Local real estate company expands, opens downtown Lawrence office

On a day like today, you can take comfort that a home in the country doesn’t require you to shovel one of those city sidewalks. Less comfortable may be the knowledge that you need either a tractor or a flamethrower to get out of your driveway. Nonetheless, rural homes remain popular, so much so that a Lawrence real estate company that specializes in rural land is expanding.

Heck Land Company has opened an office at 123 W. Eighth St. in downtown Lawrence, and it has added its first agent beyond founder Kelvin Heck. The company has added longtime North Lawrence farmer and businessman Brian Pine as a real estate agent.

“I had always said I want to be a one-man shop and I didn’t want to manage anyone,” Heck said. “But I have known Brian from about the time he was born. If I was going to take someone on, I knew he’s the type of person I would want.”

Heck, who previously was a farmer in the North Lawrence area and then had a long career in commercial real estate, had been operating Heck Land Company out of his home for the last six years.

Now seems like a good time to expand the real estate operations, Heck said.

“I see a lot of folks who want to live in the country,” Heck said. “They want to buy 10 or 20 acres. There are always folks who want to do that.”

Prices to own that little piece of the country have come down a little bit but still aren’t cheap. Heck estimated that rural land prices are off by 10 percent to 20 percent from their highs that came around 2013 and 2014. But a 10-acre home site in rural Douglas County can still easily run into the six-figure arena. Heck has some listings that currently are seeking about $15,000 an acre, although he said those are higher than average because of locations near a paved road, a pond and other factors that rural homeowners find desirable. Other pieces of Douglas County property a bit farther from Lawrence have sold for closer to $8,000 an acre, he said.

That is one of the big differences between Douglas County and many other parts of the state. In many Kansas counties, rural pasture land — which is most often the type that gets converted into a homesite — sells for $1,000 to $2,000 an acre.

“Our land values are still quite a bit higher than a lot of places,” said Heck, who sells property throughout the state. “A lot of the state has a lot less rainfall and a lot less population that drives demand.”

One other factor to keep in mind in Douglas County is how much land you need to build a rural home. It used to be that 5 acres was the magic number that let you build pretty much anywhere in the unincorporated part of the county. But those regulations have changed, and now it is difficult to peg a number. The minimum amount of land varies depending on factors such as the amount of road frontage a property has and where it is in relation to the nearest city limits. Heck said it really is necessary to check with a county planning official on the regulations for any piece of property. The end result, in some cases, has been that people who previously only would have needed 5 acres to build a home now must purchase 10 or more acres to build a house.

Heck Land Company also deals in true agricultural sales. Heck, though, said there hasn’t been a lot of cropland changing hands recently. He estimated that prices for Kaw Valley bottomland are between $4,000 to $6,000 an acre, with access to irrigation adding up to $1,000 an acre. He said those prices are about 10 percent off the highs of about five years ago.

He thinks that market may pick up in the near future. He said potential buyers have become more interested recently.

“This is the time of year when a lot of that happens,” Heck said. “The crops are harvested and leases start to turn over.”

It also is a time when some farmers may be feeling a bit stressed. Crop prices continue to be fairly stagnant, and there are concerns that a trade war may make it more difficult to export what turned out to be very large corn and soybean crops nationwide. With land prices still near their highs, that may cause some farmers or agricultural land owners to be thinking about making an exit. Heck, though, said he hasn’t seen signs of an exodus in Douglas County. But it is a situation worth keeping an eye on.

“It may make a guy retire a year or two sooner than he had planned,” Heck said. “That is a possibility. I also know there are some young farmers struggling to make some payments on machinery that was bought when corn prices were higher.”

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