Housing MarketReal Estate

Homebuilders are feeling pretty good right now

As demand rises builders are easing up on incentives

Homebuilder confidence is continuing to trend upward this spring, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) report, released Tuesday. 

In May, home builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose to an index value of 50, an increase of five points from the April reading. This is the fifth consecutive month of increase after a year of decreases. May’s reading also marks the first time since July 2022 that sentiment has reached the midpoint mark of 50. 

The NAHB/HMI report is based on a monthly survey of NAHB members, in which homebuilders are asked to rate both current market conditions for the sale of new homes and expected conditions for the next six months, as well as traffic of prospective buyers of new homes. Scores for each component of the homebuilder confidence survey are then used to calculate an index, with any number greater than 50 indicating that more homebuilders view conditions as favorable than not.

“New home construction is taking on an increased role in the marketplace because many home owners with loans well below current mortgage rates are electing to stay put, and this is keeping the supply of existing homes at a very low level,” Alicia Huey, the NAHB chair, said in a statement. “While this is fueling cautious optimism among builders, they continue to face ongoing challenges to meet a growing demand for new construction. These include shortages of transformers and other building materials and tightening credit conditions for residential real estate development and construction brought on by the actions of the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.” 

Although interest rates have more than doubled since 2021, home builders are still cautiously optimistic about business, something the NAHB attributes to builders’ usage of buyer incentives. However, as sales have picked up this spring and existing home sales remain at record lows, the use of sales inducements from homebuilders has slowed. 

In May, the share of homebuilders reducing home prices dropped to 27%, down from 30% in April and 36% in November 2022, with the average price reduction hovering at 6%, unchanged for the past four months. Additionally, the share of homebuilders offering some type of incentive dropped to 54% in May, compared to 59% in April and 62% last December. 

“Lack of existing inventory continues to drive buyers to new construction,” Robert Dietz, the NAHB’s chief economist, said in a statement. “In March, 33% of homes listed for sale were new homes in various stages of construction. That share from 2000-2019 was a 12.7% average. With limited available housing inventory, new construction will continue to be a significant part of prospective buyers’ search in the quarters ahead.”

The three other indices monitored by the NAHB rose in May. The gauge measuring current sales conditions rose to 56, up five points month over month. The component analyzing sales expectations for the next six months rose seven points to a reading of 57. Compared to a month prior, the gauge measuring traffic of prospective buyers rose two points to 33. 

Regionally, the three-month moving averages for HMI rose in three out of the four regions, with the West gaining three points to a reading of 41, the South increasing three points to 52, and the Midwest rising two points to a reading of 39. The Northeast held steady month over month at a reading of 45.

Another survey, the BTIG/HomeSphere State of the Industry Report, also reported an improvement in homebuilder outlook.

According to the survey, nearly twice as many builders reported sales that were better than expected (38%), than those who report sales that were worse than expected (20%) in April. In addition, nearly three times as many builders saw traffic as better than expected (42%) versus worse than expected (15%). The share of builders reporting a year over year decrease in sales also shrank to 34% in April, compared to 40% in March. 

The BTIG/HomeSphere study is an electronic survey of approximately 75-125 small- to mid-sized homebuilders that sell, on average, 50-100 homes per year throughout the nation. In April, the survey had 124 respondents.

Like the homebuilder confidence survey, the BTIG survey also found that homebuilders are easing up on buyer incentives. Of the 124 respondents, 17% cut some, most of all prices versus 22% last month, while just 22% of surveyed builders reported increasing some, most or all incentives compared to 27% a month prior. In addition, 30% of homebuilders reported raising some, most or all base prices in April, up from 21% in March.

“New home demand momentum has continued to accelerate throughout the spring season, which is in-line with anecdotal public builder commentary,” Carl Reichardt, a BTIG analyst, said in a statement. “With comparisons for both sales and traffic beginning to ease meaningfully, we expect results should become stronger on a year/year basis next month.”

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