Some 48,000 Oklahomans were affected by the Moore, Okla. tornado and storms that hit the Oklahoma City area again 11 days later, either by losing electricity or losing their entire house. And inevitably, a certain percentage of families, who can’t wait for their houses to be rebuild, are going to move someplace else.
But if history is any guide, most Oklahomans will hold on and stay.
Robert Crout, founder of the land developer Crout Companies and current president of the Central Oklahoma HBA, predicts that homes will be rebuilt, “but not by the people who lived in them. Builders will buy up those lots, and rebuild for other buyers.” (Crout and others say finished lots are tight in Oklahoma City. “I’d say only one-tenth of my lot inventory is unsold,” he estimated.)
Several local production and custom builders say they were at or near production capacity before the Moore tornado, so they probably wouldn’t get too involved in the rebuilding effort. “It’s not their business model,” says Ken Ford, the former manager of NAHB’s disaster assistance program. “You’re dealing with scattered lots, where the owners are trying to salvage the slab or pad.”
Oklahoma City-based Home Creations seems to agree with Ford’s assessment, as the builder assembled special teams of sales agents and superintendents for the purpose of rebuilding and selling destroyed homes in Moore. Those teams are headed up by one of Home Creations’ sales managers who lost her home to the tornado.
The Moore tragedy might also be an opportunity for United Bilt Homes, an on-your-lot builder that operates 22 offices in five southern states. United closed about 60 homes in Oklahoma last year, and its office is located on the outskirts of Moore. Mike Johnson, its general manager, says his company could triple its capacity in that market without making major changes to its business “because we wouldn’t have to travel that much.”
Terri Akers, the Central Oklahoma HBA’s executive director, expects many of her group’s 300 builder-members to eventually “step up” and get involved in the rebuilding effort. But local builder Caleb McCaleb and other pros worry about not having access to enough construction labor once the rebuilding gets going over the next six to nine months.
Labor shortages would leave the door open for out-of-state contractors to fill the void. Oklahoma doesn’t require builders to be licensed. But to discourage fly-by-nighters and predators, cities issue permits to builders only if they can show they have worker’s compensation and general liability insurance coverage. And banks require all builders to carry risk insurance while a house is under construction.
Such restrictions, though, haven’t stopped the migration of subs before, and probably won’t now. Johnson of United Bilt says he was fielding calls from subs in Florida and Cincinnati a few days after the tornado hit Moore. “I told those guys, ‘it’s a little too soon.’ ”