Rising Builder Sentiment Amidst Falling Interest Rates - A Positive Outlook for the Housing Market
A Welcome Change in the Housing Market
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has recently reported a significant shift in builder sentiment, thanks to decreasing mortgage rates. This change marks the end of a four-month decline in builder confidence, signaling a brighter future for housing conditions as we head into 2024.
The Impact of Lower Mortgage Rates
December witnessed a notable rise in builder confidence for newly built single-family homes, with the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) climbing three points to 37. NAHB Chairman Alicia Huey, a custom home builder from Birmingham, Ala., highlighted the positive impact of this trend. "With mortgage rates down roughly 50 basis points over the past month, we're seeing an increase in traffic from prospective buyers who were previously sidelined due to high prices," she stated. Huey emphasized the critical role of new home production in addressing the nation's housing shortage and easing the affordability crisis.
Insights from NAHB Chief Economist
Robert Dietz, NAHB's Chief Economist, pointed out that the housing market seems to have moved past the peak mortgage rates of this cycle. This shift is expected to boost homebuyer demand in the upcoming months. Dietz also observed that the recent pessimism in builder confidence during the fall was somewhat at odds with the gains in the pace of single-family permits and starts during the same period.
The Challenge of Rising Interest Rates
Dietz noted that temporary and significant differences between builder sentiment and housing starts often follow dramatic increases in short-term interest rates. These increases raise the cost of land development and builder loans, adding to the challenges in housing supply, especially in a market already low on resale inventory.
Builders' Response to Market Conditions
Despite mortgage rates remaining above 7% in November, builders have been actively reducing home prices to stimulate sales. In December, 36% of builders reported price cuts, with the average reduction staying at 6%. Additionally, 60% of builders offered various sales incentives, maintaining the trend from November.
Understanding the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI
The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, a survey conducted for over 35 years, measures builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and future sales expectations. It also assesses traffic of prospective buyers. The index uses a seasonally adjusted scale where a score above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as favorable than unfavorable.
The HMI index for December showed an increase in traffic of prospective buyers and a rise in sales expectations for the next six months. Regionally, the Northeast saw a rise in its three-month moving averages, while the Midwest, South, and West experienced declines.
As we look forward to the coming months, the moderation in interest rates and potential policy changes to support housing supply paint a hopeful picture for the housing market. This period could mark a significant turning point, offering opportunities for both builders and buyers in the ever-evolving landscape of real estate.