News and notes from around town:
• For those who say the federal stimulus didn’t do anything to stimulate the economy, try telling that to members of the local real estate community. Yesterday, I reported on building totals for the first half of 2011. Today, I have numbers on home sales through June of this year. In real estate lingo, they need a bit of TLC, or perhaps we can call them a fixer-upper.
Home sales in June were down nearly 33 percent compared to June 2010, according to numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Realtors sold 149 properties in June, down from 222 during June 2010. That continues a trend we’ve seen for several months now. For the entire year, sales are off about 25 percent. Realtors have sold 551 homes, down from 742 a year ago. The category that is particularly taking a beating are sales of newly constructed homes. They are off almost 60 percent. A total of 34 newly constructed homes have been sold in the first half of 2011. That number is an important one to keep an eye on because it will lead the way to a rebound in the local construction industry, which traditionally has been an important part of the city’s economy. At this rate, no one is polishing up their hammer to build new homes.
But leaders do note that the picture looks better if you compare the numbers to 2009. Last year, federal tax credits for homebuyers were in place, and that spurred a surge of buying. In other words, we were stimulated, but that condition did not last.
If you compare 2011 first-half totals to 2009 first-half totals, the number of sales are down by about 5 percent. That, of course, sounds better than a 25 percent drop. The problem is that 2009 sales were considered terrible by historic standards for Lawrence. And now we’re below those numbers.
One thing that hasn’t gone down, though, are prices. Despite all indicators saying prices should be dropping, the average selling price is up about 2.4 percent from a year ago. The average selling price now stands at $182,058. (For you math geeks, the median is $161,000.)
Now, comparing average prices from one year to the next is not an exact science because different types of houses sell each year. Maybe starter homes aren’t selling anymore. Maybe larger homes make up a bigger percentage of the market. I don’t know, but I’m going to start asking around because at first glance the numbers are confounding. For example, the average days on market for a house is now at 100. That’s up from 81 last year. That should put downward pressure on home prices. Plus, it looks like there are a ton more houses on the market. In June 2011, there were 1,030 homes on the market. That’s up from 891 in June 2010. But perhaps here is a clue to our price mystery. In June, the average listing price of those 1,030 homes was about $225,000. I’ll go all Magnum, P.I. on this, and let you know what I find. Dear, iron the Hawaiian floral print.
• I don’t want this to turn into a Dunkin’ Donut situation where I keep reporting something is going to happen and then it doesn’t. (Although, Dunkin is happening. Concrete and framing work is underway at Dunkin’s new site at the northwest corner of Sixth and Michigan streets.) Back in February, I told you that North Lawrence was set to get a Subway sandwich shop. Plans called for a Subway to be located in the center with Presto convenience store at 1030 N. Third Street. Then, nothing happened. But now workers are telling customers of the store that construction on a Subway shop is expected to begin on Monday.
• We reported several weeks ago that the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant was having problems, and actually had to be shut down temporarily because it was unable to adequately draw water from the Kansas River. Well, the plant is still having problems. In fact, it seems like it is crankier than my wife on a Monday morning. The plant has been shut down at least one other time since then, and now some key pieces of treatment equipment have broken.
City crews are now working to do at least $200,000 worth of emergency repairs to keep the plant operational. One problem is that one of the plant’s two water intakes on the Kansas River is completely inoperable. The city’s 2012 budget plans to repair that at a cost of more than $7 million. But the more pressing problem is that the one remaining water intake isn’t working very well currently. Staff believes it is getting clogged with sand due to low water conditions in the Kaw. When it becomes clogged, the plant basically shuts down until crews can get it unclogged. Lawrence has a second water treatment plant — the Clinton Water Treatment Plant off Wakarusa Drive. It can produce a lot of water, and can serve the entire city under normal circumstances. But in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the dog days of summer currently. Some folks who don’t know when to give up are still watering their lawns. If the Kaw plant has to shut down while people are still pouring the water on grass, that could put the Clinton plant to the test. Maybe we all ought to hope for rain, or come to the conclusion that brown is a beautiful color for grass after all.