Townhouse Market Share Growing Off Recent Lows

When we last reported on townhouse construction (attached single-family housing), townhouses had reached a decade low in terms of share of the total single-family construction market. We expected this short-run decline to end and the share of construction for townhouses to rise to its historically increasing long-run trend.

Census data from the fourth quarter of 2011 suggests that this is happening. While the nominal rate of construction of attached single-family starts remains low, 13,000 at seasonally adjusted annual rates for the end of 2011, townhouse construction increased in each quarter of last year.

Moreover, the share of single-family starts consisting of townhouses now stands at 20%. This level was last experienced briefly at the end of 2010 (related to total starts declines at the end of the homebuyer tax credit program) and was last exceeded at the end of 2008.

The Great Recession interrupted the increasing long-run trend for townhouse construction. From 1990 to 2007, the share of townhouses constructed grew from 11% to 20% of single-family housing starts, as reported by the Census Bureau. Recent increases in market share suggest a return to this long-run trend.

This path is likely to hold, as increasing numbers of homebuyers seek higher density and inner suburb locations.

Regionally, townhouses retain a larger share in markets in the Northeast. At the beginning of 2008, townhouses were 21% of single-family starts. As of the end of 2011, that share had increased to 27%. A slight increase in concentration has also been seen in the Midwest, where the market share over the same period increased from 11% of single-family starts to 15%.

On the other hand, a small decline was seen in the South, where the share fell from 14% to 12% from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2011. Nonetheless, as the South remains the largest home building region, the absolute number of townhouses started remains highest in the South at about 6,000 units for the final quarter of 2011 (compared to 2,000 in the West and 3,000 in the Northeast and Midwest respectively).

The largest market share decline was in the West, where the townhouse share fell from 21% at the beginning of 2008 to 11% at the end of 2011.

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