Contracts for new single-family home sales declined in September, as eroding affordability conditions reduced sales volume. New single-family home sales declined to a significantly lower 553,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, a 5.5% drop from a downwardly revised 585,000 annual rate recorded in August. The sales data are produced by HUD and the Census Bureau.
The weak September estimate was the lowest annual rate since December 2016. It marks a notable retreat from the recent, modest growth trend that had been in place due to solid economic conditions and unmet demographic demand but constrained by rising construction costs due to labor access issues, building material pricing and rising regulatory costs. The drop in monthly sales volume also pushed the months’ supply number to an elevated 7.1, the highest since the summer of 2011.
Despite the softer summer and early fall numbers, total sales for the first nine months of 2019 (485,000) are 3.5% higher than the comparable total for 2017 (469,000). Nonetheless, mirroring declining sales volume for the resale market, higher interest rates, storm disruption effects, and spring and summer hikes in lumber prices have taken a toll on the nation’s building markets, even as macroeconomic conditions remain positive.
Inventory increased in September to 327,000 single-family homes for sale. September saw a notable uptick in homes not-started construction but otherwise listed for sale, rising from 57,000 in August to 64,000 in September (compared to 47,000 in September of 2017). Additionally, sales of homes not started construction were lower on a year-over-year basis (168,000 annual rate in September compared to 185,000 in September of 2017), suggesting the current soft patch is demand-side focused rather than supply-side constrained.
Median new home sales pricing has decreased over the last year as the mix of supply has adjusted. Median new home price was $320,000 in September, compared to $331,500 a year ago. Managing rising construction costs in the months ahead will be a key challenge for housing affordability as input costs increase, although recent declines in lumber prices should help.
For the first nine months of 2018 (and relative to the first nine months of 2017), new home sales were up 9.7% in the Midwest, 4.4% in the South, 3.9% in the West, and down 16.5% in the Northeast, due to tax reform-related effects and affordability concerns.