Weather Constrains Remodeling Market Index in the First Quarter

April 24, 2014

Against the backdrop of unusually severe winter weather, NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index (RMI) declined to 53 in the first quarter of 2014, from the historically high level of 57 in the two previous quarters. However, the RMI remains above the key break-even point of 50.  An RMI above 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is higher (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is lower.RMI 14Q1 chartThe overall RMI averages ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future remodeling activity.  In the first quarter of 2014, the index for current market conditions declined three points to 53.  The subindex for the current maintenance and repair component increased two points to 59, a historically high reading.

The index of indicators for future remodeling activity fell from 58 in the previous quarter to 52, but all four components remained at or above 50. Calls for bids was 52, the amount of work committed for the next three months was 50, the backlog of remodeling jobs was 55, and appointments for proposals was 52.

RMI 14Q1 table

Currently, factors like labor shortages and credit availability are constraining growth in residential remodeling and other segments of the housing industry. In the first months of 2014, activity was also affected by an uncommonly harsh winter. The two components of the RMI that declined the most in the first quarter, calls for bids and appointments for proposals, are the ones most likely to respond to weather conditions.

For more detail and a complete history of the RMI and its components, see NAHB’s RMI web page


First Quarter: Sources of New Home Sales Financing

April 23, 2014

The share of new single-family home sales purchased using Federal Housing Administration (FHA) backed mortgages continued to fall at the start of 2014.

According to data from the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Sales by Price and Financing, the onset of the housing crisis in 2007 led to a decline in the share of new home sales due to conventional mortgage financing and increases in the shares due to mortgages backed by the FHA and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), as well as cash purchases.

new home sales financing

For the first quarter of 2014, the share of cash purchases rose slightly to 7.5% from just more than 7% during the prior quarter. The high point for cash purchases occurred in the third quarter of 2011 when the market share was almost 8% of sales. Thus, the cash share of new single-family home sales is down somewhat from post-recession peaks but remains elevated compared to more normal periods (e.g. approximately 4% share during 2002-2003).

In contrast, cash purchases constitute a considerably larger share of the existing home market – 33% of sales in March 2014 for example.

It is worth noting that another measure of cash sales for total new construction from CoreLogic shows a higher level of cash sales than the Census: 17.7% in December 2013.

New home sales due to FHA-backed loans fell to 13% of the market during the first quarter. This is down from 27.6% in the first quarter of 2010 but above the 10% 2002-2003 average. As the conventional mortgage financing share has risen, the share of new single-family home sales due to FHA-backed mortgages has declined. Falling FHA loan limits will likely place additional downward pressure on this share in 2014.

VA-backed loans were responsible for about 7.5% of new home sales during the first quarter of 2014.

These sources of financing serve distinct market segments, which is revealed in part by the median new home price allocable to each. For the fourth quarter, the median new home price due to FHA financing was $222,600. The median price for VA-backed loans rose to $264,000.

Conventional mortgage financing had a median price of $276,900.

Finally, the median price for cash purchases for the fourth quarter was $320,100.


New Home Sales Falter

April 23, 2014

Census and HUD reported March new home sales were down 14.5% in March to a seasonally-adjusted annual basis of 384,000, the lowest level since July 2013. Three of the four regions also saw a decline while the Northeast saw a small (3,000 homes) increase. The US is down year-over year by 13.3% and all four regions also experienced an annual decline.

Home prices, on the other hand, rose 12.6% year-over-year to $290,000, the highest ever recorded. The higher prices are due to sales sliding up the price spectrum. The share of homes sold between $300,000 and $500,000 rose from 30% in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 37% in March. The share selling for less than $200,000 dropped 3 percentage points.

Even as mortgage rates soften a bit, potential home buyers with even small dings in their credit background are unable to qualify for a mortgage and so are out of the market. Since they tend to buy more modestly priced homes, that end of the spectrum has seen lower sales and the whole market has lower demand.

Congress is working on at least some solutions to the uncertainty in the mortgage market by defining the government’s place in the secondary market. A replacement for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is being seriously discussed in both chambers and a markup is scheduled in the Senate this month. While that will not solve all the uncertainties and tightness in the market, it will go a long way to providing a path to a more normal, sustainable conduit for mortgages from originator to investor.

The first quarter 2014 has been rocked by unusually cold and wet weather causing a drop in construction and some odd sales patterns. January was better than expected, February was in line with expectations and March was lower than expected. The average is close to what NAHB expected: 434,000 actual versus a forecast of 438,000. Looked at from a quarterly basis, activity is in line with the modest recovery. The trend downward for two months is the worrisome part. Pent up demand, relatively low mortgage rates and still good affordability support confidence that sales will improve as 2014 evolves.

New Home Sales (000s)


Existing Sales Remain Flat

April 22, 2014

Existing home sales decreased 0.2% in March, and fell 7.5% from the same period a year ago. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported March 2014 total existing home sales at a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.59 million units combined for single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, down from 4.60 million units in February.
Existing Home Sales March 2014

The Northeast and Midwest increased by 9.1% and 4.0% respectively from February, while the South and West decreased 3.0% and 3.7% respectively. Year-over-year, all regions decreased, ranging from a 3.0% drop in the South to a 13.4% decrease in the West. Seasonally adjusted condominium and co-op sales fell 1.8% in March, and were down 8.3% from the same period a year ago.

First-time buyers comprised 30% of March 2014 sales, up from 28% in February and were unchanged from last March. The January first-time buyer share of 26% was the lowest since NAR began reporting that share monthly in October 2008. The historical average first-time buyer share is about 40%. Tight lending conditions continue to buffet first-time buyers and NAR points to high levels of student debt and tight inventory in the lower price ranges as important factors.

Total housing inventory increased 4.7% in March to 1.99 million existing homes. At the current sales rate, the March 2014 inventory represents a 5.2-month supply, up from a 5.0-month supply in February and up from a 4.7-month supply a year ago. On a positive note, NAR also reported that the March median time on market for all homes was 55 days, down from 62 days in February and 62 days during the same month a year ago. NAR reported that 37% of homes sold in March were on the market less than a month, compared to 34% of all homes sold in February.

As the market cures, the share of distressed sales decreased to 14% of March sales, down from 16% in February and 21% a year ago. Distressed sales are defined as foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts. All cash sales comprised 33% of March transactions, down from 35% in February, but up from 30% the same period a year ago. Individual investors purchased a 17% share in March, down from 21% in February and 19% a year ago. Some 71% of March investors paid cash, up from 73% last month.

The median sales price for existing homes of all types increased to $198,500 in March from a downwardly revised $188,300 in February, and was up 7.9% from a year ago. The median condominium/co-op price soared to $200,800 in March, up from a revised $185,100 in February and was up 11.6% from March 2013.

The Pending Home Sales Index fell 0.8% in February to the lowest level since October 2011. Therefore, it was expected that March existing home sales would remain flat. The decline in the March investor share suggests that the continued run up of existing home prices will eventually make these homes less appealing for investors, and a future withdrawal of that demand will further depress existing sales. NAR continues to make the point that increased new home construction will free up existing inventory for first-time buyers.

While existing home sales are down year-over-year, new home sales continue to post year-over-year gains (tempered by recent weather impacts) as investor activity cools. The new home sales numbers will be released tomorrow.


Smaller Banks Are the Largest Source of AD&C Lending

April 21, 2014

Data from the FDIC indicate that smaller financial institutions, typically community banks, are the most common sources of lending for home building acquisition, development and construction (AD&C) loans. This trend strengthened during years of the housing crisis.

The FDIC data are split into two sources: commercial banks and savings institutions. As of the final quarter of 2013, total 1-4 residential construction and development loans held by commercial banks summed to $38.9 billion. Such loans from savings institutions represented a smaller source: $4.8 billion.

Commercial bank AD&C shares 2013

With respect to commercial banks, the fourth quarter 2013 FDIC data reveal that 62% of home building AD&C lending was held by banks roughly matching the community bank standard of possessing less than $10 billion in total assets. This lending was decentralized as there are almost 5800 such institutions, although it is not possible to determine how many held residential AD&C loans. In contrast, there were 90 commercial banks with more than $10 billion in assets, holding a still significant $14.7 billion in home building AD&C loans.

Nonresidential AD&C lending, which includes some land development financing and commercial real estate, is more likely to be held by larger banks, as the chart above indicates. In fact, more than half (56%) of such loans were held by commercial banks with more than $10 billion in assets.

Change in AD&C loan share_commercial banks_0713

A larger share of residential AD&C was held by larger institutions prior to the recession. The chart above notes the change in market share from the end of 2007 to the end of 2013. While the share of nonresidential AD&C held by large banks increased over this six-year period, the market share of residential AD&C shifted to smaller banks. For example, at the end of 2007, 52% of home building AD&C was held by banks with more than $10 billion in assets, a swing of 14 percentage points of market share from 2007 to 2013.

Savings institutions AD&C shares 2013

The smaller savings institutions side of the market tells a similar story. At the end of 2013, 86% of home building AD&C loans held by savings institutions was controlled by institutions with less than $5 billion in assets. A noticeable difference is that both residential and nonresidential AD&C lending shifted, in terms of market share, toward smaller savings institutions from the end of 2007 to the end of 2013, as the following chart demonstrates.

Change in AD&C loan share_savings institutions_0713

 


New Homes are Less Expensive to Maintain

April 17, 2014

April is new homes month. And one of the virtues of a newly constructed home is the savings that come from reduced energy and maintenance expenses.

In a previous analysis, we used data from the 2009 American Housing Survey (AHS) to offer proof. The AHS classifies new construction as homes no more than four years old.

For routine maintenance expenses, 26% of all homeowners spent $100 or more a month on various upkeep costs. However, only 11% of owners of newly constructed homes spent this amount. In fact, 73% of new homeowners spent less than $25 a month on routine maintenance costs.

monthly maint costs

Similar findings are available for energy expenses. According to the 2011 AHS, on a median per square foot basis, homeowners spent 81 cents per square foot per year on electricity. Owners of new homes spent less: 68 cents per square foot per year. For homes with piped gas, homeowners spent on average 50 cents per square foot per year. Owners of new homes spent just 34 cents per square foot per year.

The 2011 data show similar results for various other utilities. For water bills, homeowners averaged 28 cents per square foot per year, while owners of new homes averaged 22 cents.  For trash bills, the median for all homeowners was 15 cents per square foot per year, while for new construction the median was 13 cents per square foot per year.

These data highlight that a new home offers savings over the life of ownership due to reduced operating costs. And in fact, these reduced costs result in lower insurance bills as well. The median cost for all homeowners of property insurance is 39 cents per square foot, while it is only 31 cents per square foot for owners of new homes.

These reduced expenditures represent one of the many reasons that the current system of appraisals needs updating to reflect the flow of benefits that come from features in a new home.


Eye on the Economy: Builder Confidence Flat As Winter Ends

April 16, 2014

Single-family Starts and NAHB

An unseasonably cold winter took its toll on economic activity at the start of 2014, causing many key market measures to fall short of initial forecasts. For example, first quarter GDP growth will likely prove to have been less than 1%. However, as winter turns to spring, we can expect a rebound as consumers undertake activities that may have been deferred at the start of the year.

Consistent with this situation, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) was effectively flat in April, rising one point from a downwardly revised March level. At 47, the HMI has now been below the key level of 50 for three consecutive months.

The essentially unchanged index is the result of builders waiting on expected spring demand while holding any further optimism until actual sales occur. Many of the individual comments mentioned stronger traffic or more serious buyers, but the interest has yet turned into contract signings. Builders continue to meet some supply constraints as buildable lot supply either is not available or is priced beyond what the builder feels can be recaptured in a sale.

Housing starts for the month of March, as reported by the Census and HUD, indicated a 2.8% increase from the upwardly revised February numbers. On a seasonally adjusted annual basis, total single-family starts rose 6% to a 635,000 annual rate. The increase was particularly strong in the Northeast and Midwest, where building was down during recent winter months.

Builder hiring increased in March. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the residential construction sector added 9,100 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis in March. Total industry employment now stands at 2.242 million. And over the last 12 months, builders and remodelers have created 103,000 jobs.

Worker shortages remain an issue in some markets. However, the count of unfilled construction-sector jobs fell at the start of 2014. As of February, data from the BLS JOLTS survey indicate there were 120,000 open positions at construction firms, down from 165,000 in November. Nonetheless, the February open rate (2%), as measured as a percent of total industry employment, remained the fifth-highest mark since the recession ended.

The general improvement for housing markets can be tracked using the NAHB/First American Leading Market Index (LMI). The index, which measures how close markets are to their normal levels of activity, increased from 0.87 to 0.88 in April. The index measures single-family permits, home prices and employment in the past 12 months and divides that by the last normal annual level. For permits and prices, the last normal period is 2000-2003 and for employment 2007.

The LMI has been moving steadily upward for two years from a low of .78 in April 2012. At the same time, the number of markets at or above their last normal level of activity increased from 34, with 19 in energy-producing states, to 59, with 30 in energy-producing states (Texas, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming). The slight broadening into states with other economic bases is consistent with broader economic growth in the U.S.

March BLS producer price data signals building material cost concerns as the housing recovery continues. Gypsum prices were effectively flat in March (0.9% decline), after a significant increase at the start of the year — the third year in a row of such prices increases. Gypsum prices are up 9.5% year over year. Softwood lumber products increased 1.7% in March, while OSB prices were effectively flat.

Over the past 12 months, prices on consumer expenditures increased 1.5%. Consumer prices increased in March by 0.2% on a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis. The real rent index increased in March by 0.1% month over month and 1.2% for the year.

In analysis news, NAHB economists continued their look at home buyer preferences. The last review found that buyers of all backgrounds possess strong preferences for energy-efficient products.

Using IRS and Census data, economists examined the rising – although still small – market share of individuals who work at home, which represents a potential market opportunity for builders and remodelers. The data indicate clear geographic clustering of home office use among states and industries.

Finally, wrapping up NAHB’s ranking of metropolitan housing markets, American Community Survey data indicate the top markets in terms of share for new construction, home values and median income.


Housing Starts Reverse Winter Slump

April 16, 2014

Census and HUD reported March housing starts were up 2.8% from an upwardly revised February. Single-family starts accounted for all of the increase, rising 6% to 635,000 on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis. The increase was particularly strong in the hardest hit northern US of the Northeast and Midwest regions where single-family starts increased 39% and 29% respectively.

Housing permits dropped 2.4% virtually all in the multifamily apartment sector. Multifamily permits (in buildings with 2 or more units) were 398,000 (on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis), about the same as the fourth quarter of 2013. February was unusually high at 425,000 so the fall in March was an adjustment to an unsustainable level than a reversal in apartment construction.

The modest recovery in single-family construction after an unusual winter reflects builders continued caution as the overall economic expansion moves slowly forward. Housing conditions are right for continued growth in housing construction and sales. But consumers’ economic condition and expectations remain uncertain enough that committing to a large and long-lasting purchase like a home remains tentative. Builders, consequently, are reflecting that same caution.

In an April survey, the leading reason builders gave for consumer hesitancy was buyers worried about their employment and economic situation at 47% of all builders. The share is down from over 70% in 2009. The second leading reason for consumer hesitancy is that the prospective buyer cannot sell their existing home, also down significantly from over 80% in 2009 but still high. These top reasons are somewhat circular in that the likely reason current home owners feel they will have trouble selling their home is their prospective buyer is uncertain about their economic future.

Hence, as the employment market continues to improve (NAHB forecasts 1.6% increase this year) and consumer confidence continues to improve, these hesitancies will dissipate and housing sales and construction will move forward at a modest pace. NAHB expects a 17% increase in construction in 2014.

Housing Starts


Builder Sentiment Steady

April 15, 2014

The April NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose one point from a one-point downwardly revised March to 47. This is the third consecutive month with the index below 50, the point where more builders see the market improving rather than getting poorer. Two of the three components of the index remained unchanged; the current sales index was at 51, the same as the one-point downwardly revised March index and the traffic index was 32, which is the same as the one-point downwardly revised February component. The heaviest weighted sub-index is the expectations for the next six months, which was up four points to 57.

The essentially unchanged index is the result of builders waiting on expected spring demand while holding any further optimism until actual sales occur. Many of the individual comments mentioned stronger traffic or more serious buyers but the interest has yet turned into contract signings. Builders continue to meet some supply constraints as buildable lot supply either is not available or is priced beyond what the builder feels can be recaptured in a sale.

Access to credit continues to be a concern across all parts of the country as builders search for credit to buy land and build homes and consumers apply for mortgages. A recent NAHB survey of builders found some improvement in builders’ access to capital and FDIC quarterly reports finally show some increase in bank holdings of AD&C residential credit. Lot supply will take longer to solve but access to credit is a critical first step. The housing recovery is likely to be hindered by these limitations just as demand begins to resurge.

NAHB expects 1.1 million housing starts in 2014 primarily driven by the pent up demand of existing home owners. The first-time home buyer will return more gradually as mortgage credit standards become more rational and young adults’ incomes stabilize and grow.

Single-family Starts and NAHB


Producer Price Index Up for March

April 11, 2014

The Producer Price Index (PPI) – a broad measure of the prices received by domestic producers of goods and services – increased in March, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The overall PPI increased 0.46% on a seasonally adjusted basis for the month of March, higher than analyst expectations. The PPI for goods was flat, with the increase in the headline PPI due to a month-over-month 0.65% for the PPI for services. On a non-seasonal adjusted basis, producer prices have increased 1.37% over the last 12 months, which while currently tame may suggest higher prices ahead.

March_PPI_v2

Among home building materials, gypsum prices were down 0.9% for the month of March, after significant increases in February (4.1%) and January (7.4%).  Softwood lumber products increased 1.7% in March, while OSB prices were effectively flat.

On a year-over-year basis, gypsum prices are up 9.5%, while softwood lumber prices are down slightly from a price peak set at the beginning of 2013. OSB prices are down nearly 40% from a significant run-up in price that began in 2012 but subsided at the end of 2013.

One conclusion that can be reached from recent years’ data is that the prices of major building materials tend toward volatility as home building expands. Rising and unpredictable building material prices represent yet another potential headwind along the overall path of recovery for the residential construction sector.

 


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