Three months into 2015 and early housing market indicators already show that the market is flat at best, according to the Fannie Mae latest Economic and Housing Outlook report.

But there is one sector that is saving the housing recovery: multifamily.  

Looking back at the start of the year, January was a bad month for housing starts, completions and permits, with privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in January coming in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,053,000.

And in February privately owned housing starts plummeted 17%, down to an annualized 897,000 from the revised January estimate of 1,081,000, with drops in the Northeast, Midwest and West leading the collapse.

Builder confidence did not bode too much better for housing, with builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes in March falling two points to a level of 53 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo.

“By contrast, multifamily starts and permits increased in January, continuing the theme that the sector has been driving the housing recovery, performing in the current expansion at a level consistent with activity witnessed prior to the recession,’’ the Fannie report said.

However, despite the negative reports, the news was not unexpected. The reports support Fannie’s forecast that real residential investment growth will weaken in the current quarter from the fourth quarter of last year.

“We continue to expect the economy to drag housing upward as we move into the second quarter. The economy is getting a boost from the strong employment numbers we’ve seen last year and at the start of 2015. When this employment growth partners with income growth and consumers experience a rise in their personal household income, we should see a similar boost in the housing sector,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “Overall, we expect an improving 2015 with continued economic growth bringing housing above 2014 levels.”

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