Home builders had less confidence in housing market conditions in September. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, builders worried that ongoing shortages of construction labor and materials would worsen. NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald said that concerns over labor and building materials were “intensified,” but said that builder confidence was expected to return to high readings once rebuilding is underway.
The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index dropped three points to an index reading of 64 with all three component readings lower than they were in August. Builder confidence in current market conditions for new single-family homes dipped for points to an index reading of 70. Builder confidence in housing market conditions over the next six months also dropped points to 74. September’s reading for buyer traffic in new housing developments was one point lower at 47.
Construction Labor and Materials Shortages Expected to Worsen
Home builders have cited shortages of labor and building materials in recent years, but these shortages are expected to grow in coming months due to massive amounts of construction workers needed for rebuilding after severe storm damage and flooding wiped out homes, businesses, and infrastructure. As with the high demand for homes caused by low inventories of homes for sale, labor and materials costs will likely rise as rebuilding begins
The NAHB Housing Market Index measures builder confidence on a scale of 0 to 100. Any reading over 50 indicates that more builders than fewer consider housing market conditions to be in positive territory. While September readings are well within positive territory, approaching winter weather and shortages may cause builder confidence in housing market conditions to decrease.
Regional Builder Confidence Readings Mixed
Three-month rolling average readings for four regions tracked by NAHB had missed results in September. The Northeast posted a one-point gain to 49; the Midwest posted a loss of three points for a reading of 63 and the Southern region posted a one-point loss for a reading of 66. The West posted a two-point gain for a reading of 77.
Future builder confidence readings depend on conditions as storm season continues and winter weather sets in.
Builder confidence in markets for new homes fell three points in February to a reading of 58. January’s reading was revised upward to 61. Builders have repeatedly expressed concerns shortages of labor and lots for development, but continue to express confidence in future sales conditions.
David Crowe, National Association of Home Builder’s (NAHB) chief economist, said that builders are watching slowing economic trends, but also cited low mortgage rates, improving labor markets and pent-up demand for homes as factors for strong U.S. housing markets. The NAHB notes that any reading over 50 indicates that more builders were confident than those who were not.
HMI Components Readings
The three readings used to calculate the NAHB Housing Market Index (HMI) were also lower. The reading for current sales conditions fell by three points to 65; the reading for sales conditions over the next six months fell by one point to 65. Home builders were less confident in buyer traffic in new home developments; the February reading dropped by five points to 39. Although the buyer traffic gauge was its lowest in nine months, it hasn’t topped the benchmark of 50 since the peak of the housing bubble ten years ago.
Three month rolling averages for the four regions charted by NAHB also dropped. The Northeastern region was 2 points lower at 47; the Southern region also lost two points for a reading of 59. The Midwestern region lost one point for a reading of 57 and the Western region dropped three points for a reading of 72.
Building New Homes Seen as Solution to Pent Up Demand for Homes
Analysts responded to February’s HMI with mixed views. Some analysts said that buyer demand for homes would override concerns over building costs. This view makes sense in view of pent-up demand driving up home prices. At some point, affordability and buyers ability to qualify for mortgage loans are likely slow the rate of increasing home prices.
Less pent-up demand could also help first-time and moderate income buyers compete for homes as buyer demand eases. First-time and moderate income buyers are essential in driving home sales, as their purchases of pre-owned homes allow homeowners to buy larger homes or relocate.
Reports on Housing Starts and Building Permits scheduled this week will shed additional light on home builder activity.