Home builder confidence in housing market conditions surged in August after sagging to an eight-month low in July. The National Association of Home Builders reported a July reading of 68 in August after analysts expected a one- point increase from July’s Housing Market Index reading of 64. Any reading over 50 indicates that more builders consider housing market conditions positive than those who do not.
Component readings of the Housing Market Index also improved in August. Builder confidence in current housing market condition rose four points to 74; Builder confidence in housing market conditions over the next six months rose by five points to 78. Builder confidence in buyer traffic in new home developments rose one point to an index reading of 49.
Positive Economy Fuels Builder Confidence
Builders have long cited a shortage of buildable lots and labor, along with rising costs as impacting confidence in current and future confidence in housing markets. NAHB said that labor shortages are worse in 2017 than in 2016. Builders reported labor shortages including carpenters and electricians. August readings suggest that positive economic developments are mitigating long-term builder concerns, but a recent tariff on Canadian lumber raised materials costs for some builders.
The discrepancy between builder confidence and housing starts concerns real estate pros and housing and lending industry leaders, but without enough workers to staff their building crews, home builders face obstacles in meeting buyer demand for homes.
Stronger economic and jobs indicators are boosting builder confidence in housing market conditions. As more prospective home buyers find stable jobs, buying a home becomes possible for prospective buyers who have waited for economic conditions to improve sufficiently to invest in home ownership.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, July builder sentiment dipped to an index reading of 64 as compared to June’s revised reading of 66, the original reading was 67. Analysts expected the reading for July to increase to 68. Builders cited increasing lumber prices as a concern affecting builders’ outlook on housing market conditions for new single-family homes. Any reading over 50 for the NAHB Housing Market Index indicates that more builders than fewer are positive about housing market conditions, but July’s reading was the lowest in eight months. NAHB said that home builder confidence in market condition “remains strong.”
Three month rolling averages were mixed. The Northwestern region gained one point for an index reading of 47, the Midwest gained one point to a reading of 66 and the Southern region dropped three points to a reading of 66. The Western region had the highest level of builder confidence but lost one point for a reading of 75.
Shortages of homes for sale and buildable lots have impacted builder confidence for several months. As the number of available homes dwindles, demand and home prices have risen. Real estate pros view building more home as the only solution for easing the shortage of homes for sale Lower readings on builder confidence in market conditions could indicate slowing in the construction of new homes.
Lumber Tariff Raises New Home Prices, Could Cost Jobs
While home builder confidence jumped in the aftermath of the election, builders said that a tariff on Canadian lumber is affecting home prices and construction jobs. In a statement released with July’s Housing Market Index readings, NAHB said that the lumber tariff tacked on an average of $1236 to the average home price. NAHB leaders also said that as materials costs continue to rise, affordability will become an issue and that construction layoffs could potentially exceed 8000 jobs.
NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald said about the lumber tariff, this is hurting housing affordability even as consumer interest in the new-home market remains strong” While current interest in new homes is healthy, home builders will have to manage costs to keep home prices affordable and competitive.
According to the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, February home prices grew at their fastest pace in three years. While home prices have steadily grown in recent months, growth rates slowed in many areas month-to-month; the escalation of home prices from January to February indicates stronger housing markets. National home prices increased by 0.20 percent in February to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.80 percent appreciation.
Case-Shiller’s 20-City Home Price Index posted a month-to-month gain of 0.20 percent for a year-over-year gain of 5.90 percent. Seattle, Washington again topped the 20-City index with year-over-year home price growth of 12.20 percent. Portland Oregon followed with an annual price gain of 9.70 percent. Denver, Colorado was replaced by Dallas, Texas with a year-over-year home price growth rate of 8.80 percent. Fifteen cities posted higher year-over-year gains in home prices in February as compared to January readings.
Month–to Month Home Prices
Case-Shiller National, 20-City and 10-City Home Price Indices reported moth-to-month 0.20 percent home price growth before seasonal adjustment. After prices were seasonally adjusted, national home prices increased by 0.40 percent month-to-month; the 20-city index showed an increase of 0.70 percent and home prices in the 10-City Index rose by 0.60 percent after seasonal adjustment.
Home Prices Rising on High Demand, Low Inventory of Homes Available
David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chair of the S&P Dow Jones Indices Committee, said that ongoing shortages of homes for sale continue to boost home prices as demand exceeds supply. First-time and moderate income home buyers continue to face affordability concerns as rising home prices can negatively impact buyers’ ability to qualify for mortgage loans.
Analysts said that while rising home prices are a sign of economic strength, housing market indicators such as housing starts have not had corresponding growth rates. New construction is viewed as the only way to ease demand for homes as rising home prices have so far not cooled demand.
January’s National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index dipped two points from December’s revised reading of 69 to 67; the index reading forecast for January was also 69.Analysts said that January’s reading was the second highest (after December 2016) since the peak of the housing bubble in 2005. January’s dip in builder sentiment was attributed to easing of builder enthusiasm, which spiked right after the U.S. presidential election. To put January’s home builder confidence reading in context, NAHB says that any index reading over 50 indicates that more builders than fewer have confidence in housing market conditions.
NAHB Sub–Index Readings for January
Three sub-index readings are used in compiling the NAHB Housing Market Index reading. Builder confidence in current housing market conditions fell three points to 72; builder confidence in housing market conditions over the next six months fell two points to 76. Builder confidence in buyer traffic in new housing developments dropped one point to 51.
Builders surveyed continued to cite the cost of new lots for development and the lack of skilled labor as obstacles to higher builder confidence.
After releasing January’s index readings, the NAHB said that while January’s readings were lower than those for December, a majority of builders have expressed confidence that the new administration will reduce regulatory pressure on home builders. NAHB also cited home builder concerns over mortgage rates, which rose nearly a percentage point in November and December before falling. Despite ongoing concerns, builder sentiment has steadily improved over time. On average, builder confidence averaged a reading of 61 in 2016 against 2015’s average reading of 59 and the 2014 average reading of 52.
Builder Outlook Seen as Key to Easing Home Shortage
Real estate and mortgage pros have consistently said that building more homes is necessary to ease the ongoing shortage of available homes. NAHB’s Housing Market Index is closely followed as a benchmark of home builder confidence. Higher builder confidence in current and future housing market conditions is viewed as a potential indicator of home building activity, but housing starts have not been uniformly allied with builder confidence.
Shortages available homes creates high demand creates concerns for potential buyers seeking affordable homes. Rapidly rising home price, particularly in high demand metro areas, have sidelined buyers who cannot compete against buyers making cash offers on homes with rapidly escalating prices.
Home prices gained in August per the 20-City S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Analysts said that home values continue to expand in spite of challenges including low inventories of available homes and strict mortgage qualification requirements.
National Home Price Index Near 2006 Peak
According to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, August home prices are 0.10 percent below their 2006 peak and all metro areas in the 20-City Home Price Index posted gains. Top gains in the 20-City Home Price Index were posted by Portland, Oregon with a year-over-year gain of 11.70 percent, Seattle, Washington home prices gained 11.40 percent and Denver, Colorado home prices gained 8.80 percent year-over-year.
All metro areas included in the 20-City Index posted year-over-year gains in excess of one percent. New York City had the lowest year-over-year price gain with a year-over-year reading of 1.70 percent in August. Washington, D.C. home prices rose 2.30 percent year-over-year. Home prices in the Cleveland, Ohio metro area increased by 2.90 percent year-over-year.
New Housing Bubble Unlikely
With home price gains close to peak prices seen before the housing bubble burst, concerns may arise over the potential for a new housing bubble to occur in coming months. Analysts say this is unlikely as home buyers are not taking out extreme levels of mortgage debt seen at the onset of the Great Recession. David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Index Committee, said “There is no reason to fear another massive collapse is around the corner. The run-up to the financial crisis was marked with both rising home prices and rapid growth in mortgage debt.”
Possible Fed Rate Hike Won’t Cause Mortgage Rates to Explode
The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve is expected to raise the Fed’s target federal funds rate in December. This action will lead to interest rate increases for consumer credit and mortgages, but not at levels that would make mortgage loans suddenly unaffordable. While gradual increases in federal interest rates would cause mortgage rates to rise over time, market conditions and related factors could potentially cause home prices to slow or even dip in some areas. Regional influences including employment and demand for homes are examples of factors contributing to home price growth or decline in specific areas.