Housing starts rise as apartment groundbreaking gains

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New-home construction picked up in October on a rebound in apartments and other multifamily housing, offering some hope that the market is stabilizing despite rising prices and borrowing costs.

Residential starts increased 1.5% to an annualized rate of 1.23 million from the prior month's upwardly revised 1.21 million, government figures showed Tuesday. While that matched the median estimate of economists, single-family home starts fell for a second month. Permits, an indication of future construction, fell 0.6% to a 1.26 million rate, also in line with projections.

The data suggest that builders are seeing steady demand from buyers amid a solid labor market and tax cuts that have boosted take-home pay. Those are cushioning the impact of mortgage rates at an eight-year high and home prices still outpacing wage gains. An easing in lumber prices from a record earlier this year may also be providing some relief to developers.

At the same time, the figures followed a report Monday showing the biggest drop in homebuilder sentiment since 2014, indicating developers are becoming less optimistic that future demand will withstand headwinds. The increase in starts was concentrated in the more-volatile multifamily category, such as apartment buildings and condominiums, which rose 10.3% to an annual rate of 363,000.

Groundbreaking on single-family homes fell 1.8% to 865,000. Housing starts rose 4.7% in the South, the largest region, to an annualized pace of 596,000; they also increased to a five-month high in the Midwest while declining in the West. Starts fell to 87,000 in the Northeast, the lowest since May 2017.

The number of homes under construction rose to 1.14 million, the most since July 2007. The data show a wide margin of error, with a 90% chance that the October housing-starts figure was between an 11.4% drop and a 14.4% gain. The report is released jointly by the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington.

Bloomberg News
Homebuilders Housing market Multifamily Purchase Census Bureau HUD