WASHINGTON, DC—The long-term, big-picture view of the state of the residential market depends in part on whether you view the numbers from a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty perspective. In two of the national metrics reported Tuesday—single-family home prices and apartment rent growth—the monthly numbers could be interpreted to signify slowing growth. Or they could be used to demonstrate continuing growth. And there’s even a silver lining to the dreariest of the reports, namely that of new-home sales as recorded by the Commerce Department.
Nationally, February’s tally for sales of newly constructed residences was the lowest in five months. The figure of 440,000 homes was off 3.3% from even the adjusted January figure of 455,000—originally overstated at 468,000—and 1.1% from the year prior.
On the other hand, on a regional basis the story was more nuanced, as the South recorded a 19.7% increase year-over-year, contributing more than half the total with 255,000 new homes selling during the month. The Northeast, hit by repeated rounds of snow, wintry mix and more snow, withstood a 34.3% Y-O-Y drop.
“There’s a big upside to new-home sales,” Robert Dye, Dallas-based chief economist at Comerica Inc., told Bloomberg on Tuesday. “We have a huge amount of pent-up demand and very tight inventories. Mortgage rates, although they’ve risen, are still very low. We expect to see continuing improvement in the housing market.”
Similarly, on the multifamily side Axiometrics’ Jay Denton put February’s slight decrease in annual effective rent growth into perspective. “With the extremely strong rent growth seen in 2010 and 2011, it was inevitable that it would begin to moderate, which has been the case now for about two years,” says Denton, VP of research at Dallas-based Axiometrics. “By historical standards, however, the apartment market is still strong, especially in some coastal areas and regions of robust job growth, like Texas.”
Led by Naples, FL with 13% rent growth during February, 21 of the 121 metro areas charted by Axiometrics saw growth of greater than 5% during the month. Odessa, TX, a beneficiary of the energy boom, was second with 11.5%. Other metros that exceeded 5% included San Francisco, San Jose, Miami, Denver, Seattle and Portland, OR.
Nationally, occupancy was up to an average 94.3% during the month, a 14-basis point increase from January. Forty-five of the metros in Axiometrics’ purview recorded apartment occupancy rates of greater than 95% during February.
Axiometrics reported recently that overbuilding “could become a concern in some markets,” Denton says. “Affordability could also be an issue with so many high-priced units coming to the market. The next few quarters will be telling as deliveries continue to increase.”
In terms of pricing for single-family homes, arguably the most-anticipated monthly report is the S&P/Case-Shiller index, also announced on Tuesday. It too offered mixed results, with January housing prices up 13.2% in 20 cities over the trailing 12 months, compared to the 13.4% Y-O-Y gain seen in December 2013. On the other hand, a slowdown in growth still means growth.
“The housing recovery may have taken a breather due to the cold weather,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, which compiles the 10-City and 20-City Composites. “Twelve cities reported declining prices in January” compared to the previous month, with eight of those cities “worse than the month before. From the bottom in 2012, prices are up 23% and the housing market is showing signs of moving forward with more normal price increases.”