U.S. housing starts dropped 1.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted 698,000 annual rate, the Commerce Department announced.
The figures follow an upwardly
revised 706,000-unit pace for January, and were the best since October 2008.
National Association of Home Builders Chairman
Barry Rutenberg said the report was somewhat encouraging.
"Builders are reporting
increased buyer interest and are expecting demand for new homes to improve in
the coming months, but continue to exercise caution regarding new projects
until that interest translates into more signed sales contracts," said Rutenberg,
who is also a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. "This process is
certainly being slowed by today's overly tight lending conditions, the
difficulty of obtaining accurate appraisals on new construction and competition
from distressed properties that can make it tough for prospective new-home
buyers to sell an existing home."
David Crowe, the association’s
chief economist, noted that member surveys have shown builder confidence is growing.
"NAHB's most recent builder surveys have shown steady
improvement in builder expectations for the next six months, and today's report
reflects that optimism in the permit numbers, which are up across the board and
are typically the most statistically reliable data," Crowe said. "At
the same time, we believe that January's exceptionally good weather was a
factor in pulling some single-family starts activity forward that might
otherwise have occurred in February."