Local home sales show signs of a slowdown; new report shows difference in home prices between Lawrence, Baldwin, Eudora

When you talk about housing activity this time of year in Lawrence, it usually involves a KU game on the television, approximately 32 pounds of cheese dip and maybe a bit too much crimson and blue body paint. But actually, I’m talking about housing activity of a different type today. The latest home sales numbers are out, and they do show a slowdown might be in the making.

Thus far in 2019, home sales in Lawrence are down nearly 17 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. The numbers are only through the end of February, so it is too early to read too much into the trend.

However, 2018 did end with buyers showing some signs of pulling back. The total number of Lawrence home sales fell by 2.9 percent in 2018. That was the first time sales declined in Lawrence since 2014.

So, the early 2019 numbers are a continuation of that trend, thus far. If anything, they might be an acceleration of that trend. Another trend that seems to be continuing is rising selling prices. The median selling price thus far in 2019 is $241,000. That is up 19 percent from the same period a year ago. If you remember, 2018 ended up being a big year for rising home prices in Lawrence. The median selling price in Lawrence jumped 13.4 percent in 2018, which was the largest annual increase in recent memory.

The numbers are getting to a point where real estate leaders acknowledge buyers are facing some challenges in the Lawrence market.

“The lack of housing inventory along with escalating prices does make it harder for potential buyers in this market,” Greta Carter-Wilson, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said in a release. “In turn, this may also keep current homeowners from putting their house on the market for fear of not finding a suitable home to buy.”

Here’s a look at some of the numbers in the February report:

• Lawrence home sales year-to-date total 98, which is down from 118 at the same point in both 2018 and 2017. The number of newly constructed homes that have sold total 11, which is down from 19 a year ago.

• The total dollar value of all homes sold in Lawrence thus far in 2019 is $24.8 million, which is about 15 percent lower than a year ago.

• Some signs indicate that a shortage of homes on the market is beginning to ease. There were 197 active listings in Lawrence at the end of February. That was up from 176 a year ago. However, those 197 homes represented only a two-month supply, based on current sales trends. Real estate agents generally believe a market is well-balanced between buyers and sellers when there is about a six-month supply of homes on the market. So, make no mistake, the market is still tight but perhaps loosening a bit.

• The median number of days a home is sitting on the market before selling is 42. That’s up from 33 days at this same point last year. That is another sign that the market is beginning to loosen a bit.

• 83 contracts for sale were written during February. That’s down from 102 in February 2018. Contract numbers generally are a good indicator of how much sales activity will occur in the next month. March is a time when home sales begin to pick up as the weather warms. However, these numbers suggest this March may be less robust than normal.

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There is another set of interesting numbers out about home prices in the county. These come from the Douglas County Appraiser’s office, and they are even more comprehensive than the figures we get from the Board of Realtors.

The appraiser conducts a study to determine the median value of all homes in the county. That’s different from what the Board of Realtors does. The Realtors simply are looking only at the values of homes that have sold recently. That distinction can make a difference. For instance, sometimes the reason the median selling price in Lawrence jumps is because a lot more five-bedroom homes are being sold this year compared with a lot more three-bedroom homes being sold the year before. In a situation like that, your three-bedroom home may not be worth a lot more than it was a year ago.

The numbers from the county are a better measure — although still imprecise — of how much much home values in general are increasing.

In Lawrence and Douglas County, the numbers show values are increasing quite a bit. The overall median for residential property was $186,800. That’s up 5.7 percent from a year ago, when the median stood at $176,700. The numbers show that the market indeed took off in 2018. For example, median values grew only by 2.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the report.

The report also breaks down the median values by city. They show that home values in Douglas County’s smaller communities generally are at least $20,000 less than they are in Lawrence. Here’s a look:

• Lawrence: $185,020, up 5.4 percent from $175,500 a year ago.

• Eudora: $162,770, up 7.4 percent from $152,400 a year ago.

• Baldwin City: $163,700, up 5.3 percent from $155,400 a year ago.

• Lecompton: $118,390, up 2.1 percent from $115,850 a year ago.

• Rural Douglas County: $244,700, up 4 percent from $235,115 a year ago.

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One other note about the appraiser’s office. It sent out change of value notices to all property owners at the end of last month. Those change of value notices list the taxable value of your home, which is supposed to coincide with what your home would sell for if it was placed on the market.

Obviously, creating that value is an inexact science. As such, property owners have a chance to appeal the value. Those appeals, however, need to be filed by April 1. Details on how to file the appeal can be found on the back side of the change of value notice you received in the mail. Alternatively, you can get additional information from the appraiser’s office, which is located inside the Douglas County Courthouse at 11th and Massachusetts streets.

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