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Ready for a custom house? You might not be able to buy one

A construction worker frames a house in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
A construction worker frames a house in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Homebuilders are turning away customers — for custom-built homes at least — because of uncertainty surrounding soaring lumber prices.

"We have been hammered by lumber prices," said Jim Schuff, co-owner of Vesta Homes in Moore and president of the Oklahoma Home Builders Association. "How do you even begin to price a project that will take six months or more to complete?"

He said even some speculative builders — those who build houses to sell with no buyers already under contract — are skittish about starting anything.

He said they wonder: "If you start a spec home today and price it where it should be when you get it complete, will it appraise? What will the economy be like at that time?"

The price increase is adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, "pricing out millions of potential homebuyers," and keeping homebuilding from helping heal the coronavirus-slammed economy, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

"According to (trade publication) Random Lengths, the price of lumber hit a record high (last week) and is up more than 170 percent over the past 10 months," said the association's chairman, Chuck Fowke, a custom homebuilder in Tampa, Florida. "NAHB is urging President Biden and Congress to help mitigate this growing threat to housing and the economy by urging domestic lumber producers to ramp up production to ease growing shortages and to make it a priority to end tariffs on Canadian lumber shipments into the U.S. that are exacerbating unprecedented price volatility in the lumber market."

Fowke added, "Clearly these price increases are unsustainable, particularly in light of a continued housing affordability crisis. Given this ongoing period of high demand, the Commerce Department should be investigating why output from lumber producers and lumber mills are at such low levels."

Builders everywhere putting starts on hold, exacerbating the shortage of inventory, the NAHB said. The local market ended 2020 with a 30-day supply of houses listed for sale, according to the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors. By the end of January, the inventory had fallen to about a 24-day supply.

Appraisers aren't factoring in rising lumber costs, and it's disrupting home sales and preventing closings, the NAHB said.

Schuff had some local pricing information.

The "framing package" required for a 1,900-square-foot home with a three-car garage cost about $15,500 a year ago and about $26,000 this week, he said.

"The majority of that is OSB," Schuff said, talking about oriented strand board, a kind of structural panel made from wood chips and resin. "A single 4-by-8 sheet of OSB has gone up $23.49 from $7.84 to $31.33 in the last year. That 1,900-square-foot home takes nearly 250 sheets, or an extra $6,000 (after taxes).

"Then you have the material supply issue." He said he might order 100 10-foot-long 2-by-6's, "but the lumber yard doesn’t have any, so they sell us 2-by-6-by-12-foot at an additional $1.50 per board. There’s another $150 in addition to the increase in price from a year ago."

Skittish spec builders and declined custom builds or not, here, builders otherwise "haven’t slowed down much at all," Schuff said. "The little bit that we have slowed down I contribute more to the fact that we don’t have any finished homes available. Builders holding off on projects, the delays due to labor and material shortages and now the weather — the housing inventory is at or near record lows, like our temperatures)."

Demand persists unabated "due to demographics, low mortgage rates and the suburban shift to lower cost markets, but we expect to see some cooling in growth rates for residential construction in 2021 due to cost factors, supply chain issues and regulatory risks," NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said. "Some builders are at capacity and may not be able to expand production due to these headwinds."

Real Estate Editor Richard Mize edits The Oklahoman’s Real Estate section, and covers housing, construction, commercial real estate, and related topics for the newspaper and Contact him at Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription at today.

Related Photos
<strong>Jim Schuff [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]</strong>


<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Jim Schuff [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" Jim Schuff [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> Jim Schuff [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - A construction worker frames a house in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" A construction worker frames a house in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> A construction worker frames a house in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure>
Richard Mize

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... Read more ›