Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Q1: Quarterly Housing Starts and New Home Sales

by Bill McBride on 5/18/2010 11:27:00 AM

This morning the Census Bureau released the "Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design" report for Q1 2010.

Housing Starts Click on graph for larger image in new window.

The first graph shows the NSA quarterly starts intent for four categories since 1975: single family built for sale, owner built (includes contractor built for owner), starts built for rent, and condos built for sale.

Condo starts in Q1 were just above the all time record low last quarter (4,000 vs 3,000 in Q4 2009).

Units built for rent set an all time record low in Q1 (19,000 units in Q1 2010 compared to the previous record low of 20,000 units in Q4 2009). This year a record low number of rental units will be built, and that is one reason the rental vacancy rate should continue to decline (household formation should be significantly higher than the increase in housing units in 2010).

Owner built units are just above the record low set in Q1 2009 (25,000 units in Q1 2010 compared to 24,000 units in Q1 2009).

And the largest category - starts of single family units, built for sale - increased to 86,000 in Q1.

With starts so low in every category, the number of units added to the housing stock in 2010 will be at a record low - and that will help reduce the significant excess inventory of housing units.

Comparing Housing Starts and New Home Sales

Monthly housing starts (even single family starts) cannot be compared directly to new home sales, because the monthly housing starts report from the Census Bureau includes apartments, owner built units and condos that are not included in the new home sales report.

However it is possible to compare "Single Family Starts, Built for Sale" to New Home sales on a quarterly basis. This is not perfect because of reporting differences and changes in cancellation rate - but it is close. The quarterly report shows that there were 86,000 single family starts, built for sale, in Q1 2010, and that is the same as the 86,000 new homes sold for the same period. This data is Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

This breaks a streak of 9 consecutive quarter with homebuilders selling more homes than they started.

Note: new home sales are reported when contracts are signed, so it is appropriate to compare sales to starts (as opposed to completions).

Housing StartsThis graph provides a quarterly comparison of housing starts and new home sales. In 2005, and most of 2006, starts (blue) were higher than sales (red), and inventories of new homes increased. For the previous 9 quarters, starts were below sales – and new home inventories declined. In Q1 starts and sales were about the same. Historically builders sell more home in Q1 than they start, but they probably started more homes this year anticipating some extra sales in April related to the expiring tax credit.