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Biggest drop came in the western region

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes in March fell two points to a level of 53 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index released today.

There’s no doubt that the year is off to a bad start for housing in terms of housing starts, completions and permits. Existing home sales tumbled in January, and mortgage applications have been spiraling downward in February, giving away most of the gains made in January.

“Even with this slight slip, the HMI remains in positive territory and we expect the market to improve as we enter the spring buying season,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo.

“The drop in builder confidence is largely attributable to supply chain issues, such as lot and labor shortages as well as tight underwriting standards,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “These obstacles notwithstanding, we are expecting solid gains in the housing market this year, buoyed by sustained job growth, low mortgage interest rates and pent-up demand.”

Nela Richardson, chief economist for Redfin, had a different take. 

“A price mismatch in the new-home industry continues as demand for high-margin McMansions wanes. Buyers today want affordable homes—especially millennials entering the market for the first time,” she said. “The builders who are well-positioned to meet demand for single-family starter homes will fare better as prices at the high end of the market slow and margins for new luxury homes disappear.”

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two of the three HMI components posted losses in March. The component gauging current sales conditions fell three points to 58 while the component measuring buyer traffic dropped two points to 37. The gauge charting sales expectations in the next six months held steady at 59.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast and South each posted a two-point drop to 43 and 55, respectively. The Midwest rose two points to 56, while the West fell seven points to 61.

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