Homebuilders preparing for big 2021, data suggests

Overall housing starts in January totaled 1.58 million units, a decline of 6% from December, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. But there’s reason for optimism from homebuilders – a huge spike in building permits.

“Despite a modest month-over-over decline, single-family housing starts are up 17.5% from one year ago,” said Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at title insurance firm First American. “Single-family permits, a leading indicator of future starts, are up nearly 30% from one year ago. It’s still not enough to significantly narrow the gap between supply and demand, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

A total of 1.881 million residential building permits were issued last month to homebuilders, roughly 1.2% above December’s tally but more than 22% greater than were issued a year ago.

Interestingly, the overall decrease in housing starts last month was driven by single-family starts, which decreased by 12.2% from the prior month, while multi-family starts increased by 17.1% from last month. A seasonal dip was to be expected, experts said, but the widespread distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine should give the economy – and the housing industry – a shot in the arm in 2021.

Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s senior vice president and chief economist, said the vaccine combined with President Joseph Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus will drive consumer interest in locking-in historically low mortgage rates, thus driving the amount of home sales upward.


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“We assume that the proposed fiscal stimulus of around $1.9 trillion will be passed in mid-March, and that growth will accelerate sharply beginning in the second quarter,” Duncan said. “If 2020 was the year of the virus, then 2021 will more than likely be the year of the vaccine. Whether the vaccines are effective, including with the new virus strains, and how broadly and timely they can be distributed remain key questions.”

Economists are wary, Duncan said, of a potential boom-or-bust scenario for the housing industry in the new year: the combination of rising interest rates from record-low levels, a high national debt, and the risk of rising inflation.

“Very strong growth in the second half of 2021 could push inflation, and thereby rates, up significantly in 2022, thus invoking a Fed response of tightening and a significant deceleration later in 2022,” Duncan said. “This is not our base case scenario, but we see it as a significant risk moving forward.”

Added John Pataky, TIAA Bank executive vice president: “With rates creeping up and homebuilding still partially restricted by the pandemic, the housing market’s next phase of growth may be much more of a grind.”

Privately-owned housing starts in January hit an adjusted rate of 1.336 million, down 2.3% from December but up 2.4% from January 2020.

Single-family authorizations in January were at 1.269 million, up 3.8% from December.

January housing starts increased in the Northeast (+2.3%), but decreased in the Midwest (-12.3%), the West (-11.4%), and the South (-2.5%).

Where homebuilders go from here is of great interest to industry experts: Construction rates are expected to climb in the opening quarter of 2021 and possibly into the summer thanks to high-lumber prices and low land inventory, but the demand for homes is expected to remain high thanks to low interest rates and the hope of President Joseph Biden’s $15,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit.

“Lumber now costs more than double what it did this time last year – a fact that that has reportedly caused some builders to stop some projects mid-way,” said Matthew Speakman, Zillow economist. “Land and labor shortages also continue to hinder the ability to take on new projects.”

Still, Speakman noted, homebuilders’ earned some benefit of the doubt with the way they handled hurdles in 2020.

“Home construction was a source of strength in the U.S. economy in 2020, as builders strove to keep up with robust demand for housing and put up homes at the strongest pace in a decade and a half,” he said.  

Source: housingwire.com

Potential impacts of Biden’s $15,000 tax credit

The housing industry is keeping a close eye on the Biden administration’s proposal of a first-time homebuyer tax credit of $15,000. If passed, the funds — which would help cover a down payment — could be accessed immediately by the buyer at the closing table.

$1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — is more of a possibility now that both Senate races in Georgia went to Democrats.

Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified and senior vice president at Cardinal Financial, sees an obvious positive impact of the tax credit but is still wary of parts of the bill, which includes an increased rate on long term capital gains.

“The real estate market is so hot that hurting investors now may not have a big effect, but long term it could cause major issues,” DiBugnara said. “Real estate Investors tend to buy more real estate in even in bad markets as a long-term strategy. If it becomes more expensive for them to do so, because of taxes, I believe some will shift strategies long term so when market cools there will be a lot less of them to support home buying.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, thinks Biden’s tax credit will need to get support from around 60 senators — a majority needed to pass it into law — if Democrats choose not to use budget reconciliation. And, the possibility certainly exists that Republicans will ask for a smaller credit number.


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“Having a few Republican Senators on board will help change the public perception of working across the aisle,” Yun said. “That means getting what the Biden administration wants along with items favorable for Republicans, such as expanding high speed internet access to rural areas and a tax break for small businesses.”

For builders, Yun said preserving the 1031 Exchange to incentivize land sales is important for the future of the housing market. An extra $15,000, he said, certainly won’t help the already low inventory of homes available.

“Only with added supply will the homebuyer tax credit be effective in boosting homeownership and enlarging the middle class,” Yun said. “Without supply, home prices jump much higher with no meaningful gain to new homeownership.”

Ruben Gonzalez, Keller Williams chief economist, said it’s hard to comment on anything definitive at the moment but thinks Biden’s tax credit will garner bipartisan support.

“The challenge with the credit right now is that demand is already really strong with mortgage rates so low, and most evidence is showing that high earners have increased savings during the pandemic,” Gonzalez said. “The first-time home buyer tax credit seems like a good candidate for bipartisan support, but right now it’s still unclear if we are genuinely going to see bipartisan efforts in Congress.”

But past bipartisan support for similar tax bills seems to point things in a positive direction, DiBugnara said, of passing.

“I do believe, with the Democratic-led Senate, most of what is President Biden’s tax plan will come to fruition,” he said. “The [$15,000] credit seems to be one of the easier proposals of the tax plan to get passed, because it will stimulate the already hot real estate market and align with a low interest rate market. The majority of both parties have been in agreement with that.”

Source: housingwire.com