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August housing starts better than expected

Housing starts continue to rise despite material and labor shortages

U.S. homebuilders started construction on 1.615 million homes in August, up 3.9% from July 2021 and 17.4% higher than a year ago, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Across the country, 1.728 million building permits were pulled, which is 6% above the revised rate from a month prior and 13.5% higher than the August 2020 rate. Additionally, 1.33 million homes were completed, a decrease of 4.5% from July 2021, but this is still 9.4% higher than a year prior.

“The August month-over-month increase in permits and housing starts indicates that builders are eagerly responding to near record-low rates, a limited supply of existing-homes for sale and sturdy demand driven by millennials aging into homeownership,” First American Deputy Chief Economist Odeta Kushi said in a statement.

This increase comes as builders continue to face material shortages and a tight construction labor market. This is reflected in a 50% increase in the number of single-family units permitted but not started compared to a year ago. In addition, only 25% of new homes sold in July were completely built. In comparison, 40% of new homes sold in Spring 2020 were completely finished.

“The nation’s homebuilders are finding ways to defy expectations, keep their pipelines moving and put up more homes,” Zillow economist Matthew Speakman said in a statement. “It’s not all perfect, and some creativity is being shown by builders to keep things moving. These choppy waters are unlikely to calm anytime soon, but builders are continuing to find ways to stay afloat.”

A more thorough examination of the data reveals that strong production of multifamily housing was the primary driver in the increase in total starts. Although the number of single-family building permits pulled was 0.6% above the revised July rate, the number of single-family housing starts was down 2.8% from July. In comparison, multifamily permits and multifamily housing starts both increased 15.8% and 20.6%, respectively, from July to August.

Despite this, the National Association of Home Builder’s (NAHB) chief economist Robert Dietz is optimistic about the single-family market’s trajectory. 

“More inventory is coming for a market that continues to face a housing deficit,” Dietz said in a statement. “The number of single-family homes under construction in August-702,000-is the highest since the Great Recession and is 32.7% higher than a year ago.”

Regionally, combined single-family and multifamily starts are up across the country, with the Northeast region seeing the greatest increase (35.9%) on a year-to-date (January through August) compared to the same period of time in 2020.

This report comes on the heels of the release of the September NAHB and Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) report, which revealed that homebuilder sentiment increased for the first time in three months.

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