Home Construction Increases as Housing Market Starts to Bounce Back
The aftermath of the housing bust forced many homebuilders to dramatically scale back construction on new homes to avoid the risk of ending up saddled with a trove of newly built, yet unsold properties.
But an improving housing market has homebuilders feeling more confident about sales, and that’s likely to kick the pace of new construction into a higher gear this year.
The Commerce Department recently said that builders broke ground on houses and apartments last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000. That’s 12.1 percent higher than November’s annual rate. And it is nearly double the recession low reached in April 2009.
Construction increased last month for both single-family homes and apartments. And the pace in which builders requested permits to start more homes ticked up to a 4½ year high.
For the year, builders started work on 780,000 homes. That’s still roughly half of the annual number of starts consistent with healthier markets. But it is an increase of 28.1 percent from 2011. And it is the most since 2008 - shortly after the housing market began to collapse in late 2006 and 2007.
Steady hiring, record-low mortgage rates and a tight supply of new and previously occupied homes available for sale have helped boost sales and prices in most markets. That has persuaded builders to start more homes, which adds to economic growth and hiring.
David Williams, a homebuilding analyst with Williams Financial Group, says builders are very closely tied to what’s happening in the housing market and they’re going to build homes to meet demand, but not go overboard.
"I don’t think, at this point, that they’re going to overbuild," Williams said, noting that homebuilders are still holding back on building too many spec homes, or properties built before they’re sold.
Having some spec homes can help sales, especially when a buyer isn’t willing to wait several months for their home to be built. Builders tend to put up more of those homes heading into the spring home-selling season that traditionally begins next month.
Larry Webb, CEO of homebuilder The New Home Co., in Aliso Viejo, Calif., says he is building homes at a faster pace than a year ago, but he sticks to a sell-first, build-second approach.
Overall, Webb is selling and building a minimum of four homes a month, at least double the pace of sales and construction two years ago.
Webb believes the stepped-up pace of home construction will continue this year. But he’s holding on to the sell-first approach.
"Based on what we’ve gone through in the last recession and the way we do business, we think we should primarily build after we sell homes," he said. "We only build after we sell."