WASHINGTON – Homebuilders ramped up construction in June to the fastest pace in four months, led by surges in the Northeast and Midwest.
Housing starts climbed 8.3 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.22 million, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The gain ended three straight monthly declines and marked the strongest pace of building since February. Home construction has risen 3.9 percent year-to-date, but that slight increase has been unable to make up for the decrease in existing homes being listed for sale.
The June housing figures point to healthy demand that new construction alone has been unable to satisfy. Fewer existing homes are being listed for sale, while purchase prices for newly built homes have surged at pace more than six times wage growth. As a result, more Americans are rushing to purchase homes but are struggling to do so because of a lack of supplies and higher costs.
Builders also face higher costs for land and materials, putting a limit on just how much construction can occur.
"Steady gains in construction are expected over the next year, supported by still-strong fundamental demand for housing," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. "But acting as a bit of a roadblock are problems that the builders face: rising lumber costs, and shortages of labor and lots to build on, which will boost pricing."
So far this year, builders have turned their attention toward single-family houses and away from rental apartments. Starts of single-family houses have risen 7.9 percent, while construction of multi-family buildings has slipped 4.2 percent.
Housing starts jumped a stunning 83.7 percent in the Northeast and 22 percent in the Midwest, growth that is unlikely to be sustained. The government's home construction report can be volatile on a monthly basis. Sales edged up in the West but declined in the South.
Building permits, an indicator of future construction, were up 7.4 percent to 1.25 million.
Construction firms are confident that demand will continue, but they have also begun to temper their expectations.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index fell to 64 in July, the lowest level since November. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor.
The median price of a new home sold in May rose 16.8 percent from a year ago to a record $345,800. Prices have been increasing as demand has outstripped supply of new homes, in part because of a shortage of available building lots.