Will the single-family home market find relief in 2019?
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Housing starts and sales of existing homes rose for the second month in a row in November, thanks to demand for multifamily properties. The single-family market, though, remained more or less flat, stymied by high prices and the rise in mortgage rates, and is on track for negative annual growth this year.
Yet, already there are signs that prices are softening in some areas, and it’s possible mortgage rates will recede if the economy begins to slow down next year, as expected. Will that be enough to put the single-family market back in the black?
Overall, new home starts were up 3.2 percent in November compared to October, which increased 1.5 percent over September. As with the previous month, nearly all those gains were attributed to the multifamily sector. Starts of new single-family homes nudged up only 0.1 percent for the month.
Likewise, all requests for new housing permits rose 5 percent, but those for single-family homes only 0.1 percent. The same story for new home completions — up 0.4 percent for the month in general, but down 5.4 percent for single-family homes. As of the end of November, all housing starts were 3.6 below the same period last year, and completions were down 3.9 percent.
Similarly, sales of existing homes increased for the second month in a row, up 1.9 percent over October, which came in at 1.5 percent higher than September’s sales. Sales of single-family home grew by just under 2.0 percent for the month, while sales of condominiums and co-ops rose 1.7 percent. Still, overall sales are down 7.0 percent from last November.
We won’t have the government’s numbers on new home sales for November until later in the month, but they are not likely to be much different. The National Association of Home Builders announced that its Housing Market Index fell by 4 points in December, the lowest score since May 2015, as builders reported recent declines in sales, buyer traffic and expectations for future business activity.
In releasing the results, NAHB Chairman Randy Noel stated, “We are hearing from builders that consumer demand exists, but that customers are hesitating to make a purchase because of rising home costs.”
Those concerns are reflected in Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment Index score for November, which shows consumers are feeling good about the economy and their personal financial prospects, but are cautious about making a home purchase. Some are feeling a bit more optimistic, as the portion of participants saying now is a good time to buy a home increased 2 percent from October.
Two reasons for that optimism are increasing inventories of homes for sale and a softening in the growth of home prices. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, attributed the recent uptick in existing home sales to improving inventory availability in the past couple of months. Real estate website Redfin states that housing inventory in November was up nearly 5 percent from a year ago.
The other factor luring potential buyers into the housing market is the gradual cooling in housing prices. According to Redfin, November marked the third straight month of annual home price gains under 4 percent after a 77-month-long streak of annual home price gains exceeding 4 percent. The portion of participants in the HPSI who believe home prices will increase in the next twelve months dropped 4 percent in November and was down 13 percent from a year ago.
It may be that the housing pendulum has begun to swing the other way, and that pricing has hit a peak, prompting more sellers to put their homes up for sale before prices begin to drop too much. That could be the boost the single-family home market needs to move the needle into positive territory again in 2019.
At the moment, the wildcard is by how much and how fast the economy may begin to slow down next year. A slight decline could improve mortgage rates, which could help lift sales.
A modest decline or more could lead to investor and employment uncertainty and cause would-be buyers to retreat from the market. At present, it’s anyone’s guess how things will unfold.
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