Today’s new home sales report shows the importance of lower rates. Last year, when mortgage rates were approaching 8%, people wondered if homebuilders could still buy down rates to boost sales. The answer is no: new home sales were hit as mortgage rates headed higher last year, which impacted the builders’ survey data as well, which we can see below.

When mortgage rates moved dramatically lower in November of 2023, builder confidence data — which is geared toward smaller builders more than big publicly traded builders — improved, and new home sales started to grow slowly.

This has kept single-family permits from falling and kept construction workers employed to build and finish the backlog of single-family homes in the pipeline.

We obviously can’t say that the apartment marketplace and permits are back to recession lows.

So, for now, homebuilders can still keep construction workers employed in the single-family housing market as they slowly work through the backlog of homes.

From Census: New Home Sales: Sales of new single‐family houses in February 2024 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As we can see below, new home sales aren’t booming. We are still at the level seen in the 1990s, so no record-breaking demand is happening here like we saw in the run-up to 2005, which took new home sales up to 1.4 million. However, slow and steady wins the race.

For sale inventory and months’ supply: The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 463,000. This represents a supply of 8.4 months at the current sales rate.

Here’s my model for understanding the builders:

When supply is 4.3 months and below, this is an excellent market for builders.

When supply is 4.4-6.4 months, this is just an OK market for builders. They will build as long as new home sales are growing.

When supply is over 6.5 months, the builders will pause construction. 

This housing cycle is unique due to the historic backlog of homes the builders still have, so they will be mindful to ensure they can sell those homes once they’re completed units. If the original contract buyer can’t buy now, they must ensure they can sell that new home to a new buyer. As you can imagine with 8.4 months of supply, don’t expect the builders to be building single-family homes in a big fashion. They will go nice and slow because they’re not the March of Dimes; they’re here to make money. 

One of the things I like to do is break down the monthly supply data into subcategories. People sometimes believe that the monthly supply of new homes means live, completed homes ready to buy, but that isn’t the case. In this report:

1.5 months of the supply are homes completed and ready for sale — about 85,000 homes.

4.9 months of the supply are homes that are still under construction — about 272,000 homes

1.9 months of the supply are homes that haven’t been started yet — about 106,000 homes

As shown below, we only have 85,000 completed homes ready for sale.

This report had some minor positive revisions to the previous month, so to keep things simple, as long as mortgage rates don’t head toward 8%, new home sales have the backdrop to grow sales if rates are in the 6% range because they can buy down rates to a sub-6% level to move homes. It gets much more expensive for them to do this at 8%.

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