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Rock County home prices continue to climb


The wildflowers growing next to a 2,000-square-foot ranch house on West Bass Creek Road might not realize it, but the property where they live likely will sell for about 10% more than it might have last year.

The Rock County housing market continues to experience tighter-than-average inventories, and dips earlier this year in federal interest rates and recent gyrations in the stock market have begun to light the market’s fuse.

In the second quarter of this year, home sale prices shot up significantly, outpacing prices of a year ago by 8.7%. It’s a sign of a market on the rebound after flat sales earlier this year.

In June, the average sale price for the existing 234 homes sold was $197,500, according to South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service data.

That’s significantly higher than the $170,000 average sale price in June 2018.

Those numbers lead the pack for economic indicators The Gazette tracks in its quarterly economic dashboard.

Local Realtors and mortgage lenders say the price jump isn’t enough to consider the market overheated. However, it does put the average home sale price at nearly double what buyers paid in 2012, when the local economy was in recovery mode.

Loren Fellows, a mortgage manager for Johnson Bank in Janesville, said she believes a federal interest rate dip last month along with tight local availability of homes are driving an emerging set of sellers.

Some of them, Fellows said, are second-time or third-time homebuyers who have equity and are eyeing a chance to buy a different home at a favorable mortgage rate. At the same time, she said, recent announcements about tariffs on Chinese goods have caused movement from the stock market into the bond market, which is closely tied to housing.

Those forces have fueled an increase in new listings, bolstering an inventory that had just three months of available housing a year ago. That’s about half the amount most real estate analysts consider a “balanced” housing market—one equally favorable to buyers and sellers.

The local housing market saw a 25% increase in residential listings at the end of June, compared to the same period a year ago.

Overall, available home inventory has climbed to 3.8 months of homes available.

“It’s become the perfect storm for people being a little more willing to jump into the real estate market,” Fellows said.

That might explain why a three-bedroom ranch in Afton (with a $198,000 price tag) got an accepted offer last week, less than a month after it was listed. It was bought by a local person who also sold a home in equally short order.

“There is an urgency to buy while the money is cheap,” said Erika Penny, a Realtor for Briggs Realty Group in Janesville. She’s the agent who listed the house.

Penny stopped at the house Monday to tack up an “accepted offer” card on the real estate sign in the front yard.

The house had drawn multiple suitors. The eventual buyers sent a letter to the owner that explained how much they love the home and the property around it.

Traditionally, home sellers and prospective buyers hardly ever meet or speak to each other before closing.

“The letter—that’s something that’s new,” Penny said. “It’s something people started to do recently. Anything to set yourself apart.”

Fellows said the housing market is seeing more buyers who are moving to the Janesville area from out of state. The ink just dried on a pair of mortgages her staff wrote for people who are moving here from Colorado, she said.

“It’s jobs. Some of them are manufacturing positions, everything from laborer-manufacturing stuff, hourly workers to new management those companies are bringing in,” Fellows said.

She said she’s also seeing more homes bought by airplane pilots, high-tech engineers, doctors, doctors-in-residence and other medical workers, all of whom are moving here for work.

Adam Briggs, a broker and Realtor who operates Briggs Realty Group, said he’s watching for signs of an overheating market.

If prices continue to climb for lower-priced homes, it could become harder for first-time homebuyers on government loan programs to bankroll a mortgage—particularly if the homes they want need remodeling.

Briggs said if the number of people listing homes keeps increasing, the extra inventory could ease the upward march in prices.

“I’m not complaining about the current market we’re in,” he said. “At some point, it probably will level itself out.”

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Former deputy sentenced to jail in domestic assault


A former Rock County sheriff’s deputy will serve 90 days in jail, much of that time in the Rock County Jail where he once served as a jailer, a Sauk County judge ruled Monday.

Judge Michael Screnock also sentenced Keegan J. Kelly, 26, to three years of probation in a domestic violence case in which Kelly assaulted a woman he was staying with at a Wisconsin Dells resort in February.

Kelly resigned from the sheriff’s office April 12, nine days after his arrest. His conviction Monday means he can never again work as a law enforcement officer because federal law forbids him from carrying a firearm, said his attorney, Jack Hoag.

The loss of his chosen career is a significant punishment, as is the embarrassment he has suffered, Hoag argued.

As part of a plea agreement, Kelly pleaded no contest to three misdemeanors—battery, intimidation of a victim and disorderly conduct—and to one felony count of strangulation/suffocation as domestic abuse.

The felony count was held open, meaning Screnock did not find him guilty, and if Kelly successfully completes probation, the charge can be dismissed.

But if Kelly’s probation is revoked for not following the rules, he would be brought before a judge for sentencing.

Also as part of the agreement, a charge of false imprisonment was dismissed.

The assault happened Feb. 12 in a hotel room after Kelly began playing “The Red,” a song by the rock band Chevelle that Kelly likes to play “every time he becomes violent” with a woman he knows, according to the criminal complaint.

Kelly told her he could avoid consequences for his actions because “all I have to do is tell the police that my girlfriend is psycho,” according to the complaint.

She said Kelly in the past had threatened to kill her or her children when she said she might report his abuse to police. She didn’t report the incident until April 2, after family members convinced her to do so, according to the complaint.

The woman recorded the incident, and Kelly can be heard saying “I am the one who is crazy. … I don’t know how to drink,” according to the complaint.

The victim spoke before sentencing, asking the judge that Kelly not be “let off easy with probation.”

She predicted he will victimize other women.

“All throughout that night, he beat me, mocked my cries and degraded everything about me,” she said.

“Keegan chased me around the hotel room. He choked me repeatedly, and he beat me, ripped the phone out of the wall,” she said. “He bragged he was a cop, so nothing would be done, as he threatened over and over again to kill me.”

Assistant District Attorney Emily Eklund called Kelly’s actions terrifying and appalling.

“A law enforcement officer is supposed to protect the public and uphold the law. Instead, he used his position to exert power and control and to intimidate,” Eklund said.

Eklund said Kelly has no criminal history, and he will never again be able to abuse the power of a police officer.

Hoag said Kelly has taken responsibility, and it’s rare that a person in his situation does any jail time.

“I’ve been through this enough to know that good people do bad things, and it happens on occasion,” Hoag said.

Kelly has been having a hard time finding work, and he is talking about taking a factory job as he starts to rebuild his life, Hoag said.

Kelly apologized to the victim and her family and to his family.

“I’m a good man with a good heart, and I’m just going to continue to better myself and just become a better man,” he said.

“The public needs to have confidence that our law enforcement officers will do their jobs fairly and without picking sides,” Screnock said. “I have to suspect it’s disconcerting to folks in Rock County to know a sheriff’s deputy was himself engaging in domestic abuse, domestic violence, to the extent that was described in the complaint in this case.”

Screnock ordered Kelly maintain absolute sobriety during probation and that he be assessed for alcohol and drug abuse and anger and get any treatment recommended in those assessments.

Screnock ordered Kelly to report to the Sauk County Jail on today and allowed him to be transferred to Rock County starting Sept. 3.

Kelly is eligible for work-release but not for serving his time at home on a monitoring bracelet, Screnock said.

As part of the sentence, Screnock ordered Kelly to have no contact with the victim or her family or her ex-husband, who works at the Rock County Jail.

Hoag said he had spoken with Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman, who told him the jail could accommodate that order.

Kelly still faces misdemeanor domestic violence charges of battery, disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property for a Jan. 1 incident involving the same victim in Janesville. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, which continues in Rock County Court.

Janesville Perkins restaurant closed


The Perkins restaurant in Janesville is closing after its parent company announced bankruptcy Monday.

A sign on the door of the Janesville Perkins announced its closure Monday morning.

Perkins & Marie Callender’s LLC, the company that owns the Perkins franchise, owes more than $100 million to lenders, according to Bloomberg. It’s the second bankruptcy for the company, which cleared the first round in 2011.

Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Warne cited rising costs, labor issues and higher “statutory” wages as reasons for the bankruptcy, Bloomberg reported.

“We regret to announce that this Perkins Restaurant has closed,” the sign on the door of the Janesville restaurant reads. “We apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you for your loyalty and patronage over the years.”

An idling Ryder moving truck was backed up to a side door at the building at 3315 Milton Ave. early Monday afternoon. On the bumper of the truck appeared to be boxes of spices from the restaurant.

A man in a Perkins shirt near the truck identified himself as an employee but said he wasn’t authorized to say anything.

Maj. Thomas McDowell with the Salvation Army arrived at the Perkins with other employees hoping to eat. They weren’t aware the Perkins was closed. McDowell said it was his favorite place to eat and was disappointed.

Another man, who has eaten at Perkins multiple times over the last six months while traveling, was also disappointed after learning of the closure.

“I guess we’ll have to go to Applebee’s,” he said.

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Golden Corral Buffet & Grill coming to Janesville


A Golden Corral Buffet & Grill is coming to Janesville.

The national buffet chain purchased the old Quaker Steak & Lube building at 3111 Wellington Place, just east of Interstate 90/39 on Highway 14.

Gale Price, Janesville economic development director, told WCLO Radio that Golden Corral hopes to start renovations this summer but has not settled on an opening date.

The company was looking for a 15,000-square-foot space, but Price said the smaller building was attractive, too.

“They (Golden Corral) are doing now the smaller prototypes of 7-8,000 square feet that they think will penetrate markets like this and be a more reasonable size,” Price said.

The I-90/39 construction project, which had something to do with Quaker Steak & Lube’s closing in 2018, and the impending Highway 14 project might have scared off some buyers, but Price said he thinks the new tenants will do just fine.

Price said the building’s visibility and the interest in Janesville for an all-you-can-eat buffet should allow the new business to survive.

“You’ve got to go through some of that pain for the long-term gain,” Price said.

News of Golden Corral’s plans came the same day that Perkins, another Janesville restaurant on Highway 14, closed its doors as part of a national bankruptcy.

Obituaries and death notices for Aug. 6, 2019

Kurt Randall Bergmann

Paul John Bollig

Sharon K. Briggs

Bethalene “Beth” Cunningham

Marian Anna Gavin

Jacob Kaldenberger Jr.

Mariette “Bonnie” Kelly

John William Morning Jr.

Elaine Dorothy Roth

Philip A. Schwartz

Gary Keith Stone

Richard Drew 

Trader John Bishop works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Stocks are plunging on Wall Street Monday on worries about how much President Donald Trump's escalating trade war with China will damage the economy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Gene J. Puskar 

Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich rounds third after hitting a solo home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Dario Agrazal during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)