In November, housing starts surged. Come December, they soured.
In the last month of 2018, housing starts tanked 11.2 percent, according to the Commerce Department. Combined, housing starts totaled 1.08 million, with 302,000 multifamily starts and 758,000 single-family starts—the latter lower by 6.7 percent. On an annual basis, housing starts tumbled 10.9 percent.
Approvals for builds hold promise, up 0.3 percent to 1.33 million permits, according to the Commerce Department. Approvals disappointed, however, in the single-family space, down 2.2 percent to 829,000. Approvals for multifamily starts totaled 460,000.
Completions underwhelmed, as well, down 2.7 percent to 1.1 million. Completions in the single-family space ticked up 0.1 percent to 790,000; completions in the multifamily space totaled 296,000.
“Looking back, the December drop in housing production correlated with the peak increase in mortgage rates and corresponding decline in builder sentiment,” said Greg Ugalde, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in a statement. “During that time, builders adopted a cautious wait-and-see approach, as demonstrated in the rise of single-family and multifamily units that were permitted but not under construction.”
“With two months’ hindsight, there were obvious headwinds to the housing market late last year that have since eased,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow, in a statement. “High interest rates, a stock market freefall and the partial government shutdown translated into a drag on the housing market. Most housing market metrics—including starts and permits—now reflect the fallout from the fourth quarter economic turmoil.
“While homeowners can move quickly to list a home for sale or pull it off the market when the market shifts, builders have a slower, wider turn radius in reacting to interest rates and other market factors,” Terrazas said. “As a result, builders will be less agile at reacting to the shifting economic outlook. However, the stronger market conditions in early 2019 mean than home builders have been able to offload inventory that had been piling up late last year.”
“Looking ahead, we expect single-family production will be relatively flat in 2019 and multifamily starts will level off as well,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist of the NAHB, in the statement. “The biggest challenge facing builders this year will be ongoing housing affordability concerns as they continue to grapple with a shortage of construction workers, a lack of buildable lots and excessive regulatory burdens.”