Homebuilders say U.S. is in a ‘housing recession’ as sentiment turns negative

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A worker drills plywood on a single family home under construction in Lehi, Utah, on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

George Frey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Builder sentiment in the market for single-family homes fell into negative territory in August, as builders and buyers struggle with higher costs.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index dropped 6 points to 49 this month, its eighth straight monthly decline. Anything above 50 is considered positive. The index has not been in negative territory since a very brief plunge at the start of the Covid pandemic. Before that, it hadn’t been negative since June 2014.

“Tighter monetary policy from the Federal Reserve and persistently elevated construction costs have brought on a housing recession,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz.

Of the index’s three components, current sales conditions dropped 7 points to 57, sales expectations in the next six months fell 2 points to 47 and buyer traffic fell 5 points to 32.

Despite higher costs for land, labor and materials, about 1 in 5 builders in August reported lowering prices in the past month in an effort to increase sales or limit cancellations. The average drop reported was 5%.

The biggest hurdle for buyers right now is affordability. Home prices have been climbing since the start of the pandemic, and the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage, which had hit historic lows in the first part of the pandemic, is nearly twice what it was at the start of this year. Home price growth has cooled somewhat in recent weeks, while mortgage rates have come down from highs.

“The total volume of single-family starts will post a decline in 2022, the first such decrease since 2011. However, as signs grow that the rate of inflation is near peaking, long-term interest rates have stabilized, which will provide some stability for the demand-side of the market in the coming months,” Dietz said.

Regionally, on a three-month moving average, builder confidence in the Northeast fell 9 points to 56, and dropped 3 points in the Midwest to 49. In the South it fell 7 points to 63, and in the West, where home prices are highest, it declined 11 points to 51.

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