Auto dealership files plans to expand Lawrence operations; latest real estate statistics point to an aggressive sellers’ market on the horizon

Lawrence's Kia dealership on 23rd Street is set to expand into space currently occupied by Rock Chalk Car Wash, which is visible in the background.

My truck now has more sand and salt than a Miami Beach margarita bar. With the winter crud continuing to pile up, maybe it would be easier just to buy a new vehicle than wash an old one. One local dealership may be thinking along those lines. Lawrence Kia has filed plans to close the car wash adjacent to its 23rd Street business and use the space to significantly expand its dealership.

Lawrence Kia, 1225 E. 23rd St., has owned the 23rd Street car wash immediately west of its dealership since 2013. But with car sales continuing a years-long uptick, the dealership has decided now is the time to close the car wash and use the space to add room for about 120 additional vehicles on its lot.

“This is a pretty big step for us,” Chin Rajapaksha, general manager and managing partner for Lawrence Kia, told me. “We’ve always been landlocked. It is about a half-million dollar project. We’re thinking it will allow us to sell about 50 to 60 more cars per month.”

Chin said the dealership will use the car wash location to house about five detail bays for the dealership’s use. All other car wash functions, though, will be closed and no longer open to the public once the project is completed. He’s hoping the project will be completed sometime in May.

Don’t worry about running out of places to clean your car, though. (I never worry about cleaning my car. I figure, worst case, salt is a preservative and it is doing good things for the emergency stash of Doritos on the floorboard.) The Lawrence car wash market it going through a major expansion elsewhere. Plans have been filed for a new one at the former Cadillac Ranch location on Sixth Street and also at the former Applebee’s on Sixth Street. Plus, maybe this closing will spur the Zarco gas station to start its car wash project on 23rd Street. It has had a sign up about a new car wash coming to the site, but work has been slow to start. The company also has one planned for its Ninth and Iowa location.

In addition to providing more space for vehicles, the Kia project also will free up more space in the dealership’s existing service center, Chin said. Currently, the service center houses two detail bays, and those will be converted to service spaces as part of the project.

Chin said the Kia dealership, which has been in town since late 2011, is gearing up for a big year. He said forecasts predict that the used car market will be the biggest in at least the last seven years. He said a large number of leased vehicles coming back into the market is expected to drive up used car buying activity. As a result, new car sales may not be as strong, but that likely will lead to manufacturers becoming more aggressive with their incentive programs.

In other news and notes from around town:

Maybe my mention of Miami Beach inadvertently got you to thinking about packing up and finding some place warmer (or at least a place where pastel blazers are still considerable fashionable.) If so, know that the latest real estate statistics are saying it is a good time to sell a Lawrence home.

The Lawrence Board of Realtors has released its January home sales report. One month of statistics aren’t too meaningful, but probably the biggest takeaway is that inventories of homes for sale continue to drop.

“We are seeing the beginnings of what is shaping up to be a very aggressive spring market,” Henry Wertin, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors said in the report. He expects the number of homes receiving multiple offers from buyers to increase.

The key number driving that finding is the number of homes currently on the market. In January there were 169 homes on the market in Lawrence. That’s down from 197 in January 2017 and 260 in January 2016.

Another indicator of the aggressive market: The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is now 29, down from 48 a year ago.

Overall, home sales in Lawrence were up 1.9 percent in January, totaling 53 homes. Again, it is tough to see trends after just one month, but it is worth keeping an eye on whether sales of newly constructed homes continue their uptick. It was a good year in 2017 for newly built houses, and sales of new homes in January 2018 were stronger than the same periods in 2017 and 2016.

Also worth keeping an eye on this year are selling prices. With an admittedly small sample size, the median selling price of homes in January was up 12.9 percent compared with the same time a year ago.