Where Are The New Homes?

The Mortgage Corner

Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 2 percent in February from an upwardly revised January reading to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 512,000 units, according to newly released data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

This shows progress in badly needed housing inventory, but new-home sales are still far below the 50-year average, which means there is still a tremendous amount of pent up demand for housing in the 7th year of this economic recovery that is reflected in escalating rents and housing prices. And developers are only now beginning to get it.

“This reflects a slow but steady increase in demand from homebuyers as well as increasing confidence of homebuilders,” said Trulia Chief Economist Ralph McLaughlin. “It is also a positive sign for the U.S. economy headed into 2016, as new home sales leads to new construction and consumer demand for housing-related goods and services. Despite the positive news, new home sales remain still remain about 24 percent below the 50-year average.”

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Graph: HOUSINGWIRE

Where is the shortage? It is mostly in the lower-priced brackets that most homebuyers can afford.

From housing economist Tom Lawler, per Calculated Risk:  “While single-family housing production has continued to recover, the overall level of production – in terms of units – has been well short of consensus forecasts from a few years ago. In looking at the production “shortfall,” the one thing that is striking is that production of moderately sized homes has barely recovered from the cyclical lows, while production of big homes (3000+ square feet) has been running at a higher pace that in all but one year of the 1990’s, as the above graph illustrates.

This makes very little sense if builders are to meet the housing need, as 80 percent of the employed are wage and salary earners and the U.S. median household income is barely above $60,000 per year these days. That is, household incomes are finally returning to early 2000, pre-recession levels. Such a median income can buy a home worth approximately $400,000 with 10 percent down at today’s very low conforming fixed rates (still less than 4 percent).

Yet hardly any homes with 1600 square foot or less areas are being built that can be sold in moderate price ranges. Builders maintain it is because of labor and land shortages, but banks have been very slow to grant development or acquisition financing, which is the credit developers need to even acquire the land for development.

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Graph: Calculated Risk

However builders remain ever optimistic in this new year. “While builders contend with industry headwinds such as labor shortages, relatively low mortgage interest rates and solid job growth should keep the housing market moving ahead as we enter the spring buying season,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz.

The inventory of new homes for sale was 240,000 in February, which is a 5.6-month supply at the current sales pace (still slow). The median sales price of new houses sold in February was $301,400. Regionally, new home sales rose 38.5 percent in the West. (But) Sales dropped 4.1 percent in the South, 17.9 percent in the Midwest and 24.2 percent in the Northeast.

Does this mean builders and banks will realize they have to build for the middle class as well as the wealthiest that can afford those 3,000 sf homes, if they want to grow the housing market?

Harlan Green © 2016

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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