Lawrence home sales off to their slowest start in years; selling prices begin to fall slightly

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With all the rain, maybe you too are considering that the best home is a houseboat. (I think my household is giving it serious consideration based on the number of times I’m told to go jump in a lake.) Regardless, something has caused traditional home sales in Lawrence to take a nosedive.

The local real estate market is definitely off to a slow start in 2019, based on the latest numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Home sales were down 7.4% in April, which in some ways was good news. At least they weren’t down as much as March, when home sale totals posted a 27.5% decline compared to March 2018.

Year to date, home sales are down a little more than 16% compared to the same period a year ago. Lawrence housing sales finished last year a bit soft — ending the year down 2.9% — but this year’s pace would end up being one of the largest declines in recent memory for the Lawrence housing market.

The president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors said the market continues to suffer from a lack of available homes for sale, especially those in the low to moderate price ranges.

“Many times buyers in the low to moderate price range compete for homes or lose out completely,” board president Greta Carter-Wilson said in a press release. “We need more homes on the market.”

The latest figures, though, show that the number of homes on the market is increasing. In April, there were 245 homes on the market, up from 192 in April 2018. The statistics, though, also show that the median number of days a home has sat on the market this year before selling is just 16. That’s a sign the market is still tight and lacking inventory in certain categories.

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Another possibility on the slowdown is simply that the broader Lawrence economy is slowing down. The decline in housing sales comes at the same time that Lawrence is experiencing a slowdown in sales tax collections. So far, sales tax collections are down 1% compared to the same period a year ago. We are expecting a key state report next week that will measure sales tax collections for sales made largely in March. That may not be a great report. It appeared the weather hurt March home sales, and it may have hurt retail sales, too.

Whatever the case, keeping track of how tight-fisted Lawrence households are with their money may be a key story for the rest of 2019.

There is some good news from home buyers in these latest statistics. Housing prices in the market also are falling. Year to date, the median selling price of a house is $207,050, which is down 2.6% from the same period a year ago.

Here are some other statistics from the April report of the Lawrence Board of Realtors:

• Sales of newly constructed homes are faring even worse in the Lawrence market. There were only nine new home sales in April, a 50% drop from a year ago. Year to date, the number of new home sales is off by about 40% compared to the same period a year ago. Despite the slowdown, newly constructed homes haven’t yet seen a large drop in prices. The median price of a newly constructed home actually is up 3.3% compared to this time last year. The median price is $355,000 for a new home in Lawrence.

• Signs aren’t positive that May will produce a bounce-back month for the housing market. At the end of April, there were 158 homes sales with contracts pending. That’s down about 9% from April 2018. The contract pending category is a good indicator of how much activity there will be in May.

• While home sales are down about 16% for the year, the total dollar value of homes sold is off by about 20%, due to the falling prices and other factors. The local real estate industry through April had sold $67.4 million worth of homes, compared to $83.7 million thru April 2018.

The early part of 2019 has been soft in several real estate markets across the country. In case you are wondering about our next-door neighbors in Kansas City, they also are down. But they aren’t down as much as what we’re seeing in Lawrence.

The Realtor group for the Kansas City metro area reported sales were down 6% for April and are off about 8% for the year. So, the year-to-date decline in Lawrence has been about twice as severe as in Kansas City.

The Kansas City metro report also is showing some signs that May might be a bounce-back month. Pending sales in the Kansas City market were up about 5% at the end of April. One other key difference in Kansas City is that home prices aren’t yet falling. The median selling price for home in the KC metro area is now $207,650, which is an increase of 5.4% compared to a year ago. If you are keeping track, the median selling price in Lawrence and the KC metro area are almost exactly equal.


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