For homebuilders, things are looking up…just a bit

Mitchell Hartman Oct 16, 2014
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For homebuilders, things are looking up…just a bit

Mitchell Hartman Oct 16, 2014
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The latest figures on builder confidence are out today. Tomorrow, the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report on housing starts and permits for September 2014 will be released. The consensus among economists is for a rise in both measures of homebuilding, compared to August figures.

Confidence among homebuilders is gradually improving, as unemployment falls and job creation has strengthened since the end of the recession, says David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. Still, housing starts have only recovered to about half the level of the mid-2000s, before the housing crash.

From 2004 through early 2006, housing starts consistently numbered 2 million annually. So far in 2014, Crowe says, housing starts have bounced back and forth around the 1 million mark. Nonetheless, that’s a major improvement on construction levels at the depths of the recession, when housing starts fell below the 500,000 annual level.

“It’s pretty good now, from where we’ve been,” says Crowe of the current state of homebuilding.

Crowe points to several factors that are still holding back home construction. He points out that builders—those who are left in business after a severe winnowing of the industry following the housing crash—have a hard time securing financing, due to tight lending standards. They are also having trouble finding skilled construction workers, since so many left the field during the recession. Finally, land that has been prepared for development is scarce in many markets around the country.

Economist Stephanie Karol at IHS points out that the real estate market is still digesting a decade-old oversupply of new homes. “We saw a lot of overbuilding leading up to the crash,” says Karol. “There’s less of an incentive to add to the housing stock, especially when household formation is below expectations.” Young people have been delaying marriage, and eschewing major financial commitments, like getting a mortgage, since the recession hit. Many also face high levels of student loan debt.

David Crowe says the hottest sectors of the residential construction market right now are ‘move-up’ homes (in the $300,000-plus range) for those who already own, as well as multi-family housing, which has fully rebounded since the recession.

First-time homebuyers looking for new homes in the $125,000-$150,000 price range are having a harder time, he says.

“We have very tough lending standards,” says Crowe. “So even for people ready to buy, if they have the least ding on their credit, it gets more difficult.”

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