Posts tagged with Home Sales

Home market tightens in Lawrence; prices may be set to rise; 96-year old Lawrence man gets front-page treatment in Tampa

Middling Jayhawk fans buy a new big screen TV to watch the Final Four. Full-fledged Jayhawk fans buy a bigger house to host the parties, or maybe one to replace the old house that hosted the parties, based off what I’ve seen. Whatever the case, home buyers of any type should be aware that the Lawrence real estate market is tightening.

The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows home buying activity picked up slightly in February, but the number of homes on the Lawrence market continues to reach new lows.

Home sales increased by 13 percent in February compared with February 2015. But because February isn’t a big home sales month, we’re not talking about that large of an increase in actual home sales — real estate agents sold 51 homes versus 45 a year ago.

The more interesting statistic is the number of active listings on the Lawrence market. The Realtor board reports 255 active listings in Lawrence. That’s down from 325 in 2015 and 344 in 2014. The situation has caused Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, to officially label the market as “tight.”

“Our local market is emulating what is happening nationally, with a shortage of supply causing upward pressure on pricing as buyers compete for homes,” Cline said in a release.

Home prices will be something to watch in the coming months. The data right now are a bit mixed. Thus far for 2016, the average selling price of an existing home is $169,536. That is up 4.4 percent from the same period a year ago. I normally pay more attention to the median price of homes because that discounts the impact of one or two really large home sales on the market. The median shows the price for existing homes actually has fallen by 2.9 percent to $143,200.

Since these numbers only represent two months of sales, I wouldn’t place too much reliance on them at this point. History would suggest if the number of homes on the market remain low and interest rates and the economy remain attractive, home prices will start to rise.

Whether it be tight inventory or a lack of demand, the Lawrence market has started off a bit sluggish in 2016. While February numbers were up, they weren’t up enough to compensate for a slow January. For the year to date, home sales are down 6.2 percent — 91 sales versus 97 a year ago. But January and February aren’t traditionally great indicators of the strength of the market. Real estate agents are in their busiest part of the season right now, the spring home buying season.

Cline said activity levels are strong, currently. The numbers from the latest report suggest activity also may be picking up. Real estate agents wrote 109 sales contracts in February. That’s up 28 percent from the same period a year ago, and is a sign that more sales will soon be closing.

Other numbers of interest from the report include:

— The number of newly constructed homes sold thus far in 2016 is seven, nearly unchanged from the six sold during the same period a year ago.

— The median number of days a home is staying on the market before it sells is 55, down from 64 in 2015 and 84 in 2014.

— Although the number of homes sold thus far in 2016 is down slightly, the total dollar volume of sales is up slightly, further evidence that prices may be rising. Real estate agents have sold $17.3 million worth of homes in the first two months of the year compared with $17.1 million during the same time period a year ago.

In other news and notes from around town.

• It is not just KU basketball players who are getting front-page headlines around the country these days. A 96-year-old Lawrence resident landed himself on the front page of the Tampa Tribune recently.

Tom Kugler was featured in an article about how he returned to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as a guest of honor for the 75th Anniversary of the Air Force base.

“Oh God, I want to get out there,” Kugler is quoted by the Tribune as he walks through the Air Force base and toward his old stomping grounds.

Kugler, who is a retired principal and school administrator, was invited back to the base because he is one of the few remaining people who were at the base when it was dedicated on April 16, 1941. Looking back on the dedication ceremonies maybe is a bit more enjoyable than participating in them, Kugler told the Tribune.

“We all got tired standing in rank,” he said. “We stood out in sun in formation until the services were over . . .”

Kugler was a private at the time and part of the 29th Bomb Squadron. At the time of the dedication, the U.S. hadn’t yet entered World War II. A few months later, America was fully engaged in the war. Kugler left MacDill in February 1942 on B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, according to the Tribune. For a variety of reasons, he wasn’t sure he would ever see MacDill again. Until last weekend, he hadn’t ever returned to the base.

You can see the full story from the Tampa Tribune here.

Reply 3 comments from Richard Heckler Carol Bowen

Home sales in Lawrence continue on strong pace, above KC market; tax man begins work on property values; more info on Clinton Parkway development

It seems certain that November’s Lawrence real estate report will show large amounts of activity. Thousands of Royals fans from Lawrence are discovering it is easier to buy a house in Kansas City than to get their car out of downtown following Tuesday’s massive parade and rally. Well, I don’t have November’s numbers yet, but the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows the city’s real estate market continues to be a hot one.

Home sales in Lawrence are up 17 percent compared with a year ago, according to the latest report, which tracks sales through September. The strong numbers are despite a relatively ho-hum month of sales in September. Home sales basically were steady in September compared with a year ago — 70 sales in September 2015 compared with 69 in September 2014.

The report, however, did show signs that activity levels are set to rise again in the fall. Real estate agents had 86 contracts for sale written in September, up from 69 in September 2014. Contracts written during a month are usually a good indicator of home sales that will be finalized in the next month or so.

Local real estate agents certainly wouldn’t mind if something caused more Lawrence residents to put their homes on the market. A decline in the number of homes for sale may be the biggest threat to the local real estate market right now. The number of active listings is down to 322 homes, which is about 25 percent less than at this point a year ago.

Here’s a look at some other statistics from the report:

— Sales totals for newly constructed homes are at their highest levels in awhile. Through September, 64 new homes sales have been recorded. That’s an increase of a little more than 25 percent compared with the same period a year ago. In dollar terms, there have been $21 million in new homes sales compared with $16.5 million a year ago.

— The value of total home sales — both newly constructed and existing homes — stands at $195.1 million through September, up from $161.3 million a year ago.

— The median number of days a home is sitting on the market before it sells is now down to 24. That’s down from 33 in 2014 and 42 in 2013.

— Data selling prices for homes show there is a bit of an uptick in prices as the market has heated up. The Douglas County appraiser’s office released a report recently that said the average selling price for a three-bedroom, two-bath home with 1,300 to 1,800 square feet is $168,120. That’s up from an average of $161,325 at this point last year. It also is up from an average of $165,680 in 2013.

So, those numbers suggest home values indeed fell in 2014, but they have now returned to levels above where they were before the decline. Home values, though, can be hard to pin down because there are a multitude of variables. The Douglas County appraiser’s office, however, gets the chore of setting home values. It places a value on every home in the county so that your property tax bills can be figured. The office is beginning that work now. It is required to come up with what the value of a home is on Jan. 1, 2016.

The office tracks the selling price of every home sale that occurs in the county, then compares it with the value the county had previously placed on that home. Thus far, homes are selling — on average — for about 1 percent more than what the county has them listed at on the tax rolls. If that trend continues, the county appraiser probably won’t make many large changes to the tax values of homes across the county. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if that trend continues.

Owners of commercial property may have more to keep an eye on when it comes to their tax values. Thus far, selling prices of commercial property are coming in about 9 percent higher than what the county has them listed at on the tax rolls. There are a lot of variables in commercial property valuations, but the appraiser will be keeping an eye on those statistics.

“In fact, the most recent sales prices have far exceeded the 2015 valuation,” Steve Miles, Douglas County appraiser, wrote in a recent report. “It will require more analysis to determine the effect on 2016 values.”

• In case you are wondering how Lawrence’s home market is doing compared with the always active Kansas City metro market, I have those numbers too. In short, Lawrence’s market is hotter than Kansas City’s, thus far in 2015.

Total homes sales in the KC metro are up 12.5 percent through September compared with a 17 percent increase in Lawrence. But home values in the Kansas City area seem to be increasing faster than in Lawrence. According to a report from the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, the median sales price for homes in the metro is up 6.3 percent compared with a year ago.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The development group that is seeking city approval for some drive-thru restaurants near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness has given me some additional information about what type of tenants they will try to attract.

If you remember, earlier this week we reported on the project and Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner tried to head off any concerns that the location was going to attract high-volume, fast-food chains, like a McDonald’s or a Burger King. Those types of restaurants have drawn opposition from some neighbors who are concerned about the businesses' long hours and the amount of traffic and noise they may create.

In our original article, Werner said a coffee shop with a drive-thru would be much more likely. Some neighbors, though, still had concerns because the plans filed with the city show three fast-order restaurants on the site, with two of them having drive-thru service.

So, Werner reached back out to me and gave me a few other examples of restaurant types the development hopes to attract. He said in addition to coffee shops, businesses like a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, Subway, or a Panera soup, sandwich and pastry shop would fit into the development nicely. The development doesn’t have deals with those businesses, but he offered them as examples to help give neighbors a better idea of what is to come. Werner continues to make strong statements that the development won’t attract the big burger and taco chains.

“A high-volume fast-food restaurant — i.e. McDonald’s — wouldn’t want this site,” Werner said via email. “There is not enough traffic.”

Werner also said plans to build a duplex development just east of the site of the restaurants is continuing to progress. Back in June we reported that the development group filed plans for a duplex development with 28 living units. Here’s a look at the entire site plan for the project to get a better feel for what is proposed. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to weigh in on the plans, especially the part about drive-thru uses.

Courtesy: Paul Werner Architects

Courtesy: Paul Werner Architects by Chad Lawhorn


Home sales up; housing construction hits recent high; sales tax numbers strong but create some budget worries at City Hall

As a quick homework conversation with my seventh-grade son confirmed, junior high math has surpassed me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still do some calculations to determine the state of the Lawrence economy. So, here’s a look at the latest batch of numbers.

The housing market in Lawrence remains strong. Homes sales through July are up 18 percent, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence home builders are even getting in on the good news. Sales of newly constructed homes are up 21 percent for the year. The newly constructed home market has been one that has been slow to bounce back in Lawrence.

The statistic that shows how hot the Lawrence market is right now has to do with the number of homes on the market. Real estate agents measure how many homes are on the market versus how quickly they are selling. A balanced market between buyers and sellers normally has about four to five months worth of homes on the market at any given time. Currently, there are 1.9 months worth of homes on the Lawrence market. It is a seller’s market right now. Negotiating for a house in Lawrence right now probably would remind me of my efforts to get a date for prom. You have to be prepared to sweeten the offer. (I had to promise we would super size the meal.)

Thus far for the year, the median number of days a home is sitting on the market before it sells is 24. That’s down from 34 at this point in 2014 and 42 in 2013. One other statistic of note: Real estate agents have sold $160 million worth of residential real estate in Lawrence thus far in 2015. That’s up from about $129 million during the same time period a year ago. That’s a nice boost for the Lawrence economy.

The uptick in the home construction market is becoming very clear when you look at the city’s building permit totals. Through July, the city has issued 152 building permits for either single-family or duplex homes. That’s up from 60 such permits at this time last year. It also is well above the recent averages. From 2009 to 2014, the average number of permits at this time of year was 75. My seventh-grade son tells me 152 is more than double the average.

With projects both near campus and in downtown, the apartment construction market also has been strong. The city has issued permits for 431 new living units. Since 2009, the average for this time of year has been around 150 living units. So, there had better be a lot more people wanting to live in Lawrence.

The other big trend is in the building sector is that there have been a lot of big-dollar projects. The city has issued permits for $167 million worth of projects thus far. There have been four projects in 2015 that have checked in at more than $10 million each: the $45 million Here apartment/retail building near the KU campus; an $18 million apartment/office building at Ninth and New Hampshire; $13.3 million in work for the city’s new sewer plant south of the Wakarusa River; and $12 million for a new independent living unit at Pioneer Ridge in west Lawrence.

As we have reported before, we’re on pace to set a new building record in the city. Since 2009, the average amount of construction for this time of year has been $63.5 million. I would tell you how much more $167 million is than the average, but I’m afraid it would require my son to take off his shoes and, trust me, you don’t want a seventh-grade boy doing that.

Lawrence’s retail sales numbers are a bit like a rib dinner: There’s plenty to like, but the barbecue sauce in your ear can cause a problem.

The sales tax report from the state shows that Lawrence’s sales tax collections are up about 5 percent thus far. That’s good, and actually is better than the showing of several other large retail centers in the state.

But the issue is City Hall budget makers are counting on sales tax collections to grow by 5 percent in 2015 to make the budget work as planned. The last few reports from the state have shown that sales tax collections are growing at a rate slower than what was happening in the beginning of the year. If that trend continues, it could put pressure on both the 2015 and 2016 budgets.

Bryan Kidney, the city’s finance director, told me that it now seems likely the city won’t hit its 5 percent growth estimate for 2015. He said it is still too early to predict how short the city may come up on that projection. It has the potential to cause city officials to reduce expenses in the general fund both for the 2015 and 2016 budgets. The reason it would affect both the 2015 and 2016 budgets is because the recently approved 2016 budget was built with an assumption that there would be a surplus of revenue in the sales tax fund at the end of 2015 that would carry into 2016. In order for the 2016 budget to work properly, the surplus needs to be there. So, that could result in some expenditure cuts in the last part of 2015.

Cuts could be necessary in 2016, if the sales tax growth doesn’t hit projections during that year. The city is banking on sales tax collections growing by at least 3 percent in 2015. We’ll see. That could be close.

So, there are some budgeting challenges, but from a big picture standpoint, recent sales tax numbers have been a strong sign for the Lawrence economy. At the moment, we're at 5 percent growth, and that is better than really any other major retail area in the state. How much that growth rate slows is the key question for budget-makers.

The state should be releasing new sales tax numbers very soon, and I’ll work to get those reported in a more timely manner. (We’ve had other things going on to report at City Hall this month.) But here’s a look how Lawrence’s sales tax collections are stacking up with other major communities.

— Johnson County: up 1.3 percent

— Kansas City: up 4.1 percent

— Lenexa: up 4.9 percent

— Manhattan: up 2.5 percent

— Overland Park: down 2.4 percent

— Salina: up 3.2 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 2.3 percent

— Topeka: up 0.8 percent

Reply 1 comment from Lawrence Freeman

Pace quickens on Lawrence home sales in first half of 2015; city spending $85,000 for ADA playground upgrades

If you are looking to buy a home in Lawrence, you had better lace up those running shoes. Home sale statistics for the first half of 2015 show that buyers need to be ready to move to keep up with what is becoming a tight home market.

For the first six months of the year, home sales in Lawrence are up nearly 20 percent, compared with the same period a year ago. But an emerging trend in the market is how quickly homes are selling. The days of you and your spouse or roomie having the time to debate whether this room or that room is big enough to house the chocolate fountain are coming to an end. (I’m assuming that is the big debate in your house too.)

The median number of days a home sits on the market before it sells is now down to 25. That’s down from 34 days at this point in 2014 and down from 47 days in 2013. The pace seems to be quickening as well. When you look at just the homes that sold in June, the median time those homes sat on the market before selling was 13 days. Wow. It takes us 14 days just to hear back from the architect on how much it will cost to strengthen the floors of the various closets we’ll use to house shoes. It is a crazy market if people are buying homes before knowing that cost.

In all seriousness, it has been a good year thus far for the Lawrence real estate market. Here’s a look at some statistics from the most recent report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors:

• A total of 627 homes have been sold through June. That’s up almost 20 percent from the same period a year ago. More impressive is the 2015 totals are up about 12 percent compared with the 2013 totals. Last year was a bit of a down year for the local real estate market, but 2013 was a strong year with more than 1,000 homes sold that year. If the market stays on its current pace, it could sell more than 1,100 homes in 2015.

• Sales of newly constructed homes are showing some signs of new momentum. A total of 33 newly constructed homes have sold thus far in 2015. That’s up from 30 during the same period a year ago, but still down from 51 during the period in 2013. More encouraging, though, is that 11 newly constructed homes sold in June. That’s up from four newly constructed home sales in June 2014. The median number of days a new home is sitting on the market before it sells also has improved dramatically. The median now is 76 days, down from 168 days in 2014.

• One of the reasons homes are moving quickly is because the inventory of homes on the market is tight. At the end of June, there were 334 active listings. That’s down more than 25 percent from 2014 levels and down more than 20 percent of 2013 levels. It will be interesting to see if builders see those numbers as being tight enough to start increasing the number of new homes they are constructing each month. Whether that will happen is still an open question. At the end of June, there were 42 newly constructed homes on the market. That’s down from 49 new homes that were on the market in June 2014.

• With a tighter market, selling prices are starting to creep up. The median price of homes sold thus far in 2015 is $165,000. That’s up from $160,000 at the same point in 2014. Whether that is a sign of price pressures in the market or just a difference in the type of houses that are being sold this year compared with last year isn’t clear. But it would stand to reason that overall home values will see some appreciation, if the market remains tight.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Look for some changes at a couple of Lawrence playgrounds. The city is set to spend about $85,000 to put in a rubberized play surface for the playgrounds at the East Lawrence Center and at Watson Park.

It may be the first of several such project that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department undertakes. Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2012 created new requirements for playground surfaces to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.

The new rubberized surface is expected to be a lot easier for folks who use wheelchairs, walkers and other devices than the current wood-chip surface that exists at most city playgrounds.

“The wood chips have to be really compacted to work well,” said Mark Hecker, the city’s assistant director of parks and recreation.

But figuring out how to pay for a surface upgrade to every city playground may be difficult. The city has 35 playgrounds across the community. Hecker said his initial goal is to try to get six or seven playground surfaces replaced in the next few years. He plans to choose playgrounds in different geographic areas of town to increase the odds that everyone will have relatively easy access to at least one of the newly surfaced playgrounds.

Cost is an issue, though. The city spends about $3,000 to $4,000 to put wood chips in a playground area, and then probably another $1,000 a year to ensure the playgrounds continue to have enough wood chips in place. Based on these most recent prices, the rubberized surface is costing a little more than $40,000 a playground. Hecker expects the rubberized surfaces to last for 15 years or more.

Whether the city will get pressure to become more aggressive to replace the wood chip surfaces with the more ADA-complaint rubberized material is unclear. Thus far, Hecker said the department has been working with local ADA advocates, and they have been understanding that the city will likely have to tackle the issue in phases.

“They just want us to keep moving forward,” Hecker said.

As for the material, it is coming from a Kansas City-based company called Eco Turf. Hecker said the department is still in discussions about the exact product they’ll install. Hecker said the city wants to install some brightly colored material rather than the more traditional brown or black. The city also looked at a product that looked like grass, but Hecker said it was less certain how it would withstand the wear and tear of a playground.

An example of a rubberized playground surface, as shown on the Eco Turf web site.

An example of a rubberized playground surface, as shown on the Eco Turf web site. by Chad Lawhorn

Other parks that may get consideration for upgrades include high-usage playgrounds at South Park, Holcom Park and Centennial Park, Hecker said. Some of those parks also are due for replacement of playground equipment.

“We may find ourselves in a situation where we spend $30,000 on playground equipment and $35,000 on surfacing,” Hecker said. “That’s where it can get a little tricky from a financial standpoint.”

Reply 2 comments from Carol Bowen Steve Jacob

Lawrence home sales surge in May; new report shows local rental rates on dramatic rise; local incomes still lagging

Maybe it is time to sell the house, and I’m not just saying that because I perhaps didn’t keep up on the dish washing quite as well as I had planned while my wife was away this week. No, the real reason is because new Lawrence home sale numbers are out, and there are lots of indications the market has become a strong one for sellers.

Lawrence home sales in May surged by 25 percent compared with May 2014. For the year-to-date, home sales in Lawrence are up 20 percent from the same time period a year ago. But a particularly telling statistic is the number of homes that are on the market. At the end of May, there were 349 homes on the market. That’s down nearly 100 homes from May 2014. That’s a trend Realtors are hoping to see reversed.

“We still need more homes available for buyers to balance our market,” said Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

The smaller inventory of homes for sale has the potential to cool the Lawrence housing market. At the end of May, Realtors had 133 contracts written for new home sales. That number was down more than 7 percent from the same period a year ago. That decrease in inventory is a major reason that contract numbers are down, Swearingen said.

Here’s a look at other numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors’ monthly report:

• Home sales through May totaled 462 units, up from 383 in 2014 and 409 in 2013.

• Sales of newly constructed homes continue to struggle. Through May, 22 sales have been recorded. That’s down from 26 during the same time period a year ago, and down from 44 during the same time period in 2013.

• The median selling price of homes is $162,500, which is pretty close to the $159,000 of a year ago. But selling prices are still a bit below 2013 averages. In 2013, the median was around $169,000.

• The median number of days a house sits on the market is down to 36. (That’s not even enough time to get all the dishes washed.) That’s down from 40 in 2014 and 57 in 2013.

• Thus far this year, real estate agents have sold $90.7 million worth of homes in Lawrence. That’s up from $73.9 during the same time period a year ago, which is an increase of more than 22 percent. So, it has been a good year for real estate agents thus far.

On that note, I should tell my real estate agent friends not to hit me up. I’m not going to sell my house. Instead, I’ve loaded the dishes in the F150, and I’m heading to the car wash.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Buy stock in Ramen noodles. (And, trust me, wash the dish when you're done.) If this new report is accurate, some renters in Lawrence may need to make the cheapo food source a bigger part of their diets.

The real estate website Zillow has released its May real estate report, and it says median rent prices in Lawrence have increase by 13.4 percent over the last year. One caveat: Zillow only seeks to calculate the average rent rates for homes that are rented, not apartment units. But still, a 13.4 percent increase in rents is significant. I took a look at some other communities, and Lawrence is far outpacing most. Zillow is a little hit or miss in the communities it monitors, so I’m using a little bit different list than I normally would. But I’ve tried to find some college communities for comparison sake. Here’s a look:

— Kansas City: up 10.2 percent

— Topeka: up 2.4 percent

— Columbia, Mo.: up 1.2 percent

— Iowa City, Iowa: up 0.9 percent

— Bloomington, Ind.: up 2.2 percent

— Fayetteville, Ark.: up 7.1 percent

— Fort Collins, Colo.: up 10.8 percent.

In case you are wondering, Zillow says the median rental rate for a home — not an apartment — is $1,324 per month.

• Yesterday I reported about how the state got a decent piece of news when it came to the amount of money its residents are earning. Well, I’ve now had a chance to go through the numbers for Lawrence, and they weren’t quite as positive.

The latest report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that Lawrence’s per capita personal income in 2013 was just $36,187. That’s an inflation-adjusted number. It also is a 2013 number because it apparently takes the federal number crunchers awhile to come up with this statistic. But, it's what we have.

What it shows is that Lawrence’s per capita personal income — that’s everything from wages to rental income to Social Security checks — continues to be well below lots of other places. As I’ve said several times before, this is not just because Lawrence is a college town. It is a factor, I’m sure, but other college communities have overcome it. Here’s a look at some regional communities:

— Columbia, Mo.: $41,366

— Kansas City: $45,450

— Manhattan: $42,884

— Topeka: $42,460

— Wichita: $43,064

— Kansas: $45,619

We’re all taking a big discount to live in Lawrence. But our income levels did grow in 2013. Unfortunately, they grew at only about half the rate that incomes grew statewide. Lawrence’s per capita income figures grew by 0.4 percent for the year, while the state as a whole grew by 0.8 percent

Here’s a look at how we stacked up compared with other communities in the region:

— Columbia: up 0.3 percent

— Kansas City: no change

— Manhattan: down 1.4 percent

— Topeka: up 0.8 percent

— Wichita: up 0.2 percent

Reply 7 comments from Richard Heckler David Holroyd Clara Westphal Carol Bowen Marc Wilborn Kingfisher

Lawrence home sales slip slightly in 2014; Douglas County Bank changes name to Central Bank of the Midwest

For some reason, I really do have enough ribbon that I could have wrapped an entire house in a bow this Christmas season. (See photo below.) Apparently several people did just that because Lawrence home sales soared in December, although not enough to put local real estate totals in positive territory for 2014.

Real estate agents sold 76 homes in Lawrence in December, up 33 percent from the same period a year ago. Sales of newly constructed homes did even better, with eight sales compared with just one in December 2013.

But for the year, Lawrence’s two-year streak of increasing home sales has ended, according to a new report by the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence home sales totaled 1,059 for all of 2014, falling just short of the 1,061 homes sold in 2013. So, while technically it was a down year for the market, those numbers could have ended up much worse. In August, we were reporting that homes sales year over year were down almost 6 percent. The final few months of 2014 finished strong, which gives reason for optimism that housing sales will make gains in 2015.

The 2014 numbers also are well above recent lows. In 2012 only 905 Lawrence homes were sold, and the market hit its bottom in 2011 with 703 homes sold.

Here’s a look at some other numbers from the report:

— December’s strong showing notwithstanding, 2014 was not a good year for sales of newly constructed homes. Only 76 newly constructed homes sold for the year.. That’s down from 94 in 2013 and 89 in 2012.

— Agents sold $208.9 million worth of homes in Lawrence in 2014. That’s down 4 percent from the $217.6 million total in 2013. It is up, however, from the $172.2 million mark in 2012.

— The median number of days a house sits on the market before it sells was 34 in 2014, down from 42 in 2013 and 59 in 2012.

— The median selling price of a home checked in at $167,000, down 1.8 percent from the 2013 median of $170,000.

In case you are wondering how Lawrence’s housing market is faring compared with our neighbors in Kansas City, it appears the K.C. metro area also experienced a bit of a plateau in home sales in 2014. A new report from the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors said total home sales in 2014 were up 0.1 percent in the metro area. But unlike in Lawrence, sales of newly constructed homes led the way with a 3.3 percent gain for the year. Home prices also were up. The median selling price for homes checked in at $159,900, up 4.9 percent from 2013.

This really is all ribbon. To give you perspective on its size, lying upon it is my neighbor, who dresses curiously like a Lego figurine.

This really is all ribbon. To give you perspective on its size, lying upon it is my neighbor, who dresses curiously like a Lego figurine. by Chad Lawhorn

In other news and notes from around town:

• Unless the sofa cushions are even bigger than your ribbon stash, most people have to use a bank to buy a new home. Well, get ready to see a name change at one of the larger banks in the city. As we previously reported, Douglas County Bank reached a deal to merge with Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based Metcalf Bank. Although the plan in September, when the deal was announced, was for Douglas County Bank to take on the Metcalf name, that now won’t happen.

Instead, the new name of the bank is Central Bank of the Midwest. The name change took place in the last several days as the deal was closed, but the signs on the bank haven’t yet changed. Local president Pat Slabaugh told me he expects all the company’s banks to have new signs in the first or second week of February.

In case you are confused (which I often am at a bank because my wife makes me guess our ATM PIN code), Douglas County Bank didn’t scrap its previously announced deal and go partner with a different bank. Instead, what happened is that Metcalf Bank, subsequent to the September announcement of its deal with Douglas County Bank, changed its name to Central Bank of the Midwest.

Although the sale is now complete, the transition process for Douglas County Bank customers to become full-fledged Central Bank of the Midwest customers is still ongoing. Slabaugh said by late March that Douglas County Bank customers should be transitioned over to a new online system run by Central Bank of the Midwest. Customers of the bank will receive significant notice about the transition and any steps they’ll need to take, Slabaugh said. In the meantime, all ATM cards, Douglas County Bank checks and other such items will continue to work.

The big news continues to be that Central Bank of the Midwest will keep open all of the existing Douglas County Bank locations.

“The philosophy of Central Bank of the Midwest is very much the same as Douglas County Bank,” Slabaugh said. “They’re a community bank and we will continue to do business as usual in that regard.”

Central Bank of the Midwest is part of a bank holding company that is family owned. The bank holding company, Central Bancompany, has been owned by the Cook family of Jefferson City, Mo., for four generations. The holding company owns more than a dozen banks in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Oklahoma.


Lawrence home sales take dip in March; city releases dates and attendance estimates for Rock Chalk Park tourneys; library closed through Friday

All the signs of spring have sprung at my house: dandelions in the yard, 4-H pigs in the driveway, and three closets full of Easter candy bought on clearance. So, in other words, normal stuff. But there is one spring quirk to keep an eye on right now: the Lawrence housing market.

Home sales in March fell by 15.8 percent compared with March 2013 totals, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. That's no reason to panic, though. (In other words, step away from the pig and put the barbecue sauce down.) What that means in real numbers is that agents sold 64 Lawrence homes in March compared with 76 in March 2013.

But the trend is one to keep an eye on. March's poor performance turned the year-to-date home sale numbers into negative territory. For the year, Lawrence home sales total 157, which is down 3.1 percent from the same time a year ago. Lawrence's real estate market hit bottom in 2011 and has been on the upswing since then. Local real estate agents certainly are hoping for a third straight year of increasing sales.

The 3.1 percent decline isn't a big number to make up, but it is noteworthy because of where we are in the season. April, May and June are important months for the Lawrence real estate market. April is often considered the height of the spring-selling season, so about this time next month we'll have a report that will show whether March was a blip or the beginning of a new trend.

There is one number in the most recent report that creates some concern for April sales. The number of pending contracts in March was down 8 percent compared with the same period a year earlier. Those pending contracts sometimes are a good indicator of what to expect in the next month.

Here are some other numbers from the most recent report:

— Sales volume in Lawrence — measured by the total dollar amount of residential real estate sold in the city — is down 6.4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. It stands at $31.3 million at the end of March. That, however, is still a significant increase from 2012 totals, when $22.1 million had been sold.

— Most of the decline in home sales has come on the new construction front. Thus far in 2014, only nine newly constructed homes have sold, down from 13 a year earlier.

— The median selling price of a home is largely unchanged from a year ago at $165,000.

— The median number of days a house sits on the market has increased to 75 days, up from 68 a year ago.

— The number of active listings on the Lawrence market stood at 374 at the end of March, down about 8 percent from the 408 in March 2013.

As I said earlier, next month's report will be one to keep an eye on — just like that pig in the house. If he figures out how to get that closet door open, we're going to have a real mess.

In other news and notes from around town:

• We reported a few weeks ago that officials with the city's Parks and Recreation Department had started booking tournaments for the new 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. Well, now we have more details about when those tournaments will be and just how many people they may draw to town.

Here's a look at the information available thus far:

— Nov. 16: Mid America Youth Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance 750 people;

— Dec. 7: Mid America Youth Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance not provided;

— Dec. 12-14: AGAPE Hoops Productions Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,000 people:

— Dec. 27: Blue Valley Juniors Athletic Association Volleyball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,200 people;

— Jan. 3-4 Heart of America Volleyball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,500 people.

Obviously, a couple of those tournaments involve the possibility of overnight visitors to Lawrence. What isn't known currently is how far of a geographic reach these tournaments are designed to have. But what is clear is that interest is high in the new facility, which is scheduled to be open in September. Officials with Parks and Recreation have told me that in addition to the chance to play in a new facility, tournament organizers like the facility's location between Topeka and Kansas City.

• If you are hoping to find your favorite book about spring or leftover Easter candy or 4-H pigs, you'll need to look somewhere other than the Lawrence Public Library this week. The library will be closed Monday through Friday for a major project to add RFID tags to the approximately 200,000 items in its collection. The RFID system will increase the speed of checkout at the new library and also should decrease the amount of time it takes library staff members to reshelve books. Library officials are noting that people who have books due during this week won't accrue any late fines if they are not returned this week, although I think you can still return them via the outdoor drop box.

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    Home sales in city up by 7 percent for 2014; update on city bus hub; more numbers on Rock Chalk Park infrastructure

    I spent my weekend hosting an overnight birthday party for six 11-year old boys, so I know a thing or two about being in the market for more space (You know what they say: Two's company, three's a crowd, and six is an insane asylum.)

    According to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, there were a few other space-hunters out there as well. Through February of 2014, home sales in the city are up a solid 7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

    February isn't particularly a big month for home sales, but the next several months sure are. The spring season will go a long way in determining whether Lawrence's real estate market posts a third straight year of rising sales.

    It is a little too soon yet to predict whether that will be the case. While home sales are up for the year, the pace of growth does seem to be slowing some in recent months. For example, February's home sales were up just 4 percent compared with February 2013. That continues a slowdown trend that began about midyear 2013. During the first half of 2013, sales were up 29 percent over the same period a year earlier. In the second half of 2013, sales growth slowed to 6 percent. But all of this may be me just being unnecessarily jittery. (Funny how watching a golf cart loaded with six boys jumping through a ring of fire will do that to you.)

    Regardless, here's a look at some other statistics from the most recent report.

    — The number of active listings on the Lawrence market is down to 344, which is about 7 percent less than a year ago. That drop generally has been viewed as a positive sign that the market has heated up from where it was a few years ago. It is interesting to note that the number of newly constructed homes on the market is 45, which is up from 32 a year ago. That's a sign that builders have had more confidence in the market in recent months. Whether that confidence will be repaid is the big question for the spring season. In February, only one newly constructed home sold. That's down from six a year earlier.

    — The median sale price for homes in 2014 is $149,700, down 14 percent from a year ago. But I wouldn't pay much attention to those numbers just yet. The drop likely is due to the small sample size, not a reflection that housing values are going down . The numbers, though, are probably a good indication that smaller, less expensive houses are what's selling best right now.

    — The median number of days that a home sits on the market before selling is 84, which is almost unchanged from 86 a year ago.

    — The number of pending contracts at the end of February was 93, down from 143 at the end of February 2013. Pending contracts are a decent indicator of what to expect in the month ahead, so this may be the one number that creates some concern for the industry. The 93 contracts, however, are still a pretty healthy number, but just not the huge number that was posted a year ago.

    Bottom line: We'll just have to wait and see where all this lands. If nothing else, the golf cart has taught me that.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you are interested in the city's transit system, mark your calendars for April 21. The city has scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. at Fire Station No. 5, 19th and Iowa streets, to further discuss the possibility of placing a new transit center along Iowa Street.

    As we reported in October, the city has an interest in vacant property near 21st and Iowa streets to use as a transit hub, which would serve as the main transfer point for bus routes in the city. The city has conducted a traffic analysis for the area, and wants to share the results of that study with neighborhood members and others at the April 21 meeting.

    City commissioners likely will be asked to make a decision on the site sometime in May. The site is on the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets. City officials also had been interested in a site near Ninth and Iowa streets, basically behind The Merc's building. But as we reported in October, KU officials haven't been wild about that site. KU — which also will use the hub for many of its bus routes — wanted a location closer to campus. The owners of the Ninth and Iowa property also must not be wild about the idea. City officials said they recently have not been successful in setting up any discussions with the owners of the Ninth and Iowa property.

    We reported a couple of weeks ago about how construction crews are racing to get a lot of street, parking lot and other infrastructure work done at Rock Chalk Park ahead of the Kansas Relays in mid-April.

    Well, the city has produced a new report on Rock Chalk Park work, and it gives a few more numbers on how the project is proceeding. Among the findings:

    — At the end of December 54 percent of all the infrastructure work at the complex was complete. That is about $6.6 million of the projected $12.2 million in infrastructure costs. As it currently stands, the city is projected to pay for about $10 million of that work. Bill Self's Assists Foundation is projected to pay for up $2 million of the work. Neither Kansas University, nor the private development group that will own the property, is currently projected to pay for any of the infrastructure work.

    — An update on how much infrastructure work was done at the end of February wasn't included in the report. But the report noted no infrastructure work was completed in January because of the weather.

    — In February, city inspectors noticed the site wasn't complying with regulations designed to keep construction dirt and other materials out of city storm sewers. Inspectors issued a notice of violation to the project, with instructions to add appropriate sediment barriers to the site within two weeks. City staff reports the corrections were made.

    — As previously reported, some cracks have shown up on the concrete parking lots and streets at the project. City staff members now have more precise numbers on that issue. After walking the entire project, about 3 percent of the panels in the parking lot have cracks and about 2 percent in the streets are cracked. The report notes that the developer will need to make repairs to the panels before the work is accepted by the city.

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    Lawrence home sales continue rise in 2013, builders begin to pick up pace on new construction

    Maybe 13 is a lucky number in this case. Lawrence home sales for the 13th month in a row have posted year-over-year gains, but the more striking fact is the improvement in almost every category real estate observers care about.

    According to the new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, agents sold 102 Lawrence homes in April, a 45 percent increase over April 2012.

    In a departure from past months, even newly constructed homes sold well. Builders sold 13 new homes, compared to just four in April 2012. To put the number in perspective, Lawrence builders had sold only 13 homes in the previous three months of 2013 combined.

    The April numbers continue what has been a good start to 2013. For the year, 261 homes have been sold in Lawrence, up about 32 percent from 2012 totals and up 45 percent from same period in 2011. The number of newly built homes sold checks in at 26, up from 17 at this time in 2012 and 18 in 2011.

    Sales of newly built homes will be a number to really keep an eye on. New home construction has more potential to boost the Lawrence economy than people simply buying and selling existing homes. That’s obviously because new construction involves employing people to build and houses and develop neighborhoods.

    A couple of numbers that builders will keep an eye on are the number of days a house stays on the market before it sells, and the number of homes actively listed. Both numbers showed some bullish signs in the last month.

    The median days on market for a home is now at 66, down from 88 in April 2012. The number of homes on the market also has fallen to 419, down nearly 32 percent from the 613 listed in April 2012. The number of newly built homes on the market is at 29, down from 56 in April 2012 and from 63 in April 2011.

    As the market has picked up, there are signs that prices have too. The median selling price on homes in 2013 stands at $167,000, up 7.8 percent from the same period in 2012. It is always tough to gauge pricing trends just from this report, but at this time last year, the Lawrence real estate market was showing signs of a real price correction. Last year, at the end of April, the median home price was down about 10.2 percent.

    The new numbers certainly have put new bounce in the step of local real estate agents.

    “These recent statistics reflect a dramatic shift in our local market,” said John Esau, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    Esau, in fact, went so far as to say he believe the market now has shifted from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market.

    We’ll see what May brings: Perhaps lucky 14.

    ••• There’s another report out that shows Lawrence home builders are slowly starting to ramp up their production. According to a new report from the city, 17 building permits were issued in April for single-family and duplex homes.

    That’s the highest April number in at least five years. For all of 2013, the city has issued 59 single-family and duplex permits, which is 20 more than it issued during the same time period in 2012.

    Other items from the April report include:

    • For the year, the city has issued permits for $54.8 million worth of projects, up 63 percent from the same period a year ago. The $54.8 million is by far the best showing of the last five years. The average since 2009 has been about $27.5 million worth of projects.

    • Apartment construction continues to be strong in Lawrence. The city has issued permits for 374 apartment units thus far in 2013. That’s the highest total of the last five years. Since 2009, the average has been about 105 units.

    • Apartment construction was a big part of the $19.8 million worth of permits issued in April. Camson South — one of two apartment projects just west of Wal-Mart on Sixth Street — pulled permits for a $5.5 million project that includes 88 apartments and a clubhouse. Other large projects include phase I of the Rock Chalk Park project, including construction of the track and field stadium. Lawrence-based DFC Company pulled $6 million in permits for that project. Discount Tire also pulled a $1 million permit for work on its new store at 4741 Bauer Farm Drive, just west of the new Starbucks in that area. Several of you have asked about the timeline for the new Discount Tire location, and I do have a call into the company. I’ll let you know when I hear more.

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