It doesn't have much of a ring to it, but metro-area builders are building like it's 2003.
They took permits to build 1,282 houses in the first quarter of this year in Oklahoma City, Edmond, Midwest City, Moore and Norman. That's up 16.4 percent compared with the same period last year and is comparable to the 1,249 permits issued the first three months of 2003.
The year 2003 wasn't a boom year, although by the end of the first quarter it was better than the year before — and a big improvement over 2001 and its short and shallow recession.
The first quarter of this year is no boom, either, although it seems like it compared to the slump that hit here when housing crashed across the country with the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
“We've recovered. The slowdown is behind us,” said Robert Crout, president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association.
Lots ready for construction remain in short supply, he said. Planning and development came to a stop during the worst of the building slowdown. Now that builders are busy again, developers have been slow to get land ready for construction, partly because lenders are still leery of lending.
Also, property appraisals, Crout said, are still lagging behind the cost of building.
Labor shortages plaguing other parts of the country where housing is in recovery never occurred here because builders just slowed down during and after the recession. Homebuilding didn't stop altogether, so framers, drywall installers, masons and other subcontractors didn't leave. But Crout said recovery is pushing materials costs up for builders everywhere.
With appraisals coming in less than what builders have to get to make a living, builders have few options, he said.
One is to absorb the cost increases, which no builder can do for long. Another is to cut back on the building bang a buyer gets for a housing buck — in other words, fewer frills, extras and amenities. Crout, a Mustang land developer, said the appraisal gap has some builders going back to basics.
Buyers also have few options, Crout said. One is not to buy. Another is to come up with more money down because lenders won't make loans for more than appraisals.
In the meantime, builders “are running as fast as they can,” he said. “The lots are a problem. There's just not any developed lots out there. As far as my business, it's never been better.”
Through the first quarter, Oklahoma City issued 907 single-family building permits, up 14.4 percent from the same period in 2012, according to the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association.
Edmond issued 160 permits, up 20.3 percent; Midwest City issued 23 permits, down 20.7 percent; Moore issued 77 permits, up 42.6 percent; and Norman issued 115 permits, up 25 percent, the builders group reported.
Sales handled by Realtors continued apace. Sales came to 1,630 in March, up 9.8 percent compared with March 2012, according to the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors.
In Edmond, 841 houses sold though Realtors in the first quarter, 15.7 percent more than in the same period last year “and last year was a record year in number,” said Brian Preston of RE/MAX Associates Realtors.
Another 823 houses in the Edmond area were under contract, and that was a record, Preston said.
Also, the Realtors reported:
The average interest rate was 3.65 percent, compared with 4.08 percent in March last year — a 10.5-percent decrease.
Homes on average sold in 79 days, two weeks faster than the 93-day average in March 2012.