Lawrence real estate market continues winning streak in 2017; questions turn to whether home prices will jump in 2018
Back in January 2017, there was a bit of worry about whether Lawrence’s real estate market was going to take a downward turn in the new year. (Other than that, I think the world was pretty worry-free in January 2017.) Well, rest easier. The final real estate numbers for 2017 are in, and the Lawrence market did just fine.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors' latest report shows 2017 home sales in the city increased by 4 percent compared to 2016 totals. There had been some concern that Lawrence’s real estate market might go through a slump in ’17 because 2016 ended a bit weak. Sales in 2016 grew by only 2.4 percent, and there were concerns housing prices were rising rapidly enough to slow demand. The median home price increased by more than 5 percent in 2016, one of the higher yearly gains in recent memory.
All the concerns, though, were a false alarm. Here’s a look at some of the key real estate numbers from 2017.
— Lawrence home sales totaled 1,261 in 2017. That’s up 4 percent from 2016 totals and up 6.5 percent from 2015 totals. It was the third year that Lawrence’s home market showed significant growth. The 2014 market was basically stagnant. Lawrence hasn’t seen a real downturn in the home market since 2011, when the economic woes of the nation caused home sales to plummet by 14.7 percent.
— The number of newly constructed homes sold in 2017 was a highlight. The report shows 114 newly constructed homes were sold in 2017, up from 103 in 2016 and 83 in 2015. The new home market has been making a gradual comeback. For instance, in 2014 the number of newly constructed homes sold had dipped to 76.
— Average selling prices in Lawrence continued to rise, but not as rapidly as they did in 2016. The median selling price increased to $180,000 in 2017, an increase of 1.1 percent over 2016’s median. However, that 1.1 percent growth was quite a bit slower than the 5.3 percent increase home prices experienced in 2016. Going back a bit further, the median selling price in 2012 was $159,500. So, home prices over the last five years have increased by about 12 percent in Lawrence.
— Homes are continuing to sell very quick. The median number of days a home sat on the market before selling was 11. That’s down from 19 in 2016 and down from 25 days in 2015. To give you some perspective, the median number of days a home sat on the market in 2012 was 59.
— The number of homes on the market continue to be pretty low. December ended with 183 homes on the Lawrence market. That was up 3 homes from December 2016 totals, but it was down from 240 homes at the end of 2015. In 2012, the number stood at 369.
“Supply is still at a staggeringly low rate,and is forecasted to continue to be low well into the year,” Henry Wertin, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors noted in the report.
Whether tight inventories remain in 2018 will play a key role in whether home prices begin to rise rapidly again. If home prices do rise rapidly again, that also may be a sign that the county appraiser will raise your tax values on your home. Which, unless governments cut their property tax mill levies, will mean a tax increase.
So, see, there is always something to worry about.
Home prices up, home construction up, and other signs that Lawrence homebuilding is on the rebound; another Lawrence ranking
The sounds of hammers, saws and then the buying of a new home: As I can attest, that indeed can be the order of events of a home improvement project gone wrong. But these days it also is a description of the Lawrence real estate market. A pair of new reports show new home construction and new home buying have surged in early 2017.
First, let’s start with the home buying report. The Lawrence Board of Realtors reports that home sales in February were up 23 percent compared with February 2016. For the year, home sales in Lawrence are up 25 percent, totaling 115 homes sold.
Perhaps the more important number, though, is that the sale of newly constructed homes totaled 11 in February. That’s up from just two in February 2016. For the year, new home sales stand at 18 homes. For comparison, local builders didn’t sell their 18th new home of 2016 until April of last year.
Builders evidently are taking notice. The city of Lawrence also has released its February building permit report. It shows that 28 new single-family or duplex homes received building permits in February. That’s the highest February total this decade. For the year, the city has issued 41 permits for single-family or duplex homes. The 41 permits make up the best two-month start to a year in recent memory, according to city records.
It is still a small sample size, but the surge in new home construction and new home sales will be a development to keep an eye on. The city’s real estate market has been posting steady gains the last several years, but it mostly has been fueled by the sale of existing homes. For whatever reason, the improving real estate market had not spurred Lawrence home builders to increase their building activity significantly. We’ll have to wait and see whether 2017 will be different, but early indications are that it will be. New home construction once was a major supplier of local jobs in Lawrence, but the number of companies in that business has dwindled significantly since the housing bubble burst at the end of the last decade.
One reason buyers may be turning to new homes is price. Two things are happening in the Lawrence real estate market: The prices of existing homes are increasing significantly, and the prices of newly constructed homes are coming down. Thus far in 2017, the median selling price of an existing home is $189,900. The median selling price of a newly constructed home is $298,700. That is a price difference of about $109,000. For all of 2016, the median price difference between existing and new homes was about $147,000.
Home prices in general will be a key figure to watch in 2017. Just how high will they go? Although the sample size is still small, the 2017 median price of $189,900 is eye-catching. For all of 2016, the median selling price was $178,000. That’s a 6.6 percent increase, and that’s before the real estate market has hit its busiest point of the year, which generally is the spring and early summer.
“It really is a seller’s market, and now is the time to list if you are thinking of moving,” Mark Hess, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said in a statement.
The prices are one sign of it being seller’s market. The other is the amount of homes available on the market. A low supply of homes on the market has been a story for more than a year in the Lawrence real estate market. February’s report shows the number of active listings dipped to 212 homes, down from 255 at the same time in 2016 and down from 325 during the same period in 2015. Thus far in 2017, the median number of days a home sits on the market before it sells is 40, down from 53 during the same time period a year ago.
Here’s a look at some other statistics from the reports:
— The total dollar value of homes sold thus far in 2017 is $24.3 million, up from about $18.4 million during the same period a year ago.
— The total dollar value of building permits issued in the city thus far in 2017 is $22.6 million, down from $36.2 million during the same period a year ago. While single-family home construction is up, the amount of apartment construction in 2017 is down from a year ago. The amount of new commercial construction permits — the construction of new business buildings and such — also is down thus far in 2017.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe some of the folks buying a new home in Lawrence are recent college graduates who have decided to stick around. A new report ranks Lawrence as one of the best college towns to live in after graduation.
The website RentCollegePads.com has ranked Lawrence as the 18th best college town to live in post-graduation. This report kept its analysis simple. It looked at three factors: the unemployment rate for people 25 to 29 years old; the median salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree and the percentage of the 25-34-year-old population with a bachelor’s degree.
As with all of these rankings, the results are really subjective, but it is interesting to look at some of the data, such as earnings and unemployment data. Here’s a look at Lawrence and some selected other cities that made the top 20. The salary is the median salary for people with a bachelor’s degree. The unemployment rate is the jobless rate for people 25-29 years old.
— No. 18 Lawrence: median salary, $37,607; jobless rate, 4.8 percent
— No. 15 Fayetteville, Ark.: median salary, $45,707; jobless rate, 5.6 percent
— No. 12 Columbia, Mo.: median salary, $32,594; jobless rate, 4.6 percent
— No. 6 College Station, Texas: median salary, $40,736; jobless rate 4.5 percent
— No. 3 Iowa City: median salary, $35,693; jobless rate 1.8 percent
— No. 2 Bowling Green, Ohio: median salary $36,869; jobless rate 1.5 percent
— No. 1 West Chester, Pa.: median salary $49,079; jobless rate 2.9 percent
Lawrence housing market posts increase for 2016, home prices rise; question about whether homeowners will see higher property tax values
The final numbers for 2016 are in, and real estate agents sold 1,210 Lawrence homes. From the podium, though, it looked like at least a million to a million and a half. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Either way, it was enough for Lawrence to post its fourth consecutive year of growth in home sales.
The new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows home sale totals grew by 2.2 percent compared with 2015 marks. That’s not a record-setter by any means, but there were times in 2016 that it was questionable whether the market was going to grow at all. So, real estate agents are likely happy with the end result.
Here’s a look at how this year’s home sale totals compare with previous years:
— 2016: 1,210, up 2.2 percent
— 2015: 1,184, up 11.4 percent
— 2014: 1,063, up 0.2 percent
— 2013: 1,061, up 17.2 percent
Some of the more interesting numbers in this report are on the pricing front. The end-of-year numbers show the median selling price of a home in Lawrence was $178,000. That was an increase of 5.3 percent from the 2015 median of $169,000. Here’s a look at some recent history on median selling prices in Lawrence.
— 2016: $178,000, up 5.3 percent
— 2015: $169,000, up 1.2 percent
— 2014: $167,000, down 1.8 percent
— 2013: $170,000, up 6.6 percent.
A couple of things you may notice about those numbers are that the housing market did seem to break through a bit of a ceiling in 2016. The market hit a recent high in 2013 with a median selling price of $170,000. Then it dropped in 2014, and home prices weren’t able to increase enough in 2015 to get the median equal to or above the old high. The market gained back all of its losses plus some in 2016. The other notable trend is that Lawrence now has had two consecutive years of increases in selling prices. It will be interesting to watch whether that trend starts showing up in the tax values that the county appraiser assigns to each home. Those tax values are supposed to be based on the fair market value of homes, and while homeowners may not want to see their tax values increase, local governments are likely eager to get the additional tax revenues that higher values would produce
The rising price of housing, though, was most evident in the new construction market. The median selling price of a newly constructed home rose to $324,900 in 2016, an increase of 6 percent from 2015 values. Since 2013, the median price of a newly constructed home has risen by 8 percent, while the median price of existing housing stock has grown by 4.7 percent. The figures illustrate some of the difficulties the city may face if it has an affordable housing strategy that is heavily reliant on new construction. The numbers also show the new construction market struggles to build smaller, more entry-level homes. The difference in price between an average existing home and the average newly constructed home is nearly $150,000. Obviously, the new stuff that is getting built is a lot bigger, and perhaps fancier, than the older housing stock.
But despite the rising prices, sales of newly constructed homes posted their best totals in a long time. Real estate agents sold 99 new homes in 2016, a 22 percent increase from 2015.
Here is a look at a few other statistics from the end-of-year report:
— The median number of days an existing house sat on the market before it sold was 16. That’s the shortest time period in recent memory. In 2013, existing homes were on the market for 40 days on average. The number has been falling ever since. The statistic shows the market becoming more and more of a sellers market.
— There are mixed signals on the new construction front. While more newly constructed homes sold in Lawrence than in past years, they took longer to sell. The median number of days a newly constructed home sat on the market before selling was 94. That’s up significantly from the 76 days in 2015. As local homebuilders decide how many houses to build in 2017, they may be trying to figure out what statistic to put their faith in: an increasing number of sales or a slowdown in how long it is taking to sell a home.
— The year ended with 180 homes actively on the market. That too is a recent low. At the end of 2015 there were 240 homes on the market. At the end of 2013 there were 303. The shrinking number of homes on the market is a main factor driving up prices in the market, local real estate agents tell me. Unless something changes in the market — and who knows, facts and “alternative facts” could produce a shift — the low inventory of homes for sale makes it likely that Lawrence may see a third year of price increases in the real estate market.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are wondering whether the Douglas County Appraiser is going to attach a higher tax value to your home, you’ll have to keep wondering a bit longer. The county will send out its change of value notices on March 1. But the appraiser’s staff currently is going through the process of assigning a tax value to the approximately 40,000 real estate parcels that exist in the county.
County Appraiser Steve Miles put out a report recently updating the process, but he didn’t provide any firm guidance on what homeowners should expect. But it sure sounds like some sort of increase in tax values is in play.
“When the entire year is analyzed, there has been upward movement in the overall market value of existing real property over that period,” Miles wrote in the report. “As staff proceeds with the process of establishing the valuations for Douglas County properties, we are seeing an upward trend in total valuations on average.”
But Miles did not offer guidance on how large of an increase in values his staff is seeing. In a separate part of the report, Miles notes that through November, the average sale price for residential property throughout Douglas County was $214,895, which was up about 1 percent from the 2015 average. These numbers look different from the ones above for a couple of reasons: 1. They are for the entire county. 2.The appraiser uses a mean average instead of a median average. (No, I’m not going to explain the difference. You should have paid attention in math class.)
The appraiser’s office is scheduled to wrap up its annual review of values in the next couple of weeks. We’’ll check in with the appraiser after that to see if we can get a better idea of what homeowners should expect.
You want statistics. I’ve got ‘em. KU’s football team has a better 2016 record than Oklahoma, K-State and Missouri. After 96 hours of college football on a Labor Day weekend, you will go through 192 bags of Doritos, three overheated remote controls and not nearly enough ScotchGard. I even have a couple of new statistical reports on Lawrence’s economy. Retail sales are surging while home sales are slumping.
• First, a look at retail sales. In a trend that has held steady pretty much the entire year, Lawrence continues to lead the state in sales tax growth.
Lawrence officials recently received their August sales tax check from the state, and collections were up 3.8 percent compared with the same one-month period in 2015. (A reminder: Even though the report is for August, due to a lag in reporting, the report actually measures sales activity that happened about 30 to 60 days ago.)
As usual, the more important number is the cumulative total for the year. That’s where Lawrence continues to outshine the other large retail centers in Kansas. Here’s a look:
— Lawrence: up 5.3 percent
— Olathe: up 3.9 percent
— Topeka: up 3.2 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.7 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.2 percent
— Salina: down 2.8 percent
— Lenexa: down 6.1 percent
The numbers are good news for more than just the city’s retailers. If the trend continues, it will be good news for the city’s budget too. The city budgeted sales tax revenues to grow by 3.7 percent for 2016, or in dollar terms, about $940,000. If the city can finish the year with a 5.3 percent increase, it’ll exceed its estimates by about $360,000. Of course, things could change quickly, especially if Lawrence has a lackluster holiday shopping season for some reason.
As for why sales tax collections are on the rise, that’s always a bit of a guessing game. City officials, though, continue to point to a few key areas. The city hasn’t yet analyzed the August sales tax distribution, but in a report on the July distribution, the city noted the sale of building supplies continues to be the biggest driver of the increase. Sales of building materials are up 27 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The biggest change in that sector has been the opening of Menards store near south Iowa Street.
The city also notes the auto industry and the grocery store industry also are doing well. Year to date, motor vehicle and parts sales are up 8 percent, while sales from food and beverage stores (not to be confused with bars and restaurants) are up 7 percent.
There is one area that has declined significantly in 2016, but consumers likely don’t mind. Sales taxes charged on utility services — think water, gas and electricity bills — are down 11 percent year to date. Rates for those services haven’t gone down, but usage evidently has. But that too could change quickly.
• The news isn’t as bright for home sales. The Lawrence Board of Realtors recently released figures for July home sales. It was a rough month.
Home sales in Lawrence fell by about 23 percent in July, compared with the same period a year ago. The weak July pushed year-to-date totals squarely into negative territory. Year to date, home sales are down 5.3 percent, for a total of 756 sales.
The reason for the downturn is beginning to sound like a broken record. (Did somebody mention records? I hear KU’s football team has a better record than K-State’s.) The supply of homes on the market is very tight, according to real estate professionals.
Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the lack of homes for sale is having a “significant impact” on the market. “The drop in July sales is attributable to a shortage of supply and not a drop in demand,” he said. “Segments of this market have buyers in line for just the right listing.”
The tight supply of homes has been a pretty consistent theme for the Lawrence market all year. Really, it has been building for a couple of years. In 2014, the median number of days a home sat on the market before selling was 34. In 2015 that dropped to 24 days. Thus far in 2016 it has dropped to 16 days.
Other statistics of note from the recent report include:
— Despite there being a shortage of homes on the market, the sales of newly constructed homes dipped a bit in July, falling to 11, compared with 13 in July 2015. Year to date, however, sales of new homes are up by nearly 24 percent. Lawrence builders are on pace to post their second straight year of gains.
— The number of active listings on the Lawrence market stands at 288, down from 317 at the same time in 2015 and 417 in July 2014.
— Home prices are starting to rise significantly in Lawrence. Through July, the median selling price of homes is $176,175, which is up 6.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. If July was any indication, those numbers may rise more rapidly during the rest of the year. The median selling price for homes in July rose 13.9 percent compared with July 2015.
New cheese shop opens in west Lawrence; home sales gain steam in April, but shortage of houses persists
I have news of cheese and also news of people buying new homes. And though it may sound like it, this isn’t a follow-up to the wild cheese party that ended up with Gouda in places that was no Gouda.
First, the cheese news. Look for a new store inside the Dillons at Sixth and Wakarusa. The longtime New York-based purveyor Murray’s Cheese has signed a deal with Dillons’ parent company to open cheese shops across the country. Lawrence has landed one of them.
The Murray’s Cheese shop at the Dillons at 4701 W. Sixth St. opened last weekend. According to information from Dillons, the cheese shop will stock more than 175 varieties of cheese, plus it will carry other items such as local honey and preserves, olives, crackers and charcuterie.
That is right, charcuterie. My, how far we have come in a short time. I honestly had never heard of the word before late 2013 when I wrote about plans for Hank Charcuterie to open at 19th and Massachusetts. I thought it was a critter that we may find the fellows on "Swamp People" chasing down. But now I have learned that charcuterie is French for “too expensive to serve to my friends.” (Don’t let that dissuade you, though. That’s more of a commentary on my friends than the prices.) In case you somehow don’t know what charcuterie is, it refers to sausages, pates and other specialty meat products that go well with cheeses and other appetizers.
To be honest, I also hadn’t heard much about Murray’s Cheese shop before, but that's mainly because I have tried to cut way down on the number of cheese conversations I have during the course of a day. According to Dillons, though, Murray’s is one of the more famous cheese shops in New York. It has been open since 1940, and has drawn large crowds to its original location in Greenwich Village.
The deal with Dillons calls for Murray’s to stock its most popular cheeses at Dillons. Looking at the store’s website, it appears varieties include: Parmigiano-Reggiano; English Cheddar; Irish Cheddar; Roquefort blue cheese; Havarti, Alpine style Grand Cru cheese; a variety of BellaVitano cheeses; marinated mozzarella; and more than a half dozen styles of Gouda, including smoked, aged, farmhouse, double cream and others. They even have a cheese platter called “Life is Gouda.” (Wait a minute. I thought I had the market cornered on Gouda puns.)
One other point to note about the new cheese shop: It encourages people to sample a different variety of cheese on each visit.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If I took Murray’s up on that offer, I may need to buy a house with wider doors. Maybe that is what is going on with other folks in town. Whatever the case, Lawrence home sales were up in the important month of April.
Home sales in Lawrence grew by 10.5 percent in April, compared with April 2015 totals, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. I’m sure that was a welcome site for Lawrence real estate agents because 2016 sales had started off a bit sluggish. During the first quarter of the year, sales were down by 1.1 percent.
But with April’s strong showing, homes sales are now up for the year. Through April, sales are up 3.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
The report, though, does provide reason for concern. The number of homes on the market in Lawrence continues to decline significantly. At the end of April, 250 homes were on the market, which is down from 346 in April 2015 and 429 in April 2014. Real estate agents believe a small supply of homes ultimately will lead to a reduction in sales and also an increase in home prices. At the moment, it is making for a seller’s market.
The result is homes are not sitting on the market for long. Thus far in 2016, the median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is 28. That’s down from 43 in 2015 and 60 in 2014.
“The pace of this market can be challenging for everyone,” said Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Other statistics from the recent report include:
— Sales of newly constructed homes were up slightly in April, totaling nine versus seven in April 2015. For the year, sales of newly constructed homes are up 37 percent, totaling 22.
— The median selling prices of homes this year is $167,565, up 5.4 percent from the same period a year ago.
— The total dollar value of homes sold in Lawrence thus far in 2016 is $61.1 million, up 6.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
New study says Lawrence below average in managing money, above average in mortgage debt; local home sales off to sluggish start
If I weren’t so busy gold-plating random items in my house, I would take offense at a finding of a new study: Lawrence residents are below-average at managing their money.
The financial website WalletHub ranks Lawrence 1,505th out of about 2,500 U.S. communities in its 2016 study titled Best and Worst Cities at Money Management. We’re ranked in the 41st percentile, meaning we’re about 10 percent below average when it comes to money management.
Honestly, I wouldn’t sweat the ranking much. As I’ve mentioned before, these rankings are very subjective, and this is one where Lawrence’s status as a college town probably works against us. We have a lot of young people living in Lawrence who previously thought money management simply involved telling Daddy that it looks like he’s lost some weight.
But I’m passing along the information because some of the data the WalletHub folks used is interesting. The financial website created a partnership with the financial services firm TransUnion to get a host of financial data that we normally don’t see. Some of that data serves as a good reminder of just how different we are from our neighbors. Here’s a look:
— More of our money goes to paying off credit card debt. On average, the ratio of credit credit card debt to income for Lawrence residents is about 29 percent. In the Johnson County communities of Olathe, Overland Park and Shawnee, it is 15 to 17 percent. In Topeka it is 20 percent. (A quick note about the ratios: The Lawrence ratio would suggest that a person who has $40,000 a year in income would have $11,000 in credit card debt. But don’t get too caught up in trying to do that type of math. What WalletHub did, according to a spokeswoman, is take the credit card debt data from TransUnion, break it down to a per capita basis, then compare that to the median earnings of individuals, as measured by the Census Bureau. What’s important is that they used the same methodology for each community, so it does give a good look at how the communities differ.)
— More of our money goes to paying off car loans. The amount of car loan debt to income is 81 percent in Lawrence. In the Johnson County communities, it is closer to 40 to 50 percent. In Topeka, it is 59 percent.
— A lot more of our money goes to paying off mortgages. On average the ratio of mortgage debt to income for Lawrence residents is 847 percent. That’s far higher than most Kansas communities included in the survey. Here’s a look at several:
— Hutchinson: 341 percent
— Topeka: 384 percent
— Salina: 386 percent
— Wichita: 407 percent
— Shawnee 416 percent
— Olathe: 446 percent
— Overland Park: 468 percent
— Emporia: 483 percent
But when you look at Lawrence compared with other college communities, we fare much better. Here are nine other college communities in the central part of the U.S. that I chose for comparison purposes:
— Waco, Texas: 520 percent
— Norman, Okla.: 599 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: 783 percent
— Lawrence: 847 percent
— Iowa City: 906 percent
— Manhattan: 983 percent
— Stillwater, Okla.: 1,100 percent
— Ames, Iowa: 1,276 percent
— Boulder, Colo.: 1,648 percent
In that list, Lawrence is pretty middle of the pack, but it is interesting to note how much higher all the college communities are than noncollege communities. There probably is some bias against college communities in the methodology of this particular study. But the numbers also may suggest there is something to the idea that college communities are inherently more expensive places to live. Certainly the strong rental market of a college community sucks up some housing supply that otherwise would be available for homeowners. Are there other factors too? Why does a place like Norman, for example, have housing that appears to be quite a bit more affordable than Lawrence? And conversely, does every home in Ames have a gold-plated commode? (If so, can I get the name of your guy? My guy doesn’t do commodes.)
Lawrence leaders are beginning to spend more time on the issue of affordable housing. A pilot project for a new affordable housing trust fund has been selected. That’s good. But as the community continues to address the issue, I wonder whether part of the process will be for community leaders to do a deeper dive of why Lawrence’s housing market functions the way it does, and conduct a broader examination of how some other college communities have dealt with this issue. I understand people get tired of paying consultants, but trying to change something as complex as a housing market is going to take some expertise.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence real estate market will be trying to improve upon what was a pretty good year in 2015. It has not gotten off to a great start, but it is still early. Lawrence home sales for January fell by 23 percent from the same time period a year ago, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Agents sold 40 homes during the month, down from 52 in January 2015. One bright spot in the report is that five newly constructed homes sold in the month. That’s a far better start than last January, when none sold. The new home market is one that still hasn’t gained as much traction as industry leaders would like in Lawrence.
One number that likely is still creating concern for real estate agents is the number of homes on the market. The number of active listings on the market in January was 260. That’s down from 286 in January 2015 and down from 320 in January 2014. Real estate agents have expressed concern that the declining inventory of homes will depress sales because, well, you can’t sell what you don’t have.
Another number that is worth watching is pending contract. The number of pending contracts in January was down about 9 percent compared to a year ago. That’s normally a sign of weaker sales numbers to come.
But keep in my mind that this is only one month, and January normally is not a make or break month for home sales in Lawrence.
I probably need to spend more time reading comic books. As the "Star Wars" fever rises, some in my household are becoming frustrated that I keep confusing Count Dooku with Count Chocula. But fear not, we don’t have to be confused for long because the world of comics (yes, there are "Star Wars" comic books), board games and fantasy is becoming big business in Lawrence.
A new three-story comic and gaming store is opening in downtown Lawrence. Well, sort of. The Game Nut and Astrokitty Comics & More have merged, and an expansion project is underway at Game Nut’s longtime home at 844 Massachusetts.
Astrokitty recently vacated its longtime space at 15 E. Seventh St. when owner Joel Pfannenstiel sold Astrokitty to Game Nut. Joel, though, continues to be a part of the business. He’s helping design the expansion that will end up occupying all three floors of the Game Nut building at Ninth and Massachusetts.
“We plan to be the largest gaming store in Lawrence and really one of the largest ones in the Kansas City area,” Joel said.
The space already is occupying two of the three floors. The top floor of the building houses the comic book shop — now known as Astrokitty @ Game Nut — and it also includes the store’s action figure department. The main floor of the building continues to house the electronic video games. Work is underway to expand the shop into the basement level. It will include the board game selection, role playing games, the store’s High Score video game lounge, and a large area that can house up to 60 people who want to get together to play tabletop games.
“We want to create space where the community can meet and play,” Joel said.
The space, which is expected to be open in February, will be called The Dungeon, complete with the old stone walls of the basement that will be left exposed. Getting together to play board games or other tabletop games has become an emerging trend.
“There’s just a camaraderie and social aspect of it that you don’t really get as much with the video games,” Joel said. “We’re really going to push the aspect of community and interaction and people coming together.”
Video games, though, will remain a large part of the business. Joel said the number of people who play both video and tabletop games and read comic books is large. Television shows — everything from "Game of Thrones" to the multitude of zombie stuff — has led to greater interest in games and literature related to fantasy and other genres.
“There has been a huge upswing,” Joel said. “All this stuff that I’ve immersed myself in all my life, other people are doing it too. It is very cool.”
The Lawrence business community is certainly betting on the trend. This is the third major comic/gaming project I’ve reported on this year. Boom Comics opened an approximately 15,000 square-foot comic and gaming store earlier this year in the former Kief’s Audio Video space at 2429 Iowa St. In west Lawrence, Rolling Gnome Games — a store that focuses on a variety of board, tabletop and card games — opened at 3727 W. Sixth St.
Game Nut and Astrokitty, though, are two of the longer-term players in the Lawrence market. Both are celebrating their 10-year anniversaries this year, Joel said.
It sounds like the expansion in the industry isn’t quite done. Joel said Game Nut owner Gene Nutt is undertaking an expansion of his south Iowa Street store. Plans call for the amount of space for the south Iowa Game Nut, which is at 2540 Iowa, to approximately double. Work is likely to be completed in February, Joel said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If I’m going to start reading lots of comic books, I’ll probably need a new house with an extra room to keep all my Count Chocula costumes. (Sorry, I’m still getting confused.) Regardless, I do have the latest figures on home sales in Lawrence.
For October, home sales in Lawrence were basically flat. (I didn’t say I had exciting figures. Why do you think I’m still making Count Chocula jokes?) Sales totaled 83 units, down from 84 in October 2014.
The numbers for the year to date are more exciting. The October numbers pushed Lawrence above the 1,000 homes sold mark for 2015. For the year, home sales in Lawrence are up 15 percent compared with 2014. Last year, the real estate market took a little dip in Lawrence, but it seems clear that 2015 will reverse that trend. Last year, home sales declined by about 0.2 percent. That was compared with a 17 percent increase in 2013 and a 28 percent increase in 2012. So, 2015 is on pace to return the market to more recent norms.
Here are some other numbers from the report put out by the Lawrence Board of Realtors:
• The number of newly constructed homes sold for the year have rebounded in 2015. New homes sales total 73, up from 60 at this time in 2014. However, sales of newly constructed homes continue to lag 2013 totals, when 86 had been sold at this time.
• The type of new home being constructed in Lawrence is slightly more expensive than in past years. The median selling price for a newly constructed home is $309,400, up about 1.5 percent from a year ago. It is up about $9,000 from 2013, when the median selling price was $300,620.
• The total dollar value of homes sold in Lawrence is up about 18 percent to $212.8 million.
• The median number of days a home sits on the market before it sells continues to fall. The median is now at 24 days, down from 33 last year and 42 in 2013.
• The number of homes on the market continues to fall, which real estate agents have said is depressing home sales in the city. The number of active listings stands at 317, down about 15 percent from last year and about 13 percent from 2013.
I also have one figure on real estate values. This one comes from the Douglas County Appraiser’s Office, instead of the Board of Realtors. The latest data from the appraiser’s office shows the average sale price for existing homes in Lawrence and Douglas County is $213,992 thus far in 2015. That’s up about 1.5 percent from a year ago. So, the real estate market is seeing some appreciation but isn’t going gangbusters, based on those numbers.
Lawrence home sales surge in April; new report finds local housing value growth lagging region; new sights coming to downtown sidewalks
Perhaps I need to fire my Leavenworth-based tax preparer (his motto: I wish I had an open door policy) because it sure looks like a lot of people’s tax refunds in April were bigger than mine. Or at least something spurred a surge in home buying in Lawrence, according to the latest figures from the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Lawrence real estate agents sold 113 homes in April, which is an increase of 25 percent from April 2014. April is a key month in the home-buying market as many buyers are on the market in the spring looking to get settled into a new home during the summer.
The strong April numbers are the latest sign Lawrence’s real estate market is in full bounce-back mode. For the year-to-date, Lawrence’s home sales are up 18 percent from the same period a year ago. Last year, the Lawrence market ended the year with home sales down slightly from 2013 totals. The city’s real estate market, though, experienced growth in 2013 and 2012, so the latest numbers are indicating that last year’s slowdown may end up being just a small road bump rather than the beginning of a new trend.
In fact, the most recent figures include several signs that buyers are back in a big way. Here’s a look:
— Sales of newly constructed homes entered positive territory in April. Real estate agents sold seven newly built homes in April, up from four in April 2014. For the year-to-date, sales of newly constructed homes total 16, which is up from 13 in the same time period a year ago. Those numbers aren’t great — they’re still down by 10 homes from 2013 figures — but any type of bounce-back would be welcome by homebuilders. The sale of newly constructed homes was the weakest part of the market last year. Sales in that category fell by 19 percent in 2014.
— The median number of days a home sits on the market unsold has fallen significantly. Thus far in 2015, the median is at 43 days, down from 60 days in 2014.
— The number of pending contracts at the end of April totaled 257, which is up 29 percent from April 2014. That likely is a sign that sale numbers in May and June also should be strong.
— The number of active listings on the market in April totaled 346, which is down nearly 20 percent from April 2014 totals. The declining number of active listings, and the declining number of days a home sits on the market are indicators that there’s been an influx of buyers.
One thing we haven’t seen, however, is an increase in home prices in Lawrence. The numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors show the median sale price thus far in 2015 is $158,900, which is basically unchanged from the $158,500 mark at this time last year. The median selling price of newly constructed homes is up significantly. It checks in at $337,495, which is a 10 percent increase from a year ago.
It has been interesting to watch what has happened to the selling prices of newly constructed homes in Lawrence over the last several years. At the end of 2011, the median selling price for a newly built home was $245,000. We’ve seen an increase of 37 percent in median price in less than four years. Back in 2011, the gap between the median selling price of an existing home and a new home was about 45 percent. Thus far in 2015, the gap is about 110 percent. As I’ve been known to say when my key no longer works in my home lock: I don’t know exactly what this means, but it seems significant.
• On the subject of housing prices, there’s an even better set of numbers that have been recently released for the Lawrence market. They show an even more pronounced stagnation of housing prices in Lawrence.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency has released its first quarter numbers for home prices in metro areas across the country. These numbers give a better indication of whether home values are rising or falling than the Board of Realtor numbers. That’s because the Board of Realtor numbers simply look at all the homes sold in a given time period, compute and average and then compares that average to the same period in previous years. That, however, doesn’t take into account the type of homes being sold. If in 2015, 40 percent of the home sales in Lawrence consisted of five-bedroom homes while in 2014 they only accounted for 30 percent of sales, it is likely the average selling price is going to be higher. But that doesn’t mean home values in general are rising. It just means the mix of housing sales is different than it used to be. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has access to more detailed mortgage information, and it is able to account for such factors and conduct a more apples-to-apples comparison.
The latest numbers show that Lawrence home values in the first quarter of 2015 actually declined slightly. Prices dropped by 0.2 percent in the first quarter of the year. For the last 12 months, home values in Lawrence have risen by 2.43 percent. Compared to other metro markets, that’s not a lot. Lawrence ranks 237th out of the approximately 275 metro markets that are measured.
The agency also provides information on housing values over the last five years. Here’s a look at how Lawrence stacks up compared to some other regional markets:
— Lawrence: down 0.2 percent (1Q); up 2.4 percent (1yr); up 3 percent (5yr)
— Boulder, Colo.: up 0.4 percent; up 7.5 percent; up 20.7 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 0.2 percent; up 4.6 percent; up 6.8 percent
— Fort Collins, Colo.: up 1.4 percent; up 9 percent; up 22.3 percent
— Greeley, Colo: up 2 percent, up 9.2 percent; up 23.2 percent
— Iowa City: up 0.9 percent; up 2.3 percent; up 6.6 percent
— Joplin, Mo.: up 3.1 percent; up 3.4 percent; up 9 percent
— Kansas City, Mo.-Ka.n: up 0.6 percent; up 5.1 percent; up 3.1 percent
— Lincoln, Neb.: up 1 percent; up 4.1 percent; up 12.4 percent
— Topeka: down 1.9 percent; up 1.8 percent; down 0.8 percent
— Wichita: up 2 percent; up 5.7 percent; up 3.8 percent
So, looking at those numbers, there are two obvious conclusions: 1. We need more mountains; and 2. The beautiful Kaw River isn’t the selling point it used to be.
The mountains are easy to see. Over the last five years, the Colorado communities have seen their home values soar by about 4 percent to 5 percent a year. Back in the 1990s, such appreciation of home values was fairly common in Lawrence too. Clearly, someone has stolen our mountains.
In terms of the Kaw, I say that because look at the three communities that line the Kansas River. Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City all have seen pretty stagnant home values over the last five years. When you average the growth rates for the three communities, it comes out to 1.7 percent for the five-year period. Not 1.7 percent per year, but 1.7 percent cumulative.
How fast housing values should grow in a community is a matter of debate. Grow too fast and you can price a lot of people out of your market. But grow too slowly, and some people may take a pass on your market because they want their home to be somewhat of an investment in addition to a place that provides shelter. Maybe Lawrence’s growth rate is just right, but it does appear to be slower than a lot of other communities in the region. It would be interesting to know what that says about our community.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve had some people ask what is going into the former Yellow House building at 1904 Massachusetts Street. Construction work is underway to renovate the building. Well, according to documents filed at City Hall, a tattoo parlor is opening in the location. A business called Miller Tattoo has filed for a sign permit at the location.
• Funny things are set to happen on Lawrence’s downtown sidewalks, and I’m not even talking about what happens to them after happy hour becomes a bit too happy. The Free State Festival — the big arts, culture and entertainment event set for June 22-28 — plans to get creative in how it promotes the event.
That means you’ll start seeing some advertisements and art show up on city sidewalks. The festival has requested city permission to place vinyl lettering and signs on sidewalks and parking lots across town. The festival organizers list about 25 different locations across town, but primarily concentrated in downtown, where they would like to use the vinyl lettering and signs. Organizers say the letter is non-slip, so it should not create any safety issues. The lettering and signs would be removed from the sidewalks once the festival is over.
But there may be an even funkier item coming to downtown sidewalks. Festival organizers are seeking permission to use “GOBO” lights to project images onto downtown sidewalks. The plans calls for each intersection on Massachusetts Street from Seventh to 10th streets to have at least one GOBO display. To be clear, the display would be on one of the adjacent sidewalks next to the intersection, not in the intersection itself.
What is a GOBO, you ask? Well, a GOBO is a stencil that is placed over the lens of a light. The result is the light emits a certain pattern. Probably the most famous GOBO is the bat signal that is used to call Batman in times of need. Unlike the bat signal, these GOBOs will be used to project light down onto the sidewalk rather than up in the sky.
But don’t let that difference fool you. I’m almost certain that this means Batman will be making an appearance at the Free State Festival. I strongly suggest you all get your Robin costumes ready.
Work to begin soon on new river trail near downtown; home sales fall in February; Board of Realtors endorses three for City Hall
I already have a guitar and a straw hat — and really, how hard can a gondola be to make? — so it looks like things are finally falling into place for my secondary career as the Crooner of the Kaw. I’ll start practicing, but in the meantime there is news about Lawrence getting its own version of a river walk.
No, it won’t be as elaborate as the famed river walk in San Antonio, but construction is set to begin soon on a new riverside trail just north of downtown. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a nearly $108,000 bid to build a new trail running along the south bank of the Kansas River connecting Constant Park and Burcham Park.
In case you absent-mindedly left your Lawrence parks guide on your bedside table, Constant Park is the piece of green space just north of Sixth and Kentucky streets. Burcham Park is the long park in Pinckney neighborhood that runs all the way down to Second and Indiana streets.
There already is a make-shift trail that runs through the woods along the river, but plans call for this new trail to be highly improved. Parts of the trail will be concrete, while others portions will be crushed asphalt. When completed, it is expected to be appropriate for both walkers and bikers. The trail will connect with one in the Sandra Shaw Park, the new park near Second and Maine streets on the site of the former VFW property.
As we previously have reported, the Sunflower Foundation is providing about $50,000 in grant money for the project. The city will use sales tax dollars to pay for the rest. Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavation submitted the low bid. In what is becoming a bit of a concerning trend, the city project only attracted two bidders.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department hasn’t released a timeline for the project, but usually work begins shortly after a bid is awarded. So, look for construction along the river this summer. It will be interesting to see how the trail becomes a part of downtown. Obviously, it won’t be a full-fledged riverwalk lined with shops and such. But there have been leaders who talk about making the river a larger part of Lawrence’s attractions. We’ll see if this trail ends up being opening to do that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you are like me and are looking for a new house with a gondola workshop. (My wife says a soundproof guitar room also would be nice.) Well, apparently not many were on the Lawrence market in February. The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows Lawrence home sales in February were down nearly 12 percent compared to February 2014.
But local real estate agents had a strong January, so year-to-date numbers are still up about 3 percent. January and February aren’t really make-or-break months for the local real estate market. But we are entering a critical period. April, May and June are really big months for the industry, so we’ll see whether the housing market can regain some momentum. The market wasn’t bad last year, but it was down slightly from 2013 totals.
Other statistics from the latest report:
— The median number of days on market for a home is 64 thus far in 2015. That’s down from 84 during the same time period a year ago.
— The number of contracts written thus far in 2015 is up nearly 25 percent. Contracts written don’t show up as sales until the deal is finalized, but that number may be a good sign for sale numbers.
— The number of homes on the market is down to 324. That’s down about 6 percent from a year ago.
— Builders closely watch the number of newly-constructed homes that sell. Thus far, that segment of the market hasn’t gained much momentum. Six new homes have sold year-to-date, which is the same number as had been sold at this point in 2014. The new home market is looking for a bounce-back year. Sales of newly-constructed homes fell by 19 percent in 2014.
• My message to you about these last 10 days or so before election day is the same as I give my gondola passengers: Buckle up. The number of political flyers in your mailboxes and advertisements on your web pages will increase quite a bit as candidates sprint to the finish line.
You’ll also start hearing about political endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has gotten that process started. It has announced that it is endorsing Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert, and incumbent Terry Riordan in this year’s election.
How much endorsements help or hurt candidates in Lawrence races has been an open question. The Realtor group has been running ads on behalf of the candidates, and my understanding is has sent some postcards out as well.
As far as other endorsements, I try to pass on the endorsements I hear of from legitimate groups. So, if your group is legitimate, and you’ve made an endorsement in the City Commission race, send me your information, and I’ll make mention of it.
In terms of how this race is shaping up, it is always a bit of guesswork. As a reminder, Leslie Soden finished first in the primary, Ramussen was second, Stuart Boley third, Riordan fourth, Herbert fifth and incumbent Bob Schumm was sixth. Only three will win seats.
History is on the side of Soden and is against Schumm. In my 20 years of covering city elections, I recall only one first-place finisher in a primary failing to win a seat in the general election. I don’t remember any sixth-place finisher in the primary winning a seat in the general election. Schumm, however, does have more name recognition than most sixth-place finishers. There have been plenty of examples of No. 4 finishers moving into a top 3 spot, and few examples of No. 5 doing that as well. So, it is a real race. We’ll see how many folks show up at the polls, and how many twists and turns the candidates offer between now and April 7.
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.