Norman overhauls building permit system

Posted on June 23, 2020 by Jorie Helms

By: Chip Minty The Journal Record

NORMAN – Builders and contractors have maligned the city of Norman’s permitting process for years, calling it slow, inefficient, and costly to their businesses. They consider Norman among the hardest communities in the metro to work in and some have stopped doing business there.

But now, City Manager Darrel Pyle is hoping to change all that. He says Norman’s bad rap has been at the top of his priority list since he moved here from his former post in Hanford, California, last July.

With support from the Norman City Council, Pyle is overhauling Norman’s permitting process, hoping to restore the city’s tarnished reputation among builders in the Oklahoma City metro area.

At the center of his effort is a $7.8 million facility renovation project that will bring the city’s entire permitting process under one roof, creating a one-stop shop for builders and contractors hoping to move projects through City Hall as fast as possible.

Pyle is turning a 40,000-square-foot building adjacent to Norman’s city administration complex into a permitting headquarters with office space for more than 100 city staff members. The building, which used to serve as Norman’s central library, will open next year and will house the city’s fire inspectors, engineering department, planning department and finance department.

Any function associated with obtaining a building permit will be handled in that building, Pyle says. Issues or questions will be resolved efficiently with a quick phone call or a trip down the hall.

That will be a big improvement from years past, Pyle says. Until recently, the system and the staff were not cohesive. Some staff members had never met other colleagues involved in the permitting process, and many weren’t even sure how the entire system worked.

Several months ago, Pyle began to change that by bringing everyone together for a week of discussions facilitated by Management Partners, a California-based consulting group.

Since then, Pyle and his permitting team have been on a roll, looking for opportunities to improve efficiency and finding ways to push permits out the door faster.

The city now can self-certify certain types of sewer-line construction, which speeds the permitting process by sidestepping the need for a state Department of Environmental Quality inspection, which can take 45 days to complete.

The city has also hired third-party plan checkers to help when full-time staff members are bogged down by surging workloads, and inspectors can now inspect some types of construction virtually, rather than drive to job sites for every inspection, Pyle said.

Rigid work schedules are a thing of the past, he says. Now, building inspectors are available to visit worksites at sunrise if necessary, to allow construction projects to proceed without costly delays, waiting for inspectors to start their normal workdays.

The city also has developed a new website that builders can use to submit plans and communicate with city staff. The site is more technologically advanced, and, for the first time, it is Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with our staff,” Pyle said. “The biggest change has been in attitude, realizing that just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always have to do it that way. There is a realization that developers are the priority.”

“We have only one goal here at the city of Norman. We want to be the best there is,” he said.

Norman Chamber of Commerce President Scott Martin said he’s thrilled with the changes.

He’s heard story after story from people who have faced challenges going through Norman’s permitting process, including from a couple of Norman’s City Council members.

“This has been a priority of the chambers for many years now,” Martin said. “Permitting is critical to the development community, but it needs to be fair and responsive. I have yet to talk to anyone who is not supportive of high standards, but when the process is extra challenging and particularly hard, that’s where the frustration is.”

“Around the metro, Norman has had the reputation of being a hard place to do business, and this is going to improve that reputation,” he said.

Tim Grissom, owner of TC Grissom Building Co., says he’s been building in Norman for 25 years, and he’s glad to hear changes are on the horizon.

“That’s a good thing, because the process can be frustrating,” Grissom said. “It has been for years.”

He said the city staff members he works with are nice people, but the system they work in has been a typical government bureaucracy, and they’ve never shown much interest in changing it.

“I just think they could do a better job.”

Curtis McCarty, a former member of the Norman Planning Commission, says he’s been building homes in Norman for nearly 30 years, and over time, he’s learned how to adapt to the city’s way of doing things.

McCarty, owner of McCarty Construction, said the city has asked him and other builders for suggestions, and he can see they’re trying to improve.

The residential side has been better the last few years, and if the city can improve service on the commercial side, it will improve Norman’s reputation among builders in the metro area.

“I think it’s working, and they’re going in the right direction,” McCarty said.

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Millennials’ market: Young finding ways to buy OKC real estate

Posted on June 9, 2020 by Jorie Helms

By: Janice Francis-Smith The Journal Record

Taylor Pettyjohn said she was “super excited” on Friday afternoon, just hours after she and her husband closed on their first house. The young couple are expecting their first child in October, and as soon as they had the keys in hand they headed to the new place to start preparing things for their move.

“It was super easy, and we were super blessed,” said Pettyjohn of their first homebuying experience, despite the fact that it occurred during a global

pandemic and a time of economic upheaval. The current situation may even provide a boost for first-time homebuyers, said Mindy Turner, the Realtor who helped the Pettyjohns and several other young couples like them find homes in recent weeks.

Many are taking advantage of low interest rates and state incentives that allow people with limited means an entrance into Oklahoma’s homeowners’ market.

“It’s such a weird time, but it just kind of laid itself out to us,” said Pettyjohn.

The couple knew what they wanted. After a few days looking at the home online, they scheduled a tour and made an offer on it that night. Current low interest rates and down-payment assistance available made it all work out better than they had even expected.

“Unbelievable but yes, our mortgage is cheaper than our rent for a one-bedroom apartment, and we are moving into a three-bedroom house with a huge backyard,” said Pettyjohn. “It’s the perfect home for us.”

“My business did not slow down at all during the pandemic,” said Turner. “My buyers weren’t afraid and they really wanted to buy a house and the rates were low, so we took the necessary precautions but we still got out and looked at houses.

“I would say that the majority of my buyers are millennials under 30 and this is the first house that they’re buying,” said Turner. “Every single house I show goes under contract in the first 12 hours and has multiple offers, every single time. That’s for the buyers that are looking at around $150,000 or below. The higher-priced homes aren’t going so fast.”

The competition is fierce for the limited amount of affordably priced homes on the market right now, said Turner. “If we don’t know the very first day it hits the market we don’t have a chance to even put an offer in,” she said.

The current low interest rates are allowing buyers to get a more house for their money, said Turner. Plus, the state of Oklahoma is also providing first-time home buyers with down-payment assistance through the Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority, and that has proved a powerful incentive for buyers.

Those with a limited income – which is true for many in the 35-and-under age range – and a credit score of 650 can get a home with almost no money down. Motivated sellers might also throw in closing costs, said Turner.

“I had a closing last Friday and they had to bring $900 to closing, and today at a closing I did they had to bring $2,400 and that’s everything,” said Turner.

Using census data, home improvement website Improvenet recently published a report that ranked Oklahoma City 21st in the nation on its list of cities with the highest percentage of millennial-age homeowners. Nationwide, the under-35 age group accounts for about 11% of homeowners in cities with populations exceeding 150,000, but in Oklahoma City the age group accounts for 14.6% of homeowners. Clarksville, Tennessee topped the list at 23%, while Huntington Beach, California came in last with 4.9%.

Millennial homeowners in Oklahoma are most likely to be families, not single people who own a home. Oklahoma City came in ninth on the list of cities with the most millennial families living in their own homes, at 9.3%, while no city in Oklahoma appeared on the list of single homeowners in the 35-and-under age range.

Oklahoma City ranked 47th on Realtor.com’s list of cities that have experienced a large decline in new listings as of June 4. New listings in Oklahoma City are down 16.1% year over year. The median listing price is $267,000, which is a 3.8% increase over the median price a year ago, and the median number of days a house spends on the market is 49.

Some sellers might be waiting until later in the summer to put their homes on the market, concerned about conducting showings during the pandemic, said Turner. Local Realtors have had some success with virtual showings, video walk-throughs and “no touch” showings wherein the homeowner leaves all the lights on and closet doors open so prospective buyers don’t need to touch anything, she said.

SmartAsset, a New York-based financial technology company, ranked Oklahoma City at No. 32 and Tulsa at No. 49 on its recent list of the 50 housing markets with the most stable growth. The report found that home prices in Oklahoma City have increased 132% since 1995, while home prices in Tulsa have 113% and the odds of a home losing 5% of its value over a decade was 0% for both cities.

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Jump in mortgage applications for home purchases shows buyers are back

Posted on May 27, 2020 by Jorie Helms

By 

Purchase apps last week were 6.7% higher than a year ago, MBA says

Applications for mortgages to purchase homes gained for the sixth consecutive week to a level that was 6.7% higher than a year ago, back when a deadly pandemic wasn’t interrupting the spring home-buying season.

A seasonally adjusted index measuring purchase applications jumped 9% last week, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications for refinancings fell 0.2% from the prior week, though the level was 176% higher than a year ago, MBA said.

Last week’s so-called purchase apps were up 54% from early April when most U.S. states were under lockdown orders to keep people at home in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

“The housing market is continuing its path to recovery as various states reopen, leading to more buyers resuming their home search,” said Joel Kan, an MBA associate vice president.

The surge in purchase demand drove the overall index, measuring both purchase and refi applications, higher by 2.7% on a seasonality adjusted basis from the prior week, the report said.

Demand is being driven by a shortage of homes on the market that preceded the epidemic, coupled with mortgage rates near the lowest level ever recorded.

The supply of properties on the market at the end of April was 1.47 million, the National Association of Realtors said last week. That’s the lowest level ever recorded for the month, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Last week, the average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.24%, within one basis point of the all-time low set two weeks earlier, according to Freddie Mac.

The share of applications for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration decreased to 11.2% from 11.5% in the week prior, the report said. The share of applications backed by the Veterans Administration fell to 12.4% from 13.4%, the report said.

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Cities blocked from imposing aesthetic design standards under new law

Posted on May 26, 2020 by Jorie Helms

By: Janice Francis-Smith, The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a coordinated effort by a handful of statewide organizations concerned with residential real estate, legislation to keep municipalities from imposing purely aesthetic design standards has now become law.

Senate Bill 1713 became effective when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the measure on Thursday.

SB 1713, by state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, and state Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, was written to prevent municipalities from imposing building design regulations for single-family residential zones based on aesthetics alone.

Such regulations drive up the cost of construction, making it harder for builders to provide the amount of affordable housing that Oklahoma is projected to need over the next few years. The Oklahoma Home Builders Association, Oklahoma Association of Realtors and Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing came together to urge lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“The ability of persons from all economic segments to own a home is one of many reasons America is who we are,” said David in a statement provided by the OkHBA. “The commitment from home builders to defend property rights and continue to protect all Americans is why we were so pleased to work alongside OkHBA and pass legislation that will continue to uphold these ideas.”

The Oklahoma Senate held an interim study on the matter in October. Daniel McClure, deputy general counsel, Oklahoma Municipal League, had defended municipalities’ efforts to ensure that builders used high-quality materials in construction, asserting that design standards improve the quality of affordable housing in the towns that implement such rules.

A 2017 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute found that municipalities across the country have a history of using such design standards – addressing no safety need but purely based on aesthetics – to deliberately keep prices high and keep lower-income individuals from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. However, the study ranked Oklahoma as having the least amount of unnecessary restrictions of all 50 states.

Still, some municipalities in Oklahoma, such as Tuttle and Bixby, had passed some regulations restricting some exterior finishes such as vinyl, wood and aluminum siding that would otherwise be permitted under the International Residential Code.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families that pay more than 30% of their income for housing are considered cost-burdened. According to that standard, more than 40% of Oklahomans are cost-burdened and would have to make at least $15.54 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Oklahoma is projected to need 7,454 housing units and 11,630 rental housing units for families earning 60% or less of the area median income.

Some neighborhoods within Oklahoma municipalities have special designations – such as historic preservation – that prevent certain materials to be used on the exterior of homes. SB 1713 includes provisions for historic districts, planned unit developments and other neighborhoods where homeowners have agreed to maintain certain design standards to preserve those restrictions.

Curtis McCarty, a homebuilder and president of the OkHBA, said the legislation would help first-time homebuyers get into a home.

“If we don’t find ways to keep housing affordable, we will eliminate a group of people that would like to be homebuyers but end up renting,” said McCarty.

“Cities and states might not be able to prevent the high product costs and rising interest rates that affect the housing industry nationwide, but fortunately they can prevent more costs that come from adding unnecessary design regulations to homes,” said builder M.J. Farzaneh of Home Creations.

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Oklahoma home sales healthy despite pandemic

Posted on May 26, 2020 by Jorie Helms

By: Sonya Colberg, The Journal Record

Oklahoma City houses are priced at an average of $197,000, up 8.2% year- over-year,
with 20 days average on the market, reports Redfin. In Edmond, the average price is $257,000,
up 2.9%, averaging 22 days on the market. (Journal Record file photo)

Real estate agent Jared Kennedy picked up the phone and heard, “Water is pouring through the ceiling!”

Hmm, this could be bad, he thought. But he said he hoped just a little water had seeped into the house. He figured it could be patched up in a couple of days.

The agent had sold the vacant house and set up an April 6 close date, well into the coronavirus outbreak. The buyers initially declined the pre-closing walk- through because of COVID-19 concerns.

Then, at the last minute, the buyers decided to walk through the house.

“Good thing they did,” Kennedy said.

“When they got to the house, the upstairs mini-fridge had an ice maker. The line busted off it. And it flooded the entire house,” said Kennedy, Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of Realtors board member. “It caved in the ceiling. Everything had to be completely gutted and remodeled.”

The repair bill hit $128,000. Insurance handled the costs for the 4,800-square-foot house after the $3,000 deductible.

“Everyone took it well,” said Kennedy. “And the house is still set to close.”
The COVID-19 near-disaster demonstrates how people’s attitudes have changed toward buying and selling homes.

Oklahoma is adjusting, though national home sales suffered the biggest drop in almost 10 years in April as much of the country remained locked down by the coronavirus.

Existing home sales plummeted 17.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.33 million units last month, according to the National Association of Realtors. The drop was the greatest since July 2010.

Bucking the trend

The state is not just adjusting. Under the relaxing restrictions, Oklahoma real estate is rocking. “Oklahoma is really bucking the national trend,” Kennedy said.

“Given the circumstances, I think everyone was expecting this to be a down year,” he added.

Kennedy chose this seemingly unfortunate time to open his own firm, Lime Realty, in January shortly before the coronavirus raced onto the scene.

“Three months in and the world shuts down,” Kennedy said. “It was pretty terrifying.” But he said the real estate market has been incredible for him despite the pandemic.

“I will sell twice as many houses this year as I did last year,” Kennedy said. He said he usually sells about 20 to 25 houses yearly.

Houses priced from $90,000 to nearly $2 million are all selling well, he said.

Eager buyers are flooding the market and some are even buying sight unseen to limit contact, said Nicca Collier with Metro First Realty Premier in Edmond.

“Properties that are positioned properly are selling within a few days of being listed on the MLS,” Collier said, referring to the multiple listing service available to brokers that lists properties for sale.

Tulsa home sales have recently picked up considerably, too, according to Paul Wheeler, owner of Accent Realtors in Tulsa.

“We’re selling about a house a day right now with our small team,” Wheeler said. “The average Realtor sells six a year.”

The Oklahoma City metro had 2,081 closings in April 2019, averaging $204,609, with 51 days on the market, according to MLSOK.

That compares with this April’s 1,908 closings (down 8.3%), averaging $215,990 (up 5.56%), with just 41 days on the market.

Tulsa closings fell to 1,309 in April, down 7.1% from last year. Average selling price hit $184,726 (up 4.64% over 2019), according to RE Datum. Houses stayed on the market about 37 days, versus 43 days in April 2019.

Weird times

Meanwhile, in the face of the coronavirus, the business of buying and selling houses has dramatically changed. “I don’t know that I’ve seen anything much weirder than this,” said Wheeler.

One in four home sellers have changed how they sell their houses in response to the virus, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Wheeler said people living in the houses they’ve put up for sale initially said, “I’m not sure I want strangers, potentially ill strangers, going through our home.”

Some sellers have requested virtual home tours to cut personal contact. Agents say they have experienced sellers backing out of open houses, though more have recently begun accepting the idea of holding an open house – with safety stipulations.

Listings drop

With concerns and shelter-in-place recommendations still fresh, the state’s home listings slowed significantly in April, according to MLSOK Inc.

New listings in Oklahoma dropped 13.4% for single-family homes, while pending sales fell 9% in April.

There are about 10,496 homes for sale in Oklahoma, listed at a median price of $269,900, averaging about $106 per square foot, according to Redfin.

The lack of inventory is good news for sellers, bad news for buyers. Inventory in Tulsa, Creek, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers and Wagoner counties plummeted by 36.6% to 4,981 homes for sale, according to RE Datum.

Consequently, buyers have readily accepted the masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, booties and social distancing requested in today’s house showings, agents say.

Buyers and agents typically mention they will be wearing masks, at least, when requesting a house showing.

Open houses virtually shut down for a couple of months during the heat of the pandemic restrictions. But agents say open houses are happening more often now in the Oklahoma City area.

In Tulsa, sellers of only one occupied house represented by Kennedy have wanted an open house, he said.

“I have seven active listings right now. And three will be open this weekend,” he said.

“Under normal circumstances, probably all seven would be open.”

So, the business of selling houses has become more complicated, while the Oklahoma market currently appears healthy.

Market drivers apparently include fewer houses for sale, pent-up demand after eased restrictions, approach of the moving season and – likely most of all – near-record low interest rates of about 3.3% for a 30-year loan.

Future unknown

No one knows how COVID-19 will affect the local market over the rest of the year.

The usual spring buying season will be missed, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement, so a later bounce-back won’t make up for lost sales in April through June. He projects sales will be down 14% nationally for the year.
Oklahoma tends to lag behind much of the country in economic trends, so it’s likely to take about six months before the true effects of a coronavirus economy show up. But Kennedy, Wheeler, Collier and others agree on how local real estate may look going forward.

“We’re feeling it already,” said Wheeler. “We’re calling it the bounce.”

By: Sonya Colberg, The Journal Record

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CAUTION – Trouble Ahead? by Kent Carter

Posted on April 29, 2020 by Jorie Helms

CAUTION – Trouble Ahead?

The Pandemic surrounding us has sent shock waves into the lives of individuals and families worldwide.  With so many deaths and the continuing illnesses almost everyone is scared, frustrated, and confused.

There are currently 26 MILLION Americans who have filed for unemployment.  One in every six of us have lost our jobs.  How do we cope?The debate of whether to reopen more retail businesses or remain at home is raging.  When can people safely go back to work and earn a living?

To give some financial relief, mortgage loan servicers have been instructed to allow forbearance from monthly mortgage payments.  Homeowners can ask for and receive delays in making those payments.  Here is how Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, describes forbearance (thanks Debra P):

“Loan forbearance—a short-term reduction or suspension of payments in response to a borrower's temporary hardship—can preserve household cash flow in times of economic difficulty. It can also have significant impacts on your credit history and credit scores.”

Did you read that last sentence?  That is the part of forbearance NO ONE is discussing.  When a loan payment is missed it is required that the loan servicer report that event to the credit bureaus.  Late payments on a mortgage loan are much worse on credit scores than missing a payment on a vehicle or credit card. 

In reading thousands of credit reports over the years, I have never seen a forbearance listing.  Foreclosures, short sales, late payments are listed.  Not forbearance.  How will the policymakers handle this current crisis?  Will they instruct loan servicers to not report forbearance files the same way?  We cannot depend on that.

If you must ask for forbearance, do it.  If it seems like a convenience during this time of stimulus checks, etc., I recommend avoiding that path for as long as possible.  You do not want late mortgage payments to be reflected on your credit reports for years.  Those listings will damage your ability to get the best deals on most everything you buy.

HINT:  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who buy packaged loans from mortgage lenders are charging the lender from 5 – 7% of the loan amount to purchase loans in forbearance.  That is far more than any profit made for originating, processing, underwriting, and closing the loan.  Lenders are being forced to offer forbearance with no place to go for liquidity which they need to keep making loans. 

My days are full of borrowers executing refinance or purchase transactions as interest rates are terrific.  I took time for this article because of the gravity of making the wrong decision.  

It is important to have a trusted guide when in the wilderness.  I am that guide for your mortgage needs.  Be safe, be mindful, be blessed.  I am.  NMLS #310445.  An Equal Housing Lender.

Kent Carter

https://kentcarterloans.com/

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