Builder Optimism + Affordability Higher

The Mortgage Corner

Some good news is that rising wages and moderating home prices offset a rise in mortgage interest rates to give housing affordability a slight boost in the first quarter of 2017, said the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) last week.

And In a further sign that the housing market continues to strengthen, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose two points in May to a level of 70 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the second highest HMI reading since the downturn.

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NAHB.org

“The HMI confidence measure of future sales conditions reached its highest level since June 2005, a sign of growing consumer confidence in the new home market,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Especially as existing home inventory remains tight, we can expect increased demand for new construction moving forward.”

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But housing construction is not yet catching up to demand, as I said in a recent column. The first quarter ended with a thud for housing starts which fell a very steep 6.8 percent to a 1.215 million annualized rate which is the weakest since November, said the NAHB. Posting similar declines were both single-family homes, at an 821,000 pace, and multi-family, at 394,000. But housing construction does show nearly double-digit year-on-year growth, though quarter-to-quarter movement is barely perceptible. 

It looks like employment is now ahead of housing, hence demand exceeds the supply of new housing, a good sign.

“Ongoing job growth continues to fuel demand for housing, while wage growth is helping to offset the effects of rising mortgage rates and keep home prices affordable,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “NAHB anticipates that housing will continue on a gradual, upward path throughout the year.”

In all, 60.3 percent of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of January and end of March were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $68,000. This is up from the 59.9 percent of homes sold that were affordable to median-income earners in the fourth quarter.

The national median home price fell to $245,000 in the first quarter from $250,000 in the final quarter of 2016. Meanwhile, average mortgage rates rose nearly half a point from 3.84 percent in the fourth quarter to 4.33 percent in the first quarter.

But mortgage rates have fallen since then, which will increase affordability for first-time homebuyers, in particular. The 30-year fixed conforming rate today is 3.625 percent with a 1 point origination fee in California, which means fixed mortgage rates have returned to rates last available in the 1950s.

So, once again, interest rates are not rising with expectations of higher inflation. Inflation is not even showing up in housing prices. So let us hope this continues, even if the Fed does raise short term rates a third time in June, as it has hinted it would do.

Harlan Green © 2017

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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