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Commercial, Multifamily Construction Starts May Have Peaked in 2017

Feb. 16, 2018

Lenders may be taking a step back when it comes to financing U.S. commercial and multifamily construction projects, following a report by Dodge Data & Analytics that showed a year-over-year decline in 2017’s top markets.

The Feb. 14 report stated that U.S. commercial and multifamily construction starts declined 7% from 2016, landing at a value of almost $195 billion. Dodge saw the steepest declines in Chicago and Boston, followed by Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, DC and New York City. Although the overall numbers were positive for all construction starts, multifamily construction may have reached its peak, Dodge Chief Economist Robert Murray said in the report.

“[It’s] now heading downward, as shown by the 12% decline in dollar terms during 2017,” Murray said in a release. “… In the most recent survey of bank lending officers by the Federal Reserve, 16% of the respondents indicated that they had tightened standards for multifamily loans during the fourth quarter of 2017. …”

Meanwhile, commercial construction starts, including office buildings, stores, hotels, warehouses and commercial garages, appear more promising this year, despite slipping 3% in 2017. Office construction, for example, is believed to increase by more than 4.5%, as predicted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

“The picture for commercial building is mixed, as both office buildings and warehouses seem to still be in the process of reaching a peak,” Murray explained in the Dodge report. “Although downtown and suburban office vacancy rates edged up slightly in the fourth quarter of 2017, they remain low by recent standards, and warehouse vacancy rates have not yet begun to rise in a sustained manner.”

—Andrew Michaels, editorial associate

Builders’ Single-Family Sales Expectations Jump to Post-Recession High

Feb. 15, 2018

Builder confidence for newly-built single-family homes was unchanged at 72 in February’s National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). “Demand conditions are positive, but supply-side construction hurdles need to be managed, as scarce labor and building material price increases remain top concerns,” noted NAHB economist Robert Dietz.

The HMI gauge of future sales expectations is at a post-recession high, indicating consumer demand for housing should grow in the coming months, Dietz said. “With ongoing job creation, increasing owner-occupied household formation, and a tight supply of existing home inventory, the single-family housing sector should continue to strengthen at a gradual but consistent pace.”

Sales expectations in the HMI climbed two points to 80, the index measuring buyer traffic remained at 54, and the index tracking current sales conditions fell a point to 78, NAHB said.
The three-month moving averages by region saw the Midwest increase two points to 72, the South rise one point to 74, the West was unchanged at 81 and the Northeast dropped two points to 56.

– Nicholas Stern, managing editor

2017 Housing Affordability Similar Year-Over-Year

Feb. 14, 2018

The U.S. housing market ended 2017 at a relatively flat affordability rate, slightly up from the prior quarter yet similar to year-over-year findings.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) concluded that nearly 60% of new and existing homes between October and December 2017 were affordable for families with a median income of $68,000, NAHB reported on Feb. 9. The HOI almost reached the same percentage in the fourth quarter of 2016, and it was up about 1.5% over the third quarter of 2017.

Between 2017’s third and fourth quarter, the national median home price dropped about $5,000, while the average mortgage rate was down four basis points. NAHB reported that Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA and Syracuse, NY were ranked as the most affordable major housing markets in the U.S., with Cumberland, MD and Western Virginia claiming the most affordable smaller market.

The report also found that California had the least affordable housing market.

—Andrew Michaels, editorial associate

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