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.