With five kids under age 12 — and twins on the way — Nick and Sarah Knutson of Bennington were on the hunt for a bigger house.

Rising mortgage rates were on the horizon. But truth be told, the couple were more wary of how property taxes in certain parts of the Omaha metro area would bump up their monthly payment.

In the end, the family chose to custom build a new six-bedroom, four-bathroom house just a few blocks from their current one in Pine Creek subdivision. They like the local tax rates, relative to other areas they’ve investigated.

And, said Nick, 34, he and Sarah crave their “small-town” environment where he coaches his daughter’s softball squad, their kids run free with friends on the block, and their third-oldest child will be taught by the same kindergarten teacher as his siblings.

The family’s Bennington buy contributed to two waves: one that’s pushing more Omaha-area homeowners northwesterly, and another that’s firing up construction of brand-new homes.

Consider this:

  • Permits issued to build new single-family houses in the metro area climbed about 8 percent in 2017 compared with the year before — hitting the highest count in a decade. More recently, in the first three months of this year, permits have risen about 20 percent over the same period last year, according to data collected by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
  • That’s despite the rise in the median sales price for a newly built house, which is driven in part by higher construction and lot costs. The Omaha Area Board of Realtors reports that so far this year, the median sales price of newly built houses was $309,000, a rise of about 4 percent over last year. (Real estate officials say the average price likely is higher, as not all custom homes are reflected in the Realtors board data.)

April Williams of CBSHome said the extended homebuilding burst is driven in part by the dwindling number of existing houses to choose from. In other words, thin pickings are prompting some buyers to turn to new construction.

Those who choose to build still reel from “sticker shock,” she said, surprised at the price of lots. Expenses have pushed up due to material costs and a shortage of laborers, which also challenge construction schedules.

Still, homes are sprouting like wildflowers in parts of Elkhorn, Papillion and Bennington, according to MarketGraphics of Nebraska, which tracks homebuilding in 21 markets across the U.S.

Standing on the front lawn of the Knutsons’ current home, for instance, one can see three new homes rising. (Pine Creek is in the top 10 of the metro area’s busiest homebuilding sites, says MarketGraphics.)

Among factors pushing more buyers northwest to Bennington is affordability of lots compared with, say, some Elkhorn-area subdivisions, said Tasha Moss, who is working with the Knutsons. Moss, of Omaha Real Estate Group, said some popular Millard neighborhoods are so “landlocked” with no room to build that schools have invited her to sit on focus groups to explore solutions to lure families.

The Knutsons moved from a Millard-area neighborhood a few years ago, seeking, among other things, smaller class sizes for their kids. They were the first family to live in their current Bennington home, and plan to be in their next one (price range between $350,000 and $400,000) by September.

Nick, who runs an auto body shop and is in the National Guard, said he and his wife remained alert with regard to interest rates and property taxes — but knew a move was imminent for their expanding crew. “We’re out of space,” he said.

It’s a scenario that keeps housing experts from panicking, at least as mortgage rates remain under 6 percent, said Mark Leaders, president of the Omaha Area Board of Realtors. That is, households grow, form or change, and people will always need housing.

“I have seen highs,” Leaders said of interest rates climbing toward 20 percent in his younger years. “Now that was tough selling.”

Reporter - Money

Cindy covers housing and commercial real estate for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @cgonzalez_owh. Phone: 402-444-1224.

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