Builders could get used to this type of news. New-home sales jumped 4.7% in February compared to the previous month, rising to a seasonally adjusted pace of 337,000 units, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Still, new-home sales activity does remain dramatically lower than last year; February’s sales numbers stand 41.1% below what they were in February 2008. Pricing remains under pressure; the median sales price for a new home in February dipped to $200,900, according to the Census.
With that as a backdrop, Michael Rehaut, a housing analyst with J.P. Morgan, urged builders to “temper any optimism. “First, February’s rise is only a modest partial reversal of the 20% drop since October, punctuated by a strong 13% drop last month,” he noted. “Second, based on anecdotal evidence and conversations with private builders, we believe traffic has fallen in March, which we note is supported by the depressed NAHB [HMI] survey at 9 in March, featuring a 2-point drop in the buyer traffic component.”
The supply of new homes did shrink slightly in February, due to the increased sales pace, but overall, inventories remains relatively high, with 12.2 months of supply on the market. But that’s not what worries Rehaut, who foresees “weak” spring sales for builders. “We believe the core problem facing the housing market is still the highly elevated level of existing homes available for sale, which rose 5% in February to 3.798 million [homes], and is 11.5 [times] the size of new home inventory.”
Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.