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On the Edge: More Suburbanites Embrace Rural Life

Red-Hot Housing Market and Remote Work Options Fuel Trend

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Above image credit: Natalie Eddings plays with her daughter, Noelle (2), and dog, Ginger, in their large, Odessa backyard. The space they gained from the move makes Eddings' commute to the city twice a week well worth it. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

ODESSA, Missouri – Two of Natalie Eddings’ three kids were in the Blue Springs School District when she and her husband decided to buy their first home.

The Eddings wanted to stay in Blue Springs. But after being repeatedly out-bid for homes that were too small for their family, they decided to look further east into Lafayette County.

They’re happy with the decision.

“I had this preconceived notion that everything out here was not quality, not pretty houses,” Eddings said. “Our house is in an HOA (Homeowners Association), everything is completely remodeled, it’s beautiful. It’s like a whole thousand square feet more than we could have gotten in Blue Springs, and that’s what sold me.”

The Eddings are hardly an anomaly in Lafayette County.

Harley Todd, broker and co-owner of Heritage Realty in Odessa, said in the past year about 60% of buyers in Lafayette County were moving from the Kansas City metropolitan area. Some, like the Eddings, were tired of playing the red-hot housing market in Jackson County, and others were just looking for some more space.

“COVID had a big impact on where people wanted to live,” Todd said. “One of the biggest things we’ve seen is people wanting their privacy and their own little oasis. They could buy a home on two or three acres and social distance to a certain perspective.”

Todd’s observations are consistent with national trends.

In December 2020, a Gallup poll found that 48% of Americans would prefer living in a town or rural area as compared to a city or suburb. This was a 9% increase from the same question polled in 2018, and mirrors results from 2001 when many citizens feared being the target of terrorism in densely populated areas.

Gallup has documented a sharp shift in living preferences from the suburbs to more rural settings.
Gallup has documented a sharp shift in living preferences from the suburbs to more rural settings.

Whether people were seeking sanctuary from the pandemic or not, real estate in Lafayette County has been booming in recent years.

According to a market report from Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, the average cost of a home in Lafayette County in June 2021 was $264,959. That’s more than 40% higher than the average price of $185,922 just a year earlier.

If that sounds high, it’s still less than neighboring Jackson County, where the average sale price in June was $273,651, with houses selling at an average of 104% of asking price amid frequent bidding wars.

Bidding Wars

Eddings said her family wanted their first home to be in the Blue Springs area. But after being outbid for a fourth time, Eddings took Todd’s advice to consider Odessa.

“All of our offers we did like $10,000 and $15,000 over asking,” Eddings said. “We knew that wasn’t even the value of the house, but we were desperate.”

The Eddings began their home search in March and needed to close in early May, before the end of their lease on June 1. When they finally drove out to Odessa, the outlook was brighter.

“We found two houses immediately that were perfect for us,” Eddings said. “They were way bigger – way bigger and a better value.”

Eddings said they put in an offer under the asking price on a four-bedroom home in Odessa. It was accepted, and the family of five was able to move into their home at the end of May.

Todd said he tries to get a lot of his clients to consider rural areas because the housing market in Odessa is still competitive, but is much milder compared to Jackson County.

“I’ve helped clients recently in the Blue Springs area (who are) submitting offers significantly over asking price and competing with 30 other buyers,” Todd said. In the rural areas “they might still have to pay full price, but they’re not competing with 30 offers, they’re competing with three.”

Fed up with the competitive housing market in the Kansas City suburbs, many turn to rural towns like Odessa, Missouri, for more affordable housing options.
Fed up with the competitive housing market in the Kansas City suburbs, many turn to rural towns like Odessa, Missouri, for more affordable housing options. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

Not only are buyers up against the numbers, but Todd said many competitors will waive appraisals and inspections for a leg up in the competition. These can be intimidating circumstances, especially for first-time buyers.

But even in the less-competitive rural market, Todd said, buyers should expect to pay full price and have few negotiations on inspections.

Todd has clients he’s been helping search for homes in Jackson County for more than a year. Not only is this a stress on the buyers, but on real estate agents too. Because real estate agents work on a commission basis, they don’t get paid until a sale closes.

“If you’re working for a client for a year, showing a house or two every week to them, paying for gas and maintenance on your vehicle, then all of the sudden your buyer decides they don’t want to look anymore, the potential for that paycheck just ends,” Todd said.

As Todd said, it’s a great time for sellers, but a tricky time for buyers and real estate agents.

Room to Move

Christi and Donald Tapella found their dream home outside of Odessa in unincorporated Lafayette County. Christi wanted to have room for a horse and Donald was tired of seeing his neighborhood in Blue Springs grow more and more crowded.

With market rates in Jackson County up almost 20% from last year, the couple was able to sell their house of 20 years in a matter of days, and for almost $30,000 over their asking price.

It wasn’t that they wanted to sell, but that they’d finally found their dream house out in Odessa. The ease of their home sale really just proved they were making the right decision.

Donald Tapella said they didn’t have any competing bids on the home. Their full price offer was accepted the next day.

“We personally did not have to deal with (competition) fortunately, which is another way we can confidently say this was supposed to happen for us,” he said.

Christi Tapella can't wait to bring her horse home to her 10-acre property in Odessa, Missouri.
Christi Tapella can’t wait to bring her horse home to her 10-acre property in Odessa, Missouri. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

After living in their rural home on 10 acres for almost a year, Christi Tapella is weeks away from fulfilling her dream of having a horse. Christi said she bought the horse in December, but has been waiting for the fencing and plumbing to be completed before bringing her mare home.

In Odessa city limits, Mike Powell and his family are settling into their spacious new home. The most important feature of Powell’s home is an outbuilding where he could run his barbecue and dry-rub business.

Powell and his family previously lived in Liberty, Missouri, but he said their search was not focused on staying in the area. Powell said he looked in Kansas, down in Raymore, Missouri, out in Lexington, Missouri, and even in St. Joseph, Missouri. He said the current housing market made his search very difficult and it took more than a year.

“Every time we would look at a house, it would have so many offers,” Powell said. “You’d go into a bidding war.”

After being outbid several times, Powell found his home in Odessa.

Mike Powell is happy to finally have the space he needs to run his barbeque and dry rub business from his property in Odessa.
Mike Powell is happy to finally have the space he needs to run his barbeque and dry rub business from his property in Odessa. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

Life in Lafayette County

Odessa, about 40 miles east of downtown Kansas City on Interstate 70, has a population of about 5,000 people. The community has a Dollar Tree, a largely vacant outlet mall, some local cafes and specialty shops like The Dawg House embroidery store and Stormy Acres Trading Co. Its historic downtown is quaint, and somewhere you’d expect to see someone you know.

The space to spread out, privacy and school districts are what make the move to the small town worth it for some home buyers.

“I’m really excited for my kids to be in smaller classroom sizes with a better community feel,” Eddings said.

Powell said his 13-year-old twins didn’t want to leave their school in Liberty, but the Odessa High School football team swayed his son, whom he said loves the sport.

To be sure, moving to Odessa from a big suburb like Blue Springs is a lifestyle change. But these new homeowners are learning to adjust. For some of them, COVID style work-from-home policies are making it possible.

Christi and Donald Tapella are working 60% from home and 40% at their Independence and Blue Springs offices. From doctors to mechanics and their jobs, Donald said the two are “in-town” a lot. Having only been in Odessa since August, they are working to get more acquainted with the area.

“For fencing and plumbing and stuff we’re trying to use local people,” Christi Tapella said. “We’ve gone to a lot of the restaurants and stuff trying to meet people.”

Neither anticipated the difficulty they would have in moving their remote jobs to a rural home because of slow broadband.

“Rural has one major problem,” Donald Tapella said. “The one major problem that we had coming in that we didn’t think about right away was internet.”

Amy Trout, a new Odessa homeowner from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, said she also didn’t expect such slow internet when her family moved out to their farmhouse in June.

Trout said she loves the home, the view of her property and the neighbors she’s met, but her family is adjusting to the logistical differences of living in a rural area.

For example, Trout said there isn’t a gas station at her exit in Odessa, so to fill up the tank she has to drive an extra couple of miles, and the grocery store is further away so it necessitates a bit more planning each week.

“The internet could be so much better,” Trout said. “The other things are just logistical things.”

Another draw to Lafayette County for Trout and the Tapellas was the lower taxes.

Sales tax in Lafayette County is 5.86%, while Jackson County sits at 7.86%. That difference helped make Tapella’s purchase of a truck a lot more affordable.

The Tapellas have lived in the suburbs of Kansas City most of their lives, but Donald said they are finding the independence and solitude of rural life is suiting them well.

“We’re on gravel roads and that has its own issues, I suppose. But we have space, space to breathe,” Donald Tapella said. “We know our neighbors, but we’re not on top of them.”

Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.

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