Permits for new-home building — a gauge of future demand — reached its highest level last month since September 2008, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.
New housing permits rose 4.5 percent in March, reaching an annualized level of 747,000.
But while the future of home building shows signs of picking up, actual construction started last month slowed, the second consecutive month for declines.
Builders broke ground in March on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 654,000 homes, a 5.8 percent drop from February, the Commerce Department reported. The construction of multifamily homes — those with at least two units — posted a 16.9 percent drop last month while construction of single-family homes dropped slightly at 0.2 percent.
New-home building declined the most in the South — posting a 15.9 percent decline in March — while the Northeast saw a 32.8 percent gain and the Midwest saw a 1 percent increase.
The new-home market continues to struggle to compete against foreclosures and short sales plaguing many markets, which are often sold at big discounts. Coupled with that, new homes tend to be priced about 30 percent higher than previously occupied homes.
While builder confidence has been increasing in recent months, confidence showed a slight decrease in April, the first time it’s declined in seven months, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.
“Although builders in many markets are noting increased interest among potential buyers, consumers are still very hesitant to go forward with a purchase, and our members are realigning their expectations somewhat until they see more actual signed sales contracts,” says Barry Rutenberg, NAHB chairman.