Total housing starts posted a decline in September due to flat conditions for single-family construction and a pullback for apartment development. Total starts declined 5.3% in September but are 6.4% higher for 2018 on a year-to-date basis, according to the joint data release from the Census Bureau and HUD.
The pace of single-family starts was roughly flat in September, decreasing 0.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 871,000. Slight gains off the summer soft patch for single-family mirror a minor uptick of the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, now registering a score of 68. While builders are benefiting from recent declines in lumber prices (at least relative to spring and summer’s elevated levels), they continue to report concerns about labor access issues.
On a year-to-date basis, single-family starts are 6% higher as of September relative to the first nine months of 2017. Single-family permits, a useful indicator of future construction activity, were up slightly (2.9%) in September and have registered a 5.6% gain thus far in 2018 compared to last year.
Multifamily starts (2+ unit production) pulled back in September to a 330,000 annual rate. After a strong start to the year, multifamily development is moving closer to our forecast of leveling-off conditions. On a year-to-date basis, multifamily 5+ unit production is 7.3% higher thus far in 2018, while multifamily 5+ unit permitting is trending lower with just a 0.8% year-to-date increase relative to 2017.
With respect to housing’s economic impact, 54% of homes under construction in September were multifamily (607,000). The current count of apartments under construction is down slightly from a year ago. In September, there were 522,000 single-family units under construction, a gain of more than 9% from this time in 2017.
Regional data show – on a year-to-date basis – mixed conditions. Single-family construction is down 1% for the year in the Midwest and flat in the Northeast. Single-family starts are up in the larger building regions of the South (4.9%) and the West (14.6%).