New Home Sales Remain Elevated Into Q4 2012

New Home SalesSales of newly-built homes took a small step lower in October, but remain strong.

According to the Commerce Department, New Home Sales slipped 1,000 units last month, falling to 368,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. 

The final reading fell short of Wall Street expectations, and the government revised downward its initial findings from August and September by 2,000 units and 20,000 units, respectively.

A “new” home is a home that is considered new construction.

Furthermore, the number of new homes for sale nationwide ticked higher to 147,000 — the highest reading in 9 months.

However, in taking a broader look at October’s New Home Sales report, we see obvious strengths. For example, although home sales slipped last month, it remains the third-highest tally since the April 2010 expiration of the federal home buyer tax credit.

The highest reading? Last month’s 369,000.

In addition, the national new home inventory has dropped, off 8% from last year. Fewer homes for sales has been a driving force behind rising home prices. As compared to one year ago, the median new home price is up nearly six percent. More demand for buyers is a factor, too.

At the current sales pace, the complete U.S. inventory of new homes for sale would “sell out” in 4.8 months. This is a noteworthy data point because, as analysts point out, a 6.0-month supply of homes marks a market in balance.

Today’s new homes market, therefore, is a seller’s market; one in which home builders may be gaining pricing power and negotiation leverage over buyers. It’s one reason why home builder confidence has climbed to a 5-year high.

For buyers of new construction, then, 2013 is a critical year. Home prices may rise and mortgage rates may, too. And, along the way, it may get tougher to get a “great deal” on new construction.

If you’re planning to buy, therefore, consider moving up your time frame. After October’s small step backward, the time to buy a newly-built home may be now.

More Bullish Data : Housing Starts Climb 3.6%

Housing StartsAccording to a joint release from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Housing Starts rose 3.6% in October 2012, climbing to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized rate of 894,000 units.

A “housing start” is a new home on which construction has started and the report gives buyers and sellers yet one more reason to be optimistic for the 2013 housing market.

Regionally, Housing Starts varied.

The West and Midwest Regions posted gains between September and October 2012; and, the South and Northeast Regions posted declines. The latter was affected by the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

  • West Region : +17.2% from the month prior
  • Midwest Region : +8.9% from the month prior
  • South Region : -2.5% from the month prior
  • Northeast Region : -6.5% from the month prior

Single-family housing starts — starts for homes not considered multi-unit properties or to be apartment buildings — was mostly unchanged, slipping 1,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

The Housing Starts data is the third housing-related release this week that hints at a strong start for the 2013 housing market.

Early in the week, the National Association of Homebuilders released its Housing Market Index (HMI), a measure of home builder confidence in the new construction market. The HMI posted 46 — the highest reading since 2006. With mortgage rates low and buyer traffic high, builders are expecting a rash of sales between now and the New Year, and an elevated number of closing over the next six months, in general.

The HMI is scored on a scale of 1-100. One year ago, it read 19.

Then, the National Association of REALTORS® showed Existing Home Sales climbing 2.1% and home supply fell to a multi-year low. At the current sales pace, the entire U.S. home inventory would be sold in just 5.4 months. Analysts believe that a home supply of less than 6.0 months favors home sellers.

In unison, these three housing market reports suggest a sustained, national housing market recovery. Home prices are expected to rise into next year’s housing market.

Single-Family Housing Starts Rise To 4-Year High

Housing StartsThe housing market continues to improve.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, Single-Family Housing Starts rose to 603,000 last month, an 11 percent increase from the month prior and the highest reading in more than 4 years. 

A “housing start” is a home on which construction has started and home builders are breaking ground at rates not seen even during the 2010 federal home buyer tax credit period.

It’s a signal to home buyers that the U.S. housing market may be permanently off its bottom.

At least, the nation’s home builders seem to think so.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders reported home builder confidence at a 5-year high and nearly triple the levels of last September.

Buoyed by rising sales volume and the heaviest foot traffic since 2006, builders expect the next 6 months of sales to outpace the current rate. It may spell higher home prices for today’s new construction buyer.

Thankfully, mortgage rates remain low.

As compared to last year, today’s buyers have extended purchasing power. Assuming a 20 percent downpayment and a conforming home loan :

  • September 2011 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a purchase price of $202,000
  • September 2012 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a purchase price of $226,000

That’s an 11.9% increase in purchasing power increase over just twelve months. When combined with today’s rising rents throughout many U.S. markets, demand for new construction homes remains high and builders have taken notice.  Buyers should, too.

With mortgage rates low, low downpayment programs available and home prices poised to rise, it’s an opportune time to be a home buyer. Housing has been trending better since late-2011 and will likely carry that momentum forward into 2013. 

If you’ve been shopping new construction, remember that as mortgage rates and home prices rise, home affordability drops. 

New Home Supply Remains Firmly In “Seller’s Market” Territory

New Home Supply chartThe market for new construction homes remains strong nationwide.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold slipped 0.3 percent in August 2012 to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 373,000 units sold — just 1,000 units less than July 2012 and the second-highest reading since April 2010.

April 2010 was the last month of that year’s tax credit which granted home buyers up to $8,000 off of their federal tax bill.

As compared to one year ago, sales of new homes are higher by 28%.

Furthermore, during the same time frame, the median sale price of a new home moved higher by 17 percent. The rising prices, in part, are the result of a shrinking national new home inventory. 

When August ended, there were just 141,000 homes for sale nationwide — a 12% drop from the year prior. This suggests that home builders have stopped building without buyers; that some lessons were learned in last decade’s homebuilding frenzy.

At today’s pace of home sales, the entire stock of new homes nationwide would sell out in 4.5 months. As a comparison point, in January 2009, the new home supply reached 12.1 months.

With home supply below 6.0 months, analysts say, it signifies a “seller’s market” and home supplies have not been north of 6.0 months since October 2011. And, based on recent homebuilder confidence surveys, supply doesn’t appear headed back over 6.0 months anytime soon.

Builders nationwide report that prospective buyer foot traffic is at its highest point in 6 years. Low mortgage rates and affordable housing choices have held demand for new homes strong. Rising rents contribute, too.

For today’s home buyers of new construction, then, shrinking supply amid rising demand portends higher home prices into 2013 and beyond. If you’re a buyer of new construction, therefore, think about moving up your time frame. 

The best deals left in housing may be the ones you grab while the calendar still reads 2012. By January, low prices may be gone, and low rates may be, too.

Single-Family Housing Starts Remain Strong

Housing StartsThe market for newly-built homes remains strong.

As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, July featured 502,000 single-family housing starts nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, marking the fourth straight month during which single-family starts posted north of one-half million.

The last time this milestone occurred was in the four months ending April 2010 — the last month of that year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

A “housing start” is a home on which construction has started and the rise in single-family housing starts is yet one more signal to buyers nationwide that the housing market has likely put its worst days behind it.

Home builders, it appears, agree with that sentiment.

Last week, the National Association of Homebuilders reported builder confidence to be at a 5-year high. Sales levels have been growing since January and builders expect the next six months to be blowout.

One of the main drivers of today’s new construction market is rising rental costs throughout many U.S. markets. It has helped to create an influx of new home buyers at a time when low mortgage rates have helped to keep new homes affordable.

As compared to one year ago, today’s home affordability is high.

  • July 2011 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a loan size of $196,200
  • July 2012 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a loan size of $223,000

That’s a 13.7% purchasing power increase in just twelve months — one reason why builders report buyer foot traffic through new construction at pre-recession levels.

The ability for buyers to access low downpayment mortgage programs is helping home sales, too.

The FHA offers a 3.5% down payment program and today’s home buyers are taking advantage. FHA mortgages now account for an estimated one-third of purchase money mortgages, and the VA and USDA are gaining market share, too, with their respective 100% financing program for certain qualified buyers.

With low rates, low downpayments and soon-to-rise home prices, it’s a good time to be a home buyer. If you’ve been shopping new construction, consider going under contract soon. As mortgage rates and prices rise, your personal home affordability falls.

New Home Sales Slow After Fast Start To 2012

New Home Supply 2010-2012

The number of newly-built homes sold slipped 8 percent in June from the month prior, says the U.S. Census Bureau in its latest New Home Sales report. The June data shows 350,000 homes sold nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

The home sale tally fell short of Wall Street expectations but the Census Bureau revised higher its previously-released results for March, April and May by a collective 33,000 units. This left the June New Home Sales report as the weakest of the last five months, yet still stronger than the 21 months preceding February.

In other words, despite retreating from May, the June New Home Sales data was still quite strong. As compared to June of last year, sales of newly-built homes are higher by 15% and the national inventory of new homes for sale is down to 144,000 units.

This marks a 13 percent inventory reduction in just twelve months.

At the current sales pace nationwide, the complete stock of new homes would “sell out” in 4.9 months, a noteworthy data point because analysts believe that a 6.0-month supply of homes marks a market in balance. Home supplies of below 6.0 months suggest a “seller’s market” where sellers have pricing power and excess leverage in negotiations. 

Home supplies have been south of 6.0 months since October 2011. This is the same month that marked a shift with other housing data points, too, including Existing Home Sales and the Home Price Index.

Since October 2011, the average new home sale price is higher by 6% nationwide, a trend that should continue through the end of 2012 and into 2013 — especially with mortgage rates at new all-time lows and home affordability at all-time highs. As more buyers enter the market amid limited supply, prices are expected to rise.

If you’re a home buyer in search of new construction, therefore, the best new home “deals” you may find may be the ones you find today.

Top 10 U.S. Cities For Public Parks

Park rankings by cityFor the first time in more than 100 years, the growth in America’s cities is outpacing the growth in its suburbs. 

According to the 2011 estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau, between July 2010 and July 2011, city centers grew faster than their surrounding suburbs in 53% of the nation’s largest housing markets. 

Compare this to just 9.8% during the 10 years prior.

Cities now compete with suburbs on a number of fronts including job availability, housing costs, and access to amenities, a category which includes proximity to public parks.

Parks are important to a city. Studies prove that parks help to attract home buyers, to retain retired homeowners, and to raise home values. And now, with the creation of ParkScore, it’s easy to compare park systems between U.S. cities.

ParkScore is an at-a-glance assessment of a city’s park system. Published by The Trust for Public Land, ParkScore considers “every publicly owned park space” within the nation’s largest cities and assigns an overall score based on total acreage, services provided, and access.

The maximum ParkScore is 100.

According to its publisher, the 10 cities nationwide with the highest ParkScores are :

  1. San Francisco, California (74.0)
  2. Sacramento, California (73.5)
  3. Boston, Massachusetts (72.5)
  4. New York, New York (72.5)
  5. Washington, D.C. (71.5)
  6. Portland, Oregon (69.0)
  7. Virginia Beach, Virginia (68.5)
  8. San Diego, California (67.5)
  9. Seattle, Washington (66.5)
  10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (66.0)

ParkScore rankings place a high premium on the “percentage of city residents living within a 10-minute walk of a public park”. It’s no surprise, therefore, that some of the top-finishers included San Francisco, Boston and New York City — three cities known for their abundance of public parks.

ParkScore bottom-finishers included Fresno, California; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Louisville, Kentucky.

The complete ParkScore rankings are available at, along with each city’s score and ranking analysis.

New Home Sales Rise To 2-Year High

New Home Supply The new construction market continues to improve.

As reported by the Census Bureau, 369,000 new homes were sold last month on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. A “new home” is a home that is considered new construction.

May’s data marks the highest number of new homes sold since April 2010, the last month of that year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

It’s also a 14% increase over the rolling 12-month average.

The news was somewhat expected based on the most recent Homebuilder Confidence survey, which rose to a 5-year high. Home builders have been reporting higher sales volume and rising buyer foot traffic since October of last year. 

The May New Home Sales report confirms what builders already told us.

Furthermore, new homes are selling more quickly than builders have built them, lowering the national “home supply” to levels not seen since October 2005. There are currently 145,000 new homes for sale.

A supply of 6.0 months is believed to represent a market in balance. Anything less connotes a “sellers’ market”. At the current pace of sales, the entire new home housing stock would be exhausted in 4.7 months.

The South Region continues to account for the majority of new construction sales, posting a 55% market share in May. South Region sales were up 13 percent as compared to April. The other 3 regions turned in mixed results :

  • Northeast Region : +36.7% from April 2012
  • Midwest Region : -10.6% from April 2012
  • West Region : -3.5% from April 2012

For all its strength, though, the Census Bureau’s New Home Sales data may also be “off”.

Although New Home Sales were said to rise by roughly 8 percent nationally from April to May, the government’s monthly report was also footnoted with a ±12.2% margin of error. This means that the actual New Home Sales reading may have been as high as +20% last month, or as low as -4%. The values could be positive or negative — we can’t know for certain.

However, that’s not to say that the New Home Sales should be ignored.

Longer-term, new home trends have been positive and builder confidence survey suggests the same.  If you’re in the market for new construction , you may want to go into contract soon. Home prices and mortgage rates remain low — a terrific combination for today’s home buyers.

Housing Starts Up 26% In Last 12 Months

Housing StartsSometimes, the housing data headlines tell just half the tale. The stories on May’s Housing Starts figures are proving to be a terrific illustration.

Tuesday, the Census Bureau released its monthly Housing Starts report. A “housing start” is a home on which construction has started.

The report is separated by property type with a separate count for single family homes such as detached residences and town homes; for multiple-unit homes such as 2-unit, 3-unit and 4-unit structures; and, for buildings of 5-units of more such as new condominiums.

In May, Housing Starts fell 4.8 percent nationwide. This runs contrary to recent housing market statistics and home builder confidence data which both have suggested a recovery. The press picked up the story and ran the following headlines :

  • Housing Starts In U.S. Fall 4.8% In May (BusinessWeek)
  • Housing Starts Plunge, But Permits Surge In Mixed Market (CNBC)
  • Housing Starts Slump In May (US News)

Although factually correct, these headlines are somewhat misleading. 

Housing Starts did slip 4.8 percent last month but that figure accounts for all Housing Starts. It fails isolate the single-family starts that matter to today’s buyers and sellers. Homeowners rarely buy multi-unit homes or entire apartment buildings.

If we remove the report’s tally of 2-4 unit homes and apartment buildings, we find that, in May, single-family housing starts rose for the 4th straight month, registering 516,000 homes started on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is the highest tally since April 2010, the last month of that year’s frderal home buyer tax credit. 

Single-family housing starts are up 26% as compared to last year. 

The housing starts report, therefore — headlines aside — is the latest in a series of housing market data that points to a sustained recovery nationwide. If you’re planning to buy a home in 2012, consider buying in between now and September because after that point, home prices and mortgage rates are likely to be higher.

Single-Family Housing Starts Powers Ahead

Housing StartsThe new construction housing market continues to improve.

One day after the National Association of Homebuilders reported a 5-year high in homebuilder confidence, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that single-family housing starts rose 2 percent for the second straight month last month.

In April, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, the government reports 492,000 single-family housing starts. A “housing start” is a home on which ground has broken.

In addition, March’s single-family housing starts were revised higher. What was previously reported as a three percent loss was re-measured and changed to a 0.2% gain.

The April tally marks a six percent increase over the one-year moving average and, along with the March revision, suggests that the springtime housing market may have just been seasonal. 

In March, a number of reports suggested a housing retreat :

Since then, though, low mortgage rates and affordable home prices appear to have sustained the new construction market, which now appears poised for a strong 2012. 

As one mark of proof, active buyers of newly-built homes nationwide are scheduling “model home” showings at the fastest pace since 2007. The burst of foot traffic high has builders upping their sales expectations for the next 6 months.

A scenario like this would normally lead new home prices higher, but the pressure for prices to rise may be offset by the amount of new home supply coming online.

In addition to a rise in Housing Starts, the Census Bureau also reports that, in April, the number of Building Permits for single-family homes rose 2 percent to move to its second-highest level since March 2010 — the month preceding the end of the 2010 federal Home buyer tax credit.

86 percent of homes break ground within one month of permit issuance.

It’s unclear whether housing is on a steady path higher, but there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests the market bottom has already passed.