In 1931, as Tulsa’s population grew south, an increase in traffic forced the city to begin construction on the 21st Street bridge.
Really, ever since oil was discovered, Tulsa has seen slow and steady growth toward the south. It started along the banks of the Arkansas River and spread south and to the east.
Nearly a century later, the southward expansion has reached distances farther than the eye can see from the BOK Tower.
“Everything is going farther south toward 151st Street in Bixby and Jenks,” said Chris Burton, a home builder since 2005. “All the land is being developed as fast as possible.”
Burton, who oversees Chris Burton Homes, says he’s currently constructing houses in the Estates of Forest Hills, an 80-lot development near 131st Street and Peoria Avenue. He’s a partner in the 77-lot Gray Oaks development at 135th Street and Harvard Avenue. He also continues to do some work in the Tulsa Hills area.
“Sales are really ticking up. This year will be really good,” Burton said. “I’m selling out of inventory. Sold signs feed sold signs.”
One recent rainy Friday, Burton was working at his office at 81st Street and Memorial Drive. The conference room was covered in architectural renderings of his numerous job sites.
While Burton started building on his own nearly 15 years ago, he said he has spent his entire life watching houses be built. His father, Gary, built 40 subdivisions during a 40-year career.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” Burton said. “I spent a lot of time in cars at job sites across Tulsa. I’ve watched it grow.”
Burton said he focuses on houses in the $300,000 to $399,000 range that typically average around 3,000 square feet. He said the average time for construction is four to five months.
Allen Jenkins, home builder and owner of Silvercrest Homes, said he is working in the same areas, the same price ranges and seeing the same results.
“You get more bang for your buck in south Tulsa,” said Jenkins in a phone conversation as he drove between job sites on the outskirts of Tulsa. “It’s some of the most affordable housing in the country.
“A lot of people who have lived for years in midtown are downsizing and moving south into Jenks and Bixby,” Jenkins said. “We’re seeing a lot of people whose kids are gone, and they don’t want all the space. There are some who are getting older and don’t want to deal with how busy it is.”
Jenkins chaired the annual Greater Tulsa Home & Garden Show in March where he said more than 30,000 people visited the four-day event at Expo Square. He said the positive feedback and the season change to spring has him excited about the work ahead.
“Business is good,” said Jenkins, who is a third-generation builder in a family business that started in 1952. “The rain and cold weather slow things down in the winter, but now, we’re really getting going.”
In the first two months of this year, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa, there have been 456 housing starts in the metro area, which is up nearly 40 starts year over year.
While most of the home construction is happening on the outskirts of the metro area, there is also some new home construction in Tulsa.
Many houses throughout midtown are being flipped and sold or leased, but there’s also a trend of old houses being demolished and new houses, often bigger, being built on the lot.
David Lee of Lee Signature Properties stated in an email that he had just bid on a demo and rebuild in the area.
“I believe we will continue to see the midtown boom, especially with things like the Gathering Place, etc.,” stated Lee, who builds houses ranging from $250,000 to $700,000.
While Jenkins said he doesn’t do much work in midtown, he understands why builders like Lee are finding new work in the more historic parts of the city.
“Lots of houses have seen better days and some need to be torn down,” Jenkins said. “While some houses may be historic properties, they were built with cheap materials or haven’t been kept up over the years so they’re in bad shape. It’s better for the community to demolish and rebuild in some cases.”
Whether it’s in midtown or south, Lee said he’s seeing another trend, which is the popular design elements featured on the long-running HGTV reality series “Fixer Upper.”
“In the beginning of 2018, we started to see the Joanna Gaines effect hitting Tulsa with a lot of what I call urban farm designs,” Lee said. “I think we are now seeing that element being blended with a modern twist, which allows for a lot of creativity.”
Lee continues to devote most of his work to the Jenks, Bixby and Broken Arrow areas, where he too is seeing the trend of relocation and downsizing.
“I am selling 2-to-1 single over two stories, so I would have to agree there is a huge downsizing trend going on,” Lee said. “I do believe we are going to continue seeing the downsize trend with upper-end amenities becoming more and more popular.”
To help make people’s dream homes come true, all three home builders work with Chinowth & Cohen Realtors, which also works with Ruhl Construction and Key Homes and Design.
Ruhl Properties currently features homes throughout the metro and has floor plans that range from 2,000 to more than 4,000 square feet.
Key Homes & Design builds homes ranging from 1,800 to 7,400 square feet, as well as completed homes.
By the time you’re reading this story, these home builders will be completing the first new homes of the year, and buyers will be moving in as prospective developments continue to pop up around them.
“I recently attended a broker’s open at the Winchester development and 400 Realtors showed up,” Burton said. “Things aren’t slowing down anytime soon.”