Single-family housing starts fell 4.1% in December to end the year on a down note, but experts believe home construction is very close to flattening out after a 15% decline in 2006.The U.S. Census Bureau reported that single-family starts declined from a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.28 million in November to 1.23 million in December. Single-family permits increased by 1.2% in December, the first increase in 11 months. In 2006, builders started 1.46 million single-family homes, down from 1.72 million in the previous year. Economists at the National Association of Home Builders are forecasting that single-family starts will bottom out in the first quarter and steadily increase over the next three quarters. However, NAHB chief economist David Seiders says he still expects a 15% decline in single-family starts this year. Celia Chen, director of housing economics for Moody's Economy.com, says she believes that single-family housing starts bottomed out in the fourth quarter and that starts will be flat all year, resulting in a 12% decline from last year's total. The Census Bureau also reported a 30% jump in multifamily starts, to 350,000, in December. For the year, multifamily starts totaled 293,000 units, down 5.9% from the level recorded in 2005.

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