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Downtown business of 25 years closing on Sunday; local home sales fall in August; Wicked Broadband owner considering run for city commission

I often have had shoppers at a garage sale I’ve hosted tell me I have a particular item priced too high. (I don’t care what they say, my portrait of dogs playing pool is at least a $10,000 piece of art.) But I’ve never had someone like Gary Strong come up to me and say that I need to raise the price of an item. Strong is the owner of downtown Lawrence’s Strong’s Antiques, and he’s been known to do that when he sees someone inadvertently giving away a valuable item.

But Lawrence residents may not be able to rely on such kindness for much longer. Strong is getting out of the antique business. After 25 years in Lawrence, Strong’s Antiques will close for good on Sunday. Strong and his wife will continue to own the building, but they’ve signed a deal with Lawrence-based Lucky Dog Outfitters to locate in the storefront at 1025 Massachusetts St.

Strong said he was simply ready to give retirement a try, and a certain event convinced him of that. In December a stray vehicle from Massachusetts Street drove through the storefront in a strange accident. The accident damaged thousands of dollars worth of antiques, involved hassles with numerous insurance companies, and required eight months worth of construction.

“I began to realize that maybe retiring isn’t such a bad concept,” Strong said.

Strong said the interest in antiques has declined over the past 10 years, but that business at the shop remained solid, in part because the business had gained a regional reputation for clock repair, music box repair and other speciality services.

Strong even made house calls to repair people’s grandfather clocks and other such large items. During the years, he also got to deal with Hollywood types by providing set pieces to productions such as The Day After and other movies that have shot in the area. All in all, it has been a good business to meet a lot of people, Strong said.

“I probably will miss communicating with so many people,” Strong said. “It is nice when people are happy when they get something they have been looking for.”

Strong said garage sale people also like it when he tells them that what they think is an ugly vase that perhaps should sell for $5 actually is a beautiful antique worth quite a bit more. Strong said he’s come across that situation several times in his career.

“I always tried to make them aware of it because I didn’t want them to come into my shop someday and see their vase selling for $375 or something like that,” Strong said.

I’ll see to bring you more information in the coming days about the plans Lucky Dog Outfitters has for the space. The Strongs also also own the space that houses Aimee’s Cafe and Coffeehouse, which is run by their son. Strong said Aimee’s will remain in business.

In other news and notes from around town:

• As I become an even more prodigious collector of fine canine billiards art, I probably at some time will have to buy a bigger house to display it all. But that time was not in August, and according to the latest statistics from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, I wasn’t alone in putting off a home purchase.

Lawrence home sales in August were down about 15 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Real estate agents sold 90 units in August, down from 106 in August 2013.

For the year, home sales have totaled 759 units through August, and are down 5.7 percent compared to the same period a year ago. It is beginning to look like 2013 was the peak of the housing rebound in Lawrence. But it also is good to keep the 2014 numbers in perspective: Home sales are still about 16 percent ahead of 2012 totals. The industry is not in a bad place right now.

Other numbers of note from the monthly report include:

— The total value of residential real estate sold in Lawrence in 2014 thus far is $146.8 million, down 11 percent from the same period a year ago, but up 18 percent from 2012 levels.

— The median selling price in Lawrence in 2014 has been $164,000, down from $170,000 in 2013.

— The median number of days a home sits on the market is down to 33. That’s down from 42 in 2013 and 63 in 2012.

— The number of homes on the market has fallen to 414, down from 441 in 2013 and 479 in 2012.

– Sales of newly constructed homes continue to be the most troubling part of the Lawrence real estate market. Only 47 newly constructed homes have sold thus far in 2014. That’s down 35 percent from 2013 levels and is down nearly 13 percent from 2012 levels.

• Tonight — Thursday, that is — I will be covering a campaign event for the Nov. 4 sales tax election to fund a police headquarters project. The event is the public forum hosted by the city at 7 p.m. at the police department’s Investigations and Training Center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. But before that campaign is even done, I’m required to keep my ear to the ground about possible candidates for the following campaign — the Lawrence City Commission races in April.

I had heard speculation that Lawrence school board member Kris Adair is considering a run for the City Commission. Well, Adair confirmed to me that she indeed is seriously considering running for the commission. She hasn’t made a decision yet, but she said she’s been talking to numerous people about a campaign. (If this were presidential politics, I think we could it an exploratory effort, and Adair would be doing lots of photo opportunities with ethanol, corn on the cob, corn-on-the-cob art and whatever else it takes to suck up to the fine folks of Iowa.)

Adair is an owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, and as such has had quite a few dealings with Lawrence City Hall. Wicked — formerly Lawrence Freeneet — currently is awaiting a decision from the commission on a $1 million loan guarantee that would spur a pilot project to bring gigabit service to parts of Lawrence. A decision on that issue is expected to be made by mid-November.

In addition to the broadband issue, Adair has been active in lobbying for changes in how the city approaches economic development. In particular, she has called for a greater emphasis on fostering start-up companies and expansion of smaller local businesses.

Adair still has two years left on her term as a Lawrence school board member. She said if she does run for the City Commission and does win a seat, she likely would resign her seat as a school board member. I’m not sure what the law allows in terms of holding multiple elected offices, but regardless, Adair said she thinks it would be too difficult to do both jobs simultaneously.

In case you don’t yet have your Lawrence City Commission smartphone election app (that app almost certainly will void your warranty on your new iPhone), here is a rundown: Three of the five seats will be up for election in April. The seats held by Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm are up for election. None of the three have officially said what their plans are for the future, although Schumm has said some things that indicate he’ll likely run again. I believe Leslie Soden, who narrowly missed out on a seat two years ago, also will likely run. And I’m certain there will be others.

Reply 6 comments from Fred St. Aubyn Toby Workman Marvin Lewis Sarah St. John Jason Randall Kevin Kohls

QuikTrip moving into restaurant business at 23rd and Haskell; home sales fall in May; area businessman in running for national entrepreneur of the year

There is a major new player coming to the restaurant business on East 23rd Street, and its familiar name may surprise you: QuikTrip.

Just like Da Vinci didn't stop painting after the Mona Lisa, QuikTrip isn't going to let its culinary creations end with the masterpiece known as a roller grill full of hot dogs and polish sausages.

The QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell recently has received a building permit for $135,000 worth of renovations at the store to install a full service kitchen. QT spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the kitchen will allow the store to serve items like pizzas, sandwiches, flatbreads and other items that are made-to-order on site. Currently, most of QuikTrip's food offerings are made off-site and shipped to the store pre-packaged.

The renovations will move QuikTrip in the fast-food restaurant industry, in addition to its gasoline and convenience store items.

"The two main sellers in convenience stores have been gasoline and tobacco products," Thornbrugh said. "Those are two products that we don't really believe are going to grow. We've been working very hard to make the switch to the fresh food side."

QT is in the process of installing kitchens in most of its nearly 700 stores across the country. Reports out of Tulsa, which is where QT has its headquarters, give a better idea of the menu the revamped stores will offer. In that market, personal pizzas are made-to-order from a choice of six toppings, flatbread sandwiches come in chicken bacon ranch, chicken quesadilla, and spicy barbecue steak, toasted sandwiches include grilled cheese, American bacon cheddar, three-cheese Italian, BLT with cheese and bacon, egg and cheese.

For those of you who want to take the European vacation without the trip to Europe, the store also will offer something called kolaches, a European breakfast pastry that features a sweet dough but savory fillings such as sausage and bacon.

Also on on the menu are speciality coffee drinks that will be made by a barista, frozen lemonades, smoothies and soft serve ice cream.

According to the Tulsa World article, the company is adding about 2,000 employees nationwide to staff the full-service kitchens. Thornbrugh said work at the Lawrence store was in its final stages and should be completed within a week or so.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Homes in Lawrence would sell at a much greater rate if they were all equipped with roller grills and polish sausage air fresheners. But they aren't, and thus far 2014 is showing a slowdown in local home sales.

Home sales in Lawrence totaled 133 in May, down about 7.5 percent from the activity levels in May 2013. The slowdown continues a trend that has taken hold in 2014. For the year, home sales in Lawrence totaled 380 through the end of May, a decrease of about 7 percent during the same time period a year ago.

At this pace, it is looking more likely that Lawrence's two-year streak of increasing homes sales will come to an end in 2014. But leaders with the Lawrence Board of Realtors are trying to put the numbers in perspective. This year's totals are still much better than just a few years ago when the housing market in Lawrence and across the country was really struggling. The 380 homes sold thus far in 2014 represents an increase of 31 percent compared to the same period in 2012 and 46 percent from 2011.

Susan Bonham, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, also noted that the market isn't down across the board. She said sales of homes priced below $200,000 are ahead of last year's pace, but homes above the $200,000 mark are lagging past totals.

Other numbers from the recent report include:

— 13 newly constructed homes sold in May, down from 15 in May 2014. While not positive, that number is an improvement in the trend. Through May, year-to-date sales of newly constructed homes total just 26 units. That's down nearly 37 percent from the same period a year ago.

— $159,350 is the median selling price of a Lawrence home, year-to-date. That's down 5.7 percent from the same period a year ago.

— The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is 40 in 2014, compared to 57 through the same time period a year ago.

— 451 homes were on the market at the end of May, up nearly 15 percent from May 2013. Real estate agents have said that increase is a positive sign for the market because an increase in inventory is expected to bring more buyers into the market.

— At least one measure is indicating the slowdown in sales may continue for the short term. The number of pending contracts in May totaled 212, down from 242 in May 2013.

• A longtime area businessman is in the running for a prestigious national entrepreneur of the year award.

Smitty Belcher, chief executive officer of P1 Group Inc., has been named a regional winner in the Entrepreneur of the Year contest organized by the business consulting firm Ernst & Young.

P1 Group is one of the region's larger mechanical contractors, and it has deep ties to Lawrence. The company is an outgrowth of Huxtable & Associates, which was founded in Lawrence in the 1920s. P1 Group continues to have a large operations center in Lawrence near 23rd and Haskell.

Belcher has been an active member of the Lawrence business community and area philanthropist. As one of 10 winners in the midwest region of the competition, Belcher now is a finalist for the national entrepreneur of the year award, which will be announced in November.

Reply 7 comments from Merrill Tom Thomson Seth Amott Curtis Lange Steve Jacob TiSecret CB

Lawrence home sales and prices fall in April; new numbers suggest local tax base is growing; city to be featured in True West magazine

Lawrence's spring real estate market is a bit like my lawn this season: There are a few dandelions out there, but you still can convince yourself that those are just pretty flowers.

The most recent report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors confirms a trend that has been developing over the last few months: Home sales in Lawrence are on the decline. Home sales in April, usually one of the busier months of the year, were down 12.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

The latest numbers pushed the year-to-date numbers further into negative territory. For the year, home sales are down 6.8 percent, totaling 247 compared with 265 through April 2013.

But as I frequently tell my neighbor, you have to keep these dandelions in perspective. Lawrence's housing market is still performing significantly better than it did in 2012, and it is much healthier than it was during the dark days following the housing bubble. Home sales in 2014 are about 25 percent higher than they were at this point in 2012.

But sales will have to pick up in a hurry if Lawrence is to post its third straight year of increasing home sales, after hitting bottom in 2011. A similar theme is being struck across the country. After gaining strength in recent years, U.S. home sales began to slow in mid-2013. Economists, ever the two-handed beasts, are split on where sales are headed in the future.

Susan Bonham, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the local market is mixed right now. She said homes in the $100,000 to $300,000 range are still selling reasonably well, but homes outside that price range have struggled.

The latest numbers do create a couple of questions about what lies ahead, particularly when it comes to home prices and the amount of new home construction.

With four months in the books, the median selling price of homes in Lawrence is down about 5 percent to $159,000. These numbers are tough to interpret. It could mean that buyers are simply interested in different types and sizes of houses than they have been in the past, or it could mean that housing prices in general are starting to fall in the city. It is an issue to keep an eye on.

Lawrence homebuilders also will be keeping a close eye on the demand for new houses in the city. Thus far, it has been a poor year in terms of people buying newly constructed homes. In fact, those may be the most disappointing numbers in the report. Through April, only 13 newly constructed homes have been sold. That's down from 26 at the same point in 2013. It also is down from 17 sales at this point in 2012. Sales of newly constructed homes are important because they can provide a real boost to the local economy. Historically, some of Lawrence's best economic years have come when builders are constructing a significant number of new homes.

Other numbers from the report included:

— The total dollar volume of homes sold in the Lawrence area is down 11.8 percent to $47.7 million.

— The number of homes on the market has grown slightly to 429, up from 418 at this point in 2013. The number is down significantly from the 613 listing in April 2012.

— The median number of days a home is on the market has fallen to 59, down from 65 a year earlier. Usually, such a decline would point to market where buyers are becoming more active.

— The number of pending contracts has fallen significantly from a year ago. At the end of April there were 199 pending contracts in the system, down nearly 20 percent from April 2013 totals. That may be an indicator that home sale numbers are unlikely to bounce back in the next month or two.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There is a set of new numbers that do point to a recovery of sorts in the Lawrence economy. Douglas County officials are in the process of tallying the assessed valuation for the city of Lawrence, meaning the taxable value of all property in the city limits.

The preliminary numbers show 2014 is set to post the largest increase since 2007. But be warned, that is a bit like me bragging that the brown spots in my yard are no longer toxic. (Long story, but as I've told the EPA, I really did think it was fertilizer in that bag.) The point is, assessed valuation growth in Lawrence has been pretty anemic since 2007. In fact in 2009, 2010, and 2012 it actually declined.

But the estimate for 2014 shows that it has increased by 1.6 percent. For comparison purposes, during the late 1990s and even into the early 2000s, the city was experiencing growth in its tax base 5 percent to 8 percent fairly regularly. But the 1.6 percent growth rate is welcome news at City Hall because if the tax base grows, the city's property tax revenue automatically increases, unless the City Commission decides to reduce the property tax mill levy. In case you are wondering, I've seen no indication that a property tax mill levy reduction is in the offing for the city's next budget.

The assessed valuation also is important to watch because it is a reasonable indicator of economic health. Tax bases usually grow either because property values are rising or significant new construction is occurring in the community. This latest increase likely is a result of a little bit of both.

• I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for an opportunity to get out my chaps, my 10-gallon and my best rootin-tootin outfit. Perhaps we'll all have an opportunity soon. I've been told by the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau that Lawrence's Old West and frontier history is going to be in the national spotlight.

True West magazine has chosen Lawrence as the community it will feature in its August 2014 edition. I don't have details yet on exactly what elements of our history will be featured, but local tourism leaders are hopeful that recognition will spur some new visitors to check out the community. True West touts that it reaches about 300,000 "heritage travelers."

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    Real estate sales, home building off to decent start in 2014; new numbers about county’s housing values, tax base released

    Perhaps you are like me, and this winter weather has you in the market for a very specific type of home: one with a heated driveway and sidewalks. (Or I would even settle for one equipped with a 10-year old son who doesn't feel faint at the sight of a snow shovel.)

    I'm not sure any of those types of homes have sold recently, but the latest series of real estate and building reports indicate that 2014 got off to a decent start for home builders and real estate agents.

    Here's a look at a few reports:

    • Although January is one of the slower months for local real estate agents, home sales increased by a little more than 10 percent, compared with January 2013 totals, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Home sales totaled 41 for the month, including five sales for newly constructed homes. The most important number of the report, however, may be the number of homes on the market. Active listings in Lawrence are down 320 homes, which is a decline from 380 in January 2013 and 460 from January 2012. That's a positive sign for the market. More homes are selling, but if the number of listings doesn't move upward, look for prices to rise.

    • Lawrence home builders took out permits for nine new homes in January, compared with eight in January 2013. January obviously isn't a big month for starting new home construction, but, for what it is worth, the nine is the highest January total in at least the last five years. The five-year average for January home starts is 5.4 new homes. (Rumor has it, the guy who lived in the 0.4 of a home, spent all his money on heated sidewalks.)

    • When it comes to numbers, the one homeowners usually care most about should be arriving in the mailbox at any moment. The Douglas County Appraiser's Office sent out change of value notices on Friday. The notices tell homeowners how much the appraiser's office thinks their property is worth. That number, of course, is key in determining how much a homeowner pays in property taxes. I haven't yet got an update from the appraiser on what most homeowners should expect. When I get that information, I'll pass it along. But his most recent report did include some other interesting numbers:

    — The total value of real estate in Douglas County is on the rise. Total assessed valuation — that's the taxable value, not the fair market value — was $1.04 billion dollars on Jan. 1. That's up 2.2 percent from Jan. 1, 2013. Appraiser Steve Miles said most of the increase was due to new construction and an increase in the value of agricultural land in the county. If that number holds — it generally goes down a bit as people appeal their tax values — it will be good news for local governments who use the tax base to help build their budgets.

    — The median value of all residential property in the county — excluding big apartment complexes — was $161,700 in 2014. That's up 2.9 percent from the $157,000 median in 2013. The median value had declined in 2013, 2012 and 2009. The report shows that median values still have a ways to climb before they reach the levels seen during the housing boom. In 2008, the median value of residential property in the county was $164,900.

    — The report provides a median residential value for each of the four communities in the county, plus the rural area. Those values: Baldwin City, $140,000, up 5.5 percent; Eudora, $137,900, up 9 percent; Lecompton, up $109,860, up 30.8 percent; Lawrence, $160,200, up 0.3 percent; $199,800, up 30.2 percent.

    — Housing, of course, is just one part of the county's real estate tax base. Commercial real estate, agricultural land and a few other miscellaneous categories also make up the tax base. But residential property is certainly the giant among the bunch, which has been a bit of a concern to economic development leaders for a long time. The idea is that commercial real estate produces more jobs and pays a higher tax rate. So, having more commercial, job-producing real estate in the community has been a goal.

    Well, I've done some figuring. (It wasn't pretty. Those were really big numbers, so I had to call on my neighbors to take off their shoes as well.) Regardless, here's a look: In 2014, residential property made up 68.5 percent of the tax base compared with 68.1 percent in 2013. Commercial real estate made up 25.6 percent in 2014 compared with 25.7 percent in 2013. So, we didn't go in the right direction.

    Just for fun, I also went back to 2004 to see how the numbers have changed. In 2004, residential made up 67 percent of the tax base and commercial made up 25.9 percent. These really are big numbers, so you shouldn't expect big swings. But it is telling that for an entire decade we lost ground on the goal of strengthening our commercial tax base.

    In other news around town:

    • Maybe all these numbers have made you want to be a renter. If so, you might have some questions about the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. Whether you are a renter, a landlord or just an interested resident, we want your questions about the program. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer will participate in an online chat at 11 a.m. Thursday. Click here to submit some questions in advance.

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    Group wins grant for new city nature park trail; Lawrence home sales top the 1,000 mark for year

    A new Lawrence park and a new Lawrence trail are beginning to look more likely all the time.

    A grant totaling up to $55,000 has been awarded to the local nonprofit group Outside for a Better Inside, group founder John McGrew has told me. The grant, from the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation, will be used to help build a nature trail on the central Lawrence property that used to house the Lawrence VFW.

    The trail is a key part of a plan to convert 8 acres in the Pinckney neighborhood into a nature park that will be donated to the city. City officials last month preliminarily agreed to accept the donation of the property, once private funding arrangements could be made for the trail.

    The Sunflower grant is a key cog in the funding of the trail. McGrew has estimated the paved trail will cost a little more than $100,000 to build. McGrew — who is a longtime Lawrence real estate executive — has said he is confident the Outside for a Better Inside organization can successfully conduct private fundraising to complete the project.

    McGrew believes the trail can be completed by Spring of 2014. I haven't yet talked with city officials since word of the grant, so we'll see what their timelines are. Previously they had expressed optimism that the park, which is around Second and Alabama streets, could be open by late 2014.

    Plans call for the trail to go through a hardwood forest and partially around a small lake that used to be a clay pit for an old-time brick factory. As we recently reported, the site has an old cabin and an interesting history as a Lawrence zoo.

    The property is owned by the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Bert Nash plans to donate the back half of the property to the city, but still has long-range plans to develop the front half of the site with a new building that could house medical offices for Bert Nash and the Heartland Community Health Clinic.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Some people sing Home for the Holidays, while other people buy a home for the holidays. Lawrence home sales in November were relatively strong, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    Lawrence home sales in Novembers were up almost 13 percent compared to November 2012 totals, according to the report. For the month, 53 homes were sold.

    November's showing continues what has been a real good year for the Lawrence real estate market. In fact, November's sales pushed the market past a key milestone: Total sales for the year stood at 1,001 at the end of November. Lawrence has tried to break the 1,000 home sale barrier for a few years now.

    Through November, Lawrence home sales for the year were up 20 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Compared to the same period in 2011, sales are up a remarkable 53 percent. The rebound in the Lawrence real estate market really has been one of the more important business stories of the last couple of years.

    It is not only sales that have rebounded, but prices are up too. The median selling price thus far in 2013 is $170,000, up 7.3 percent from the same period a year ago. That's a change from what we saw in 2012. Basically what happened in 2012 is that the local real estate market started to pick up steam, in part, because selling prices of homes had dropped. At this point last year, home prices were down by almost 6.5 percent. But it seems clear that price correction was a one year event. It will be interesting to see how the county appraiser values people's homes here in the next few months. This is a key time for the appraiser's office. State law requires him to set a value for every home as of Jan. 1 of each year. We usually get those change in value notices mailed to us in March.

    As for other statistics from this month's report:

    — The number of listings on the Lawrence market is down to 380. That's down nearly 17 percent from the same period a year ago. If that trend holds, that also likely will put upward pressure on home prices.

    — The median number of days a home stays on the market before selling is now down to 42. That's compared to 60 days in 2012.

    — The number of newly constructed homes sold thus far in 2013 is 92. That's up nearly 18 percent from the same period a year ago.

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    Lawrence home sales for October strong

    After showing signs of cooling off in September, Lawrence's residential real estate market heated right back up again in October.

    October homes sales in Lawrence rose by 17 percent compared with the same time period of a year ago. Home sales in Lawrence have increased for nine of the 10 months on record in 2013. But the one month that showed a decline was September, which meant real estate observers were waiting to see whether that was the beginning of a new slowdown in the market.

    October's numbers suggest the Lawrence market has dodged a late season slump. Now, the question turns to whether the Lawrence market can dodge something even nastier: the impact of the federal government shutdown.

    John Esau, the president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, noted the only negative in this month's report is that the number of new contracts real estate agents wrote during October was down about 12.5 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Esau speculated that was because during October the government shutdown created concerns about lenders being able to timely process loans and also created economic concerns among buyers.

    The shutdown happened during the early parts of October, but most of its impacts on real estate sales likely won't show up until the November report. That's because October's report largely shows sales that had contracts written in September, before the shutdown. November's report will have sales that had contracts largely written in October. (There's no set formula, but generally it takes a few weeks for a sale to be finalized on a house.)

    So, it will be interesting to see if November's home sale numbers take a hit, but it likely won't be too much to be worried about since the shutdown is now over. Indeed, the Lawrence real estate market for all of 2013 has been pretty worry free. Here's a look at several of the most recent statistics:

    • Through October, Lawrence home sales for all of 2013 total 948, up 20.5 percent from a year ago. Compared with 2011, home sales are up nearly 53 percent.

    • Sales of newly constructed homes are up about 21 percent compared with a year ago. A total of 86 new homes have been sold, up from 71 at this time in 2012 and 55 in 2011. It is worth noting, however, October 2013 wasn't a good month for new-constructed home sales. Only four sold in Lawrence in October, down from 11 in October 2012.

    • The median selling price for a home in Lawrence is $170,000, up 7.3 percent from a year ago. Interestingly, the median selling price is about where it was in 2011, when it checked in at $168,250. Last year's rebound in the market partially was fueled by a significant drop in housing prices. This year's strong market, however, is happening as average home prices increase.

    • The median number of days a home sits on the market is down to 42, compared with 61 in 2012 and 59 in 2011.

    • The supply of homes available for sale continues to shrink. At the end of October there were 428 active listings, down from 490 in October 2012 and 575 in October 2013. Based on current sales activity, there is about a 5.9 month supply of homes currently on the market. In October 2011, there was about a 13.4 month supply of homes on the market.

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    Compton confirms deal to redevelop Allen Press property at 11th and Mass.; Lawrence home sales fall in September

    One of downtown Lawrence's more prominent corners may be set to change. Doug Compton this morning confirmed that he's reached a tentative agreement to develop the old Allen Press property at 11th and Massachusetts streets with a multistory apartment and retail building.

    The talk confirms speculation that has been running through several real estate circles in town. Compton would not go so far as to confirm the tenant he hopes to land for the ground floor space, but multiple other sources tell me he is working with either the CVS or Walgreens drug store chain.

    Compton confirmed he has entered into a partnership with longtime Lawrence businessman Rand Allen to develop all the property that Allen owns near the downtown intersection. The property currently includes a parking lot at the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts. It also includes a largely vacant industrial building that has frontage on both New Hampshire and Massachusetts streets.

    Compton said his plans call for a seven-story building that will include space for 120 apartments above the ground-floor retail space. Underground parking for at least 120 vehicles would be constructed beneath the building. The building would stretch from a point just south of the Einstein Bagel store to the corner of 11th and Massachusetts.

    "It is going to be a tall building," Compton said at a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce event this morning. "It has to be a tall building to make it work."

    Compton said the project will be similar in size and scope to the multistory buildings that his company is building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

    As for the retail tenant, Compton said he's received one round of approval from the national retailer, and he hopes to receive a final approval by mid-November.

    If a deal with a tenant is struck next month, Compton said he would need to be able to deliver the building by 2016. Compton's most recent project, a multistory building hotel and retail building at Ninth and New Hampshire, took nearly two years to get City Hall approval.

    "I'm hopeful the approval process will be easier than it was with the hotel project," Compton said.

    Unlike the hotel project, this development won't abut a residential neighborhood. But the project will be right across the street from one of the more historically significant buildings in downtown — the Douglas County Courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Look for a more complete story on this news later today.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Maybe everybody was too fascinated with the start of the KU football season, or maybe everybody was glued to their TVs watching CNN or FOX's coverage of the impending government shutdown, or maybe it simply was just time for Lawrence's real estate market to have an off month.

    Whatever the case, the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows Lawrence home sales fell 8 percent in September compared to the same time period a year ago. The decline ended a streak of 17 straight months of increasing home sales in Lawrence.

    But home sales are still way up for the year, and officials with the Realtors board didn't seem too concerned about the one-month decline. Surprisingly, they didn't attribute it to the city being gripped with Kansas University football fever. (There was a definite fever at Saturday's game — the type that comes with typhoid.)

    Instead, they said interest rates did rise some in September as market-makers became concerned about the potential government shutdown at the beginning of October. Such uncertainty usually doesn't do good things for the home buying market.

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  • Reply 8 comments from John Yocum Steven Gaudreau Gregdivilbiss Rtpayton Kingfisher Krichards Mari Aubuchon Terrylee Keith Richards

    Housing sales, home prices continue to rise in Lawrence

    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.

    More LJWorld City Coverage

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  • Reply 1 comment from Number_1_grandma Gccs14r Chicago95

    Home sales and home prices both continue to rise in Lawrence

    Lawrence's real estate market seems to be returning to its past form, which may mean another annual tradition will return: Notices from the Douglas County appraiser's office that your home's tax value has increased.

    The latest numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors show July was another strong month for home sales in the city. Real estate agents sold 141 homes in July, up about 15 percent from July 2012 and nearly 64 percent from July 2011.

    For the year to date, real estate agents have sold 695 homes, which is a 25 percent increase from the same period a year ago and a nearly 50 percent increase from the same period in 2011.

    But the more interesting numbers are found in the selling price data. With seven months of figures in the books, it is now time to start paying attention to pricing trends. In summary, they're up.

    Through July, the median selling price on homes in Lawrence has been $168,900. That's an increase of 5.9 percent from the same period of 2012. It also marks a turnaround in the market. At this time last year, home prices were down 5.6 percent compared to 2011. In other words, it looks like home values have found their bottom in Lawrence, and now are on a fairly steady climb.

    If that trend holds, it seems likely those higher prices will be reflected in the tax values that are calculated by the Douglas County Appraiser's office. The appraiser's office hasn't provided any guidance yet on what home owners should expect this spring when they get their change of value notices. But the office has been running its own reports on home sales, and it is showing an increase in selling prices as well. Countywide, selling prices are up about 5 percent, according to the county's data.

    That doesn't necessarily mean the average property should expect to see its taxable value increase by 5 percent. But an increase is a real a possibility this year, when in the past couple of years falling or stagnant values were more the norm. The second half of the year will be key, because the appraiser's task is to determine the value of the property on Jan. 1. If interest rates rise and housing demand slows in the second half of the year, that will change the equitation considerably.

    As for other numbers in the Board of Realtors' report, here's a look:

    • Year-to-date, real estate agents have sold 62 newly constructed homes. That's up almost 41 percent from last year.

    • Through July, the median days-on-market for a house is 42, down from 60 in 2012.

    • Total sales volume for the year thus far is $140.5 million, up 33 percent from the same period a year ago.

    • The number of active listings on the market at the end of July was 437, down from 500 at the time period in 2012.

    • The number of pending contracts at the end of July stood at 124, which is down from 136 at the end of July 2012. That may mean August numbers will be down a bit from August 2012 numbers.

    Reply 34 comments from Tomato Jafs David Holroyd Steve Jacob Chicago95 Mikekt Merrill Neworleans George_braziller Binnlawrence4ever and 2 others

    Lawrence home sales improve for 15th straight month

    The hot streak continues in Lawrence's real estate market. Home sales in Lawrence rose for the 15th month in a row, according to a new report that measured June home sales.

    The Lawrence Board of Realtors found 149 units were sold in June, an increase of 4.9 percent compared to June 2012 totals.

    The local numbers outperformed the national market. National home sales fell by 1 percent in June, according to published reports.

    The strong June, which is typically the busiest month of the year for real estate agents, continues the rebound theme for 2013. Home sales year to date total 553, up 28 percent from the same period a year ago. The rebound is more dramatic when compared to 2011 numbers. Lawrence home sales are up nearly 46 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

    But here's another way to look at it. In this month's report, the Board of Realtors provided sales volume numbers, or in other words, the total dollar amount for all homes sold in a particular time period. Through June, sales volumes were at $112.2 million, up 38 percent from the same period in 2012.

    Through June of 2011, sales volumes were at $73.7 million. So, there has been an extra $38.5 million worth of home sales in Lawrence, compared to 2011. If you figure that the average sales commission on a home is 6 percent, that's an additional $2.3 million in sales commissions that local agents and agencies have collected since 2011. I know I've certainly seen some real estate agents at jewelry stores, car dealerships, and other big-ticket retailers. (Granted, I'm usually just peeping through the windows of such places. I'll leave it to you to ascertain who I'm usually trying to keep an eye on.) But the point is, the numbers are interesting because they provide a little bit of meat to the long-held notion that the real estate market is a major driver of the local economy.

    Other numbers from the report include:

    • Sales of newly constructed homes now total 51, up 50 percent from the same period a year ago.

    • The median number of days a home sits on the market is now 49, down from 63 days a year ago.

    • The median sale price is $168,900, a 5.8 percent increase from a year ago. The median sale price for newly-constructed homes is $299,900, an 18 percent increase from year-ago numbers.

    Reply 5 comments from Brew_crew122 Scritty Pea Randall Uhrich Chad Lawhorn Joe Adams

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