Report shows Lawrence home sales were hot before virus disruption hit economy

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Maybe you have already heard this one, but it seems worth repeating: It has been quite a year this week.

We already can say with certainty that 2020 will go down as a crazy year, but how crazy is yet to be seen. One item worth watching is the economic reports to come. They’ll give some sense of how big of a hit the Lawrence economy takes from virus-related disruptions.

I don’t have any of those numbers yet, but I do have home sale numbers from February. They can provide a baseline of where we were at before the virus really started being disruptive. Of course, it will be interesting to watch whether the number of homes sold in the community drops off significantly. But just as interesting will be watching what happens to home sale prices.

We’ll see, but for now, here is a look at February’s numbers. In short, home sales were up big time in February. Those of you with a crystal ball must have purchased an extra house to store all the toilet paper you’ve been hoarding. (I say that admonishingly because hoarding really is no good for the community.)

Home sales were up 36.5% compared to February 2019, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Sales totaled 71 homes. February’s strong showing came after modest growth in January. The first two months of the year had 2020 on track to reverse the trend of 2019, when local home sales fell by 2.1%, which was the second year in a row that home sales had fallen.

Year-to-date home sales — meaning through February — are up 21.2% compared to the same period a year ago. Particularly noteworthy is that sales of newly constructed homes are up 72%. Real estate agents have sold 19 newly constructed homes through February, compared to 11 during the same period a year ago. Sales of newly constructed homes have been weak for several months, finishing 2019 down more than 25%.

Here is a look at other year-to-date numbers from the February home sales report:

• Median selling prices are down thus far in 2020. Selling prices are down 5.1% to $227,750. The sample size is still small since there have been only two months worth of sales, but whether home prices begin to drop will be one of the key figures to watch this year. If they drop at all, it will be a major reversal of a trend. Home prices were up 13% in 2019, according to data from the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

• Signs were pointing to a lot of home sales in March. At the end of February, Realtors were reporting 170 pending contracts had been written. That’s up nearly 60% from the same period a year ago. Pending contracts are an indication of how many home sales will occur in the near future. March is a particularly important month to watch because it traditionally kicks off the spring home-buying season.

• There continued to be indications that the local real estate scene is still a hot seller market. The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is 28 days, thus far in 2020. That’s down from 41 days during the same time a year ago. Because we only have two months of data, the size of the drop may be a little misleading, but it still indicates that buyers have to be ready to move quickly when purchasing a home.

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