Dennis Seid 5/19/09
Housing slide may be bottoming
* New home construction hits record lows, but single-family home construction rebounds.
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A modest rebound in single-family home construction in April raised hopes Tuesday that the three-year slide in housing could be bottoming. But with the supply of unsold homes bulging, foreclosures rising and prices falling, no broad recovery is expected until next spring at the earliest.
The Commerce Department said construction of new homes and apartments fell 12.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000 units – the lowest pace on records going back a half-century. Applications for new building permits dropped 3.3 percent to an annual rate of 494,000, also the lowest on record.
All of last month’s weakness, though, came in the volatile multifamily part of construction. Single-family construction and permits both rose, a signal that this bigger sector of home construction is starting to stabilize.
Construction of single-family homes rose 2.8 percent to an annual rate of 368,000, following a 0.3 percent gain in March and no change in February. Building permits for single-family homes were up 3.6 percent to a rate of 373,000 last month.
“U.S. housing remains very weak, but the stability in single-family units is encouraging,” Benjamin Reitzes, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.
Multifamily construction plunged 46.1 percent to an annual rate of 90,000 units after a 23 percent fall in March. Permits for multifamily construction dropped 19.9 percent to 121,000 units.
Analysts said apartment construction is being hurt by a glut of condominiums on the market and by tightening credit conditions for commercial real estate.
They also said a real rebound for single-family construction remains distant as heavy job layoffs and record levels of foreclosures will continue to weigh on this sector.
The number of unsold homes on the market at the end of March fell 1.6 percent from a month earlier to 3.7 million, not including new homes, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Housing construction and sales are expected to bottom out in the second half of this year but economists are forecasting that prices will keep falling until next spring.
The median price of a new home sold in March was $201,400, down 23 percent from a peak of $262,600 two years earlier. The median price is the midpoint, which means half of the homes sold for more and half for less.
In April, housing construction fell 30.6 percent in the Northeast, the largest drop for any region. Housing starts dropped 21.4 percent in the Midwest and 21.1 percent in the South.
The West was the only region showing strength with a 42.5 percent jump in housing starts.
The National Association of Homebuilders reported Monday that its survey of builder confidence increased for the second straight month in May, reflecting growing optimism on the part of many builders.