If you're looking to move out of the big city and get into a new home, small-town Oklahoma has lots to offer for a lot less — lots and lots of vacant lots for sale for much less than lots in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and other not-so-small towns.
The problem is finding them without having to drive all over creation looking.
Now there's a searchable online database of build-ready property with owners looking to sell in the Rural Housing Initiative, just launched by the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Oklahoma Home Builders Association.
The initiative is brand new, and organizers are calling on small towns to promote their abandoned or city-owned lots and to encourage lot owners to submit information to get their property sold.
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One lender has signed on and others are being sought to participate using a rural home loan program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with additional requirements.
Participating lenders will provide funding to qualified borrowers — owner-occupiers only, no investors — and free financial guidance and credit counseling. Buyers have to qualify for the loans, which are 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages.
Homebuyers must meet income guidelines. A family of four or fewer people can have an annual household income up to $103,500. A family of five or more can have a household income up to $136,600.
Borrowers must live in the home as a primary residence and may not participate in the construction — by acting as general contractor or otherwise. More details are explained in a series of videos online at okhba.org.
The builders group paid for architectural design of the available homes, which along with lower lot prices will keep costs and prices down, organizers said. The Municipal League maintains the database and assists local governments.
"Homeownership is essential to a community’s growth and viability," the Municipal League said in announcing the effort. "Many communities across Oklahoma have abandoned or city owned lots due to nuisance abatement or dilapidated structures.
"The creation of new housing in rural areas that have not seen construction activity is an area where many communities struggle."
Getting new homes built is important for small towns that have seen "virtually no new home construction for many years," and especially for towns that themselves are in possession of infill lots through abandonment, said Daniel McClure, the league's general counsel. Owning infill lots costs municipalities money for mowing and upkeep, he said.
"The sooner we can get these lots back into private ownership, the better it is for the taxpayer," McClure said.
As of Wednesday, 59 lots were listed: 20 in Ringwood, population 569, in Major County; three in Okeene, population 998, in Blaine County; 29 in Mooreland, population 1,144, in Woodward County; six in North Enid, population 1,153, in Garfield County; and one in McLoud, population 3,988, in Pottawatomie County.
Any of those would get you from Oklahoma City out into the countryside. It's a popular move. Rural migration was a trend even before COVID-19 and lockdowns and shutdowns and remote working got people fleeing cities for more rural settings.
The rise in mortgage interest rates probably won't deter anyone who wants to buy a home through the initiative because lower lot prices will still be a draw, said David Ritchie, a retied builder and developer in Enid who had a large hand in developing it.
"I don't think so. If you look at your lot costs in Piedmont, your lot costs in Edmond, in Mustang, they're $50,000-$60,000 minimum, up to $80,000-plus," he said, compared to $2,500 to $10,000 or so in the state's rural locales.
Organizers hope to tap the trend and foster residential construction in the state's small towns, specifically those with a population under 20,000, said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Home Builders Association.
If you're thinking of building, and counting miles from, say, Costco, Ringwood is 110 miles north and west of Oklahoma City; Okeene is 90 miles northwest; Mooreland is 135 miles northwest; North Enid is 100 miles north; and McLoud is 30 miles east.
Means said it all started in Garber, population 707, Garfield County, 90 miles north of OKC. He and David Ritchie, a retied builder and developer in Enid, were invited by Garber school leaders to explore ways "to get new homes back in Garber, Oklahoma."
Ritchie had a 25-year career in public finance, sometimes working with the Farmers Home Administration, precursor to what is now USDA Rural Development, before going into construction and development in the 1990s. He kept working with construction finance in rural communities.
"The programs were good, but they didn't really match up. What the builder needed the USDA didn't provide, and what the USDA did provide, a lot of times it was very difficult for the builder to perform within the confines," Ritchie said. "So I always thought there could be a good combination program to be put together. But being profit minded, I basically went around building houses for the next 20-plus years."
When he retired, he had the time, and he used his expertise in municipal finance and construction to develop the Rural Housing Initiative to bridge the disconnects between builders and the USDA. He said he hopes small-town leaders take advantage of it.
"You know, everybody wants housing in their community, but not every community is willing to put forth the effort to get the information together to participate in the program," Ritchie said. "As I like to say, everybody wants salvation, but a lot of people don't want to pray."
Senior Business Writer Richard Mize has covered housing, construction, commercial real estate and related topics for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com since 1999. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Rural Housing Initiative has lots to offer in small-town Oklahoma