With eight months of the year in the books, a clear picture is emerging about the city's real estate scene: Lawrence is on its way to a second straight year of a housing rebound, and housing prices are beginning to make up for lost time.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors latest sales report shows August was another good month for the industry. Home sales in the city totaled 102 for the month, up 7.4 percent from the same period a year ago.
But the more interesting numbers are the year-to-date figures. They show the local housing market's rebound hasn't lost any steam and, in fact, housing prices are gaining significant momentum.
Through the first eight months of the year, 797 homes have sold in Lawrence, which is an increase of 22.6 percent from the same period a year ago. That's almost identical to the type of bounce-back year the Lawrence market posted in 2012. Last August, home sale totals were 22 percent higher than those in August 2011.
But the new twist to this year's housing rebound is that home prices are on the rise, too. The median selling price thus far in 2013 is $170,000. That's up 7.4 percent from the same period in 2012. Last year at this time, housing prices were still falling. In August of 2012, the median selling price for a home was down 5.8 percent compared to the same period in 2011. So, last year, you could argue falling home prices were fueling the rebound in the market. You can't argue that this year.
Selling prices always are a little difficult to compare from year to year because so much of it depends on the type of house being sold. For example, if real estate agents are selling a lot more five bedroom homes in 2013 than they did in 2012, then it would stand to reason that that average selling price would be higher. But with eight months worth of data, such differences tend to even out. For what it's worth, data from the Douglas County Appraiser's office has the average sale price for all of Douglas County up by about 5.5 percent.
More importantly, the appraiser's office tracks every home sale in the county and then compares the selling price of the house to what the county had the house valued at for taxation purposes. Since about 2008, selling prices of homes have been, on average, about 1 percent to 3 percent lower than the appraised value the county has for the property. But now a shift has occurred with those sales ratios. Thus far in 2013, selling prices are running, on average, 1.3 percent higher than the appraised value that the county has for the property.
All these numbers may sound a bit like my wife's weekly recitation of my chore list — probably good information to have, but I'm not quite sure why. Well, in this case, I can tell you why. If this trend continues, it will put more pressure on the county appraiser's office to increase the tax value of residential properties across the county. It is still too early to say how values may be adjusted for Jan. 1, 2014, but thus far, the data indicates there is upward pressure.
Other numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors' monthly sales report include:
• The median number of days on market for a home is 42, down from 60 during the same period a year ago.
• The number of newly-constructed homes sold for the year is 72, up 33 percent from the same period a year ago.
• Selling prices for newly-constructed homes have spiked. The median selling price is $309,950 for newly-constructed homes in 2013. That's up 17 percent from the same period a year ago.
• A total of 441 homes are on the market in Lawrence. That's down nearly 8 percent from the number of listings in August 2012.
In other news and notes from around town, expect more talk of drones from Lawrence City Hall. If you remember, there is a group pushing for an ordinance that would prohibit the city from adding any drones to its fleet of city vehicles or to its police department. The city hasn't expressed any interest in buying drones, but it also hasn't jumped at the opportunity to pass an ordinance, either. The group sent me a notice this morning saying it plans to bring the issue up again at tonight's City Commission meeting. I'm not sure much has changed since we last reported on the issue, although the group — Kansans for Responsible Drone Use — continues to get endorsements from other organizations. The latest have come from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, the Iraq Veterans Against the War - Lawrence, and the Lawrence Food Not Bombs group.
Perhaps the group's efforts would gain more traction with City Hall officials if it pointed out this article I saw today in the Kansas City Star. The University of Missouri's Journalism School is applying for a permit to operate a drone. They say it could be used much like a helicopter is used for gathering news. Great. How long before that starts hovering outside the window of Allen Fieldhouse. After all, there certainly won't be any basketball news to report out of Columbia.