Part I

Countless Oklahomans are struggling with the same dilemma.

“I can barely get into any home to even look at them,” Leslie Bonebreak said.

Bonebreak is a single mother of two. She has been saving to buy a home for a couple of years and has a great credit score. She was approved for a conventional mortgage, but that is where her home buying endeavor hits a wall.

“The one time I was able to see a home I’d be interested in was when my realtor texted me at 11 o’clock at night and putting in a request to go in to look that morning,” Bonebreak said. “I also put in a bid that was probably $15,000 over asking, but I was beat out within a day for cash offers.”

It is a search that has become desperate.

“I’ve even considered doing site unseen offers on homes that I just get a good vibe for online,” she said. “How precarious is that for the biggest purchase of your life? It’s really hard not to get emotional. You’re buying a home.”

Or at least trying. Homes are so scarce right now that some are under contract the first day they hit the market.

“We have 952 properties on the MLS as of today. That is not very many homes,” Realtor Emily Matthews said.

“We had 17 offers on this house within the first three days,” she said.

The home is located in Oklahoma City and is in the Moore Public Schools district. It is 22 years old and just more than 2,000 square feet. It sold for $20,000 more than the asking price.

“People are selling their California homes or their Colorado homes for a very high price, and they’re moving to the midwest where they can get a really good house at a much cheaper price and taking the excess money to now buy investment properties,” Matthews said. “So you’ve got out-of-state people coming in with cash, and they are outbidding your residents of Oklahoma.”

Photo goes with story
Out-of-state buyers are making house shopping more of a challenge for Oklahomans. Image KFOR

They are not just outbidding single moms like Bonebreak; Oklahomans who have been working and saving for their retirement home for decades are in the same boat.

“When we would look at properties, immediately it would be sold before we could even look at it,” Garry Atkinson said.

So when Atkinson and his wife found a 50 acre slice of heaven just outside the Oklahoma City metro, they thought they’d hit the jackpot. There was plenty of room to build a home and plenty of space for his bee farm. Atkinson is now battling the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. The state wants to build a turnpike through the middle of his property.

But preceding the current battle was another one. For years what this bee farmer could offer was no competition for the cash offers coming from a different kind of farmer.

“Marijuana was the main focus, and what I’ve found after the fact is that a lot of these have closed down,” Atkinson said.

And he’s right. Some of the very properties that Long Tran has sold to buyers for marijuana farms he is now re-listing and putting back on the market because of over-saturation and new state laws that are making it more difficult to operate marijuana farms in Oklahoma. But what is not regulated right now is the number of properties an investor can purchase.

“I am getting calls daily from out-of-state investors wanting to buy homes just to rent out,” Tran said. “Most of them don’t even come to look at it.”

Tran works with investors and with families and admits many Oklahomans are simply at a disadvantage.

“It’s very hard for them, because you have to deal with a lot of out-of-state investors that are coming in, and they have cash,” Tran said. “They’re willing to pay over the asking price. They’re willing to pay the difference if it doesn’t appraise if they’re doing lending. They’re taking the house as is.”

But the buyers who seem to be getting hit the hardest are veterans.

Part II

“We’ve been married eight years this summer,” Wendy Swart said.

Jared and Wendy Swart are expecting their second child and expected to have closed by now on a home for their growing family.

“I did three years of active duty in the United States Marine Corp, and I’m currently in the United States Marine Corp active reserves,” Jared Swart said.

The couple decided on a VA loan, because there is no down payment. Sounds great, right? But the insensitive is bittersweet.

“We went from having a dream list to now we’re just like, ‘OK. Is this a safe neighborhood?’ So that’s one frustration,” Wendy Swart said. “Another one is our realtor has told us because we’re using a VA loan, we’re only getting to look at one third of the homes on the market, because that’s how many people have decided they’re not going to accept VA offers.”

The reason? Low VA appraisals.

“I’ve had appraisals come back $55,000 short,” realtor Wendy Foreman said. “I have to go back to the seller and say, ‘Take $55,000 off your property,’ and what do you think they’re going to tell me? Yeah. So, they say no, and then the veteran has lost appraisal money, all their inspection money.”

Foreman’s family has been buying and selling Oklahoma real estate for generations.

“There has to be some sort of overhaul of the VA appraisal system,” she said.

The current market often has her between a rock and a hard place.

“As the buying agent it’s heartbreaking. On the selling side it’s heartbreaking, because you want the veteran to have the house,” Foreman said. “I have to warn the sellers that we are running a risk.”

The main obstacles are low supply, VA appraisal gaps and cash offers over listing price.

There are more buyers in the market than available homes. Buyers and realtors say VA loans typically come in thousands of dollars under the listing price – almost shutting veterans out altogether.

It is hard to compete with cash, especially offers that are thousands more than the asking price. Many of those offers are coming from large, nationwide investors. Foreman sells them houses, too.

“They’ve bought quite a bit, and they’re buying quite a bit. And they’re paying top dollar,” Foreman said. “I bet they’ve bought 200 houses already.”

But why Oklahoma?

“Oklahoma has always been a very stable market property value wise,” mortgage lender Cristopher Price said.

Price has been in the Oklahoma mortgage industry since the early nineties and has helped write legislation to regulate it.

“Oklahoma did not have the same experience in ‘08 in the housing market that most people did. We didn’t have over-inflated values. We didn’t have the major loss in equity that most people experienced,” Price said.

“Because?”

“Because we didn’t have over-inflated values to start with,” he said.

And we don’t now either, making Oklahoma a very attractive investment.

“The Department of Tourism has been proactively marketing to people in California for the past two years during COVID, enticing them to come to Oklahoma where we have more laxed laws,” State Rep. Mickey Dollens said.

When Dollens isn’t at the State Capitol, he is selling insurance and noticing a trend – out-of-state customers insuring in state property.

“There are corporate landlords that recognize the value of homes,” Dollens said.

“I mean they own 20,000 and 30,000 units. Single family dwellings.”

Dollens is requesting an interim study.

“I believe that we should do something. I believe in capitalism. I also believe in regulated capitalism. I think Oklahomans should have a shot at homeownership if that’s what they choose,” Dollens said. “Currently in this environment, that’s just not attainable.”

Meanwhile, two broken contracts later, the Swarts’ home is boxed up, but two different sellers backed out of two different deals.

“We were told on Tuesday night that he wanted to withdraw and try to find a cash offer,” Wendy Swart said.

Their search continues.

“We’re just going to keep trying,” Jared Swart said. “Every realtor says there is a house out there for you. It’s just that we’ve got to find it.”

KFOR spoke with the Veterans Benefits Administration in Washington, D.C. They tell us they stand by their loan and appraisal process and have even met with lawmakers about it. VA officials say the protocols are in place to protect veterans and their families. Just this year, the VA has implemented more appraisers in the Oklahoma market to help alleviate any delays for veterans utilizing the VA loan program. They also add that buyers can ask the VA for a second look at an appraisal if the buyer feels it is inaccurate.