Spring is still more than a month away, but as far as home builders are concerned, winter's over. And it has been for weeks.
After a slow fall, home sales are picking up and Lawrence-area builders are hustling to catch up with demand.
``With the nice weather, everybody's taking an opportunity to get after it,'' said Neal Ezell, president of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn.
The city of Lawrence issued 27 permits for residential construction during January. That's up from six a year ago, and is the highest January level in three years.
``That's pretty much weather-driven,'' Ezell said. ``Typically, we figure on winter being over about Feb. 15. Not this year.''
Of the 27 permits issued during January, 18 were for construction of single-family homes. Nine were for duplexes and triplexes. A year ago, only four were for single-family homes.
Ezell, of Ezell-Morgan Construction in Lawrence, said he thought many builders had been wary of adding to their inventory of homes after slow sales late last year stuck them with too many unsold homes.
``The guys that had inventory sat on it through the last three months of last year,'' he said. ``At least we did.''
But warmer weather and record-low mortgage interest rates have kick-started demand for housing. Ezell said much of the current activity was in higher-end houses, around $220,000.
A weekly Journal-World survey of area mortgage lending has shown most local lending activity has been in two price ranges: houses selling for $50,000 or less and those priced from $100,000 to $150,000. That could be changing.
Ezell predicted that building would remain strong for at least the first half of the year as pent-up demand is met.
The total number of building permits issued by the city last month was up nearly 40 percent from a year ago, to 170. In January 1996, the total was 122. Besides residential construction, the city issues permits for business construction, remodeling, electrical, plumbing and mechanical work and for construction of signs.
Apart from residential construction, the biggest jump in other permits was for mechanical work, which jumped to 43 permits from 23 a year ago.
-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is email@example.com.