Pending home sales declined slightly in November on an annualized basis for the eleventh straight month. The Pending Home Sales Index decreased by 0.7% from 102.1 in October to 101.4 in November, and was 7.7% below the level one year ago. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is a forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
According to NAR, the decline in PHSI may not fully capture the current situation, as it did not reflect the impact of recent favorable conditions mortgage rates. But the housing market has been slowing down this year due to rising mortgage rates.
The PHSI increased 2.7% and 2.8% in the Northeast and West, but decreased 2.3% and 2.7% in the Midwest and South. Year-over-year, the PHSI declined in all regions, ranging from a decline of 3.5% in the Northeast to a decrease of 12.2% in the West. NAR stated that the annual drop in the West may be explained by the growing concerns of affordability due to rapidly increasing home prices in the region.
Existing sales slightly increased in November, but builder confidence fell in December to its lowest value since May 2015 as concerns over housing affordability persist. However, NAR anticipates a solid long-term prospect for home sales, as the current home sales level matches sales in 2000 while more jobs are created now compared to the early 2000’s.
Housing starts in the United States jumped 3.2 percent from a month earlier to an annualized rate of 1,256 thousand in November of 2018, beating market forecasts of a 0.2 percent drop. Starts went up in the Northeast and the South but slumped in the Midwest and the West. Housing Starts in the United States averaged 1432.19 Thousand units from 1959 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 2494 Thousand units in January of 1972 and a record low of 478 Thousand units in April of 2009.
US Housing Starts Beat Forecasts
Housing starts in the United States jumped 3.2 percent from a month earlier to an annualized rate of 1,256 thousand in October of 2018, beating market forecasts of a 0.2 percent drop. Starts went up in the Northeast and the South but slumped in the Midwest and the West.
Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment jumped 24.9 percent to a rate of 417 thousand. On the other hand, single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, went down 4.6 percent to a rate of 824 thousand units, the third straight monthly fall and the the lowest level since May 2017. Starts increased in the South (15.1 percent to 687 thousand) and the Northeast (37.8 percent to 134 thousand) but fell in the West (-14.2 percent to 289 thousand) and the Midwest (-19.2 percent to 156 thousand). Starts for October were revised to 1,217 thousand from 1,228 thousand.
Building permits rose 5 percent from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,328 thousand, compared to market expectations of a 0.4 percent fall. Single-family authorizations edged up 0.1 percent to 848 thousand and multi-family permits advanced 14.8 percent to 480 thousand. Across regions, permits went up in the South (10.5 percent to 708 thousand) and the West (1.6 percent to 323 thousand) while in the Northeast permits were unchanged (at 120 thousand) and in the Midwest dropped (-4.8 percent to 177 thousand).
Year-on-year, housing starts fell 3.6 percent and building permits edged up 0.4 percent.
HAVANA — Rafael Álvarez was up at 6:30 a.m. to warm milk for his baby daughter when he heard the sound of pebbles falling.
“That’s when the floor below us came loose. We were left hanging in the air, then fell into the abyss.”
Álvarez, 41, a baker, was buried in rubble to his waist. His mother, daughter and two others were killed when the 101-year-old building collapsed.
“Save the babies!” were his mother’s last words, he said.
In Havana, some of the same architectural gems that draw tens of thousands of American tourists crash to the ground every year. Causes range from weather and neglect to faulty renovations and theft of structural beams.
Carlos Guerrero, 45, said he and his family live “like scared dogs” in a crumbling building along Merced Street.
Neighbors tell them, “Get out of there! It’s going to collapse!”
“It makes you feel like going and living under a bridge,” said Guerrero, who vows to grab a machete and seek revenge on housing officials if anything happens to his wife and three children.
Some 3,856 partial or total building collapses were reported in Havana from 2000 to 2013, not including 2010 and 2011 when no records were kept.
The collapses worsened an already severe housing shortage. Havana alone had a deficit of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show.
The housing crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who vowed to improve housing after taking charge of the communist nation of 11 million people in April.
Havana, a city of about 2 million people, had a shortage of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show. (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)
Havana officials have won dozens of international awards for their work to restore the historic sector known as Old Havana, with styles ranging from Baroque and neoclassical to Art Deco.
UNESCO calls Old Havana one of Latin America’s “most notable” historic city centers and named it a World Heritage site in 1982.
Havana officials use tourism revenue to renovate many architectural treasures, but can’t keep up with the decay.
Officials estimate 28,000 people live in buildings that could collapse at any moment. Some residents refuse to leave structures that authorities have declared unsafe.
“Of course we’re scared but what are we going to do?” said Yanelis Flores, 42, who rejected a government offer to move into a shelter.
“I will wait for a house,” said Flores from the eighth floor of the former Hotel Astor, which had American management and 200 rooms in the 1930s.
Today, daylight shines through terrifying cracks in the walls.
“This is worse than a pig pen,” Flores said. “It’s rotting.”
The third-floor staircase collapsed in April 2017.
“It was a tremendous explosion – boom!” second-floor resident Yuslemy Díaz recalled. “People on the third and fourth floors were stranded because they couldn’t get down. It was a madhouse.”
Workers brought in a truck-mounted crane to deliver meals to stranded residents.
They built a makeshift wooden staircase. Authorities began relocating residents on the 9th and 10th floors.
Díaz, 32, a manicurist, is eager to move.
‘You live with fear’
“The moment it starts to rain and a little stone falls next to you, you think it was the building. You live with fear. A building doesn’t tell you, ‘I’m going to fall tomorrow at 3 p.m.’ It falls – boom! – at any time day or night. It doesn’t warn you.”
Before the stairway failure, residents say, people had been prying valuable marble tiles from the walls, weakening the staircase.
Yunier Angulo, 31, a butcher, left the building seconds before the stairway crumbled. A man just behind him was seriously hurt.
Angulo’s friends told him he was lucky. “You were born that day,” they said. But he doesn’t feel any safer and said he sleeps “with one eye open and the other closed.”
“The building could collapse tomorrow. It gets worse every day.”
Across town, Leydis Castro, 77, has a leaky ceiling, but refuses to ask for a handout. “The government doesn’t have a duty to fix everyone’s house.”
Her neighbors disagreed and wouldn’t pay a cent when the city offered repairs in exchange for a monthly fee, she said.
Fidel Castro promised to demolish “hellish tenements” and build safe, modern housing when he took power in 1959.
Today, Magaly Marrero, 65, said her apartment is so bad that she showers in the kitchen and relieves herself in a bucket.
“Sometimes I say, ‘God, how long will I live in these conditions?’ This is no life,” she said. “What can I aspire to? To die buried because one day the roof comes down and crushes me?”
No deaths, injuries data
Cuban officials don’t release figures on those killed or injured in building collapses.
Álvarez, the baker, said before his second-story apartment came down on July 15, 2015, workers on the ground floor had been using a jackhammer to strip the walls to the brick. He said cracks from below began inching toward his apartment. His mother complained, but city inspectors said the workers weren’t to blame.
Álvarez said his wife, Lizbett, 41, fell head first into the rubble during the building collapse and was in a coma for 22 days. She recovered, but doesn’t like talking about the episode and won’t walk past 409 Havana Street where her home once stood.
Álvarez fractured his spine in three places, but dismissed his injuries and praised the victims.
Rafael Álvarez said his mother who was killed in the building collapse taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.” (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)
He said his mother, Mayra Páez, 60, shouted “Save the babies!” until her voice grew silent.
Rescuers told him she suffocated. She was a former nurse, “much loved in the neighborhood,” her son said.
She taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.”
No one could save his daughter, Genolan, 3. She was “a happy girl,” her father said. “She talked all the time and danced a lot.”
His nephew, Jorge Álvarez, 18, wanted to be a welder.
“He was my life,” his uncle said.
The teenager’s girlfriend, Glendys Kindelán, had just turned 18. Her mother, Yaima Kindelán, said she frantically searched for her daughter at hospitals before finding her body, wrapped in gauze at a funeral home.
“I couldn’t see her face,” she said.
She said her daughter “a very respectful girl, a student” who dressed as a nurse for a photo shoot on her 15th birthday. Her mom joined her as a police officer.
The teen had two dogs, Yonky and Princesa, who rarely left her side. “Having those little animals that she loved so much, she wanted to become a veterinarian,” Kindelán said.
After the accident, authorities investigated an architect and four others who had planned to open a fast-food restaurant at the site.
This summer, authorities told Álvarez they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute anyone.
“I started to cry. I expected that justice would be done. They said, ‘Calm down, sir. Calm down. Do you want some water?’
Construction companies have been ratcheting pay higher to find workers.
Average hourly earnings for construction workers were $30.21 in October, the Labor Department reported Friday. That represented a 3.9% increase in wages compared to a year ago, the strongest yearly gain since mid-2009.
The U.S. housing sector is falling apart, and the Federal Reserve is all but ignoring the damage as it prepares for what many expect to be three rate hikes in 2019, CNBC’s Jim Cramer warned Friday.
“The housing sector’s a disaster,” Cramer said on “Closing Bell.” “We’re building about half the houses we did when the country had half the people, and we still can’t sell them. KB Home does a huge amount of housing in California. They can’t sell them. ”
The Fed’s interest rate hikes have contributed to the surge in mortgage rates, which in October jumped above 5 percent. The central bank has said it plans to hike rates in December of this year — a move Cramer supports — and three more times in 2019.
“I favor a rate hike, and then I’d like to wait. In what world is that irrational?” Cramer said Friday. “Affordability’s gotten out of control. [The Fed members] know that. We have affordability data. But they don’t want to focus on the things they should.”
That lack of rigor is leading the Fed to make decisions that are “not safe” and “irresponsible” when it comes to the U.S. economy, the “Mad Money” host said, echoing his earlier point that the Fed needs to do more homework.
“We shouldn’t look upon them as if they have great information. They had such bad information in 2007,” Cramer said. “They have this judgment that the economy’s great. It’s an irresponsible, non-empirical judgment. It’s anecdotal. It has not a lot of homework. And I favor rigor. I think rigor is what matters, sophistication and rigor. And they’re unsophisticated, and they’re non-rigorous, and I would rip up their homework and tell them to go home.”
According to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, the share of new homes started with 5,000 square feet or more of living space stood at 3.08 percent in 2017, essentially unchanged from 3.05 percent in 2016. The total number of 5,000+ square-foot homes started in absolute terms was 26,000, up from 24,000 in 2016.
In 2015, the number of 5,000+ square feet homes started was the highest since 2007, and their share of the new market was the highest since the inception of the series in 1999. In the boom year of 2006, 3.04% or 45,000 new homes started were 5,000 square feet or larger. In 2007, the share of new homes this size was 3.56%, yet the total number that year fell to 37,000. In 2008, only 20,000 such homes were started, or 3.24% of the total. From 2009 to 2012, the number of these large homes started remained well under 20,000 a year and accounted for less than 3% of all new single-family construction during this period.
A previous post discussed a recent, slight downward trend in the median and average size of new single-family homes evident in quarterly data and attributed this to an expansion in the entry-level segment. The post concludes that home size is expected to trend lower. Some growth is possible at the upper tail of the size distribution, however, even if the overall average is trending in the opposite direction.
When analyzed by the different characteristics, 80 percent of 5,000+ square feet home started in 2017 have a porch, 74 percent have a finished basement, 68 percent have a 3-or-more car garage, 63 percent have a patioand more than half (56 percent) have a community association. Fifty-eight percent of the homes have 5 bedrooms or more and 73 percent have 4 bathrooms or more.
With just about two weeks remaining before the midterm election, early voting has begun in many states. And as is true every year, several states will see significantly better turnout than others — sometimes twice as high. And while there are numerous reasons why people don’t vote, a recent study found that one major factor is that some states make it much harder than others to cast a ballot.
New York, which does not allow people to vote early, saw 56.2 percent of voters turn out for the 2016 election, following 29 percent in the 2014 midterm election and 53.5 percent in the 2012 election, according to an analysis of election data by the nonprofit organization FairVote. FairVote is a nonprofit dedicated to reforming America’s electoral system to achieve full participation and obtain a “truly representative democracy.”
If history is any indicator, several states will see between just 25 percent and 35 percent of voters turn out. This includes Texas, which ranked dead last in the country for voter turnout in the 2014 election with a paltry 28.3 percent. Here were the worst states for voter turnout (Washington, D.C., included) in the 2014 midterm election:
Meanwhile, some states see more than double that turnout. Maine had the highest voter turnout in the 2014 election at 58.5 percent of eligible voters. Wisconsin, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon rounded out the top five with 56.8 percent, 54.5 percent, 54.4 percent and 53.5 percent of voters casting a ballot, respectively. All except Oregon allow residents to vote up to 15 days before Election Day.Subscribe
As noted earlier, there are a variety of reasons that some states see better turnout than others. FairVote noted some of the biggest involve how competitive the races are supposed to be, the demographics of the voting population — voters tend to be older, wealthier, more educated and white — and how restrictive voting laws are.
A new study lent a lot of credence to that last factor. Researchers at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and Wuhan University in China found that states are influencing who votes by either making it easier or harder to cast a ballot. They created an index and ranked each state according to the time and effort it took to vote in each presidential election from 1996 through 2016. They scrutinized the effect of more than 30 factors involving registration and voting laws.
“The study does give us some very substantive findings that we can report about the effect on voter turnout,” wrote lead author Scot Schraufnagel. “But we created this index with the idea in mind that it’s going to have a lot of interest for reasons beyond voter turnout because it helps to define an electoral climate, which might influence whether people are willing to run for public office or who is willing to run for office. There also are implications for civil rights. We know, anecdotally, states with larger African-American populations have higher ‘cost of voting’ values.”Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas and Michigan were ranked as the states where it’s most difficult to vote. Maine, Oregon, California and Colorado all cracked the top 10 in places where it’s easiest.
In 37 states, including three that mail ballots to all voters, along with Washington, D.C., any eligible voter can cast a ballot in person before Election Day without an excuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Colorado, Washington and Oregon use all-mail voting.
Meanwhile, 13 states, including New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania, offer no early voting and require you to provide a reason to vote by absentee ballot.
Making it easier to vote nationwide could boost election turnout by about 10 percentage points, Schraufnagel noted. This includes same-day voter registration policy, mail-in voting and, yes, early voting.
Contracts for new single-family home sales declined in September, as eroding affordability conditions reduced sales volume. New single-family home sales declined to a significantly lower 553,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, a 5.5% drop from a downwardly revised 585,000 annual rate recorded in August. The sales data are produced by HUD and the Census Bureau.
The weak September estimate was the lowest annual rate since December 2016. It marks a notable retreat from the recent, modest growth trend that had been in place due to solid economic conditions and unmet demographic demand but constrained by rising construction costs due to labor access issues, building material pricing and rising regulatory costs. The drop in monthly sales volume also pushed the months’ supply number to an elevated 7.1, the highest since the summer of 2011.
Despite the softer summer and early fall numbers, total sales for the first nine months of 2019 (485,000) are 3.5% higher than the comparable total for 2017 (469,000). Nonetheless, mirroring declining sales volume for the resale market, higher interest rates, storm disruption effects, and spring and summer hikes in lumber prices have taken a toll on the nation’s building markets, even as macroeconomic conditions remain positive.
Inventory increased in September to 327,000 single-family homes for sale. September saw a notable uptick in homes not-started construction but otherwise listed for sale, rising from 57,000 in August to 64,000 in September (compared to 47,000 in September of 2017). Additionally, sales of homes not started construction were lower on a year-over-year basis (168,000 annual rate in September compared to 185,000 in September of 2017), suggesting the current soft patch is demand-side focused rather than supply-side constrained.
Median new home sales pricing has decreased over the last year as the mix of supply has adjusted. Median new home price was $320,000 in September, compared to $331,500 a year ago. Managing rising construction costs in the months ahead will be a key challenge for housing affordability as input costs increase, although recent declines in lumber prices should help.
For the first nine months of 2018 (and relative to the first nine months of 2017), new home sales were up 9.7% in the Midwest, 4.4% in the South, 3.9% in the West, and down 16.5% in the Northeast, due to tax reform-related effects and affordability concerns.
Sales of new single-family houses in the United States dropped 5.5 percent from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 553 thousand in September of 2018, following a downwardly revised 3.0 percent decline in August. August. It is the lowest rate since December 2016, worse than market expectations of 625 thousand. Sales in the Northeast went down to its lowest level since April 2015. Also, sales decreased in the West and in the South. New Home Sales in the United States averaged 650.36 Thousand from 1963 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 1389 Thousand in July of 2005 and a record low of 270 Thousand in February of 2011.
US New Home Sales Lowest Since 2016
Sales of new single-family houses in the United States dropped 5.5 percent from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 553 thousand in September of 2018, following a downwardly revised 3.0 percent decline in August. It is the lowest rate since December 2016, worse than market expectations of 625 thousand. Sales in the Northeast went down to its lowest level since April 2015. Also, sales decreased in the West and in the South.
Sales declined in the Northeast (-40.6 percent to 19 thousand), its lowest level since April 2015; the West (-12 percent to 139 thousand) and in the South (-1.5 percent to 318 thousand). On the other hand, sales rose 6.9 percent to 77 in the Midwest. The median sales price of new houses sold was USD 320,000 below USD 331,500 in the same month of the previous year. The average sales price fell to USD 377,200 in September from USD 379,300 a year ago.
The stock of new houses for sale went up 2.8 percent to 327 thousand. This represents a supply of 7.1 months at the current sales rate, up from 6.5 months in August.
Year-on-year, new home sales decreased 13.2 percent.
While investors are no doubt wringing their hands over what’s going on in the stock market this week, here’s another thing to fret over: rising mortgage rates.
“What many in 2016 thought would never happen again is now reality,” writes Wolf Richter of the Wolf Street blog. “A line in the sand has been breached.”
He explained that the average interest rate for 30-year fixed mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment just passed 5% — the highest since 2010, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.See Also
This, however, is not quite the “pain threshold” for the housing market, Richter wrote. No, that number is 6%, but that rate is moving ever closer.
“This is still historically low. It would take rates back to December 2008, when the Fed was kicking off its first round of QE to repress long-term rates and inflate asset prices,” he said. “Beyond that are the now unimaginably high rates of 7% and 8%.” Here’s a chart for some perspective:
Mortgage rates loosely follow the path of the 10-year U.S. Treasury noteTMUBMUSD10Y, -0.86% . The spread between the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate and the 10-year comes in around 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points over time. The yield on the benchmark government bond has soared this month to roughly seven-year highs amid worries that increasing inflation will erode the value of fixed-income assets.
“The 10-year yield has moved in two surges so far in this rate-hike cycle, each of them over 1 percentage point, with some back-tracking in between,” Richter wrote. “It appears to have launched ‘Surge 3.’ If it plays out, this surge would push the 10-year beyond 4%. And this would bring the 30-year fixed rate into the neighborhood of 6%.”
“This new mortgage rate environment is meeting home prices across the U.S. that have surged over the past years,” Richter wrote. “Affordability issues, already tough to deal with at 4% and 4.5% and even tougher to deal with at 5%, are going to be much tougher at 6%.”
Consequently, and unsurprisingly, he said the red-hot housing markets, like Seattle, San Francisco and Denver, are most at risk.
“These price increases came on top of the crazy peaks of Housing Bubble 1,” Richter wrote. “So a 6% average 30-year fixed rate in these inflated markets will likely change the equation a lot more than in some of the less inflated markets.”