NAHB: U.S. housing ready to improve
That is the housing outlook according to economists who appeared Jan. 12 at the NAHB’s International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla.
David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, said that future job growth will provide a stronger stimulus in the housing market than last year’s tax credits for home buyers.
Crowe also forecasted 575,000 single-family home starts in 2011, a 21 percent climb over an estimated 475,000 units started in 2010, which in turn showed a 7 percent gain from the 442,000 homes started in 2009.
Multifamily housing, which is poised to profit from a disproportionate number of young people moving into the housing market, has seen the bottom of the cycle, he said. The sector will see its starts rise 16 percent this year to 133,000 units, with a further 53 percent increase in 2012 to 203,000 units.
Builders’ access to the credit they need to start erecting new homes remains the fragile component of the NAHB forecast, Crowe said. So far, small builders have experienced extreme difficulty in obtaining financing, and rectifying the situation as soon as possible is the top priority of the association.
The recession delayed as many as 2 million household formations over the past few years, he added, as individuals doubled up with family and friends during the dismal job market. These households will begin to form as jobs improve, and they “are the next to move into a new home or apartment,” Crowe said. He also believes the economy will add 200,000 jobs every month in 2012.
The U.S. economy is expected to receive a boost from the tax package passed through Congress at the end of last year. Crowe said this includes more income going into the pockets of wage earners thanks to a one-year, 2 percent reduction in Social Security taxes. This will contribute to the gross domestic product strengthening from the 2.5 percent range to 3.5 percent to 3.8 percent by year’s end.
New-home sales, Crowe projected, “will struggle” but begin following employment gains, reaching 405,000 for the year, up from an estimate of about 320,000 for 2010.
In addition to stimulative fiscal and monetary policy, Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said that housing affordability and demographic trends will help support growing housing demand.
Thirty-year, fixed-rate mortgages dipped to 4.25 percent in the final quarter of 2010, he said, the lowest level since the early 1950s. While that has since moved up closer to 5 percent, home financing is still available at “a phenomenal rate,” Nothaft said.
Citing research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, Nothaft also said that households should be growing at an average annual rate of 1.2 million to 1.5 million over the next five to 10 years, suggesting the need for a sharp increase in housing production. Half of the 500,000 to 600,000 starts of the past two years were needed just to replace the number of homes being removed from the housing stock.
While there will continue to be supply overhangs in some important large markets, by and large the housing price slump should bottom out by the middle of this year, he said, and price increases are already occurring in some local areas. That should attract prospective buyers who have been procrastinating until they see prices hit bottom.
“Potential buyers who have resources to buy but want to buy at the bottom are likely to start coming into the market in the springtime,” said Nothaft, which for fence sitters will be “the time to come into the market.”
Fixed-rate mortgages will move up from their current 4.75 percent to the 5.75 percent range by the end of this year, he forecasted. This will push total single-family mortgage originations down about 30 percent below the 2010 level as refinancings fall sharply in the face of rising mortgage rates.
While a 20 percent increase in housing production in 2011 is good news for housing, to put things in perspective, Nothaft said that this gain is from an extremely low level, with single-family production declining about 80 percent.