Archive for Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Town Talk: Local housing values look to be on the decline; traffic calming near new Dillons; the best locally owned restaurant in Topeka is … in Lawrence

August 28, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• As we recently reported, sales of single-family homes in Lawrence are on the rise. What aren't on the rise, however, are selling prices.

The Lawrence Board of Realtors recently reported the median selling price of homes during the first seven months of the year was down 5.6 percent.

Douglas County Appraiser Steve Miles is seeing similar numbers. Through July, Miles’ data indicates selling prices of homes throughout the county are down 6.7 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

How Miles sees selling prices is important because his office is responsible for setting the taxable value of all real estate in the county. If property is selling for less than it once did, Miles will have to adjust the taxable values downward.

At the moment, Miles said a downward adjustment of many real estate values (not all, because individual circumstances with a property always prevail) is likely.

“What I’m seeing so far seems like we’re going to see another drop in value,” Miles told me recently. “I’ve got my fingers crossed and hope it will still turn around.”

Some homeowners actually may be rooting for their tax values to go down, so they will pay less in property taxes. But folks who want to see an economic turnaround in Lawrence probably won’t be thrilled by falling home values. Real estate wealth is a very large part of the economic equation in Douglas County.

Miles isn’t yet ready to make any estimates of how much home values may drop in Douglas County. In fact, there’s still a scenario where home values may not drop at all, at least from a taxing standpoint.

Miles’ job is to come up with what the value of a home is on Jan. 1 of each year. In other words, Miles is gathering data now to help him determine what your home is worth on Jan. 1, 2013. So, what the sales data show as we get closer to Jan. 1 will be more important than what the data shows in July.

There are some national signs that housing prices are starting to rebound. A leading national index showed home prices increased by 2.2 percent in May compared to April. That was the second straight increase after seven months of flat or declining prices.

It could be that Douglas County is just lagging the national trend a bit, and home prices will pick up in the second half of the year.

A scarier thought, however, is Douglas County is really behind the national trends and it hasn’t yet had its major market correction when it comes to real estate prices.

Last year, homeowners did see a bit of a drop in value. Specifically, 67 percent saw some type of decline, but most declines were less than 5 percent and many of them were less than 2 percent.

But that’s small potatoes compared to what has happened nationally. One news report I recently read said housing prices are about one-third lower than they were at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006.

Douglas County hasn’t seen a correction anywhere near that large, and most experts I know don’t expect us to. Douglas County’s real estate market always has been less prone to big swings. But even if we have a correction that is just half as strong as the national one, it would seem we still have a ways to drop.

As I stated earlier, Miles isn’t yet ready to make any predictions. But he did say that foreclosure sales are continuing at a steady pace in the Lawrence market. One of the questions out there is just how large of an impact those cheap foreclosure sales will have on the overall market. In other communities, foreclosure sales have been a major depressing force in home prices. Miles said it is too early to say.

“I don’t feel like I’m in this job to be a crystal-ball reader,” Miles said. “I just have to look at the data and listen to what it is saying about the market.”

• Soon enough, Lawrence officials will be listening to what folks in the Barker neighborhood have to say. The topic will be one that has created multiple debates over the years: Traffic calming.

New traffic calming devices are slated to go into the Barker neighborhood, near the new Dillons in the 1700 block of Mass.

As part of the approval process for the store, the city required Dillons to set aside about $40,000 to build new traffic calming devices aimed to deter shoppers from unnecessarily driving through the neighborhood.

The Barker Neighborhood Association will host a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Babcock Place activity room, 1701 N.H., to discuss what type of traffic calming devices they want to see installed in the neighborhood. City officials will be on hand to solicit input.

According to the meeting notice, it appears several streets are candidates for devices. They include 18th Street and 17th Terrace, as they lead to the Dillons store, and New Hampshire Street from 19th to 17th streets and perhaps as far north as 15th Street.

• All right, Lawrence residents, you need to stop making fun of Topeka. All these years you’ve been snickering about our neighbor to the west when it comes to matters of art, culture, food and such. So, what does all your laughter say about this: The best locally owned restaurant in Topeka is … Tapas Mexican restaurant, which is in downtown Lawrence. (Wait a second, this isn’t a reason to stop laughing about Topeka, is it?)

The Topeka Capital-Journal recently conducted its 2012 Best of Topeka contest, and Tapas, 724 Mass., was the winner in the “Best Locally Owned Restaurant” category. The headline over the story calls the contest The Best of Topeka, but if you read the story closely it also refers to it as the Best of Topeka and Northeast Kansas, so given that, it makes a little more sense why a Lawrence restaurant shows up on the list. Regardless, it is a great boost for a relatively new Lawrence restaurant that has brought new life to what was once a pretty large, vacant building in downtown.

Some other interesting winners from the Best of Topeka and Northeast Kansas list include:

— Lawrence won in the category of “Best Northeast Kansas Downtown.” It beat out Topeka, Holton, Kansas City, Kan. (I wonder if folks know where the state line is in downtown Kansas City) and Manhattan.

— In the category of “Best College or University,” Kansas University finished second. Topping the list was hometown Washburn University. I found it interesting that KU bested Kansas State University, which seems to get a lot of attention in Topeka (perhaps because Topeka is downwind from it.) Baker University was fourth on the list.

— Clinton Lake finished fourth in the category of “Best Area Lake/Reservoir/Campground/RV Park.” Clinton finished behind Lake Shawnee, Lake Perry and The Prairie Band Casino and Resort Campground. (Anything related to the Prairie Band Casino was very popular in this contest. It won in multiple categories.) Also on the list at No. 5, is the hidden jewel of the area lake system -- my hometown lake, Melvern Lake.

— And finally, the most romantic restaurant in Topeka, or I guess all of Northeast Kansas, is: Olive Garden Italian Restaurant. Never underestimate the power of all you can eat breadsticks.

We've rigged it so no Topeka restaurants can win our very own Best of Lawrence contest, for which voting opened late last month. You can fill out a ballot here; voting lasts until Sept. 7 and winners will be announced in the Sept. 30 Journal-World.

If you want to look at the full list from the Capital-Journal, click here.


consumer1 5 years, 9 months ago

"As part of the approval process for the store, the city required Dillons to set aside about $40,000 to build new traffic calming devices aimed to deter shoppers from unnecessarily driving through the neighborhood."

So if they are by design made to deter people from using them why aren't they called traffic frustrating devices ? Which is actually what they are.

cheeseburger 5 years, 9 months ago

I didn't realize streets in the Barker neighborhood were for the exclusive use of Barker neighborhood residents. Perhaps when 'Barker' streets need repaired, Barker residents can pay for it personally, since everyone else is discouraged from using their precious streets. When is this city going to quit kow-towing to people like Dumfield and all these associations and start doing what is in the best interest of the city as a whole?

Crystal Patterson 5 years, 9 months ago

Have you driven through that area, the concern from Barker neighborhood residents (at least my family that live there) is not the traffic driving down those streets it is that there is not enough parking at Dillon's for employees so New Hampshire, 17th Terrace and 18th Street are packed on both sides with cars. Today while driving down New Hampshire, I had to block the turn into Dillon's to allow a car to pass because both sides were full and the street is too narrow for two cars to pass each other. Of course the person was turning into Dillon's so it took some careful maneuvering to get around each other. There are so many cars on the already narrow streets (many of the houses do not have driveways which means they lose the street parking they need to park at their own house), it is hard to get in and out of their driveways. I don't know what area of town you live in, but I am going to guess that if your street was completely packed all day with cars, you would be frustrated too.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 9 months ago

This is all on the Neighborhood, the Planning Commission, and the City Commission for letting Dillons bully them into building a smaller parking lot with no setbacks. Dillons had the opportunity (and I believe a contract), to buy other property around the Dillons store, and chose not to (because the City let them).

And for everyone that says this is meant to be a walking store for the neighborhood, that is BS! Dillons doesn't want just walk up business, they WANT as much business as they can get.

somedude20 5 years, 9 months ago

Tapas is a good place with friendly staff, however, I have been there about 5 times between 2-4pm when they say they give ya Tapas with every drink that you order but they dont'. Food isn't bad but it does NOT live up to its name (tapas). Salsa is good though

StirrrThePot 5 years, 9 months ago

"And finally, the most romantic restaurant in Topeka, or I guess all of Northeast Kansas, is: Olive Garden Italian Restaurant."

Gad. Topeka wouldn't surprise me, they love their chain restaurants there. Took an out-of-town friend (who grew up in T-town) to dinner and we left her hotel on Wanamaker to go someplace that wasn't chain. The place we went was very good, but we were the only ones there. The shopping center it was situated in was DEAD. We're talking 7pm on a weeknight, but I guess that's the difference between Lawrence and Topeka. Even one of the Lawrence places that have invaded Topeka (Quinton's) that was in the same area looked empty, maybe one car in front (guessing it belonged to staff). Meanwhile, Wanamaker had heavy traffic as usual.

GUMnNUTS 5 years, 9 months ago

It's nice to see the owner of Tapas talking with the guests when I have been there. I think his name is Gus, super friendly. The 1$ margaritas on Tuesday and Thursdays and KU game days is ain't to bad either.

shadowlady 5 years, 9 months ago

I'm still waiting for an ALL American buffet to come to Lawrence. I hear people all the time remark about not having an all American buffet here in Lawrence, but no one wants to bring one to our fair city. I wonder why??? So they all go out of town and give to the business in Topeka, Olathe, Kansas City. Yes other restaurants here in Lawrence serve american food, but it is not the same, nor does it taste as good as a regular all American food buffet restaurant does. When I go out of town to an all American buffet, there is always a line, so that shows the food is good, and people love these kind of restaurants.

irvan moore 5 years, 9 months ago

yep, we have all the chinese buffets and no plain old food buffet, i miss furrs

jafs 5 years, 9 months ago

Apparently Lawrence wouldn't support a restaurant like that, which is why they don't locate here.

Tim Quest 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes, bring bad food to Lawrence! I feel that this campaign has a great future.

bunnyhawk 5 years, 9 months ago

I work in downtown Topeka. And to be perfectly honest, there are probably 20 restaurants in Lawrence that would come in above the top restaurant in Topeka!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Housing prices down or maybe almost where they should be after many years of inflation beyond reality.

If Romney/Ryan get elected it's a sure bet housing market value will take a big negative hit for the third time under repub watch. That's the pattern the repub party has documented.

Republicans cost the USA too much money!


  1. ENTITLEMENT - TABOR is Coming by Grover Norquist and Koch Bros sells out state governments, public schools,SRS services etc etc to private industry = Grab Your Wallets!

ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist aka home loan scandal sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many $$ trillions (Cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion), Plus millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance.

ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out the Bush/Cheney Home Loan Wall Street Bank Fraud cost consumers $ trillions, millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. Exactly like the Reagan/Bush home loan scam. Déjà vu can we say. Yep seems to be a pattern.

ENTITLEMENT - Bush/Cheney implied many financial institutions were at risk instead of only 3? One of the biggest lies perpetrated to American citizens. Where did this money go? Why were some banks forced to take bail out money?

Curtis Lange 5 years, 9 months ago

+1 for Lawrence home prices coming back down to reality.

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 9 months ago

— Lawrence won in the category of “Best Northeast Kansas Downtown.” It beat out Topeka, Holton, Kansas City, Kan.

Boy, I bet that was a close race.......Downtown Lawrence, get over yourself.

chicago95 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for some smart reporting of your discussion with County Appraiser Steve Miles. Though Miles' home sales numbers generally coincide with those of the Lawrence Board of Realtors (i.e., 7-month prices down 6.7% vs. 5.6%), this may be attributable to lower-priced homes selling this year vs. last, rather than drops in pre-existing home values. Based on Federal Housing Finance Agency statistics for the first two quarters of 2012 vs. the first two quarters of 2011, current prices of pre-existing homes are well within 1% of their historic values.

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