COMMERCE DEPT.: Single-Family Housing Starts Rise 4.4% in December as Overall Starts Dip 4.1%

  • By David M. Kinchen                                       COMMERCE DEPT.: Single-Family Housing Starts Rise 4.4% in December as Overall Starts Dip 4.1%
There’s good news and bad from the U.S. Commerce Department Thursday, Jan. 19.
First the good news: nationwide starts of new single-family homes rose 4.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 470,000 units in December. This marked a third consecutive increase and the fastest pace of single-family housing starts since April of 2010.

The bad news, at least for builders: The overall number of housing starts for December declined 4.1 percent to a 657,000-unit rate due to a 20.4 percent dip on the more volatile multifamily side.

“Today’s report adds to the growing evidence that demand for new, single-family homes is finally starting to firm up in an increasing number of markets nationwide,” said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. “This emerging trend is allowing builders to put more crews back to work, and could be even stronger if  not for the overly tight credit conditions that prevail for both builders and buyers, as well as the continuing foreclosure crisis and the challenges of obtaining accurate appraisal values on new homes. Policymakers should be doing everything possible to alleviate these problems and nurture the fledgling housing recovery in order to promote job and economic growth.”

“This report is in keeping with our expectations for slow but steady improvement in the single-family market, where production hit its lowest yearly rate in over 50 years in 2011,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Meanwhile, it should be noted that the decline in multifamily starts in December was coming off a dramatic increase from the previous month and simply brought that sector back closer to trend. Apartment production generally continues to gain strength heading into 2012 after posting a more-than 50 percent gain in 2011.” Looking forward, NAHB is forecasting gains of approximately 17 percent in both single- and multifamily housing production in 2012, Crowe noted.

Combined single- and multifamily housing starts fell 4.1 percent to a 657,000-unit rate in December due to the multifamily side retreating 20.4 percent from a big gain in the previous month, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 187,000 units. However, for the year as a whole, overall housing production was pegged at 606,900 units, which was 3.4 percent better than the overall number of starts in 2010.

Regionally, December housing starts rose 54.8 percent in the Midwest following a big decline in the previous month. The Northeast posted a 41.2 percent decline that offset a big gain in the previous month, while the South and West also posted declines of 3.0 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.

Permit issuance, which can be an indicator of future building activity, held virtually flat at a 679,000-unit rate in December. Single-family permits rose for a third consecutive month, by 1.8 percent to 444,000 units, while multifamily permits declined 3.7 percent to 235,000 units.

Regionally, permits rose 5.8 percent in the Midwest and held unchanged in the West, but declined 6.5 percent in the Northeast and 0.6 percent in the South in December.

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