Last month, housing starts fell 1.6%, which is only a slight dip, but permits fell 7.7%, and the gap between units completed and those still under construction is the largest on record, according to reporting from the U.S. Commerce Department.
While starts and permits hit a year low and while labor shortages, supply chain issues, and rising prices of raw materials, it should be noted that single-family starts actually remained unchanged, and permits for single family homes only fell 0.9%, so what we’re looking at here is a slowdown in the multifamily sector as sales heat up in single family housing..
Another factor at play here regarding still-tight inventory levels is the federal mortgage forbearance program as a response to the pandemic. As the program wraps up, more inventory will come online.
Dr. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) explains: “The current mortgage default rate of at least three months is running high at 3.5% compared to less than 1% before the pandemic. However, foreclosures have been at historic lows so far due to the forbearance support. The default rate will certainly fall as long as the economy continues to generate jobs, but the end of the federal support program inevitably means some homeowners will need to sell. This will be another source of housing inventory.”
Because tight inventory levels have kept the market restricted and sales below what demand is, the residential real estate sector should see hope in this analysis.
But there is no sector safe from the supply chain crisis or prices rising again on raw materials. Reuters reports that many materials like windows and breaker boxes are in short supplies while the cost of building materials have surged, like copper which is up 16%, and lumber prices are jumping back up to record highs set in May.
Homebuilder confidence is up, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), but their most recent survey also indicates that “builders continue to grapple with ongoing supply chain disruptions and labor shortages that are delaying completion times.”
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported today that mortgage applications for new home purchases are down 16.2% compared to September 2020, and applications are down 4% compared to August. It is notable that the average loan size hit $408,522, the highest on record, and another indicator of increasing construction costs.
Going forward, analysts expect the backlog of starts to continue as labor and supply chain issues persist. And although the news isn’t overtly positive, single family housing on its own is actually performing better than in 2020. There is light at the end of the tunnel for hopeful homebuyers.