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Oklahoma Tornadoes: Storms bring cutthroat construction competition

Repairs and the coming rebuilding from May's destruction have drawn questionable contractors and a construction labor shortage to central Oklahoma, builders say.
by Richard Mize Modified: July 26, 2013 at 11:42 pm •  Published: July 27, 2013
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Fly-by-night building contractors are offering construction crews on-the-spot bonuses and promises of increased pay to lure them off established job sites and onto new ones, builders said.

The nation's shrunken housing workforce left central Oklahoma untouched as homebuilding started to recover in earnest over the past several months. Crews never left because work here, while it slowed, never stopped as it did in most of the other parts of the country.

May's tornadoes brought the labor shortage home with repair work — and rebuilding still to come.

Roofing crews, especially, are being stacked and restocked like poker chips as the market deals in new players — including out-of-state contractors that swooped in, as usual, for easy pickings and local tradesmen who turned general contractor overnight, builders said.

They're saying, “‘I'll give you $200 right now, and a 25-percent raise to come with me right now.' And they're walking off,” said Robert Crout, president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association.

“It's real difficult. Labor is really difficult right now. People are losing their crews. Not until after the tornadoes did it hit us,” Crout said.

Lots of trouble

Twists in the marketplace are hitting lot sales, too, said Moore homebuilder Marvin Haworth. He said questionable building contractors are buying up storm-scraped slabs and vacant lots as fast as some weary tornado victims can put for-sale signs in their yards.

It's different from the weeks following the May 3, 1999, tornado, Haworth said.

Then, storm-opened lots sold for $4,000 to as high as $12,000, with some owners misjudging the market, overpricing, and missing an opportunity to sell.

Last May's tornadoes hit with buildable lots scarce because land development slowed to a trickle during the housing slump.

“Now, in south Oklahoma City and Moore, there is a shortage of new lots. Builders are running around making offers,” Haworth said. “I've heard $25,000 to $30,000. ... And it's a bunch of builders I've never heard of — a guy who was a drywall contractor on May 19 and on May 20 he was a general contractor, if you know what I mean.”

Crout, a land developer, said that ideally, swaths of Moore and south Oklahoma City would be rebuilt a street or block at a time on lots put together and sold at the same time.

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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