Inventory of New Homes Keeps Sinking

New Home Supply Sep 2010 - 2011Home builders continue to sell homes and work through inventory.

According to data from the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold in September jumped 6 percent from the month prior, beating analyst expectations. On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, buyers in California and nationwide closed on 313,000 newly-built homes last month.

It’s the highest reading since April and a major reason why the available number of new homes for sale is shrinking.

As compared to September 2010, there are 19% fewer homes for sale nationwide. At today’s sales pace, the complete new home inventory would be “sold out” in 6.2 months – the quickest sell-out pace since the April 2010 federal home buyer tax credit expiration.

It’s no wonder builder confidence is rising.

After averaging 15 through the first 9 months of the year, homebuilder confidence jumped 4 points for October, carried by low mortgage rates and the expectation for a strong winter/spring selling season.

For buyers in Livermore , this could be construed as a housing market-shifting signal. As builder confidence rises, it becomes more difficult to negotiate for upgrades and price reductions on a new home. “Great deals” get scarce.

Furthermore, it’s unlikely that mortgage rates will sustain their current, ultra-low levels into 2012. Rising rates lead to higher housing payments on a month-to-month basis.

If you’re in the market for a newly-built home, in other words, today’s homes may represent your best value of the year.

Finding Truth In September’s Housing Starts Report

Housing Starts 2009-2011Headlines in newspapers can be misleading — especially with respect to housing figures. Media coverage of the most recent Housing Starts data serves as an excellent illustration.

Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its September Housing Starts report. In it, the government said that national Housing Starts rose 15 percent in September as compared to August 2011, tallying 658,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

The September reading is the highest monthly reading since April 2010, the last month of last year’s home buyer tax credit.

The sudden surge in starts is big news for a housing market that has struggled of late, and the press was eager to carry the story. Here is a sampling of some headlines:

  • U.S. Housing Starts Rise 15%, Hit 17-Month High (MarketWatch)
  • Home Building Jumps 15% in September (ABC)
  • New Construction Surges In September (LA Times)

These headlines are each accurate. However, they’re also misleading.

Yes, Housing Starts did surge in September, but if we remove the “5 or more units” grouping from the Census Bureau data — the catgory that includes apartment buildings and condominium structures — we’re left with Single-Family Housing Starts and Single-Family Housing Starts rose just 1.7 percent last month.

That’s a good number, but hardly a great one. And for home buyers and sellers throughout Livermore and nationwide, it’s the Single-Family Housing Starts that matter most. Individuals like you and I don’t buy entire apartment buildings. Most often, we buy single-family homes. Therefore, that’s the data for which we should watch.

The good news is that media tales work in both directions.

Building Permits dropped 5 percent last month when the volatile 5-unit-or-more-units category was included from the math. Isolating for single-family homes, we find that permits were unchanged.

This is good housing because 82% of homes begin construction within 60 days of permit-issuance, hinting at a steady, late-fall housing market.

Retail Sales Expected To Rise; Mortgage Rates Should Rise, Too

Retail Sales 2008-2011

The American Consumer is alive and well, it seems.

Friday morning, the Census Bureau will release its Retail Sales figures for September. The report is expected to show an increase in gross receipts for the 15th straight month with analysts predicting a 0.6 percent increase from August.

The projected increase represents the largest jump in Retail Sales in six months and would likely lead mortgage rates higher for buyers in Livermore and   nationwide.

The connection between Retail Sales and mortgage rates is fairly straight-forward. Retail Sales are the majority component of “consumer spending” and consumer spending represents the majority of the U.S. economy — up to 70 percent, by some estimates.

And, as the economy goes, so go mortgage rates.

10 months ago, mortgage rates shot forward to start the year. This is because expectations were high for a strong economic rebound. Conforming and FHA rates crossed 5 percent at the time and were headed toward six.

By mid-April, though, it was clear that economic data was falling short of predictions. As a result, mortgage rates declined, kicking off the 2011 Refi Boom. Then, by August, on ongoing economic softness, mortgage rates in California fell further, making new all-time lows.

Expectations for a recovery have returned. Rates are now rising.

Last week’s strong jobs report sparked hope for the U.S. economy and investors have been voting with their dollars. Mortgage rates are now up 7 consecutive days and Friday’s Retail Sales report could cement the trend.

If you’re shopping mortgage rates today, there’s risk in “floating”. You may want to lock your rate before Friday’s Retail Sales report drives rates even higher.

The Retail Sales report will be released at 8:30 AM ET.

New Home Sales Figures Better Than Reported

New Home Sales August 2010 - August 2011According to the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold slid for the fourth straight month in August, easing 2 percent from July. On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, home buyers bought 295,000 newly-built homes last month.

August marked the lowest new home sales tally since February. News outlets are jumping on the story, with at least one calling it a “blow” to the housing market.

That’s an unfair assessment.

It’s tough for the new home market to tally big sales numbers when the number of homes for sale is dwindling and, in August, that’s exactly what we saw. The number of new homes for sale nationwide fell to 162,000 last month. This is the fewest number of new homes for sale since at least 1993, the first year the Census Bureau tracked such data.

In other words, using New Home Sales as a housing market gauge may be misleading. A better metric may be new home supply.

In August, new home supply edged 0.1 months higher to 6.6 months. This means that, at today’s sales pace, the complete new home inventory would be sold out in 6.6 months.

It’s the second-fastest reading in 2 years.

The new home market represents an interesting opportunity for home buyers in Livermore. Builders are facing new competition from bank-owned homes and foreclosures, dragging builder confidence to all-time lows. Furthermore, builders have low expectations for the next 6 months.

As a buyer, you can use this to your advantage. Builders may be more willing to negotiate on price and finishes versus this time last year. You may find a good “deal” in new construction once you go in search of it.

Building Permits Rising Nationwide; Housing Starts To Follow

Housing Starts 2009-2011Single-Family Housing Starts fell for the second consecutive month, dropping to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 417,000 units in August 2011.

A “Housing Start” is defined as a home on which ground has broken.

We shouldn’t put too much faith in the findings, however. Although housing starts were lower last month, as noted by the Census Bureau, the margin of error in the August Housing Starts report exceeded the actual result.

From the official report:

  • August’s Published Results : -1.4% from July
  • August’s Margin of Error : ±10.3% from July

Therefore, August’s Housing Starts may have actually increased by up to +8.9% from July, or it may have dropped as much as -11.7%. We won’t know for sure until several months from now, after the Census Bureau has gathered more housing data.

One thing is certain, though — the long-term trend in Housing Starts is “flat”. There has been little change in new home construction since last summer.

The same can’t be said for Building Permits.

Considered a pre-cursor to Housing Starts, Single Family Building Permits climbed 2.5 percent with a minuscule Margin of Error of ±0.9 percent.

As is common in real estate, results varied by region:

  • Northeast : +3.3 percent from July
  • Midwest : +6.3 percent from July
  • South : -1.3 percent from July
  • West : +11.3 percent from July

When permits are issued, 86 percent of them begin break ground within 60 days. Therefore, expect Housing Starts and new home inventory to rebound in the months ahead.

For now, housing remains steady. And, with mortgage rates at all-time lows, homebuyer purchasing power in an around Fremont is higher than it’s been in history. If you’re in the process of shopping for a home, talk with your lender to plan your mortgage budget.