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Housing Starts Hold Their Ground in July

Total housing starts inched up 0.9 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.17 million units, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department.

The July reading of 1.17 million is the number of housing units builders would begin if they kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within this overall number, single-family starts held firm, up 0.9 percent to 862,000 units. Meanwhile, the multifamily sector—which includes apartment buildings and condos—rose 3 percent to 306,000.

“Builder confidence remains solid, although it has fallen back somewhat in recent months due to rising construction costs in 2018, including lumber,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La. “As builders grapple with higher costs, one positive development is that lumber prices have shown signs of easing the past two months off their record high levels posted in June.”

Some projects are experiencing construction start delays due to cost concerns, with the number of single-family units authorized but not started up 25 percent since July 2017.

“Supply-side challenges including increases in material prices and chronic labor shortages are affecting affordability in many markets,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, consumer demand remains strong due to a growing economy and job market and favorable demographics. Moreover, on a year-to-date basis, single-family construction has shown steady progress, up 7.2 percent, while 5+ multifamily production is up 3.4 percent as well.”

Regionally, combined single- and multifamily housing starts in July rose 11.6 percent in the Midwest and 10.4 percent in the South. Starts fell 4 percent in the Northeast and posted a 19.6 percent decline in the West due to affordability constraints in the coastal markets.

Overall permits, which are often a harbinger of future housing production, rose 1.5 percent to 1.31 million units in July. Single-family permits posted a modest gain of 1.9 percent to 869,000. Multifamily permits were relatively unchanged, up 1.7 percent to 410,000.

Looking at regional permit data, permits rose 5.9 percent in the Northeast, 5.8 percent in the Midwest and 1.2 percent in the West. Permits edged 0.3 percent lower in the South.

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Builder Confidence Remains Firm in August

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes edged down one point to a solid 67 reading in August on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

“The good news is that builders continue to report strong demand for new housing, fueled by steady job and income growth along with rising household formations,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La. “However, they are increasingly focused on growing affordability concerns, stemming from rising construction costs, shortages of skilled labor and a dearth of buildable lots.”

“The solid economic expansion and firm job market should spur demand for new single-family homes in the months ahead,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Meanwhile, builders continue to monitor how tariffs and the growing threat of a trade war are affecting key building material prices, including lumber. These cost increases, coupled with rising interest rates, are putting upward pressure on home prices and contributing to growing affordability challenges, as indicated by the latest quarterly reading of the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.”

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

The HMI index measuring current sales conditions inched one point lower to 73 while the component gauging expectations in the next six months all fell a single point to 72. Meanwhile, the metric charting buyer traffic dropped two points to 49.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South and West each held steady at 70 and 75, respectively. The Northeast fell three points to 54 and the Midwest also posted a three-point decline to stand at 62.

Editor’s Note: The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index is strictly the product of NAHB Economics, and is not seen or influenced by any outside party prior to being released to the public. HMI tables can be found at nahb.org/hmi. More information on housing statistics is also available at housingeconomics.com.

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Housing Affordability Hits 10-Year Low in Second Quarter

Rising home prices and interest rates pushed housing affordability to a 10-year low in the second quarter of 2018, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) released today.

In all, 57.1 percent of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and end of June were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $71,900. This is down from the 61.6 percent of homes sold in the first quarter that were affordable to median-income earners and the lowest reading since mid-2008.

The national median home price jumped from $252,000 in the first quarter of 2018 to $265,000 in the second quarter—the highest quarterly median price in the history of the HOI series. At the same time, average mortgage rates jumped by more than 30 basis points in the second quarter to 4.67 percent from 4.34 percent in the first quarter.

“Tight inventory conditions and rising construction costs are factors that are holding back housing and putting upward pressure on home prices,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La. “Meanwhile, tariffs on Canadian lumber imports into the U.S. are further eroding housing affordability. Builders are struggling to manage these costs to ensure pricing does not outpace expected gains in wage growth.”

“Rising household formations, along with a strong economic expansion in the second quarter that has fueled job growth, will support housing demand in the second half of 2018,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, growing trade war concerns and the expectation of higher mortgage rates are additional headwinds negatively affecting housing affordability.”

Syracuse, N.Y., was the nation’s most affordable major housing market. There, 89.1 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $74,100. Meanwhile, the nation’s most affordable smaller market was also located in the Empire State. In Elmira, N.Y., 97 percent of homes sold in the second quarter were affordable to families earning the median income of $71,000.

Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazleton, Pa.; Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa; Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind.; and Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.

Smaller markets joining Elmira at the top of the list included Kokomo, Ind.; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill.; Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; and Wheeling, W.Va.-Ohio.

San Francisco, for the third straight quarter, was the nation’s least affordable major market. There, just 5.5 percent of the homes sold in the second quarter of 2018 were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $119,600.

Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles,-Long Beach-Glendale; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and San Diego-Carlsbad.

All five least affordable small housing markets were also in the Golden State. At the very bottom of the affordability chart was Salinas, where 9.8 percent of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $69,100.

In descending order, other small markets at the lowest end of the affordability scale included Santa Cruz-Watsonville; Napa; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande; and San Rafael.

Please visit www.nahb.org/hoi for tables, historic data and details.

Editor’s Note: The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) is a measure of the percentage of homes sold in a given area that are affordable to families earning the area’s median income during a specific quarter. Prices of new and existing homes sold are collected from actual court records by Core Logic, a data and analytics company. Mortgage financing conditions incorporate interest rates on fixed- and adjustable-rate loans reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

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Statement from NAHB Chairman Randy Noel on States Receiving Section 404 Permitting Authority

Randy Noel, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a custom home builder from LaPlace, La., today issued the following statement in support of the Trump administration’s announcement that clarifies over which waters states can assume Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting authority rather than the federal government:

“NAHB commends this latest action by the Trump administration to enact common-sense solutions to reduce regulatory burdens for small businesses. The Army Corps of Engineers’ recent memorandum will help to promote the federal/state partnership envisioned by the Clean Water Act, reduce duplicative administrative burdens and create a more streamlined authorization process for builders and developers whose projects occur near wetlands. In turn, this will boost housing affordability while also protecting our nation’s wetlands and waterways.

“We are hopeful that by providing this clarity, more states will take steps to assume Section 404 permitting authority.”

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