• It appears in the month of May Lawrence real estate agents were reasonably busy helping people find new homes. The monthly sales report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors found home sales were up 25 percent in May 2012 compared with the same time period a year ago.
Realtors sold 136 homes in the month, up from 108 during May 2011. All told, the 25 percent increase marks one of the better months of the year for the Lawrence real estate market.
The increase also marks the second month in a row that sales totals have been on the upswing. April sales posted a modest 3 percent increase over April 2011 totals. But I think real estate agents also are excited about what the numbers may show in the near future. According to the Board of Realtors, the number of sales in the “pending” category at the beginning of June was up 64 percent compared with the same period a year ago. About 350 homes either are under contract or close to it, according to the group.
As for other numbers from May, here’s a look:
— For the year, home sales have crept into positive territory. Through the first five months of the year, the board reports 425 sales, up 4.4 percent from the same time period a year ago. The figures, however, still significantly lag the 525 sales made during the first five months of 2010.
— Sales of newly constructed homes still lag the anemic 2011 totals, but not by much. Builders have sold 25 homes through May, compared with 26 during the five-month period in 2011. Importantly, though, the board is reporting the number of pending sales for newly constructed homes totals 37. That’s up 117 percent from last year.
— The median selling price for homes during the first five months has been $154,000, down 3.8 percent from the $160,000 mark a year ago. The mean selling price is $176,892, down 2.6 percent from year-ago totals
— The median days on market for a home checks in at 72 days, which is up from 61 days during the same period a year ago. But in more good news for builders, the median days on newly constructed homes has fallen to 81 days, down from 104 a year ago.
• A new report out of City Hall suggests May wasn’t such a good month for homebuilding.
Lawrence builders took out just 10 permits for single-family homes and duplexes in May, according to the city’s monthly building permits report. That was down from 16 in May 2011. But more significant is: The slow May pushed the year-to-date totals below last year’s levels. Through the first five months of this year, the city has issued 49 permits for single-family or duplex homes. That’s down from 51 for the same time period a year ago.
In case you had forgotten, 2011 was a brutal year for the Lawrence homebuilding industry. For the first time on record — dating back at least to 1956 — the city issued fewer than 100 permits for single-family homes. So, local builders certainly were hoping to improve upon those numbers in 2012.
And they still might. Both 2009 and 2008 numbers were worse than this at the May mark — 31 and 35 permits respectively — but those years then went on to have stronger second halves. Numbers put out by the Lawrence Board of Realtors indicate new homes sales are gaining momentum, which could spur some stronger building activity for the late summer and fall.
One category that likely won’t produce any worries of a shortfall is apartments. No multifamily permits were issued in May. But for the year, the city has issued permits for 306 new apartment units. That’s the highest total in at least the last five years. It seems almost certain that more are on the way. I don’t believe any of 306 permits currently issued are for the redevelopment of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village near 31st Street and Ousdahl Road.
• When I went to Lawrence’s JC Penney store recently, I noticed the fantastic deal on a leprechaun-green blazer for just $20. But that is not what has caught the eye of everyone else. Many other people have been noticing significant construction work under way in the store.
Indeed, the store is undergoing a major remodel, which seems to be good news for folks who have wondered about the future of the South Iowa Street retailer.
Store Manager Mike Ingebretson told me the remodeling is the first step in a three-year plan to remake the store. Under JC Penney’s new retail model, the large store essentially will have mini-stores inside it. Work is under way to add interior walls to create a mall-like appearance for Penney’s major brands.
The first mini-stores to debut in Lawrence will feature the Levi’s brand for men and women and the JC Penney Arizona brand of clothing. Ingebretson said he expects construction work to be completed by Aug. 1. The rest of the store remains open during construction.
Once that work is done, expect more remodeling. Ingebretson said specialty stores for the Liz Claiborne and Izod brands likely will be next in line.
As for that leprechaun green blazer, curse my hulking chest and arms. I wear a 42 regular and this fine piece of fashion was only available in a 40 regular.
•Some of you may have noticed a sign at Nomads, 725 Mass., that says the store is temporarily closing.
•Chatted with owner Courtney Ricketts, and she assured me the closing indeed will just be temporary. The store closed July 23 to allow construction crews to completely restore the facade of the old building. When completed, the building’s facade will have a more historically accurate look, I’m told. Ricketts said her store will reopen by Sept. 1.
When the store reopens, it will continue to focus on international clothing, jewelry and travel items. But Ricketts said the owners of the former BoMo store (short for Bohemian Modern, I believe) that used to operate downtown also will have some of its inventory in the store. So those of you who want a little more Bohemian flair in downtown Lawrence, you’re in luck.
• Panera Bread Co. at 520 W. 23rd St. is on the verge of expanding.
An employee at the restaurant confirmed Panera will temporarily close today to begin an expansion into the GNC space that is next door. An employee at the GNC space confirmed it is moving into a vacant space next door that used to house a hair salon.
The musical chairs will cause both businesses to be closed for a while. Panera is hoping to reopen by early August. The same goes for GNC.
Eric Cole, a vice president with the franchise that owns the Lawrence Panera Bread, told me the changes mainly will be to expand the dining area of the store.
Cole said the store is temporarily closing because it will involve an entire remodeling of both the interior and exterior.
“It won’t look anything like it looks today,” Cole said. “It is a brand new design package for Panera.”
He hopes to have the store open by Aug. 2.
• If your memory is good, perhaps you recall we reported back in July 2011 that Rent-A-Center filed plans at City Hall to move into the former Blockbuster video building at 1516 W. 23rd St. As that building has continued to sit vacant for the last year, it has become pretty obvious that deal fell apart. Now, there are even clearer signs. Rent-A-Center has filed a building permit for expansion work at its existing store at 711 W. 23rd St.