For three consecutive months, home prices have fallen in Lawrence; home sales up from a year ago

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It is too early to be a trend, but not too early to be a tantalizing possibility: The selling prices of homes in Lawrence are declining.

For three consecutive months, the median selling prices of homes have declined, according to the latest information from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Specifically, the prices have declined compared to the median prices from the same month a year earlier.

The drop in February — the most recent month for which figures are available — was an 11% decline from the median price in February 2023. That was the largest one-month decline since April 2023.

It is probably unwise to put too much stock in the February number. Numbers from a single month can fluctuate a lot, and February is far from the busiest month of the year in the local real estate industry. But the February decline was preceded by a 1.5% decline in January and a 4.9% decline in December.

I’m unsure of the last time the Lawrence market posted three consecutive months of median price declines. I manually checked the monthly reports dating back to January 2020, and during that 36-month period there was not a time when median prices declined three consecutive months.

So, I’m not going to call it a trend yet, but if you want to be optimistic, you have a couple of other reasons to be so. For one, the average selling prices of homes in Lawrence also are down in 2024. As a reminder (trigger warning: the following may produce painful memories of math class,) a median average is the number at which point half of all sales in the market were higher and half of all sales in the market were lower. A traditional average, technically a mean average, is simply the total dollar value of sales in the market divided by the total number of sales.

That traditional average is down 4.9% for the year. The median average is down 3.1% for the year. All of that is to say that we have two types of averages, and both of them are down in the Lawrence market.

A second reason to have some optimism that housing prices are cooling is how long it is taking to sell houses in Lawrence. For years, to buy a house in Lawrence you had to have a banker on speed dial and nerves of steel to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the time it takes you to blink. (Even then, a jet-powered car to beat everyone to the open house was useful.)

For several years, the number of days a home sat on the market before selling was well under 10 days. In February the median number of days a home sat on the market was 24, up from 12 in February 2023. That’s a sign that buyers are becoming pickier or more reluctant to pay for a home. Both of those factors are what will push home prices down.

The third, and perhaps biggest reason, to be optimistic that home prices are falling is there were some signs of a slowdown in 2023. To be clear, home prices did not fall in 2023. They rose by 4.2%. But that was compared to a 10% rise in 2022, an 11.5% rise in 2021 and an 11% rise in 2020, according to the annual figures from the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

Maybe the market is cooling even more in 2024, as mortgage interest rates continue to be above recent levels. I recently read one New York Times article that reported most Americans with a home mortgage have an interest rate that is about 3 percentage points less than what they would be able to obtain if they bought a new house today. In other words, they would have to trade their 4% mortgage for a 7% mortgage. That, seemingly would cool a market.

Maybe factors such as those will result in a decline of Lawrence home prices in 2023. I’m not betting on it. The Kansas City market, which has data available through March, is not posting a decline in selling prices. Median selling prices are up 5.6% thus far in 2024. The median selling price in the KC metro is $285,000 versus $286,000 in Lawrence.

It also is worth noting that not everyone is rooting for home prices to fall. If you are a first-time homebuyer you probably are. If you are a community leader concerned that Lawrence’s housing market prices too many types of people out of the community, you also might be rooting for falling prices. But, if you own a home and plan to sell it, you probably are not rooting for falling prices, especially if you are downsizing or moving to a lower-cost community.

If you own a home but are not in one of those categories, you might be thinking rising home prices are a good deal. At the end of 2018, median selling price for a home in Lawrence was $204,500. At the end of 2023, the median selling price for a home in Lawrence was $302,250. That is nearly 48% growth for the five-year period. If your home indeed is your largest investment, that investment has been growing well. Some people don’t mind that, although many do mind the rising property tax bill that often comes with it.

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

• As prices fell, the number of homes sold in the market increased — a lot. Home sales were up nearly 63%. There were 57 homes sold in Lawrence in February compared to 35 in February 2023. It is worth noting that the 57 homes were still fewer than the 64 sold in February 2022.

• For the year, Lawrence has sold 98 homes, up from 79 during the same period a year ago. Compared to two years ago, home sales are still off. There were 122 sales during the first two months of 2022.

• Pending contracts, which normally are a sign of home sales that will be recorded in the next month or so, were down by about 10%.

• There were 119 homes on the market in Lawrence at the end of February. That’s up from 83 during February 2023 and 79 in February 2022.


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