PhotoIs the housing market on the comeback trail or not? Results of the latest National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) make it hard to tell.

During March, the HMI fell two points -- to 44, the third straight decline after eight consecutive months of improvement. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

“Although many of our members are reporting increased demand for new homes in their markets, their enthusiasm is being tempered by frustrating bottlenecks in the supply chain for developed lots along with rising costs for building materials and labor,” said NAHB Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, NC. “At the same time, problems with appraisals and credit availability remain considerable obstacles to completing deals.”

Growth pains

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe points out that in addition to tight credit and below-price appraisals, home building is beginning to suffer “growth pains” as the infrastructure that supports it tries to re-establish itself. “During the Great Recession, the industry lost home building firms, building material production capacity, workers who retreated to other sectors and the pipeline of developed lots,” Crowe explained. “The road to a housing recovery will be a bumpy one until these issues are addressed, but in the meantime, builders are much more optimistic today than they were at this time last year.”

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 25 years, the HMI 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 from 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.

Mixed results

While the HMI component gauging current sales conditions declined four points to 47, the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months and the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers both posted gains, of one point to 51 and three points to 35, respectively, in March.

Three-month moving averages for each region’s HMI score were also mixed, with the Northeast holding unchanged at 39, the Midwest and South posting one-point declines to 47 and 46, respectively, and the West registering a four-point increase to 58.

Share your Comments