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After increasing and leveling off in recent years, new single-family home size continued along a general trend of decreasing size during the start of 2017. This change marks a reversal of the trend that had been in place as builders focused on the higher end of the market during the recovery. As the entry-level market expands, including growth for townhouses, typical new home size is expected to decline. According to first quarter 2017 data from the Census Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design and NAHB analysis, median single-family square floor area was slightly lower at 2,389 square feet. Average (mean) square footage for new single-family homes declined to 2,628 square feet.

Total housing starts declined in April after strong early months in 2017. Total starts were down almost 3%, falling to a 1.172 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to the joint data release from the Census Bureau and HUD. This decrease was due to a multifamily production decline, although single-family permit activity was also softer than expected in April.

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes remained solid in April, falling three points to a level of 68 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) after an unusually high March reading. Builders continue to report significant interest among potential home buyers, with the traffic measure continuing to score above the breakeven level of 50. It was 52 in April.

Contracts for new home sales expanded by 6.1% in February, according to estimates from the joint data release of HUD and the Census Bureau. The growth in sales continues along a positive trend for the market, which is supported by solid job growth, improving household formations, continuing favorable housing affordability conditions, and tight existing home inventory. The seasonally adjusted annual pace for February new single-family home sales was 592,000. This is 6.1% better than January and a 12.8% gain over a year ago.

Existing home sales, as reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), reversed a January gain and decreased 3.7% in February. At the current sales rate, the February unsold inventory represents a 3.8-month supply, compared to a 3.5-month supply in January. February existing sales were up 5.4% from the same month a year ago, and reached a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.48 million compared to 5.69 million in January. Total existing home sales include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops. Existing sales increased 1.3% in the South, but declined by 3.1% in the West, 7.0% in the Midwest and 13.8% in the Northeast. Year-over-year, all regions advanced, ranging from 9.6% in the West to 1.5% in the Northeast.

The count of unfilled jobs in the overall construction sector declined recently, as residential construction employment accelerated in the last three months. According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and NAHB analysis, the number of open construction sector jobs (on a seasonally adjusted basis) came in at 148,000 in December. The cycle high was 225,000 set in July. The open position rate (job openings as a percent of total employment) for December was 2.2%.

For the country as a whole, the NAHB/First American Leadings Markets Index (LMI), released today, rose to .99 in the fourth quarter of 2016, .01 point higher than its level in the third quarter of 2016, .98, and .05 point higher than its level from one year ago, .94. The LMI is now .21 point above its low of .78 reached in March 2012. The index uses single-family housing permits, employment, and home prices to measure proximity to a normal economic and housing market. The index is calculated for both the entire country and for 337 local markets, metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).