One area of the economy that’s been ticking along in spite of everything is the housing market. A measure of the confidence of companies that build new houses and condos hit a record high in August. The National Association of Home Builders index hit 78 this month after falling below 50 in April and May.
Record-low interest rates, below 3% for a 30-year mortgage, are fueling demand from buyers. The pandemic is also changing what people are looking for in a home, and builders are taking notice.
Better technology, flexible space and dedicated learning areas for kids are some of the things we’re likely to see more of in new homes. That’s according to a recent survey of builders from Meyers Research. Ali Wolf, chief economist there, says the most the popular design change is geared toward adults.
“Consumers are eager to be able to have some kind of quiet space or designated work space in their home,” Wolf said.
Some builders are also adding health-related features. Developer Taylor Morrison now includes air and water filtration systems, touchless faucets and bacteria-resistant paint in all of its new houses.
While demand for home gyms and classrooms may fade, Taylor Morrison CEO Sheryl Palmer says, “when you think about your health, we believe that this is a much more permanent need.”
Palmer also says the new features won’t raise the price of houses, because affordability is still the most important feature of all.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What does the unemployment picture look like?
It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.
Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?
Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.
How are restaurants recovering?
Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.
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