July Housing Starts Up, Sales Plummet

July Housing Starts Up, Sales Plummet

Nationwide housing starts inched up 1.7 percent in July from a downwardly revised figure in the previous month, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures released today. The gain occurred entirely on the multi-family side, with single-family housing production falling 4.2 percent.

But also in July, housing sales plunged 25.5 percent below the level of a year ago, the National Association of Realtors said, as buyers lost the spur of a government tax credit. The steep descent surprised nearly every analyst and put the volume of single-family home sales at the lowest level since 1995.

“Builders are very reluctant to build more homes in view of the current state of the economy and weak buyer demand,” noted Bob Jones, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a homebuilder from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

“Right now the housing market is essentially in a holding pattern,” acknowledged NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “As our latest member surveys have indicated, builders are seeing greater hesitancy among potential homebuyers who are uncertain about what’s in store for the economy and jobs going forward. That said, favorable home buying conditions including historically low mortgage rates and low house prices should help spur additional demand as the job market gradually improves later this year.”

The entire 1.7 percent gain in housing production this July was due to a 32.6 percent jump on the more volatile multifamily side, which brought that sector back closer to trend at a 114,000-unit rate following a major dip in the previous month. Meanwhile, single-family housing production declined 4.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 432,000 units, its lowest mark since May of 2009.

Two regions registered improved starts activity in July, with the Northeast and Midwest each posting double-digit gains, of 30.5 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. The South, which is the country’s largest housing market, posted a 6.3 percent decline in starts this July, while the West posted no change in starts activity.

Permit issuance, which can be an indicator of future building activity, declined 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 565,000 units in July. Single-family permits fell 1.2 percent to 416,000 units, while multifamily permits fell 8 percent to 149,000 units. Regionally, permits fell nearly 26 percent in the Northeast, 1.1 percent in the Midwest, and 4.9 percent in the West, but gained 3.9 percent in the South in July.