While inventory levels hover around an all-time low, builder confidence remains strong according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index released This Week in Real Estate. Consequently, the pace of single-family starts to begin the new year has the three-month moving average near a post-recession high. Below are a few highlights from the second week of February that influence our business:
*Total Housing Starts Near Post Recession High.Total housing starts increased in January, led by strong gains for multifamily development. Starts jumped 9.7% to a 1.33 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to the joint data release from the Census Bureau and HUD. The pace of single-family starts expanded in January, rising 3.7% to an 877,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate. The three-month moving average for single-family starts remained near a post-recession high rate of construction (890,000). The gains for single-family starts match ongoing healthy levels of the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, now registering a score of 72. Single-family permits posted a slight decline of 1.7% in January, but that decline was off a strong December permitting rate. Multifamily starts were up almost 24% to a noticeably strong seasonally adjusted annual rate of 449,000 in January. Multifamily permits also posted a gain in January, with permitting rising 27%. Multifamily data tends to be volatile in the month-to-month data. In January, there were 499,000 single-family units under construction, a gain of almost 12% from this time in 2017.
* Nearly Two-Thirds of U.S. Housing Markets See Home Prices Hit All-Time High.As housing inventory sank to its all-time low during the fourth quarter, home prices increased, creating all-new highs in many U.S. markets, according to the latest quarterly report from the National Association of Realtors. The national median existing single-family home price in the fourth quarter came in at $247,800, up 5.3% from $235,400 in the fourth quarter of 2016. Single-family home prices increased in 92% of measured markets, or 162 out of 177 metropolitan statistical areas. In fact, 15% of metro areas saw double digit increases, and now 64% of markets reached a new all-time high in home prices. This is up by 18 metros from last quarter. “A majority of the country saw an upswing in buyer interest at the end of last year, which ultimately ended up putting even more strain on inventory levels and prices,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “Remarkably, home prices have risen a cumulative 48% since 2011.”
*Builder Confidence Stays at Strong Level in February. Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes remained unchanged at a healthy level of 72 in February on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Demand conditions are positive, but supply-side construction hurdles need to be managed, as scarce labor and building material price increases remain top concerns. In particular, the HMI gauge of future sales expectations has reached a post-recession high, an indicator that consumer demand for housing should grow in the months ahead. With ongoing job creation, increasing owner-occupied household formation, and a tight supply of existing home inventory, the single-family housing sector should continue to strengthen at a gradual but consistent pace. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Midwest rose two points to 72, the South increased one point to 74, the West remained unchanged at 81, and Northeast fell two points to 56.