The number of homes sold in Lawrence and Douglas County dipped in 2004, as the pace of new-home construction helped keep potential buyers out of the market.
According to the Douglas County Appraiser's Office, there were 2,058 sales of single-family homes last year, down seven from the record established a year earlier.
It was the first yearly decrease since county sales fell 3.3 percent from 2001 to 2002.
Sales also slipped in Lawrence during 2004. The city had 1,610 sales, or four fewer than a year earlier, according to reports from the appraiser's office.
The total for Lawrence does not include sales in North Lawrence, which the office tracks as a separate market. There were 62 homes sold in North Lawrence last year, off 27 percent from the 85 homes sold a year earlier.
Lisa Ramler, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said that a tight supply of sites for new homes helped slow sales activity. With builders faced with having fewer lots to build on, potential buyers had fewer homes to choose from.
But there are signs of a turnaround.
"There's a lot more development going on around the city," said Ramler, a Realtor 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."
Construction of new homes helps the entire market, she said.
"Lawrence is an area where people like the new construction," Ramler said. "They move that direction, and it helps it all along. The new construction is obviously the higher dollar, and everyone moves up."
Favorable mortgage interest rates -- generally ranging from 5.5 percent to 6.25 percent -- helped keep people in the market, despite the relative lack of new homes, she said.
Among those taking advantage of the rates: Scott and Mindy Dick, who looked for a year before deciding in August to relocate to a bigger home nearby.
"The rates were better than our previous loan," Mindy Dick said. "It was a bigger place, and with the rates low that helped."
The couple's persistence may have paid off, but others didn't have as much patience. Ramler said that some people decided against making a move, as they looked for signals of a strengthening economy or new offerings to hit the market.
The started the new year waiting on the sidelines or out of the game altogether.
"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."
Others turned to out-of-town options.
Eudora and Baldwin each had double-digit rate increases for home sales in 2004, according to the appraiser's office:
#8226; Eudora had 184 sales, up 24, or 15 percent, from a year earlier.
#8226; Baldwin had 89 sales, up nine, or 11.3 percent, from 2003.
Both communities have enjoyed an active market for building new homes, and prices have been attracting buyers. The average price paid last year for a Eudora home was $152,824, while the average price in Baldwin was $146,440.