April housing starts slip but remain 14% higher than 2021

Strong multifamily construction starts continued to bolster overall housing starts in April. according to a report released Wednesday by the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Housing and Urban Developmentin April, overall housing starts fell 0.2% month over monthto a seasonally annualized rate of 1,724 million units.

Despite the slight decline from March, the rate is 14.6% higher than it was in April 2021.

The multifamily sector, which includes apartments and condos, increased 16.8% month over month, to a rate of 612,000 units. Meanwhile single-family housing starts dropped 7.3% from the month prior to a rate of 1.1 million units.

“Today’s housing starts report is more evidence that the single-family market is slowing,” said National Association of Homebuilders chief economist Robert Dietz. “While single-family starts are up 4.1% on a year-to-date basis, we’re expecting flat conditions for the year and a decline in 2023 as housing affordability challenges, in the form of higher mortgage rates and construction costs, continues to worsen housing affordability conditions.”

Experts blamed the drop in single-family housing starts on rising interest rates and continued supply chain issues† The same two concerns also were cited as contributing factors behind diminishing home builder confidence† In the most recent National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index report, homebuilder sentiment fell eight points from the previous month to 69 points, its lowest reading since June 2020.

Homebuilders also are dealing with a construction backlog. The total rate of housing completions in April was 1.295 million, down 5.1% from March and down 8.6% compared to a year ago. Single-family completions saw a 4.9% month-over-month decrease to 1,001 million, while multifamily completions dropped 6.6% from March to 281,000.

Compounding the issue is the number of building permits issued, which was up 3.1% year over year nationwide in April to 1,819 million, thanks to multifamily permits rising 16.3% year over year to 656,000 units. Meanwhile, single family permits dropped 3.6% year over year to 1.11 million.

“Builders still have a backlog of uncompleted homes to get through before they can break ground on new projects,” Odeta Kushi, First American’s deputy chief economist, said in a statement. “The number of single-family homes authorized but not started was nearly 8.5% higher year over year in April.”

Still, experts remain optimistic the demand for new homes will remain strong.

“Housing demand is softening, but that means more balance is coming to the housing market. The housing market of 2020 and 2021 was the exception, not the norm,” Kushi said. “The lack of existing-home inventory may worsen as rates rise. Existing owners are ‘rate locked-in’ when their existing rate is below the prevailing market rate. This places has even more importance on homebuilding. You can’t buy what’s not for sale, but you can build it.”

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