Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Lawrence home sales slow in 2004

New construction expected to lift market this year

January 18, 2005


The market for buying and selling homes in Lawrence and Douglas County just isn't as busy as it used to be.

But it's close.

Officials recorded 2,058 sales of single-family homes in the county during 2004. That was down seven from the record set a year earlier, and the first yearly decrease since county sales dipped 3.3 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Lawrence had 1,610 sales last year, four fewer than 2003, according to reports from the Douglas County Appraiser's Office.

The Lawrence total does not include North Lawrence, which the office tracks as a separate market. North Lawrence had 62 sales last year, down 27 percent from the 85 homes sold a year earlier.

Much of the sales decline can be attributed to a supply issue, said Lisa Ramler, incoming president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors. With builders having few lots to build on for much of the year, buyers had fewer homes to choose from.

"But this next year, there's a lot more development going on around the city," said Ramler, a real estate agent with Hedges Real Estate Realty Executives in Lawrence. "If you just look at what's going to be coming up the next four, five, six months, it's going to be a significant amount of new construction this year, over 2004.

"Lawrence is an area where people like the new construction. They move that direction, and it helps it all along. The new construction is obviously the higher dollar, and everyone moves up."

But a lack of new homes didn't stifle the market. Mortgage interest rates stayed low enough -- generally ranging from 5.5 percent to 6.25 percent -- to keep people interested in buying and selling, Ramler said.

That's what helped Scott and Mindy Dick make the decision to move. After looking at homes for more than a year, they settled in August on buying an existing house nearby.

With three children under their roof, going from three to four bedrooms was a big plus, Mindy Dick said. Her husband soon added a fifth bedroom in the basement on Wagon Wheel Road, and still left the family with plenty of space to spare.

Average prices paid in 2004 for homes in areas of Douglas County, compared with a year earlier, according to reports from the Douglas County Appraiser's Office:¢ Rural -- $233,490, up 12.3 percent.¢ Lawrence -- $180,526, up 4.2 percent.¢ Eudora -- $152,824, up 6.2 percent.¢ Baldwin-- $146,440, up 3 percent.¢ North Lawrence -- $115,421, up 11.9 percent.¢ Total Douglas County -- $177,458, up 5 percent.

"The rates were better than our previous loan," Mindy Dick said. "It was a bigger place, and with the rates low that helped."

While the Dicks' patience paid off, others sat the year out. Many potential buyers and sellers simply decided to stay put, cautious about the economy and frustrated by a lack of new homes to consider.

"People could refinance at such a good rate, or get an equity line, so they were finishing off basements or expanding," Ramler said. "It's easy to do that. If you can't find what you're looking for and the new construction's not out there, you fix up what you have."

Or look elsewhere.

Eudora and Baldwin each had double-digit rate increases for home sales in 2004, according to the appraiser's office:

  • Eudora had 184 sales, up 24, or 15 percent, from a year earlier.
  • Baldwin had 89 sales, up nine, or 11.3 percent, from 2003.

Both communities report robust construction of new homes, and overall market prices are attracting buyers. The average price paid last year for a Eudora home was $152,824, while the average price in Baldwin was $146,440.

Average price in Lawrence: $180,526.

"With the cost of new construction -- the cost of land and fees associated with building -- we're going to see an increase in value across the board," Ramler said of prices in Lawrence. "Eudora's probably the biggest growth area in Douglas County. There's so much new construction there, and it's so much more affordable. A lot of people are commuting to Kansas City, and Eudora's a good alternative for them."

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