January Starts, Sales Tell Different Stories

via NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz

Total housing starts posted strong gains in January, up almost 10% to a 1.33 million seasonally adjusted annual rate. Single-family construction recorded a nearly 4% rise in January, with the three-month moving average near a post-recession high. The increases in construction activity mirror solid levels for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which registered a level of 72 in February — near a two-decade high. The volatile multifamily data was up 24% in January.

Contracts for sales of newly built single-family homes disappointed in January, declining by almost 8%. However, these numbers were at odds with other reports, including ongoing housing price growth and individual builder reports of sales. But the drop matched pending sales of existing homes, which dropped 4.7 in January. Though the January new home sales data will likely be revised up, current inventory of new, ready-to-occupy homes available for sale remains tight.

The median size of new homes continues to decline as the market broadens to include more entry-level homes. The townhouse market grew 7% in 2017, while at the upper end, custom homes saw a more modest growth rate of 2%. The home building and remodeling sectors should continue to expand overall in 2018, fueled by healthy labor conditions and wage gains. The improving economy and increases in income will largely help to offset the hindrance of higher interest rates on housing demand.