Housing Supply Improving

The Mortgage Corner

Our housing supply is finally improving. New-home sales ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 692,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was 4.5 percent above February’s total and beat the consensus forecast of a 645,000 rate.

It has taken this long for the housing market to recover from the housing bubble, when one million more homes were built than were needed. It was part of the too easy credit conditions that brought in home buyers that wouldn’t have qualified under more normal circumstances.



For some context on how severe the current spell of under-building has been, take a look at new-home sales in 2000 or 2001. During those two years, well before the housing bubble started to inflate, Americans purchased 877,000 and 900,000 newly-constructed homes. In 2018, Americans purchased just 622,000, said MarketWatch’s Andrea Riquier.

“Sales of newly-constructed homes finally gained momentum after months in the doldrums. March’s selling pace was the strongest since November 2017, the month before the recent tax law changes took effect,” continued Riquier.

Meanwhile, existing-home sales retreated in March, following February’s surge of sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions saw a drop-off in sales, with the Midwest enduring the Existing-home sales retreated in March, following February’s surge of sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions saw a drop-off in sales, with the Midwest enduring the largest decline last month.

Total existing-home sales1, https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 4.9% from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.21 million in March. Sales as a whole are down 5.4% from a year ago (5.51 million in March 2018), said the NAR.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, anticipated waning in the numbers for March. “It is not surprising to see a retreat after a powerful surge in sales in the prior month. Still, current sales activity is underperforming in relation to the strength in the jobs markets. The impact of lower mortgage rates has not yet been fully realized.”

Rob Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, acknowledges that comparing the current housing economy to the one from two decades ago has some downsides. For one, the population isn’t growing nearly as fast now as back then. Still, the gulf between then and now is stark – and 2018’s anemic pace of construction follows several years of similar underbuilding.

“We think that based on demographic demand, we should probably be building 1.1 million single family homes this year,” Dietz told MarketWatch. “Our forecast is for less than 880,000 starts.” The NAHB prefers to look at starts, or groundbreakings, rather than sales data, to gauge market activity.”

For the first quarter of 2019, new home sales are running 1.7 percent higher than the first quarter of 2018, said Dietz. However, while sales were up 9.6 percent for the quarter in the South (the largest region), sales were down 5.9 percent in the West, 8.1 percent in the Midwest and 17.6 percent in the Northeast.

The March data reveal the challenge of housing affordability however, per Dietz and the NAHB. March sales grew at lower price points. For example, 50 percent of March 2019 new home sales were priced under $300,000. In March of 2018, only 39 percent of sales were priced under $300,000.

Harlan Green © 2019

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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