Number of homes sold in Lawrence hit 10-year low in February, but selling prices still soared

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Lawrence has hit a 10-year low in the number of homes sold, but not even that has been enough to cause home prices to cool, a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows.

In fact, Lawrence home prices remained red hot in February, according to the latest figures. That makes Lawrence a true outlier, as the national median price for homes fell in February for the first time in 11 years.

Only 34 homes were sold in Lawrence in February, down nearly 47% from February of 2022. Records kept by the Lawrence Board of Realtors show the last time Lawrence sold fewer than 34 homes in any month was in January 2012.

Usually, as demand for a product decreases, so does its price. But that hasn’t yet happened with Lawrence homes. The median selling price for homes in Lawrence was up 20% from February 2022.

Is Lawrence caught in some Twilight Zone where laws of supply and demand no longer apply? Not exactly. The supply of homes for sale also remains low, which is fueling the economic principle that when the supply of a product is low, it pushes its price higher.

At the moment, the low supply of homes is pushing harder on prices than the falling demand for homes.

“The limited inventory of homes continues to impact the market,” Brian Johnson, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said in the report. “While fewer homes sold in February, there was still demand causing upward pressure on home prices.”

Lawrence currently has enough homes on the market to supply nine-tenths of a month worth of sales, based on historical sales trends, according to the Board of Realtors. A healthy supply of homes is generally considered four to six months. The national average, currently is 2.6 months, according to the latest national report.

In February, Lawrence’s home market appeared to be caught in the odd state of not having enough homes to satisfy many buyers, but also having so few homes that those people who were buying had limited choices and were forced to pay full asking prices for the homes that were on the market.

Buyers, though, may soon start gaining more leverage if current trends persist. Among those trends: Despite overall supply being very low, the number of homes on the Lawrence market is higher than it was a year ago. There were 84 active listings in February, up from 79 a year earlier. Also, the number of days a home is sitting on the market before selling is increasing. In February, the median number of days was 12, up from five a year ago. Generally, the longer a home sits on the market, the more likely sellers are to discount the home’s price.

But, Lawrence also may have another factor working against it when it comes to lowering home prices: It might not have the right type of homes on the market. The fact that the median selling price of homes in February was up 20% from a year ago does not mean that every home in Lawrence would sell for 20% more than it did a year ago. It could just mean that the mix of homes available for sale in Lawrence is bigger, more upscale and thus more costly than the homes that were on the market a year ago.

The local board of Realtors tracks the average listing price of homes on the market. In February, the median listing price topped $400,000, which is not the norm in Lawrence. It was $407,400, up from $379,900 a year ago. If those continue to be the types of homes that make up the majority of the available houses, housing prices may remain elevated.

There’s every indication these trends have caught the attention of city leaders. City commissioners in the last two weeks have approved annexing nearly 230 acres into the city limits, which easily could accommodate more than 500 new homes. By recent standards, that’s a rapid pace of annexation for the city.

But even under the most optimistic of projections, it will be well over a year before any homes from those developments would be available on the Lawrence market.

In the meantime, Lawrence’s housing sales numbers are getting hammered worse than many other places. Nationally, home sales in February were down about 23% compared with February 2022. Lawrence’s decline was more than twice that at 46.9%.

The difference between Lawrence and the Kansas City market next door is even greater. Home sales in the Kansas City metro area were down 12.9% in February, compared with the same period a year ago.

The difference in selling prices also is significant. While Kansas City hasn’t yet started to see declining home prices, selling prices are increasing at a much slower rate, according to the latest report from Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors. In February, the median selling price of a home increased by 3.7%, compared with the 20% increase posted in Lawrence. For all of 2023, median selling prices in the KC metro are up 2.9%. Year to date, median selling prices in Lawrence are up 8.3%.

The more eye-catching number is what those selling prices are. In Kansas City, the median selling price thus far for all of 2023 is $265,000. In Lawrence, it stands at $295,000.

Some other figures from the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors:

• Home sales for all of 2023 in Lawrence are down 36.9% compared with a year ago. They number 77 sales for the year.

• There have been about $25 million worth of home sales in Lawrence in the first two months of the year. That’s down more than $11 million from last year, a drop of about 30%.

• The number of pending contracts that were on file at the end of February indicate home sales in March also may be down. Pending contracts were nearly 19% below totals from a year ago.

• Of the 156 active listings on the market during February, only 20 of them were priced below $200,000, and four of them were priced below $50,000, which generally is a sign that the property doesn’t have a habitable home.