Recent economic data signal improving housing conditions heading into 2024 as falling mortgage rates helped end a four-month decline in builder confidence.
According to Eye On Housing, builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose three points to 37 in December, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). With mortgage rates down roughly 50 basis points over the past month, builders are reporting an uptick in traffic. The housing market appears to have passed peak mortgage rates for this cycle, and this should help to spur home buyer demand in the coming months, with the HMI component measuring future sales expectations up six points in December.
It is worth noting that single-family builder sentiment has separated somewhat from recent starts/permits data. Our statistical analysis indicates that temporary and outsized differences between builder sentiment and starts occur after short-term interest rates rise dramatically, increasing the cost of land development and builder loans used by private builders. In turn, higher financing costs for home builders and land developers add another headwind for housing supply in a market low on resale inventory. While the Federal Reserve is fighting inflation, state and local policymakers could also help by reducing the regulatory burdens on the cost of land development and home building, thereby allowing more attainable housing supply to the market. Looking forward, as rates moderate, this temporary difference between sentiment and construction activity will decline.