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New Housing Starts Dropped 4.5% in Jan.

Builders are more optimistic about the 2023 market, but that optimism isn’t reflected in the number of Jan. housing starts. Building permits increased a bit, though.

WASHINGTON – Although rising builder sentiment indicates a turning point for housing later this year, January’s lackluster single-family production suggests that the new-home market still faces some challenges.

Overall housing starts decreased 4.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.31 million units in January, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

A January reading of 1.31 million starts is the number of housing units builders would begin if development kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within that overall number, single-family starts decreased 4.3% to an 841,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate. The multifamily sector, which includes apartment buildings and condos, decreased 4.9% to an annualized 468,000 pace.

“Housing construction weakened in January as ongoing affordability conditions fueled by high mortgage rates and building material costs challenged the market,” says Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Yesterday, NAHB released its monthly study on builders’ attitudes and found a seven-point surge in optimism – its biggest one-month increase on record. Huey says that could indicate “a turning point for single-family construction (but) policymakers need to fix the supply chain for building materials to ensure builders can add the additional inventory the housing market desperately needs.”

Within the numbers there’s a disconnect between the number of housing starts and the number of housing sales.

“As completions continue to outpace construction starts, this marks the eighth straight monthly decline for the number of single-family homes under construction, which has fallen to 752,000,” says Danushka Nanayakkara-Skillington, NAHB’s assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis. “Meanwhile, the number of apartments under construction stands at the highest level since November 1973, which means a slowdown for apartment starts is approaching.”

On a regional basis compared to the previous month, combined single-family and multifamily starts were 42.2% lower in the Northeast, 25.9% lower in the Midwest, 7.3% higher in the South and 5.5% higher in the West.

Overall permits increased 0.1% to a 1.34 million unit annualized rate in January. Single-family permits decreased 1.8% to a 718,000 unit rate. Multifamily permits increased 2.5% to an annualized 621,000 pace.

Looking at regional permit data compared to the previous month, permits were 7.8% lower in the Northeast, 1.7% higher in the Midwest, 3.0% higher in the South and 4.6% lower in the West.

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