Local home sales pick up the pace in July; restaurant with a famous connection kind of coming to Lawrence

In this June 23, 2015, file photo, Donnie Wahlberg, from left, Paul Wahlberg and Mark Wahlberg attend the Wahlburgers Coney Island preview party in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

The seasons are changing, and for new Lawrence homeowners that usually produces a change in heart. You buy a house in July and rave about the tree-filled neighborhoods and all the shade. By Labor Day you are delighted with the hint of fall color. By Halloween — when the leaves fall, fall and fall some more — you actually are rooting for a zombie apocalypse. We will see if that holds true this year, but a new report shows there were plenty of Lawrence homebuyers in July.

Lawrence home sales totaled 140 in July, and were up by nearly 7 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. That makes it one of the better months of the year for local real estate agents, at least from a growth standpoint. Even more interesting is that the median selling prices for homes in July dropped by 6 percent, to about $179,000, compared with July 2016 prices.

For both those reasons, July was a bit of an unusual month. Lawrence’s real estate market for most of the year hasn’t been able to post big growth numbers because the supply of homes for sale hasn’t been keeping up with the demand for new buyers. As a result, home prices have been going up, which makes July’s sales figures noteworthy.

We’ll see whether July starts a new trend for the year, but it did provide year-to-date numbers a boost. Here’s a look at how the first seven months of the year compare with the same period in 2016.

• Home sales for the year total 788, which is up 3.5 percent compared with 2016. However, home sales are slightly lagging behind the 2015 pace by about 1 percent.

• Thus far, 2017 has been the year of the newly built home. Sales of newly constructed homes total 72 and are up 18 percent compared with last year.

• The median selling price for homes in Lawrence is up 3.6 percent to $182,900. However, the median selling price for newly constructed homes has fallen by about 3 percent to about $302,000.

• The median number of days a house sits on the market before selling continues to fall. For the year, the average is now 10 days, down from 16 a year ago and 24 two years ago.

• The number of homes for sale in Lawrence continues to fall as well. In July, there were 275, compared with 288 in 2016 and 317 in 2015.

The combination of a shortage of homes for sale, rising prices and strong demand would make you think that the Lawrence market is ripe for a good amount of new home construction. However, a separate report by the city of Lawrence show that new home construction isn’t exploding in town. If anything, its pace has slowed in the last few months.

The city has issued building permits for 107 single-family or duplex homes thus far in 2017. That’s up only two homes from the same period a year ago, and it is 45 homes below the same period in 2015. However, the number does still represent a clear bounce back from the days following the 2008 recession, when home starts were in the 60 to 80 range.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Lawrence is kind of getting a new restaurant, and it kind of has a connection to famous people. The Hy-Vee grocery store chain has signed a deal with Boston-based Wahlburgers restaurant. The deal involves opening 26 of the restaurants in Hy-Vee territories. No word on whether Lawrence will be one of those 26, but the deal also involves a plan to introduce select Wahlburgers menu items at Hy-Vee Market Grille locations. Lawrence does have a Hy-Vee Market Grille location at the Clinton Parkway store.

As for the connection to famous people, Wahlburgers is run by Chef Paul Wahlberg, but his two brothers are actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg. Those two brothers own part of the business, and the restaurant was the subject of a reality television show on A&E. However, the Hy-Vee press release and Wahlburgers’ website don’t do much to draw any attention to that connection. (Hey, if one of your brothers used to be Marky Mark, maybe you don’t mention that.)

In terms of the food, the Hy-Vee press release doesn’t say which Wahlburgers menu items will be featured at the Hy-Vee Market Grille, but surely one of them has to be a hamburger. It looks like Wahlburgers’ signature hamburger is called The Melt. It is a third-pound beef burger served on thick bread with bacon, caramelized onions, house-made pickles, a mustard sauce and “government” cheese. (I’m not sure why they’re drawing attention to that, but the restaurant does promote a blue-collar vibe and it is true not many country clubs serve “government” cheese.)

Other menu items that could make an appearance at the Lawrence restaurant include Mom’s Sloppy Joe, which is served open face and with house-made cheese sauce. There also is something called a Thanksgiving Day Sandwich, which is a seasoned turkey burger, stuffing , mayo, a house-made orange-cranberry sauce and roasted butternut squash.

Side dishes involve several variations of mac ‘n’ cheese, chili, fries and “thin crispy onion rings.”

Hy-Vee will open its first standalone Wahlburgers in mid-2018 in West Des Moines, Iowa. The company hasn’t announced when Wahlburgers menu items will start showing up at Hy-Vee Market Grilles

As part of the Wahlburgers announcement, Hy-Vee also announced a plan to start partnering with Orangetheory Fitness, a chain that offers instructor-led one-hour, full-body workouts. Hy-Vee said it plans to start placing Orangetheory Fitness centers in or or adjacent to many of its Hy-Vee grocery stores. No word yet on whether either of Lawrence’s stores will be chosen for that concept.