously, curb appeal is vital and landscaping sets the tone. “Other than the architecture, that’s what forms your first impression,” says Rich Carlson, licensed landscape architect at The Bruce Company of Wisconsin, Inc. “You can have the most beautiful home in the world, but if the landscaping is in disarray it has a drab, unkempt look.”

Good landscaping gives a whole neighborhood a look of stability. “If you have a group of homes with grounds that are neat, clean and well maintained, it gives a sense of security,” Carlson says. “You know the owners take pride in what they have.”

Attractive landscaping features colors that draw the eye and highlights unique features of the property. “It should also have continuity,” says Carlson. “If you have a Victorian home, very modern landscaping won’t match.”

He recommends contacting a landscaping professional up front. “He or she will look at the site and see important elements the homeowner might not.

First Things First

“A professional can keep you moving forward rather than having to go back,” he adds. “Many times a homeowner rips out plants and buys new ones that are wrong for the property.”

And when people think about curb appeal, they immediately think of plants, Carlson reflects. “But you have to look at the
hardscape first—traffic flow and drainage are very important, or you may want a new footpath or patio. You have to put the items in place that won’t change over time before the aesthetics. If you look at aesthetics first, you may make mistakes, and then both fail.”

Homeowners may think they can’t afford a professional. “But you may save money in the long run if you don’t have to correct mistakes,” says Carlson. “We can come up with a plan that meets the homeowner’s time and cost restrictions. For the budget-conscious or time starved, we can recommend lower-cost, lower-maintenance plants.”

He tells clients to do what they think they can and pay for what they can’t do. “They may want a complicated focal point on the property that we’ll create and they’ll do the rest. Or they just might want us to develop the plan—one unique thing about us is that we have a garden center, so they can purchase their plants right here.”

Clean, Fresh and Priced to Sell

When it comes to your home itself, clean and fresh are the watchwords. “The little things can make all the difference—a coat of paint, bulbs in all the light fixtures, clean, well-placed furniture, fresh flowers,” Gladue advises.

Here, too, a professional can help. “I show 50–75 homes a week so I know what people are looking at,” says Gladue.

Some of the decisions can be tricky. If the carpet is heavily stained, you might replace it with a neutral color. “But the buyer may
prefer to take a credit at closing and choose their own carpet,” Gladue says. “The kitchen and bathroom are still the No. 1 remodeling jobs you can do if they’re outdated, but with today’s prices it’s more challenging to get a high return on that investment.”

Still, he says, the three things potential buyers look at are flooring, kitchens and bath, and paint, so you have to evaluate them. “If I walk in, I can tell you what price you’ll get for the home if you update or if you don’t, and how long it will likely take to sell,” explains Gladue. “It depends on your needs; if you want to get top dollar, you may want to update. If you have to sell quickly, I can recommend smaller things to do instead.”

Especially in this market, it’s important that your real estate professional knows the area, Gladue notes. “From 2002 to 2007, homes were like piggy banks—you could put your home up ‘for sale by owner’ and people would just buy it. Not that we’re in a fire sale market now, but price is the driving force. You can make the home look as great as possible, but you have to price at what will sell in your neighborhood.”

He looks back six months to see what other homes have sold in a neighborhood. “If I see a lot of sales in winter—when the market is generally slower—it speaks well for the neighborhood,” he says. “I can tell you what sold and the average price per square foot. Then we’ll look at whether your home is average and what we can do to make it above average.”

Stand-Out Amenities

Some neighborhoods have built-in advantages, like The Legend at Bergamont’s heavily landscaped entry points. They instantly set the scene for potential homebuyers.

“But the biggest wow factor is our water park,” says Gaudion. “It’s a $3 million-plus complex with swimming pools, two water slides and a lazy river, along with a fitness center and tennis courts. “Everybody who’s moved in has named it as a factor,” he adds.

Add to that the lavish clubhouse with its ballroom and dining facilities, fronted by cascading waterfalls, overlooking the championship 18-hole golf course. The pool and club are private, but members don’t have to live in the neighborhood

“Our amenities separate us from any other development,” Gaudion asserts. “We’re developing a lifestyle beyond residential lots and homes.”

Gaudion partners with Fiduciary Real Estate Development, Inc. “I have a strong track record on the golf side, as Fiduciary does on the development and real estate side,” he says. “They’re headquartered in Milwaukee and own properties around the state.”

The Legend Clubs’ members are mostly young families with children under age 13, and most of the neighborhoods’ residents fall into the same camp. “There are also empty nesters who want to live the golf lifestyle,” notes Gaudion.

He co-owns two Milwaukee-area developments, The Legend at Brandybrook and The Legend at Bristlecone, and members of one club can go to all three. Bergamont is the only one with available homes and lots.

“That’s a big upside because we’re unique in the Madison area and we could have a five- to 10-year build-out here,” says Gaudion. “And I don’t see too many more residential golf communities being built; the amenities are too costly.”

— Judy Dahl

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