News and notes from around town:
• The report is in for Lawrence home sales in 2011, and unfortunately it took a lot of red ink to write. Total home sales fell by 14.7 percent in 2011 — dashing any hopes that the local real estate market had found its bottom in 2010. Instead, it looks like the market just found a new drill bit.
What’s worse is the final few months of the year have been among the rougher months of 2011. In other words, there’s not a lot to point to lately that suggests a turnaround is imminent. December’s home sales were down 24.7 percent from December 2010. And sales of newly built homes were off 55 percent from December 2010 totals. What’s more, those local numbers are running counter to the national numbers. The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes in December rose 3.6 percent compared to December 2010.
Anyway, here’s a look at the local numbers, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors:
- Nearly 200 fewer homes were sold in the Lawrence area than in 2010. Home sales totaled 1,058 for the year, down from 1,240 in 2010 — or a decline of 14.7 percent.
- Sales of newly built homes continued to reach new lows in 2011. Only 64 newly built homes were sold in 2011, down from 115 in 2010 — or a decline of 44.3 percent.
- 2011 ends on a sourer note than 2010. At this time last year, real estate agents had reason for optimism. Home sales in 2010 were down just 1 percent from 2009 totals. And sales of newly built homes had shown signs of life, increasing by nearly 20 percent from 2009 totals.
- Lower home sales have not resulted in lower selling prices. The average selling price for 2011 was $185,095, up 2.6 percent from 2010’s mark of $180,339. The median sales price has held steady at $158,000. This data, though, runs counter to what the Douglas County Appraiser’s office is seeing through its sales data. The appraiser is predicting a general decline in appraised values. His office currently is setting those tax values, and change of value notices will be mailed in March.
- It is taking longer to sell a home. The average days on market rose to 94 in 2011, up from 81 in 2010. The median days on market rose to 60, up from 44.
• Maybe what folks in the real estate business need is a slice as big as their face. For years, that has meant Papa Keno’s pizza in Downtown Lawrence, but that changes a bit today. The folks at Jefferson’s restaurant in downtown have informed me that they’ve bought the Papa Keno’s restaurant at 1035 Mass., and will take over operations today.
The name and menu will remain unchanged. But Brandon Graham, a partner in both Jefferson’s and now Papa Keno’s, said the new owners will add some signs, new furniture, new bathrooms and do some other “light remodeling” to the Papa Kenos location.
“We feel like it is a Lawrence institution, and we’re very excited about taking it over,” Graham said.
Papa Keno’s got its start more than 20 years ago by founder Greg Keenan, and gained a reputation as a New York-style pizzeria in the Midwest, and at one time expanded into the Kansas City and Denver markets.
There have been signs of hard times, though, recently for the restaurant. In 2005 and 2008, the business ran into trouble with the Kansas Department of Revenue for unpaid taxes. At one point the restaurant and its assets were seized.
Graham and his partners, though, have experience in turning around restaurants with financial challenges. His group bought Jefferson’s about nine months ago after it also faced tax troubles with the state.
“It has been going great at Jefferson’s,” Graham said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more. The remodeling and the update, we think people have liked a lot. We just try to execute on customer service the very best we can, and everything else usually takes care of itself.”
• One other piece of news in the pizza business. There’s word that Allison Vance Moore of Lawrence’s Colliers office has brokered a deal for a New York style pizza shop to open in the former Little Caesars location at Bob Billings and Kasold. The fellow who owns Tad’s snow cone and shaved ice business is opening the location. I started to chat with him yesterday, but we weren’t able to finish the conversation. I’ll get back in touch with him and give you a fuller report soon.
• Here’s an update on a story we had in early December. Student Financial Aid Serves Inc. has followed through on its plans to open up a customer service center in North Lawrence’s I-70 Business Center, which used to be the Tanger Factory Outlet Mall.
The company held its ribbon cutting on Thursday, and confirmed that it has hired 83 new people in the last five months, bringing its total Lawrence workforce to about 125.
The company provides counseling for families looking to navigate their way through the federal student financial aid process, and also to folks who just want some help in planning for how to pay for college.
Student Financial Aid Services is part of a larger corporation called the Rezolve Group. Its CEO and founder was in Lawrence on Thursday and told the chamber of commerce crowd that the company has serious plans to add 60 to 70 more employees at the Lawrence office by the end of the year.
Many of the jobs involve fielding calls from clients who have questions about the financial aid process. According to company officials, most jobs have a starting wage of $10.50 to $12.50 per hour, but there also are several more senior level positions available — including openings for a senior director of operations, a human resources manager and an office manager.
CEO Craig Carroll said the Sacramento-based company is poised for more growth, in part because the issue of higher education affordability is becoming a real “hot button” around the country.
“Momentum for greater transparency in the higher education field is really starting to grow,” Carroll said. “People are really starting to understand that they need ask the question of how much debt are they going to have to take on in order to go to college.”
The company previously was located in the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association building in West Lawrence before making the move to the I-70 Business Center.
The move has provided another boost to the North Lawrence property. Ken Schmanke, president of Kansas Commercial Real Estate Service in Topeka, took over management of the property about a year ago. He said he is close to announcing another 5,500-square-foot office user that will move into the former mall space soon.
“I think we have really turned the corner to become a professional business environment for office users,” said Schmanke.
After the new office tenant moves in, the center will be about 75 percent leased, Schmanke said.
• Here’s a look at the land transfers recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds for the week ending Jan. 23. There were a couple of notable commercial transactions. It appears the folks who own Discovery Furniture at 2525 South Iowa Street are pleased with their decision to locate in Lawrence back in 2010. According to the transfers, a group led by Jeff Winter, an owner of the Topeka-based furniture store, has bought the former Food-4-Less building that houses the furniture store. Buying the building that you are located in, usually is a good sign for a retailer. Also, in Eudora a piece of commercial property has sold along Church Street. No confirmation on this, but it appears to be the piece of land slated to house a Family Dollar store. That makes sense. We reported in August that a deal had been struck for Family Dollar to build a store kind of in front of the Dairy Queen that is near 15th and Church Street in Eudora. I had heard that deal was still in the works, but was waiting for some KDOT easement issues to be cleared up on the property. Hopefully this is a sign that work will begin on the site soon.