According to NAHB analysis of the most recent Census data of Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design, townhouse construction continued at a strong pace in the first quarter of 2021. This followed the best quarter for townhouse construction in 2.5 years at the end of 2020. As housing demand has shifted to more suburban and exurban areas and housing affordability headwinds persist, medium-density construction lagged for much of last year. However, demand for medium density neighborhoods is expected to accelerate as the economy reopens more fully.
During the first quarter of 2021, single-family attached starts totaled 31,000, which was 35% higher than the first quarter of 2020. Over the last four quarters, townhouse construction starts totaled 122,000 units, almost 10% higher than the prior four quarter total (111,000).
Using a one-year moving average, the market share of new townhouses increased to 11.9% of all single-family starts. This represents a rebound after recent declines.
The peak market share of the last two decades for townhouse construction was set during the first quarter of 2008, when the percentage reached 14.6% of total single-family construction. This high point was set after a fairly consistent increase in the share beginning in the early 1990s.
Despite relative weakness in 2020, the long-run prospects for townhouse construction remain positive given growing numbers of homebuyers looking for medium-density residential neighborhoods, such as urban villages that offer walkable environments and other amenities, while seeking to avoid high-density communities that depend on mass transit and elevators in the wake of the virus-related lockdowns of the spring of 2020.